by shudder @ tda
The town was New New Elgin because Elgin and New Elgin were both already taken. The climate was something known in these parts as ‘dreich, often drookit’, the local pub was, thus, appropriately called The Drookit Duck, and the cuddly Loch Ness monsters were seven sickles each.
This was all the information we’d gathered in the first five minutes we spent in CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS, which I supposed was capitalised for dramatic effect because, you know, newsagents need all the drama they can get.
‘Happy hour is Monday through Thursday from Midday to five pm, and they’ve got this cracking whiskey from this brewery up the road, oh, and the local newspaper comes every Friday and you’ve really come at a bad time because the fog’s always in around November and…’
I didn’t really know much about the woman in front of me except that she really, really liked to talk.
‘…so if youse come along for a pint in the Duck tonight you can meet a’body and…well…welcome!’ she finally added, breathing heavily with the effort of talking so fast.
‘Er…thank you,’ I said, my voice a little hoarse.
‘So…are you here on holiday?’ she said, nodding to the suitcase.
‘Oh, no, we…’ I glanced at Scorpius, who was staring at the floor. ‘…we just moved here!’
‘Oh!’ her eyes widened. ‘Oh, right! Well, I’m Jean-’
The name rang a bell. ‘Jean Govan?’ I said, leaning in.
Jean let out a hysterical sort of giggle. ‘Crivens! No!’
‘Oh – right, sorry, it’s just – the woman we’re renting a flat from is Jean Govan and-’
‘She’s about five times my age,’ Jean laughed. ‘Blue rinse, twinset, doilies…’
‘Ah, I…see. And you’re…’
‘Jean Cumbernauld,’ she said, leaning over her desk to shake my hand, and then Scorpius’. ‘Nice to meet you. There are five of us, by the way.’
Somehow, I took this to mean that there were five people living in the whole village. My mouth gaped open in a little shocked O – ‘only five?’ I said. ‘That’s barely any!’
Confusion descended on the scene, until Scorpius nudged me and mumbled – ‘I think what she means is-’
‘There are five of us called Jean,’ Jean said. ‘Well, strictly speaking one of them is a Jeanie, but there are five of us all the same. Unless you’re a Jean too – that makes six?’
‘Nope. I’m Lucy – and this is Scorpius.’
Jean raised her eyebrows. ‘That’s a funny name. You two sound like you’re from London. Am I right?’
Well, only half right, seeing as the two of us had pretty much split our childhoods between the North of England and some unidentified location in the back of beyond in Scotland. And Scorpius was quite proud of being Mancunian. So, no, not right at all.
‘Er…yeah,’ I said. ‘All the way from London.’
‘Four hundred and forty four miles,’ Scorpius said, although his voice was pretty much little more than a whimper. He wasn’t exactly good with the whole first impressions business.
‘Right…so…’ Jean said. ‘Well – er – welcome!’
It seemed that the three of us had run out of things to say. Thankfully, at that moment, the door banged open and a little bell jingled in the back of the shop.
‘Good afternoon,’ a thickly accented voice said, before a hand cuffed me on the shoulder. (Scorpius, at my side, received much the same treatment, only his flinch was a little more dramatic). A face peeked out from between us, staring down at Jean. ‘Who are these two?’
‘Lucy and Scorpius!’ Jean beamed. ‘They just moved here!’
‘Excellent!’ the man who’d grabbed our shoulders released us and darted around to stand behind the desk next to Jean – he offered his hand to me, then to Scorpius. How nice. You go to art school and people fire paint at you; you move four hundred and forty miles to Scotland, and people smile at you and shake your hand. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or mildly unnerved.
‘I’m Jock,’ he said. ‘Jock MacPherson. Pleased to meet you,’ he added, with a charming little smile. He was a bulky guy, a fair bit of muscle showing beneath his ‘Elgin Egrets,’ shirt. Quite what the Elgin Egrets were I didn’t exactly know – perhaps he was a bird-trainer, although that didn’t explain the muscles. Unless the birds were freakishly big. Or maybe he was just hench for the fun of it. Or maybe there was an ‘r’ missing from the shirt and it was supposed to say ‘Elgin Regrets.’ I think I preferred the latter. It gave him a touch of je ne sais quoi.
My train of thought had suddenly put on a spurt of speed and bypassed several stations; Scorpius, Jean and Jock were all smiling politely at me, as if waiting for me to say something. I promptly put the brakes on my train of thought and brought it screeching to a halt at a station possibly labelled ‘for the love of Merlin’s facial hair, Lucy, say something’, which, of course, was on the ‘social interaction’ line just before the ‘you idiot, you’ve blown it now’ terminal.
‘So!’ I said, chirpily. ‘Uh…what is there to…do? Around here?’
Jock exhaled, exchanging a look with Jean.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘Pub.’
‘Suits us,’ Scorpius muttered.
‘We’re good with pubs,’ I added.
‘And then there’s always the Quidditch,’ Jean shrugged. ‘Sometimes you get a Montrose match up the road, or if Portree are visiting…’
It was the turn of Scorpius and I to exchange a look.
‘Are you Montrose fans?’ Jean smiled.
‘Well, he is,’ I elbowed Scorpius. ‘I’m a Portree girl.’
Abruptly, Jock slammed his palm on the table. ‘Get out,’ he ordered.
An awkward silence of sorts followed, then Jock and Jean’s faces split in a pair of wide smiles.
‘Kidding,’ he said. ‘Well…you might find more Montrose fans round these parts.’
‘Good,’ Scorpius said firmly.
‘Cool. Um – one more question,’ I said, feeling that the conversation was drawing to a natural end and we should probably get on with the business of moving into our new flat. ‘Why is this place unplottable? I mean, from the map, we got the idea that you all lived with the muggles in proper Elgin…’
Jean and Jock exchanged a look that seemed to possess an extraordinary amount of hidden meaning. I bit my lip involuntarily; Scorpius leaned in, as if expecting them to breathe out some deep, dark secret.
‘Well, we did, once upon a time,’ Jean said evenly. ‘But we don’t anymore. We’re actually a lot further North. I guess you came in from the South, did you see the bus?’
‘We nearly got run over by it?’ Scorpius offered.
‘Well, the trick is to follow the bus until it turns around – just outside the village.’
She gave us a few hasty directions to the pub and promised we’d be able to meet ‘the others’ there at around eight, pointed us in the vague direction of where our flat should have been, and then we left, dragging the suitcase behind us.
New New Elgin was still conspicuously deserted. I mean, there’s deserted, and there’s deserted. There’s deserted when it’s a rainy day or a Sunday or one in the morning or something, when it’s a pretty legitimate time for people to be indoors – but this was early afternoon on a Thursday and, believe it or not, the sun was shining. The twitching curtains didn’t exactly help.
I had the nasty feeling we were being watched by a lot of people.
‘They were nice,’ I said vaguely, as me and Scorpius wandered down the High Street.
‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,’ Scorpius said.
‘That’s a hackneyed phrase and a half.’
‘I just…’ he peered up at the sky with nervous trepidation, as if he expected something to fall from it and hit him on the head (which, knowing Scorpius, wouldn’t have been surprising. The boy’s a magnet for comedic injury). ‘I just think it’s a bit quiet or something. And they wouldn’t tell us why it’s unplottable. Maybe it’s like…a cult.’
I narrowed my eyes, the High Street ahead turning into a blur. ‘The guy – Jock whatsisface – his shirt said Elgin Egrets but I thought maybe there was a missing R and it was supposed to say Elgin Regrets and…’ I trailed off.
‘We’ll see,’ Scorpius said heavily.
The whole move thing had thrown me off course a little bit; I suddenly couldn’t remember what our new flat was supposed to look like, let alone the name of the street it was on. Scorpius was pretty certain that it was on Burns Lane (‘I hope that isn’t prophetic,’ he said, miserably, as we approached it). Burns Lane, just off the High Street, was a cramped little alleyway full of shadows and cobbled stones; I felt Scorpius was somewhat justified in having a bad feeling about this.
We stepped into the alleyway – I involuntarily took his hand. Then someone stepped out of the shadows (I flinched and Scorpius rolled his eyes – pot calling the kettle black, much?). It was a woman, probably some way into her sixties, wearing a beige twinset and a tweed jacket, her hair an elaborately coiffed nest perched on her head. A daring slash of red lipstick made her face stand out of the gloom; she cast us a quick, prim little smile.
‘Jean Govan?’ I asked her, a little cautiously.
‘Yes,’ she nodded. ‘And you’ll be the new tenants?’
We followed her through a door, up some stairs, across a landing, up a tiny staircase and through another door into what was to be our flat. First impressions are undeniably important, and my first impression of the flat was that it was pretty small. Just big enough to swing a kneazle in, perhaps, but not big enough to…you know…swing multiple kneazles in.
Happily, however, there was an overwhelming lack of beige. Which is always a good sign. I think I might be allergic to beige.
‘Bins get collected on a Wednesday, the Greengrocer’s is across the street, and linen is in the cupboard in the hallway,’ Jean Govan summed up the flat in three helpful clauses. (Although, arguably, the last thing on our minds was regular rubbish disposal, fresh fruit and vegetables and clean sheets. We weren’t even twenty-five yet). Then she left us in peace, bustling from the flat and shutting the door quietly behind her.
First things first: I flung open the cupboard in the hallway.
‘No gremlin!’ I cried. ‘No gremlin!’
Scorpius, busy rifling through the suitcase in search of something that was probably camera-related, barely even looked up. I suppose he was used to me shouting strange things in the vague direction of his face.
Second things second (or, if I really wanted to subvert the norm, I’d do second things third), I threw off my jacket, ran into the new bedroom, and flopped down on the bed. It was dead comfy; this pretty much made the flat perfect.
‘You’re like a child,’ Scorpius said, wandering in after me, rifling through a little book.
'A child is-'
'I mean the book, you idiot.'
‘I'm looking up the words I didn’t understand,’ he explained, flopping down next to me. ‘Oh…so that’s what dreich means…’
‘What does it mean?’
‘Bleak, miserable weather…hmm, like me,’ he added, as an afterthought.
I leaned around and nudged the book upwards to read the title.
‘A Scottish dictionary? You’re prepared…’
‘I was thinking I’d carry it around with me so I could understand everyone and…’
‘It’s not even a different language.’
‘It may as well be! We need all the help we can get!’
We turned up at the pub at eight on the dot, just as promised, having unpacked approximately five percent of our magically expanded suitcase into the flat (we weren’t much good at getting things done, unless the thing in question was procrastination).
The pub, The Drookit Duck, was surprisingly small and deserted (drookit, according to Scorpius and his pocket Scottish dictionary, meant ‘absolutely drenched’. Which kind of defeated the point, seeing as ducks kind of swim around so they have to be wet, but, well, this was New New Elgin and nothing made sense in New New Elgin). Apart from me and Scorpius, who perched at the bar, there was a surly barman, and, in the corner, a middle-aged woman and a boy about our age who was knitting. Middle-aged woman and knitting boy stared at us for a good minute before the latter went back to his knitting; the woman kept up her staring.
‘Why are they staring at us?’ Scorpius murmured, pretending to be fiddling with a beermat.
‘They’re staring at us because…because I’m incredibly attractive and you have antlers?’ I murmured back. ‘I don’t know…now I have a bad feeling about this…’
‘What’ll it be?’ the surly barman asked.
‘Uh…butterbeer, please,’ I said, guessing it probably wasn’t a good idea to crack out the whiskey on my first night in a new place.
‘Same, please,’ Scorpius said.
The barman poured two butterbeers and thumped them down before us with…well, I’m not sure what to call the look that was on his face. It was…it was like confusion, rage, sorrow and amusement all mixed into one, and it looked kind of painful.
‘Shall we get a table?’ Scorpius suggested. He picked a spot close to the far wall, where we would be slightly out of the line of vision of knitting boy and his middle-aged companion. Once we’d sat down, we sipped at our butterbeers, listening to the click-clack of knitting needles in the quiet pub.
‘You know, when she said we’d meet everybody,’ I muttered. ‘I imagined there’d be more people here.’
‘Maybe they’re late. Or maybe this is everybody.’
'They can’t be late, we’re late, we’re the bohemians-’ I glanced at my watch. ‘Oh, no, you’re right – we’re actually on time.’
‘Weird,’ he said. ‘I mean – us being on time, not them being late.’
‘We’ll just have to wait and see,’ he set down his butterbeer and leaned nonchalantly against the wall, arms folded. Then everything happened in a flash – the wall wobbled, Scorpius toppled off his chair, and then the wall spontaneously collapsed, revealing what seemed to be half the population of New New Elgin hiding behind it.
Deserted streets – false walls – this was all getting a bit too weird for my liking.
‘Hello!’ Jean C bellowed, stepping out of the rubble of the fake wall to help Scorpius up. ‘Sorry – just…the…the bi-annual New New Elgin AGM!’
‘AGM? What’s an AGM?’ I hissed to Scorpius, reaching for his dictionary.
‘Annual general meeting-’
‘Hope we didn’t scare you!’ Jean C cried, patting me on the back; she looked slightly deranged. Behind her, villagers were spilling out of what looked like the rest of the pub, looking slightly furtive, taking seats at spare tables and producing drinks from thin air.
‘Just something that happens,’ she explained, talking very fast. ‘It’s like a council where we all get together and discuss issues that involve the village at large.'
Just behind her, Jock ‘Elgin Regrets’ Macpherson was frantically picking up pieces of the fake wall.
‘How can you have a bi-annual annual general meeting?’ I interrupted her. I could feel my eyes narrowing into a shrewd squint. Scorpius shuffled awkwardly at my side.
‘Uh…because…it’s a BAGM!’ she grinned. ‘Have you met Prentice? Hey – Prentice!’ she waved frantically over at the corner. Knitting boy glanced up, nodded, and then stood. ‘Can I get youse some drinks?’
‘We’ve – er…we’ve got some,’ I nodded down at the table. ‘Um…’
I was ignored. Mere moments later, the knitting boy, Jean and Jock were sitting with us, all traces of the fake wall had vanished, and five tumblers of whiskey had been placed on the table before us. Around us, business in the pub continued as noisily as I guessed was normal; the whole fake wall thing had already been forgotten.
‘To the newcomers!’ Jean C giggled, raising one of the tumblers of whiskey.
The toast was echoed around the table. Knitting boy put aside his knitting to drink along with us. Underneath the table, Scorpius’ hand slipped into mine.
‘Your hand is clammy,’ I muttered.
‘I don’t care…’
I pushed the empty tumbler of whiskey away; the ex-contents of it were busy burning a trail down the back of my throat. I coughed involuntarily – Jean C was right, it was cracking whiskey.
Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Well, the fake wall was one thing, but the whiskey was evidently another – no sooner had the last drops of whiskey been drained from the first round that another was brought to our table. I had a horrible feeling that they were trying to get us both pretty drunk so that the idea of a fake wall wouldn’t seem too outlandish.
After an hour in the pub, it was becoming a little difficult to concentrate, what with a seemingly endless supply of drinks and everyone talking all at the same time – it took me five minutes to notice that Scorpius actually wanted my attention, and I wasn’t imagining the constant poking at my ribs. And when I did turn to look at him and he leaned in close, I wasn’t entirely surprised by what he murmured to me-
‘I’ve got a really bad feeling about this, Lucy…’
a/n: crammed in another update this weekend~ I know the story's a bit boring and non-cracky right now, but I have tons planned and pre-written for later chapters and hopefully it'll get a little...well, funnier. The line 'I've got a bad feeling about this' is, of course, the trademark of Han Solo from Star Wars (although, in the great Star Wars analogy of life, Scorpius would blatantly be more of a Luke than a Han. Jus sayin'). Anyway, hope you enjoyed! ♥
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