by shudder @ tda
I tossed Quidditch Confessions aside. It hadn’t been a particularly good read, and it had taken me the better part of a week to slog through. I’d even found myself skipping several sections just to avoid the sheer amount of eye-watering (and, on occasion, anatomically improbable) explicit scenes. It had only taken me three chapters to work out that Amortentia Publications was not really my cup of tea. I’m not a prude or anything, but, after the fourth steamy scene turned up in chapter two, I’d had enough. One can only take so much innuendo.
‘That was disgusting,’ I said, to the room at large. Scorpius, who was passing, leant over the back of the sofa to squint at the book.
‘Here, take a good look,’ I said, picking it up and holding it out to him.
‘Can’t, I’ve got inky fingers.’
‘It’s already dirty enough. I doubt you’ll make much difference.’
Gingerly, he lifted the book between a finger and a thumb. ‘Quidditch Confessions?’
‘This is from Witch Weekly, you know? It’s naff, but page thirty eight is simply the worst.’
He riffled through until he found the appropriate page, his eyes skimming the text. ‘Oh, wow,’ he said. ‘Is that even…possible?’
Then, after a pause – ‘I kind of want to try it.’
‘Er? I imagine it’s, um, quite difficult?’
‘Yeah, especially if you’ve only got one arm.’
‘But it’d be far easier if you stood, probably. And if you had the right tools. He doesn’t even have a spirit level or anything.’
‘You can’t really do that without a spirit level. And probably another arm.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The bit where the guy with one arm puts up a shelf?’ he said, quite innocently. ‘Oh, no, hang on, I’m on page forty-eight,’ he flipped back ten pages, skimmed the text again, then his eyes widened with horror. He dropped the book onto the seat beside me.
‘Nope,’ he said. ‘No, definitely don’t want to try that. Sorry.’
‘S’alright,’ I flipped Quidditch Confessions over with my toe, not wanting to look at the drawing of feeble Bernice and Ivan the one-armed-hunk any longer.
‘So you’ve got to write something like that,’ Scorpius said, leaning over the back of the sofa again.
‘Wow. Don’t envy you,’ he stood up, and made off down the corridor again.
I turned my eyes back to the coffee table, where Incidents at the Apothecary, To Tame a Dragon-Tamer, and Accio Love still lay.
I wanted to kick them to the floor. Instead, I sat back, steepled my fingers, and considered my options.
It was really a no-brainer. I’d promised to produce a book, and, even if I hadn’t really agreed to write something steamy, something steamy I would have to write. Besides, I needed the money. Five hundred Galleons had a fantastic way of turning into a thousand pints.
So I would write it, and write it I would. Even if it made my eyes bleed.
‘How are you getting on?’ I called down the corridor.
‘Drawing,’ he shouted back. ‘Nearly drank the ink instead of my tea, but I’m okay.’
‘You prune. We’ve only got half an hour before we have to go out,’ I consulted my watch.
‘Yeah, I know…’
It was the day of the promised rescheduled band rehearsal, after the little hiccup in the form of call-me-Mary-Sue and her innocent-startled-deer-in-the-headlights impression. I mean, she seemed okay to me, if a little perfect, but, of course, the New New Elginers were convinced that she was the spy from Inverness and would be the undoing of all of us. I somehow doubted this, but, as I’d been the first to approach her, I’d been asked rather politely by Jean C to keep an eye on call-me-Mary-Sue’s behaviour and mannerisms, get to know her a little better, and report back to the New New Elginers and their Bi-Annual Annual General Meetings and whatnot.
Which actually made me the spy.
I didn’t actually mind getting to know her, but it was the spying part I had an issue with. It felt horribly cruel, yet, at the same time, we’d only just managed to befriend the suspicious New New Elginers, and I was actually starting to like them quite a bit. I didn’t want to tick them off or anything. So, you know, if I just casually tried to make her acquaintance, then casually passed some very generic comments on, then I’d be keeping everyone happy, right? Right.
Who was I kidding? I suspected her too. She was very perfect. Scorpius said she was almost Pre-Raphaelite in appearance, as if her face was a thing he could provide artistic critique on. I’d managed to bump into her again, two days after the initial meeting, in a little café called Thyme & Plaice (Scorpius was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of puns Scotland had to offer) down by the beach. I hadn’t intended to pop into a café on my own, but I’d been passing, seen call-me-Mary-Sue sitting on her own by the window, and deceived to just go for it and went in.
Small talk had been made, coffee, tea, and cake had been ordered.
‘I suppose we Londoners should stick together,’ call-me-Mary-Sue smiled at me.
I let out a laugh that sounded just as fake as it was.
‘I’m actually from Liverpool, originally,’ I told her.
‘You don’t have an accent.’
‘Well. No. School kind of…got rid of it.’
‘Well, your boyfriend then,’ she said. ‘With the funny name.’
‘Scorpius. And he’s from Manchester. He’ll cry if you accuse him of being southern.’
‘Right,’ she stared at the table. ‘Where did you live in London?’
‘Oh. Bit dodgy. Must be nice to move here.’
‘Not really,’ I frowned. ‘Ealing’s nice.’
‘Well,’ she said. ‘Not been there much, but you hear things.’
I wanted to point out that, so far, I’d pretty much felt that New New Elgin was infinitely more dodgy than Ealing had possibly ever been (I’d never been held at wandpoint by a bunch of talent-show obsessed Scottish people before in Ealing, anyway), but instead kept my mouth shut and stared at the table too, picking at my slice of carrot cake.
‘What sort of stuff do you do in the Auror office?’ I asked, after the silence had gone on for a little too long.
‘Um,’ she said. ‘I’m an Auror. Only work eight months of the year,’ she added, quickly. ‘Good job. Generous holiday. I meant to ask – I know you’re a writer, but what sort of stuff do you write?’
Oh, dear. This was the question I’d hoped to dodge.
‘Just…little articles,’ I half-lied. ‘Little bits and pieces. Kind of…lifestyle stuff. Travel. Um, fashion,’ I lied, knowing that a blind yak wearing a bin liner would probably make a better fashion writer than me. ‘Just kind of do the odd thing for the Prophet. Witch Weekly. Etcetera. I’m freelance.’
‘Oh. I’ll look out for your pieces.’
The rest of the conversation degraded into little scraps of the most meaningless sort of small talk and drivel, until I made up some excuse about needing to go to the Post Office, gulped down the last of my tea, and hurried back out into the freezing rain.
Fortunately, there was actually some post to pick up which, back in the flat, I let Scorpius sort through before we left.
‘Here’s one from Tarquin and – sorry. Tarkatron, Dark Lord of All, and Gwendotron, Dark Lady of All,’ he said, flipping the letter open. ‘Oh, no, they’re calling themselves Supreme Chancellor Tarks and Evil Overlady Gwen now.’
‘We should get nicknames.’
‘Right,’ he squinted at the letter. ‘Uh…Dear Scorch and Lucifer. Oh, they made up the nicknames for us, that’s helpful. Bit satanic, though. Remember I said Tarquin was taking me to Paris, but knowing us, we’d probably end up in Moscow? Well, greetings from Los Angeles.
‘Don’t ask how it happened. It's kind of complicated and involved our old pal Lettuce. Lucky sod ended up in Paris instead of is. Apparently it’s called psychogeography, but that’s not important. We just wanted to let you know that we are coming to stay at the end of January, so crack open the fatted calf and buy in crates of beer in preparation. Send an owl if that’s not convenient. If it’s inconvenient, we’ll come anyway. And Scorch, if you’re reading this, give Lucy another snog on our behalf, because she’s well fit. Lots of love, Tarquin and Gwen.’
‘Cheeky sods,’ I said. ‘You still owe me that first snog.’
‘Well, now I owe you another. Good things come to those who wait.’
The first band rehearsal was a surprise in that it actually managed to take place and a certain amount of work was actually done.
‘It’s definitely going to snow,’ Scorpius said, as we walked to the town hall. He was peering up at the sky with an intense look of concentration on his face, as if he trying to move the clouds by telekinesis. ‘Good. I love snow.’
‘How do you equate a love of snow with a love of ice cream?’
'Easy. A love for winter and a love for summer. And I’m lumped with you for the whole year,’ he added, elbowing me.
‘You’re my girl for all seasons. You even come with your own anorak and all.’
There was a pause.
‘I had to chuck my anorak out the other day.’
‘Well, all the more reason for me to be gallant and give you mine.’
‘You anorak is ridiculous. And it smells weird.’
Thankfully, our arrival at the town hall took us off the subject of fusty old anoraks (such as ourselves) and onto the subject of music. We were strangely early, so the town hall was deserted; he made a beeline for the piano straight away, dragging me along behind him.
‘I’ll serenade you,’ he said, before pressing a number of keys at random. ‘Dissonance is so romantic, of course.’
‘Your dissonance inflames me with desire.’
Scorpius let out an abrupt laugh, almost blinding himself with his own fringe. But then the doors to the town hall opened and Knitting Prentice entered, cutting short any threat of fringe-related trauma.
‘Ah, you’re early,’ Knitting Prentice said. ‘Good.’
‘Early for bohemians,’ Scorpius muttered, pushing himself away from the piano. It was something that was very noticeable about him; in company, he tended to shrink back into his tough little shell of misery. Essentially, he was a tortoise. But I won’t expand upon that metaphor for the sake of my own sanity (it’s hard to kiss someone when you picture them as a tortoise. No, really. It has happened.)
Twenty minutes later, most of the New New Elginers had turned up. We were still sitting at the piano, although Scorpius seemed far too shy to so much as look at it, and was instead engaged in a tortuously complicated conversation about chord progressions with Surly Kevin who, aside from being the local barman and sulk, seemed to be a bass player. And I – I had a blank notebook cradled in my arms, a pen tucked behind my ear, and nothing in my head but the vague thought that I should probably write something worthwhile some of these days.
‘Evening, Lucy,’ Jean C said, sidling up to me at my perch near the piano. ‘How are you?’
She seemed strangely caring. And her voice was a bit too quiet, especially for her.
‘Oh, fine,’ I said. ‘You?’
‘Cannae complain. Have you spoken to Mary-Susannah yet?’
Ah, getting straight to the point.
‘Ye-es,’ I said, carefully. ‘I had a cup of tea with her today.’
I hesitated, remembering her slightly stilted speech, her vaguely snobbish views about Ealing (which I still missed). ‘She’s…’
‘Nice,’ I finished.
Jean C squinted at me.
‘Nice,’ she repeated.
‘Nice…ish. Look, I didn’t get to talk to her much, so-’
‘Speak of the devil,’ Jean C muttered, as the door opened again and a very forlorn-looking call-me-Mary-Sue wandered in, one arm in a sling. ‘Pretend we’re talking about baking. Quickly.’
‘Um…shortbread,’ I said, keeping my eye on call-me-Mary-Sue. She seemed to hover about the entrance for a few minutes, looking a bit lost, then approached the piano area, taking a seat next to Scorpius.
‘Aye,’ Jean C nodded. ‘You get rare shortbread round these parts, right enough. Would you like some?’ she asked, suddenly producing a small tartan package from her handbag.
Momentarily distracted by the tartan and the promise of a biscuit, I took my eyes off call-me-Mary-Sue.
‘Jean G baked it yesterday,’ Jean C said, as I took a piece and began to nibble away. ‘Her baking’s dead good.’
‘Hello,’ Jean P joined us. ‘Who invited her?’
I took ‘her’ to mean Mary-Sue.
‘It wisnae me,’ Jean C frowned. ‘Must’ve been Prentice. Or Kevin. Any of the lads, really.’
‘Can you imagine one of the lasses inviting her?’ Jean C said, with an emphatic raised eyebrow.
‘How d’you reckon she did her arm?’
‘Oh, she’s an Auror,’ I chipped in. ‘Maybe it was…work-related.’
‘Hmm,’ Jean C hmm’d, with a certain degree of scepticism.
‘Hmm,’ Jean P agreed.
It was then that I had a sort of surreal out-of-body experience. It was only fleeting but, for a second, I felt like I was in call-me-Mary-Sue’s head, looking over at where we were standing. Feeling all new and unloved and stuff. And there we were, standing in a little circle, stealing little glances over at her, and looking more than a little bitchy.
‘She seems a bit lost,’ I said. ‘It’s difficult to move such a long way.’
Jeans P and C exchanged a glance, before looking back to me.
‘But she could be an Inverness spy,’ Jean C said. ‘Like you said, she’s nice, and I suppose she’s pretty perfect-’
‘Too nice. Too perfect,’ Jean P frowned.
‘These are just precautionary checks.’
‘Well,’ I decided to remove myself from the circle of suspicion. ‘I’m just going to have a seat…’
I left Jeans C and P to their scheming and went to sit down on the opposite side of the hall, where there was a lot less music and, well, scheming. Then, I flipped my notebook open, took my pen out from behind my ear, and tapped it on the blank page.
Nope. Nothing. Inspiration wasn’t a friend of mine.
Maybe watching the rehearsal would give me some inspiration. I mean, it was the very earliest of stages, and everyone was still coming up with vague, half-formed plans for things. There was Morag, one of the creepy teenage residents of the town, idly tapping a snare drum with her fingers whilst her creepy teenage companion explained something with a lot of hand actions. There were the eldest of the five Jeans, sipping tea in a corner with knitting Prentice, who was knitting. There was Jock Macpherson, bagpipe under one impressively muscled arm, swapping notes with Surly Kevin.
And then there was Scorpius, at the piano, intently explaining something to call-me-Mary Sue. Who was staring back with equal intent. And a lot of fluttery eyelashes.
Now, I’m not exactly an expert on body language, but I know what fluttery eyelashes mean.
It was probably very insignificant. I tried to remind myself that I barely knew the girl, she barely knew Scorpius, and if Scorpius was anything like what Scorpius was like when I first met him, there would be no need or reason for eyelashes of the fluttery variety. I mean, so much angst. So much fringe. So much oblivion to so many things. Even if those were the things about him I loved.
So I turned back to my blank page and resolved to put it out of my mind.
‘It’s a bit of a dilemma, I’ll admit,’ Scorpius said. ‘They’re not really…well…your type of books. Your type of book is the sort where everybody is unhappy and dies at the end. Don’t deny it,’ he added, as I went to speak. ‘I’ve seen your reading pile.’
‘This is coming from the fan of existentialism.’
‘Yeah, but…that’s completely different,’ he waved me away. ‘Did you bring the keys?’
We’d reached the landing outside our flat. I began to pat down the pockets on his anorak (which he’d so gallantly given me when it got cold).
‘No,’ I said, discovering the keys in an inside pocket. ‘But you did.’
‘Oh, good for me.’
I let us into the flat, where we stood in the dark for a few seconds until Scorpius found the lightswitch.
‘My brain’s still in London,’ I said. ‘I keep thinking the lights will be on the left.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I’m kind of scared to open the airing cupboard. I half expect to find a gremlin in it.’
‘I wonder if the gremlin misses us,’ I carried on through to the kitchen, shrugging off his anorak and folding it over the back of the sofa.
‘I like to think it does,’ Scorpius said, a little wistfully. ‘So how are you going to write…er…smut?’
‘Badly,’ I said. ‘I’m going to write smut badly. I mean,’ I flopped down onto the sofa. ‘From the book I just read, I gather that a love triangle is the norm.’
‘A love triangle?’ Scorpius took the seat beside me. ‘Pfft. That’s…cliché.’
No sooner had the words left his mouth than I suddenly remembered the two of us had once been the two points of a love triangle.
‘Well, anyway,’ I said, quickly. ‘There’s usually a hunky guy. And a damsel in distress. You know, a really pathetic girl. Those are the basics. Ivan and Bernice.’
‘Ivan and Bernice?’
‘Yes. Ivan’s the hunk and Bernice is the pathetic damsel in distress, you know. And, inevitably, there’s a seductive, slinky girl on the outskirts, prowling around, waiting to pounce on Ivan…’
‘And what’s she called?’
‘Eugenia. Well, she was in this book, anyway. You know the sort. Pouting, fluttery eyelashes…kind of, kind of…like Mary-Susannah.’
‘Uh-huh. Um, I meant to ask…’
‘Does she have…like…a, um, problem with her eyes? Only, they kept kind of…’ he flapped his hands about for a bit. ‘You know. They were all over the place. Like mad.’
‘Good,’ I said, slightly relieved that, evidently, call-me-Mary-Sue’s manic eyelashes hadn’t had much of an effect on him.
‘I mean, er…nah, I think she was just blinking. Maybe she had something in her eye? Do you know how she did in her arm, by the way?’
‘She didn’t say. But she asked if I’d help her put up a shelf in her new flat.’
‘Put up a shelf? With only one arm?’
We exchanged a look and then fell about laughing.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Seriously. I have no idea what to write.’
‘Except the triangle.’
‘Yeah, except the triangle. And the three pointy bits.’
‘Well…I did say that you should write what you know.’
‘So…’ he said. ‘Maybe you should write what you know.’
I got what he meant. ‘Apply aspects of our relationship to the book?’
I raised my eyebrows at him. ‘Do you really want that in print?’
His hands windmilled a bit. ‘Fake names should do the trick.’
The following Saturday, several New New Elginers travelled to the offices of the All Magical All Scottish Talent and Variety Show Contest in a nearby town to officially register the as yet unnamed New New Elgin band as an official entrant. The rest of us, including the unmusical types such as my own good self, were huddled in the pub.
It seemed that both Scorpius and I had evolved. We’d evolved from being newbies to being New New Elgin conspiracy theorists. Well, not quite yet. But we were getting there. It was a pretty good conspiracy, I’ll give the town that.
‘The sprained wrist is a ruse,’ Knitting Prentice mused, knitting needles click-clacking a neat little rhythm to our conversation. ‘Perhaps to attract sympathy.’
‘She asked us to help her put up her shelf,’ Scorpius said. ‘Because she’s only got one arm.’
The two of us giggled, drawing us puzzled looks from the others.
‘She’s been making gooey eyes at all the lads,’ Jean P piped up. ‘I’ve been watching.’
‘All the lads?’ Surly Kevin asked, sounding a little hopeful.
‘All the lads,’ Jean P nodded. ‘And some of the lasses too.’
‘Maybe she just has an eye condition,’ I volunteered. ‘You know, maybe she can’t help all that…fluttering.’
‘What about the pouting?’
‘Maybe she’s…impersonating a duck.’
‘Who does that?’
‘Who doesn’t do that?’ Scorpius muttered.
‘Anyway,’ I continued. ‘It’s not like we have proof. Maybe she’s just a bit…forward.’
‘Come off it,’ Knitting Prentice snorted, starting a new row.
‘She’s obviously a spy,’ Jean P said.
‘Yeah, even I think that,’ Scorpius said, elbowing me in the ribs for good measure. A vague sound of assent passed through the pub, and a sort of Mexican wave of nodding swept the table.
‘Okay, fine,’ I sighed. ‘I’m in the minority. But I still maintain that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Come on, that’s a great proverb! Everyone knows it!’
‘Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s true,’ Knitting Prentice said sagely, pointing a knitting needle at me.
The pub door opened, saving me from further dissection of proverbs/my moral judgement. A blast of wintry air filled the pub, making us all shiver for a moment, but then Jean C, Jock and the rest of the talent show delegation entered.
They did not look best pleased.
‘I can’t believe it,’ Jean C said, dumping her handbag on the floor and dropping onto a bar stool.
‘Can’t believe what?’
‘It’s Mary-Susannah Ellis,’ she said, as if she still couldn’t quite believe it. ‘She’s entering. She’s entering the talent contest. For the town. As well as us.’
a/n: fillerfillerfillerHEYPLOT. I wrote this pretty quickly inbetween watching community/finishing endless art coursework/coming up with puns, so it may be a bit...lame. I just want to get going with this story, seeing as I've got so much of the later chapters drafted and ready to type up. I'll edit in a chapter image later when I get time to make one half-decent. Thank you for reading ♥
coming soon (and by soon I mean anytime between here and the end btw) : Lucy and the tartan fiesta, and Scorpius /finally/ gets his 'save the world, get the girl' moment. Kind of.
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