Sink or Swim
It's five o'clock in the morning. And I, Louis Weasley, am awake.
I know, shocking right? But I'll have you know that I've been getting up this early for over six months now. Not only am I awake, I'm fully clothed and about to leave my apartment. That's right...my apartment. A lot has changed in the last three years. I have my own apartment and I have a job that I love. But what's not to love when you work for yourself?
I'd like to say that I stuck to my word about quitting that whole waiter gig when we got back to port, but I didn't. I actually stayed on with the cruise ship for almost two years. But five months in, I was promoted to bartender, so it wasn't all waiting tables. The money was damn good too. By the time I got ready to quit, I'd saved up enough to purchase a product stall and a space in Diagon Alley to stick it. I was, however, lacking the funds to properly develop my product line.
What's my product line? Fireworks.
I create and sell my own specialty mix of fireworks. Thanks to a rather generous investment from my Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey, I was able to establish a quality product line. And I do mean investment. I had to make a presentation and everything. They were very by-the-book about it and they have something called 'stock' in my company. I don't really understand all that technical jargon, but I know my own family wouldn't mess me over, so I'm not to arsed to care about it.
My stand has been running steady for six months now and I couldn't be happier with how well it's going. I'm not flooded with business, but every week I get more sales and I have a meeting with the Minister's party coordinator next week for a possible contract on their New Years Gala. Life is going really well right now.
And I look even better.
Where was I? Right. Leaving the apartment.
I grab my heavy robes as I head out of the door and pull them around my body before I reach the staircase. It's freezing outside and I wouldn't dare chance the weather without several layers. The snow crunches beneath my feet as I make my way the three blocks to the Leaky Cauldron. My coffee order is ready for me the moment I step inside the door and I hand over the eight Sickles for the two to-go cups. I hold the coffee close for warmth as I push out the back door and make my way into the frosted Diagon Alley.
A head full of long, brown curls bobs into my vision the second I step through the barrier. “I was hoping to make it there before you this morning!” A pretty girl with big, brown eyes bats her lashes at me in a mock puppy dog attempt. “You always get the coffee. You're going to have to let me start getting it.” She pulls the extra cup from my hand and takes a long sip.
This is Amelia. I met her when I opened up my stall. She owns the one right next mine; makes and sells charmed jewelry. It isn't fancy stuff, more like what you'd buy for your six-year-old sister, but it's really good work. Dragon charms that breathe fake fire, necklaces that change colours with your mood, earrings that double as long distance spy transmitters; just to name a few of her most popular items.
She's pretty much my favourite person in the world right now. In the short time since I met her, we have officially reached best friend status. And since she's completely mad about my cousin Molly, there's none of that weird one-sided attraction I get off other girls.
“Louis, are you even listening to me?” Amelia smacks my arm, but I barely feel it through my heavy layers of robes. “I asked you if Molly said anything about me after I left last night.”
She did? I must have zoned out. “Oh. Yeah, she went on about you for hours.” I can't keep the teasing out of my voice and she can tell, earning me another smack to the arm.
Do girls really think that hurts?
“Easy, tiger.” I laugh and put my arm around the short statured girl as we head to our stall locations. It only takes a few minutes to deactivate the Caterwauling charms and remove the tarps then we're both open for business.
Diagon Alley starts to fill with patrons over the next few hours and I manage one sale in the time. But that's not bad, usually my real business doesn't start until after lunch. I climb off my stool and start digging through the stock I have inside the base of my stall when I hear something that hasn't befallen my ears in three long years.
My blood runs cold and I stand up so fast I nearly smack my head on the lip to the storage door. It can't be. Surely it can't be. After all this time, there's no way he could be standing behind – He's standing behind me! Three years hasn't done a thing to take away instant recognition. It's Benjamin.
Yeah, that Benjamin. Cruise ship, gorgeous, ran off to get married Benjamin. And wow does he look good. He's gotten a bit taller and his hair's gotten a bit shorter, but it's still that dirty blonde perfection. He keeps rolling onto the heels of his feet as he watches me, his hands twisting around inside the deep pockets of his heavy robes.
I stutter out something that I fully intend to be “hi” and drag my hand back through my hair, tugging the golden blonde locks into proper place. I can see a smirk pull across his still reddened lips and his dark blue eyes settle onto my face. It's all I can do to swallow down a lump of air and make another go of speaking. “How uh...how can I um...help you?”
Benjamin doesn't seem phased by my business-only greeting. He just turns his attention to the fireworks I have on display and begins looking them over. “Yeah, you can help me.” He throws me a quick smile before picking up a small cracker to examine closer. “I'm having a party tonight. Just a small get together. I wanted to put on a nice little show for my guests.”
“Well you don't want this; it's mostly noise and smoke.” I take the cracker from Benjamin's hand and do my best to keep from looking into his eyes. God help me if I get stuck in those damn eyes of his again.... “A party eh?”
“Yeah, it's a celebration. An anniversary, actually.”
“Oh?” My attention drops from the world and focuses on nothing but Benjamin. No way he's talking about his wedding anniversary. That's a date I will never forget and it isn't for another seven months. “What uh...what's it the anniversary of?” I try to sound casual about it, but it's a lost cause. I come off more needy than I have in a long time.
“It's exactly one year since my divorce was finalized.”
What did he say? Did he say divorce? As in...divorce? As in no longer married? As in holy crud Benjamin no longer has a wife?! As in he could be sing-
No! I can't let myself get carried away. This guy hurt me. He tricked me. He...he...he has really pretty hair. I wonder if it's still as soft as it used to be.
“I'd say that's something worth celebrating, wouldn't you, blondie?” The smile on Benjamin's lips keeps growing as he picks up a bigger firework. “With something like this, maybe?”
I snatch the cartridge from his hand and shake my head. “You don't want that one either. It's more for a kid's party. Animals and such.” I clear my throat and place it back on the tiny pedestal from which it was plucked. “You need these. I have them in six different colours or you can get a special blend of colours. I can mix one in about fifteen minutes if you want.” I hand him some modest, but unique cartridges. “They're timed. You shoot it off once and it'll create a show on it's own. The bursts come in sets of four and continue half an hour. If you're looking for a little more flash, I have some charmed options. But they're not allowed in Muggle districts.”
“I'll take some.” Benjamin picks out half a dozen different fireworks and loads them into a bag. It feels weird taking money off him, though I'm not sure why. He's just a normal customer! He pockets his change and looks back up, his eyes instantly grabbing mine. “What are you doing tonight? It's just going to be a small party, but I wouldn't mind adding one more to the list.”
“Me?” I fold my arms across my chest, a sad attempt at putting up a strong front. “You want me to come to your divorce anniversary celebration?” It's almost amusing just to say.
“There's gonna be an amazing firework show.” Benjamin holds up his bag and wiggles it towards me. “I got some amazing stuff from the best pyrotechnic artist around.”
I can feel my face flood with heat and duck my head to hide my blush. “Now you're just messing with me.” I toe at the rung on my stool and rub the back of my neck.
“No, it's true. I've heard great things.” Benjamin steps closer and turns his receipt over onto the small counter of my stall. “Just think about it, yeah?” he says as he scrawls down an address. He slides the paper over towards me and tucks his pen back into his pocket. “If you don't come...I'll just have to come back and harass you again.”
“Would it land me more sales?” I take the address and slip it into my pocket.
“Eight o'clock. Don't be late, blondie.” He winks at me quickly before turning and heading off down Diagon Alley.
All I can do is watch his back and chew on my bottom lip. It's a horrible idea, right? I can't get mixed up with this guy again. What if he's not really divorced? What if it's just another situation like before? He's the entire reason that I play it safe when it comes to dating now. I can't just jump -
“Who was that?” My thoughts are cut off by Amelia's excited voice. “He was a cutey, right? He was. I can tell.” She nudges me in the ribs with her bony elbow and I grab at my side, being more dramatic than needed. “Come on, tell me,” she whines.
She whines nearly as much as I do.
Not that I whine....
“That was Berrrnrnrr,” I mutter. Okay, I don't want to tell her. She knows the entire story of what happened with Benjamin on that infernal ship and I really don't want her advice.
That's a lie! I want her advice so bad right now, but I'm too stubborn to ask.
“I'm sorry, that's either the most unfortunate name ever or you're keeping it from me!” Amelia prods and pokes at my ribs until I'm launched into a fit of the most unmanly giggles you can imagine. She always does this when she wants answers and it's so unfair! “Come on, Weasley, out with it. Don't make me hurt you.” She starts laughing too and finally pulls her hands away to let me speak.
“It was Benjamin.” I shiver over my entire body to shake the lingering feeling of being tickled. My face is flushed red and I try to cover it but she grabs my hands. I can see the wheels turning in her head, trying to snap the pegs together.
“Benjamin? You mean...the guy who got -”
“- married. Yes. Him.” I pull away and take a seat on my stool, avoiding her probing gaze.
“What did he want?”
“To buy some fireworks of course.” I clear my throat and try to wrestle my tone into being casual. “And to invite me to a party to celebrate the year anniversary of his divorce.”
The squeal she lets out...don't get me started. I have to cover my ears. I cringe as I watch Amelia begin to pace and rattle off way more advice options than I thought would be possible. I really thought it was just a should-I-go-should-I-not kind of situation, but apparently I'm wrong. Because according to her, I don't just have to decide about the party; I have to figure what I'm going to do about the “entire Benjamin situation” for the next fifty thousand years.
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but she has so many different options!
How do girls hold so much...thought in their heads at one time? Honestly? Doesn't it get exhausting? I would be exhausted if I were a girl. It looks like so much work.
“Louis Weasley, you pay attention to me!” She slaps my arm again and I roll my eyes. “I'm serious right now. This is a big deal.”
“I know it is. I just...I just...I don't know.” I let my head drop into my hands and sigh. “You know I've never really moved past what happened and this could be my chance. This could be a real chance to get everything I should have gotten then.” I meet my friend's eyes and hope that she'll agree.
She doesn't. “You're mental. You can't go rushing off to some party with a bloke that broke your heart!”
“Broke my heart? That's a bit dramatic, don't you think?” I hold up my hand and smirk. “Yeah, he hurt me but that was so long ago and seeing him now I....”
“You're not thinking with your brain right now, Louis.” Amelia smacks me in the back of the head.
...that one hurt.
I frown and rub at the spot she just assaulted, mostly fixing my hair. “So you think I shouldn't go?”
“That's exactly what I think. I think you should tell him to bugger off.”
“Fine.” I sigh again and start shuffling through some receipts.
“You're going to the party, aren't you?”
“Yeah. I am.” I look up at my friend with the most sincere expression I have. “I would be a complete idiot to let this pass me by without trying. And what's the worst that can happen? I end up no different than I am now. Single.”
Amelia pulls a face that screams disapproval, but like the wonderful friend she is, she contains the urge to argue with me.”I...I just hope that you don't end up getting hurt, Louis.” She pats my shoulder and heads off to help a customer at her own stall.
I change my mind at least thirty times over the course of the day. Sometimes it sounds like a horrible idea, but then I think about how wonderful it would be if we could actually pick up where we left off before. Obviously things are different now if he's single. And he came up to me in public, plain as day, so maybe he's even over all that hiding stuff.
It's so frustrating!
By the time six-thirty rolls around, my head is spinning. Amelia comes over to help me put the tarp back over my stall and reset my charms. Thankfully, she keeps whatever she's thinking to herself. She gives me a hug as we finish. Which is weird. I can't remember her ever actually hugging me like that. She half-hugged me once when she was drunk and about to trip over a curb. Does that count?
“Just be safe, alright Louis?” Amelia looks into my eyes and gives me a sad smile.
“I always am. I thought you didn't want me to see him though.” The smirk on my lips and the tone of my voice makes her burst into giggles.
“I didn't mean it like that!” She covers up her reddened cheeks with her hands and shakes her head. “I hate you sometimes.” She fake pouts at me.
I just grin and hug her back. “Yeah yeah.” I pull away and put on my serious-time-Louis face. “I'll be fine. I promise. I'll be safe and cautious and all of that other boring stuff. I'll see you in the morning.”
“Coffee's on me this time, don't you dare get it first!” she calls as I take off back towards the Leaky Cauldron. I just wave my hand at her. She knows better than that.
So...I'm going. I'm most certainly going to the little party...thing. I can't ever remember feeling this nervous before. I spend half an hour on my hair alone. I swear, it's never been this unmanageable ever in my entire life and tonight it decides to fight with me. I change clothes about six times. Though, that's less to do with being nervous and more to do with being...me.
I like to look good!
I finally settle on a nice pair of tan slacks and a light blue, button-up shirt that matches my eyes near exact. Then I start to worry. Should I bring something along? Mum always taught me to be polite and bring the host a gift when you attend a party, but that could just mean those stuffy adult parties where they make you eat food the size of your pinky finger and pretend to laugh.
Either way, I play it cautious and grab a bottle of vodka on my way over. I can only hope it's what Benjamin still likes. It's a short trip to his apartment and at just a few minutes after eight, I arrive at the building. It's a nice place, nothing fancy, but not shabby either. A little small. The building has one of those buzzers to be let up, but the door isn't even locked when I try it, so I don't bother with the button. I take another look at his address to check the flat number and head upstairs.
Benjamin opens his door with a bright smile on his face. He's changed clothes also, he looks...good. I mean very good. All fresh and pressed and his hair looks newly combed. Don't get me wrong, he looks good when he's jeans-and-tee-shirt-messy-hair also, but this is a different kind of good. He must be out to impress his party guests. “Is that for me?” He points to the small bag in my hand.
I just nod. It seems that my voice has decided to take the night off. With wide eyes, I follow him into his tiny flat and hand over the bottle. “I uh...I wasn't sure if um...if....” Well my voice is back, if only my brain can catch up with it and form some facsimile of a sentence, I'd be on a roll.
Benjamin gives me a smile that leaves me wondering how I'm still standing up. “How about I pour us a drink and we can catch up?” He wiggles the vodka bottle and walks into the kitchen. “I have some limes, some orange juice, and some club soda. What'll you have with it?”
“Um....” I tug nervously at the hem of my shirt and step further into the apartment. Something seems off, but I can't quite place what yet. “Just the soda is fine.” My teeth tug at my bottom lip as I move into the sitting area of Benjamin's flat. And it hits me.
“Didn't you say you were having a party?” I almost laugh at how long it took me to realize there was no one else here. “Am I really early or something? You said eight, right?”
Benjamin walks into the room and holds out a glass to me. “It seems...” he takes a short sip of his drink and smiles behind his glass “...that I forgot to invite anyone else.”
“Maybe it was a little intentional.” He steps towards me and takes my hand into his. “I was afraid you wouldn't come if I asked you over on your own.”
I'm torn between being annoyed at his dishonesty and flattered at the fact he would stoop to that just to see me again. I swallow back the lump in my throat and slide my hand further into his. “I probably wouldn't have. I was hesitant to come as it was.”
“Can you forgive me for being a sneak then?” He tugs my hand and pulls me closer, his eyes bearing down into mine.
“Of course.” I take a long sip of my drink to stall for time and pull away from Benjamin. “You have a nice flat.”
“I'm making you uncomfortable, aren't I?” Benjamin places his drink on a side table and takes a place in front of a stereo. “You seem really tense. And I don't blame you. What happened between us was...it was awful. And I've never stopped regretting it.” He turns on the stereo and soft music starts to pour out all over the room from tiny speakers. “I was a complete arse to you.”
“Yeah, you were.” I take a long drink and put my glass on the table beside his. “But...if you're really sorry -”
“- I am. -”
“- and you're really single -”
“- I swear I am. -”
“- and you're serious about giving us another chance -”
“- Gods, yes, I am. -”
“- then I forgive you. And...we can....” I move closer to Benjamin and hold out my hands to him. He tangles his fingers into mine without a moment's hesitation and I pull him against me. “Dance with me?Maybe we could start over?” I run one hand down his chest and look up into his eyes.
His expression shifts from apologetic to intrigued. I can practically read the excitement flashing across his eyes as he wraps his arms around my waist and holds me tight. “I like the sound of that.” He smiles down at me and starts to sway gently with the slow music.
Don't ask me what the song is. I'm not even paying attention to it. All I can see is Benjamin's dark blue eyes, and all I can feel is his body moving rhythmically against mine, and all I can think about is how much I want to drag him into the other room and rip his clothes off.
A bit much?
I can't help it!
I lock my arms around his neck and he touches his forehead to mine. My eyes close and for several glorious minutes, the rest of the world vanishes away. His hands move up and down my back, searching for a place to rest – or maybe he's just enjoying the idea of touching me. My hold around his neck gets tighter and soon there is no space left between our bodies. I can feel his breath against my lips and my mind starts to spin. I know this is when I should be pulling away, insisting that we take things slow and go easy at this. I know that. But it doesn't change how I feel.
He wants me. And I want him just as bad. We're both adults. We're both single. The past is behind us. There's not reason we shouldn't give in to what we want.
My heart races when I feel his lips brush against mine. He's tentative at first, the touch is soft and smooth and for a moment, I'm afraid he'll pull away. I lean into his touch and he responds with the same eagerness raging through my mind. His arms wrap tightly around my body and his lips crash into mine. His teeth nip over my bottom lip and the sound I make is almost embarrassing.
But Benjamin either doesn't mind or takes pleasure in knowing how much of an impact he can have on me with such a small gesture. It only takes one glance towards the hallway for him to understand exactly what I want. He takes my hand and steals a quick kiss before leading me into the bedroom and kicking the door closed behind us.
I'm pretty sure it's obvious what happens next. There's no need to divulge what exactly goes on behind closed doors. Literally. Nevertheless, you can guess that we have a very interesting and busy night. He asks me to stay after and I happily do. I spend the night sleeping wrapped in his arms. Benjamin holds me like I'm going to slip away and turn to dust at morning's light.
I've never felt so wanted before. And I don't mean physically, either. I mean...truly wanted.
...maybe it's just my hopeful romantic mind running away with me.
But I hope it's more. I hope it's real.
I need it to be real.
I wake up to the wonderful scent of coffee. The bed is annoyingly empty and the sun is peeking the curtains across the room, streaming right into my face. I toss back the sheets and climb out of bed, then slip on my boxers and shirt from the night before. In my groggy state, I secure the buttons improperly but I don't even care. I follow the intoxicating aroma into the kitchen and smile when I spot Benjamin standing at the counter, preparing two cups.
“I was about to come wake you.” He slides one cup towards my direction and curls his finger to call me over. The smile on his face...it's more than I could have ever dreamed of. He holds my eyes as I approach and there's no doubt left in my mind.
This time...I'm getting my happily ever after.
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