Chapter 16 : Intermission, Enter Firewhiskey
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And to think, this was supposed to help him.
But by the end of classes, most lay down their arms, and I'm reluctantly thankful for Rose's cleverness. The hot topic shifts to the Music Club drama, where the nasty split between Sophie and Rhys—our songwriting harpist and organist, respectively—has got the whole castle singing, it's time to sever, sever, sever our ties forever. A passing few remember to turn their curiosity toward me, the blessed new subject of whispers. What is happening in our elusive editor's crumbling world that she's knocked around by D-list bee queens and selling out to Rose Weasley?
Dom would like to know.
I haven't been avoiding her per se. Took a few detours, discovered a secret passageway or three (there's one between the kitchens and Transfiguration of all places, meaning some professor must've loved their midnight munchies enough to carve a hole through the walls).
But the inevitable arrives, and Dom finds me on her way to the team photo shoot, three-fifths dolled up and tracky bottoms stuffed in boots. She pulls me to the side of the hall.
"Did Rose strike a deal with you?" She sees the answer even before I hesitate and shakes her head. "I thought so."
A lump rises in my throat. "Dom." But she won't meet my eyes, and suddenly, I feel like a stranger. "I was worried you might get hurt. It was getting out of hand."
"I know." She says this to her rain-speckled reflection instead of me. "Henry told me."
"I didn't mean to keep it from you."
"You don't have to apologize. I'm not mad, just... give me a few days."
Twisting a finger around the end of her braid, she brushes past and my hand jerks to stop her, but she's gone. My fingers wilt. It's not my fault. It's not. She let this mess get as far as it has.
One can question why I'm friends with Dom as much as I question why people befriend Appy or Caroline, let alone fawn over their every inhale. I can tolerate Dom's pigheadedness as long as she comes around in the end. She knows that I have my reasons for what I did; it's not the first time Pickett or I have crossed the line to drag her back to the proper side. But if I truly went too far...
This cousin war isn't my place. It's only proved one thing: I didn't trust her.
Dom busies herself with Quidditch for the rest of the week, spending her days with Harriet, and I don't see her in the newsroom or even our dorm until nighttime. Harriet updates me on Dom's usurping of Wesbeck's main Beater position. She's a better batter than he ever was and knowing Dom, he'll only get re-injured if he tries to argue otherwise.
Meanwhile, I take company with the other Nott twin. Helen stays late during her rounds and I haven't been able to catch up with her until now. We bring our post-dinner dessert out to the bridge and sit on the archway ledges, our backs exposed to the winds.
"I saw your new advice column," Helen says, scooping the last bit of ice cream from her bowl. "It's different. I like it."
"Thanks." I debuted a new section in preparation for the Q.G.A. takeover. Even if Potter's plan never goes down, currying favor with the crazies won't hurt. I've considered inserting the section before, but advice columns strike me as presumptuous. Given a hundred words of context, I'm supposed to help someone on a critical life decision and it all boils down to talk to someone who cares instead of me. Problem with a boy? Tell him. Mum? Tell her. Yourself? Get your arse to a mirror. Communication: it bloody works.
Coming from someone whose bestie won't even look at her, of course.
As lovely as Helen is, I can't talk to her about anything that's going on. She knows Dom and I have "some spat involving Rose," but she hasn't sensed the extent, nor am I about to explain my involvement with the Gryffindors. Though she gets a gold star for trying.
"Are you really shagging Potter?" Helen's red oversized jumper slips from her shoulder as she leans in.
I glare; she and her sister are cut from the same cloth—subtle as neon paisley.
Grinning, she bites her spoon between her teeth. "It was worth a shot. I bet he bangs like a maniac. Harriet and I were discussing it."
"He's overrated. Touch him and a mob comes after you. How is that appealing?"
"So you have shagged him."
"No." I glare again. I ought to stop that. "Anything Quirkers like has to qualify as overrated, hmm?"
She laughs—snorts, really. Queen hog of Hogwarts is her other name. "Amen, they ruin everything. Hipster nightmare."
"There's been less of them lately though."
"Ooh, yeah." Eyes alight, Helen seems to have forgotten about Albus, thank Merlin. "Rose found a rule—very obscure. We're talking dragon-roaming days. Apparently, it's a fire hazard to have more than ten people in a group if you're walking down the hallways. Rubbish, but rule's a rule. Those blasted mobs are officially over. One day we'll ban them once and for all."
"You wouldn't want that," I say, cringing as she leans over the edge so the wind can blast her hair. Between her and Quidditch-playing Dom and Harriet, I'm the only one who evolved with the slightest fear of heights.
"Why not? Good riddance."
"Driving them underground will only make them proud. Give them—must you—" The crazy bint leans even further out over the chasm, totally on purpose to watch me squirm. I smack her leg. "It'll give them an reason to fight for their beloved club. You never want to make underdogs."
She ponders this, fingertips on stone, seven-hundred feet above the air. "You're right. Didn't think of that. Always so clever, Clemence." Finally, she pulls herself upright.
I breathe relief. "Cleverness has nothing to do with it."
"Yeah, yeah, being careful." Helen only giggles as she slides to the ground, dragging me with her. "Let's go see if they've still got dessert out." Looping arms like we used to do in our younger years, she musses my hair with her free hand so it matches hers. "Now we're both freshly shagged. It'd kill those rumors with Potter, eh?"
We cackle all the way back to the castle, but oh, if only she knew how easy it would be.
Take note: uttering 'I need a drink' in Pickett's presence will bring him to your door with a crate of watered-down firewhiskey and a grin of bad intentions.
I holed myself up in the newsroom sort-of-but-not-really editing Appy's manuscript and giving Dom "some space" when Pickett shows up at half past ten and bodily drags me out of the room.
"It's a figure of speech!" I claw at the floor. "You know I don't drink! Unhand me!"
When I finally give up, he pats me on the shoulder and leaves his hand there just in case. How wise that is will depend on my mental coin flip. Heads, I chomp off his hand.
But he gets lucky and I don't, not even when he insists on sneaking out to the lakeside. It's a classic drinking spot and very scenic, if you like that sort of thing—but getting there with a two thousand-page affront to the English language?
"God damn demonic book," I growl as it knocks against my hip. On the upside, the biting cold has begun to numb the bruising.
"Shhh. We're not in the clear yet."
The courtyard hedges block every bit of moonlight, painting the path in black. Between my lack of night-vision and trying to keep up with Pickett, I inevitably trip, and the book slips. I catch myself but the book decides to play hard to get as it clouts my wrist and knee on its way to the ground. It squelches into mud. While I glower into the darkness, Pickett scoops it up. A burst of gold spellwork siphons the dirt off the cover. He tosses the manuscript on his crate of drinks and hauls the whole load himself. Show-off.
But I'll admit that the fuss is worth it. I won't spout poncy-prose like Appy and her 'silvery pearl orb over sapphire waters' on page twelve, but the lakeside does a decent job of taking my breath away when we arrive. Pickett sets the crate down and I head barefoot to the shore.
I got used to the grounds. The forest and lake are nice the first ten times, then they're just dirty and wet. But wait for the night to pull open the curtains, and the world stills for a performance. When my eyes adjust, it begins: one—four—a hundred stars, with every tree pointing up to watch. A watery mirror below glimmers seamlessly out into the valley, until it's as smooth and flat as the sky.
Crunching footsteps prompt me to turn. Pickett arrives with two bottles of firewhiskey. "Nice, isn't it?" he says, handing one over.
I smirk. "You're such a romantic."
"But no one knows that. Otherwise, girls'll be all on me."
"Except the one you want."
"And thus." He clinks his bottle against mine before taking a swig.
We watch the moon rise through the fog of our breaths.
"Dom's not speaking to me either," he says after a moment. "I told her that I was on your side. That she should stop acting like she's five."
I wince. He shouldn't have. "She yell at you?"
"Nah, I yelled at her. She didn't say anything."
Pickett turns the rim around on his lips as if contemplating how quickly he can down the whole thing without seeming desperate, brimming with an almost contagious hurt. A chill scours the bottom of my lungs, and there it is again—the feeling like crying. I hug my arms close until it goes away.
"I should have trusted her," I murmur. "I made things worse."
The hysteria has died, but Rose and Dom's respective teams survive on the fringes, fueling themselves with conspiracy theories worthy of Pickett. Knowing the lot they're speculating over, they're probably not far off the mark. I hear Dom's been talking to each of her followers personally. I drove her deeper into war.
"If she wants to be like Caroline Escot and surround herself with crazies to validate herself, then there's nothing you can do." Pickett touches my shoulder lightly. Sympathy isn't about the words, just the presence, and Pickett probably knows what I need better than I do, dragging me out here to the lake.
"Maybe I haven't dealt with shit in so long, I've forgotten how." Kicking at the dirt, I smile dourly. "God, I've gotten boring."
He shrugs. "Join the club." Tipping his head, he takes a long drink.
"This doesn't sound like a very fun club to join."
"Well, that would defeat the purpose." He eyes my capped bottle. "You should at least figure out your limits."
Booze-blooded Scot that he is, Pickett has a goal of incapacitating Hogwarts via drink; some men just want to watch the world carouse. Me, I haven't ever been piss drunk. I have drank people under the table without a single drop down my throat—credit to a very clever wand trick that gets me by in the gossip trade. But I don't like having less than full control over myself, so that means no dancing on tables for me.
"Not tonight," I say and hand the bottle to him.
"C'mon, love. You've got to read that monstrosity Appy left you. Write drunk, edit drunk." Pickett throws an arm around my shoulders and guides me back around, toward where the book awaits underneath a willow. A grin cloaks his previous bout of gloom and fortunately, it's just as contagious.
"Just one," I relent, climbing the bank.
"It's called compromise."
"Indeed it is. Original offer was twelve."
Before I sit down, Pickett pulls my sleeve. His hand resting on my shoulder points to two figures approaching from the castle and a delighted anticipation creeps up his face.
The boy on the right is undoubtedly Scorpius Malfoy. His slicked hair glints pale blue under the moonlight, as does his prefect badge, still adorned from patrol. His companion remains in shadow, but I already know who he is, even before I looked up, because let's face it: I'd be more surprised if Potter didn't follow me out here to complete the bad idea brigade.
Pickett's pointing finger turns into a cheery wave, and he crushes his cheek against mine, stubbly grin scraping my face. I growl.
"You want to see how jealous he gets, too," Pickett whispers. "You got all tense when you saw him—hey-ho!"
Albus has emerged from the shadow, swinging his arms with a lazy confidence, but for the first second that I see him, I swear he misses a step, as if there was more staring than walking on his mind.
"What brings Mr. Enigma and friend here?"
Scorpius tips an imaginary hat, then shoves his hands back into his anorak's pockets. "We saw you guys heading out," he says, and Albus holds up a case of Odgen's firewhiskey. "Hope you don't mind if we crash."
"More the merrier!" Pickett beckons them closer, mostly reaching out toward the Odgen's. "Not that we're very merry, but misery loves company, too. Misery shares drinks. Right, love muffin?"
"You're having way too much fun," I grit, digging my feet in the dirt. Still can't dislodge my shoulder from his bear trap of an armpit.
"Consequence of the firewhiskey. I suggest you join." Pickett nods at Albus as he takes a seat beside me.
I finally push him away, knocking into Albus, who decides to put his face right in front of mine when I turn.
"Fitzgerald." The stalwart of our introductions. "Haven't seen you in awhile."
I mirror his cool smile through the thick nest of flyaways, thanks to Pickett's scratchy jacket. "Potter. Should've kept it that way. What are you really here for?"
"No hidden intentions. We want to unwind. It's been hectic." Our game of circling the elephants stampeding through the room—or lake, I suppose—halts when his voice softens. "Have you been okay?"
It doesn't catch me off guard as much as it once would have. "I've been great." I swallow the lump of Dom-related thoughts. Pickett's burning holes through the back of my head. Brought the drinks, forgot the popcorn.
"Quirkers haven't bothered you?"
"Rose made sure of that. No need to worry your pretty, little mind."
Albus takes a moment to puzzle over me. Is there more to what I say? Am I hiding hay bales of hurt? The night shrouds his eyes, but the few times that they catch the moonlight, they're potently green like children of envy.
"Don't look at me like that unless you mean it, Potter."
The corner of his mouth lifts slightly. He's caught.
Pickett and Scorpius talk faintly in the background:
"Do you ever feel like a third wheel?"
"All the time."
"Me too! Bottoms up!"
Albus doesn't move. I can feel his breath on my chin, still warm when it reaches me. "Do you just hate people caring about you?"
"Only those who start caring after I get beat up in a loo." My eyes flick away. That's quite enough; we've got company. "Seriously, I'm fine. Why, soon, I'll be bigger than before. The advice column's a hit. Mail's been coming in at record highs." Piles at breakfast. I only get close to that on Girlfriend Watch—and only notes, not mail. Poor Barry the Breaking News Barn Owl has been bringing it all in, and he's been so tired that he nearly caught fire flying into a candle.
"This is the Q.G.A. takeover nonsense, right?" Pickett tsk-tsks, interrupting with perfect timing, and hands Albus an open drink. "Conspiracy on top of conspiracy. With the likes of you people in this school, how can anyone think I'm the tin-foil nutjob?" He then drops Appy's manuscript in my lap. "So while you two were—" He waggles his fingers. "Scorpius and I thought of a great idea. Seeing as we all have troubles to drown and you have to read the next great classic, why not combine the two and have a little story time drinkfest? Nothing like a round of ridicule to strengthen the bonds of friendship."
Were it a typical night, I'd say that subjecting anyone to Appy's writing would be cruel and unusual. I've skimmed it. Her story is Muggle fiction—the trend of the moment ever since E-Mail My Love smashed the best-selling lists. I never thought there'd be worse than Muggles trying to write the magical genre until wizards tried to write the reverse. Her story tells the tale of Eleanor Isabelle Canterbury (but god forbid you call her by her full name) and her totally wacky adventures in Amberline Academy as she goes through the trials of being sixteen and—gasp—awkward.
But it's not a typical night. It's a night under the moon and stars with enough booze to knock out the Quidditch team, sitting next to blondie who can't catch a break, Pickett with his bad ideas, and Potter, the physical manifestation of bad ideas; Appy's manuscript fits right in. I'm not even drunk—but I will need to be drunk, so I grab Pickett's half-empty Odgen's and down a gulp as he fist pumps in the air. Scorpius settles his tush on a dry rock, and Albus cocks his head toward me as I lift the book and begin to read.
"'My name is Eleanor Isabelle Canterbury...'"
The first chapter is slow going. It's not Appy's fault; the writing itself goes by lightning fast, but that's what happens when it explains the story's entire conflict in one chapter and when the conflict is stupid enough to be explainable in one go. Rather, it's my audience's first exposure to the genre.
And they have a lot of things to say.
"'I have the cutest albino rat called Ampersand,'" I read from page four. "'Much better name than Eleanor. Seriously, what were my parents on when they had me? Mum was pregnant, but Dad had no excuse.'"
"I don't get it. Eleanor's a very pretty name," sighs the boy named Scorpius Hyperion. "I wish I were named Eleanor."
"'I'm warming up to you, but under any circumstances, you better not call Ampersand 'Ampy'. Hell to the no. I'll punch you in the face. And then Ampy will punch you. Shut up, I'm weird, but it's a condition, capisce? Deal with it, homeslice.'"
Pickett scrunches his nose. "This is a very hostile environment for readers. I feel a bit threatened."
"Not too different than real-life Quirkers," Albus mutters.
"'I already told you about darling Mia, but my other flatmate Regina, well, let's just say that heinous troll struts around on five-inch stilettos.'"
"Stilettos." Pickett nods. "That's how you know she's evil."
Fast-forward to the end of the chapter. We learn about Ella's daily problems involving reality TV, chocolate milkshakes and the chihuahua downstairs. She's self-described as "random," the oft-misused cousin of "quirky." Literally, it means that she could be a girl, the number four, or an offshore drilling rig.
Most importantly, we arrive at the big conflict that'll carry us for fifty-odd chapters: "''Eleanor Canterbury and Chase Matthews,' Miss Aurora declared, and my heart sunk to the floor. This couldn't be happening. A whole year of life studies partnered with Chase Matthews, bane of my life? And the worst part? I was horribly, inexplicably, head-over-heels in love with him.'"
Albus spits his drink back into the bottle. "She just said he's the bane of her life."
"No, see, that's why she's in love with him," I say, dog-earing the page. "She loves him because she hates him." Jamming a candle into a light socket would be easier than injecting logic into this story.
"Maybe there's a deeper psychological component." Conspiracist Pickett spins his arms. Flat on the ground, he's the spitting image of a Ferris wheel gone rogue. "Contradicting herself and violent mood swings. We assume she's speaking to the reader, but what if she actually has a legitimate mental condition? Something with multiple personalities."
"And the violent one's a killer," Albus adds, who's talkative tonight. "She's already killed Regina in vengeance and she's reliving her schooldays in her mind whilst locked in an asylum."
"I like the way you think."
Our four clinking bottles silence the crickets. I'd be questioning how we ended up here, but I've forgotten the day even though I'm not close to properly drunk. And... it's nice. House raves are ear-splittingly loud pits of disease, full of people I don't want to talk to and are too stupid even when they're sober, but this—on the lake with chums or whatever you call this lot, tearing apart some quality writing—this is a real party.
Pickett wants a go at it. "How many pages has it been?" he asks, taking the manuscript and searching for my dog-ear.
He flips a chunk of pages to the right. "How many pages left?"
"One thousand nine hundred sixty-seven."
Scorpius hiccups and glances at the bottles cradled between his legs. "We're gonna need more crates."
"We're going to need coffins," Albus mutters, and adds another bottle to the pile as he finishes his.
Pickett finally finds something. "Love—love. Do this bit with the rhetorical questions." He straightens his clothes, prepping for a performance.
Clearing my throat, I fling my pitch high in the heavens worthy of Ella's shrillness and Albus evens recoils. Triggered some fight-or-flight instinct. "'You know how sometimes life just totally sucks?'"
"I do, Ella," Pickett says solemnly.
"'Like it's the Monday of Mondays?'"
"'Today was one of those days. First, Regina brings home her second boytoy of the month. I know, what a slag! At least someone agrees.'"
"Whoa, wait a second, Ella love." Pickett's eyes bulge out. Albus and Scorpius snicker. "Now you're shoving opinions in my mouth. A girl can date whoever she wants."
"'I know what you're thinking—'"
"Let's test this—I'm thinking of a number between one and ten."
"'How bad can it be?'"
"Not remotely close. It was four."
At this point, we bowl over in hysterics. Circe, the drink's getting to us badly. I take a new bottle from the crate, finishing off the row, and stretch out my legs. I scoot not too far from Albus who throws me a funny look.
Pickett wipes the tears from his eyes. "Why are we stopping?"
"I'm tired. You read."
As Pickett hauls the book onto his lap and a glowing moth distracts Scorpius, Albus winds his arm behind my waist where no one can see and I let him leave it there. Terribly strange night. I suppose this is how we're like around other people, with no chance of arguing. Almost an entirely different life.
We trade the book chapter to chapter until the drinks run out. My count ends at three bottles—the watered down ones, thank Merlin. The boys split the rest, and Albus' numbers surprise me considering how paranoid he is; he wouldn't chance a drunken slip-up. I lost count, but he has an origami pile made from Odgen's labels next to him.
The story goes back to Pickett for chapter twelve. "'Why couldn't Ella see how wonderful she was?'" he reads and pulls away from the book. "Wow, narcissist."
I lean forward for a glance and feel the weight of Albus' hand follow. "Oh no, the point of view switched. This is Chase now."
"But I was just warming up to Ella!" Pickett squints at the page as if he can't quite believe it, wobbling back and forth from the whiskey sloshing inside of him. "It sounds exactly the same but with different pronouns."
Albus tugs the hem of my jumper and I fight a smile. I steal the manuscript and slouch into my previous position. "Well, instead of Ella complaining about how awkward she is, you've got Chase gushing over how oblivious beautiful she is, inside and out. Not noticing that you're perfect is a flaw."
Shoulder behind mine, Albus reads over me. He ducks his head when he laughs at something stupid—like he's embarrassed for the world—and he does it now, his alcohol breath in my hair. "Does he think about anything that doesn't involve her? It's bloody creepy."
"It's obviously romantic, Potter. Take a lesson." I trace the next paragraph as I read along. "'Every time we fought, it drove me crazy, but all I wanted to do was hug her and apologize for being such a git.' See, why don't you do that? Accept all the blame like a gentleman."
He holds my sidelong glance with that look I told him not to give me. "I will if you tell me to."
His drunken haze excuses the blistering stupidity pouring out of his mouth, but I can't say the same for me if I respond, so I shrug him off and continue reading more pointedly than before. "'I couldn't help but care. She was so frustrating, but ever since I saw the hurt behind her eyes I knew she was only misunderstood. I could fix her.' You don't fix people, dearie. You fix dogs. 'There I go again. Snap out of it. Think manly.' Like weightlifting pints of ale in shark-infested waters—" Wait, there's more.
"'I'm such a bloody girl.'" I shake my head, scoffing. "Are you, Chase? Because girls are needy, emotional freaks, and boys are clueless jerks, but that's okay because they're fit as hell. But there's no hope for being a girl. Try shouting 'you're such a mudblood' in the halls and see how well that fares, douchebag."
I slam the book shut, waking a red-faced Scorpius from his nap on the tree trunk; bark is not a gentle exfoliator.
Pickett stares at me dazedly from the ground. "You sound just like Dom when you're drunk. ...can I kiss you?"
Before I can respond, Albus drags the manuscript from my lap and lays it across Pickett's face, so it looks like it's devouring him. "You have to admit though," Albus says as he admires his work, "Quirkers are a little bit like that."
I block out Pickett's snicker and his muffled, 'He got jealous.' "Because they're Quirkers and have terrible taste and terrible relationships, because they read shit like this and don't treat anyone who's remotely different from them like human beings."
Albus rests his elbow on his knee, and his chin on his hand. "So in your gossip columns, you're not objectifying people and encouraging that same behavior by commodifying their lives into free entertainment."
We've got ourselves an eloquent drunk. "That's different."
"You don't treat Quirkers like human beings." He drums his fingers on the side of his jaw. "And I don't know, that advice column reeks a bit of pandering...."
"It's—" At least I know I'm doing it. So that doesn't make it okay—some argue that makes it worse—but it means I can set my limits. I can be smart about it, do some good even, like he wants me to. It was practically his god damn idea.
I glare at Albus, muttering, "You're really going to compare the two."
"Well, you can't."
He grins. "I got you."
"He did," Pickett chimes in; it sounds like he's eating a page.
"See, I did."
"Did not." I mask defeat by looking out toward the lake, and I feel him laugh into my hair.
As the night winds down, we're too tired to go back inside, and we agree on sneaking back before dawn. I can't vouch for the soundness of that plan, it being the brainchild of several liters of drink. The four of us lump together, shoulder to shoulder on the dewy grass with no space for limbs, staring out into the misty lake.
"I'm in love with an irrational harpy," Pickett slurs, holding an empty bottle to his lips.
Scorpius, on my right, slumps onto my shoulder. "I've got two after me."
"Lots of blokes would kill for Rose or Dom. Well, maul, maybe. Don't worry, I won't."
"I just want their fighting to stop." Scorpius makes a whimpering noise like a lost cub. "I don't even know what it's about. Probably over whose sassy gay friend I'd be."
I jerk my head toward him. He's—no, he's just drunk—
"Shhh, mate," says Albus from the other side. He holds a finger in the air that falls to the wayside and prods my cheek. "These two don't know."
Frost starts to form inside my mouth so agape. I look toward Pickett, but he's too ale-addled to notice.
I mean, I'm not surprised Scorpius fancies men; I already believed it once. But how did I miss it the second time around? That story last year still raised a bit of ire and Albus dropped more than a few hints. Then Scorpius was with Rose—when did she find out? When did Dom find out? How did Dom never tell me?
Albus continues the whinging chain, as if the blunder never occurred. "I don't know what I want anymore." He nudges my foot. "Your turn."
I hear his voice from a week past, 'You know far less about this school than you think.' I pride myself on knowing things and knowing when I don't know things; this violates both.
"I need another drink."
Pickett nods. "Don't we all." Dropping his bottle, he stands up and stretches, and then starts loosening his belt. "All right, I'm gonna do it."
We on the ground stare in alarm, even me in my quasi-existential crisis. But then Pickett starts dashing down the bank, shedding his clothes on the way, and cannonballs off the dock.
The splash hits us.
I thought only Pickett would be stupid enough to want midnight swimming, but Scorpius soon leaves his post and does the same, with a bigger splash. He surfaces for water, his blond mop draping his face, and flounders around like a beluga. "Oh no, I'm Ella, and I can't swim!"
Pickett wades toward him. "Never fear! Convenient love interest is here!"
"No, don't touch me! You'll catch my angst."
"But I can cure you with my love!"
Scorpius' accidental outing has never been more time-appropriate. Gripping Pickett by the shoulders, he says solemnly, "I've got a deep, dark secret. You don't understand."
Pickett cups his cheek. "I'll understand. I've always understood."
"All right, I... I take my tea with milk."
"You monster!" Pickett flings him away. Slaps him too if I hear correctly. Blooming idiots.
I very slowly turn my head when the chuckling beside me slows, because there's only other one person left on dry land, and when I meet his glinting eyes, he takes my hand and—no, no, no, no.
"Come on, Fitzgerald." Albus pulls me up.
"It'll be fun."
"I'll go in with you."
I miss the days when he was the grouchy wet blanket. Pickett's doing backstrokes when Albus gets my feet on the dock. Scorpius is like a mermaid that's finally found home. The rising chill seeps into my leg, through the flannel and alcohol-flushed skin. I crouch down to test the waters, but it's too far.
"How cold is it, Pickett?"
"It's totally fine. What do toes feel like again?"
Albus peels off his shirt, and I don't know where to look, because staring would mean I want to watch and avoiding him would mean I'm afraid to. When I do look up, he's saluting me in nothing but boxers.
"Live a little." He grins and falls backwards off the end of the dock.
I live a lot. I'll live a lot longer without catching hypothermia.
Huddled amongst the piles of sopping clothes, I shut my eyes to the whistles of the boys. I won't be swayed. I learned from Miss Polly's Children Hour: say no to peer pressure.
A minute later, I'm staring into the black waters, shaking in my knickers. I'm not near drunk enough for this. I should've cast a heating charm. It'd probably be like trying to melt a glacier with a kettle. They're cheering me on which makes it worse, because I have to jump, and it's getting colder and the water doesn't look very clean and Potter's staring at my bum and isn't there a squid—?
But I do finally leap off, and regret has never hurt so much as it does in the form of ice masquerading as a liquid. The second of impact isn't so bad. In the first second, there's too many sensations to decipher which one is the blistering cold. Then the water closes over my head and ice rushes in, crumpling my organs like tin foil. I break through the surface gasping, "You—are all—"
Pickett whoops until my hair slaps his face, which he rightly deserves for splashing me as soon as I turn around, and I go after him with a vengeance. I never finish my sentence before the alcohol warms me up, and the night slips away from there.
Limbs grow heavy and drink settles in as the hour wanes. When Scorpius washes up on shore face-down, Pickett goes to check he's just napping. Considering the rest of Pickett's meddling, I'm not surprised when he doesn't comes back, leaving just me and Albus in the water.
The night's been a blank slate, with only the fuzziest concept of what happens before and after these short hours. We've been drinking, we're in our knickers, and now we're alone—the dots are there, and we both know it.
"Tonight was nice. Maybe we don't have to hide this." Albus wears a wicked smirk as he kicks toward me, and I can already tell he's not thinking with his head. "Some girls are sharpening pitchforks, but an equal share want to know how you got Mr. Enigma. It'd be good for your column."
"Or that's the worst plan yet." It also operates on the assumption that we have a this once again, but it's harder to deny with witnesses tonight. But the problem has never been about attraction, only whether it's stronger than the parts we dislike.
He wastes no time in closing that itty-bitty distance between us, hands skimming my bare waist and I seize them before they roam.
"Yeah, a little bit. When my roommate nearly strangles me because she thinks we've got something going on, I'd rather not encourage her."
He kisses the side of my mouth before I can turn away; we've kept our flirtations coy until now. "No one's going to find out. Besides, you said you had nothing to lose."
I push him, hand fisted against his chest, but only land in the net of his arm. "Just because I can throw away my reputation, doesn't mean I want to—Potter—"
Another kiss traces my shoulders like a trickle, and I swallow so hard I nearly lose my tongue. I bite down, twining my arms around his neck; he called my bluff.
When he returns for my lips, his mouth is familiar. I know how to fit its mold and I taste a craving too intense to be liquor. Without so many words and plans, Potter is simple and carnal and stupid. He wants me—that's how stupid he is.
And me, on any other night, I'd be watching this school's empty little lives, rubbing myself off the population because I'm not one of them. I don't make their kind of mistakes. I don't cavort in lakes with my downfall, leaving an abrasion of prints on his back as I cling.
"Clemence..." Hand sliding down, he makes a point of pulling the fabric at my hip as he licks the water off my neck. "...what's the craziest thing you've done?"
My breath starts to shudder. I look to shore for a second, wondering where Pickett and Scorpius are; can they hear us? The excuse is on the table for me to stop this. Albus ropes the cotton around his thumb, hand splayed between my thighs—fuck. I need to stop this. "Potter."
Hoarse and senseless, he murmurs into my jaw, "I want you, Clemence. I just want you," and I didn't think words could be addictive, but he needs to make a habit of those.
His fingers scrape for the hook behind my back as he swims us closer to the dock's shadow.
"This is stupid," I pant, wrapping my legs around him.
"It's a pretty stupid night."
I hear the snap and I don't quite believe that I let it get this far until my bare spine hits the dock post and the splash separates me from the tangle of straps. He lifts me up to kiss my chest and stomach, but I pull his head back and make him kiss me on the mouth, because I learned in this frenzy that I like how he tastes with the lake water and with my name on his tongue.
We kick off the last of our clothes. My knickers are left hooked around my ankles in hopes I can convince myself that I'm not actually naked against Albus and wanting this as much as I do, when I never have before. It's not even about the sex; there's such fuss over it—and I get it—but it's credit to the build-up, the bared confessions in the touches we hide on our bodies.
Desire is so eloquent in the right hands.
Gripping each other in rhythm, we gulp in breaths, hushing our moans with teeth-marked thumbs. It's messy, not amazing, but hungry and good. He whispers, "Quiet, they'll hear," paired with the slyest of grins right before pushing harder. I like it enough to arch my back and tell him to do it again until our legs ache. And he does, until our bodies sag and they ache with everything else.
It's still night and we're still drunk when we hold each other. The cold trickles in. Albus mumbles words into the crook of my neck that he'll regret in the morning. For now, the waves lull us to sleep.
Lots of help and credits for this chapter. Taylor Swift's 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' inspired the 'sever, sever, sever,' line. Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight inspired 'Some men just want to watch...' Aiedail gave me the line about coffins and ToujourPadfoot, Ellerina, and peppersweet threw me crack on request and GubraithianFire fixed grammar derps; this chapter may as well be a collab.
A/N I APOLOGIZE FOR THE WAIT AND MISSED DEADLINES BUT I HOPE THIS IS WORTH IT? I had no idea how to say, 'Sorry it took so long, blame the sex.'
I cut out a few things that I'll probably insert next chapter, so this chapter was longer before. It's meant to be sort of an interlude, thus the title, and why I went crazy with Appy's manuscript, which is all in good fun; I tried to pick on the things that are agreeably terrible in stories. And also we have some important reveals and some ooh-la-la at the end! I suppose it's too late to warn people to cover their eyes. It was weird and fun to write at the same time. Would do again.
A review would be most appreciated! ♥ ah, and remember to keep the language down, because while I do love that some of you are 'shitting bricks in technicolor' xD you have to be 12+ in reviews!
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