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Orange Juice

I was happy with the world today. Alan didn’t permeate the shop with old man smell, Boris’s comments weren’t nearly so snappy and even Scorpius lying at the back of the shop wrapped only in a sarong didn’t seemed to affect my good humour. It was only one hour until closing time, thankfully, when I would be joining Matthew at his parents’ house for dinner. I tried to keep meetings with them to a minimum, because the less they saw me the more likely they were to like me. I didn’t want them to realise how unnaturally weird I could be, not when I needed their approval. Matthew didn’t need to say it, but I knew he was definitely a mummy’s boy.

I sat in the armchair in the corner of the bookshelf opposite the till and continued to read my newspaper. Or at least, Alan thought I was reading a newspaper – I had a copy of Witch Weekly hidden behind it so that I could read my trashy magazine without being judged by Alan the Almighty, as I had come to think of him. He was quite prone to sticking his nose up at me when I did something even mildly uncouth, like dipping biscuits in my tea.

I heard Scorpius groan from behind a few sets of bookshelves. I wound my way to the back of the shop and knelt down beside his spread-eagled form.

"It'll get better," I assured him, patting his head awkwardly and coming away with a handful of sticky hair gel. I wiped it away on his sarong. "Trust me, break ups never last forever."

"What would you know about it?" he grumbled into the carpet. "The only break up you've ever had was with that guy in Sixth Year, and it didn't count because you only did it for a bet."

I blushed. "Well, Molly was putting a lot of money on it."

He snorted. "Yeah, well the odds were rather in her favour. Nobody thought you'd actually ever sleep with anyone."

I blushed even deeper. Scorpius was one of the very few people who knew the story of how I lost my virginity for a very good reason - it was absolutely mortifying. He only knew because he'd accidentally walked in on me and the certain bloke when we were... well, fulfilling my side of the bet in the Herbology greenhouse. To be honest, I still wasn't sure how much of an "accident" that really was.

"You know I don't like you talking about that," I hissed, poking him in his sarong-covered calf. "And it was still horrible. I still don't know what I did wrong."

Scorpius coughed awkwardly, and I narrowed my eyes. I really wasn't going to go into this, not now, not ever, so I let his suspicious behaviour slide. I didn't want to know what he'd done to cause that break up.

"Well, I don't know what I did wrong, either," he said eventually. "It was all going so well... maybe I shouldn't have rejected the knitted y-fronts."

I cringed at the thought of Scorpius in any form of underwear, let alone knitted ones. "You missed out there," I muttered.

"Yeah," he agreed. He managed to roll over on his side, flashing his plaster-coloured chest as he did so. I was almost blinded by the paleness of it. "Do you think I'll ever find 'the one'?" he asked, his hand on his hip, his eyes fixing themselves on mine.

I was feeling rather uncomfortable being so close to him in that attire, so I shuffled back a bit. "You will."

It felt like we had this conversation way too often. If I wasn't careful, I would end up accidentally marrying him out of pity, or worse, sleeping with him. That could NEVER happen. I had far too much dignity.

"Maybe," he said with a sigh.

In an attempt to avoid any forthcoming conversation, I checked my watch. For once, I actually did need to be somewhere else, so I quickly blurted out a "got to go, see you later" and dashed for the door.

It was raining outside, and naturally I didn't have an umbrella. In the time it took me to leave the shop and dig my wand out of my pocket, I was pretty much drenched. Stupid weather; this morning it had been sunny, though still bloody cold. The weather forecast in the Prophet hadn't forecasted rain. They were useless, the whole lot of them. I managed to escape the rain by apparating, arriving swiftly at the garden gate to Matthew's parents' house.

Matthew had grown up in this little twee cottage in the Lake District, a lone stone building among rolling hills, rain-dappled lakes and the odd cow. Ivy smothered the front of the cottage, creating an arch over the newly painted blue front door. I picked my way across the stone path and knocked three times with the cast iron knocker on the door.

The door opened, an unfairly dry-looking Matthew greeting me with a warm smile. He handed me one of his knitted jumpers, taking my coat from me before he welcomed me inside.

"I hate rain," I grumbled, accepting the jumper with relief and shrugging it over my head. "It only takes two seconds to get you and then you're sopping for the rest of the day."

He reached up and pushed a straggly damp strand of hair from my face, kissing me quickly before wrapping his arm around my waist and steering me further into the hall.

"We've lit the fire, so you'll be dry soon enough, Moaning Myrtle," he teased.

The house was so cosy, it made me so envious. Their family was extremely close-knit, something I had immediately been jealous of the first time I visited. In my family, it was impossible to feel so close to absolutely all of my relatives. Even with my immediate family, my parents were always arguing and my stupid brother disappeared without any consideration for my parents and their worrying. Sometimes I wondered if he could elope to Japan and they wouldn't even notice.

I could smell something delicious coming from the kitchen, no doubt another one of Mrs Jones' home-made dishes. Sure enough, when we entered the kitchen we found Matthew's mum standing at the hob and stirring what looked to be a big vat of stew. My mouth almost watered at the sight of it; my mum's cooking always left a lot to be desired.

"Did you walk here?" Mrs Jones fussed when she spotted my dripping clothes. "Honestly, he really doesn't look after you very well at all, does he?" I laughed, accepting a brief hug from her before she went back to stirring the stew. "Matthew, go and put her in front of the fire."

Despite my offers of help and assistance with the dinner, she wouldn't hear any of it. Matthew steered me deeper into the cottage and into the next room, the sitting room. A roaring fire cast a flickering glow across the room. Matthew stuck me in an armchair in front of the fire and parked himself cross legged on the floor opposite me.

I sighed contentedly, leaning back into the cushioned armchair with relief. Finally, it was the weekend. After a long week of managing the shop (and waiting urgently to hear back from Henry with any news), I was tired.

"Had Scorpius recovered by the time you left?" Matthew asked, a smile slipping onto his lips.

Laughing, I shook my head. "Not really. He says he'll never get over her, but he'll be fine. Hopefully at some point he'll realise he's likely to catch pneumonia if he continues to dress like that, because I'm quite worried for his personal safety at the moment.

Matthew shrugged. "I thought he looked quite fetching, actually. I was considering buying myself a similar outfit."

I opened my eyes briefly to glare at him before settling back into the armchair. "Don't you dare. That's a deal breaker for me. No sarongs."

He huffed. "I think they'd suit me much more than Scorpius."

I shook my head again. "They don't suit anybody."

"Fine," he conceded.

We sat in silence for a while, listening to the crackling of the fire as it warmed my face. Our peace and quiet was interrupted by the sitting room door being thrown open with the arrival of Matthew's dad.

"There you are," he barked, strolling over to us. "Your mother's making drinks - do you want anything?"

I shook my head, but Matthew followed his father out of the room to fetch a butterbeer. Left alone, I took the opportunity to peruse the family photos adorning the mantelpiece.

A whole range of Matthew at different ages smiled back at me; the magical photos smiling up at me and the Muggle ones grinning with fixed expressions. My finger traced my favourite one of him as a teenager, freckled and tanned on holiday in Spain. As I watch, he waves and dives off into a swimming pool with an enormous splash.

"Rose?" Mrs Jones stuck her head around the door and brought me an orange juice.

"Thanks," I said, accepting the drink off her. She was still watching me as I went to take a sip of the drink, making me feel uneasy. "Is everything okay?" I asked when she continued to stare at me with a weird expression on her face.

"You tell me," she said, smiling slightly over-sympathetically. She nodded her head towards my glass. "There's no alcohol in it, don't worry."

I frowned. Hang on... What conclusions was she drawing from my choice of drink? "That's good," I said in response. "I've got lots to do tomorrow."

Mrs Jones nodded, her beady eyes still on me, but instead of focusing on my drink, her gaze slipped down to my stomach. "Oh I'm sure you're very busy."

She definitely thought I was pregnant, I realised. She actually thought... oh dear. I had absolutely done nothing to encourage this idea, other than not drink alcohol which was actually not uncommon for me, believe it or not. I hadn't put on a lot of weight either, so it wasn't as though I even looked it. "I'm not pregnant, Mrs Jones," I informed her when she refused to look at me normally.

Mrs Jones blushed. "Oh," she said. "Yes, I know, of course not. Excuse me, I have to go and fix the dinner." Before I could assure her that I wasn't offended, she'd bustled out of the room and shut the door behind her.

I sat back down in the armchair and watched the fire, cradling my glass of orange juice in my hands. The idea of actually being pregnant truly horrified me. It was bad enough Dom having a baby, let alone me being on that same path as well. I presumed it wasn't going to be long before Molly started a family herself (though why she'd want to create a baby with Lorcan's genes, I couldn't imagine), but there was no way I was ready for that. I probably wouldn't be for at least ten years, if I had my way. Matthew was younger than me, so there were probably a billion other things that he wanted to do first before he thought about that, even if we were still together in ten years. That was a long time away, or at least it seemed that way to me.

"Sorry about my mum," Matthew apologised as he slipped into the sitting room. "She's just happy I actually have a steady girlfriend, so she's getting a bit ahead of herself."

"Yeah," I said, trying to laugh it off though discussing the topic with him made me feel extremely uncomfortable. What was I supposed to say in this situation? Was I supposed to reassure him that while I wasn't pregnant now, I didn't find the idea repulsive? Then again, perhaps that line of thought would panic him into thinking I was one of those women who were all about babies and marriage, when really the thought made me want to throw myself in front of the Knight Bus. "I suppose it's unusual for me to turn down alcohol."

"I see it is a compliment," Matthew said with a laugh. "It shows you don't need it to enjoy my company."

"Don't flatter yourself," I said as he resumed his position in front of the fire, stretching his legs out and leaning back on his hands. "I just don't want to humiliate myself in front of your parents."

"Good thing too," he confirmed. "They're not used to the ways of modern young women, unlike me."

"Slag," I muttered.

"I am not," he said, pouting slightly.

I grinned contentedly, sipping at my orange juice. Although I would never admit this to Molly, Matthew was often more like a real best friend than she was. Perhaps I was being unfair, but she was so busy these days that I felt like the only time I ever saw her was at breakfast, and even that was a rare occurrence. When we had first started living together, we'd fallen into bad habits of only spending time with each other when we were in the house. We had to make time for each other again, which we had done and we spoke no more about it. I was noticing a similar pattern developing again. The wedding was occupying most of her thoughts and we really didn't have much time to just be us anymore. I relied on Matthew to fill that void far too much.

We were called to the kitchen table by Matthew's mum. Matthew stood up, grabbing my hand and pulling me up out of the armchair. We went through into the kitchen; I made to sit down, but Matthew shook his head in a tiny gesture. I frowned, until I realised that it was his dad's seat I was about to sit in. I knew from having Hugo as a brother how important places at the table were. Hugo still would demand I move if I sat in his seat at the dinner table.

Brushing his greying wispy hair from his face, Matthew's dad started to hand around the wine. I accepted some for good measure and to prove to Mrs Jones that I wasn't pregnant. The delicious smell of stew filled the air and I gladly tucked into my food. Mrs Jones noted me drinking the wine and she looked embarrassed.

"I'm really sorry," she said when I caught her eye. "I just assumed... what with you not drinking any alcohol and Matthew selling his flat... you understand."

I nodded, then backtracked. "Hang on," I said, turning to Matthew next to me. "You've sold your flat?"

He placed his knife and fork down and looked back guiltily at me. "It's not sold yet, it's just on the market. I was going to tell you..."

I raised my eyebrows. "Are you moving somewhere?"

Matthew took a moment to give his parents a look. "It was supposed to be a surprise."

I sighed, not wishing to discuss this issue in front of his parents; his mum was looking particularly sheepish. "It's fine. You can tell me about it later."

I didn't speak much for the rest of the meal, wondering what the hell Matthew was doing. There was nothing wrong with his flat; it was convenient for both work and travelling to my place. He had never even mentioned the fact that he might want to move. Was he expecting me to move with him, was that the surprise?

Later, when we climbed the narrow staircase of the cottage and headed for bed in Matthew's old bedroom (which probably hadn't changed much except for the replacement of the single bed for a double), I looked at him cautiously. Why had he kept this from me? There really was no reason to, not that I could see. What he did with his flat was his own business; it was his money.

Matthew took a great deal of time shutting the door behind him. I perched on the edge of his bed and eyed him warily. "Talk to me, then," I prompted.

He ran his hands through his hair. "You're going to make a big deal of this," he said.

"Of what?"

"Well, it was really just pre-emptive," he began, moving so that he was standing in front of me. "I know you've been worried about this thing with Boris's heir. I know you don't talk about it, but I know there's been a few issues with the shop's accounts. I thought that if I sold off my flat and moved somewhere cheaper, I could use the extra money to help with your legal fees."

I narrowed my eyes. "Albus is helping me sort the accounts," I retorted. I looked up at him and met his eyes. "I won't take money from you, I don't need charity. My family has plenty of money, I won't starve."

Matthew sighed. "But you're too proud to ask them for help, Rose," he said. "I wanted to help you. We don't know what hell this heir is going to cause. I didn't want you to worry."

"I'm not going to take your money," I told him flatly. "I don't care where you move to, that's your business not mine."

He glared at me. "So it's like that, is it? Well, I was actually going to ask you to move in with me, but as you don't seem to care what I do maybe I'll leave you to your own business."

I shook my head. "What, so you can raise more money for my 'cause'?" I snapped.

"No, actually, because I love you and want to make my home with you," he growled.

So there it was, bold as brass, out in the open. I was too angry with him to even bother to respond. "I'm glad the timing suits you, then," was all I muttered as I stood up and went to pull my pyjamas out of my bag. I didn't even bother with my usual routine of hiding behind various objects to protect my modesty. I just shrugged off my clothes, not caring whether he got an eyeful or not and pulled on my pyjamas back to front. I climbed into bed and turned my back away from his side of the bed, preparing to ignore him for as long as it took until he realised how hurt I was.

Nobody had ever offered me money. Admittedly, they had never had to until now, but I wasn't prepared to make him pay for any mistake of mine. Legal fees were expensive, and yes running a business had drained my pot of money saved from my wages over the years quite considerably, but I didn't need him to rescue me or anything. I was with him for him, not whatever money he had. I knew exactly where it was coming from, too. It was during the first weeks of working for me that Matthew had told me of his travels and how he had some money put aside to see the world once again when he was older. I couldn't take that from him.

Why did he have to go behind my back and do that? Not once had I ever said I expected him to sacrifice his own dreams to keep mine afloat. It wasn't like we were married or anything, we wouldn't go down together or anything like that. If things got that bad, he was free to walk away and that was the way I wanted to keep it.

Whether he loved me or not wasn't the point; I wasn't going to let my problems affect him. This was my battle to fight and mine alone.

AN: Okay, I know it's been a while. I've been travelling the world for the last 6 months so although I have more chapters written it really wasn't possible for me to post them. Thanks for waiting for me to return if you're reading this, reviews are welcome as always. :) Marina


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