Ringing up the till for the customer who stood in front of her, Rory watched from the corner of her eye as Damian dealt with a group of giggling girls. But, where he’d normally have relished in their un-abided attention, a shit-eating smirk on his lips, there was only a slight grimace and a forced smile.
He’d been off that entire morning - in fact he’d been off during every encounter she’d had with him that summer. There was something troubling him, and it troubled her to see him so out of character.
Smiling politely at the elderly man in front of her, Rory bagged his purchases for him before bidding him a good day and motioned for her brother to take her spot behind the counter.
The initial busy days that the store had seen after its’ opening had, opposed to what Grandma Pine had assured her, slowed somewhat in the weeks between her birthday and the start of August, but now that the summer holidays were coming to an end, the back-to-school shopping had seen the number of customers to Pine Tales’ surge as more families frequented the packed streets of Diagon Alley.
While it was comforting to see her store so full, Rory had for the first few days of the rise in numbers been a little overwhelmed as she’d – stupidly – given her cousins their reprieve from the job they’d been sold into by their parents. But after her father had visited one midday earlier that week, he’d quickly forced her brother and sister into donning the store aprons once again.
However, after Brea had offended one too many of her elderly customers with her big-mouth and prankster personality, the youngest Pine was replaced by Tristan and Damian – much to the relief of Rory and her regulars.
Ruffling the hair of Jared as he took her place at the till, Rory slinked through the crowds of the lower level and, after finding the book the giggling thirteen-year-old witches were supposedly looking for, extracted Damian from the front and dragged him into the back room. The dark-haired boy blinked slowly, still adjusting to his sudden change in settings and shook his head as he got his bearings.
“I’ve already had my break, Ro.”
“I know,” She retorted, “But Trist and Jay can handle the floor for the time being,”
She waved her wand at the lock on the door, and Damian’s brow furrowed when he heard the resounding click it made.
“Am I in trouble?” He ruffled the back of his hair, “I don’t remember doing anything too offensive as of late.”
“You’re not in trouble, Dame – sit.” Rory waved her wand again, and two mugs floated down from the shelf above her whilst the kettle on the small stove began boiling. “I just want to talk.”
Something in his face shifted, and his eyes flashed before he looked warily over his shoulder at the door. Damian shuffled on his feet, his hands wringing in front of him and he edged away from the table.
“It was pretty busy out there, Rory, I don’t feel right about leaving-”
“Sit.” Her face gave no room for argument, and he gulped. Heaving a defeated sigh, the seventeen-year-old pulled aside a chair and dropped down into it. “Good.”
The tea she’d been brewing on the stove finished, and it floated over to join them on the table. Picking up the handle, she poured both of them a sizeable portion.
“Now, tell me what’s been bothering you.”
“Nothing’s been bothering me,” He shrugged with an impassive expression, but Rory had known him his entire life, he was her baby cousin and she knew when he was lying.
“It’s funny, because I don’t believe you.”
“No, Damian – something’s bothering you and I want to know what.” Her features softened, and she reached across the coffee table to rub his hand. “I don’t like seeing you upset.”
“I’m not-” Shocked, he looked up at her with wide eyes. “I’m not upset.”
She quirked a brow.
“I’m not upset,” Confidently, he tried to reassure her. “I’m just a little out of sorts at the moment.”
“If you’re nervous about NEWTS,”
“I’m not nervous about NEWTS – well, I mean yeah I am a bit, but that’s not why I haven’t been feeling myself. I-”
“You what?” Rory’s hands slipped away from her mug when Damian’s face turned a deep red, and he averted her gaze. “Damian?”
“It’s just different, you know? I’m not – I’ve never had a crush before.”
“This is about a girl?” She blinked slowly a little shocked at the revelation, but she squashed the urge to coo when he glanced up from his lap with an unimpressed glare.
“Don’t.” She held her hands up innocently. “I shouldn’t have told you,”
“You’re just going to tease me; god, why didn’t I keep my mouth shut – what did you put in this tea!’
“You haven’t even had a sip.” She reminded him, and he paused but his glare didn’t soften. “Damian, you’re my cousin – of course I’m going to give you shit about you having a crush, you’ve done it to me whenever you’ve known about the guys I’ve liked.”
“Yeah but that’s different.”
She shot him a dry look.
“But, just because I tease you doesn’t mean it’s anything to be embarrassed or upset about. Crushes are exciting, Damian.”
“You’re such a girl,” He dry-retched.
“No shit,” Rory rolled her eyes at his macho-display. “I don’t get why you’re so put out by liking someone.”
“Because I’m me! I’m Damian Bell – I flirt with girls, I mess about with them and we have a good time, but I don’t fall for anyone. Period.”
“Then what happened.”
“I… I can’t say.”
“Why not?” She questioned but he turned his head so he wasn’t threatened by her hard look. “Damian. Why not?”
“Are you ashamed of her?”
“NO!” He stood up violently and his chair toppled backwards with the action. “She’s amazing; the most brilliant witch I’ve ever met – why would you suggest that?”
“You’re not giving me any options here, Dame.”
“I’m not ashamed of her,” He declared to her through gritted teeth. “Alright?”
“Alright. Then what is it?”
“I know what you say about me, I know what everyone says about me – family, strangers, my friends – I get it, I’ve got a reputation and people are wary whenever I show an inch of interest in one of the good girls.”
“You’d scare her off, tell her to be careful because I can’t be trusted with anyone’s heart. It doesn’t matter, I get why you’d do that – I would too. She shouldn’t be bothered with someone like me, I… I don’t deserve someone like her.”
“Don’t you dare say that.” Rory’s voice was hushed, her face darkened with anger. “Don’t you ever say that again.”
Damian stilled, and his chin hung close to his chest.
“You may have garnered yourself a reputation over the years through your chasing of skirts and risqué hook-ups, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve someone who makes you happy. I know you, Damian, and underneath this act you’ve played for the last five years is the little boy I grew up with. The little boy who’d hold his brother when he had a bad dream, who carried Jared home after he broke his ankle when we were kids, and who punched Ryan Flint when he called me fat.” She stood up from her seat and rounded the table so she was standing in front of him. “When I look at you, I still see that little boy with the big heart and protective nature. Don’t you ever degrade yourself like that,”
She cupped his face and smiled softly at him.
“Now, who’s this girl you fancy?” He chuckled when she winked, the tense atmosphere from only moments earlier disappearing and she patted his cheek lightly before stepping back.
“Molly,” He ran a hand through his thick hair. “Molly Weasley II.”
He shook his head.
“How’d this happen?” Thrown by his admission, yet again, Rory blinked slowly processing the fact that her younger cousin had a crush on one of her friends. While he attempted to formulate the right words to explain, she tried to picture Damian with the year-older-than-him Weasley, surprisingly she could see it working. His chilled, edgy vibe balancing her bookish, serious persona.
“Last year at your graduation party, I got talking to her-”
“Talking? I recall seeing the full Damian Bell charm on display that night.” She retorted, a vague memory of him flirting with the auburn-haired girl appearing before her eyes.
“Right, well even though the night didn’t end exactly the way I thought it would-”
“What? I wasn’t a changed man then.”
“Changed man, good god.”
“Do you want to hear this or not, because I can go back to work?”
“No, no go ahead, I’ll be good – I promise.” She sat down and smiled sweetly, he rolled his eyes.
“As I was saying, even though the night didn’t end the way I thought it would, I did have a good time chatting with her. Good enough that when I bumped into her on the Hogwarts Express, I stayed with her in her carriage talking about anything that came to mind.” A small smile grew on his lips, and it made a warm ball of fuzz form in Rory’s chest at the sight. “She’s actually really witty, I swear I was in stitches half the time we’d hang out in between classes – she’d get this look in her eye and I just knew whatever she was about to say was trouble.”
“You really like her,”
“Yeah, I do.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“She can’t stand me.”
“There was a party after exams,” He began, and the way his face dropped with guilt told Rory that she wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. “And I’d asked Molly to come along, because you know what she gets like – preferring to stay in her dorm reading-”
“Which there’s nothing wrong with!” Rory protested, only slightly offended at his accusation.
“You own a bookstore, Ro, of course you wouldn’t think there is.”
“ANYWAY – I asked Molly if she’d go to this party that the Gryffindors were throwing, and after much argument and persuasion she caved and agreed. I was excited, really excited that she was going to be there-”
“Oh my god you’re so cute.” He quietened her with a glare and she mimed zipping her lips shut.
“The night of the party came, and I got to the Gryffindor Common Room a little after it had started when it was in full swing. I wasn’t surprised to find that Molly wasn’t there yet, I knew she’d procrastinate as long as she could, before showing up. So I had a few drinks and partied, by midnight I was a little sloshed and dancing when-” He paused, flushing deeply. “When I got, I guess you could say – attacked by a random chick at the party. She just appeared out of literally nowhere and wrapped herself around me. It was after I’d pried her lips from mine that I looked up to find Molly standing only feet from me. I – I can still see the look on her face, it… It was so heartbroken and I knew then that she liked me, and like anyone would – had assumed the worst.”
“When I saw her face, the way her eyes lost that twinkle in them so instantaneously, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me and suddenly all the alcohol I’d drunk was fighting to come back up. I was running across that room to her before she could even blink, but she wouldn’t listen to me. Refused to even look at me as she made her exit from the party – I remember following her back to the Ravenclaw common room, must’ve stood outside the knocker for hours trying to answer those stupid fucking riddles so I could apologise.” His body drooped and he stumbled back into the wall before sliding down it to the floor. “I didn’t even know what I was apologising for, or why I felt the need to apologise – but seeing her like that, god I felt more guilt and regret than I’ve ever felt in my life.”
“I hurt her, Ro – I hurt her, and she hasn’t spoken to me since. She couldn’t even look at me for the final week we were at Hogwarts, even avoided me at the only chance I had to see her this summer by not coming to your birthday,” He scoffed, “Merlin, I miss her.”
He laughed a little bitterly.
“Never thought I’d say that about a girl.”
“At the party, did you know you liked her?”
“I think a part of me did, but it wasn’t a conscious awareness. It was only after her graduation, when I saw her doing everything she could to avoid me at King’s Cross that I put all the pieces together. I used to think I was pretty slick with the ladies, but fuck I’ve really got no bloody clue.”
“Was she your date to the party?”
“No she wasn’t; I didn’t ask her to be. I only wanted her at the party because she was my friend, and it was her final weekend at Hogwarts – I wanted to celebrate her graduation with her in the only way I knew how.” Damian huffed, “Why?”
“I’m trying to figure out how we can fix this.” He looked at her funny.
“You can’t expect me not to help my baby cousin win over his first wittle crush,” He shot her the finger and she grinned. “If she wasn’t your date, and you didn’t know then what your feelings for her meant, as well as the fact that you weren’t the one to initiate the kiss, then I can’t see how you did anything wrong.”
“She was crying.”
“Not at the party, but when she ran into her house I saw her face that had been hiding behind her hair. It’s what spurred me to stay so long with that annoying knocker.”
“Still, technically you didn’t do anything wrong – I mean you weren’t dating Molly, nor had you made any promises to her about that night.”
“So why won’t she speak to me?”
“How would you describe Molly, Dame?”
“What does this have to do with-”
“Just go with it, how would you describe her?”
“She’s brilliant,” he started slowly, his uncertainty clear in his expression. “Bright, witty, an incredible chaser, and she’s got the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen. She’s stubborn – like you – I wouldn’t say shy, just – what’s that word your mum uses?”
“Yeah, reserved. She’s reserved around new people and new situations, but once she’s comfortable you can’t get her to shut up. She’s logical and level-headed, sometimes a little too much because she weighs everything up before giving you a straight answer. She’s beautiful.”
“Wow.” Rory whispered as the depth of her cousin’s description rendered her speechless for a moment. He shot her a sheepish smile, and she grinned back before collecting her thoughts. “There you go,”
“Her level-headedness, it’s why she’s embarrassed.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Molly praises herself for being able to keep a level-head in any situation, for being able to pick the most logical and reasonable approach and outcome. But, having a crush on you was neither of those things, and she’d have known that, probably even tried to avoid it. Knowing that she’d only get hurt in the long run,”
“Not making me feel any better, Ro.”
“Do you want help or not?”
“Then shut-up and listen.” He pulled a face at her. “Molly, during every late-night conversation I’ve ever had with her, has always berated the girls who’ve been blinded by their emotions and forgotten the flaws of their significant other, who’ve allowed themselves to place boys on pedestals only to get hurt in the end. She always swore that she’d never be like that, like them– but apparently when she got to know you and hung out with you without that asshole act you put on, she forgot about being cautious or level-headed and fell into the trap she thought she was smart enough to avoid. So, when she saw you at the party, lip-locked with another girl, it would have all come crashing down on her and the reality of who she was crushing on would have made her cringe.”
“What’re you trying to get at?”
“Yes, seeing you kissing another girl hurt her, Damian. Seeing the person, you like with someone else will always hurt no matter who they or you are, but if you’re like Molly and you’re aware that you’ve got no claim on your crush, then you can’t be angry at the other person for very long. If I know Molly as well as I like to think I do, then I reckon she stopped being angry at you the moment she got back to her dorm after the party.”
“Then why won’t she speak to me?”
“Because she’s embarrassed that she got so upset seeing you with someone else knowing that the two of you hadn’t made any promises to each other. And because Molly is the person that she is, she’ll see the only solution to not becoming those girls she’s despised as being a need to get over these feelings she has for you. She’s not going to want to hang out with you if she’s got this crush on you, not after what happened at the party, and not if you don’t feel the same way.”
“But I do!”
“But she doesn’t know that, she won’t allow herself to even consider it as a possibility.”
“I don’t want her to move on, Rory.” Damian looked up at her, a hurt desperation clouding his dark eyes.
“Then don’t let her.”
“How do I manage to do that? I go back to school in two weeks for my Seventh Year and she hasn’t returned a single owl to all the letters I’ve written her since the break began. I’m not going to see her for a year, how can I possibly stop her from moving on?”
“You’re Damian Bell, you’ll think of something.”
“Excuse me,” The door swung open as the locking spell Rory had placed on it was undone by someone on the other side, and two figures stood in the open doorway with two incredibly displeased expressions on their faces. “But what do you think you’re doing hiding in here?”
Tristan tapped his foot while pursing his lips at the duo sitting in the backroom, and Rory did little to stifle her smirk at him.
“No, nope! I don’t want to hear any stupid excuse, I want the two of you to get your asses out of this room and back out onto the floor.” He sighed mournfully, “I’m not angry, I’m just very disappointed in the both of you.”
“Oh no, not disappointed!?” Rory gasped, standing from her seat. “I’m so dreadfully sorry, little cousin.”
“So you should be,” Tristan sniffed before flicking his apron and spinning on his heel to re-enter the chaos that was the store.
“What were the two of you doing?” Jared asked curiously as he helped Damian up from the floor.
“I was just giving Damian some love advice.”
“You?” Jared scoffed, “The girl who’s never been in a relationship?”
“I wouldn’t be so judgy, Mr In-the-same-boat.”
“You’re weak.” She poked her tongue out at him before following Tristan’s example and found herself swallowed up by the back-to-school crowd.
Floating above the Falcons’ stadium, Victoire swayed between the three hoops of the pitch with her head in the clouds. Before her, her team played a match against their reserves whilst Rhaewyn shouted plays and strategies at them from where she flew alongside the game only just out of reach of the fray.
Vic had started off paying attention to the practice, but after ten minutes of floating by the goals without any action her mind had started to wander, and now she was daydreaming rather than watching the quaffle that was coming flying straight towards her.
There were shouts of her name around her, Rhaewyn was soaring towards her concern written across her face, and at the very last minute Victoire raised her hand and caught the quaffle just before it made contact with her nose.
She blinked slowly, hardly registering what had happened and looked away from the ball she held in her hands to her team who were staring at her quizzically.
“Weasley! Ground, now!” Vic glanced over at her coach who was shaking her head at her, and she winced, very much aware of the chewing out she was about to receive. With a weary look at her sympathetically grimacing team mates, Vic passed the quaffle over to one of the chasers and lowered herself to the grassy pitch.
Resting her arms atop of her broom, Vic stood up straight as Rhaewyn marched towards her.
“What is going on with you, Weasley?”
“Up there, with the quaffle – you could’ve been seriously injured if you hadn’t managed to snap out of whatever trance you were in. This close to the start of our season, we can’t afford to lose our starting Keeper.”
“It was an accident, Rhae, I promise it won’t happen again.”
“You say that, Vic, and I want to believe you, I really do. But this isn’t the first time I’ve caught you not paying attention at training. These last few weeks you haven’t been yourself, your game is slipping and for the first time ever – Alexei scored against you. I don’t know what’s going on with you, Weasley, but you better sort it out before our first match.”
Embarrassment settled over her, and she risked a glance up to where her teammates were surreptitiously watching her and their coach whilst continuing their practice match. Amongst them, she could make out the chaser Rhaewyn had mentioned, and she winced at the memory of the first time in the year and a half since she’d joined the team that Alexei Ivanov had managed to get a goal in while she was marking the hoops. Shaking her head at herself, Victoire looked back at her coach with a solemn expression. The truth was, that Rhaewyn was right when she said that Victoire hadn’t been herself lately, because she hadn’t. Not since she’d asked Teddy to be her beard, or rather, not since Lydia Pine had come waltzing back into her life after a year of absence reminding her of exactly what she was hiding by creating this lie of a relationship.
In the month that had passed since Rory’s birthday and since the dinner the three of them and Lydia had shared, her mind and thoughts had been caught up in the very girl who’d captivated them for the entirety of the previous year. And each additional day she spent in Lydia’s presence, every afternoon they spent at Rory’s store when they had spare time, every dinner or lunch or breakfast that the now quartet opposed to trio shared, only increased the feelings she knew she had for the other girl.
She cleared her throat, aware that Rhaewyn was waiting for her to say something.
“I’ll sort it out, Coach.”
Or she would at least try to.
Slipping out the front door of her shop at seven-thirty that evening, Rory locked it with a yawn. Once she heard the resounding click of the lock fitting into place, she shot a weary smile at her door and turned on her heel – only to leap out of her skin as someone apparated right in front of her.
“Holy mother of Merlin!” She stumbled backwards against her store, a hand clasped to her racing heart.
“Oh good you’re finished!” Vic smiled warmly at her, though pursed her lips when she noticed the way Rory was trying to regulate her breathing. “What’re you doing?”
“Recovering from a heart attack,” She retorted. “Were we catching up today? I thought our girls’ night was on Friday – wait, is it Friday?”
“We weren’t, it is, and no it’s Wednesday.” Vic linked her arm through Rory’s and began leading her down the street.
“Then what do I owe to this unexpected encounter?”
“Unexpected encounter… wow, way to make me feel loved, Ro.”
“Can’t I come see my best friend without there being a reason?”
“You can,” Rory patted the other girl’s arm that was linked through hers, “But there’s something telling me that there is a reason.”
“Maybe that something’s wrong.”
“I don’t think it is.”
“It could be,”
“But it isn’t.”
“You don’t know that,”
“Are you really trying to start an argument over my perception skills?”
“Maybe.” Vic shrugged causing the brunette to sigh.
“Nothing,” Her voice pitched and she coughed to cover it up.
“Honest, there’s nothing wrong – you know, aside from the fact that I’m fake dating one of my best friend’s while seriously crushing on my other best friend’s cousin. Yeah, there’s nothing wrong, nothing at all.” Rory stopped walking, pulling the both of them to an abrupt stop at Vic’s nervous admission. Turning to face the strawberry blonde, Rory’s expression softened.
“Which cousin are we talking about here?”
“Ro!” Vic screeched, gaining them the attention of the other late evening wanderers of Diagon Alley. Rory shushed her, laughing lightly.
“I’m kidding, I know it’s Easton.”
“Good god,” Victoire covered her face with a groan, glaring through the cracks of her fingers at her.
“I know,” She reached up and removed Vic’s hands so she could look her in the eye. “I know.”
“What do I do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do; you just don’t want to admit it to yourself.”
“And if she doesn’t feel the same way?”
“But if she doesn’t,”
“Then she doesn’t. One person not returning your feelings isn’t the end of the world, there are other people out there one of whom could be the right person for you. But I don’t think you have to worry about that, and I know you know that too.”
“It’s not her not returning your feelings that’s scaring you, Victoire. It’s Lydia feeling the same way about you as you do her that is. You’re petrified of her liking you, because then it makes it real – makes what you’re feeling real, and it puts this thing you’re doing with Teddy in jeopardy. It puts you staying in the closet in jeopardy.”
“There’s no maybe about it, Vic.”
“You really think she could feel the same way?”
An open, giddy smile stretched across Vic’s lips.
“I just… where would it go though?” The smile died as fresh nerves took root in her mind. “Say I tell her, and she feels the same way, what would happen?”
“I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. Whatever happens between you and Lydia depends on you and what you want to see happen.”
“I want to be with her.”
“Then there’s your answer.” Rory answered with a grin, but it wasn’t returned. Hesitation rang clearly from Victoire’s eyes, as deeply burning doubt appeared in her features. “What is it?”
“I can’t do it.”
“I’m using Ted as my beard because I can’t come out to my family, even with my feelings for Lydia that reason still stands.”
“Sometimes, I really don’t understand you.” Rory shook her head in disbelief. “Your family are some of if not the most understanding and accepting people in the world. They give so much to everybody, open their arms to every stray, friend and passer-by that stumbles upon them, and you’re afraid of what they’ll think of you being gay?”
“I can’t explain it, Rory, I don’t know how – I’m just… I’m not ready.” Rory watched her, searching for any clue as to the real reason why Vic couldn’t come out to her family knowing that it wasn’t the feeble one she was giving about not being ready. When she couldn’t get through the disheartened expression to what she was looking for, Rory allowed the argument to drop and sighed.
“Just don’t hurt her.”
“I’m sorry?” Vic narrowed her eyes in confusion, looking away from where she’d been surveying the pavement.
“When you talk with Lydia, and whatever comes out of it, don’t hurt her. You may be my best friend, and I may love you like a sister – but Lydia is family and I don’t want her getting hurt.”
“You still think I should talk to her?” Rory nodded. “Why?”
“I may not believe your excuse for not wanting to come out to your family, but it’s my job as your best friend to support you in whatever half-cooked scheme you come up with. Besides, maybe Lydia will be the push you need to finally be ready.”
The two shared a look, and Vic wrapped Rory up in a tight hug before disapparating the two of them away from the street corner.
A loud cracking noise jerked the blue haired boy from the papers he was working on at his kitchen bench, and he spun around on his chair to find Vic and Rory standing in his living room.
“Hey,” Vic greeted him, a nervously excited smile on her face as she let go of Rory. The brunette stumbled slightly, a little disorientated from the roller-coaster experience that was Side-Apparition with Victoire Weasley.
“You alright there Rora?”
“I’m just seeing sounds and hearing colours, but yeah.” She closed her eyes and gripped her forehead with her hand.
“Over-dramatic much?” Vic snorted with a roll of her eyes, “Anyway, Teds, do you mind if I ditch Rory here for a bit? I’ve got something I need to do before we eat,”
He glanced down at the empty carton of Chinese Take-away that sat in front of him on the bench before looking back at the girl.
“I wasn’t aware we were having dinner together.”
“Well we are now, I’ll be back in a bit!” She patted Rory on the head only to get swatted away with a glare. Winking at Teddy, Vic spun slightly on the spot and disappeared with the same cracking sound that she’d appeared with.
“Could I get a glass of water?” Nauseously, Rory made her way over to the empty seat next to him and sat down. “Sometimes, I forget why we’re always the ones who apparate our group places, and then Vic offers to do it and I remember.”
“It’s a talent she shares with her Uncle Charlie.” He wandered around the bench to the sink and filled a glass under the tap. “Unfortunately,”
“Thanks,” Rory shot him a tepid smile as he slid her drink towards her, and after forcing several gulps down, some colour began returning to her face. “How she managed to get her license will remain one of life’s greatest mysteries,”
“Hmm,” he chuckled, leaning forward on his elbows as he stood on the opposite side of the bench that she sat at. “What brought on this impromptu visit? Not that I’m complaining,”
“Honestly, when I felt myself being dragged along by Vic I thought she was taking us to Lydia’s place, I don’t know why she brought me here.” She looked down at the papers that surrounded her and grimaced. “I’m sorry if we interrupted your work, I can leave if you’re busy.”
“No!” He cleared his throat as she startled at his enthusiasm. “I mean, no – you don’t have to leave, I’m really not that busy.”
“This,” She waved her hand at the various files and cases that were open in between them. “Isn’t busy?”
“Merlin, and here I thought the back-to-school shopping crowds were hectic. Auror business has me beat,” Rory picked up one of the cases, and squinted at it. “How do you even read this chicken scratch?”
“Hey! My handwriting isn’t that bad,”
“No, you’re right, it’s improved greatly since you graduated from Hogwarts.” She smiled impishly at him. “But I wasn’t talking about your handwriting, Tedster. I was talking about the other person’s who’s written in the file.”
“Right,” He blushed a little and she chuckled softly before turning the case she was holding around so he could see the paragraph she was talking about. “That’s Finchley’s.”
“The Deputy Head of the Department?” He nodded, “A four-year-old could give him lessons,”
“Well, you’re not wrong.” He pushed away from the bench with a shrug, “Have you eaten?”
“Yeah, Jared got me something from the Leaky Cauldron before he and the boys went home.”
“Do you want a drink?”
“I’d kill for a coffee if you’ve got some going,”
Teddy could feel her eyes on him as he moved about his kitchen making their drinks, and he revelled in it, wishing that this could be the way they spent every night. Just the two of them unwinding after a long day at work, making quips at the other and sharing secret smiles. He wished more than anything that he could break out of the best friend role and have her return his feelings.
“Thanks,” Her hands wrapped around the coffee mug, and she took a long sip before heaving a weary sigh.
“Sounds like you had a long day,”
“The longest,” She placed the mug down on the counter top with a pensive look. “But that’s not why I’m so tired.”
“I don’t know when it happened, Teds, but suddenly I’m confidant number one for people seeking relationship advice.”
“Is that so?” Teddy walked back around the kitchen bench and sat down beside her, knowing she hated it when people used the counter as a seat.
“It’s weird right? I mean, what advice could they possibly expect from someone who’s never been kissed let alone been in a relationship?” He could sense the derisive undertones of her remark, and clucked his tongue disapprovingly.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, Rora.”
“I know; I just don’t know what they expect me to know about the things they ask me.”
“People trust you, Aurora. They look at you, and they see someone they can talk to, someone who will help them even if she doesn’t necessarily know how. Not a lot of people can say that about themselves,”
“I’m not complaining about it, I love that my cousins and my friends can talk to me about things personal to them – I just… It just starts reminding me of how depressingly single I am.” She laughed to lighten the self-pitying mood of her sentence, and he knew that in that moment an opportunity had arisen for him to solve both of their problems – but he couldn’t. It wasn’t the right moment; it wasn’t how he’d pictured it in his head any of the thousands of times he’d lain awake at night planning. No, he couldn’t tell her, not yet.
So, instead, he smiled and laughed with her.
“It’s not like I’m doing any better at the moment,”
“Just two single pringles, in a world of kitkats.”
“What?” He laughed and she flushed.
“The analogy worked better in my head,”
“Right,” he drawled and took a sip from his own cup of coffee. She pulled a face at him. “But I’m curious as to who’s been confiding in you.”
“You’re such a Gossip Queen, I swear.”
“You brought it up!” He protested.
“Rora,” They had a mini-stare off before he caved and she cheered victoriously. “Fine, I’m a gossip queen, I don’t care – just tell me who-”
“Damian told me he had a crush on someone who was avoiding him, and Vic admitted to having feelings for Lydia.”
“My girlfriend’s in love with someone else?!” Teddy pretended to faint, earning him a snort from Rory.
“Sorry to say it mate, but your girl doesn’t exactly play for your team.”
“I can tell.” His broad grin met hers and they shared another laugh. “But yeah, that’s why I thought Vic was taking us to Lydia’s instead of bringing me here.”
“She’s going to tell her how she feels?”
“That’s the plan, whether or not she actually goes through with it, I don’t know.”
“She is the Gryffindor out of the three of us.”
“True.” He agreed, before his mind registered on the first person she’d mentioned confiding in her. “I’m sorry, did you just say Damian has a crush on someone?”
“You’re having me on,”
“I’m really not,”
“I never thought I’d see the day,” Dumbfounded, Teddy blinked slowly as if it was a piece of earth-shattering news. “Who’s the girl?”
“I can’t say,”
“Why not?” He whinged, pouting.
“Made a promise not to tell a soul.”
“Surely you can make an exception,” She shook her head, avoiding his puppy-dog eyes. “Not even for me?”
“Not even for you,”
“You’re killing me.”
She stumbled slightly on the doorstep. Her stomach swooping at her arrival, and she steadied herself before knocking.
The seconds it took for Lydia to get to the door were some of the longest seconds Victoire had ever faced, and she was just about ready to disappear when the door finally opened.
On opposite sides of the threshold, the two young women stood silently watching their counterpart. Vic’s mouth ran dry while her hands grew clammy, and she swallowed thickly.
“Hi,” Her voice was no louder than a whisper.
“Hi,” Lydia mimicked, her face cautiously confused at her appearance.
“What’re you doing here?”
“Can I come in?” They spoke at the same time, and Vic blushed.
“Sure,” The dark-haired witch stepped away from the frame and held her arm out in invitation. Vic smiled softly at her before ducking inside, her hands shaking nervously.
The door shut behind her with a gentle but loud click, and she turned on her heel to look back at Lydia. For a moment, neither spoke, uncertain about being alone with each other.
All their interactions with each other up to now since the graduation party had involved the presence of various others who acted as a buffer to the awkward tension that had grown between them.
Lydia’s face was impassive but her eyes were just as expressive as Vic remembered them. The dark brown colour had flecks of green and honey hues intermingling within it’s shadows, and Vic could see the calculating, questioning thoughts that were running through Lydia’s mind there in her eyes.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, I’m fine thank-you.”
“Right.” Lydia nodded, stepping further into the room. “What brings you here, Victoire?”
“I ah…” Her thoughts came to a stop, and she was speechless all of a sudden second-guessing the ingenious idea she’d had of racing here so quickly after her conversation with Rory. She looked away from the other girl and looked at her feet.
“I think – no, I know.” She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “I can’t stop thinking about you, about that night. It runs on a loop in my head whenever I close my eyes. I care for you, Lydia, more than I have about anyone before, and it terrifies me.”
“What about Teddy?”
“I know you’ve noticed how Ted and I aren’t exactly a normal couple,” She opened her eyes and shot a sly smirk at Lydia, one the girl sheepishly shrugged at. “I mean, it’s kind of hard to be a normal couple when you aren’t actually one.”
There was a brief pause, and then Lydia was pulling her lips up in a small smile and stepping closer to Vic.
“No, we’re faking it.”
“Faking it.” Lydia’s progression forward stopped, and her impassive mask slipped back onto her face. “Why?”
“Witch Weekly shot a series of compromising photos of Ted and I, insinuating some rather heavy and implicating things – my family all assumed that there was an ounce of truth to the article, and one thing led to another and Teddy and I decided to pretend to be dating so to avoid any embarrassment for our family.”
“Your family don’t know, do they? That you’re gay.”
Vic shook her head, a blush forming on her cheeks.
“And Teddy agreed to being your beard?”
“Huh,” Lydia’s eyebrows rose almost to her hairline, and Vic furrowed hers quizzically.
“That surprises you?”
“I just thought he had a thing for Ro.”
“Teddy and Rory?” Vic laughed, and though she seemed to find the idea far too preposterous, Lydia watched her with a shake of her head still believing her hunch was right. “No, they’re just friends – almost siblings.”
“It’s just a hunch I’ve got.”
“Hmm,” Vic chuckled lightly as she slowly sobered; now that the truth was out there, and the jokes were pushed aside Vic was nervous. The game was now in Lydia’s hands, she was in Lydia’s hands, and it made her sick to her stomach. She took a shaky breath and swallowed.
“I know it’s been a year, I know that’s it probably not the most romantic idea of relationship, and I know that you’d have to be keeping a part of yourself a secret – but, if there was even a smidge of you that felt the same way as I do… Would you be willing to give this, give us a shot?” Her voice wavered, but she held Lydia’s gaze all the same as she spoke, feeling a small burst of courage rush through her. For the first time, she felt like the Sorting Hat hadn’t been wrong when it had sorted her.
Lydia’s head tipped slightly to the side, her lips pursed as her eyes assessed her. Not saying anything, the dark-haired witch closed the distance between the two of them. Standing within a breath from Vic, Lydia smiled softly. Vic’s heart thumped against her chest, and her breaths were coming far too short as Lydia leaned in, and then their lips were touching and everything melted away.
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