Rose adored her new sister. Halcyon was beautiful and, as far as infants go, fairly good natured. The quiet times spent with her family had a sort of cathartic effect on her fractured emotions, helping her feel at least somewhat like herself again. But no teenage girl could spend an entire summer at home. It simply wasn’t in her. So now, with the shadow of their sixth year looming ever closer, the tiny blonde had gladly jumped at the chance to have a day away. And though her father had been somewhat overprotective lately, a side effect from the new baby or perhaps the madness at the end of last school year, he had agreed to let her pick up her school books by herself.
The bright sunny sky gave no hints at autumn, setting Rose’s golden curls alight with a gentle touch. She made her way from shop to shop, feeling no particular need to hurry. One of her first stops, of course, had been Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. While some of the other patrons chose to enjoy their ice cream at the more shaded tables, the diminutive girl remained in the sun, absently watching people on the street without really seeing them as she savored her large dish of Hippogriff Tracks.
They were too close to the start of the term not to see people she knew. Though she had only a fraction of the celebrity some of her other friends had acquired, she endured more than a few stares and whispered comments. The smile never quite made it to her eyes as she acknowledged the friendly greetings she received while never encouraging anyone to stay for a conversation. It was just better that way.
“Juist the richt kind o day fur an ice cream.” It was a quiet, almost tentative voice that finally spoke to her. Those soft golden curls rose to a familiar silhouette between her and the bright August sun. Those hazel eyes and that curling smile cut out of the darkness. Despite the smile there was something in those eyes… Like hers, they didn’t match the smile. Not quite.
She couldn’t ignore him. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to. Chasing a bit of chocolate around the melted ring at the edges of her cup, Rose focused on her spoon while trying to find a smile for him. It was normally an easy thing to do. His presence was almost… infectious; he could bring out the smile or the fun in anyone. Or he used to be able to. “It’s always the right kind of day for ice cream.”
“Aye,” Foozle gave a small nod. “I reck it is.”
His fingers wrapped around the top of the chair that sat across from the slender Ravenclaw. He looked up from the small circular table, glancing around the scene that buzzed around them. The din of students and their shopping, their parents doting on them or scolding them – by all counts, happy sounds. This was the time of year when kids were getting ready for school and, quite unlike much of the muggle world, that was a time for excitement. As if to hammer the notion home, two boys ran up the street from Ollivander’s, clutching their newly chosen wands tight in their small hands as they rushed across the street and over to the Magical Menagerie.
Orlando watched the boys disappear into the pet store. Of course he was excited to return to Hogwarts. It was all he could think about half the time. Yet, standing there in the warm sun of late summer, he couldn’t shake that awkward shadow that hung over his shoulder and clung to him. And he knew why. Things had ended poorly last year. No, that was an understatement. Last year had ended in disaster. Months had past but the feeling was just as raw as if it were hours ago. Rose’s words that night still rung in his ears. He could still see the look on her sooty face as they stood outside the cave that night.
Again his eyes fell to the girl seated. “Is this seat taken?”
Fighting off the feeling of being trapped, Rose shook her head. She couldn’t avoid people all year. Or could she… The thought was tempting enough to consider as Orlando folded himself into the empty chair. Her eyes went from her ice cream to his face, jade eyed gaze coming to rest anywhere but his eyes. Unsure which had more potential for disaster–the silence or an attempted conversation–she decided in favor of trying to talk. “Are you getting your books today?”
“Aye,” he nodded a bit as he slid that worn old rucksack he carried around with him onto his lap.”Beuks… This and tha.” There was a small shrug of his shoulders. He looked back to her and felt his smile wane uncomfortably as their eyes caught each other for the first time. “Ye?”
“The same.” Nudging the many packages around her chair with a gentle toe, she took the opportunity to look away. “I picked up few new novels to read. Oh, and I found this adorable new dress for my sister. Not that she needs more clothes. She’s got more than me already…” Taking another quick bite of her ice cream, she let her curls come between them, hiding her sadness at how hard this was.
Foozle’s fingers folded onto his bag, his thumb running over his own knuckle. He felt a sigh rumble in his chest, but he choked it back. “Ah hear she’s a bonnie ane. Tha’s whit Tommy says.” He hadn’t seen Rose’s new sister, Halcyon. He hadn’t seen even Rose since they left school. Those strange silences spoke volumes as to why. As much as they made him wonder why he came over when he saw her, he really knew they were the reason. He hated this. “No surprise thare though. She comes frae guid stock.”
It was impossible not to smile at that one. For a moment the twinkle in her eyes was genuine as she put the word stock together with the image of her outdoorsy family: The Sheridan Herd. But the light faded as quickly as it had come. “Um. Thank you.” Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she suddenly found her rapidly melting ice cream to be fascinating once again. “So did you have a nice summer?”
“It wis alricht…” There was that sigh. It said far more than the three words did. “Trying” would have been a better definition of the summer. Danny had been gone for so much of it. He’d at least managed to get together with Tommy and Céilidh now and then. But even with their nightly visits, things with him and Nicolette were still hard. And the cloud of their 5th year never drifted very far… Sitting there was proof of that. Foozle leaned over the table, his elbow and hand propping up his chin. He too watched her swirl that spoon around the melty Hippogryff Tracks. “Ah kept busy, Ah jalouse…” Even as he said it he felt a hot rush of nerves. She knew what ‘kept busy’ meant for Foozle. In that moment he couldn’t help but feel that what was once a thrill of almost forbidden excitement, something secretly treasured, might have become a point of judgment.
“Yeah.” Her sigh echoed his from moments earlier. It was almost as if she didn’t hear his words. Or didn’t care. “I suppose you’ve been practicing your animagi thing.” She winced at the words left her lips. It was too close to the forbidden subjects, the forbidden thoughts.
The nod of Orlando’s head was almost imperceptible, almost microscopic. Mostly his eyes fell. “Studying an training maistly…” He’s spent so much of the summer on it. It had been exciting, thrilling even. Foozle would have loved to regale her with his endeavor, but he could feel the coolness from her in the subject. All that enthusiasm melted like ice cream in the hot sun. “Ah hivnae changed yet…”
She had to wonder if there was any irony in his words. “Of course not,” she replied quickly. “Dumbledore told you not to.” Try as she might, there was bitterness laced in her response. Pushing on quickly, the tiny blonde tried to think of a way to backtrack. “It’s a big accomplishment anyway. You should be proud.”Now that was her dad talking. “It’s a big thing.”
He nodded. She wasn’t wrong, but something in her word rang hollow. Perhaps it was just the sting of her initial response. He was overwhelmed by the need to change the subject, to get as far as he could from anything that would remind them of why they both felt so uncomfortable. “Sae, ye muist hae haed a guid summer…” He shifted the talk to her, the weight to her. “Whit wi becoming a big sister an aw.”
“Yeah, it was nice.” Except for that whole feeling estranged from nearly all her friends and unable to even get an owl out to her best friend–or former best friend–thing. Not to mention replaying every memory from years upon years of a friendship, trying to spot the signs she’d missed the first time around. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden. And getting used to having a baby around.” She forced a small laugh. “Did you know that even the adorable ones cry?”
Orlando shook his head. “Nae…” He’d been an only child his whole life. The closest thing he’d had to a younger sister had been Cissy, and he spent so much of those formative years away at his grandparents. His parents never had the chance to have more kids. Eric’s grandfather had seen to that. Foozle choked back the grimace of reopened wounded memories as much as he could. “I didnae. That sounds louely.”
“It is.” She looked past his shoulder, not seeing the busy shops around them as she smiled. “Her face gets all red when she cries. And she doesn’t have much hair… or any teeth at all. But she’s beautiful.” Tentatively, almost fearfully, her gaze slowly came back to his familiar face. “I’m sure my mom’s planning on bringing her to the station to see me off… if you’re going to be there…” She let the thought hang.
“Ah suspect sae…” A curl managed to find its way up to the corner of his lips. “Ahmno expelled yet.”
Without really thinking about it, she lifted her spoon and shook it at him. “There is no yet. You’re staying at school.” It was amazing how good that felt. Even as the moment faded, Rose wondered if she should try again.
The boy chuckled. It was soft, but it was real. Even brief, it was such a breath of fresh air. He ran his finger down his nose, cleaning the drip of melty ice cream she had mistakenly flung on him. He nodded and licked his finger. “Alricht, Brosia,” he said her name for the first time since they crossed words outside the cave. “Ah’ll stay.”
“Oops,” the little Ravenclaw giggled, passing him one of her napkins before threatening him with the spoon once again. “You better.”
Foozle nodded, smirking almost naturally as he reached across the table to take the napkin. As welcome as it felt, and as much as they both needed it, this moment of normalcy was still so terribly fragile. Their fingers touched as the paper passed between them. Her eyes drifted back to the ice cream parlour. His turned to look across the street. One touch and two friends sitting barely more than two feet apart couldn’t look each other in the eye.
Orlando stifled a sigh and crumpled the napkin in his hand. The silence that descended on the little table in the sun took such a hold that for several long moments neither of them even attempted the little bits of small talk. They might have only been a minute maybe two, but they seemed forever.
He idly watched the people on the street. The shoppers. The students running from shop to shop excitedly. His eyes fell upon a familiar face as it crossed the street from Gringott’s. The sight of the girl gave Orlando a small glimmer of relief. “Thare’s yuir freend Tarbell…” he said, with a proper dose of MacFoozle brand sarcasm. While Katharine had been one of the more open banes of his existence last year, she had also played a significant role in bringing him and Rose closer. So much so that Rose had played an active role in reminding people of just what sort of mischief Fooze and Dan really were involved in. Seeing the girl cross the street, he couldn’t help but hope it might remind her of that now.
Rose wrinkled her nose at the sight of the older girl, absently wondering if there was any spell that could cut that ugly braid right off her head without her noticing. She watched at Kat wove her way through the crowds of people with that air of superior purpose that the blonde had always found so irritating. Green eyes narrowing, she followed the brunette with her gaze until the girl turned off on an all too familiar side-street. When she didn’t immediately turn back around, Rose had to assume that she had really meant to go into Knockturn Alley.
Raising a brow, the tiny girl looked back at Orlando. “I guess we don’t have to care about her anymore. Her two favorite targets have been proven innocent.” The realization of what she’d just said hit her like a weight, shattering the near-peace the two friends had been touching. They were on the threshold of last year’s events. But Rose refused to step through.
“I should probably finish my shopping though. Romance novels don’t exactly count as textbooks.” Standing quickly, she turned away from him to find a place to dispose of her trash.
“Brosia, wait…” His voice wavered a bit as he called after her. As he stood the scrape of his chair across the cobblestone patio almost drowned him out.
Rose froze like a gnome staring down the open jaws of a Hungarian Horntail. Very slowly she turned and looked back at her friend, unable to hide the regret on her cherubic face. “Okay…”
He was mumbling something to himself, his eyes cast down as he rummaged through the sack that hung over his shoulder in front of him. “Ah wis…” He sighed a bit and not just to himself this time. He pulled his hand out revealing a mossy green box tied off in a ribbon that obscured the Nuffkin’s Nursery logo.”Ah didnae think Ah’d see ye the day. I wis juist gaun tae wait till we wis back at schuil, but…” He held the little box aloft in and open palm.
“Oh…” The small hitch in her voice told him she knew exactly what came in those little green boxes. How could she not? She’d been eyeing them since long before Halcyon was born. “A Lullaby orchid… Thank you, Orlando.” Her hair hid any tears from his view and she didn’t look up.
“Juist a seedling.” The boy nodded. “They’re verra fragile. Tak great care tae growe, but Ahm shuir gif onybody can…” He smiled a bit, but he didn’t quite look her way. “Mah grandma had a bit o a thumb like ye. She grew ane when Ah wis a biarn. Mah Ma said that sometimes twas the ainle thing that pat me tae sleep.”
A shimmering tear dropped down onto the mossy box. Despite the other bags and packages in her hands, she managed to cradle the gift for her sister to her chest. “This is really…” Her voice broke and she quickly found a free bit of sleeve to wipe her eyes. “Thank you. She’ll love it.”
He gave a small nod. “Ahm gled.” He smiled but still couldn’t shake that nagging sadness. Even so, that moment at least kept that hope. Things weren’t okay, but they could be.
“Weel,” he looked off up the street, biting the back of his lip. “I jalouse A shoud lat ye git back tae shopping…”
“Yeah. I need to make sure I’m done by the time my dad comes to pick me up.” She managed one more smile for him, preparing to lose herself in the crowds still on the street. “I’ll see you at school though.”
“Ah’ll be thare,” a small reference to that moment of levity before, just a little reminder. He waved a little wave, “See ye at schuil, Brosia.” He turned and walked up the street, the two of them parting in separate directions as they left.