Lee Apparated to Amy’s flat feeling unaccountably off kilter. When Fred and George and Holly walked away from him to go out for a night of carefree dancing, he wanted to go, too. But he was meeting Amy’s parents for the first time tonight and this was important. He tapped on the door, hoping Amy wasn’t upset with him for cutting it so fine with the time.
Amy answered right away. She had changed from the pink robes she was wearing at the museum into lovely pale aqua robes in the softest of fabrics. The unusual color shaded her gray eyes a startling blue.
“Lee, you’re right on time.”
He wondered at the tight tone of her voice.
“Amy? Is everything all right?” He looked around the neat sitting room for her roommate. Lee had only met her once since she was a Healer at St. Mungo’s and wasn’t around a lot at night.
“Laura’s not here,” Amy said, her eyes looking suspiciously bright. “She’s working.”
“Oh,” he said softly, not quite sure how to proceed. Amy was two years older than he was and had taken the lead from the first day he had met her. It had been startling and flattering and heady to be seduced by such a confident and beautiful woman.
But now…. He frowned. She had never looked unsure until now.
He reached out his hand, not knowing how to talk to her. That realization made him feel even more awkward. How could he not know if she needed a joke right now – or a hug – or a caring question? Shouldn’t he know that about her?
Surprisingly, she took his hand and lifted it to her cheek.
Instead of answering, she kissed him – first softly and then with increasing heat and urgency. “I’m glad you’re here on time,” she finally whispered against his cheek. “We don’t have to be at my parents until seven.”
Lee relaxed knowing they weren’t going to be late even if they continued this very nice diversion. He started to touch her in all the places she liked.
“Come to bed,” Amy said, finally breaking away to finish undoing the clasps on her robes. “We have time.”
Come to bed. She had said those words the first week he met her. The part of him that urged caution, the part of him that knew he was in over his head, the part of him that knew you couldn’t fall in love in a week, had been drowned in a flood of sensation. The same sensations he was feeling right now….
They were only fifteen minutes late.
But Lee was not comforted by that thought when he stood with Amy in front of number six, Harcourt Lane. From the ivy-covered brick to the shiny cobalt-blue door, the whole façade of Amy’s house indicated wealth and prestige. He knew that Amy’s father was a finance man of some sort – and that he was now running The Daily Prophet – but he wasn’t expecting this.
Lee looked down at the robes he was wearing. They were faded navy and quite comfortable, but they weren’t formal enough for this sort of place. Then he dismissed it from his mind. Hadn’t his mother always said that people were more important than clothes or hairstyles?
Usually what his mother told him ended up being true. He would forget the state of his robes and concentrate on getting to know Amy’s parents. He liked Amy, so it must follow that he would like her parents.
They mounted the stone stairs and entered the house together. Lee had a quick impression of a shiny black and white floor, a crystal chandelier, and a lot of space, before a woman’s voice called, “Amy? Are you finally here?”
Amy had obviously inherited her looks from her mother who had the same silvery hair, heart-shaped face, and slightly turned up nose.
“Yes, Mum – sorry we’re late. I couldn’t find my other earring.”
Technically, this was true – but they had found it quickly under the pillow.
“So this is your young man?” her mother asked in a more modulated voice.
“Don’t start without me.” Amy’s father, a tall man in bronze robes strode into the entrance hall.
“Mum, Daddy, this is Lee Jordan,” Amy introduced him. “Lee these are my parents, Minos and May.”
“We named Amy after May – but switched the letters around,” Minos Smith said as Lee shook hands with Amy’s mother. “Clever, aren’t we?”
Lee grinned and nodded, thinking that three letters weren’t really all that difficult to deal with.
“Amy, dear, why don’t we check on dinner and let the men get to know one another.” She smiled prettily at Lee. “I have to keep an eagle eye on our house elf. She is terrible with lamb – she’ll always let it get too dry.” Then she added to Amy, “Of course, if you hadn’t been late….”
Amy colored and followed her mother to the back of the house. Mr. Smith led Lee to a richly paneled study that looked like an advert for the good life.
“The rest of the family,” Mr. Smith said, indicating the portrait above the fireplace. “We go from A to Z. Our boy, Zacharias.”
Lee tried not to show his surprise. Amy had never mentioned a brother – he had always assumed that she was an only child like he was. And Zacharias Smith – he had been the suspicious one who had given Harry a hard time in the Hog’s Head.
“Drink?” Mr. Smith was standing by the drinks cart holding a bottle of brandy.
Mr. Smith seemed the type to look down on any man who couldn’t hold his liquor, but Lee needed a clear head. “A butterbeer if you have one,” he said in a matter of fact tone.
Mr. Smith raised his eyebrows and produced a butterbeer from the lower shelf of the drinks cart. “Never drink that sweet stuff myself.”
Lee sat gingerly on the tufted leather settee. The room was uncomfortably warm since there was a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Amy’s father sat in a rather grand wing chair with a large snifter of brandy and studied Lee. “You’re younger than any of the other boys Amy has brought around.”
Lee clutched the butterbeer and waited for a comment he could answer.
“You just finished Hogwarts?”
“Sat your NEWTs last June did you?”
“Did you get a NEWT in Defense Against The Dark Arts?”
“Yes, sir.” Lee wondered why he was asking about this.
Amy’s father smiled a complacent little smile. “I thought so. Zacharias sent us one whiny letter after another about Dolores Umbridge.”
Lee started when he heard that hated name again.
“Now, Dolores Umbridge is an old family friend. I couldn’t believe the rubbish I was hearing from my own son. He said she wasn’t teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at all – and here he earned an Outstanding OWL in the subject!” He shook his head.
Lee opened his mouth to tell Mr. Smith just what a horrible teacher and Headmistress Umbridge had been, when the older man’s eyes narrowed in thought. “You must know Zacharias – he’s in his sixth year this year – plays Quidditch for Hufflepuff.”
“Yes, I know him.” Lee decided it might not be wise to discuss Umbridge. He didn’t want to disclose Zacharias’s part in Dumbledore’s Army. While he never liked the boy personally, he couldn’t help but admire that he stood up to his own father in that way.
“He’s a good boy. Thinks I’m too hard on him, of course.” Mr. Smith drained his glass and went to the drinks cart. Lee was glad he wasn’t trying to keep up with him. “Jordan? I don’t know that name. What does your father do?”
“He’s in Vanishing Management,” Lee answered.
“Vanishing Management?” he asked, aghast. “I sit on the Wizengamot and I strenuously objected to the new regulations surrounding magical waste. Why, there is a vast amount of space in the London Underground for such a thing. Those fees are a way for upstarts to collect some easy gold. It’s strangling the small businessman, I tell you.”
Lee knew that the Daily Prophet was a major contributor of waste between the ink and photographic solutions they used and their refusal to wipe the surplus copies and re-print them the next day. It took his father most of one workday to empty their bins.
Trying to make his voice as even as possible, Lee replied, “I don’t agree, of course. First of all, my father is no ‘upstart’ –”
“Of course you don’t agree,” Mr. Smith said, cutting him off and raising his glass in a placatory gesture. “Good to see a son stand up for his father – even when the son doesn’t understand all the nuances. We won’t talk about this anymore.”
“Darling, please bring Lee into the dining room,” Mrs. Smith interrupted from the doorway.
Saved by the proverbial dinner bell, Lee thought, otherwise he would have argued his point.
“So, what did you lot talk about while Amy and I were slaving in the kitchen?” Mrs. Smith asked during the soup course.
“Nothing important,” Mr. Smith said dismissively. He turned to Lee. “The Skywayman broom – have you heard of it?”
“I heard that it’s well named since it’s truly robbery,” Lee said with a grin.
Mr. Smith flushed and drained his wine glass. “I’m investing in the company,” he seethed.
Before Lee could patch up the situation, Mr. Smith yelled, “Elf!”
An anxious house elf with a potholder around her middle scurried into the room. “Bring the next course quickly, tomorrow is a work day.” Then he rounded on Lee in a way that made Lee think Mr. Smith was not handling his drinks too well. “You are employed, aren’t you?”
”Yes.” He no longer felt compelled to add the ‘sir.’ “At the Quidditch museum.”
“Curator? I know Mann’s trying to overhaul the place. The Ministry is most displeased with the way Ludo Bagman let it go to rack and ruin.”
“I’m a tour guide,” Lee said loudly and clearly.
“Tour guide!” Mr. Smith sat up straight and stared at him. “Why, you must make next to nothing! It’s fine for Amy to work at that gift shop. Women shouldn’t have careers anyway. Takes away jobs from the family men.” Mr. Smith studied him for a moment and then asked gently, as if he was the one paternal figure who could put Lee on the right track, “Don’t you have any ambition, son?”
“Yes, my ambition is not to be sacked from this job, since I am on probation.” He shot a glance across the table at Amy, wondering how she was going to react to this since he hadn’t told her about any of his work problems. But she was watching him with an expression of approval that Lee didn’t understand.
Mr. Smith was distracted by the soup bowls disappearing. With a small thunk, the dinner plates – laden with lamb chops, potatoes, carrots and peas – landed in front of each of them.
“Pass the mint jelly, May.” Mr. Smith sawed at a lamb chop and then paused with his fork in mid-air. “If I were a young man like you – single and fancy free – I’d be signing up as an Auror, not hiding in a museum.”
“Since the Aurors haven’t taken on a new recruit in three years, I think the point is moot,” Lee said through clenched teeth. He put his knife and fork down. He couldn’t eat this man’s food.
“I hope Dumbledore will do something about that – but I doubt it. I voted against him as interim Minister as well. He’s getting paranoid in his old age. Thinks there are Dementors in London.”
“Do I know your mother?” Mrs. Smith asked brightly, obviously bored with politics.
Lee tried to play along. “I don’t think so.”
“Is she in any social groups?” Mrs. Smith continued.
“Many,” Lee answered proudly. “Right now she is in Africa working with orphans left behind in a Nundu attack.”
“Hold on. Is she one of those in Magic Without Borders?” Mr. Smith asked, suspicion written all over his face.
“They hit up the Ministry for money and Dumbledore recommended it!” Mr. Smith started to stab the air with the fork in his hand. “I want you to know that I voted against that crack-pot scheme. Just like I voted against commissioning a new fountain of magical brethren in Ministry. Who cares about magical brethren at a time like this? We have a war to fight.”
“But the only way to win this war is to have as many allies as possible,” Lee protested. “If you look back at the history of magic, you’ll see that –”
“Bah – history. We live in the present – not the past.”
“But if you don’t learn the lessons from the past –”
“What do you know?” Mr. Smith asked angrily. “When we win this war, it will because those with some spine did the fighting for the layabouts likes you.”
“You know what I know?” Lee stood up so quickly that his chair tipped over. “I know you haven’t had an original thought in your life and that you’re in love with the sound of your own voice. I also know that I don’t have to listen to this for one more minute.”
Somehow he found his way out of that house. But once out on the steps, in the cool fresh air, he realized that he had messed up royally. Amy was going to be so angry.
He was trying to decide what to do next when Amy slipped out of the front door. “Lee, sorry about Daddy,” she said softly.
“Er.” Lee was confused. Why wasn’t she angry at him for insulting her father? “I really tried….” He sighed. “My mouth gets me into trouble sometimes.”
Amy nodded. In the dim light away from the street lamp, she looked pale and serious. “I know your mouth gets you in trouble – that’s why I picked you.”
She put her hand on his arm. “Lee, I don’t know how to tell you this – so I’ll just tell you.”
“Okay.” His heart started beating faster. What was she going to say?
“Lee – I’m engaged – I have been for a year. To Orsino Thruston – he’s the drummer for The Weird Sisters.”
Her voice sounded faint against the roaring in his ears. How could she be engaged? It didn’t make any sense.
“Daddy wouldn’t give me his blessing – he hates musicians. So I came up with a plan.” Her eyes grew wide with trepidation. “But – I didn’t plan on things going on so long or things happening between us.”
“You had a plan?”
“I wanted Daddy to see that I could be dating someone more inappropriate – someone –”
“Someone with dreads and a low-paying job and a mouth on him. Someone like me?” he asked angrily.
“I – I –” she faltered. “I don’t have any excuse really – you are more than that though, Lee – I mean….”
Lee closed his eyes, wondering why Amy hadn’t suddenly grown fangs and a hump on her back. He opened them again. She was still as beautiful and physically appealing as she had been two minutes ago – before he knew she was a liar.
“You lied to me – you lied to your fiancé! How can you say you’re going to marry someone and then….” He turned his back on her. “What was that tonight? A farewell f–”
“Don’t call it that!” she said with anguish in her voice. “I really like you, Lee – all those times meant more to me than that….”
Lee said it again. Loudly. All of those moments between them now seemed…tawdry. Fred and George had been right. He wheeled around. “How could you?”
“I didn’t plan….” Amy wrung her hands. “The band has been touring Europe and Orsino’s been away for months. I – I think I was lonely….”
Lee looked at the top of her bent head. She was lonely…. He wanted her to grow ugly or laugh evilly – anything to make him hate her. It would be so much easier to hate her.
“If you were a little older and made more money, I’d never give you up,” Amy whispered.
“More money?” Lee was incredulous. “What does money have to do with anything?”
“I'm not suited for poverty,” Amy said, a hard note in her voice. “I need to feel safe. Daddy provides my flat and a clothing allowance. As long as I do what he says, I’m taken care of. Orsino is just starting to make enough for a deposit on a house – but we still need Daddy if we want to furnish it and live comfortably.”
It had never occurred to Lee that Amy cared about money. He latched onto this. It was something to hate – something to help him break free…. “I won’t stand in the way of you and your Galleons,” he said, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his robes. The night had grown so chilly that he felt stiff and unyielding.
“Lee, don’t hate me,” Amy pleaded, tears running down her face.
“I – ” He hated her, he hated himself – he hated money. He hated being alive and feeling like this. “Bye, Amy.”
“Lee? Mate? Did you Apparate drunk again?”
Fred and George were looming over him, looking concerned. “If I had walked, I could have fallen and hurt myself, so it’s better to Apparate,” Lee answered with perfect logic.
“Blimey, Lee! What happened?” The persons of Fred and George meshed together, until it was just George talking.
“What did you do with Fred?” Lee asked stupidly from one of the twin beds in the tiny backroom of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.
“He’s still out with Angelina,” George answered. “They were in the middle of a rousing row when I left.”
There was someone else…. Lee struggled to remember. “What about –”
“Holly? She and Alicia were still at The Club when we left.” George sat on the opposite bed. “Now, tell Uncle George why you stink of Firewhisky after an evening spent with the goddess.”
“It was ladies night at the Leakey Cauldron,” Lee mumbled trying to remember who those ladies were….
“Why were all the ladies buying you drinks, Lee?” George asked patiently.
“Pity. They were pity drinks,” Lee answered, enjoying the sensation of spinning around without leaving bed. It scrambled his thoughts into something bearable.
“Why were all the ladies at the Leaky Cauldron pitying you?”
“Do you know that if you trap a unicorn, it will gnaw off its own leg rather than be caught in the trap?”
“I gnawed off my leg – or Amy gnawed off my leg. George, is my leg still there?”
“You’re pissed, you are,” George said.
“You were right, George – it was all tawdry. She lied and I let her lie….”
“I didn’t know her –”
“Did you know if you write my name backwards it spells eel?”
“I’m an eel and she’s still beautiful.”
“How can that be?” he slurred, closing his eyes and welcoming the darkness where he could crawl away….
He felt a sharp jab in his shoulder and then heard George’s voice as if from a great distance. “You know the rules, Jordan. Drunkest gets the floor.”
“Drink up – you have ten minutes before you have to be at work.” George held a dented goblet in front of his face. Smoke was rising from the green liquid and one black, wiry hair fell halfway down the side as some sort of horrible garnish. Lee felt the bile rise in his throat.
“Oh – no you don’t,” George said pulling him upright. “The hangover cure will work its wonders if you can choke it down.”
Lee shuddered and held his nose, hoping he could swallow enough to stop the steady pounding in his head. The brackish liquid slid down his throat. He gagged, but kept his mouth firmly shut. Within seconds the cloud started to lift. “Better,” he said gratefully. From his position on the dusty wooden floor he could see Fred still sleeping, his back to them. “What’s up with Fred?” he whispered.
George shook his head and motioned for Lee to come into the other room. The other room was the shop itself, still closed this early in the morning.
George gently shut the door and leaned on the counter. “Angelina gave him some kind of ultimatum. I don’t know all the details – but I think it has to do with how they are going to conduct themselves once she’s on the road with a Quidditch team.”
Lee’s head was still fuzzy, but he knew that Fred did not take well to ultimatums. Somehow he didn’t think Angelina got the reassurances she wanted. “I see.”
“Yeah.” George looked as troubled and helpless as Lee felt. This was something Fred and Angelina had to work out. “Oh,” George said briskly, “your dad Floo’d and said your mum is arriving home this evening.”
“She is?” Lee felt a burst of happiness.
“So don’t worry about taking us around the Underground tonight – we can do it tomorrow.”
“Right.” Lee headed toward the bathroom feeling better now that he had something to look forward to at the end of what promised to be a horrible Monday – especially if he didn’t get to work on time.
Once in the grotty bathroom, Lee quickly went about making himself presentable for work. This was not the first time he had gone from a hard night directly to the museum. Fred and George allowed him to keep the basic toiletries at the shop. It was no different than sharing space with them in the dormitory. Luckily, he kept his tour-guiding robes at work, so he didn’t have to worry about the smoky, boozy smell that was emanating from the wrinkled robes he was wearing.
He shaved without looking in the mirror since he didn’t want to hear a sermon. Only after they had rented the place did Fred and George find out that previously this space had been the Witch’s Temperance Association headquarters. But a distance glance in the mirror from the farthest corner of the bathroom told Lee his night out was still showing.
“Why do you have horns?” the mirror demanded.
“Potion from Fred and George,” Lee mumbled. Damn, he had forgotten about the horns. Without his dreads they really showed. He stuck out his tongue. The purple dots were there as well.
“The folly of your ways for all to see,” the mirror intoned. Lee thought a shaft of light breaking through the clouds would have added to the drama, but he didn’t have to time to get cute with the mirror. He also didn’t have time to look up the Disillusionment Charm. He thought he knew the incantation but doing magic on the run with only a few hours sleep was asking for trouble.
“I learned my lesson,” Lee said solemnly to the mirror – just to give the old dear something to hang on to, “ I will never mix liquors again.”
“You’ll see,” the mirror shrieked, “laugh all you want now!”
With that, Lee Apparated to the designated point in the square between the Quidditch Museum and the Gate Gallery. It was a drizzly gray day – fitting for a Monday. Through the light rain, he could see the muses cavorting on top of the gallery building. Thalia, his favorite, saw him watching her.
“Under a toadstool Crept a wee Elf Out of the rain, To shelter himself,” she recited.
Lee grinned in spite of himself and ran toward the Quidditch Museum. It was a brick building, shaped to look like the stands of a Quidditch Pitch. The white façade in the front had a ticket window and multiple entrances just like a Quidditch stand. The flags from all the British Quidditch teams hung limply on their flagpoles.
Lee hurried to the back of the building and skidded through the employee’s entrance. In the small lounge, he waved his wand at his designated trunk and Summoned his tour-guiding robes. Once he disentangled his damp street robes from his horns, he quickly put on the green uniform with the golden Snitch crest on the breast pocket. For the first time, he wished a jaunty cap would complete the outfit.
He looked at his watch, dying for a cup of coffee, but he didn’t want to risk taking the time. He was five minutes late already.
He opened the door cautiously and headed through the corridor that ran the length of the building. He would sneak down this passageway instead of striding through the museum past Mr. Mann’s office. His boss would think he had been up front all along.
But Lee’s luck had run out. He heard the voice that made his skin crawl.
“Jordan, you’re late again.”
Lee didn’t have to search for the word to describe this situation – it was screwed.
A/N: The verse is from The Elf and the Dormouse by Oliver Herford. It just sounded like something a muse would say.