Ikutsan swirled the last contents of his coffee, one hand hovering above the bewitched spoon while he dug his other hand into the great depths of his pocket. Silence seemed to descend upon the room, and there was a period in which even Louis thought the tavern had grown a little too quiet for comfort. When he glanced up fearfully, he saw two things that had most certainly not been there before.
First, a short but well-built man was now occupying the chair opposite his own, his proximity distressingly close because of the small table meant for two. Second, the old lady was back and delightedly stabbing a small pad of paper from which only a few pages had been ripped so far.
"One galleon, one sickle and eighteen knuts, sir.” She rocked on her heels.
"Hnn.." Louis replied.
The woman had already had her doubts about this odd man, but now as she looked up expectantly.....
Staring fixedly at the man in front of him, Louis extended his arm to her direct right and dropped the money and unintentionally generous tip (two galleons) on the floor, eyes wide with what the bar wench suspected to be horror. Nonetheless, she wasn't about to break apart any brawl or pardon herself for that accidental 'bump' into his table, sending his remaining coffee over the top and over the table. She knew he would clean it up. She was right.
Thank God for that clumsy barmaid, Louis thought, and immediately set to work to avoid further gawking at this hoodlum.
"Is theear summa' rong, sir?" Asked the stranger, and so gruffly that there might as well have been a bear beneath that driver's cap.
Ikutsan started. The man with the bushy hair chuckled. It was a deep and comforting sound, exactly the sort of chortle you would want a good-natured man to have. His shoulders shook with escalated laughter, the material of his jacket drawn taut over his frame as he crossed his arms and propped his elbows on the table. One could clearly see the muscular build of a working man, a man unaffected by such a luxury as was magic.
Louis had no desire to know what was about to happen next, but up until the man adjacent him had obviously found something amusing in his expression , he had been cautiously trying to peer at the man's face. He was unable to see anything distinctively out-of-place on the other male but stubble and a crooked nose that had probably been broken a few times before.
The lips beneath the cockeyed nose were beginning to lose their humor, twisting into little frown. Growing impatient, the man slung his hat in the face of his offender. “By gaw, Louie! If yer not as thick as a mountain troll!“
The gangly Englishman made a sound just short of a squeak and wheeze, drawing out the name that seemed to take forever to wriggle from his throat. “Patrick?”
“Look a’ you, Lou! Wha' muggle filth av ye bin rollin’ in fer the past 20 years?”
“Patrick! Patrick-” He made to rise and embrace the old acquaintance, consequently bumping the table with his long legs and sending a few more drops of coffee splashing. This manner of greeting proving inefficient, he leaned across the table and grabbed at Patrick’s hands to make sure they were, in fact, real, and more importantly, in tact. “Oh Merlin, Merlin-”
“Naw,” He laughed. “I still go by Patrick.”
The sound of the men’s disbelieving laughter filled the room, until they were both grinning from ear-to-ear and gripping each other’s sleeves across the table, reduced to nothing but jovial “I didn’t know where you were!”s and “I’m so glad to see you.”s. Patrick shook the old professor by the shoulder, giving one last thump of rejoice, and reluctantly reclined in his seat to regain composure. He felt as though sitting back were like giving Louis another chance to run away, to disappear for another decade or more.
Alight with excitement, Louis’ eyes took in every change Patrick had to offer for the time the good friends had been separated. Patrick, in turn, eyed the neatly clipped mustache like it were a caterpillar contenting itself to sit on Lou’s upper lip.
Simultaneously, they began to speak. Simultaneously, they apologized. Simultaneously, they both insisted the other go first. They both laughed.
It was Louis who blurted the first question, though a moment later he realized just how inappropriate it must have seemed when he lurched forward and demanded, “Where have you been?!”
“Here! Where else would ah ‘av bin?”
Louis paused, having seen the absurdity of his own question. Of course, that would make sense! Patrick was always the sort who was loyal to his home... but it didn’t mean that he hadn’t mentioned traveling to other places before, or objected to moving to suit his profession if need be.......but that didn’t mean that he, Louis, couldn’t have at least checked in on him.
It was Patrick’s turn, of course, and feeling obligated he countered with, “Where ‘ave you bin?” Then, with a feeling of intense displeasure, he felt he should repeat this question in a hushed tone of voice which really demonstrated how concerned he had been and how badly things needed discussing.
“Louis, where ‘ave you bin all this time?”
Patrick’s emotions had slowly mounted from the very start of the conversation until it was overwhelming, like a complete mood swing that hit him directly in the stomach, hard as a brick.
Overcome with wonder at spotting Louis, he had completely let the expected exchange slip his mind. The ‘exchange’ was a little inquisition he sometimes repeated when, after a few years of absence, he had finally begun accepting that Louis would not be back for a very long time. That did not mean, however, that he had thought of him as dead. It was more or less denial, when the thought of the scrawny teenager he considered his partner in crime, through-and-through, had been gone for 5 years. It was enough time, he decided, to be rightfully angry. He had a slew of questions prepared, a full-out interrogation by the 7th year, just in case the young man with the tangerine-hair came back to the United Kingdom as a pompous pureblood, with a wife and two kids, simply saying that ‘it had slipped his mind’ to visit him while caught up in all his success.
It was propable that anyone in Loch Village who had bothered to once-over Ikutsan, could safely say that they could not see the man as the type to come from a childhood where he was ever destined to be a ‘success’. Patrick would have clocked them in the jaw.
Just as Ikutsan had not been expected an encounter of this magnitude, Patrick had not been expecting to see Louis exactly the way he had imagined him right after he left, especially sitting and sporting muggle clothing with a humorsome beard that he himself had encouraged the man to grow as a teen. Although he would never admit it, the stocky man had almost forgiven him on the spot. Who was he to be sitting here as content as a full-bellied cat by a fire, not even 40 miles away?
Louis suddenly felt a pang between his eyes, his joints screaming in protest to the involuntary curling and uncurling of his fingers against the new wood of the table.
“I’ve been back for awhile now.” The reply much to both the men’s distress. “Hasn’t Marie told you anything? I was working as a professor at Hogwarts for a couple of years, since then been working for the ministry. Surely-“
“Marie 'asn't told us owt.”
“She ‘asn’t told us anything about ye. ‘Asn’t said a word. Jus’ gets angry and ignores us if we talk about anythin’ bur t' latest news.” Patrick shrugged as if to say “But what can you expect from a tart like that?”
That was not the clarification Louis had been asking for, but he did not bother inquiring as to why Patrick had been referring to himself as apart of a group-
“What-! But I’ve been back for at least ...for- for at least eight years!”
“She 'asn't said anythin’ wut abaht ye. Most reaction we've gotten is a bloody sneer.” And that was exactly what Patrick was doing. Sneering.
“I asked about you,” Louis offered , but the countryman only took it as an excuse for the ex-professor to blame his sister. Seeing this in his expression, Louis insisted. “I did, Patrick! It was one of the first things that I did when I wasn’t trying to avoid being knocked about by that big gorilla of a man she’s nabbed. For God’s sake-”
“Ye dint av tha time t'even come by, then? Ta sen' an owl?”
“Like ye dint ‘ave t’brass!”
“Rubbish!” He snarled.
“She kicked me out as soon as I was home, she wouldn’t even look at me- listen Patrick!- she wouldn’t even give me my share of the inheritance, not even enough to get by-“
“Ah dun blame t’woman.”
Something popped in the hearth, momentarily startling Louis a great deal more than a normal person. He focused his attention on Patrick again, a knot twisting in his gut that unknowingly matched the other man’s. It was not like he did not think about this situation, this inevitable confrontation...
He opened his mouth to speak again gently, brilliant eyes wide and brows bunched in the absolute most pitiful expression. Orange tress, in which silver hair now showed, brushed across his shoulders as he hunched and leaned forward, falling around his face and nearly brushing his balled fists, because of the sheer length. Patrick fancied that it was a scolded border collie sitting across from him instead of his old friend. He frowned down at the way Louis presented himself as such. So weak. Both of them used to frown down on things, on people like this.
Perhaps they had been apart too long, and maybe this was not so much different from the idea of meeting a pureblood Louie that he had been entertaining.
“You know that I would not have missed it if I could have helped it.” The words escaped his bloodless lips in another sharp, breathless whisper that sounded like a squeak. He almost sounded hurt.
Patrick did not answer. His square jaw worked back and forth. He had been dancing around the one thing he had been meaning to ask for so long, and although it was well-rehearsed, he could not seem to find the words.
The door opened once more to allow someone inside. Louis felt his skin rise in gooseflesh.
“I loved them, no matter what....impassive impression we might have given off.” Said Louis, compelled to continue. His voice was disintegrating again, this time because he did not often talk of this subject, and could not accurately recall the last time he had. “I didn’t even ...know, really. Surely you mustn’t think that I-er..”
”Nay, nay. Ah dint really.” He admitted, hunkering down against the table so that if one were to glance in their direction, they would see two middle-aged men with heads atop their arms, like weary little boys. Patrick’s massive back rose and he let out a loud sigh. "It wor a hell of a sight, Lou. T'last of 'em wor sa angry that you weren't there that they wor fightin o'a wha' they claimed wor rightfully theirs. Malcolm... some piece o' work when Marie got through with 'im."
Louis stiffened. Patrick had achieved the desired effect.
“What was he doing there?” The orange orbs were cast downwards in an instant.
Muffled by the arm of his musky jacket, into which he was nuzzling his crooked nose, Patrick spoke tiredly. “Ah s’pose ‘e wor standin’ up for ye.”
Ikutsan’s long, arthritic fingers snaked their way to his beard absently. He stared at nothing in particular.
“Ah...ah. Good. Good.” He finally said. “He did a lot for me in Romania.”
“I will have to thank him.” He breathed, and then quickly added before Patrick could glower, “Personally.”
“‘E’d love that.” Patrick’s bushy brows rose, disappearing beneath the mass of unkempt hair, a clue that perhaps a smile was hidden behind that arm. “They dint roast ye s'much afta 'e showed up. For that, ye sister wor grateful. An excuse for ye absence, afterall.” He rumbled, recalling the event with morbid humor. “It wor afterwards when she snapped a’ us. We wor cornered, ye know. An’ ah’ve seen tha’ big bloke. Ah wasn’t about t’have a go a’ ‘im.”
“But you didn’t actually see Charles, did you?”
“Charles is his name. Charles Thomas.”
“Oh, ah, well naw. But ah’m sure he was around theear, y’know. Lurkin’.”
“So basically, you and Malcolm were backing down from my little sister.” Louis had a young laugh, a little short of charming. He attempted to join in on Patrick’s merriment, but failed miserably.
“Naw, naw...dad an’ Eveline Ozera wor theear.” He stressed the full name ‘Eveline’, half-expecting Louis to have forgotten the woman altogether. It wouldn’t be surprising, afterall.
“What?” A significant change flitted in Lou’s voice. “Evvy? Our Evvy? What, really?”
What an odd situation this was. Patrick threw one thing after another at him, names, numbers, events...and it wasn’t until he said them that Louis felt like he were opening an old book in the Restricted Section of Hogwarts’ library, carefully piecing together known facts and pairing them with the information provided. These things, these memories, had been safely tucked away in the dusty ruins of his long-term memory, apparently no more noticeable than his birthday or the answers to the 5th year O.W.L.S.. He was blowing the dust off every page of this particularly absorbing encyclopedia and restoring each delicate paragraph and illustration with care.
“Yessir.” A mischievous smirk did then appear on Patrick’s countenance, making him look like the stranger Louis had made him up to be earlier. “'N if she can't 'andle Marie....” Louis heard him make a low whistle, but never saw him move...but of course, one cannot see much around one’s self if one is surrounded with pleasant memories of tall grass in the summer.
‘Shweaak.’ The old history professor drew his feet towards him, dingy shoes scraping against the floor.
Turning a ruddy face up at him, considerably less flustered than before, Patrick inquired, “Do ye 'av ta nip on teur t'restroom or summa', Lou?"
“Oh...no. No, ..pardon?”
Louis humored him with a smile, mustache twitching with every effort to restrain himself from shouting. “What do you mean, ‘if she can’t ‘andle’..er..‘handle Marie’?”
“Well ah reckon’ ye wouldn’t knaw....” He trailed off, picking a bit of lint off his breeches with a newly acquired interest.
“Know what? Patrick Ackerman, you tell me what I don’t exactly-”
“Abaht Evvy's,” He wound his fingers in his hair, voice soft...or about as soft as a farmer’s voice can get. “...eraahh... lifestyle.”
Louis braced himself for the worst, and even went so far as to grip the arms of his chair.
"She's bin wed sum odd times. 4 or 5, ah reckon. Divorced 'em orl, but, bless 'a 'eart, 'as sent 'em off wi' enuff brass ta buy their way."
“What? What- but it’s rich men! She’s giving purebloods more money.” He babbled sorely.
"None o' 'em av bin rich or pureblood, actually. Eur couple o' 'em had gran' incomes, gran' jobs, bur none o' 'em rich.”
Louis wiped his sweaty palms on his pants, slightly befuddled and occupied with mulling over this new information. Sliding a hand into a pocket to withdraw a tarnished, gold watch, he flipped it open to check the time habitually, but without seeing any numbers. Patrick gazed at the familiar object with curiosity, replacing his cap.
“I don’t understand.”
“Ah reckon she jus’ lies back and thinks of England, eh?” Patrick hoped Louis would appreciate his pick-me-up joke, but found himself tittering alone.
“No, not that. I don’t understand how I could have forgotten.”
“Eee, ah’ll tell tha summat.” Patrick leaned close like a predator lowering it’s head for the kill, and, relaying his information in what he thought was a befittingly confidential manner, barked loudly, “’S because you’re too busy with yer bloody books t’care about anythin’ thas nowt a century old, y’cheeky sod!” Which successfully sent Louis into a fit of wild hysterics where he surveyed the room for anyone who looked as though they might have heard or been offended by the outburst. No one did. They all ate their breakfast solemnly, the conversation landing on deaf ears...or so he thought.
“That isn’t true-“
“‘S why yer 35 and not married!”
Someone guffawed behind them, but neither saw nor cared to see the culprit.
Louis growled threateningly, but his expression of utter despair was unconvincing. “You’re starting to sound like Marie-“
Patrick hissed like the name were the dark lord’s himself.
Before he even knew what he was saying, a stream of words came from the orange-haired man in a venomous whisper. “I was in a relationship, you daft, motley-minded sheep farmer, so don’t you even begin to lecture me on my personal life when you haven’t seen me in damn near 20 years.”
“Wha’?” The ‘sheep farmer’ did not hide his apparent interest, looking not the slightest bit affronted. “With who?”
“A bar wench in Hogsmeade. For awhile. Now never you mind.”
“Thas exactly what Evvy will want ta ‘ear.”
“‘For awhile’, being the key words.”
“‘Bar Wench’ was all ah needed to ‘ear.” He spat.
Eveline’s 4 or 5 husbands seemed to go unnoticed in this conversation.
The taller man’s boney shoulders relaxed, his features softening with an exhausted sigh. Louis respected Patrick’s protectiveness, his determination and concern, but he would not be the first to back down from a disagreement. He was also aware, or at least suspicious, of the wandering eyes of the increasing number of people dining in the Goat and Rose.
“Can we talk about this somewhere else? Your house isin’t very far away, is it? Do you still live near Thirsk?” I’m going to miss work, I’m going to miss work, I’m going to get sacked, I’m going to get sacked. The mantra raced through Louis’ brain, but was easily muffled by the voice screaming in desperation the need to be forgiven.
Ackerman, who had furiously been picking bits of invisible lint from his person, glanced up interestedly.
“I will try to explain to you all what happened, and you can think what you like. It's only fair." He cringed. "Best I can. Promise." Ikutsan offered his gloved hand, just as long as Patrick’s, but not nearly as large. They shook on it.