meallanmouse, what do you think? Could the RP narrator post it for me, or is it too much of a side-issue to be worth it?
There was no way he was going back to the Royal that night. For one thing, his mood was all over the place, and for another, the traffic was shite, even for Edinburgh. Fuck the bypass, he thought morosely as he fumed in thick traffic up Morningside Road, the lowering lump of Blackford Hill on his left. Traffic just gets worse every day.
Karina was home when he let himself in to the flat, a bottle of Chardonnay and a glass on the table near her as she lay on the sofa watching telly, her long legs hanging over the end. She looked up and smiled wryly.
"Home early, Allie. Your dream date didn't work out?"
He wrinkled his nose at her. "I'm only surprised I didn't come in to find you cavorting in my absence with that wee shite Jamie."
"You look like you could do with one of these," she said, waving slightly tipsily at the wine. "Anyway, I'm not Jamie's type. One too many X chromosomes, it seems. But he's a good lad and a magic technician with the CCD array, so I won't have you badmouthing him. Anyone would think you're jealous, Allie."
Allie fetched himself a glass from the kitchen and poured himself a moderate glass. Half what Kaz had in hers, and hers wasn't full any more. Neuros tended to fall into two groups, it had occurred to him more than once: those who drink nothing stronger than Ribena, and those who live in a perpetual fug of peatsmoke and ethanol. Again, he had to be the exception, the very moderate drinker. He'd thought about giving up more than once, but he felt cynically that he'd only do so to prove how virtuous he was, and he didn't have anyone left to prove anything to.
"Jealous?" he snorted. "Of him, or of you?" She picked up the remote and killed the TV, then pulled her legs up so that he could sit down beside her.
"Both. Neither. I dunno, Allie, I'm half-pissed and I'm not thinking straight. Sit down with Auntie Kaz and tell her all about it. You've got the little cartoon thunder-and-lightnings playing around that fine brow of yours. She stood you up?"
He sipped at his wine and made a face. "It's tepid." Setting the glass down again, he shrugged. "Oh, she was there all right. For the consultation."
"Consultation?" Karina's eyes narrowed and she brushed strands of her long fine hair away from her forehead. "Since when does Alastair McLeish FRCS do visits?"
"Since never," he admitted. "Jesus, Karina, is there a cold bottle anywhere? this stuff's bloody undrinkable!"
She looked at him thoughtfully. "Something's wrong, isn't it, Allie? And don't come out with any crap about 'feminine intuition', I've known you long enough to know when something's eating at you."
Eating at you. Suddenly he felt a great urge to be very drunk indeed. "Oh yes," he said softly. "Something is very wrong."
Well past the witching hour they were still at it. The level of whisky in his graduation bottle of Glenfiddich, which had stood in a dusty position of untouched honour on several shelves over the years, was now way below the midpoint of the label, and he felt fine. What a blessed freedom this stuff is, he thought. Jailbreak of the tongue. Absolution in a bottle, and hang the morning penance. Karina was still on the Chardonnay, and she was taking it slowly; in fact, the more she heard the soberer she seemed to get, which if he hadn't been so plastered would have worried him deeply.
"So what you're telling me," Karina said in her best what-the-jury-must-understand tone, her hand companionably in his, "is that this boy goes to your old school, and Poppy What'sherface..."
"Pomfrey," he supplied fuzzily.
"Poppy Pomfrey, thank you Allie, asked you to give him a look over and have dinner for old time's sake, and when you got there you found out that he was the son of someone who you think is involved with some people who murdered your family, but you decided to look at him anyway as a favour to the Ponsonby woman..."
"Poppy Pomfrey," he repeated, and took another swig.
"Whatever. And then when you examined him you found a tattoo that showed he was a member of this gang, even though he's only coming up sixteen and your family died ages ago, and so you said he was OK when you knew damned well he wasn't, because you'd be happy to see him dead. Fair summary?"
"Fair summary," he agreed. "Well, Madame Steele, your Ladyship, what is the verdict of this court?"
She looked at him and shook her head in bewilderment. "I've never heard such a bucket of sheer unadulterated shite, Allie. You're completely away with the pixies. For a start, your family weren't murdered. It was a car crash, Allie, and it's been a car crash every time you've mentioned it. Icy road, sudden fog, failed brakes according to the police, tragic and all too frequent, get your car checked every six months or it may be you next. Secondly, you went to some snobby little school on the south coast near Exeter, and there's no way you could have got there and back today without your own private jet, and the last time I looked in the garage I didn't see one. Thirdly, the Allie McLeish I know isn't a bastard. The one I know slaves his guts out saving kids' lives, he doesn't turn away, let alone rub his hands in glee because there's a really nasty death in store for someone and they don't know it."
"Aye," he said hesitantly. "When you put it like that, it does seem a wee bit implausible, doesn't it?" She didn't bother to dignify that with more than a snort.
"What did we agree before you moved in here?" she asked rhetorically. "No lies, no secrets. I don't think there's anything significant about me you don't know, McLeish. Appalling Bob, the abortion, dear demented Auntie Rose..."
"You didn't tell me Jamie's a poof, did you?"
"I said significant, Allie. So I think it's time you came clean. And it'd better be the truth this time, or tomorrow you're sleeping on a trolley in Casualty."
"Hogwarts," she said heavily. "Wizards, witches, wands, potions. Death Eaters, curses, secret wars. Murder most foul, and black and midnight hags. Oh Jesus."
"Y'had to ask, didn't you?" His voice was thick to the point where he almost couldn't understand himself. Fuck-all whisky left, and then what?
"Prove it." He wasn't holding her hand any more. She was pressed against the far end of the sofa, her hands balled up in her lap. "Prove it, or I'm taking you to Psyche and I'll let them work out whether you're a grade-A loon or just a drunken idiot."
"Ach, I can't do that, Kaz. There's rules. If I wasnae pished... the lads from the Ministry, they'd be here an' I'd be hauled off an' you... they'd Obv..lib..vi - they'd wipe yer mind clean as a Presbyterian fart."
She looked at him levelly, and said "Paranoid on top of the florid delusions, Allie?"
He hauled himself off the sofa, nearly upending the table, but he didn't care any more. "Wait here," he slurred. "I'll show ye, ye misbelievin' English minx," and wove off to his bedroom and his carefully-buried past. He returned in a few minutes, during which time Karina had poured herself a precautionary drop or two of the dregs of the Glenfiddich.
"This," he said, breathing heavily as he put down a dark wood box bound in brass, "is the truth. Ask an' ye shall receive, Karina Pandora, an' don't ye come crying to me after because it isn't pretty." He ran his fingers carefully over the brass strips, pushing here and there, and the lid popped open.
At first sight there wasn't anything particularly impressive in there. A brown envelope of a little larger than A5 size; a long thin yellow and black velvet drawstring pouch, much the same size as kids used to carry their recorders, and a scant handful of coins. A dubious look crossed her face. "That's it?"
He nodded. "That's it. The Secret History of Allie McLeish." He took out the envelope and opened it, his fingers making flicking sounds as he sorted through. "This, for a start." He offered her what looked like an ornately-printed piece of thin card with a shaking hand, and she took it and looked at it closely. "That's my seventh-year report card."
"Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," she read slowly. "Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus. A dragon.. sleeping.. never.. to be tickled?" Her voice rose with increasing incredulity and she continued. "Alastair McLeish, Hufflepuff House." She flipped it open. "Potions: satisfactory in an indifferent fashion. Severus Snape. History of Magic: an able pupil, but with a tendency to lose sight of the greater picture in the details. Athanasius Binns. Defence against the Dark Arts: would make a competent Auror if he..." She dropped the parchment as though it were a venomous animal and looked at him in despair. "This is a windup, Allie. You had this printed to wind me up, didn't you?"
"Aye," he said contritely, "Of course I did, and now ye can tell me how I did this." He took out another sheet and handed it to her face down, watching her face with a sickly amused feeling. "That's my final year photograph."
"Oh god!" was all she could muster in response at the sight of a crowd of berobed teenagers trying to stand still and solemn in front of some piece of crazed architecture and conspicuously failing to do so as she watched.
"That's me, that is," he said, pointing to a sandy-haired lad in the back row who looked up and gave her a thumbs-up and then nudged the girl standing next to him, who blushed and turned her head. "And that's Arty. Artemisia Clack. Always shy, she was. I goosed her about five seconds after that photo was taken. Then there's Olly Gracechurch, Dan Davies, Eudora Payne, Julie Fothergill, Derry and Finn O'Sullivan..." As he spoke, more and more heads were turned and hands waved in his direction.
"I think I need another drink," she said weakly. "I'm obviously drunk, but not drunk enough for that. It's some kind of clever hologram. It has to be."
"More things in heaven and earth, Karina. Certainly more things on Earth. Now, for my final trick I'm going to do something that should get me put away." He picked up the drawstring pouch and carefully loosened the string. "Not least because I'm as drunk as a fart and magic when you're drunk can be lethal." Out slid a burnished wooden rod. And I swore I'd never touch it again, he thought. Not least because I know what I could do with it.
"You're going to tell me that's your magic wand, aren't you?"
"Aye. Now hold your tongue a moment, because I'm as rusty as fuck..." She liked her candles, did Karina, though she rarely lit them. There was a big fat beeswax one over there... He pointed the wand at the candle. Swish... and flick... "Incendio!"
The dried-flower arrangement on top of the TV obligingly burst into flame. "Ooops," he muttered. "Exstinguo aquae!", and about a pint and a half of water appeared momentarily above the flaming grasses and then descended with a splash.
Karina watched, stunned. It took a minute or so for her to be able to find words, and when she did speak, they weren't the ones he'd expected. "If you've bust my telly, McLeish, you'll be down Curry's tomorrow and buying me a new one!"
He rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Karina, I show you the Forbidden Things and all you can do is to fret about some bloody Muggle contraption."
"It's going to take me a bit of time to get used to this, Allie," she said in a remote voice. "I'd be grateful if you'd clear up that mess before you go to bed. I'll be going myself now, it's past two and I have a seminar tomorrow." She stood up and stalked to the door. "And if you're up for breakfast, which from the state of you I very much doubt, you can tell me what a Muggle is then."