Who: Zacharias Smith, Emelda Vane
Where: Leaving Ceridwen’s Grove, Helga’s Hill
When: 23 March 2002, late evening
Emma liked weddings. There was music, dancing, good food — and what could be more wonderful than celebrating the eternal love between two people? There had been a few questions about when it would be her turn, which was slightly awkward with Zach present, but she’d been able to smile and shrug and deflect the conversation onto a safer topic each time.
Now, feeling slightly tipsy but very happy, she threaded her fingers through Zach’s as they left Ceridwen’s Grove. She’d done a lot of dancing, so she’d taken off her shoes and was dangling them by the straps from her other hand, enjoying the feeling of the cool grass on her bare soles. She wasn’t really in any rush to get home. It was nice just being out with Zacharias.
“What a lovely evening. Thank for you walking me home.” The words seemed slightly formal to her, and Emelda wondered if she would ever feel like their relationship wasn’t still a contract.
“Yes, it was alright,” said Zacharias, with a slight sigh. It was hard to fathom that Gwen had tolerated Terence for so long, so long that she had just vowed that it would be “forever”, but they’d just witnessed it all in person and the pictures in tomorrow’s paper would be concrete proof.
“Could have done without the nosy questions, though. They think everyone at the ceremony’s secretly dreaming of their own nuptials but that’s not really true, is it?”
“I would not like to speculate,” Emma said noncommittally. “Some people may have been inspired by seeing Gwen and Terence get married. I suppose it makes sense that going to a wedding might prompt thoughts of one’s own nuptials, however far distant that may be.”
She didn’t want to admit it, but there had been a moment or two when she’d thought about what her own wedding would be like some day — just vague thoughts about having her sisters there, and maybe getting Isolde to do the flowers since she’d done such an amazing job today. She hadn’t even considered who she would be marrying in this fantasy. But Emma suspected that Zach would only panic if he knew the direction of her thoughts.
He raised an eyebrow. “Would you say going to a funeral prompts thoughts of one’s own death?” Zacharias asked, then shook his head. “Nah, don’t answer that. Too morbid. I wonder what they’re—” he asked, then balked. He knew what Gwen and Terence were up to, unfortunately. It was a wedding night, after all.
He hadn’t pushed at all since Wayne had let on about Emelda. It did explain a lot. But he wondered why Emelda didn’t just tell him at the very beginning, instead of letting him think she was just being especially coy.
Well, there was no need to wonder when he could just ask.
“Hey… how come you didn’t tell me you’ve never had sex before?”
Emma stumbled over something — a loose stone, a raised tree root, she didn’t know what — and stubbed her toe, but didn’t even notice the twinge of pain through the whirling blankness that had engulfed her mind.
She couldn’t believe he’d just asked her that. She couldn’t believe Louisa had told.
“Ah — because I —” Was he really expecting a coherent answer to that question? “It never came up in conversation,” she said eventually, trying to pull herself together but desperately wondering what else Louisa had told him, and whether the whole town now knew her personal business.
“Never came up?” Zach sounded slightly incredulous. “OK, well,” — maybe she was technically correct — “but you didn’t expect me to ask, did you?” Surely it was her prerogative to volunteer such information.
“I mean, I guess I just assumed you had.”
“Of course I did not expect you to ask,” Emelda said, frowning at his tone. “I would have told you when I deemed it necessary for you to know.” Of course, it was really a matter of if, not when, as she still had not decided whether to sleep with Zacharias or not. Suddenly Louisa’s advice seemed a lot less trustworthy.
She didn’t know what to make of Zach’s assumption. It was nice to know that people couldn’t tell she was a virgin just by looking at her… but she was still embarrassed and defensive and needed some space. She pulled her hand free from Zach’s and took a step back, folding her arms.
Zach frowned. “Necessary to know? We’re dating!”
“That does not mean I have to immediately tell you everything about myself,” Emelda protested.
“Yeah, but that’s like an important relationship detail. I mean, unless you thought I already knew. Or assumed. But I wouldn’t. So that’s…” Zach screwed his eyes shut for a second, trying to collect his thoughts.
“I mean, it makes a difference.”
“I know it makes a difference. That is why —”
Emelda hesitated, not really wanting to get into a long discussion right now when she was tired and a little bit fuzzy-headed. It was hard enough trying to articulate her thoughts when she was by herself. Having Zach standing in front of her just made her even more confused.
“I mean, it’s not a problem,” said Zacharias hastily, now wishing that perhaps he hadn’t brought up the subject. He reached for Emelda’s hand, intent on getting moving again.
“Bit bizarre to hear it from Wayne, that’s all.”
“From Wayne?” Emelda took another step back, away from Zach’s outstretched hand, and stared at him in distress. “What — why were you — how is this any of Wayne’s business?”
It had been bad enough to think of Louisa sharing her confidences with Zacharias. The fact that Wayne had also been part of this discussion took her humiliation to a whole new level. And suddenly, overwhelmed perhaps by the events of the evening (emotions always ran high at a wedding and she was not immune), Emelda felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes. She bit her lip, willing herself not to cry.
“Well, I mean, it’s not really,” agreed Zach. “But he’s my friend and we were having a conversation about us and it just came up.”
He finally noticed the change in mood. “What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter?” Emelda repeated incredulously. “The matter is that I had a private conversation with Louisa where I sought her advice. I was not expecting you to hear the details second — no, third-hand.”
She took a deep breath in an attempt to stop her voice from shaking when she asked, “Can you not see why I might find this upsetting?”
Zacharias blinked. “But people talk about other people all the time. I don’t know the details, what conversation you had. And I guess Wayne didn’t think he was telling me anything new.”
Zacharias was genuinely mystified. During his Quidditch career he had gotten used to be being endlessly discussed and debated and remarked upon. In fact, he felt it would be strange if no-one ever spoke about him behind his back, as it were.
Emelda, however, was not used to her private life being discussed by all and sundry. In the last few months she’d been the subject of gossip twice — during the love potion fiasco when she and her sisters were arrested, and when she was Imperiused into taking her clothes off in Heaven Scent — and both incidents had understandably not been pleasant.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” she said bluntly. “I would rather not know if you and Wayne feel it necessary to talk about me.” The rational part of her accepted that guys would talk to each other about their girlfriends — possibly in more intimate detail than the girlfriends would wish — but sometimes ignorance was bliss. And that was something she didn’t think very often.
“I am tired, Zacharias. I would rather not discuss this right now.”
“We don’t say anything bad…” Zacharias stressed, but even he could see it was futile.
He waved a hand. “Sure, sure, no talking,” he said. “Yeah, let’s just go home quietly.”
He offered his arm.
“I can see myself home, thank you.” Emma dropped her gaze, unable to look Zacharias in the eye. She didn’t really want to push him away, but she couldn’t be around him right now either. In all fairness, this wasn’t really his fault — although he could have been more sensitive about it. But she knew better than to expect sensitivity from Zacharias Smith.
“I just… need space, and time to think. Alone.”
“What! But…” Zach threw his hands out imploringly. He couldn’t fathom how he’d let all that post-wedding goodwill slip out of his grasp. Also, why it had affected Emelda so much was still a mystery to him. He should ask… no, he probably shouldn’t ask Wayne about it. But who else did he know with a girlfriend?
“Oh, alright. Fine. OK. Don’t think too hard…” He shook his head in bewilderment before heading down a different lane.