Title: Grumpy Old Men
Characters: Marcus Flint, Adrian Pucey, Terence Higgs, Cassius Warrington, OMC.
Word Count: Approx. 4200 words
Content/Warning(s): Other than four old friends drinking cheap wine, none.
Summary/Prompt: Prompt M7: Growing older sucks
“I hate getting older. Everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work.”
A/N: Many thanks to J. for betaing this for me and correcting my Dutchglish. Any remaining mistakes are my own because I can’t leave well alone. Also, a big thank you to the mods for their patience with me and for hosting this wonderful fest!
With just a few days left before the start of a new school year, the Leaky Cauldron was filled with families who had finished their last-minute shopping or were just about to start doing so. Future first-year students, excited by the prospect of finally starting Hogwarts, ran around with their friends and siblings with little to no attention to whose tables they bumped into or chairs they kicked. A few older students, separated by their respective Houses, had gathered by the bar, drinking and loudly chatting amongst themselves when they weren’t hurling insults at their rivals.
At a table in the back, four wizards in their late sixties to early seventies were watching the scenery before them. Three had disapproval written all over their faces while the fourth merely nodded his head and smiled at nothing in particular. They’d been friends since before Hogwarts, survived Slytherin together, and had fought against their closest loved ones in a war that shouldn't have been theirs to fight. They’d lived through many trials and tribulations, but compared to the head-splitting noise of too many loud kids crammed into a small space, torture at the hands of Death Eaters felt like a ride on a broom.
“Bloody awful kids without bleeding manners, ‘bout time they buggered off to school,” Marcus Flint complained as he poured another round of red wine for his friends and himself, or what was supposed to pass for it. His furrowed brows knitted together even tighter at the sight of the elegant goblets with roses etched into the glass. It was hardly manly, was it?
Where had those days gone when chugging more pints than he had fingers in less than an hour left him a bit hungover? These days, just a sip had the ability to set his stomach on fire. The only drink that seemed to sit well with him appeared to be wine. Watered down wine in dainty, flowery goblets. ‘Twas a good thing that he wasn’t the only one sentenced to drinking dishwater.
“Just a few days left,” Cassius Warrington agreed. He, too, scrunched up his nose at the wine, but since an unfortunate incident involving clogged arteries and an obstinate ticker some odd years ago, this was the best he was allowed. One day a week at that.
“I’ve no rest. Not here nor at home since our Emma dumped her two evil spawns with us. Just for a few days, Daddy. We have to work and the elves are on strike,” he parroted his daughter. “They’ve been with us for weeks. Weeks! Those two hellraisers are so loud that I can’t hear myself think at times. You know what the worst part is? When they’re not wrecking my house, they’re eating all my food!”
“It’s the times we live in, I tell you,” Adrian Pucey chimed in, wagging a crooked finger. “When we were younger, our parents would’ve boxed our ears for being dunderheads. If you do that now, those Ministry tossers will lock you up in Azkaban and throw away the key. Apparently, kids these days are delicate, easily bruised little flowers that need the utmost care. It’s ridiculous. Pull ‘em over your knee and let ‘em have it, I say. That ought to keep them in line.”
“Hear, hear,” Marcus and Cassius agreed as they held up their goblets, waiting for Adrian and Terence to join the toast. While the former eagerly clanged his goblet against his friends’, the latter paid them no heed. He was still smiling and nodding. It was as if the whole conversation had passed him by.
“What’s wrong with him?” Cassius asked, lowering his glass as the strain of keeping his arm up for that long was becoming a bit too much.
“Didn’t your wife tell you?” Marcus asked. Seeing the confused look on his friend’s face, he leant in closer and conspiratorially whispered, “Katie told me that Angie told her that Alicia told Angie that Higgs here is getting a bit senile. And deaf. Or just deaf, I’m not sure, I stopped listening after a while. It became too confusing.”
“Senile? Rubbish,” Adrian said with a scoff. He would’ve rolled his eyes if it didn’t give him a headache. “I heard something else. Watch this.”
He picked up his walking stick and slammed it on the tabletop. As he’d expected, Terence jumped up a bit, his smile faltering. To prove his point further, Adrian pulled out his wand, pressed it against his friend’s cheek and muttered, “Finite Incantatem.”
As he’d expected, two bright lights swirled out of Terence’s ears and dissolved into thin air. The expression on his face went from serenely absent to utterly sour when the noises around him finally filtered through.
“Bleeding hell, why’d you have to go and do that for?” Terence bemoaned as he turned in his chair to face his friends.
“Could ask you the same thing,” Marcus shot back. “You had us worried there for a minute.”
“It’s nothing, mind your own business,” Terence retorted as he shrugged carelessly. However, the incredulous looks on his friends' faces told him that they wouldn’t let him off the hook that easily. His shoulders slumped, and he let out a world-weary sigh. “Fine. If you must know, I've pissed off Alicia.”
“Again? What did you do now?” Cassius asked with interest.
Terence’s eyes flitted between his friends as he mulled over whether to explain or not. Eventually, he decided that they could use a good laugh and perhaps, they’d help him find another solution to his problem.
“I had a bit too much to drink last week, yeah? Well, you know what that means; I get a bit too honest. So I get home, trying to sleep off the worst. Just as I’m about to drift off, she walks in yapping about getting older or something, I forget. Anyway, then she asks me whether I still find her attractive…”
“Oh, no,” Adrian muttered as he shook his head. “That’s a trick question.”
“There’s no good way to answer that,” Cassius agreed.
“I know,” Terence said with a sigh. “I stepped into that one with eyes wide open.”
“So, how bad did you cock up?” Marcus asked. “I mean, there’s bad and there is bad.”
“It was bad. I don't know what I was thinking, but I told her that I loved how she looked...”
“Why would that anger her?” Cassius asked.
“...even with her tits hanging past her belly button and the dimples on her arse and thighs,” Terence finished. He picked up his goblet and drained it in one go before he continued his story. “She got upset, of course. Started bawling, telling me that I hated her and all that nonsense. Then, I made it worse and asked if she was still menopausal because she was supposed to be over the worst according to her Healer, and it didn’t look like it. So, yeah…”
“Ow, that’s- that’s bad.” Adrian could imagine how that conversation went since he’d been in Terence’s shoes more times than he cared to recall with Pansy. But it still didn’t explain the charade. “Why the charms on your ears, though? Buy her flowers, maybe a new necklace and keep your head down for a few days. That should’ve solved it.”
“I know,” Terence answered with a groan. “But I was sloshed, remember. I started panicking and blurted out the best explanation that I could come up with,’ he ticked a finger against his temple, ‘that I’m losing my marbles.”
“You went from running your mouth to acting like my Great-Aunt Betsy after her potions accident in one night?” Marcus asked in disbelief. “And Alicia just accepted that without a fuss? She didn’t drag your arse to St. Mungo’s to have you checked?”
“No…” Terence answered slowly. His brows knitted together as he contemplated what Marcus was saying. In the end, he decided to ignore it. There was only one great actor in his family, and it was him. Alicia truly believed that his brain was rotting; he was sure of it. “The way I see it, I have two options: keep up the lie and find a potion pusher willing to lie for me for a lot of Galleons, or come clean and get my arse kicked. For lying and telling her that her tits lost the fight with gravity. I’m still not sure which one to pick.”
It started with Adrian sniggering that soon turned into a boisterous laughter, and it wasn’t long before the other two joined him. Although Terence tried to resist, to scold them for not giving him proper advice, he couldn’t help but laugh along. Maybe it was a little funny if you weren’t the one at risk of getting your arse kicked. And to be honest, he’d rather hear his friends laugh than listen to the screeching and yelling of the demon rats running around.
Marcus was the first to stop laughing, quite abruptly in fact. His gaze dropped to his lap as his featured twisted into a dark scowl.
“What’s wrong?” Cassius asked as he wiped the tears from his cheeks.
“I pissed myself a bit,” Marcus answered and stood up, his hands covering the front of his trousers. “Be right back, yeah?”
As the laughter died down, Adrian shook his head while he watched Marcus shuffle to the toilets. “I told him to use the loo when we first got here. He never listens. Honestly, how Katie puts up with him without going mental is beyond me. He gets more stubborn with each passing day.”
“At our age, you should never pass a loo without using it, waste an erection, or trust a fart,” Terence said wisely. “You’d think he’d have learnt that by now.”
“To be fair, you shouldn't trust a fart at any age,” Cassius mused.
“Or waste an erection, you’ll never know if it’ll be your last one,” Adrian chimed in, laughing. “Remember when we were younger? A light breeze was enough to get it up.”
“Do I?” Cassius exclaimed. “Have I ever told you blokes about Céline?”
Marcus returned just in time to catch the end of the tale Cassius was spinning about one of the Beauxbatons girls that had invaded Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament, and how she’d made it her mission to relieve him each time his pecker had played up. Seeing that he’d heard the story at least twice a week for the past fifty years, Marcus had no interest in listening to more of the grossly exaggerated escapades. Grumbling under his breath, he refilled the empty glasses.
Just as Cassius was about to retell how he’d found the Room of Requirements for their use, Marcus couldn’t hold in any longer and groused, “I hate getting old.”
“We all do, mate, we all do,” Adrian agreed after a moment of stunned silence. Being wizards, they were just halfway through their expected lifespan. However, living decades longer than the average Muggle didn’t mean that the discomforts that came with ageing were delayed. He fully understood his friend’s pain.
“Tell that to Katie. She nearly bit my head off yesterday for saying that. It’s happening, Marcus, we’re growing old together. Isn’t this what we’d always wanted?” Marcus shrilly imitated his wife. “Why should I be happy about the fact that everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work? Merlin’s bleeding balls, I can’t even laugh without pissing my knickers at least once a day.”
“I miss my hair,” Cassius said as his hand shot up to his bald scalp, his voice rueful and full of longing. “What I lost up there is growing back everywhere else. One of the little monsters, Odin I think it was, said that my back looked like a white rug when I took them swimming last Saturday. I’m writing him out of my will.”
“I keep forgetting things,” Adrian shared as he rubbed his thumb over the rim of his goblet. “Pansy acted like I’d slaughtered a kitten when I forgot our anniversary last month.”
“S’okay, it happens to the best of us,” Marcus consoled as he patted Adrian’s shoulder. “Just think about it like this; getting older doesn’t make you forget things, having too much rubbish to remember does.”
“Here, here.” Terence held up his goblet. “Since we’re sharing… I have a hair growing on my hip that's long enough to use as a belt. You lot wanna see?”
“Good god, man. No!” Cassius shuddered at the mere idea. “I’ve my own disgusting hairs to look at.”
“You lads remember the time we were wee boys, and how we wished that we’d be men already?” Adrian asked wistfully.
“Oh, yeah, and our grans would laugh and laugh and we couldn’t understand why,” Marcus answered, smiling. That suddenly turned into a sneer. “Those hags should’ve warned us. Growing old is shite.”
“You’re right about that one. Maybe I should warn our Micky,” Terence mused, referring to one of his grandsons. “He was going on and on about wishing that he was older and whatnot.”
The four men fell into a pensive silence for a minute. And from a distance, it probably looked as if they were overthinking life’s most difficult question. That illusion shattered when the four simultaneously bellowed ‘no way!’ and burst out into belly-shaking laughter. They were laughing so hard that Adrian lost his dentures and Cassius nearly suffocated when his guffaws turned into coughs.
“Let him figure it out for himself,” Marcus said, wheezing as he patted Cassius's back. “I’ve done it with my boys, and they’ve turned out all right.”
Cassius shook his head, wagging his finger. “That doesn’t work on mine. They’ll just tell me to stop being childish and spill the secrets to a long and prosperous life already. As if I know what those are. No, I need something better than that to keep them off my back, or at least redirect them to Angie without too much hassle.”
“The next time they give you a hard time just tell ‘em that you can’t remember what you were supposed to advise them on. Being old and all,” Adrian recommended. “Works like a charm with my girls… I think. I can’t remember the last time I had that chat with them.”
“Or you just say ‘sod it all’ and go on with your day,” Terence said with a shrug. “We’re too old to care about hurt feelings or worry about excuses.”
“How’s that working out for you?” Marcus asked as he pointed at his ears. “I reckon that’s what you’ll tell Alicia tonight then?”
“No.” Terence shook his head and signalled for a refill. “I might hate getting old, but I’d prefer to hang around for a little while longer. Saoirse and Jonathan are expecting a baby in February; those fertility potions have finally worked for them. I’d like to be there in one piece when the little tyke arrives. I’ll tell Ally in a few days. Uh, weeks, or whenever you tossers decide to tell your wives. I’m sure she’ll hear it within minutes.”
“Tonight it is, then!” Adrian said cheerfully and thrust his goblet in the air, sloshing most of its contents on the table. “Congrats on the new baby. That makes how many now?”
“Tenth.” Terence smiled proudly, his chest puffed out. “Four more and I’ll have two Quidditch teams to referee in a few years. I can’t wait till the new one gets here; we desperately need a Seeker. The lot of them take after Ally; all Chasers, they are.”
“Nothing wrong with being a Chaser,” Marcus deadpanned.
As expected, the other two also had something to say about the subject, but before the conversation could turn in the wrong direction, Terence held up his hand to stop them. He wanted to talk about how to persuade his daughter to name the baby after him regardless of the gender, not discuss Quidditch and explain the importance of Seekers for the umpteenth time. Unfortunately, a familiar voice booming through the pub robbed him of that opportunity.
“Oi, Dad, over here!”
“Oh, shit, duck,” Terence warned as he pulled Adrian and Cassius down by the fronts of their shirts and kicked Marcus under the table to do the same.
“Who is it? Please tell me he’s one of yours?” Cassius asked carefully. Seeing Terence nod, he sighed in relief. Angie hadn’t sent out the bloodhounds. Yet.
“Why are we ducking?” Adrian whispered as he tried to pry himself free. His friend’s grip on his shirt was so firm that the fabric chafed at the back of his neck.
“I don’t know. Old habit, I guess.” Terence bit his lip, thinking about his next move. Then, as if something clicked in his mind, he let go of his friends and straightened his back. He plastered a smile on his face and began nodding his head as if he were a wobbly toy. “Not a word about what I told you,” he muttered through his teeth. “Play along.”
A tall man in his forties emerged at their table. Although he had his mother’s dark hair and eye colour, Roger Higgs was Terence’s spitting image in every other way. His gaze flitted between the four old geezers and finally settled on his father.
“Dad,” Roger said, irritated. He shook his head in annoyance when his father ignored him and merely kept smiling and nodding at no-one special. “I know you’re faking, old man.”
“He’s not, and you shouldn’t talk to your poor father like that,” Marcus defended his lifelong friend. Still, keeping a straight face proved to be difficult, especially when the other two giggled like five-year-old girls.
“Really now?” Roger said, unimpressed. He walked around the table and pulled up a chair. He took his time to study his uncles, and when he failed to find what he was looking for, he sighed deeply. “I know he is. I’ve been watching you lot for a while now. You walked right past me earlier.”
“You’re spying on us?” Adrian huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, his nose high in the air in indignation. “I would’ve expected better of my godson. Traitor.”
“Yeah, same here,” Roger snapped as he waved his hand at the men. “I can’t help that you’re getting blind and deaf. I called out to you, for Merlin’s sake. That’s beside the point, though. He’s lying to Mum, and you’re covering for him. I would’ve expected better of my godfather.”
“There’s your first mistake, son,” Cassius said as he kindly patted Roger’s hand on the table. “Being older doesn’t mean that we're any smarter or wiser. You ought to know that by now. I mean, your dad’s a prime example of that.”
“Oi, I resent that!” Terence snapped, forgetting that he was putting up a show. But instead of resuming his role or yelling out that he was miraculously cured- - which was the first thought that popped up- - he rolled his eyes at the incredulous look on his son’s face. “Fine, you’ve caught me, are you gonna tell on me?”
“It depends on what you're offering to keep me quiet.” At the cock of his father’s chin, Roger leant over the table, eyes glistening brightly and a cheeky grin on his face. “If I remember correctly, you owe me two months worth of allowance. Do you remember that summer before my third year when Mum grounded me? You know, because you broke her favourite vase and blamed it on me?”
“You petty little shit. That was thirty years ago.”
“Yeah, thirty whole years to nurture that pettiness.” Roger’s grin widened. “I’ll take it with interest, thank you very much. The kids’ school supplies have cost me an arm and a leg; this should ease the pain a little. If you don’t pay up, I might have to cry in my mummy’s lap and accidently spill your secret while I’m at it. With me being so emotional and all.”
The other men burst out into laughter, clapping his back and praising his blackmailing skills. But most of all, they were praising themselves for having taught him well and wishing that their own brood would hopefully reach Roger’s level one day. Terence, in the meanwhile, didn’t share that sentiment. He pulled out a small pouch from his pocket and dumped its contents on the table without paying any heed to how much there was. Always the gentleman, he made sure the children running around the pub couldn’t hear the profanities he muttered under his breath, but the occasional ‘tosser’ and ‘wank stain’ were clearly audible.
“You’re keeping mum about it then?”
Roger rolled his eyes as he hastily stuffed the golden coins into his pockets. “Honestly, Father, when was the last time you managed to fool Mum? She’s peeing herself laughing at you behind your back.”
“She does that too?” Marcus asked hopefully. But since neither Higgs paid him any heed, he turned his attention to his goblet again. “Excuse me for asking a question, sodding pricks.”
“Why did I just pay you for- Oh, fuck no, she knows?” Terence swallowed hard as he frantically looked between his friends, hoping that they’d sprout some brilliant ideas to save his neck. Of course, they just laughed, hard and loud, and Adrian’s dentures fell out again. “What do I do now?”
“Don’t ever mention it. When you get home, just act like it never happened,” Adrian offered as soon as he put his teeth back in.
“When that doesn’t work, tell her that someone must have slipped you a potion and that I healed you today,” Cassius added his two sickles.
“Just pretend that you forgot you were joking,” Marcus mumbled behind his goblet. “Happens to me sometimes.”
“Good God, and to think that you helped win a war.” Roger let out another deep sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, Dad, I happen to know that Mum has her heart set on a goblin-made charm bracelet. Buy it and apologise for lying to her and for whatever you said or did before that.”
“I can't; she’ll never forgive me.”
“Mum’s like a Niffler. Give her something shiny and she’ll forgive you on the spot. You ought to know that by now.”
It must have resonated within because the men at the table couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen Terence move so fast on his own volition. Before they could blink a second time, he’d jumped up from his chair and put on his cloak and hat and was impatiently tapping his foot as he glared at his son.
“Well, what?” Roger asked, a bit confused.
“Well, get up, you lazy arse. I need you to show me the trinket your mum wants.”
It took some exaggerated sighs and moans - - and winks and smiles at the other three- - before Roger made any attempts to adhere to his father’s demands. However, all that mattered to Terence was that he did so in the end. Son and father bid their farewells, one more rushed than the other, and made their way to the entrance to Diagon Alley.
“It’s not that awful, is it? Growing older, I mean,” Adrian muttered. His lips curled up into a soft smile as he watched Terence squabble with Roger by the door.
“No, it isn’t.” Cassius, too, had a smile on his face. It grew wider when Roger suddenly wrapped his arm around Terence’s shoulder and kissed the bald spot on his crown as he guided him out the door. “We’re lucky that we’ve made it this far as it is.”
Marcus merely nodded in agreement as he poured the last of the wine into the goblets. As he raised his glass in the air, he had to admit that the loud ruckus around them wasn’t that bad. In fact, it reminded him of his own troll cubs when they were younger. To be honest, his grandchildren were far noisier than the children running around today, and he’d be lying if he were to say that he couldn’t stand it. Truth be told, he loved the racket. It made him feel alive and appreciative of the fact that he’d grown older than his parents ever had. And as he slyly surveyed his two friends, he knew that they’d agree with him.
“Here’s to growing older and the bit of discomfort that comes with the territory,” he toasted. His grin grew wider when other two clanged their glasses against his. “It’s all worth it in the end.”
Without taking a second breath, the men downed the last of their wine in one go. For a minute, they resembled the young boys they had once been, eager to show off how fast they could drink a pint without gagging or spilling a drop. And as it had been back then, Marcus won. He slammed his goblet on the table as he let out a loud, long-lasting belch that earned him cheers and applause from the youngsters by the bar.
Suddenly, his triumphant grin faltered, and he dropped his gaze to his lap. When he looked up again, his smile had morphed into one of defeat. Perhaps Katie was right, and it was time for him to pay the Healer a visit.
“I've pissed myself again.”