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Chapter 22: Family.
It took about three seconds of shocked silence before Al was on the move again, fixing his broken arm with an impatient flick of his wand and crossing over the room in three quick strides. His eyes were hard as they stared down at mine, and before I could open my mouth, he crouched down, level with Blake.
For a trembling moment they looked at each other – Al’s face half heartbroken, half wondrous – then Blake grinned suddenly and I caught a small gasp escaping from Al’s mouth.
“I know you,” Blake chirped, “you’re Al Potter! That was the best Wonky Faint ever, you were like whoosh! And the other Seeker was like, gaahhh and then you grabbed the snitch right out from under his nose and when I grow up, I’m gonna be a Seeker just like you!”
And with that, Blake promptly stepped up and gave Al one of his trademark ‘I’m adorable and therefore I can get away with such bodily contact with a complete stranger’ hugs.
Al’s face was stunned as he hesitantly wrapped his own arms around Blake’s skinny form, gaping wordlessly up at me. I realized with a jolt that I was crying steadily now, tears dripping down my face without me even noticing.
“Did you know –” Blake began, pulling away from Al, but I cut him off gently.
“Blakey,” I said softly, kneeling down next to them, “love, you can tell him stories later. Do you mind sitting quietly for a bit so we can have a talk?”
Blake’s lower lip jutted out,” Mum,” he whined, “those are boring!”
I quelled him with my Mum Look, but he was still pouting obstinately, little arms crossed over his chest as I stood upright and pulled him back against me. Al rose with me, his face harsh and unreadable.
“Explain,” he hissed.
I took a deep breath. He deserves to know. He deserves it – but oh God, this is scary.
“Blake…Blake is five years old. He was born nine months after I left,” I started hesitantly, my eyes fixed on the head of curly black hair that I was running my fingers through hesitantly.
“He has your eyes,” I whispered, looking up at Al and cringing at his unforgiving expression, “he has your eyes and your hair and he’s so much like you.”
There was a thundering silence.
“He’s my son, then,” Al said, his voice simmering under the surface with an anger running so strong that I flinched back instinctively.
“He’s my son and you hid him from me for five years,” he continued harshly, and I knew right then that forgiveness was something that I wasn’t going to get. And I couldn’t even complain because this was my fault.
“I was trying to protect him,” I said in a small voice.
“From what?” he spat.
“From the inevitable childhood he’d have to go through,” I replied. My voice was soft, pleading. “I was scared. He’s the kid of a Potter and a Malfoy and that puts him in danger from all sides. I didn’t – I wasn’t –” Breathe in, breathe out. “I wasn’t really thinking at the time. I was terrified.”
“I would have helped you. I would have protected him, protected you – I would have been there for you. The entire family would have been there for you, and you know it.” He looked and sounded utterly betrayed, as though I’d broken any semblance of trust that he might have had for me.
“I didn’t know that,” I breathed. When I looked up I could barely see past the film of tears swimming in my eyes, “the things we said to each other before I left…I didn’t think anything could have fixed it.”
“I loved you!” Al yelled, taking a step away from me and running both hands through his wild hair, “I loved you, and that was enough to fix everything!”
I bit back a sob.
“And you just threw that back in my face,” he said brokenly, “you hid my own son from me.”
“You didn’t love me at all, did you?” he demanded.
“I did,” I said desperately, “and that always terrified me more than anything in the world –”
He laughed hollowly, without an ounce of humor. “If you loved me you wouldn’t have done this to me.”
There was a ringing bout of overwhelming silence. I could feel it pressing against me from all sides, suffocating me, drowning me –
“Mummy?” Blake’s tiny voice pulled me back to the surface, “Mum, what’s going on?”
We looked down at the same time, and I could tell from the shift in the atmosphere that the thrumming anger pulsing from Al faded considerably from one look at Blake’s scared face.
I sank down to my knees in front of him, kissing his tears away and pushing his hair back. “Hey, little man,” I said quietly, “don’t cry.”
“I don’t like when you cry, mummy,” Blake whimpered with a hiccup.
My mind worked furiously, wondering how I could twist the situation so that his heart wouldn’t break, so that this could turn into something happy and maybe Al could find it in himself to forgive me just a bit.
“I’m crying because I’m very, very happy,” I finally said quietly, and Blake sniffled and wiped his tears away with the back of his hands.
“Remember when you used to ask about your daddy and I started talking about the X’s and the Y’s?” I asked, changing my expression into a crooked half-smile. I never had a straight answer for the poor child, so I started spouting Biology instead. Needless to say, Blake didn’t ask about his father much. There was only so much a five-year-old could handle when it came to chromosomes.
Blake made a face, “Yeah. You don’t have to tell me again, mummy, really.”
I shook my head, forcing a choked laugh. “I was too scared to tell you because I lost your daddy and I thought you’d be mad at me for losing him.”
If Blake was any older he’d probably look at me like I was insane. As it was, he merely looked at me like the sun shone out my arse while James coughed to hide a laugh and Al’s expression morphed into the perfect edition of ‘what the fuck is this woman on?’
“Your dad,” I continued, “he’s super famous. Your granddad saved the world, and your uncle owns the biggest joke shop ever. Your dad plays Quidditch, did you know?”
“Really?” Blake piped up, the sadness fading from his eyes.
“Oh yeah,” I said enthusiastically, “and it turns out we found him day before yesterday, when we went to the match.”
Blake made the connection with an acute intelligence far beyond his years, his eyes lighting up with genuine joy as he looked questioningly towards Al, then back towards me. I nodded, and he looked at Al again, suddenly shy.
“Well, go on,” I said, prodding him forward. He stumbled and shot me a reproachful look, turning back to Al with a timid smile.
He stopped in front of him, and I was knocked away again at how similar the two of them looked. “I’m Blake,” he finally said quietly, “and my favorite color is red and I love muggle films and I wanted you to be my daddy from the first time I saw your face on that big Quidditch Screen.”
Al swallowed once, looking like the world had been ripped out from under his feet. “I –” he croaked, “I’m Al.” Pause. “You can call me dad, I guess.” Another pause as Blake beamed. Stronger now, infused with wonder: “My favorite color’s also red. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a muggle film before. You have my eyes. My dad’s eyes. My grandmum Lily’s eyes.”
Blake gasped suddenly, with delight. “Your dad’s Harry Potter! Does that mean he’s my grandpa?” He looked back at me for confirmation, and I nodded jerkily. “Oh, awesome!” Blake squealed, “I’ve read tons of books on him, you know, and when I saw him at the game he said he’d teach me how to fly a dragon, and dad, do you know how to fly a dragon? Can you teach me? If I get a dragon I’m going to name it Severus. Isn’t that a cool name for a dragon?”
“Um.” Al looked overwhelmed. “You – dad – you called me – I –”
He took a second to compose himself. “I don’t know how to fly a dragon, sport, I’m sorry,” he said regretfully, “but I can teach you how to fly a broomstick, how about that?”
“Yes!” Blake jumped up and down, “can I name my broomstick Severus?”
Oh yes. That’ll go well. There’s Blake, everyone, just riding Severus.
Holy Merlin, I shouldn’t be allowed to think.
Al seemed to share similar sentiments; he looked pained. “I dunno. That’s my middle name –”
“I’ll name it something else then, daddy,” he said eagerly, “Besides, Severus is more of a dragon’s name.”
“Definitely,” Al looked as though he wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the day (and quite possibly forever) talking to Blake, but I cut through.
“Blake, love,” I said gently, because James looked just as overwhelmed, his eyes fixed on Blake, “this is your dad’s brother. James.”
And Blake was gone again, flying over to James with an excited look on his little face. James beamed dazedly – and I couldn’t believe I’d done this, kept Blake away from this for so long. He deserved every ounce of love he was going to get from this family.
“I was talking to him,” Al muttered under his breath, looking at Blake with clear longing in his eyes. He whirled on me in the next instant, expression hard.
“You’re not keeping him from me anymore. Or the rest of the family.”
I was quivering slightly. “Okay,” I murmured.
“I – we need a schedule,” he continued, and I blinked.
“A schedule?” I sounded utterly perplexed. “For what?”
Al’s jaw locked. “For Blake. For seeing Blake. We’re splitting up the time –”
“Hold on…I thought –”
“What’d you think, Adele?” Al asked, his expression open but mocking, “you thought that after six years of not saying a bloody word to me, you could just reappear with my son and I’d immediately sweep you off into the sunset?”
“Well, I –”
“You thought I’d still love you after all this shit you’ve put me through?”
My jaw snapped up, eyes glittering with tears.
“I guess not,” I said quietly. I had a million arguments. I did. I had a box of arguments back at home under my bed, from when I was pregnant and scared and all alone and every week there was a headline of Albus Potter with a different date on his arm.
He moved from woman to woman, each more beautiful than the last. I tried not to read too much into the articles, but I knew that these witches were looking for nothing more than the promise of a lovely time with Witch Weekly’s Most Eligible Bachelor of the Decade.
Never mind that he was married.
So yes. I was resentful. I was alone and fat with no support whatsoever and the impending future of having to raise a child all by myself – which is a daunting enough task for a person who is actually emotionally stable, something that I couldn’t attest for – and he was out, having the time of his bloody life with every single pretty girl in the country. And I was jealous and bitter.
So I hid, reasons forming each and every day as to why hiding was a good idea, because it was important for Blake and safer for me and frankly, I didn’t need the drama at the time. I was going to have a baby, damn it, and this baby was going to be a fucking wonderful baby. And I was going to raise him by myself and you just wait and see how he turns out, world. Because Adele Potter can do this whole motherhood rot. She can do it.
And I did.
“You’re not completely faultless either, Al,” I finally said, and he shrugged lightly but didn’t otherwise argue.
“Honestly, Adele, I kind of don’t want to see you again for a very long time,” he said wearily, “so why don’t we work out a schedule and go on with our lives?”
“Fine,” I spat, “fine. I have work every day except for Fridays and the Weekends. You can take him out any other day of the week if you want, I’ll just call the day care center ahead of time and let them know as long as you give me some notice beforehand.”
“I’m taking him out tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday,” he said immediately.
I blanched slightly. This means I’ll have to share Blake, doesn’t it?
Damn it. I don’t like sharing.
“Okay,” I said weakly, “I like to spend time with him on weekends, so –”
“Not Saturday,” Al cut through, “not this week. I want him to meet the family.”
My mouth flapped open for a second, and I’m not going to lie – I panicked a bit. “You – you can’t –”
He raised an eyebrow, coolly dismissing. “Can’t what? Spend time with my son? You have no right, Adele, I lost five years of his life –”
“Oh shut up,” I hissed scathingly, suddenly angry. He has no right to be this self-righteous little arsehole with me for this. There was obviously a reason for this, and he never stopped to think that maybe I too receive the tabloids? And as a hormonal pregnant woman, I might find myself feeling somewhat betrayed by his flings while I lurk in the background, broken-hearted and bloody pregnant with his spawn?
“You’re not the one who ended up pregnant and bloody eighteen years old,” I spat, “and you’re not the one who raised him, so just shut up, Al.”
“You never bloody well gave me a chance!”
“You never bloody well gave me an indication!” I shot back. “How do you think I felt, Al, that you moved on so quickly? And there I was, unbelievably stupid, and pregnant with your kid. So you’ll excuse me if I didn’t come running to your doorstep the moment I figured out that you knocked me up, begging for you to take in pathetic old pregnant me with open arms!”
“I would have, and we both know it,” he said icily, “you think I enjoyed any of that?”
“How the hell was I supposed to know?”
“You should have known because you knew that I loved you,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You should have come after me, then, because I supposed you also knew that I loved you?” I remarked derisively, “or am I the only one in this relationship who can apparently read minds?”
He took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers, “I can’t deal with you right now.”
“Well, Merlin, how rude of me to impose my unwelcome presence on someone so clearly above me,” I said acidly.
He didn’t respond, turning back to Blake and James, who had abandoned conversation and were watching us intently. Blake looked worried, James looked exasperated.
“Godric, Al, I didn’t break your arm just so you could come over here and fu---udge things up,” he trailed off weakly towards the end as I shot him a threatening look and jerked my head towards Blake.
“Shut up, James,” Al snarled.
“Look at your dad,” he remarked sadly, shaking his head down at Blake like they were old maids gossiping together about how lament-worthy Al’s manners were, “no respect for his elders, let me tell you. I do hope your mother has raised you to be better than that, Blake Sirius, otherwise we’ll have an unfortunate future to the Potter name indeed.”
I strongly doubted Blake honestly understood all of that, but he giggled nevertheless. “You’re funny, Uncle James.”
“Oh yes, I am,” he said proudly, “and you will be too, because incidentally, we happen to share the same middle name. And everyone who’s got Sirius in their name has achieved boss status.”
“Your name is James Sirius? Cool!”
“Hey mum, what’s boss status mean?”
“Er – I dunno, love, why don’t you get Uncle James to explain it to you?”
They turned back to their stupid chatter – I resolved to keep James away from my child just in case his clearly negative influence had a detrimental effect on Blake’s intellect – and I faced Al again, taking a calming breath.
“Saturday is fine,” I said politely, and he raised an eyebrow before inclining his head. “I’ll give you the address to my flat so you can floo over and pick him up whenever you’d like, and I’ll need yours so I can bring him back home.”
He seemed to be struggling against saying something that he probably knew would piss me off. He finally settled on not saying anything, which, frankly, I appreciated. My nerves were so shot at this point that anything vaguely emotionally distressing might make me snap and go batshit insane at any given moment.
And I can promise that the results of such an explosion are not going to be pretty.
I ripped off a bit of parchment and scrawled my address on it with a quill I found lurking in my robes, watching from the corner of my eye as the Three Potter Men formed a loose circle; Al and James kneeling, with Blake standing up between them. It was as though the three of them did this kind of thing everyday. Oh, found out that I’m actually a father? No biggie. Just a day in the life of Albus Severus Potter. Realized that my sister-in-law has been hiding my nephew from the world for ages? Nothing I can’t handle. Just a day in the life of James Sirius Potter, bitches. Met my father and uncle for the first time in my life? Let’s be best friends, because this is, after all, just a day in the life of Blake Sirius Potter.
Well, bugger me because this is not a day in the life of Adele Malfoy-Potter and I AM FREAKING OUT IN MY BRAIN. SERIOUSLY. THERE ARE CURSE WORDS INVOLVED. THIS IS LEGIT STUFF, HERE.
“Okay,” I finally announced, holding out the parchment with a shaking hand towards Al. He took the parchment. Didn’t remark on my shaking hand. Smart man. “Blake, your dad’s going to pick you up tomorrow, but we’ve got to get home now.”
Blake stepped towards me without hesitation, but he was frowning. “But mum,” he said, “aren’t you married to dad?”
My entire face tightened.
“Yes,” I muttered, twisting the ring nervously around my finger. Al’s eyes snapped down to it and widened before he looked away, blinking furiously. His own left hand tightened into a fist, but I could still see that the conspicuous band of gold was missing from his ring finger.
I clenched my jaw. That arsehole.
“So…so doesn’t that mean you’re supposed to live together?” he continued, eyes wide with innocence, “because all my friends’ parents live together. That’s what families do, right, mum?”
I hesitated, “Blake,” I said quietly, “your dad…he’s not going to live with us.”
“Why not?” he cried petulantly. He turned to Al, a determined glint in his eyes that he’d obviously inherited from me. “Dad, you’ll love it there. There’s tons of toys and books and we have a lot of films for the Telly. And mum makes really yummy food and our couch feels like a cloud, and mum painted my room and it looks really cool because there’s stars everywhere!”
Al looked pained. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
Blake’s bottom lip quivered. “I wanted to be a family,” he whimpered.
I could feel my heart tearing in two. That seemed to happen a lot when it came to Blake – I couldn’t stop myself from hurting him over and over again. I was a terrible mum.
“Oh, Blake,” I said, gathering him in a hug. He stayed stubbornly stiff, however, and I knew that he was seriously upset. “Blakey,” I said again, softly, “love, you do have a family. You’ve got grandma and grandpa and Uncle Scorpius and Auntie Rose, remember? And now you’ve got your dad’s whole family. Grandpa Harry and grandma Ginny and Uncle James and Aunt Lily and the list just goes on and on.”
Blake sniffled again.
“That’s the biggest family in the world,” I said matter-of-factly, “isn’t that cool?”
“I just want you and dad, mummy,” he said in a tiny voice. “What if we leave and we lose him again? We have to keep him with us so we can’t.”
“We won’t,” I promised.
“But he should still come with us,” Blake said stubbornly.
“Honey,” I hesitated again. “Your dad and I…we haven’t seen each other for six years. That’s a long time, and we can’t just start living together after that.”
He was frowning again. “You and dad don’t love each other?”
My heart lurched. This kid is too intelligent for his own good.
“We both love you,” I finally said, “and that’s all that matters.”
“No, it’s not! Parents are supposed to love each other and their kid,” he cried.
“Blake, that’s not always how it works,” I said desperately.
“It’s not fair!”
“I know it’s not fair,” I conceded quietly, tears pricking at my eyes again as I looked at his heartbroken face, “and I’m so, so sorry, love. But why won’t we look at the good part of today, huh? We found your dad, didn’t we?”
“I guess,” he said reluctantly, “and I am happy about that.”
“Exactly,” I said eagerly, “and you guys are hanging out tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that…and two days after that! How fun will that be?”
He looked excited, but then his face fell again. “But mum, when can I spend time with you?”
I had to physically restrain myself from sending a smug smile over at Al.
“On Friday, and at night when you get back,” I said simply.
“But… but I’ll miss you, mum. We’re supposed to spend Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays together,” he insisted.
Best kid in the world. Hands-down.
“Your mum can come with us on Saturday,” James piped in, looking excited at the mere prospect of it. I shot him a wide-eyed look, but he merely grinned, stepped forward, and scooped me up in a hug.
“Al might be a jerk, but the rest of us missed you like hell, Addie,” he muttered in my ear, “every single one of the girls he went out with were total bimbos.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed helplessly against his shoulder. “Alright, I’ll come.”
“What?” Al asked sharply, but he was drowned out by Blake’s gleeful cheer.
“Yay, mummy! You can intro – intra –”
“Introduce,” I prompted.
“Yeah, you can do that!” He pressed another hug against my knees.
“But first, we’ve got to get home,” I said, detangling myself from the two o f them.
“Oh mum, can’t we stay a bit longer?” Blake begged. “I wanted to talk more with Dad and Uncle James.”
“You have all of tomorrow to do that,” I told him.
He pouted, but took my hand anyway. Al had bounded across the room as soon as I mentioned that we had to go home, a stricken look on his face. He didn’t spare me a glance, but he kneeled down in front of Blake and hugged him tightly.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he promised in a low voice.
“Not if I see you first,” Blake giggled, pulling away and taking my hand again. “Bye daddy! Bye Uncle James!”
“Bye, bud. See you, Adele,” James shot me a fond smile, and I grinned back. Al quirked a smile at Blake. I got nothing.
I was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a banging at the door. It took about three seconds for me to switch from mostly-asleep to wide awake, adrenaline running through me in waves. I clutched my silk robe tighter around me as my wandlight led the way to the door, heart pounding as there was another knock.
Deep breath in, out. I know more hexes than my own father. I can beat the shit out of his intruder, whoever he is.
I grasped the door handle and threw it open, my wand immediately flying towards the face. Al ducked just in time, his eyes wide.
“What the hell!” he yelped, raising his hands over his head. “It’s just me!”
I lowered my wand and yanked him inside, wishing quite suddenly that I’d worn something nicer to bed instead of a ratty tank top and fuzzy pants. Then I realized that it didn’t bloody matter what I wore to bed, because he wasn’t supposed to have bloody seen me in my pajamas.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed.
“I’m here for Blake.”
I stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“What time is it?” I finally asked, glancing out the windows. There was a pale line on the very tip of the horizon.
“Four a.m.,” he muttered, looking slightly sheepish, “I didn’t know what time you left for work.”
“So you decided to come here at the arse-crack of dawn?” I asked incredulously.
I smacked a hand to my forehead. “I leave for work at eight-thirty, you idiot. Who goes to work at four?”
“You seem like the type,” he retorted, “an anal-retentive workaholic.”
“I’m a single mother, mate. I sleep as much as possible,” I said, letting out a derisive laugh. “Speaking of which, you’re cutting into my sleep time and Blake insists on waking up at 6 a.m. so if you’ll excuse me…”
“What am I supposed to do?”
He shot me an unimpressed look. “For two hours? No.”
I let out an irritated huff, then whirled around to stalk over to Blake’s Secret Hideout. I’d gotten a bookshelf to stretch across the entirety of the wall in my family room, with a small niche in the middle for our telly. There was a small part of the room that was set apart due to the Kitchen Wall, so Blake and I had built a giant blanket-fort one day. He refused to take it down afterwards, instead putting up a sign in his scrawling handwriting. I hadn’t had the heart to get rid of it; he loved his blanket-fort. It was home to every one of his pirate adventures, space explorations, and Quidditch fantasies.
I stooped down and crawled in, lighting up my wand again with a muttered, ‘lumos’. Blake’s pictures, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and various rock, seashell and Quidditch figurine collections came into view, but I was focused on the bookshelf part; I’d shrunk it so that it would accommodate Blake’s size, and he’d included it as one of the walls of his fort so he could read under here as much as he wanted. I pulled out three scrapbooks and shuffled back out, dusting myself off as regally as one could after having crawled on all fours from a blanket fort.
“Here,” I said, dropping the picture albums into the glass table stretched out in front of our couch. “Knock yourself out.”
And with that, I marched back to my room, crawled under my blankets, and forced myself back to sleep.
Heaven knew I needed it.