When I entered the kitchen wearily the first sound to greet me was my favorite sound in the world. "Mummy!"
My frazzled heart swelled at that melodious chime. But my mind was still too aware of the silver locket around my neck. It felt like it wieghed a ton. And it brought on so many questions. One of which was, why the hell did I put the damn thing on?
Why didn't I burn it, sell it, throw it out the window? Why did I unclasp it and fasten the unbearable reminder around my neck like shackles? Why was I purposely putting myself through this again?
" 'Bout time you woke up." Will grumbled as I entered the room.
Effie and Dan sniggered, Tom smirked and my mother gave them a reproving look as she served Rory her breakfast. Dry toast and cereal with a sippy cup of pumpkin juice.
My eyebrows knit together as confusion and annoyance swirled in my stomach. "What's got you in a strop?" I spat irritatedly. I was in no mood to deal with bipolar brothers at the present time.
"I got assigned to wake-up duty this morning," He retorted his tone scathing.
Needless to say, I was still confused.
A wide grin spread over Dan's face. "You bit him."
Effie giggled for what I guessed was not the first time this morning, judging by Will's glare, Tom laughed heartily and even my mother smiled at this.
It was the kind of morning I would've enjoyed immensely if my brain hadn't been so consumed by yesterday's discovery and this morning's misdeed. All of the family, sitting around the table, teasing each other. I'd truly become a mother in the past year, enjoying wholesome family fun was one of the many side effects.
I tried to smile, but it didn't reach my eyes. I mumbled an apology to my stepbrother and sat at the table knowing full well that I would not be eating.
"You alright, sweetheart?" My mother asked, noticing my ill facial expression. "You look a bit peeky. Are you getting sick?"
My breath caught in my throat but I managed to croak out an answer, " Um.... no, mummy. I'm fine, just not really hungry is all."
"That's a first," Will snorted, but it was teasing now. He'd forgiven me for biting him, I guessed. "Since when do you not eat breakfast?"
Effie also looked worried. Obviously she remembered when the last time I'd skipped a meal was. I tried not to gag as I thought about telling her what I'd found. No, I would not be telling my sister anything. I was good at keeping secrets- I'd proved that before.
"Oh, leave her be," Tom laughed. "It's almost her lunch time. She usually eats ages before the lot of us are even up."
They all laughed together, but I could only manage a weak smile.
The damn locket was still heavy around my neck making it impossible to forget about. A thought crossed my mind abotu what I could do with it, but I quickly ruled it out. Forbidding myself to drudge up even more old heart aches by requesting to see James, or my old friends or- most especially- him. But I doubted the necklace would show him to me anyway- I didn't love him anymore and that had been one of the qualifications. And even if it would show me my old flame, I'd probably just be nauseated even further because- just my luck- I'd catch him inthe middle of shgging some slag he'd just met. I was doubtful it would even work to begin with muchless actually show me anything worth seeing. So, I would not open it, I refused.
As the conversation moved away from my morning behavior, I opened the Prophet and immediately regretted it.
There plastered in the marriage announcements was a picture of a large extended family posing stiffly with a dignified bride and groom. My stomach heaved uselessly as I recognized the blushing bride, Bellatrix Black and her long time beau-turned-groom, Roldolphus Lestrange.
I did not study the picture but instead, I groaned and turned the page vehemently. My daughter's paternal family was not a particularly comforting sight. I wasn't going to sit there and stare at them. Mainly because they not only reminded me of him but I also refused to study their features too thoroughly, knowing what I would find.
I didn't want to see my beautiful baby girl's heavenly face duplicated, no matter how minor it was, in the faces of a bunch of in-the-closet-Death-Eaters.
My family did not ask what upset me. They just assumed I'd read another headline about Death Eater attacks.
"I'm going to go see Aidan." I said, standing abruptly.
"You can't call this early," my mother sounded scandalized.
"Why not? He's always over here at ungodly hours of the morning." Effie said as I scooped Rory out of her chair.
"Well, at least bring some of the muffins I made with you."
Effie caught my eye and rolled her own. I couldn't return her smile. I needed to get out of here. Away from magic, away from reminders.
When I was outside, I hurried to the car as if I was fugitive running from the law. I threw the container of muffins in the passengers seat. I was about to strap Rory in when I had another idea. I cantered next door to wake my best friend up. Knocking once, I entered the house.
"Oh!" Mia's mother exclaimed delightedly. "Bella! Rory! Isn't this a pleasant surprise? What's got you two out and about this early?"
"I came to kidnap Mia for the day. Is she still sleeping?"
"I was until my mother shrieked with joy." A groggy voice croaked.
I looked up and there was my friend at the top of her stairs in pyjamas with her eyes glazed over and her hair all tossled.
"Throw on some clothes, we're going out."
"First to Aidan's and then I dunno."
They laughed and she went back down the hall to her room to change.
Less than fifteen minutes later I buckled my daughter in her seat as my best friend exclaimed over my mum's muffins then whipped out of the driveway fluidly.
Aidan was up, of course.
He was surprised to see us so early, but he could tell I needed to talk so he didn't hassle me about it. He simply grabbed some muffins out of the container Mia still clutched and told us to sit down. I put Rory on a blanket with a few toys in front of his television and we went into the adjoining kitchen.
And, just like that, it all came out. Like vomit, I couldn't control what was coming out of my mouth it just was. I spilled my guts out to them, even telling them about my close call at Flourish and Blotts.
When I was finished, Mia handed me a muffin and Aidan wrapped an arm around my shoulder and kissed the top of my head. It was just what I needed. The emotional vomit had relieved all my worries. As cliche as it sounds, the weight that had been on me vanished and I felt tension throughout my entire body dissolve.
"Feel better?" Mia asked.
I sighed, "Actually, yes."
"Good." She looked pleased, "Now let's go out to breakfast, theses muffins are making me hungry."
"Effie, have you seen my black halter?"
"I stole it yesterday."
"Where is it?"
"In the laundry."
I sighed, Plan B then.
I wandered back into my room where Rory sat and started roaming my closet again. I didn't dare go near the drawers in case they had anymore unpleasant surprises for me.
"What about this? Too much cleavage for a family event?" My sister asked, stepping in my doorway to show me the skin-tight jeans and blue tanktop she was wearing.
"Unless you want Gideon and Fabian to tear the mickey out of you, I suggest you change." I told her, plucking a plain white shirt from it's hanger and throwing it over my head. I herded the top half of my curls into a ponytail and then checked myself in the mirror. After a quick survey I turned around for a second opinion. "What d'ya think, Roribelle?"
She cocked her head to one side intelligently and then smiled as she broke into applause.
"The queen has spoken," Effie laughed and then she disappeared acrossed the hall into her room again. Hopefully, to find an outfit with less cleavage.
I applied a smidge of eyeliner and some clear lip gloss then slipped on my favorite pair of flip-flops. "C'mon, Aurora. Time to go to Gran Airy's birthday."
She clapped again and shouted, "Yay!"
"Little racy for a family thing isn't it, Effie?"
My sister glowered at Fabian and crossed her arms over her chest with a huff.
I laughed. "That's what I said," I told him, grinning wickedly.
"It isn't racy!" My sister insisted grumpily. She'd been scolded by our mother, teased by our stepbrothers and now the twins were at it.
"I agree," Gideon grinned. "It's not racy at all... for a-"
"If you call me a prostitute I'll hex you," Effie warned him severely.
We were laughing together when Molly poked her head into the room and announced, "Dinner is served."
One thing about being mother to a small child, you've got to make their plate first. And, on occasion, the food will get cold before you get any for yourself.
Thankfully, after Rory was all settled, Molly handed me a plate she'd put a heat-retaining charm on.
"Bless you," I laughed.
"You're welcome," she grinned. "So what's with the new accesory?" She eyed my throat curiously, her sharp eyes missed nothing.
I gulped, face flushing instantly. "J-just a gift."
She raised a dubious eyebrow at me but inquired no further. I was extremely grateful because the last thing I wanted to do was discuss my discovery and the ultimate confusion that followed with my cousin at my grandmother's birthday party.
I quickly jumped into a debate with Fabian, Gideon and Arthur over who would be going to the Quidditch World Cup this year. "Ireland, without a doubt."
"No way! They've got to play England and Germany before they get anywhere near the Cup," Gideon insisted.
"But Germany's playing Albania and Egypt," I countered
Fabian shook his head vigourusly and, with a mouth full of food said, "Egypt'll never get through Kenya."
"But Kenya's playing Brazil tonight."
"And Egypt has to beat France," Arthur added.
"So Ireland is a shoe-in and I'd bet my last galleon that they'll be going against Italy," I told them.
"Nah," Fabian contradicted, "my money's on Greece. They've got Nick Millo and Kostos Kaligaris."
"Yeah but Theo Annik is having a bad season," Gideon reminded him.
"And Angela Marino has had a smashing season," I added. "Did you see that catch she made in May? Bloody fantastic!"
"But the Seeker is only one player on the team," Fabian sighed.
"A bloody important one," Arthur laughed.
"Yeah, but Greece's Beaters have been in fine form."
"I've got an idea," Effie interruptedwith fake enthusiasm. "How 'bout you lot just wait until the semi-finals to have this discussion?"
"That's next week, Ef," Molly chortled as Billy whizzed by on his toy broom. He'd already finished eating and ignored his mother's request for him to sit at the table until everyone was finished.
My sister groaned and began to bang her head on the table.
"You're getting pudding in your hair," I informed her with an amused smirk. My sister's dramatics really were funny sometimes.
Before she could answer an owl swooped in and dropped an envelope in Fabian's lap. He swiftly tore it open with a finger and scanned it's contents with his sharp eyes. Seconds later, he handed it to his twin for him to read and announced, "Well, it's been lovely but we'd best be off now."
I could practically feel the happiness level in the room drop down a few notches. We all knew exactly why they had to go and not one person in the room was thrilled with the idea of Gideon and Fabian fighting Death Eaters.
"Got to, sis," Gideon answered Molly, giving her a quick hug and peck on the forehead.
"Duty calls," Fabian answered cheerfully and he gave me a similar farewell. You'd think he was going to a candy shop and not on a dangerous mission for a secret, dark-arts-fighting society.
"Be safe, alright?" The words were empty but Aunt Jill, being their mother, still had to say them.
"Always," They promised.
I took Rory home early, once she started making Percy's hair change colors (because he wouldn't give her back her toy wand). We left by Floo Powder because I didn't fancy apparition and Rory hated side-long more than she loathed whirling from place to place in the green flames. She tucked her face into my neck until we finally stopped spinning and sputtered out dust as I stepped out of the fireplace.
I looked up at my mother's alarmed voice and right into a face I hadn't seen for nearly five months. There in the kitchen was my cousin, James.
I frozen in shock as his mother and mine both watched anxiously. But James's grin was the widest I'd ever seen.
You see, when Rory started talking a few months ago, I made a point to miticulously avoid my cousin as much as possible. He rarely came anyway because he and his Marauders were hardly apart these days but once in a great while he'd come to call and Auntie Carolyn would send word before he could get to us. Whenever this happened I'd take my daughter and hide out at Mia's, Lici's, Adam's, Aidan's or the twins' until my mom called to say they were gone.
But I'd obviously not been expected back so early and that meant no warning.
"Hey Air!" My cousin exclaimed, completely thrilled. "Merlin, Rory's gotten big! Wow, I can't believe it's been ages!" He stepped forward to hug me.
I was, for once, grateful for the stubborn nature I'd past on to my beloved daughter. She was so angry with me for making her leave that she refused to say a word, hopefully it would stay that way.
I greeted my cousin warmly and then lied through my teeth. "Mummy? Aurora got sick, I think I ought to put her to B-E-D." I spelled it out so she wouldn't realize what I was doing and start throwing a tantrum. She rarely had fits but, just my luck, this would be one of those occasions.
"Oh, yes," my mother agreed, understanding immediately. "I think you'd better."
"Oh no," Auntie Carolyn joined in the act swiftly. "I think we'd better go. Wouldn't want to catch anything." She forced a laugh and rose to her feet. "Come along, James. We best get out of their way."
My cousin looked desperately forlorn as he realized that this would be the extent of our reunion. And who could blame him? Who knew when we'd see each other again? "But, mum! I-"
"None of that, love," my aunt insisted. "We'll have a visit some other time."
They kissed us goodbye and then Auntie Carolyn took her son's arm and apparated.
I sighed in relief and plopped in a chair, still holding my resolutely silent daughter.
My mother immediately began to explain herself, "I'm sorry, Airy. I-"
"No, mum. 'S alright. I came home early, my fault."
"Is Roribelle really sick?" she asked me shrewdly. "She doesn't look ill. She looks angry."
"Oh, she is," I assured her.
"Because I took her away from the party early."
"And why did you feel the need to deviate from the plan and come home?"
"She started turning Percy's hair blue-"
"Oh dear," she chuckled.
"What did he do to her?"
"Stole her toy wand."
"Ah, yes. That would do it alright." My mum laughed lovingly, "She is your daughter."
I smiled wryly, "She most certainly is."
The morning after my second close call, was a Saturday. I trudged into the kitchen- still wearing pyjamas- with Rory on my hip. I rubbed my blurry eyes drowsily and yawned.
"G'morning," I managed to croak.
"Mo'nin!" Rory beamed cheerfully.
Sometimes I really did wonder if she was my daughter. Because, despite having made peace with the sun, no offspring of mine could possibly be such a morning person at such a young age. It was ridiculous.
I put her in her seat and started fixing her plate. I put the finger food in front of her and went back to make my own breakfast. As per usual, my mother and I ate together with Rory before anyone woke up and then got to making food for the others.
"Morning," Effie yawned when she came down an hour later. She blew rasberries on Rory's cheek as she past- making her giggle melodiously- and took a seat at the table. Out of habit, she reached for the Prophet and began scanning the missing persons and the death notices.
The boys wouldn't be dragging themselves out of bed for at least another hour so my mum and I took our seats and each grabbed sections of the Prophet for ourselves.
"Anyone today?" I asked her as my mother flinched.
But Effie didn't get to answer because just then, something swooped in throught the window and dropped a thick envelope in each of our laps. And, as I stared at the fancy H on the envelope, I lost my breath.
Dear Ms. Haze,
I am aware that you have successfully completed your sixth year of school at home with top marks. It is now, with great pleasure, that I am offering you your spot back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you choose to accept, which I hope you will (as there is another matter I'd like to discuss with you in person), please send your answer by September first. Your list of supplies is enclosed with this letter along with another notice. Hope to see you come September!
Professor Albus Dumbledore
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