Chapter 1 : Half the Clouds are Empty
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I hope you enjoy!
Pour me all your sorrows
And I'll drink till you are dry
I'll love you in the mornin'
I'll love ya till you die
-The Likes Of You Again
It was very strange to be out and about in Muggle London by herself. Hattie Habbershaw hadn't much experience with Muggles, and she clutched her pink handbag nervously as she waited across from the Leaky Cauldron. Her new stepbrother couldn't come to her flat by himself, since she lived in Diagon Alley and he was a Muggle, so they met on the Muggle side of the street opposite the Leaky Cauldron. He'd only been inside the wizarding pub twice, and thought it was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen.
Hattie was due to meet him in ten minutes. He'd said they needed to talk about something, and she rather thought it must be about their parents, but she couldn't think what might be going on. She was telling herself for the fourth time that there was nothing to worry about when Jack Newsome turned up.
Her stepbrother gave her a peck on the cheek and a wide grin. “Hello there. Am I late?”
Hattie smiled at him. “No, you're all right.”
She took his arm as they walked down the street. Jack knew coffeehouses and pastry shops all over the city, as she'd discovered in their sightseeing adventures. He also knew the streets of London better than most tour guides, and all the spots that were said to be haunted. When he'd taken her to the Tower, she'd seen a ghost of a woman go past. Jack had been amazed to learn it really was haunted. She hadn't been sure which beheaded lady she'd seen, but it had certainly been a real ghost.
The small cafe they wound up at today wasn't haunted, of course, though Jack probably would have loved it. He quite adored ghosts and hauntings of all varieties. The scent of coffee and tea wafted from the narrow brick building, filling the air outside on the street.
“It's too late for tea, I suppose,” Jack said as they went inside.
“It's never too late for tea,” Hattie said firmly, looking in the rose-painted pastry case. They had éclairs. She loved éclairs. “Are you hungry, Jack?”
He was eyeing the tray of blueberry scones. The girl behind the counter came over to them, and Jack said immediately, “A scone, please, and one of those éclairs, too.”
“And a pot of tea,” Hattie added swiftly.
She felt far more comfortable interacting with Muggles with Jack alongside her. He paid, without hesitation. She was sure it was mostly chivalry, but she was glad, because she'd no idea how Muggle money worked and was sure to make a fool of herself if she tried to pay. She gave him a grateful pat on the arm, and he tucked her arm through his, smiling.
They took their afternoon tea outside, where they had some privacy. It really was past tea-time, so they were quite alone at the little table on the terrace. Hattie was rather glad of this, since she could speak freely to her brother when they weren't surrounded by Muggles. She didn't like the feeling of having to watch her every word, fearing that she would accidentally let something slip.
Hattie stripped off her gloves, setting them neatly next to her teacup, and picked up the teapot, pouring for both of them. Once they'd gone through the familiar ritual of milk and sugar and polite smiles, she settled back with her éclair.
Jack looked rather worried, and she waited for him to say something. He ate half his scone before she decided to just ask.
“Not that I don't adore having tea with you, Jack, but what's going on?”
He looked up, his brows knitted. “Our parents are moving to France,” he blurted out.
“What?” Hattie said, completely stunned. Her mother was leaving, without a word to her only child? “But... They told you this?” She didn't add and not me, but Jack seemed to hear it anyway.
“No, I stopped by last night and overheard them talking in the kitchen. They don't know that I know about it. Hattie, I know there's... something... going on in erm, your world right now, but have things gotten that bad?”
An image of Cecilia Fletcher's grave flashed across Hattie's mind. It had steadily been growing worse for the past year: not a week went by these days without a death reported in The Daily Prophet.
She sighed. “Yes. It's not a good time for magical folk to have non-magical family. It's... dangerous.”
“Then they should go.” It was a statement, but there was still question in Jack's voice. Hattie didn't want to confirm it.
“I don't know, honestly.”
Jack was silent for a moment, staring down at his shoes. Hattie watched him, thinking how dear her new brother had become to her over the past few months, and wondered if she was in danger because she was now related to him. She thought of herself as so unimportant; could it really matter to anyone if she had Muggle family?
Jack looked up and caught her staring. “Are you in danger, Hattie? Because your new family are M-Muggles?” He stumbled a bit over the unfamiliar word.
She let out her breath in a long, slow, exhale, then said evenly, “Yes. Probably.”
Jack looked stricken, and Hattie added, “I won't have my life dictated by fear, Jack. You're my brother now, and that won't change, no matter how bad things get in the wizarding world. Family is family. Muggle or magical.”
Jack smiled, his cheeks reddening a little. “I'm glad to have you for a little sister, Hattie.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you, Jack.”
“What do we do about your mum and my dad, then?” he asked.
Hattie tapped her finger against her lips thoughtfully. “We can't just let them go, without even saying good-bye. I understand my mother thinks France is safer right now for a witch with a Muggle husband, and it probably is, but still, they can't simply leave us here without a word.”
“I'm not going anywhere,” Jack said stubbornly. “I won't go with them.”
“Nor I,” Hattie agreed. “I'm staying in London, at least until October.” Jack knew about her travel plans. She had been looking forward to seeing Italy for a long time, and couldn't wait to go.
“But that's just a holiday,” Jack said, looking a bit alarmed. “You're not going to stay in Italy, are you?”
“No, of course not. It's only a holiday. But I don't know whether I'll come back to the city when I get back.” She was rather touched that he didn't want her to leave England. “We have to tell them that we know,” she added, returning the subject to their parents.
“They think they're protecting us.” Jack picked at the remains of his scone. “Sneaking off in the middle of the night to run to France until this is all over.”
Hattie took a sip of her tea. “We'll go over together, and tell them that we understand their decision. It will all work out, you'll see.”
“I suppose so.”
Hattie was silent for a few moments, stirring her tea absently while Jack watched the people walking down the street past them. She didn't want her mother to leave the country, of course, but if she were honest with herself... She would rather have her mother's safety be assured, and she couldn't pretend that having a Muggle spouse was safe these days in Britain.
She looked over at Jack, who was brushing crumbs from his lap, and sighed as quietly as possible. This probably wasn't safe either, having lunch in Muggle London with her Muggle stepbrother, but she'd be damned if she hid from the world. She didn't want any harm to come to Jack, though, and she promised herself she would stop by his flat and cast some protective enchantments over it.
“Oh dear, here's a familiar fellow. Edwin!” Jack suddenly sat up straighter, waving to someone on the opposite side of the street.
A tall, dark-haired young man loped across the street. He looked to be Jack's age, and Hattie could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. He was very handsome, not really the sort of man who looked much at round girls like her. He took her in at a glance as he approached, and Jack waved him into a chair and made introductions.
“Hattie, this is an old friend of mine, Edwin Smythe. Edwin, my new sister, Hattie Habbershaw.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Hattie murmured.
Edwin held out a hand and she put her hand in his, expecting him to shake it, but instead he turned it over and laid a quick kiss on her knuckles.
“The pleasure's all mine,” he said. She couldn't stop staring at him, but he was staring right back. His eyes were a dark hazel, almost brown. It should have looked muddy, but his eyes were kind, and the smile he flashed at her was bright and cheerful.
“Edwin and I went to primary school together,” Jack was saying. Hattie listened with half an ear as he talked about Edwin's family living a few houses down from his, but she couldn't seem to concentrate fully. Edwin was still smiling at her.
“So you're Jack's new sister,” Edwin said then, and Hattie had to stop staring and start paying attention.
“Yes. My mum married his dad at Easter.” Her cheeks still felt a little too warm. He was really very handsome. And he seemed very nice. He had a warm smile. She'd never realized how nice a smile could be. Why hadn't Jack mentioned he had such a lovely friend?
“Hattie's a good egg,” Jack said then, and her smile dimmed a little. She had never really liked that description of her character. It was one Reid Akins used to describe her as well, and she thought it minimized her femininity, reducing her to a friend that could never be romantic to anyone. Oh that's just Hattie. She's a good egg. Nothing special about being a good egg. No one fell madly in love with good eggs.
But then Jack added, “Best sister a bloke could have,” and she felt rather guilty for not appreciating his kindly intentions.
She smiled at him and reached over to pat his hand. “Thank you, Jack.”
“I don't doubt it,” Edwin said, and she looked back at him. There was something in his eyes as he smiled at her that put butterflies in her stomach. She'd had a boyfriend or two during her school years, but neither of them had looked at her quite like that. She got the impression Edwin didn't think she was merely 'a good egg', and the thought warmed her.
“So you've been friends since you were children?” she asked, hoping to find out a bit more about Edwin.
“Oh yes,” Edwin said, giving Jack a friendly slug on the arm. “Partners in crime, always running about the neighborhood together, making trouble. Remember that archery set your dad gave you when you turned ten?”
“Bloody awful things,” Jack laughed. “I'm rubbish at archery, apparently, but we did manage to knock a few windows out before Edwin's mum took it away from us.”
“She never let us have any fun. What about that time she confined us, and Andrew Cochran, to the backyard for a week because we trampled all of Mrs. Booth's prize dahlias?”
Jack was chuckling heartily. “I think that was for our own safety, mate. I thought Mrs. Booth was going to kill us all.”
Hattie smiled at them while they reminisced. Jack's mum had died when he was five, she knew, and it sounded as if Edwin's mum had been something of a proxy mother for him during his childhood. She felt quite unaccountably fond of Mrs. Smythe for helping out young Jack. She could just picture him as a little ruffian, with his little pack of friends making trouble with him.
“Ah, but then Edwin abandoned us and went away to boarding school in Scotland when he was eleven, and we've hardly seen hide nor hair of him since then,” Jack said cheerfully. “We thought he might've joined the French Foreign Legion, the devil.”
A sudden thrill of awareness went through Hattie. Boarding school in Scotland, and then he seemed to have disappeared. “I went to boarding school in Scotland as well,” she said, and was aware of Edwin's eyes narrowing slightly.
“Did you, now?” he said softly, and his gaze swept over her.
Feeling a bit reckless, Hattie said, “It was a very unusual school.”
Jack was looking back and forth between them as if he were not certain what was going on.
Edwin cocked an eyebrow. “Not as unusual as my school, I reckon.”
“Oh, I don't know about that. I went there by train every year, you know. Pulled by a scarlet steam engine.” She held her breath for a moment. If she was wrong, she oughtn't to say any more. She'd said as much as she could without revealing too much.
“From an unusual, even fractional platform?” Edwin asked mildly, and Hattie let out a delighted laugh. He was, oh he was! How could Jack have such a friend and she hadn't known? But then, neither had he, so...
It seemed to dawn on Jack then what was going on, and he let out a groan. “Oh dear, you as well?”
Edwin glanced over at his friend in surprise.
“He knows,” Hattie confirmed.
“You're a witch,” Edwin said, looking back at her.
“And you're a wizard.”
“It's not fair,” said Jack. “I want to be magical too.”
Hattie smiled, but she couldn't seem to drag her gaze away from Edwin.
“What house were you in?” she asked eagerly.
“Hufflepuff. And you?”
“You were a Gryffindor?” Edwin asked, grinning. “Brave at heart, are you?”
She shrugged, still smiling at him. “That's what they say about my house.”
“Hattie's quite brave at heart, I think,” Jack said lightly. “What about your house, Edwin, what was it you called it?”
“Hufflepuff,” Hattie filled in for him. “Fair and hard-working.”
“That's Edwin all right,” Jack agreed. “Very strange house names,” he added a moment later, and Edwin turned to his friend.
“Didn't you say you had somewhere to be?”
“What are you talking about?” Jack said blankly.
Hattie glanced at her stepbrother and then back at Edwin, her heart feeling very light. She knew full well Jack had nothing else to do today. He'd told her that morning that he had the entire day free. Edwin wanted to be alone with her. She tried not to let on that she knew what he was up to.
Jack suddenly cottoned on to his friend's plan. “Oh. Oh. Yes, yes I do. I'll just... be off, then. I'll catch up with you later and see Hattie home, shall I?”
“I can see her home,” Edwin said, his voice quiet but firm, and Hattie grinned.
“Oh.” Jack narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Safely.”
“I'm a fully qualified wizard, Jack, I can manage seeing her home,” Edwin said mildly. He smiled then, adding, “I never thought I'd be saying that to you, mate.”
“I still can't quite believe it, even after seeing my sister do that disappearing into thin air act.” Jack shook his head. “Well, have fun, you two. Hattie, I'll meet you later this evening and we can go talk to the parents.”
“All right,” she agreed immediately.
“You just want to be rid of me, don't you,” said Jack with a sly grin.
“See you later, Jack,” Edwin said pointedly.
Hattie just smiled and waved to her stepbrother, who rolled his eyes at them as he walked away.
“That was very well done,” she murmured, sitting back in her chair with her gaze held steadily on Edwin's face.
“I thought so,” he agreed, and she laughed.