Chapter 17 : Secrets That I’ll Probably Repeat...
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Chapter Seventeen: Secrets That I’ll Probably Repeat...
Author's Note: It has come to my attention the ridiculously large spacing time between posted chapters may be causing some confusion among you guys. I'm really sorry. :/ My solution is a quick, summarizing recap of what has happened so far!
Recap: Charlotte has actually become friends with Oliver! Who knew! Isabella is her typical, mysterious~ self. Claudia is lurking in the library, looking at an old volume of past Hogwarts clubs. Charlotte and Oliver find their parents in the volume; she is also having trouble deciding whether or not she wants to spend the holidays with Claudia but eventually decides that she will. Alex is struggling with Charlotte's decision to spend more time with Claudia, while Piper and Claudia have semi-made up. So, now Charlotte is at Claudia's house and that's where this chapter starts. :D
I never got the chance to ask Claudia about the song. Three days into vacation and I heard her sing along to a new record every night. The gramophone blasted out Celestina Warbeck’s greatest Christmas hits and filled the hallway with a feeling of holiday cheer.
Despite the house being decorated from floor to ceiling with Christmas trimmings, Claudia’s record was the only one that made it feel legitimate. The decorations alone felt too stiff. Too posed and polished.
Claudia’s music was the only thing breathing life into the near-empty house.
Usually, Christmas at Hogwarts was smelt before decorations were seen. I closed my eyes, imagining the ridiculously large evergreen tree that towered beautifully in the Great Hall and the eleven other evergreens that were scattered around other parts of the castle. After smelling the refreshing scent of the trees, one would awake the next morning to find Hogwarts completely decorated for the holidays.
I awoke one morning to find the hallway walls frosted with silver frost, lining the white moulding with crimson ribbons made of velvet.
The grounds were completely white, since the rain had decided to turn into a blustering snowstorm the night before.
My mum had decided to Floo me, and I fell out of bed, surprised to be awakened by her familiar tone of voice.
“You’re still in bed?” It startled me. Coincidentally, I was having a dream about my mother. In my dream, her enlarged head loomed menacingly over me, looking suspiciously like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
“Ahh,” I hit the ground with an ‘oomph’ and rubbed my sore knee.
“Charlotte Murray, it’s eight-thirty in the morning and you’re still lying around? Don’t you have plans? Something to do?”
“Hi to you too, mum,” I managed before sitting up awkwardly, my knees drawn towards my chest. “Did you have to startle me awake?”
“Startle you?” she inquired with a raise of her brow. “Your father and I have been up since seven! The things that must be done.” She tutted.
At this, my father pushed my mother aside and replaced her head with his own. He grinned at me and gave me a wave.
“Hi dad.” I grinned back and crawled closer to the fireplace. “Managing mum’s chaos?”
“I always manage her chaos.” He rolled his eyes. “I miss you, duckie. When are you coming home?”
“Ah, miss you too,” I frowned exaggeratedly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be home for Christmas this year.”
“Probably for the best,” Dad nodded. “Mum’s having Gran over and you know how if Gran comes, then half of your aunts and uncles come, too?”
My Gran was very old and very rich and I had half a dozen aunts and uncles (my mum’s siblings) who were always playing into her good-hand in order to receive their “rightful” inheritances.
“And with them, their children. Our house will be rubbing shoulders with each other. How uncomfortable.”
“We should just house them here,” I told him honestly. “Claudia’s house is enormous.”
“I’d believe it, too,” he sighed. And then he was pushed aside by her mother.
“OF COURSE!” her shrill voice said, her eyes enlarged dramatically by the green flames. “Do you know who her father is?” My mum waved her arms about and looked very much so like a clucking chicken. “One of the most successful businessmen in Diagon Alley! So strange though. He was one of my teachers at Hogwarts. He must be pretty old now...”
“Wait, what?” I feigned surprise, even though this was one fact I had already sort of pieced together in my mind.
“What?” My mum repeated, looking at me. “Oh, yeah. Before he was a successful businessman, he was a successful professor at Hogwarts! Astronomy, I believe..?”
“Dunno,” I heard Dad say. “I went to a regular school, for non-magical people, remember?”
I snickered. Dad was always reminding mum that they were brought up in two very distinctive and different worlds.
“The transition is so incredibly random,” mum continued as though my father hadn’t spoken. “From professor to businessman...I guess he got tired of making small money and wanted to move up int he world, eh? Just shows you, Charlotte; if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to work hard!”
“Yes, mum.” I bowed my head.
My parents managed to squeeze both of their heads into the fireplace. My dad looked at me fondly, his grin wide. My mum just looked tearfully at me.
“Look how fast she’s grown,” she murmured to him, thinking that I couldn’t hear. “Making connections and going out into the world. With her networking, she’ll be successful in no time.”
“There, there,” my dad said. “Duckie’ll be successful at whatever she decides to do.” He winked.
“I’ll let you go, now,” mum sighed. “Have a good Christmas, Charlotte. I hope you like your presents.”
“Bye mum,” I waved, my lips curling downwards as I felt my heart sink a little. “Bye, dad.”
After this, I was allowed maybe three minutes to collect my thoughts before there was a soft rap on my door before it opened.
“You’re awake.” Claudia smiled at me, already dressed and ready.
I watched her face, taking in her features before I sorted out the information my mother had given me. She had no mentioned a scandal, but found it strange that someone had gone from being an Astronomy Professor to a businessman.
Should I ask her? I bit my lip, thinking.
“Are you alright?” Claudia interrupted my thoughts. “You look rather thoughtful.”
Would she get defensive when I asked her? No. I shook my head. Claudia wouldn’t have gotten defensive, but she might have clammed up -- which was probably the worst out of the two scenarios.
“Just...thinking.” I smiled at her. “My parents just Floo’d me, so I was missing them for a bit.”
She ducked her head, nodding down at the floor.
“You’re up early.” I noted. “And dressed, too.”
“I hope you don’t mind. I feel perfectly awful...” Her sentence was jumbled. “But I’m headed into town with my father, today.” Claudia paused. “Well, he already left, but I’m meeting him there.”
I didn’t have a place to ask ‘why,’ but she looked apologetically at me.
“Is it wicked of me to leave you all by yourself in this big house?” She bit her own lip, looking at me guiltily. “I have some business. I’ll be back as soon as possible! No less than three hours.” She held up three fingers.
“I’ll be fine.” I smiled.
“Feel free to explore,” Claudia gave me a small smile and wrapped the scarf tight around her neck. “If you’re hungry, just ask the House-Elves to bring you something...anything. All you’ve got to do is snap.” She bundled up her coat. “I’ll see you, later.”
“Bye,” I watched her close the door and when her footsteps faded away, I sprawled on the floor in a spread-eagle position with my eyes closed.
Let me tell you something about empty houses. Empty manors. They are really...really...scary. There was literally no one but me and the House-Elves in Claudia’s house.
I wandered around for awhile and then I got scared and went back to my room.
But I did manage to find their library. It was fairly dusty, probably the only dusty spot in the entire house. Missus Gray did not seem like the type of woman who allowed dust to step foot in her house; but supposedly, the library was an exception. Thousands of books lined ancient wooden shelves and I stopped to browse the titles.
Bitten Under a Full Moon was flipped on its back, a random page dog-eared and was the only book out of place. I picked it up, leafed through it and scowled at the barely-there plot and awkward relationship between the supposed werewolf and a young, fragile, if not “flawed” (she was clumsy) main protagonist who seemed emotionless. The page that was dog-eared contained a very long declaration of sappy love from the emotionless protagonist to her werewolf boyfriend.
Maybe I was reading too much into the story, but I set the book back down and sat in the dusty armchair. It was when I sat down that i noticed something else out of place. A black, leather-bound volume was lying half-opened on the floor. Unlike the Werewolf-romance novel, it looked freshly opened and there was no dust on it.
I lifted myself up from the chair and walked towards it, curiosity the only driving force of my actions. The album was full of wedding photos. They were dated, but it was clear that they were the wedding photos of Claudia’s parents.
Scarlett beamed and waved like a foolish idiot, looking the part of the enchanted and love-struck bride she wished to be. Mister Gray, on the other hand, looked stiff in his suit, and barely smiled for the photos. His face reminded me of Claudia’s -- cold and aloof, even on his wedding day.
There were many pages full of just Scarlett. Her pale cheeks flushed with delight and her eyes sparkling out of love for her new husband. Even in these photos, it was obvious that her husband was much older than his new bride; even at his wedding, Mister Gray was already showing silver hairs.
I wondered how old he truly was.
Turning another page, I saw a clipping out of The Daily Prophet announcing their engagement and marriage:
Mister Duke and Adriana Quinn proudly announce the joining of their daughter, Scarlett with a Mister Noah Gray
There was more, but the names caught my attention. My eyes nearly exploded out of my sockets as my finger ran over the names. Scarlett Quinn and Noah Gray. I remembered the names from the volume in the library at Hogwarts. Scarlett’s name had been listed underneath Prancer, which was the name right under Anita Perez’s.
And Noah Gray was definitely there. He was the Charms Club supervisor and Professor of Astronomy.
Confused, I stared at the announcement again. There was more text underneath it, detailing the engagement and where the wedding would be held, but there was no information about where or how they had met.
A former Hogwarts student and a professor? It was a strange union, that was sure, but since they got married in -- I scanned the date on the article -- ‘74...it would mean that they married six years after Scarlett had finished Hogwarts.
I flipped backwards and reached the beginning of the album. In spidery, thin, frail yet beautiful handwriting, Scarlett had inscribed a few notes from an interview she had with the Prophet:
Noah was the dearest professor anyone could ever have. He was handsome, even while I was at Hogwarts. He was very popular, you know, among the female students.. However, the relationship was strictly professor and student. It was very professional because Noah is such a professional and respectable person. Actually, I half-forgot Noah when I left Hogwarts! I was going with another boy; he even proposed to me! But then three years after Hogwarts, I spotted Noah at the apothecary and I just couldn’t let the chance go.
The way that she carelessly used his name, even when describing him as her professor, seemed not only rude, but made it seem like she dismissed his ranking and respectability as a professional.
On the plus side, I believed her. Mister Gray would not have compromised his status for anything. It didn’t explain, however, why he left his post as professor of Astronomy.
I continued reading. The handwriting ended, and another old article was pasted underneath where the writing cut off:
Son of entrepreneurs, Noah Gray went against his family’s wishes and began a career as a Hogwarts Professor. However, as he was the lone heir to his father’s fortune, Noah was forced to give up his teaching career and return to help run the family estate since his father took ill.
There it was. In size-twelve, standardized font, sat the answer to my question. Noah had to give up his dream in order to fulfill the dreams of a dying father. Talk about unfortunate. I bet Scarlett was all for it. I bet she thought it better than being married to a mere professor.
I continued on in the album. Wedding photos ended and photos of a very pregnant Scarlett emerged. She looked a little annoyed to be so round, and kept shaking her fist and rolling her eyes at the camera.
It was incredible. That bump would one day be Claudia. I blinked and turned the page.
Ten, maybe twenty more photos of just Scarlett and finally, at the end, a tiny, insignificant photo of a baby. Claudia didn’t struggle. She wasn’t even crying. She stared out of that photo and did nothing. She opened and closed her hands, wiggled her toes. She blinked a few times and just stared.
The last photo in the album was of a beaming Noah holding his baby daughter while Scarlett was looking into a small hand-mirror.
My legs had lost blood from me squatting there, so when I stood and stretched, I cringed in pain. A lot of time had definitely passed, considering the album was rather thick and there were lots of small articles and pictures that I had read.
I closed the photo album and moved to put it on the shelf. As I did, my foot collided painfully with one of the wooden panels that lined the bottom of the shelves. It loosened the panel. Blinking, I put the album on one of the shelves and knelt down, cringing as I did because my toes were getting that painful tingling feeling that I didn’t enjoy. A small box was at the bottom.
Dust was thick on the top of the box and as I took it out, I sneezed. I pushed the lid off of it and looked curiously at the tokens within the box. A small faded photograph, a golden ring and a lock of brown hair.
Lifting up the photograph to get a better view of it in the light, I immediately recognized Noah Gray. He had his arms around the woman’s waist, her curved face decidedly opposite of Scarlett’s. He looked happy. Truly happy. And so did she. She smiled and waved and he beamed and they kissed and looked lovely. A ring was on her ring-finger and as she waved, it glinted brightly in the sun.
I lifted up the ring and it felt heavy in my hand. I set it down and moved to the lock of hair. How strange.
Without thinking too much of it, I put the photograph back into the box and shoved it back into its hiding place.
Everyone has bones in their closets. I shouldn’t be rooting through other people’s stuff. I nodded and majicked the panel back before I left the library.
Whatever Claudia was trying to find out, she had clearly been in the library. But leaving the album out was sloppy. I supposed her reasoning was that no one ever stepped foot in it, anyway.
The hallways echoed with every footstep. Every breath I took was audible. Wooden panels squeaked from the harsh wind outside. A mouse could have scurried through the dining room on the total opposite of the house and I would have been able to hear it.
Which is why when I returned to my room, shut the door behind me, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the doorbell ring.
The eerie quiet that was only disturbed by small, insignificant noises, and the house suddenly came alive with the loud, startling noise of the bell.
I heard the House-Elf answer the door hesitantly, and I was down the steps before anything else happened. The person at the door must have heard my steps, because he pushed past the elf and stepped into the foyer.
“Claudia, I knew you’d be --” He stopped when he turned and saw me standing there instead of my friend. “Well,” he looked familiar as he pulled his lips into a crooked smile. “You’re not Claudia, but it’s very nice to meet you.”
Unconsciously, I felt an eyebrow shift upwards in a quizzical glance.
The elf teetered and its wide eyes widened even more. “I have just told Mister James that Miss Gray is not available.”
“Barrett James.” His voice boomed, as he took two steps towards me and swept my hand into his own.
I pulled away before he could do something stupid like kissing it. I knew of his reputation. I knew of what he had done to Claudia.
He took another step forwards, and I retreated back towards the staircase.
“Claudia will be home in a little while.” I told him flatly, my composure dropping rapidly. I wanted to appear cool, just as collected as Claudia, but failed. His manners were strange and something was off about him.
But, to my surprise, he was very good looking. His jet-black hair had a casual unkempt look that probably took hours to prepare, and a crooked smile that was more charming than alarming.
“I mean, she’s been gone for a good two and a half hours...so she’ll be back soon.” I blabbered, my hands now held out in front of me as he came closer and closer.
“Oh,” he suddenly looked very uninterested in my mention of Claudia and stopped at the first step. “You’re a Hogwarts student, yeah?”
I nodded again.
“I left Hogwarts last year.” If he would have flexed his arm as he stated it, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, he flashed me what he believed to be a sexy, confident smile and winked. “I play for the Appleby Arrows. Beater, don’t you know?”
“No, not really.” The name tugged vaguely at my memory, but I couldn’t place where I had exactly. “Quidditch isn’t really my thing.” I said truthfully.
Barrett looked confused and shocked at the same time. “Quidditch doesn’t have to be anyone’s thing. It’s just...”
At that moment, the front door unlocked and opened. Claudia stepped into the house, spotted me and smiled.
She took another two steps before stopping cold in her tracks.
Barrett turned slowly, and the two locked eyes.
The tension in the room suddenly escalated as Claudia’s wand dropped from her hand and clattered onto the floor.
Picking it up, Claudia unwrapped the scarf, cleared her throat and said in a clear, flat voice, “Oh, hello Barrett.”
She would have gotten away with her cool composure if I hadn’t noticed a single vein popping out of the right side of her forehead.
“Claudia,” Barrett’s voice was chock-full of charm. “It’s been so long.”
“Yes.” Her voice was frosty. As it should have been, I couldn’t help but think to myself as she continued speaking. “What are you doing here?” What she meant was who let you into my house?
“I came to see you.” Barrett swept over to her and enveloped her in a hug.
Claudia looked stiff, her clear eyes dark and unreadable. She shifted her gaze up towards me, as though I were the one who opened the door for him. I shook my head, shrugged my shoulders and tried to signal that it really wasn’t me.
She sighed as they parted.
“It’s good to see you, Claudia,” he said softly, looking up at her, allowing his eyes to smolder ever so slightly.
She practically melted. I could see the mechanics working in her mind, and how she must be thinking of Theo and everything and swallowed the lump in her throat. “Likewise. Would you like to stay for tea? Charlotte and I will be having some. Let me just put my wrappings away.”
Claudia spoke quickly, allowing her eyes to twinkle a little before rushing up the stairs, grabbing my arm and forcing me back towards her room.
The door closed behind us and Claudia finally seemed to breathe.
“What is he doing here?” She exclaimed, eyes wide, fingers trembling.
“I really don’t know. Truly.” I said honestly, leaning against the wall, trying to be casual. “I was in my room and I heard a doorbell and thought you were coming home. I ran down to meet you and he must have thought I was you because he heard the footsteps and sort of...forced his way in.”
“Typical.” Claudia sat down in front of her dressing table and ran a brush through her hair. Her face was flushed, her eyes actually snapping blue sparks as she talked. “He’s always walking into situations that he’s not wanted in.” She sighed. “Why does he always do this to me?”
She turned to face me and let out another sigh. “Charlotte, tell me I’m a fool.”
“You’re a fool.”
“Tell me I should forget him.”
“You should forget him.”
“I JUST CAN’T!”
“I just can’t...?” I repeated, stupidly.
“No, no,” Claudia shook her head. “Charlotte...” her sudden explosion of emotions surprised me and I walked over to her. “He chucked me and here he is, and I’m practically putty in his hands. What should I do?”
I gave her an awkward smile and shrugged. “Truthfully, I’m probably not the best person to ask.”
“Ah, yes,” she sighed again. “Let us go to tea, then.”
She stood, dusted herself off, grabbed my hand and pulled me out of her room.
“How have you been?” Barrett was gazing at Claudia in a particularly fond way, and she was trying her best to keep cool.
To say the least, I felt like the third-wheel.
“I’ve been well,” Claudia said stiffly, her back straight, her legs crossed and her held her teacup firmly in her right hand. “Have you been well, Charlotte?” She turned, giving me a smile.
“Yup...” I nodded, sipping from the teacup as Barrett kept his eyes glued on Claudia.
“I’ve missed you, Claudia.”
“Hogwarts hasn’t changed a bit, you know.” She was rambling. I had never seen her ramble, before. “Still the same. Quidditch is still Oliver Wood’s life. Quidditch still dominates. Gryffindor still trying to win the cup. Right, Charlotte?”
Claudia kept turning to me. She was speaking to Barrett, but at the same time, she was talking while looking at me. It was really confusing.
“Aren’t you going to ask me whether or not I’ve been well?” Barrett finally broke his gaze from Claudia and turned to me. “Charlotte, have I been well?”
“I dunno,” I choked on my tea. “Have you been well?”
“We’ve been well,” Claudia interrupted. “Have you written to Drew, yet, Charlotte? I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. I actually sent a letter to Theo today.”
“You’re rambling,” I muttered into my cup.
Claudia heard me and her face turned a shade pinker.
“Barrett,” Claudia finally addressed him. He looked at her with keen interest. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, of course.”
“Of course?” Claudia set down her teacup. “Of course. Are you mad?”
“Why would I be mad?” Barrett looked deeply confused. “I care about you, Claudia. I wanted to drop by and say hi. I mean, I’m finally home after --”
“I don’t care.” Her voice had grown small. I tossed a quick glance at her face and saw that she looked deeply troubled. Claudia cleared her throat, casting her eyes up. I noticed that they flickered, like candlelight in the wind. “Barrett, when you left...”
“I shouldn’t have left you like that,” He agreed.
“Let me finish!” She sighed. “Barrett, you can’t just come here expecting me to forgive you.”
Looking annoyed, Barrett also set down his cup. He reached for Claudia’s hand, but she kept both her hands tucked firmly in her lap.
“You just...you can’t...not after chucking me before Christmas!”
“I don’t expect forgiveness, Claudia,” Barrett’s voice was strong. “After all, breaking up is a typical part of life. You can’t begrudge me my freedom to explore?”
“You mean flirt with other girls while you’re attached?”
“If you’re talking about Natalia, I’ll have to say that you’re being ridiculous.”
I had never seen Claudia express so much emotion before. It was like the two of them had forgotten I was there. My eyes settled on Claudia when she spoke, but then jumped to Barrett when he retorted. It was like watching a tennis match, but a verbal one.
“You told me that you loved me, and then the next thing I knew, you said you were leaving me because I obviously wasn’t the one for you.”
“I never said that! You’re twisting my words.”
“Twisting your words? HA!”
I tried clearing my throat, moving awkwardly in the chair so that it squeaked under me. I tried clattering the china and gulping the tea before gasping aloud for air.
Nope. None of it worked.
Claudia and Barrett were deep within their heated discussion. She had tried to get me there in order to have support for herself, but once she got into an argument, there was no way I needed to be there any longer.
I got up, cleared my throat, and made for the doorway.
When I put my hand on the china knob, they both turned to me.
Claudia’s eyes were apologetic. “Dinner’s at five.” She turned back towards Barrett. “You won’t be staying.”
“Of course I will!” He retorted, eyes hot on hers. “You can’t expect me to come all this way in that cold not to be treated to dinner...”
I shut the door.
The icy wind nipped my cheeks. I had decided that Claudia and Barrett needed time to talk, maybe yell things out. Not that I had ever imagined Claudia yelling, before.
Nope. She had always been the same. Cold. Never speaking. She would state her case in the argument, and then walk away. Claudia had never stayed to fully argue.
I kept walking until I was quite far from Claudia’s house. I turned and it was a dark shadow, lost within the whirling snow. I took a deep breath and exhaled. The village couldn’t have been too far away, and it was barely two-thirty PM anyway.
I pulled my Gryffindor scarf tighter against my throat and tucked my wand into the back-pocket of my jeans.
It was a quaint town. The shops all had lights in them, and a few houses were scattered along the road. It reminded me of Hogsmeade, except there were Muggles everywhere.
A few of them were yapping on cellphones, looking busy as they browsed shops for Christmas presents. A few girls were complaining about the cold and ducked into one of the nearby cafes.
With my hands in my pockets, I strolled the streets, admiring the shops and the people when someone called my name.
I turned and in my surprise, stepped on an ice patch and slipped.
The figure ran towards me and I realized it was Oliver.
“Hey!” He grinned. “Fancy meeting you here!”
“What are you doing here?” I inquired, startled at his presence as he pulled me back onto my feet.
Oliver looked amused. “I live here!”
“You live here?” I blinked.
“I told you that I lived near Claudia,” he rolled his eyes. “You never remember when I tell you things!”
“I do!” I caught my breath and steadied myself.
I took in the full sight of Oliver.
He looked the same. With his hair slightly wind-tossed, his cheeks and nose red with cold. Oliver looked pleased to see me.
Except, well, there was one slight difference to him.
Oliver had something strapped to his back, and when he saw that I had caught my breath, he turned so that I could see what was on his back.
“Say hello,” Oliver told me, proudly, “to Callum.”
The baby in question cooed. His light brown eyes were like Oliver’s, and he laughed and wiggled its fingers at me.
Gobsmacked, I stared.
Baby. And Oliver?
Author's Note: WOT. OLIVER AND BABY? It'll be explained in the next chapter! :D I hope the recap helped. I know it was ridiculously vague. :/ I'd LOVE review. I really want to know what you guys think, etc. :)
If you have any questions, any at all, feel free to ask me in a review. I respond! I promise! ^_^ Thanks so much, guys. You're spectacular.
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