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Messes of Men by Roonyskatoony
Chapter 36 : La Vie En Rose
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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 “Anyone would think it was some kind of sordid, naked picture or something,” I cried in aggravation as I scrunched up the stupid magazine, the one that had just earned me a weeks detention from Moody. Why you ask?

It was simple really.

Apparently the press were desperate for just about anything that could distract from the spiralling depression the wizarding world was sinking into with the war. So the solution of course appeared to try and take everyone’s minds off it all with pathetic, insignificant and superficial things.

Apparently taking pictures of the soon to be heir of a series of worldwide banks kissing his girlfriend was entertainment nowadays.

I suppose I was being slightly unfair, you see Antony was already up there, Marie and Francesco and Bridgett and Frederick and David and all those people, they were photographed frequently enough it’s just that I couldn’t quite see the appeal of an interest in bankers.

I mean everyone loved to hate them and all but I guess the occasion had called for something more cheery because they’d instead put far more emphasis on both of our relations with Marie and Francesco etc than anything else.

Moody had, of course, been far less interested in this than he had at the fact that I was not only snogging blokes, I was now being photographed doing so. He’d ranted at me for at least an hour in Dumbledore’s office before going on to insist that I would end up with a ‘bad name’. When I’d challenged this, he simply went on to do what he always did and insisted it was ‘simply for the sake of The Order’ and that ‘my safety was key’, rounding off with a nice refreshing exclamation that I was being horribly selfish for doing such a thing.

It didn’t stop there though.

 James had another go at me because obviously Sirius wasn’t exactly thrilled about it (although I hadn’t seen him in like over a week) so I’d told him he had no bloody idea what he was talking about and the lecture had lengthened...until I hexed him.

Yes, not exactly the smartest thing to do.

So let’s see, I’d ‘ruthlessly’ broken up with one Marauder.

Hexed a second.

Terrified a third so badly he couldn’t speak to me...oh would you look at that, only Remus to go!

I had on several occasions attempted to point out that I’d never MEANT to do anything to any of them but I’d rather not have cheated on Sirius and James simply needed to learn when to bloody well butt out.

I loved them and all...sometimes...and it was only because James’d driven me too it, but it was simply that I was sick of hearing it and didn’t intend to any further. In any case, it was only a lip locking curse with a little too much force, it wasn’t as if it were fatal or anything.

Ace of course found it absolutely hilarious and was barely even able to walk past me in the corridor without at least sniggering. I’d scowl at him as he fell about laughing, clutching his stomach as the tears streamed down his face...I honestly didn’t get what was so funny!

I mean for once I didn’t exactly mind because my mind was all full of bunnies and roses and...well...Antony but still, it got tiring.

...Antony still wrote everyday though and even surprised me one time during the week...Moody hadn’t been happy...and hadn’t actually allowed me to be even vaguely alone with him...but still! It was the thought that counted!

“Yeah, well,” Hemera yawned as flicked through a magazine as I continued to recount the terrible unfairness that was my life.

“Ooo Francesco again,” She said.

I glanced over and chuckled.

“Nothing too outrageous I hope,” I snorted as I climbed onto the bed beside her.

“Nope, just them going on about the divorce again...the magazines still think it’s ‘symbolic’,” She said.

“That’s because nobody believes he’s straight enough to get married,” I snorted.

“...you know...is he actually gay?” She asked me.

I looked at her.

“Hemera...darling you can’t get more gay than Francesco,” I said.

“...yeah, he acts gay but he got married to Marie and he never actually is gay,” She said.

I looked at her, frowning slightly.

“...you think he’s straight?” I said.

“Well not really but I just think it’d be hilarious if he actually wasn’t,” She giggled.

 “I don’t think it’s safe to ask, he’ll throw a hissy fit,” I laughed.

“Either way, let’s stop talking about my ‘fathers’ alleged straighteness, you need to get ready for the party tonight,” I said innocently.

She gave a groan, her head flopping down against the open magazine.

“No,” She moaned.

“Andy’ll be there,” I said.

 “I hate parties...especially The Green,” She whined.

I couldn’t help my lips quirk.

“If you dare bring up Elliot Iris, I swear...” She began without even needing to look up.

“What?” I said innocently.

“Plus you’re not going anyway, you can’t talk,” She said.

“There’s no point, I’ll only have you to talk to and you’ll be with Andy, Ace’ll probably be shagging something and The Marauders are most definitely icing me out, I don’t do not being doted on, plus there’ll be loads of idiotic blokes trying to get me drunk and therefore into my knickers, which Ace so kindly demonstrated is possible, and I’m not having a repeat of that because if I’m going to shag anyone it’ll be Antony,” I said pleasantly as I tugged the glossy pages from beneath Hemera who lifted her head moments later anyway.

“You’re going to sleep with Antony?!” She hissed.

“At some point, yes, I do intend to,” I said lightly.

“...but you never want to sleep with anyone,” She said.

“Can you blame me? Most of my boyfriends have been prats, Ace is...well...Ace, it would have been awful if I’d got with him, Josh Porter would have been a maybe...you know that was such an amazing arrangement, he was so obsessed with Quidditch he spent most of time on his broom, by the time he got off he was so tired he wasn’t even too preoccupied with trying to get into my knickers, one of the best boyfriends I ever had,” I said happily.

She looked at me before shaking her head slightly.

“Everyone thought you actually genuinely liked each other...” She said.

“We did, we barely spoke, he didn’t endlessly try and grope me and he was actually pretty decent too. We both appreciated that I was gorgeous and that he was good at quidditch, I didn’t get mad that he spent all his time on his broom, he didn’t get mad that I took hours to get ready...amazing,” I said.

“You know the more I hear your version of your dating history, the more I worry about you,” She said. I snorted.

 “High maintenance boyfriends are tiring,” I said matter of factly.

“You didn’t mind Ace...” She began.

I snorted.

“Ace was a pain in the arse,” I said flatly.
“You looked pretty damn convincing when you snogged,” She said pointedly.

“Ace is an amazing snog and Sirius is too...actually he’s really good...and he never groped me like Ace...Ace seemed to be under the impression that if he got his hand under my skirt fast enough I wouldn’t notice,” I said.

“You didn’t,” She muttered although I didn’t quite process it.

“Urm who else...Alec holds kisses for too long....Daniel Kirl kind of bites...Elliot...well I don’t need to...OWWW! Ok! Ok! I’m sorry!” I laughed when she gave me a shove with a surprising amount of force.

“Ok, we’ll stay away from Elliot,” I giggled as I turned onto my back, gazing up into the canopy as my mind slowly began to wondered to lovely Antony-filled thoughts.

“And Antony,” I said vaguely after a bit. She turned back to me from where she’d returned to surveying another of my magazines.

“Antony’s good,” I grinned absently.

“I half expect to hear that rainbows and butterflies appear every time you kiss,” She teased rolling her eyes.

“I like him,” I said flatly before turning back to the canopy.

“He’s like...everything,” I said somewhat stupidly.

She didn’t say anything but she did give a small smile before she turned back.

The dorm was thankfully empty that evening, most were going to The Green and James had even managed to drag Lily out too. Hemera was going to actually spend some time with Andy as Cane generally boycotted these things, despite her persistence in finding just about any reason not to.

I would have gone ordinarily, just to be appropriately spiteful and remind Mary that although she was ‘Queen Bee’ I was still the public figure of the outfit, she was saved this time though, I was leaving for Antony’s the next morning and hadn’t even started thinking over outfits and was even further from actually packing.

...there was also the slight issue of cowardice. I could take anything everyone else threw at me but I couldn’t stand the disgust splashed across each other The Marauders’ faces. I hadn’t tricked them but apparently that didn’t seem to matter because they simply assumed I had.

It wasn’t so much the actual subject, usually I would have simply scoffed and called them a load of twats but the fact that they viewed me as heartless enough to purposely hurt them after everything they’d done for me, after they’d helped me...it didn’t make sense.

*

“Now whatever you do darling, don’t look at her in the eye,” Francesco said forcefully.

“But don’t avoid her gaze either,” Marie put in.

“Darling, this is my time with Iris!” Francesco snapped at her.

“She’s my daughter!” Marie retorted.
“It takes two to tango darling!” Francesco answered back, turning towards her.

I rolled my eyes.

“YOU COULDN’T TANGO EVEN IF YOU BLOODY WELL WANTED TO!” Marie cried loudly.

“HOW VERY DARE YOU!” Francesco cried vehemently.
“You know if you guys really are going to launch off into ANOTHER argument, I’m just going to leave,” I said flatly. I was currently standing in the hallway ‘back home’, the various suitcases (all matching of course) sitting about my feet.

They’d both insisted that I have a wardrobe check and that Antony’d pick me up from there.

“See look at that darling, you’re RUINING our child! Forcing her out the home, see I told you! This is what the marriage councillor said!” Marie cried triumphantly.

“After you bribed him!” Francesco retorted.

She scoffed.

“I did not bribe him darling,” She said.

“You bloody well slept with him and we both know it,” He said.

She paused.

“Oh...oh maybe I did...” She said thoughtfully.
“Darling you can do so much better than him,” Francesco scoffed.
“I know, he was awful darling and you should see his apartment, the decor looked like it was done by a colour blind troll,” She bitched back in an undertone.
“I can well imagine darling,” Francesco said sympathetically, shaking his head.

“He was a little odd too...” Marie started before she paused.

“Wait! I’m not talking to you!” She insisted.

Francesco paused before giving a scoff.

“Pfft like I’d waste my breath on you,” Francesco said loftily.

 As with anything the two tried to do seriously, it failed epically. You simply could not have one without the other and even while supposedly enduring a ‘bitter feud’ they were so very rarely not within at least a 20m radius of one another that not being so was practically unheard of.

I rolled my eyes amusedly as I sank into the large seat.

Antony was late.
Antony was NEVER late.

So instead I had to spend my morning listening to the two of them bicker with one another, quietly repeating to myself that I was being ridiculous for worrying over such a little thing.

He of course came eventually, looking somewhat haggard and perhaps a little overworked but fine none the less.

“Darling where have you been?!” Francesco demanded breaking yet another small spat he’d been occupied with moments before.

“At work,” He said tiredly, running a hand over his face.

Francesco physically recoiled.

“Don’t utter that word near me,” He said sternly. Antony rolled his eyes.

“I don’t suppose you two have consoled yet?” He asked.

“Darling I shall never forgive her!”

“I loathe him darling!”

“Glad to see you’re in good form then,” He chuckled before finally turning to me.

 “I’m sorry for the delay, it’s been kind of hectic,” He said, kissing me on the cheek as always. “
“Don’t worry, stocks’ll go back up again next week,” I told him softly with a smile. He pulled away looking slightly confused before he chuckled, kissing my cheek again.

“Thanks,” He murmured.

“Ok time out again; darling don’t you think they’re just darling together!” Marie cooed.

“I know, they’re children are going to be gods!” Francesco agreed.

“Little Iris/Antony babies,” Marie said happily.

“Child stars in the making! Darling I can see it now, if you took her cheek bones with his...” Francesco began motioning at the both of us who were now looking at them amusedly.

“I’m not having any child of mine EVER being subjected to child stardom,” I said as I pulled out my wand, organising the cases into neat stacks.

Francesco looked at me for a moment, seemingly at a lost for words.

 “But...why darling?” He said.

“Because while you’re a kid, you may as well be a kid,” I shrugged.

“...wh...d...darling speak to your daughter!” He demanded.

“...don’t bother your gorgeous little head darling,” She said sympathetically, giving him a pat.

Antony and I exchanged an amused glance as we continued to organise my luggage.

By the time we were climbing into the carriage Marie and Francesco had resorted back to arguing, threatening one another with greater and more elaborate forms of divorce.

"How many days would you give them?" I chuckled as we watched Marie and Francesco bumble off, bickering still. 



"A week, tops," He said. 

I glanced at him before laughing kissing him lightly. 

"I didn't say hello properly...hello stranger," I smirked gently, my lips sitting lightly against his. 

"Hello," He replied before kissing me again. I smiled before breaking away. 

"Anyway, I guess we should get going, I did say to expect us for about one but the fireplaces are faulty again so we'll have to take a carriage," He said. 

"I don't mind," I replied easily. In all honestly I was thrilled, the journey alone was probably going to end up being longer than any time we'd spent together and I had absolutely no problems with that. Not to mention, I found simple muggle transport far more comfortable than any form of the wizarding kind.

"Antony...do you think your parents'll like me?" I asked.

Ok, I'll admit, I'd be worrying. In fact I'd spent half of the night before anxiously mulling over everything and anything that could possibly go wrong. I think in general I would have professed not to give a crap and not have been perturbed in the slightest but I did care, I cared terribly what Antony thought of me and I suppose that stretched to his parents views too. 

"Err...we'll see," He said evasively, his gaze moving over to the driver and promptly making himself look at least somewhat busy as he held the carriage door open for me, climbing in a little after a quick word with the driver.

I think we shall take that as a no then. 

This simply exacerbated my anxiety. 

Antony didn't think they'd like me...why? 

My mind soon began to whirl out of control as the carriage door snapped shut. 

"You don't need to worry, no matter what they say, I'll still like you," He teased gently. 

I gave him an attempt at a small smile that probably ended up as more of a grimace. 
I hated the nagging feel of insecurity, it was usually when either the absolute worst things came out my mouth or I couldn't quite seem able to speak at all. 

See that was really why I loathed my first few weeks at Hogwarts so much. I'd been used to being in control you see, for the majority of my life, I'd known every person around me like the back of my hand. They were predictable and familiar. I was sent away to school and that was completely thrown out of the window. I'd never been outside of London before, Scotland was colder and I didn't have the clothes for it so I was freezing, the people were...odd to say the least and seemed to prefer standing by the side, talking about me rather to me and all that's not even including magic which I was absolutely awful at. 

It didn't make sense to me, I didn't understand where the magic was supposed to come from, every time I successfully completed anything I was so surprised there was usually some sort of backlash. 
I hated being laughed at so I closed up further, snapped at a number of people and just like that, everything was set, everyone assumed I was an aloof, arrogant and stuck up bitch. Correcting them would have taken too much effort and I wasn't comfortable enough talking to them so I simply didn't and allowed the portrayal to become common knowledge. 
Everyone always makes out as if I were instantly popular, as if I arrived and shot to instant popularity but I didn't, funny how easily they forget. 

They LOATHED me, it was Ali everyone loved, she was good at befriending people, whether falsely or not, she just never seemed to realise what sort of power she could reap, she always had to be a second in command. 

In the beginning, pretty much everyone was even. Mary and Elsa used to be good friends with Lily along with Katy, Ali and June would sit with Annabel at lunch...and then slowly things began to change, Mary shifted and suddenly all the groups began to fall into place. Katy and Mary butted heads and Lily found a few issues with the way Mary operated and I just watched from the sidelines where I sat in utter seclusion. 
I wasn't really much, no one paid all that much attention to me in the beginning, I usually hung at the edge in class, didn't talk unless spoken too (in which case something appropriately sarcastic would come out) and certainly didn't befriend anyone. And then, out of nowhere, in swooped Bridgett and everything changed. 

She gave me confidence and it became easier, suddenly I fit in, suddenly EVERYONE wanted me. 
The rumours of crushes peppering the first years suddenly swung in my direction. 
People acted as if they'd only just met me and in some cases it irritated me. 
Before it all, Elliot Sanders humiliated in front of half of the year, yet after it he claimed to fancy me. Alec pushed past me in the corridor once (to get to Eleanor actually...who was rather popular herself), had rudely told me to pick up my own things and walked off. He professed to be crazy about me. James turned my hair blue once when he was messing around in the corridor, he and the rest of the Marauders had simply burst out laughing when I'd demanded they fixed it. Daniel Kirl had asked me out for a bet once then laughed when I asked where he'd been...I'd never got on with boys. I suppose I was more wary of them, I'd grown up pretty much separate from them and the ones at Hogwarts were...well quite frankly disgusting, they gaffawed stupidly at the most ridiculous of things, fought, regularly hexed girls for the sheer sport of it and had a thing about throwing bits of paper. 

As far as I was concerned, boys didn't act like this. The ones I'd grown up with had mostly been somewhat timid and observed girls as some sort of foreign species. Hogwarts boys didn't. Even at 11. The Marauders ruled the place, they were the absolute height of cool for the longest time, it wasn't until the beginning of 6th year that they were actually challenged. Ace and Elliot were a new addition but again, that was always something people overlooked.

“I’m nervous,” I admitted at random after a moment or two. He glanced down, smiling slightly.

"Don't be," He said softly. 

"I promise, they don't bite," He chuckled. 

"I'm not too great with meeting new people," I said flushing somewhat. 

He smiled wrapping his arms further around me. 

"Just trust me, ok?" He murmured in my ear. 

That was all it took. 

All it ever took.

I enjoyed that journey, there were very few times where Antony and I were alone together without any distractions, it felt like we talked for hours although it can’t have been more than one and half. I noticed the change when the carriage began to draw closing, we’d been moving steadily through fields and open green expanses, hedges dividing and sectioning the landscape, trees every few wards but they thickened as we approached, the steady winding line of large aged trees twisting and turning with the road until everything was simply a sea of green. The conversion slowed to a halt at that point, I could almost feel the tension ebbing off him but the mix of anticipation and excitement directed my eyes out of the window once more. I didn’t see anything for a while, we passed a pair of large imposing gates and a second a little further on, it did give some kind of clue as to what kind of place it was, I’d known really, generations of successful bank owners didn’t live in modest 2 bed terraces in some over developed area.

It didn’t do much for my nerves though.

And then, just like that, an enormous structure peaked above the green and the most spectacular place I could have ever hoped to lay eyes on (other than Hogwarts of course...) was thrown into sharp relief and I couldn’t help the ever so slight intake of breath.

Chestbury House was nothing like Hogwarts. Hogwarts was a castle, Chestbury was an enormous manor house...in fact I can’t be sure if ‘manor house’ was even the correct term.

I’d had a picture with a place such as this tucked under my pillow as a kid, I’d chucked it out long ago with an eye roll but I was reminded of it now. It was a huge double fronted place, coloured with age, the only interruption between the perfectly manicured green lawns and the house being the gravel drive and the large fountain in the middle. The coach shuddered to a halt there, just before the house and I simply sat, somewhat disbelieving as the door opened. 

I didn’t feel out of place just...very small and very much out of my depth.

“Iris,” Antony coaxed gently.

I looked at him, glancing over the gentle smile across his features before I took his hand stepped down. It was actually a surprisingly sunny day, cold still but that didn’t seem to stop the enormous and rather elaborate front doors being swept open, the light and the cool air pouring into the hall.

“M’lady,” Antony joked gently as he shut the door behind me, giving a nod to the driver who promptly lurched off. We stood for a while, Antony looking up at the place with a small smile, seeming far more relaxed, as if he’d only just remembered the affection he had for the place, before he pulled on my hand and began to lead me towards the house, his hand skipping down to the small of my back.
I was pretty sure it was all that was keeping me rational.

Finally that voice returned, cheerfully claiming that it couldn’t be all that bad, honestly, Antony was the most ridiculously kind person I knew, he must have got it from somewhere.

No sooner had we reached the top step, this idea went to pot.

There was the sound of smashing plates before a great voice roared somewhat faintly but loud enough to be heard.

“YOU’RE FIRED!!” 

Antony paused as I did, closing his eyes briefly before glancing at me, probably trying to assess my thoughts so I simply tried to make it look as if smashing plates and screaming were simply an understandable part of everyday life.

He reached the door before me, ringing the bell despite there being no need and simply leading me in anyway. The central entrance hall was a cavernous, enormous high ceilinged room and covered in fine intricately gilded wallpaper that was probably a treasure in itself. Portraits coloured the walls, some still, most moving of course and most were rather interested in the two new arrivals, several even gave a few waves at Antony while others sent me rather narrowed looks but my observations were cut short by the arrival of a short woman who looked to be in her late 50’s with greying hair tied neatly at the base of her neck, lines etched deep into her face but it was easy to see she’d been a beauty in her day.

"Antony...you're early," She said raising a thin eyebrow. 
She either didn't spot me at first or simply chose to ignore me; either way I wasn't acknowledged and she certainly didn’t look at me.

“I thought it was better to be early,” He said as he stepped forward and greeted her, kissing her on both cheeks.

“Mmm,” She said.

"Anyway... Mum this is Iris, Iris this is my mother, Dione," He said his hand returning to the small of my back.

She turned her grey eyes on me and I watched as they instantly cooled and hardened. Oh...so this was the infamous Dione then. 

"Oh," She said, her lips finishing in a tight purse. 

Antony shifted uncomfortably as the accompanying silence stretched on. 
I'd been about to say something but it seemed both delayed and a little stupid now so I simply met her gaze. I won't lie, I was pretty much scared shitless. I loved Antony, with everything in me but...he didn't seem to be one to disobey often, she was infamous, people were terrified of her and yet often in awe at the same time. She was known for being rather difficult to engage, even more difficult to receive a friendly response from and being one of the richest women in the wizarding world to date.

I didn’t like to think that dating her son put me in direct fire but it was an inevitable conclusion.

"Urm so...where's Dad?" Antony asked. Dione's gaze lingered on me for a moment before she turned back to Antony. 

"Probably attempting to shoot down his assistant again," She said calmly. 

"Oh," He said. 
...this was apparently a normal occurrence then...

"Well I suppose you should take whatever its name is and show it the guest room...the blue room I suppose," She said somewhat reluctantly, her gaze flickering over to mine...I think it was safe to say she didn't much like me. 

"Ah yes...right then," Antony said clearing his throat. 

Her gaze remained on mine, looking somewhat expectant. I had no idea what I was supposed to say but by the time I'd potentially mustered something she'd already begun speaking. 

"How charming, you've brought home a mute," She said matter of factly, looking at him calmly. 

"Mu..." he began. 

"Keep it out of the trophy rooms will you? In fact how about we settle with it remains either in its own room; in the dining room or the grounds...I think that's fitting, don't you?" She said. 
I looked at her properly then, barely keeping my eyebrow from quirking up into an arch. 
'It'? If that wasn't textbook patronisation I don't know what was. 

"My name's Iris," I said simply. 

Antony paused, stopping in his tracks as he made to lead me off. She just looked at me for a moment, her face remaining a cool indifferent mask. 

"What do you know, it speaks after all," She said.

"Dinners at 6:30 as usual, you're father should be back shortly," She told Antony briskly before turning and walking off, leaving us both in silence, me feeling like I'd just sustained a lash. 
It? I was not a bloody it. And yet, despite that, when it came to coming out with a decent enough retort they just faltered. 

"I...Merlin I'm sorry about that," He said eventually, running a hand through his hair with a sigh. 
I looked round at him before shaking my head. 

"Don't be," I said. 

"I shouldn't have brought you here," He said shaking his head slightly as we began walking up the ornate staircase. 

I looked at him. 
"Don't be silly, I'm sure I can handle a weekend," I teased gently. 
He didn't say anything for a moment. He obviously doubted that then. 



"We can leave whenever you want, just ask ok? She's a good person really but...she can be...a bit...urm..." He said struggling to phrase it correctly. 

"Bridgett like?" I laughed. 
He gave a short laugh, shaking his head. 

"No Iris, Bridgett has NOTHING on my mum, my mother’s where Bridgett gets it from," He said. 
I paused. 

Oh. Oh shit, that was bad then.

"I'm sorry I'm probably freaking you out, just relax ok?" He said. 

I nodded. 

"Well even if your mother turns out to be an utter bitch we'll just settle with the idea that you're kind enough for both of you," I said before I stopped. 

Well that was a sufficiently ill thought comment. 

"I'm sorry that was...a horrible thing to say," I said. 

But true. 

"I've heard worse," He chuckled amusedly. 

"So, what about your father?" I asked. 

"Err...well...slightly better than my mum?" He offered. 

"So shooting assistances is a normal thing then?" I teased. 

Antony laughed. 

"His aim is really is awful, trust me, he’s not very good with moving targets,” He replied. 
I laughed, relaxing as his arm moved around my waist. 

"I think it's the only reason why no one really insists when he refuses to go to the healer for an eye test," He said absently. I let out a loud laugh, moving my arm around his waist as we walked and leaning my head against his shoulder. 

"Well you’re family’s certainly more interesting than mine,” I snorted.

He looked at me in surprise.

“I’ve never heard you speak about your family...” He said.

“That’s because they’re dead,” I said pleasantly.

He paused, seeming to flounder for words.

“Marie and Francesco didn’t randomly kidnap me off the street, promise, I was in the orphanage for a reason,” I teased. He looked at me before laughing slightly, ducking his head slightly as he usually did when he was embarrassed.

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” He said fairly.
“...neither would I actually,” I said thoughtfully.

“Something like ‘oh darling! I want that one!” Antony imitated dramatically.

I laughed.

“’Perfect darling! Just perfect!” I continued.

“...what happened to your parents?” He asked quietly after a short pause, our feet carrying us through the corridor after corridor, the portraits lining them peering at us, some following, seemingly fascinated by the new arrival but I didn’t pay much attention to be honest.

I didn’t say anything for a moment, looking pensively at the ground.

“They were murdered,” I said after a bit.

“My mum by her husband, my dad by her husband’s friend,” I said simply.

He didn’t say anything for a moment.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” He said eventually.

“I was too,” I said bitterly.

“But you know, for most of my life, I imagined all kinds of things, being a love child is far more glamorous than just not being wanted, that was always my biggest thing, that I’d find my parents one day and they’d be living happily without me, that I’d have brothers and sisters or something and that really, it was just me all that time,” I said.

“No one in their right mind would give you up Iris,” He said gently, giving me a small smile.

“Ah AND they would have been perfectly sane too,” I nodded.

He gave a laugh although it was cut short as he seemed to wonder whether it was appropriate to laugh or not.

I glanced at him before I laughed, giving him a nudge.

“You know Antony, you need to learn to relax, I’m not going to bite you!” I laughed.

“...are you sure?” He said feigning worry.

“...on the odd occasion, possibly, so I’d be sure to keep me sweet,” I teased with a lop sided grin before laughing.

“I’m kidding, I don’t bite...but I do hex,” I said pleasantly.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” He laughed.

“I’m serious though, you don’t need to look so nervous all the time,” I said gently, a smile dancing on my lips as we came to a gradual halt.

“Ah, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at pretending not to be nervous...” He teased, nudging my nose with his as we stood facing one another.

“Pretending isn’t good either,” I laughed.

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose you,” He admitted quietly, giving a nervous guilty laugh as a flush travelled the skin of his neck and cheeks and right up to the tips of his ears.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I told him quietly.

He smiled down at me, his fingers lightly brushing my cheek before he leant in...or began to at any rate.

"ANTONY!" a voice boomed, shattering the silence. We looked round abruptly and further down the long panelled corridor we now stood in to see a rather rotund stout little man in tweed robes and Wellington boots. Of all the things I’d imagined Antony’s father to look like, the man making our way towards us certainly wasn’t it.

"Dad," He said straightening up. 

His father moved closer, peering at him. 

"Your mother told me you’d just arrived," He said, his large moustache quivering as he spoke. 

"We did," Antony replied. 

"Well the sooner we get this bloody thing over with, the better," His father grumbled.

“Ruddy awful taste you have,” He muttered under his breath as he pocketed his wand.

"Where is she then?" He said. 

"Right here," Antony said, drawing forward slightly. 

I think he must have been short sighted then...

The man squinted at me, leaning out before leaning closer again, giving an eventual 'hmph'. 

"Does your mother like her then?" He asked expectantly. 

"Err...I can't tell yet," Antony said. 

"I wouldn't have much hope, let's just hope this one’s a sobber, you know I do like them, like the last one...whatever her name was, she was a..." he started. 

"Err Dad I think that's enough for now," Antony interjected hastily. 

"Anyway, I'll go have some tea then have another go at those blasted gnomes, shot down 7 so far, ruddy pesky little blighters," He informed us as he began to trudge away. 

"Oh and get the staff to go and clear up the study, trying out my new gun on a few of those ghastly plate things," He said matter of factly. Those 'plate things' were actually antiques that would have any antique dealer aquiver at the meer prospect. Apparently they were regularly subjected to being destroyed. 

"Alright," Antony sighed. 

"And you can join me for some golf later too," He said mildly as a rather large grey pointer trotted to his side, another of the guns sitting in his mouth. 

"Dad...I thought you'd stopped letting him carry the guns after that...incident," Antony said carefully as he glanced at the creature. I glanced down at the thing too. I may have forgot to mention, dogs really are not my favourite creatures in the world.

"It only took a few stitches, that's your problem nowadays, too afraid to get a few cuts here and there," He said patting the creature with his pudgy hand. 

"You needed 17..." Antony began. 

"Good for the spirit!" Mr Noble exclaimed loudly, interrupted any attempts at reason. 
Antony sighed. 

"Plus I've had Bertrand from a pup, he's accomplished at these sorts of things, one incident is nothing on such a perfect record," He said beaming proudly at the regal looking dog who currently looked a great deal like some sort of perfect sculpture...despite the gun. 

"If you say so," Antony said resignedly. 

"You know I often wished you could be more like Bertrand Antony, Bertrand can follow orders better than anyone I know, he doesn't let share prices fall..." He began. 

"There's been a double increase since," Antony pointed out. 

"You'd let Gringotts take the country over, you know my father's father's father brought this company from absolutely nothing..." He began. 

"I know Dad," Antony said quietly. I frowned slightly, watching as Antony seemed to shrink beneath his father’s gaze, eventually and discreetly slipping my hand through his, giving it a slight squeeze. He looked up in surprise, as if he'd forgotten I was there before giving me a small smile. I smiled back. I didn't even realise Antony's father had finished ranting until Antony turned back. 

"Well you can go show whatever that ones name is-" Mr Noble said pointing vaguely at me after a moment of just looking at us. 

"To the room," He said somewhat dismissively before trotting off, leaving muddy footprints behind him. Antony watched him go, his expression inscrutable before he turned back to me, pulling a smile onto his face. 

"So, I guess we should go then," He said. I watched him, unsure of exactly what I should say but I allowed him to lead me off nonetheless. 

"Antony," I said softly after a bit of walking in silence. He didn't respond for a moment before letting out a sigh. 

"It doesn't matter, look this is the 1st entire weekend I've had completely off work for ages, we should enjoy it," He said. 

"Ah yes but as long as I stay out of the trophy room," I smirked. 

He laughed. 

"I'm sorry about that," He said. 

"It's fine," I teased. 

He grinned before scooping me up beneath his arm. 

"I can show you the cars though," He grinned. 

"You can drive?" I said in surprise. 

"Yeah," He chuckled. 

"...you collect cars don't you?" I laughed. 

"Clocks get a bit boring after a time," He teased with a lop sided grin. 

"I'll teach you if you like," He offered. 

"Would you?!" I said. 

He laughed. 

"Yeah, the roads round here are pretty quiet, and we'll take one of the muggle ones in case we go near the town," He said. 

"There's a town nearby?" I said. 
I have to say I found it slightly hard to believe considering the fact that the house seemed to be surrounding by acres upon acres of land. 

"Yup, this is supposed to be the manor of the place, my dad’s a duke and supposedly we've been here since...well...forever," He said. I laughed. 

"You didn't tell me," I scolded. 

"Well it's not something that comes up in ordinary conversation," He pointed out. 
I laughed, leaning my head against his shoulder. 

My room was...well what you'd expect, simply stunning. The gilded intricately carved four poster put my one at 'home' to shame, there was a large mirror, so over the top it was unbelievable and yet also somehow, despite it all, every single piece of furniture looked as if it belonged there. 

"The bathrooms through there and I think the house elves would have already put your clothes away," Antony finished.

“...ok...right,”  I said with a short nod, feeling somewhat awkward in the huge room, now very much aware of the hundred or so pairs of eyes that had gathered in one of the largest portraits, various figures almost climbing over one another to get a better look, some running from picture to picture.

“...are they always this excitable?” I asked motioning at them.

“Well usually they’re kind of miserable,” He chuckled before turning towards them.

“Urm I’m pretty sure there are few of my ancestors in there...somewhere,” He said as he peered at the moving jumbled mess.

I couldn’t help but chuckle but he soon gave up at any rate. He showed me around until dinner, half of which was being set up for a wedding which was of course, Dione’s business. There being only the two of them (plus house staff), occupying the place, Dione had set it up as a venue, needless to say it was popular and surprisingly enough, at the moment, even more so. People were getting married left and right and bloody center, convinced that ‘the best’ was what they needed, driven crazy by the need to ‘live in the moment’, it was like a bloody pandemic but still, it was working.

Dinner was predictably a tense affair, Dione referred to me as ‘it’ throughout, never speaking to me directly of course, while also managing to do a simply remarkable job of managing to fit at least 2 subtle  insults into every sentence. Despite wanting to though, I didn’t retire early and even stayed up later simply to be difficult. I was even actually looking forward to the arrival of more guests.

*

I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling, the clock of the mantle piece ticking distantly before I broke the suffocating stillness with a loud sigh, sitting myself up. My windows were wide open, pale bright light pouring in along with the cool arm of the cold. It was a pretty mild night, not even the slightest breeze rustling the leaves of the evergreens but somehow it just worsened my restlessness. I stood at the window for a while, gazing out across the grounds, the thinning woodland to my right, sloping fields partitioned by hedges to my left, beyond the nothingness of unused acres and further ahead, distantly on the horizon, the occasional twinkle of lights from houses and other establishments. Eventually I found myself feeling for my dressing gown on the chair I'd set it on, pulling the quilted fabric over me and fastening it, slipping on my slippers and making my way out, opening the door carefully and quietly, my wand sitting in my pocket. I used to wander Hogwarts at night sometimes in my 1st year, I always found it somewhat terrifying and greatly enjoyable at the same time. I'd never been afraid of the dark but in all honesty, I don't think anyone really is, darkness is frightening because of the things our minds fill it with, the things MY mind filled it with...it still was, the unknown was terrifying, it rendered me blind, a bit like death really, it was something not even I couldn't see through, that was why it was scary. 
My mind wondered and danced on these things as I walked through corridor after corridor, tiredness numbing everything and my restlessness was dragging it out. 

My feet directed themselves until I found myself moving through an open door and into the silence of the night. I have to say, I'm always the first to insist that people who walk around during the night were most likely unhinged in some way...then again, of late, my definition was becoming increasingly looser. 

Either way, Chestbury house was as magnificent during the night as it was during the day, in fact in a way more so, the kitchen gardens had an almost...magical feel to them. I moved slowly further out of the shadow of the house, completely lost in my thoughts when a great crack ripped through the silence, yanking me from my revelry and causing my heart to begin to thump as it never had before. There was another bang, almost as if it were ripping the air and this time something seemed to shoot straight into the hedge beside me but not before catching my upper arm, a ridge of stinging abrupt pain. My wand was in my hand milliseconds later when I heard a loud shout followed by a third crack. It was dark and yet somehow my hand, and more importantly my wand in it, jumped into action long before brain had caught up, sending a random curse in the direction I perceived the danger flying from. 

I heard it hit its mark with a loud 'ARGH!' before an almost barrel like structure fell the ground. I stood panting for a moment before hurrying up the ever so slight incline, wand still drawn, hair dishevelled...and it only then came to light that that 'barrel like structure' happened to just be a rather rotund man and what's more, that 'rather rotund man' also happened to be Antony's father. My eyes widened as he didn't move...my god...I killed him...I'd killed my boyfriend’s father!...who'd apparently been shooting at me...bloody...my thoughts were just reaching an unbearably hysterical level when Mr Noble gave a great wheeze, managing to roll himself up into a sitting position. 

"What are you doing on my land?!" He demanded, reaching for the long ancient gun near his hand. 

I paused. 

"...I'm staying here...you shot at me," I said. I know, state the obvious but one doesn't ordinarily expect to be shot at when taking a stroll. He paused, the gun in his hand but pointing downwards. 

"Oh...it's you," He said managing to sound almost disappointed as he used the gun as a hold to help himself to his feet. 

"You shot at me!!" I insisted. 

"I thought you were an intruder!" He retorted. 

"I'm a guest!" I snapped. 

"It's dark!" He retorted defensively. I tapped my wand, producing a warm glow from the end of it. 

"Simple misunderstanding," He said cheerfully as if moved the gun over his arm. 

"Who goes shooting at this time of night?!" I demanded, too puzzled and indignant to really pay much attention to who I was addressing. 

"I always do, keeps the blood pumping, daily shoot, one at Dawn, one after breakfast, one after elevenses, one after lunch, one after afternoon tea, one after dinner...there's nothing like curing a dash of sleeplessness with a little shot or two," He said. I just stood there for a moment, watching unenthusiastically as a great form trotted through the darkness, making it's way neatly to Mr Noble's side. 

"What're you doing out of bed anyway?" Me Noble asked as he gave the great dog a customary pat on the head. 

"I couldn't sleep," I said irritably. 

"Hmmm...you know you've got a very good aim," He complimented. I didn't know quite what to say to this so remained silent. 

"You may walk with me if you like," He told me. No, I didn't much like the idea but I thought it better to know where that gun was than not so we began to walk. 

"You're here with Antony," He suddenly concluded after a moment of silence, time which I had been spending attempting to carefully reassemble my shattered nerves. 

"Yes," I said. 

"Mmm...your name?" He said. 

"It's Iris," I said. 

"Ah yes...the mute," He said. I felt my gaze flattened but he of course didn't notice, his hand sitting contentedly atop his large stomach. 

"I'm not a mute," I said flatly. 

"I've noticed," He nodded serenely. 

"Much just be my wife has that effect on people, last one squeaked every time she just so much as looked at her...I miss that one, she was a sobber. Hours of entertainment my wife, you know some days I'm even GLAD I married her!" He said cheerfully as if this idea was humorous in itself. 

"Mmm..." I said. 

"Been married 39 years...actually 40 next month...I always hoped Antony would inherit it. The marriage thing you know. It's bad for business, see it all the time, time comes to inherit and the heirs too busy off chasing some woman or another. We've been trying to anticipate this, so we've sat through all those odd girl he brought home but they've never made the cut see, all too flighty, I mean it's inevitable a woman would marry him for his money, there's not really much else to marry him for but the important thing is that she doesn't get in the way," He told me conversationally. 

"There's plenty to Antony," I retorted. He ignored me. 

"You see, that's why you're all wrong," He said. 

I paused, raising an eyebrow. 

"And why's that?" I asked. 

"Too pretty, too much trouble. See it wouldn't matter if he wasn't attached to you, but pretty things attract other people who like pretty things and if he's preoccupied with ensuring his wife isn't running off, he's not paying attention and when that happens, share prices fall and that's not acceptable," He said gravely. I would have liked to point out that marriage, thus far was a veeeeeery long way away, if at all, and that we'd only just progressed from goodbye kisses, the notion of sex had barely even made an appearance yet. Of course, I didn't like to share these things. 

"The best thing really would be for him to just settle with someone, give up, you know, resign himself to some suitably unattractive woman and continue with his work. I didn't have a proper conversation with my wife for nearly 20 years," He said almost proudly. 

"And you know the good thing about Dione is that attractive she may have been, she was horribly difficult and often incredibly rude, apart from one or two proposals nobody wanted her so I didn't have to worry about her running off. That sort of thing didn't suit her, what more could you want in a wife, I said to myself, so I married her. And she did just fine but sadly Antony never inherited this sort of thing from me. He never seemed content with simply making do and it would appear you're a result of that," He frowned. Well all I had to say that I was bloody glad Antony hadn't inherited 'that sort of thing' from his father. I greatly enjoyed him as he was. 

"But, and dare I say it, there's hope for you yet," He said pleasantly. I was slowly beginning to equate everything positive in Mr Noble's book as either pointing towards something vaguely negative in someone else's or nonsensical drivel. 

"Because you like him," He said and somehow the matter of factness was gone, a gentle tone taking it's place. 

"And if you like him and he likes you and it'll last then it doesn't matter that you're impaired with your prettiness," He said. I opened my mouth to speak but he'd already started again. 

"But that said, I don't like you yet, I'm warming to you because you have a good aim, but I don't want to learn that you're an overly sentimental, whimsical, flippant or generally irritating person because them I shan't enjoy my Christmas dinners, knowing that down the table my son has married a hopeless case...good night Erin," He said pleasantly as we drew to a halt before pottering off leaving me standing there, simply dumbfounded, the reminder of my actual name still hanging silently from my lips. 

The man was mad as hatter...and yet somehow I couldn't help taking a liking to him. 

"YOU CANNOT SHOOT AT PEOPLE DAD!" Antony snapped, incensed beyond belief and looking like I'd never seen him before. It had come out over breakfast somehow. Antony's father had casually come out with something such as 'I went for a walk last night, nearly shot that girlfriend of yours' and Antony had replied with something along the lines of 'pardon?' to which the answer was 'had a good clear shot and everything' to which a row had ensued, Antony getting to his feet at some point, poking the table top pointedly. 

"It was a simple misunderstanding," Mr Noble said innocently. 

"For goodness sake...you could have HIT her!" Antony snapped. 

"Well no because she's very good.." He began. 

I would have interjected but I'd already tried that several times and on my other side, Dione was eating her breakfast as if nothing were happening at all. 

"You. Cannot. Shoot. At. People," Antony retorted. For some reason this seemed to spark his father’s own temper and it would appear that Antony really was no match for the steady stream of put downs his father threw at him (harshly to, I must say) until he backed down, looking a great deal like a 14 year old being reprimanded. The rest of the meal was eaten in utter silence but Antony was still fuming later. 

"Antony," I said softly as I caught up with him, my hand slipping through his as I planted a light kiss on his shoulder. He looked down before moving his fingers through mine and giving it a squeeze. 

"I'm sorry," He said. 

"Don't be, I think you're rather impressive with a temper," I grinned. He looked at me, seemingly struggling between a smile and a grimace. 

"I was talking about the shooting," He said. 

"Oh...you don't need to worry, it really was just a misunderstanding, I couldn't sleep so I took a walk, it's fine though, as you said, he has awful aim," I said, a smile tugging at me lips, trying to install the same humorous outlook on the event that hindsight had created for me. Either way, he didn't seem to find it particularly funny despite the fact that it did later become an infamous and terribly entertaining event. Seeing as the rest of the guests soon began to arrive (which apparently put Dione in a bad mood), Antony thought it’d be a good idea for us to go for a drive. By a drive I mean me actually driving and my nerves certainly didn’t think it was a good idea.

I don’t think it did Antony’s much good either.

“Iris I think you might need to slow down...”

“I’m trying!”

“Try the brakes...”

“Where are they?”

“...I think now would be a very good time...”

“The brakes aren’t working!!”

"...shit," I breathed, my hands still gripping the steering wheel, eyes wide as saucers, as both Antony and I sat, staring at the sizeable dent I'd made in the gleaming car we’d just plowed down the hill into.

“...that was the accelerator...” I stated stupidly.

“...it would appear so,” Antony replied.

We continued to sit there for a moment until the driver of the car in front of us, shoved open the door of the car, stepping out to reveal red faced and furious mountain of a man. I glanced guiltily at Antony. 

"...I'll deal with it," He sighed after a moment, undoing his seatbelt and getting out the car. Vaguely I was aware that this probably wasn't the best of ideas, Antony wasn't exactly the heftiest of blokes nor accustomed to dealing with murderous road ragers but that didn't really hit home until the man took a great swing at him with a large beefy fist. 

My eyes widened, as I shoved open the door, forgetting to undo my seatbelt, ended up pushed back before finally undoing the blasted thing and hurrying out. 

Antony was out cold. 

Ordinarily I would have pulled out my wand and hexed the idiot right there but considering the fact that he was quite obviously a muggle I had to refrain. He was still yelling as I got to Antony, demanding compensation and other such things. 

"WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!" I demanded eventually. 

"I can barely fucking think with you moaning!!" I snapped. 

The great lump of a man turned to me, beady eyes narrowed but I was saved from anything further by the arrival of a third party and with some help, we managed to get back up to the house with Antony blinking confusedly in the back seat. There was admittedly a bit of a commotion when we arrived, Dione paid off the idiot we'd crashed into so he left although the look she shot me should probably have landed me in the same state of Antony. He was of course, for the most part, fine, after having his nose reset the kafuffle died and it was just the two of us, me dabbing at his nose with a damp cloth. 

"I'm sorry," I winced as I wiped away the blood. 

"It's urm..." He said began before clearing his throat. 

"Quite alright," He said although his ears had gone extremely pink. 
I looked at him for a moment, taking in the sight of him with his shirt rumpled and hair askew, cloth over his nose and for some reason I simply began to laugh. 

Despite not being the most considerate thing to do, I simply couldn't help it. He went slightly pinker and I was still laughing as I took away the cloth, kissing him fully on the lips. 

"Oh Antony, I love you," I said gasping slightly until eventually it just settled to a look of extreme amusement. 

"I'm sorry," He mumbled. I looked at him, still grinning as I slid down off the arm of his chair. 

"I don't know what you're apologising to me for," I said as I smoothed his hair back into place. 

"I think perhaps we may put a suspension on my driving lessons for a bit," I said amusedly. He looked up, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips before he gave a small shy chuckle. 

"Yeah...well," He said. 

I smiled as I picked up the rag once more, dabbing away a little more. 

"It didn't quite go as I planned," He said. 

"I doubt there'd have been much point attempting to reason, he didn't look the type but you tried, thought that counts," I chuckled cheerfully. 

"I didn't want to look like a coward," He mumbled, his face growing hotter and I paused, looking at him. 

"Don't be silly Antony, I don't think you're a coward," I said softly before moving down on my knees in front of him so that he'd look at me. 

"But I am a coward," He admitted uncomfortably. 

"No you're not," I said gently. 

"And even if you were, I'd still be mad about you," I said touching my nose against his. 

He looked at me for a moment before his hand slid against my cheek, kissing me lightly once before his lips touched mine again, a little less cautiously. I kissed him back as he gently pulled me up to his level and closer until I was on his lap pretty much straddling him, his back pressed against the back of the armchair and my hands sitting against his shoulders. The fire was roaring in the hearth beside us, and it really did feel as if it were just us. Alone, completely and utterly alone, despite the portraits lining the Walls and the fact that there were at least 40 people who could walk in at any moment, for once it didn't matter. We broke apart eventually, after what seemed like an age, both breathing somewhat harder than usual before I dropped the rag into the bowl of water and kissed him once more, my arms wrapping around him as he pulled me closer, his hands slipping from their customary place on my waist to my hips...and then of course, the moment was well and truly ruined as the door swung open with a crash and Antony's father appeared, flanked of course by Bertrand. 
Despite this, when I looked around again, Antony was still grinning wildly. 

"You crashed the car," Dione said unamusedly across dinner. I looked up, pausing as the entire table drew to silence. 

"Actually it was..." Antony began. 

"Me," I said coolly. 

She looked at me for a moment and for one moment I thought she was actually going to smile, she didn't of course and returned to her dinner, signalling an end to the conversation and the revival of those dotted around the table. 

"You didn't need to..." Antony began. 

"I already got your nose broken, I thought I should at least take the blame," I said. He looked at me before he grinned. I grinned back before turning back. 

“I was just beginning to worry that perhaps you’d gotten lost actually,” Antony chuckled as I moved the napkin against me.

“My wardrobe’s a nightmare,” I replied.

“I can barely see anything for all the...stuff(!) Francesco’s put in, it’s enough to drive me mental!” I laughed quietly. He chuckled.

“Speaking of those two, Marie told me to tell you that she’ll be in Paris for her book launch next week,” He said.

“Oh yes, the book...you know, that has to be the quietest Marie’s ever been about anything. I’d think she’d love telling everyone about it,” I said.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know, I haven’t read it, I’m not quite sure what to expect really, every sentence punctuated with ‘darling’ seems a reasonable place to start,” He grinned.

I snorted, nudging him slightly.

“Well I’ll read it anyway, just so that I know when everyone at school’s telling me how amazing my ‘mother’ is,” I said.

“Fair enough,” He nodded.

I laughed.

“So where did the two of you meet then?” a voice inquired with a small giggle across the table. We both turned to the rather flushed and obviously rather tipsy woman, her hair piled atop of her and her eyes coated in heavy thick eye shadow. Overall, the result wasn’t exactly pleasing.

“Yes, I forgot to ask, it’s always important to know where one contracts these things from,” Dione said coolly, setting down her glass, lips settling into the same thin line they did every time her gaze fell on me.

Antony gave a sigh, sending her a look but she simply returned with a look of indifference.

“It was the New Year’s Eve party,” He told her, obviously deciding to leave out the fact that the very first time had been during a quidditch match.

“Marie’s?” Dione said.

“Oh good heavens! I do love that woman! I haven’t seen her in ages! How’s she keeping?!” the other woman demanded, managing to slosh some wine over herself.

“Oh dear me,” She said looking down before clicking her fingers, one of the servants arriving seconds later to clear up the mess.

“She’s fine,” Antony responded.

Dione gave a sigh before reluctantly turning to me.

“And how old is it?” She asked him disdainfully.

“Mum...” Antony began.

“Antony it was a simple question requiring a simple answer,” She cut across him smoothly.
“I’m 17,” I told her somewhat grudgingly.
“She looks about 20 though, stunning...” the other woman began.

“Heather, do please be quiet,” Dione snapped.

“You do realise Antony, that you’ll be taking on a far greater role...” Dione began.

“I know...” He began.

“Don’t interrupt me,” She told him before continuing.

“You’ll be taking on a far greater role in the company and will be inheriting at some point, the way your father goes at those pork pies I’d say it’ll be rather soon...” Dione began.

“That physician is trying to starve me!” Antony’s father exclaimed, turning from the men he’d been talking to.

“I’m rather sure it’d be impossible to starve you,” She told him flatly.

“Carrot munching...” Antony’s father muttered.

“This is not up to discussion, you’re retiring next month and for Merlin’s sake you’ll do as your physician tells you,” Dione snapped.

“I’ve been going for 70 years, nothing’s going to be changing anytime soon, strong as an ox, runs in the family...” He continued.

“You’re overweight Reginald and that certainly runs in the family. You do realise when your heart gives out, rather than help you I shall tell ‘that physician’ to simply leave you,” She told him harshly.

 “Mum,” Antony frowned.

“I’m a fine figure of a man,” Reginald said, moustache quivering with indignation.

“If you’re a fine figure of a man than lord help us; the human race is in even worse state then I first suspected,” She muttered into her glass.

Reginald opened his mouth and closed it again, narrowing his eyes at her.

Heather gave a titter.

“Years of the same routine and it never gets old,” She laughed.

“Either way, my point is that, that is your first priority Antony,” His mother finished, ignoring the other woman.

Antony sighed, nodding tiredly for lack of anything better to say.

For the most part, Dione simply ignored me, in fact she didn’t really talk much at all and after a while I even managed to shake the feeling of being watched and appropriately judged. Antony seemed a little irritated at first but soon relaxed and it was actually a rather enjoyable affair.

"So what happened exactly?" Antony's father asked, obviously deciding to ignore the previous conversation. Antony went slightly pink but I'd already started. 

"I crashed the car, he got out of his car and so did Antony." I replied, glancing back at him before continuing. Ok, so perhaps I exaggerated a bit, but it was only a matter of stretching the truth, not installing new things completely, plus I'd come to the conclusion that all Antony needed was his ego nursed a bit. 

"Thanks," He said as we left the hall, grinning sheepishly. 

"No problem," I said, my hand slipping through his. 

He smiled before giving it a tight squeeze. 

*

I sat before my dresser, gently guiding my brush through my hair, enjoying the absence of the various hair grips I’d slotted in (perhaps a little too tightly) to keep my hair in place. The wind howled outside my window, the rain hitting the earth in slanted shafts but it seemed so distant whilst sat there, the warm lights of the room seemingly cancelling the darkness outside.

I set my things down, glancing at myself in the mirror, at the ridiculously elaborate dressing gown and it just about struck me how...odd it all was. These were things I’d dreamt of, beautiful grand houses, large tables lined with people in beautiful clothes and my things, oh my god my things, trinkets and jewellery I could only have ever dreamt of and I had it, I had it all.

I was dragged out of my thoughts however by a light rap on the door. I looked up before getting to my feet, retying my dressing gown before pulling my door open.

“Oh...Antony,” I grinned.

“You left this behind,” He told me with a smile, holding out my clutch bag.

“Oh...thanks,” I said taking it and setting it down on the small side table nearest the door.

"Do you want to come in?" I asked, leaning my head against the side of the door. 

"Erm...I don't think that'd be the greatest idea, people might talk," He said apologetically, digging his hands into his pockets. I was just about to tell him that I honestly didn't give a damn whether 'they' began gossiping or not but he’d already begun to speak.

"But...well I was going to take a walk and I thought I'd ask you if you'd join me," He said. 

"A walk...? In the dark?" I grinned. He laughed, holding his hands up. 

"There’ll be no shooting, promise," He said. I chuckled before nodding. 

“But no, I just meant around a bit...unless you want to sleep of course,” He said.

I shook my head.

“Nah, insomnia’s still alive and kicking, I’d love to,” I chuckled, slipping on the shoes that sat beside the door and moving out after him.

"I think dinner went far more successfully than last night," He said cheerfully. 

"It would have to have been a catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale to be worse than last night," I laughed. 

"...let's be optimistic, shall we?" He chuckled. 

"If you insist," 

I suppose in a way it ended up turning into a second tour only this one covered considerably more ground and looked even more attractive in the dim light. 

"And this is my nursery," Antony said as we passed two large double doors. I don't know why but something about it made me pause, my head tilting the side almost by itself before I moved forward. 

"There's probably a few years worth of dust in there," Antony warned, moving back towards me. 

"A little dust never hurt anyone," I grinned before twisting the handle and pushing open the door. Really it was a room like any other, well more like an apartment, a series of rooms mapped out around one larger one. By all accounts it was beautiful, like rest of the house, the flames flickered into life once you'd walked in, bathing the place in a supple cosy light. The dust was visible, collecting in a layer on the floor and against everything. There were brightly coloured wooden train sets standing alongside great chests of toys, stored neatly in the corner, an old fashioned pram at the other...my reverie was however, broken. 

"I haven't seen this thing in ages," He smiled, crouching over the pile of dusty junk. 

"What is it?" I asked as I moved to his side. He chuckled as he pulled out his wand, tapping it to rid it of the dusk. 

"It's my first ever gramophone. My nanny was a half blood and she used to have this muggle gramophone and she played music all the time," He said fondly before shifting it this way and that. 

"I'm sure I could get it working if I tried..." He said absently, soon absorbed in the thing. I watched him for a moment, the tiniest smile moving onto my face at the look of concentration splayed across his. I left him to it after a bit. Although somewhat dusty, the nursery was still a handsome place, it was almost as if it had been packed away for the day or something, the layer of dust over everything the only clear sign of its disuse but somehow it made me feel small. In my mind these things seemed to tower above me as great imposing structures. It was all alien to me but it'd never seemed to matter, Celeste had been my best friend and far better than any amount of dolls, our adventures out of the orphanage far greater than the imaginary world within any four walls but now somehow that didn't seem quite right. Now I suddenly wished that I could have inhabited that great space, could have been surrounded by such beautiful objects, clothed in pretty garments and cared for as an individual child. Somehow Antony's childhood seemed so much more civilised than my own.
Yet in the back of my mind I think I knew I was happier with mine at the same time. I didn't have the things Antony did and had never known what it was like to be brought up affectionately but I'd had friends who'd been closer than any family, I'd had imagination and mischief and idiocy as my toys...but still my mind pondered on what he'd had. Because the one thing I'd really missed, the one thing that caught me now was that he'd had stability and I hadn't. I frowned down at the small bear sitting in my hands when the music kicked into play at a startling volume before it evened out. I turned to see Antony looking rather pleased as he brushed himself off. 

"Only needed a little nudge," He chuckled as he finished before glancing up at me, pausing, a slight frown coming to his face before pressing a finger against the teddy bear. 

"I thought dad destroyed that," He said looking slightly surprised before he laughed, looking back at me. 

"If we had any common sense we'd leave this room before the dust ended up going mad," He teased. I smiled somewhat absently before replacing the bear and turning back to him. It was still raining hard outside but it gave even the dusty nursery an atmospheric charm. 

"What, the siege of the dust bunnies?" I teased, glancing back at him. 

"Don't underestimate them Iris," He teased as he moved behind me where I stood by the window, his hands slipping onto my shoulders. I looked back at him and smiled before turning. 

"I know this song," I said vaguely as the trumpet sounded from the great thing. 

"So do I," He grinned. I laughed and nudged him before I felt his hand slip through mine. 

"Dance with me?" He said softly. I laughed as he gently pulled me to the centre of the room, wrapping his arm around me and I felt myself relax as I rested my head against his chest, singing softly.

"...I'm sorry about my dad shooting at you by the way," He said absently and I couldn't help but laugh. 

"Oh dear lord, 'I'm sorry my father shot at you', quite an apology," I laughed. 

He laughed.

"Well I am, Marie and Francesco would never forgive me!" He cried. I laughed as I looked up at him. 

"And what about yourself?!" I demanded. 

"Ah well that'd be a different matter entirely," He told me matter of factly. 

"Ah?" I said, a lop sided grin moving onto my face. 

"Yes," He nodded and I laughed before leaning my head back against him. 

"I'd be distraught if anything happened to you Iris," He said quietly, any hint of teasing gone. I looked up at him for a while before I spoke. 

"I'm not going anywhere...and you better not either," I murmured. He smiled. 

"Well I'm glad that's been settled," He teased softly, his lips brushed my own before capturing them in a kiss, one of those slow melting kisses he did so well and we continued to dance vaguely, easily losing touch with the music and thoroughly unaware that we were being watched. 

*

I woke up rather late that morning actually, most people had already moved out and down to the lowers where the whole thing was due to begin. Of course, in true fashion it was a particularly grey day and drizzling too but considering the fact that it'd been held in knee high snow the year before, I doubted it would make a great deal of difference. I moved to my wardrobe, pulling it open and taking a look at the unnecessarily vast amount of clothes Francesco had packed me off with. It took me a while to so much as navigate my things let alone begin to piece them together and even longer to actually to get to them.

Late, by that point, didn’t even quite cover it.

Despite that, as I moved into the hall, there was still some breakfast waiting for me and a small card from Antony telling me where to find the rest of them. I smiled slightly, gently folding it up again and slipping it into my pocket.

I didn’t feel the rain against my shoulders or turning my hair into those great curls they only ever stood in when wet , or even the fact that, upon my arrival it was apparent that I was so very much the outsider. Heck, only Mary Tottering’s surprise appearance managed to awaken me from my euphoria.

“What on earth are you doing here?” I blurted out rudely before I could stop myself as I drew level with her.

She glanced at me, seemingly unsurprised.

I come here, every year,” She told me archly.

I just looked at her, the usual feelings of dislike stirring in my stomach.

“Not on the rebound are you darling?” I simpered.

Her gaze shot to mine instantly, her expression souring but we were soon interrupted by the arrival of a great group of girls, some of which had been bridesmaids at Bridgett’s wedding...most of whom fixed me with disdain glances. I couldn’t say I was surprised, I’m sure Mary had done a great job at ‘filling them in’ on everything.

Thankfully, the glaring was eventually halted by Antony’s arrival.

“I didn’t know whether you were still in bed or not,” He chuckled as he led me away.

“I have one word for you,” I said.

“Francesco?” He said.

“How did you guess?” I asked, feigning shock.

He laughed.

“I forgot to even ask what this thing is all about?" I said. Antony sighed. 

"They're waring against gnomes," He said grimly. 

"...garden gnomes?" I said. 

He nodded. 

"My father had an argument with one of the gnome chiefs one year. They've made up since then but apparently they like fighting just as much as each other so they decided to turn it into a sport...it’s more like warfare really, the gnomes don't go down very easily to be honest," He said, rubbing the back of his neck. I laughed. 

"Oh I just have to watch this. Pfft, garden gnomes," I snorted, shaking my head. 

As it turned out, garden gnomes are really not to be messed with. When he said 'waring', he meant it. I'd only ever seen the gnomes in their unmoving state, smiling hideously with wheelbarrows and other such things and yes, in this event they did still have these things but to be used in a vastly different fashion to the way one would expect. 

"Come on Antony!" Antony's father called across to him from where we were just arriving. Antony sighed. 

"I'll see you later then," He told me, giving me a quick kiss before going off to join the rest of them. I was actually somewhat surprised to find out he could actually ride a horse although in actuality, it did seem logical. This however, left me with very little to do. Being anywhere near Mary, when avoidable, was certainly not an activity I particularly relished and therefore endeavoured to put an end to it. At least while I made a convenient trip to find a loo, in other words, displaying cowardice as purpose.

I was nearing the house before long, just as it began to brighten up, the dull rain trickling to a halt when I spotted something that made my brow furrow.

I only recognised one of the men at first but that was all that my curiousity needed, I hesitated for a moment before taking a detour, passing closer by the hedges that for the most part would conceal me. It didn’t take long to confirm my suspicions, it was Hemera’s father...and Eridanus, the same man who’d been at the reunion a month or two ago.

“Why would you intend to spy on a bunch of school children?” Hemera’s father said sceptically.

Eridanus chuckled.

“Well, you know what they say, Aloysius, children are the key to the future,” He smirked.

 “You wish to recruit?” Aloysius asked, raising an eyebrow.

“We’ve already begun,” He replied simply.

Aloysius waited for Eridanus to continue and after a short pause he did.

“You’d be surprised at how many secrets Hogwarts can harbour. The dark lord wishes to keep an eye on Dumbledore, it’s one of the very few places he can’t access himself and The Order know it, we have reason to believe they’ve been using it as a base,” He said simply.

Aloysius was silent for a moment.

“And if this is so important, why are you consulting me?” He asked.  

“Because you have Cane,” Eridanus said simply.

Aloysius didn’t say anything for a moment before nodding.

“Very well,” He said.

Eridanus gave a short nod in reply before he paused, taking a step forward.
“Listen, we have known each other for some time now, have we not?” Eridanus murmured.

“I’m more use to him unmarked,” Aloysius replied easily.

Eridanus shook his head with a chuckle.

“You don’t understand. Soon there will be no need to worry about discovery, that mark will be...no it is, POWER,” He said.

“I’ve said it many times before; no,” Aloysius replied.

“You’re making a mistake,” Eridanus said.

Aloysius chuckled.

 “Well I suppose that’ll be my problem then,” He said and with that walked off. I waited for a moment, letting out a breath as I straightened from the slightly crouched position I’d settled into but I hadn’t taken into account that Eridanus was still standing there. He must have heard me move because seconds a hand shot out and grabbed my arm, pulling me through the small split in the hedges and I find myself staring up at the two of them bearing down on me.

“...I would very much appreciate it if you took your hands off of me,” I said coolly despite my pouding heart. Eridanus let go of me, his hand slowly moving to his side although the other was still poised, wand in hand.

I glanced down at it, allowing a false confidence to fill me but thankfully I was saved.

“Iris?” came a cool voice.

I glanced round as the two of them turned to see Dione, standing several inches shorter than him but her presence seeming to render her much bigger somehow.

“Eridanus,” She said with a slight inclination of the head. Eridanus soon pocketed his wand, returning the gesture, excused himself and then made his departure.

We both watched him go before I felt her gaze move back to me.

“You shouldn’t be wondering around,” She told me.

I watched him turn the corner before moving back to her.

“I know,” I said simply.

She gave an ever so slight smile.

“Eridanus can be a dangerous man when he wants to be, I suggest, for your sake, that you stay away,” She told me.

I remained silent for a moment before nodding, breathing a small sigh.

“You know Iris, I don’t particularly like you, from what I’ve heard it’s a rather common theme...but you’re not as bad as you could be and Antony seems to be appropriately taken with you so I suppose I could put up with you,” She told me simply before turning and beginning to walk away.

 “Oh and do go back down else you’ll end up shot or in some other sticky situation,”

And with that she left.

It was only much later that I realised that had been a vague approximation of Dione saying she actually didn’t mind me.

This was later cemented by the fact that she later referred to me as ‘her’ rather than ‘it’ over dinner.

...very odd.

 




Author's Notes:

Sorry for the delay, a friend of the family passed away recently so I haven't really felt much like writing. Other than that, the parts I thought were all prewritten seemed to have disappeared and I'm going back to school soon (for the first time in 2 years!!) so I think it's safe to say updates may be a bit slow but I will try!!

 


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