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Chapter 9 : nine
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I felt bad saying no when Carlotta rang to ask if I could meet her at the Tav on Thursday night. It wouldn’t have bothered me normally, but turning her down again when I hadn’t been there in over a week felt awkward.
“But surely your mates owe you, given that you’ve been going where they wanted to go for the past week?”
“It’s not that this time,” I told her down the phone, trying to feed Cordelia one-handed. “It’s my Grandma’s birthday on Friday, I can’t go out on Thursday night.”
“But you go to work the day after a night out, surely you’d be perfectly fine-”
“I’m not going out the night before her birthday. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is, and the way it always has been. I promise you, I’ll come to the Tavern next week, but I can’t do Thursday night.”
“Okay.” She sighed. “I’m beginning to forget what you look like, you know.”
“Impossible,” I declared. “I bet you’ve already got a photo of me under your pillow.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Ring me when you’re next free and I’ll see if I am.”
“Surely you’ll be at the Tav either way?”
“Don’t shatter the illusion. Have a nice day on Friday!”
I smiled weakly.
“I’ll try,” I said.
The truth was, Grandma’s birthday could never be described as a ‘nice’ day.
I bought her a present on Thursday afternoon. Brigid bought most people’s presents for me, but I always bought Grandma’s myself. I felt it would be insincere and dishonest if her present was thought over by somebody else, rather than choosing it myself. I bought the autobiography of a magical researcher, which had been published only the week before, a brooch in the shape of a phoenix, and some white lilies, which were standard for Grandma’s birthday.
When I got to Mum and Dad’s on Friday, Al was already sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a mug of coffee with Dad.
“Morning,” I said, falling into the chair that had been mine before I’d moved out.
Dad got up to grab a mug from the cupboard.
“How’s training going?” he asked, pouring out some coffee from the pot that sat in the middle of the table.
“Better than last year?”
“Reckon you’ll win the League this year then?”
“Difficult to say before we’ve seen the other teams play.”
We fell silent. I looked down at the mug that Dad had placed in front of me and wrapped my hands around it.
It was down to Al to break the silence.
“Is she the Muggle girl you’ve gotten involved with?” Dad asked before I could reply.
“Yes, she is, and don’t start lecturing me because I’ve heard it all from everyone else.”
“I’m not going to lecture you, because you won’t listen anyway. Just remember that as a senior member of the Ministry, it would look bad if my son were to breach the Statute-”
“I know,” I said with a scowl. I should have known that Dad would make it about him.
The tension eased slightly as Lily entered the room.
“Your teachers are going to forget you exist if you keep skipping school,” I said, before taking a large gulp of coffee.
“I’ve taken three days off this school year, thank you! I doubt you went to lessons for many more than three days of your Seventh Year!”
“The exam results will tell you differently,” I pointed out as she sat down next to me.
“How’s school going?” Dad asked.
“History’s a nightmare.”
“Told you not to take it,” I interjected.
“It was fine until the teacher decided we needed to learn about witch hunting again,” she said, grimacing. “And Arithmancy is terrible, I don’t understand a word of it.”
“I’ll help you out with it later,” volunteered Al, who’d been fool enough to choose Arithmancy as a subject himself. “You staying for the weekend?”
“Not decided yet. I might go to Diagon Alley tomorrow, and Mum thinks I need to show my face in a few houses while I’m home. I don’t think I’d be Maddie’s favourite person if I left her to deal with Rosalind by herself all weekend, though.”
“She can look after herself.” I shrugged.
“That’s half the problem,” Lily pointed out.
Mum entered the room, her coat and gloves already on.
“Lily, darling!” she said. “I didn’t hear you arrive!”
“Got in a few minutes ago. Someone really needs to clean the grate, I was covered in soot and ash when I got in.”
“Blame your father! I asked him to do it three weeks ago.” She frowned and looked more closely at Lily. “Are you okay, darling? You look shattered.”
“I’m fine,” she replied with a nonchalant shrug.
Glancing at her myself, I realised she really didn’t look fine. There were bags under her eyes and she looked generally worn out. I wondered if she’d been so tired when I’d seen her last week.
“I don’t believe you,” Mum said flatly. “You’re overworking yourself. I told you when you picked your subjects that you would, you’re working your nose to the ground. You’ll burn yourself out if you carry on like this. I really think you should just drop a subject or two-”
“You’ve been telling me for the past four years that I’m doing too much, and I’ve been telling you for just as long that I’m not. Besides, I can’t drop anything. I need all my subjects if I want to get into Muggle Liason.”
“Well...” Mum hesitated. “In that case, maybe you should consider handing back your badge-”
“No,” she said flatly. “It sets me apart from most of those I’m up against, and besides, it’s not that much extra work. Giving it up would hardly give me any more time.”
But Mum wasn’t about to give up.
“Then maybe you should quit the team-”
Lily’s glare was enough to silence her, which was no mean feat.
“No chance. Aside from anything else, Maddie would murder me. Besides, if I really am working too hard, surely giving up my hobbies and leisure time to concentrate even more on my schoolwork kind of defeats the object of reducing my work load.”
“She’s got a point,” Al chipped in.
“Honestly, Mum, I’m fine,” Lily repeated. “Maddie likes to make sure I have some time off from work, anyway. We popped into the village the other night when Muggle Studies was beginning to go wrong-”
“How can Muggle Studies go wrong? That should be a walk in the park for you!” I said incredulously.
“You’d be surprised,” she said darkly.
“What were you doing visiting the village during the week?” Mum frowned. “Surely that’s not allowed?”
“Never mind,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll live.”
“You’re Head Girl-”
“Given the number of rules you broke at school, the fact that you never even made Head Girl and the little issue of breaking into the Ministry, I really fail to see how you have so much as a little toe to stand on, let alone a leg.”
Mum’s mouth snapped shut.
“You’ve got me,” she conceded after a moment. “Come on, we need to go.”
There was a loud scraping of chair legs as we got to our feet and grabbed our presents. Dad was first to Disapparate. I followed, Apparating next to him at the safe point just outside the village. Al arrived next, with Mum and Lily bringing up the rear.
Dad was silent as he led us along the lane. He was always quiet at times like this. Mum slipped her hand into his and reached back to take Al’s hand with the other. Lily grabbed Dad’s free hand and reached her other hand out to take mine.
We turned with the lane, reaching the square, with its war memorial in the centre. Dad walked past it with barely a glance, but as I passed it, I paused to look at the statue of my grandparents, with Dad in my grandmother’s arms. Lily’s hand slipped out of mine.
After a moment I moved on and caught up with the others as they reached the graveyard.
The remnants of the flowers we’d laid on Christmas day still lay at the foot of the gravestone. Dad was the first to set down his presents, which he’d tucked into his cloak pocket. Lily followed, then Albus, and finally I laid the book and brooch down beside the other items. We all stepped back, Mum glancing furtively around the graveyard, and Dad pulled his wand out of his cloak pocket, and aimed it at the presents.
Flames shot out of his wand and licked at the presents and flower residue on the ground, eventually turning them to ashes. Then Dad laid a fresh wreath of lilies on top of the small mound of ash, and Lily, Al and I added our bouquets on either side of it.
“Happy birthday, Mum.” Dad’s voice was almost a whisper.
Mum grasped his hand tightly, while his other hand fastened around my shoulder. Lily slipped her arm through mine and Al slung an arm over Mum’s shoulder and we stood, all five of us, staring at the gravestone, which marked deaths so brave and tragic that I could barely begin to comprehend just how incredible my grandparents had been.
This was one of the few occasions a year when we ever presented a united front.
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