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Chapter 4 : What Is Said In An Elevator Says In The Elevator. Hopefully.
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JM: It just never seemed like the right time and James made it clear that it would be difficult for him to put away the animosity he had for me. Alex and I were doing fine without him; I didn’t want my son’s life disturbed by introducing him to a father who hated me.
FW: You claimed that you never actively attempted to keep his existence from his father and yet is it not true that you specifically told your college’s not to mention your son around the Potters?
JM: Yes it’s true.
FW: Can you explain that to the court?
JM: When I said that, I was referring to before I saw James again. I tried not to condemn him for the life he led, but I knew I couldn’t let my son around it. Alex is far too smart for his own good—and I’m not just saying that as his mother. He would have noticed the way James lived and drew his own conclusions about it. But more than that, I didn’t trust the new James not to break Alex’s heart.
For seven years I had shared a dorm with Rose and Dom. I had listen to them rag on their kin one moment and defend them violently the next. I had been the one to hold back Lilly’s hair as she vomited after a particularly wild party thrown in honor of Gryffindor winning the house cup. I was the only one told of Scorpius and Rose’s relationship until it became far too obvious for even the most oblivious to ignore. More time over the summers and breaks were spent in Godrick’s Hollow and the Burrow than my own home.
It had killed me to cut them out of my life—to return the letters and cut all ties, but I had no other options. James didn’t want to even see me and I knew I wasn’t strong enough to see him every time I went over there knowing he hated me.
And yet here they all were crammed into one room staring at me like some crazy form of déjà vu. Well it was either that or we had all died and were having our big reunion scene like out of the end of Titanic. In this world you never know. But then again, if we were dead this wouldn’t be quite so awkward.
“When you said you were bring a date, I had no idea…” Scorp began only half teasing. Jackass should have known better. I mean really, it was his inability to remember a simple charm that got me into this mess. No, that’s being unfair. This one was all me. His forgetfulness was just the catalyst to bring my sins to light.
“It’s not her.” James snapped, looking about as disgusted as possible; he probably would have been warmer if Scorp had insinuated that he was dating a dementor. Thank you, James, for the wonderful boost to my already plummeting self-esteem. You always did know how to make a lady feel all warm and fuzzy inside (and mind out of the gutter you—I didn’t mean it like that …this time).
“Not that we’re not glad to see you Jo, but if you’re not here as James’s date, than why are you here?” God, could Rose be any more uncomfortable? Not that I blame her, if my day hadn’t already climbed the Mount Everest of awkwardness and planted it’s flag right at the tip, this would be a lot worse for me. After all Rose was the ex-best friend whose big mouth ruined my life. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything—really I’m not. If there’s one thing being a mother has taught me, it’s that kids will do almost anything to get out of trouble.
Scorp and Al shared a little look out the corner of their eyes, so small that if I hadn’t known the Slytherin bastards so well, I would have missed it. One look at James told me that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t think this was as coincidental as some would like us to believe and we had found our top suspects.
“I work here,” I said simply, watching Al’s face for any reaction. I wanted proof I could use when I went to trial for his murder. Or you know, when I have to try and get James off for it because, apparently, fratricide is frowned upon in the wizarding world. Who would have guessed, right?
“Oh…” he said. I had to admit, he played clueless well. Bloody Slytherin.
“Yeah ‘Oh.’” James said from the corner where he was watching all this, his arms crossed. He gave his brother a dark look that I found strangely reminiscent of the one Ginny used when she saw past whatever cock and bull story the boys were using that time. Al at least had the decency to look sheepish.
“You guys know each other?” Max asked motioning to Al and me. He was confused and a little hurt that I hadn’t said anything.
When I cut ties with James and the rest of them I was alone for a long time. I had my parents and my brother but until I met Max, there were precious few people who I could confide in, especially about things magic related. We got along like teenagers at a sleepover, sharing secrets and beauty tips and the like. All I had told him about Alex’s father was that he was a Hogwarts sweetheart with whom my relationship ended badly—which wasn’t a lie by far—but I had played it off like there wasn’t much more to the story than that.
I hope when I have to explain everything to him he’ll understand.
“Know her? She’s practically my sister!” Al said smiling. He could have been talking about the fact that he, Rose, Scorp, and I had been kind of like the new marauders, playing tricks and generally raising hell (not that we were ever caught, we always let James and his friends take the fall—what? Half of us were Slytherins, we had an excuse). But I knew he wasn’t.
The Potters had always thought James and I were a forgone conclusion even before we realized the true reasons behind our animosity. Mr. Potter had even said that we reminded him of Ron and Hermione before they managed to get together. I chose to see that as a compliment, even if they were constantly bickering about things at least one of them should be smart enough to just let go. But then again who am I to judge?
“No she’s not and she never will be.” James said harshly, his brow furrowed. His family stared at him with alternating expressions of shock and disgust. Hating me was one thing—hell, I deserved it—but not being at least civil to me in public was a whole different ball game. I just focused on not showing how much his words hurt me.
“This isn’t going to end well,” Hugo muttered, sensing the tension, before his sister smacked him on the arm a bit too harshly to be playful. Thank you Rose; I knew there was a reason I loved you.
“He’s right Al. It’s been a long time since we were friends.” It killed me to say that to him but I couldn’t help it. I had already promised myself that I would keep Alex away from James and his new lifestyle, and I could actually bring myself to do it, at least in theory, because I knew it was what was best for him. But I couldn’t say the same about the rest of the family…I couldn’t make the same justifications.
So I had to keep them away from me. I couldn’t afford to rekindle those friendships.
“Listen Max,” I said, turning to my boss who was still standing there in shock, “I hate to do this but I still have a few errands to run before tonight. Do you mind if I take off a little early?” My voice was carefully conversational and whatever hints of anxiety the Potters would pick up could easily be written off as being caused by the tension and not the fear that my ex would somehow find out that I had kind of ‘forgotten’ to tell him he had a son. Opps.
I knew Max would say yes, he already knew I had to pick up Alex from school before getting ready. Usually he would come here but there was too much going on tonight for a seven year old, besides my brother had been bugging me to let them have a boy’s day.
“No not at all. I’ll walk you out,” he said, taking my hand like a perfect gentleman and leading me down the hall towards the elevator. Shit. I had been hoping to avoid the inquisition but there was no way Max could have missed the tension pouring off of us.
Luckily for him, the office was on the thirtieth floor so the elevator ride was too long for me to just ignore him, no matter how hard I tried. Max waited for me to speak first and I was tempted to keep quiet, waiting him out but I knew he wouldn’t stand for it. Besides, Max could be a pit bull when I came to his friends or gossip about hot guys, and when you combine the two…
The elevator stopped two floors down and the doors opened.
“Sorry it’s full,” Max said rather rudely pushing the ‘close doors’ button. The posh elderly couple bristled in disgust and it wasn’t hard to guess what they thought we were doing (or at least it’s what I would think we were doing if I were them). He waited a moment for the elevator to start moving again before taking out his wand and doing a quick spell to prevent it from stopping until we hit the lobby.
“Max, you can’t mention Alex…not while they’re there,” I whispered, my eyes tracing the marbling in the floor. His cloths rustled as he shifted his weight in surprise. I guess this wasn’t what he was expecting me to say, but there was no point beating around the bush.
“Oaky, why?” he was both curious and cautious. Max wasn’t stupid; I could tell the pieces were beginning to fall into place in his head even if he didn’t realize it himself.
I raised my eyes to look at him, waiting for the truth to come—if I didn’t have to say it aloud than I wasn’t going to. Maybe there was some missing piece in my expression because his eyes widened in absolute shock and I couldn’t help but think that, with all the eyeliner he used, he looked a bit like an owl who dressed up like a raccoon for Halloween. It wasn’t hard to see the gears turning in his head; the tension between James and me, the timeline, my request.
“No way. Why didn’t you say anything! Damn it, Jo! If I had known I wouldn’t have sent you, publicity be damned.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. There was none of the fanboyish excitement that would stem from the knowledge that I banged the man who cosmo-witch voted the sexiest man alive three years in a row. Max actually seemed to appreciate just how screwed I was (metaphorically—stay with me here people).
“It’s just the whole damn situation is complicated.” I said, running my fingers through my hair in frustration before looking at him like I was the lost little girl I felt like.
He pulled me in close to him and stroked my hair as I rested my head against his chest. I can’t lie, it did feel nice to voice some of this—to finally say it all out loud and know he wasn’t going to judge me.
Damn. Maybe if he wasn’t strictly dickly and I was over my ass of an ex…
“I take it he doesn’t know,” he whispered into my ear as if he were discreetly telling me that the hem of my skirt got caught in my underwear when I went to the rest room or some other slightly embarrassing fact.
“Of course he doesn’t know!” Great, now I was full out sobbing. If today was this bad than at least tonight can’t get any worse, right?
“I won’t say anything, you know that, but you owe me the full story,” he said as the elevator finally stopped, taking his handkerchief—one of the old-fashioned cloth ones—out of his pocket and handing it to me to wipe my face with.
“Fair enough,” I said my voice still a little choked.
“One question though,” he said with a smirk as the elevator doors opened. “What was it like riding that broom?”
There’s the Bane I knew and loved.
“Good night Max,” I said with the barest hint of a laugh. I stepped between the doors but he had seen the kink in my armor and would not let it go.
The doors tried to close on me but I put a hand out stopping them, knowing Max wasn’t done. Max put his hands on his hips and gave an exaggerated sigh. “No really, keeping this under wraps means I’m going to have to send Viv on a whole bunch of bull shit errands today—you know how she is—and that means I’m out both my assistances right before the biggest event of my career. You got to give me something.”
“Alright,” I said deciding to humor him, “You know how most of James’s family has a whole bunch of freckles?”
“Yeah,” he said not quite sure where I was going with this.
“Well he has just as many…they’re just all on his ass.” I said with a smirk. He didn’t even have a chance to respond before I turned and walked out the doors. Let him make of that whatever he wanted.
“…and in PE we played soccer.” I tried to pay attention as Alex prattled on about his day while we walked down the sidewalk from his elementary school. I felt bad for only half listing to him, really I did, but there was just too much going on.
I could not get James’s face out of my mind; the look of shear disgust he gave me while I sat at the kitchen table cut me more than I would ever care to admit. He had changed a lot since I had seen him. his face had lost much of the baby fat I thought would never leave, his hair had grown out almost to his shoulders giving him a slightly harder edge, and all those quidditch practices hadn’t hurt his physique.
I don’t think it would have been so bad, though, if he had seemed like a completely different person. But just through that handful of moments I spent with him, I could tell that there were great veins of all the light that made James my James buried deep under all the darkness he had covered it in.
If you asked me what exactly made me think he was just buried and not completely changed, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps it was innocence in his eyes just before he realized that it was really me standing in the doorway, or maybe it was the soft way he asked how my life was, almost as if some part of him—some part he wouldn’t admit existed—still wanted what was best for me. I guess it didn’t matter either way; whatever it was had been enough. Everything I had spent so much time and effort trying to put behind me had just been pulled to the surface with a vengeance.
“Did you know that in England, soccer is called football?” Alex asked, looking up at me with those big gray eyes that were so like his father’s.
I gave him a wide smile and picked him up. Despite being a ‘big boy’ now, Alex always seemed content with being my little boy. He never complained when I tucked him in or kissed him even when other kids could see and I loved him all the more for it. I got lucky. I don’t know what I would have done if I got one of those crazy kids. I swear Molly Weasley is a saint—seven of them at once and two of them just like George? I’d be in Azkaban before the week was out.
“As a matter of fact I did,” I said, handing my purse to him to carry as I carried him (what? The kid’s getting a free ride out of this—it’s the least he can do).
“Then what do they call real football?” he said wrapping his arms around my neck and my purse gave a painful thump against my shoulder blades. I shifted his weight around a bit and quickly realized that soon I wouldn’t be able to carry him at all. He was growing up too fast.
“They call it American Football,” I said choosing not to correct him on the ‘real’ part. I wasn’t going to get into the European views of what exactly real football was because I knew that anything I said to Alex would get right back to Connor and I wasn’t up for a sports debate this week. Not that I know much about them to begin with, but that’s not the point.
“I bet that gets confusing sometimes,” he said thoughtfully resting his head on my shoulder and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Well it’s not really popular over there,” I admitted, resisting the urge to shrug.
His head shoot up in surprise and his eyes widened. “It’s not?”
“Nope.” I said, popping the p, “they have a game called rugby.”
“What’s that?” he asked, tilting his dark head to the side.
“It’s like our football but they don’t use as much padding.” I think. I’m not much of a sports fan but with Alex you really couldn’t just leave a question hanging. Not if you wanted any peace. Ever. Beside it’s not like he would know in if messed up on the details a bit.
“Oh.” he said and I knew he was done with the subject. “Mommy, are you oaky? You look sad.”
I sighed; Alex was far too perceptive for his age and far too curious. For those of you who don’t have kids, just trust me, it’s a bad combination.
“It’s nothing, little bird,” I said rubbing my nose against his. Alex pulled back so far it was hard to keep him balanced in my arms.
“Don’t lie mommy,” his voice hardened and his little face got serious.
“I don’t lie, not to you.” I didn’t—that was one thing I had promised myself before he was born; no matter how hard the truth was, that’s all he’d get from me. It was the same way I was raised. I mean there were some questions my parents wouldn’t be able to avoid, but it meant the world to me that they told me the truth instead of making up an easier lie.
Alex looked me in the eyes with such gravity that, had he not needed them for support, I knew he would have crossed his arms. “Santa. Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy.”
Touché. Those were the only lies I told him, but come on, how else was I supposed to keep him in line the few time he acted up? It worked too… one threat was all it took and he toed the line with all the dexterity of an expert trapeze artist. Too bad he found me putting together his Easter basket last year and kind of figured the rest out his self.
“Oaky, I don’t lie usually.” I corrected, “It’s just some grown up stuff.”
His little face fell. I didn’t often use that excuse but what else was I supposed to tell him now? That I was keeping him from meeting his daddy because his daddy hated me and had grown into a fucktard since we had been together? That his father was acting like more of a little boy than he was because I had hurt him—unthinkingly, unintentionally, but deeply? I think not.
“But if you don’t tell me, I can’t help you,” he said softly, his little face so serious someone could make a meme out of it and the internet would eat it up. Forget LOL cats. But, then again, maybe I’m slightly biased. Just slightly.
My sweet little man always wants to help. I swear he was such an old soul sometimes.
“Oh Alex, it’s a grown-up problem. It’s not something you can help me with.” I tried to keep the sadness out of my voice but I knew he could still pick up on it. He put his head back on my shoulder and I could see the edges of his eyebrows furrowing in concentration. He was debating with himself whether or not his curiosity was worth picking at old wounds.
“Well,” well, he said looking back up at me once he made up his mind, “maybe if we got a puppy you could talk to it and it could make you feel better instead.”
Slick. He had been on this whole puppy thing for a while now but I refused to let him. Our apartment was too small and I would wind up doing all the work. When he started begging me for a puppy, I did what all those parenting web sites said and compromised. He got a fish and depending on how well he did with that, then we would see about working our way up to mammals.
It was dead within the first few days and I’m still not sure if it’s because he forgot to feed the damn thing or because he poured a packet of Kool-Aid into his bowl so that the water would “taste better” for the fish. Either way, the fish was still dead and a dog’s body would be a lot harder to get rid of.
“Nice try kiddo, but no.”
I could tell he didn’t like my answer so I changed the subject before he could latch on the argument again. I had put my foot down and there would be no dog. Besides with my luck he would want to call the damn thing Sirius. “After the star, mommy, after the star!” No dear, after your daddy’s middle name. Yeah...uh… no, I don’t think so. Not happening.
"Are you ready to go to Uncle Connor’s while I get ready to go to the party?” At first he had wanted to go with me to the party, and it had taken a lot of convincing to get him to understand that he would not enjoy being at a grown up party. The truth was that had it been any other party I might have let him—Max wouldn’t have minded, hell he probably would have thanked me. Alex was amazingly well behaved. I could dress him up in a little tux and take him as my ‘date’ and he would have had all the guests wrapped around his fingers in minutes. But I think he would have the interest of these particular guests for an entirely different reason.
“Can you get ready and then take me to Uncle Connor’s. I want to see you in your pretty dress.” See what I mean?
I ruffled his hair playfully.
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