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Chapter 6 : If It's Not One Thing, It's A Brother
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But the wait is kind of a good thing. The next two chapters are huge. Chapter seven is 8,000 words and chapter eight (yes, that chapter eight—the one that answers all) is currently 7,000 and I haven’t even gotten to the really good stuff yet. If the last chapter hadn’t gotten stalled, I would have had postpone posting them so I can keep a couple chapters in reserve. Now It’s looking like I’m not going to have to do that, especially now that I have three days of nothing to do but write (finals and work are over but my family can’t come get me for a few days).
Also I’m planning to do some editing of the earlier chapters. Nothing major, just clearing up some typos, style issues, and a few continuity details (things that you may not notice, but I would since I know what’s going on). When it has a chapter image then you know it has been edited and i'm trying to put together a playlist for this fic, so if you have any ideas let me know.
Enjoy and be sure to drop me a line and let me know what you think about the little cliff hanger. Mawwww ha ha.
FW: Tell me Jo, if you weren’t planning on telling James at all, could you explain the circumstances under which he did find out?
JM: Albus found out first and I wasn’t going to ask him to try and keep something like that from James, even if he could.
The harsh florescent lighting was a stark contrast to the darkness outside but I didn’t as much as blink as I walked through the automatic doors that lead into the lobby. The hospital surprisingly packed for this time of night but I didn’t care. The only thing that mattered to me in that instant was my son.
Perhaps I was a bit overly hostile to the receptionist when I asked for directions to the pediatrics wing, but my nerves had been pushed well past their limits today and on top of it all, my son was in the hospital.
An irrational part of me was irked that Connor didn’t bring him to St. Gilas Hospital for Magical Mishaps but I knew there was no way he could have. He was muggle, I doubt he even knew where it was let alone how to get past all the spells that kept it hidden from the magically deprived but I knew they would be better able to handle whatever came up at St. Gilas.
What if the snake only seemed poisonous? What if it was really some magical creature or something? What if Alex was so scared that he did accidental magic and frightened the doctors so badly they couldn’t do their job and he died because they couldn’t treat him because of it?
I forced myself to take a deep breath as I flew up the stairs as quickly as I could in high heels. Working myself up before I even knew what was going on would not help me or Alex, nor is it going to keep me from killing my idiot of a brother. With a clear head I might just seriously maim him.
Connor sat in a hard plastic chair outside the door to my son’s room. He had his head in his hands waiting for me with all the apprehension and solemnness of a kid who had just gotten sent to the principal’s office. For once in his life my easy going brother looked scared. Scared of me. good, he should be.
“What happened?” I growled an inch from his face. Despite at least six inches of height difference, he seemed to shrink in on himself as he backed away a bit, but I took a step with him in tandem, never letting us lose distance.
To anyone else Connor could be intimidating—I mean really the guy was built like a linebacker—but I would always see him as the tiny kid who didn’t hit puberty until the last years of high Scholl and still got nervous during thunderstorms. Despite me going to school a continent away, Connor and I had always been close, so needless to say I trusted him perhaps more than anyone. I knew whatever had happened wasn’t his fault; but that didn’t mean I was going to let him off easily. He needed to feel bad about this; he needed to be mature, at least around my son. Connor was the closest thing Alex had to a father figure in his life. Correction—the closest thing I let him have.
Maybe I shouldn’t have had so much to drink at the party. I had already gone over this too many times in my head; James couldn’t know. But at the same time I couldn’t get the memory of the ghostlike visions of my James that had haunted me all through the dance—haunted me right up until the new James had to show his ass.
It didn’t help that things were going well just before that.
I hadn’t meant to hit him—oaky, maybe I had—but I couldn’t help it. This new creature with James’s face was torturing me just by existing. He was too much like my James for me not to care—for some part of me not to want to beg his forgiveness and do whatever he wanted me to so that we could try again, for us to go back to the way we were. But at the same time, there was too much of the new, cynical James for me to let myself. Too much of the pain had leaked inside.
I knew that I did this to him and that knowledge tore at everything inside me, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t entirely my fault. I meant what I said to him in the bathroom about how empty he had let his life become, about how much he couldn’t just let go of every dark emotion I left him with.
Perhaps that’s what hurt me the most. Knowing that he had let one mistake—a mistake he hadn’t even given me a chance to explain—define everything he had become.
“Johanna calm down,” Connor said, “The doc is just giving him a once over before they let him go home.”
I nodded, not bothering to answer, and opened the door.
“Jo you can’t just barge in there!” Connor said. I turned, knowing my face was more dangerous than it had been at any other time tonight. What the hell was his problem? What right did he have to tell me not to see my son? Did the doctors tell him not to interfere? He never should have left my son with those quacks.
“Listen here you son of a bitch, today has been one of the worst days in my life. Having to wear these pain in the ass shoes all day was one thing, and having to play nice with an asshole of an ex all day was another, but you being stupid enough to let my kid get bitten by a snake was a whole new level of stupid even for you,” I hissed putting my finger in his face.
I wasn’t even trying to hide the frazzled state I was in right now.
Connor knew better than to show fear again…that I would latch on like a dog and never let go. He could see that whatever problem I had ran deeper than just my worrying about Alex—that was just at the forefront—and that I needed to vent even if he didn’t understand what about.
He let me go on for a few moments before he got tired of my little hissy fit before gripping my finger gently but firmly. “First off Jo, you can’t insult my parentage like that. We’re siblings and—“
“And we’re both adopted. I can call your mother whatever the hell I want to.” I snapped, not caring that he was trying to make a joke. I wasn’t in the mood for his half assed attempts to cheer me up.
“Secondly,” he said, ignoring my interruption as if he hadn’t even heard, “I only went back into the house for a second; it’s not my fault he managed to find a garden snake to play with while I was gone.”
“I told you to watch him! That’s your job. Anything bad that happens IS your fault whether you were there or not!” I knew I was being irrational—after all I had lost sight of him plenty of times before; I’m sure Connor remembers that one time Alex managed to lock himself in the trunk of my dad’s car when he was four—but I figured between the stress of today and the booze, I had a decent excuse.
“Damn it Jo! Alex is a kid, not a doll. I thought you knew that. Accidents are bound to happen sometimes.” Yep, he remembered. “Remember the time you dared me to jump out of the tree and onto the trampoline and I managed to give myself a concussion? I turned out fine and Alex is a hundred times smarter than I was at that age.” Maybe that wasn’t the best example for him to use.
“That’s not saying much,” I muttered. Connor cracked a smile and leans in to hug me but stops short. He grabs my shoulders in both hands and looks me square in the eye with the same piercing look dad gets when one of us is about to get into trouble.
“Are you drunk?” His voice had a hard edge and I wasn’t quite drunk enough to forget to prepare myself for a scolding I really didn’t have the patens to sit through right now.
“Thoroughly,” I said. Why lie? It’s not like my big brother wouldn’t be able to see through my bull shit. “That’s the only way I could get through tonight.”
For the first time Connor really thought about everything I had said while I was ranting at him. His voice was quiet but sure, “You said something about an ex?”
I nodded, knowing he had put together everything.
It was almost comical to see how quickly all the steel melted out of Connor’s face and his eyes filled with sympathy without even a bit of pity. I was grateful for that. It would suck to have to hit him too.
I didn’t even try to resist as he hugged me. It was amazing how much I needed that one instance of comfort. So much had happened today—so much I really couldn’t talk to anyone about—that all the dangerous mix of emotions just had to be bottled up.
“Does he know?” he whispered into my hair, stroking the back of my head.
I buried my head deeper into his shoulder and shook my head. He said nothing and just held me like that for a few moments, no comments and no judgment. I needed this, I really did. I was going to have to remind myself to start talking to Connor more often. For a jock he could be surprisingly sensitive.
After a moment I let him go and turned to enter Alex’s room. A horrible foreboding sense gripped me when I saw what was happening beyond the open door (a door I swear had been closed when I had first gotten here).
Alex sat on the edge of the bed whit his feet dangling off the edge. He hadn’t even gotten under the covers. That wasn’t what caught my attention. What my eyes immediately focused on was the figure sitting beside him on the bed talking to him as if they were old friends. Al.
I stared in shock. I hadn’t realized that Al had stayed. It was stupid, but I had just assumed he would drop me off and go back to the party; I guess I was too focused on the crisis at hand (and being rather drunk probably hadn’t helped) to notice Al following me. Or maybe he had the cloak or something. However the sneaky bustard did it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that now he knew about Alex which meant soon James would too.
“Is that the ex?” Connor asked quietly, watching the two on the bed and thinking roughly the same thing as I was.
“His brother,” I said simply. It’s not like it made much difference. No secrets in that family, remember?
“Yep.” I said, before taking a deep breath and deciding to fight this head on. This problem wasn’t going to just go away, so why draw it out any more than absolutely necessary?
“Alex! What have I told you about talking to strangers?” I said in my best mommy voice. That was something I really needed to break him of before he winds up on the back of a milk carton or something.
He rolled his eyes and replied as if it were the most obvious thing, “But Mommy, everyone’s a stranger until you talk to them.” As much as he had a point that wasn’t something I wanted to tell my over trusting seven year old.
“Geeze Jo, it’s not like I was going to offer him any candy or anything dangerous like that,” he said causally but I could see beyond the mask. He was scared, conflicted, and just a tad bit guilty like when he did a prank and things accidentally went too jar. He had figured out the truth—the undeniable truth about my beautiful baby boy—and there was nothing I could do about it.
There was a war inside of him. would he agree to keep it a secret if I asked? I’ll make it easy for him; there was no way to keep it from James. I couldn’t ask that of Al, even if it was something he could do.
“See Mommy, he’s not a stranger, he knew your name.”
“Come on kiddo, let’s get you home. I don’t like the idea of all these muggles pumping you full of medicines I don’t understand,” I said rumpling his hair. The paper crinkled as he hopped off the bed and took my hand.
“Oh Mommy,” he said like I had just said the funniest thing, “it was just one shot and the doctor said it was just in case.”
“You’re still in no condition to apperate home, Jo,” Al said, thankfully not mentioning my inebriated state in front of my son, “Why don’t you let me take you both back to your apartment.” There was a hard edge that gave me little room to argue. I knew what he was trying to say. He was telling me that we had to talk. Badly. No shit Sherlock. And I always thought Albus was the smarter of the Potter brothers.
“My car has plenty of space. I can get her back safely,” Connor said looking at me, letting me know I had an out if I wanted to take it but this was inevitable. Might as well get it over with, but I did appreciate the big idiot’s offer.
“Connor you live in the completely opposite direction. It will only take Al a few moments to pop us back there,” I tried and failed to keep the apprehension out of my voice. Connor’s eyes furrowed but thankfully he didn’t protest.
“What do you think kiddo?” I asked looking down at my son.
His face lit up. “It’s always fun to go puff.” Weird kid was one of the only people I had ever met who actually enjoyed apperation. He seemed to think of it as a bit like being on a roller-coaster, but I guess there were worse ways for a kid to get their fix of danger.
“I’m sorry Mistier, but I forgot your name.” he said looking up sheepishly at Al.
“I’m Al, I’m your—“ he looked strangely, almost as if he were asking permission and I couldn’t help but feel grateful that he just didn’t blurt out the truth. At least how my son found out was still under my control. I mean sure the whole situation is about to blow up in my face but having that one nugget of control was amazingly good for my nerves.
“He’s your uncle.” Perhaps that wasn’t the most tactful way to let the cat out of the bag but I still thought it impressive given how worn my mind was at the time.
Alex looked up and studied us for a moment. His brow furrowed in an unconscious mimicking of the way James so often did.
“Real uncle or ornery uncle?” he said with a note of guarded confusion and I almost laughed at the irony. Al wasn’t the ornery one in that family.
“You mean Honorary,” I corrected, not looking at Al. Despite Connor being my only sibling, Alex tended to have a lot of ‘uncles.’ He was just one of those kinds of kids who had the whole world wrapped around his fingers and didn’t even know it. The whole crew of my parents travel show loved him and I know for a fact Connor has used him to pick up girls on at least one occasion.
“Yeah. That.” He said, unperturbed.
“Real.” Again why lie? He was going to find out soon or a later.
Alex looked from me to Connor then from Connor to Albus, confusion written on his face. After a moment he looked back to me.
“Oh.” He said, with a little nod but didn’t ask any more questions. I had to wonder if he had put together the pieces or something but I wasn’t going to poke that beehive. With my son one question usually meant a lot more and I wasn’t up for his Q&A right now. Not when I knew Al’s inescapable little version of the inquisition was right around the corner.
FW: Are you saying that you allowed my clients brother to do your dirty work for you?
JM: I’m saying that there are some events in life that are inevitable. After Al found out, there was no way he would not tell James, and honestly it probably worked out best this way. I had tried to tell James when I was pregnant but he wouldn’t listen. I figured that maybe if the truth came from someone else it would at least give me a chance to explain myself.
“Just let me put him to bed and I’ll make some tea before we talk.” And give Alex enough time to get to sleep but I wasn’t going to say that with him present.
Al nodded and sat down at the kitchen table. The weary look in his eyes told me he was thankful for the chance to get his thoughts together. Not that I blamed him. This was too much for me and I knew the whole damn story.
I grabbed Alex’s hand and walked him down the hall straight to his room. He can grab a shower in the morning. He didn’t say a word as I pulled out a set of clean pajamas and handed them to him so he could get dressed while I pulled down his star wars themed sheets and picked a book off the shelf to read to him.
“Mommy you don’t have to read me a story tonight. You look tired.” He said as he pulled the t-shirt over his head.
I turned to look at him, this time it was my turn to be a little confused. Despite him already knowing how to read, this was one thing neither of us was willing to give up just yet. Besides he thinks I do cool voices.
“You sure baby?” I asked.
He nodded and hopped into bed. “Yeah. The medicine is making me too tired to listen anyways.”
See this is why I don’t like the muggle stuff—too many side effects. At least with potions you know they’ll do exactly what they’re supposed to, assuming of course that the brewer is competent.
“Besides,” he said with a little smirk, “It’s rude to keep a guest waiting.” Cheeky little basturd. It’s pretty bad when even your kid is working in tandem with fates twisted since of humor. I really can’t catch a break today, can I?
I just gave him a little smile as I walked out the room but the moment I was far enough away from his door that he couldn’t see me, I collapsed against the wall. I sat there with my head in my hand, my forehead resting against my knees.
I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want Al to hate me any more than I wanted James to. My world was about to shatter into a million pieces all because I wasn’t given the opportunity to explain myself right when everything exploded in my face the first time. I was still paying for a mistake I made as a stupid child and I would keep paying for it as long as James held onto his hatred for me.
Taking a deep breath I stood up back striate and walked into the kitchen, determined not to lose it—not to show how much all this was killing me on the inside. I wouldn’t give James that. When Al told James about this, I won’t be seen as weak. Al would use the evidence in my defense but there was no fucking way James could not latch onto whatever kink in my armor he could find.
“Earl Gray alright with you?” I asked, putting water in the kettle and pointing my wand at it.
“Perhaps Chamomile would be a better choice given the circumstances.” I couldn’t disagree and he was in luck. I always kept some handy for when Alex can’t sleep; he was too young for sleep potions and the soothing effects of the tea seem to help him a bit.
“How did you do it?” I asked, sitting back down with the kettle and two china cups in hand.
“Do what?” he asked genuinely confused. I guess he thought he was the only one here with questions.
“Find me. There are too many coincidences for to really be a coincidence. Your family doesn’t throw parties like that and we’re not near well enough to land that big of a gig on merit alone.” I took a big sip and raised an eyebrow, daring him to deny it.
“Don’t sell yourself short. I thought it was lovely,” he said with a laugh and for a moment—just a moment—we were back at Hogwarts conspiring to some prank or the other. I appreciated his attempt at humor. Right now I needed it.
“Albus,” I said in the same tone I took with Alex when he was trying to get around telling me the truth. He sighed and started to swirl his tea around in his cup.
“Astoria Malfoy got a visit from some old friends of hers a few weeks ago. They were showing off some newspaper clippings of an event their son Maxwell had arranged and Scorp saw them when he went over to the manor for some reason. Guess who was right there in the picture beside him?” Do I get three tries, AL? I didn’t have to guess; I knew.
“So you just decided to play match maker?”
“He’s not doing well, Jo, and I kind of figured that you guys could give it another shot,” I gave him an incredulous look and he continued, “or at least he could have some closure.”
“And you didn’t know?” I said motioning down the hall to where my son slept.
“How could I?” he said incredulously. “More importantly, how could you? You didn’t even tell him?” I couldn’t tell if the last part was a question or an accusation or both.
“With the way things ended, how could I?”
“How could you not?”
“I tried so many times but he wouldn’t listen. I wrote him letters every day telling him that I needed to talk to him but I didn’t hear anything back, not for months. The howler made it clear he didn’t want to talk to me and I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him this by a letter,” I said, watching a beetle craw across the potted plant that served as my centerpiece, desperately trying to ignore the way my voice cracked at the end.
“What you did hurt him,” he whispered, just as tired as I felt.
“You think it didn’t hurt me?” My voice was sharper than it needed to be but I was tired of the Potters—the younger ones especially—judging me before they even heard my side and Al should know better. He had known me too long to think I didn’t have a reason. “Some things are easy to do but hard to live with.”
“Actually I think he was more hurt about the fact that you didn’t tell him,” he said into his cup.
“Then he’s really going to love me now isn’t he?” I gave a bitter chuckle before sighing, “Your brother was always a better person than I was—at least then. I knew what he was going to say and I just didn’t want to hear it.”
I was really hoping Al would drop the subject. It wasn’t Al’s place to ask me for answers I would not give, not until James asked for them himself.
“Were you going to tell him at all?” His green eyes bore into mine and I knew the answer he was begging for. Too bad it wasn’t the one he was going to get. Al wanted to think the best of me—he wanted me to say that I was going to wait until I could have a privet moment with his brother after the party—but I wasn’t in the habit of lying when it would get me nothing, when it would be as transparent as glass.
“Eventually maybe,” I said, “but when I saw how he lives now, I couldn’t… I just… It’s one thing for me to get my heart broken but I was not going to let that happen to my son if I can help it.”
Now it was my turn to silently beg for the answers I wanted. I wanted Al to tell me that his brother wasn’t really like that, that the way I found James this morning was a onetime thing—a fluke—but I knew better. Al wouldn’t lie to me anymore than I would lie to him.
He was silent for a moment and what little bit of hope I had within me died. Albus could not tell me what I wanted to hear and even though I knew that was the case, it still hurt.
“You can’t ask me to keep this from him,” he said, his eyes wide looking like the lost little boy I knew he felt and the knife twisted within my heart.
The funny thing was that this was the first time I had really realized that this wasn’t just about James and I. By keeping Alex from his father, I had been keeping him from the rest of the Potters and Weasleys. I mean sure I thought about it—I had even taken it into account when making my decision—but it had always been an abstract thing. Now I was seeing it through Al’s eyes and I only hated myself more.
“I wasn’t going to,” I said, too tired to be offended that he thought me capable of doing dome thing like that. My voice unconsciously dropped to a whisper, “Just let me be the one to say the words. Let me be the one to explain myself if he’ll let me.”
I was being vague but I think he understood what I was trying to say anyway. Let me be the one to tell him about Alex. Let me be the one to correct my mistake. Even if he had to tell James everything, I wanted to be the one to say “He’s your son.”
Albus nodded and ran his hand through his hair which only made him look more emotionally exhausted.
“Listen Jo, I’m going to go. You and I are both too tired to make a rational decision about this tonight…well deal with this tomorrow.”
He got up to leave and I knew he was just giving an excuse but I didn’t call him out on it. I couldn’t, not when all this was entirely my fault.
“Albus?” I asked my voice far more vulnerable than I ever intended it to be. He turned around to face me but I couldn’t look at him.
“I’m sorry, this is all my fault…”I couldn’t hold back that sobs anymore which really sucked because if I had just been able to hold out another three minutes I wouldn’t have looked so pathetic in front of my once best friend. “I...I…I just didn’t want him to hate me. He would have stayed if he knew but he would have thought it was all some kind of ploy to keep us together and…and…” I couldn’t continue through the sobs. It was like everything that had been building up since the day I realized that James and I really weren’t going to be able to fix this came bubbling to the surface.
“Oh Jo,” he said wrapping his arms around me and burring my face against his shoulder. “It’s oaky, it will all be oaky.”
I cried harder. What is it with me and not realizing how much I have fucked shit up until after it was too late? How had I been able to just cut Al out of my life like that? He had been my brother almost as much as Connor had. We had been friends for how many years and I had just thrown that away like it was nothing? What the hell is wrong with me?
“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up,” he said guiding me to the bathroom. Part of my wanted to protest as he grabbed and cold wash cloth and started to wipe the copious amount of makeup off my face, but another part of me (not necessarily the bigger part—just the ore dominant at the moment) was enjoying being the one getting taken care of instead of the other way around.
Next we went to my bedroom where he sat me down on the bed and began to gently pull the pins out of my hair. A single trundle fell in my face and he gave it a playful little tug before brushing it back behind my ear. The brush pulled gently through my hair and when he was done he placed one finger under my chin and raised my head until I was looking directly into his bright green eyes.
“You’re going to have to get dressed on your own but I promise I won’t look.” He put his other hand over his eyes and then splayed his fingers so that he could see through the huge gaps. I laughed at him but it came out more as a very attractive kind of gurgle.
“Sleep tight, Jo,” he said tucking me in and kissing my forehead before seeing himself out.
I lied awake staring at my celling too exhausted to sleep and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. To sleep would mean tomorrow would come sooner; tomorrow would bring James or Harry or Ginny or someone else I used to call my family and I wasn’t ready for that. I would never be ready for that.
“Mommy?” Alex asked quietly form the doorway. “Can I sleep with you?” he asked his voice small and a little unsure. Damn snake probably gave him nightmares.
“Did you have a bad dream?” I was so tired every word was on autopilot and barely registered in my mind even as I said them. And no that does not make me a bad mom so back off.
“No. You just seemed sad and I didn’t have a teddy bear big enough for you so I thought I could be your teddy bear tonight.” My heart melted, such a sweet little boy and he wasn’t even trying to get candy. Honestly sometimes I wondered how a kid like him could come from such an asshat like James.
Maybe my entire relationship with James had really been someone else under the influence of pollyjuice potion. The thought stopped me could and I had to go through the checklist I had seen on one of those old WWII pamphlets (Wizarding War II guys, not World War; keep up. Only one of us can afford to be off their mental game right now). Never seen him take a drink of a strange substance, he never tripped up over things the “real” James would know; and even his family seemed to accept him as who he should be.
Unless his entire family had been replaced.
So apparently being drunk and exhausted was not a good combination for my already subpar reasoning skills.
“Come on,” I said raising the other edge of the cover and allowing Alex to slide in next to me in the queen bed. I wrapped my arm around his waist and pulled him in close.
I was almost asleep before he said anything again. Of course.
“Mommy, would you love me no matter what?” he asked not turning away from the darkness to face me.
“Of course baby, no matter what.” Again with the robo-mom answer. Nothing registered beyond the delightful sight of the backside of my eyelids.
“Even if I was different?” Alex said. That caught my attention. My eyes snapped open and I could feel him twisting to face me even if I could see nothing in the darkness.
“If you’re trying to tell me you like boys like your Uncle Max…” Honestly that would be the least stressful incident of the day.
“No mommy, not that kind of different. A different kind of different.” Well that cleared that up. My mind was too far gone to really consider what the hell he was trying to say.
“Un-huh.” I muttered before slipping into the sand man’s waiting arms.
“I’ll hold you to it.” A little voice said so softly I was sure it was just part of a dream.
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