Chapter 10 : A Rock and a Hard Place
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JM: The same thing that always happened when things started to get better—the shit hit the fan.
I hadn’t expected to be able to fall asleep that night. There were just too many things bouncing around in my head for me to get any rest. The fight with James had been cathartic in some ways and yet in some ways I think I came out of that conversation with my emotions about a hundred times more fucked up than before.
It had taken eight years and a full body bind but I had finally gotten to tell my tale to the only person who mattered. It sucked that I had to go to such extremes to get the block head to listen. Every time I had allowed myself to fantasies about our reunion it was always him that asked to hear my reasons, as flimsy and stupid as they were. I had wanted know that I wasn’t the only one trying to mend this…well, as much as something like this could be mended.
When James refused to answer my letters, I promised myself that I wouldn’t say anything until he came to me for answers but I couldn’t do it. I thought I could just let him rant and vent but as I heard the lengths he went through to force himself to hate me, I couldn’t take it anymore. He had taken everything that had been good about our relationship and twisted it until in his mind I was no better than the evil queen in a child’s fairy tale.
He should have known better. He should have known me better and that’s why I snapped at him.
After he had heard my side of the story the red haze melted from his eyes and his long missing common sense was restored to him. I knew that’s all it would take.
I thought all the hatred had left him and perhaps it had but those last words cut into me sharper than any insult he could throw my way. Of all the things to say…and the worst part was that I knew he was being completely truthful—he wasn’t just saying it to hurt me.
If that were the case I wouldn’t be so haunted by the thought of what really could have been. It was so easy to picture what life would have been like had Rose never said anything. We both would have had careers and a life together with Alex (probably no little brothers or sisters—one kid, even one as sweet as Alex, was more than enough for me). James would teach him to ride a broom in the afternoons and I would help him with his homework as always. It wouldn’t have to be much but we would be together; he would have never known.
And that, whether or not I ever realized it, would have been nothing but a sword of Demakis hanging over our heads waiting to fall. Would our years of peace have been enough for him to forgive me sooner or would they have just given me more to lose when the truth came out?
I had to believe that it was the latter. I had to believe that no matter how fucked up my life was, it was the best outcome possible. If I didn’t the doubts would leak inside and destroy me from the inside out like rain on unvarnished wood.
Sometime during my musings, I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, the alarm clock was blaring in my ears with all the vengeance of a wakened newborn. My first instinct was to toss it out of the nearest window which is probably why it was currently placed on the other side of the room.
With all the enthusiasm and grace of a B-movie zombie I drug my tired ass out of bed to turn the damn thing off. The sight of the glowing green numbers woke me up faster than a red bull/cappuccino combo. If the damn thing hadn’t gone off, I would have written it off as my fault; yesterday was stressful enough to excuse my forgetful ness but there was only one reason it would go off four hours late.
I was more than pissed. It was only natural for kids to try and ditch school but when Alex rigged it so that I would miss work too, he was crossing a line and he knew better.
I hardened myself against whatever cuteness he was bound to employ to get out of this one and stalked down the hall to his bedroom. Knowing him, I would find him reading or watching TV as quietly as a mouse waiting for me to wake up.
But for once I was wrong. He was hanging half off the bed, covers twisted around his feet and his stuffed mutt dangling down near his face. I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t drag the kid out of bed when he looked this adorable (and this was probably the first time he actually got to sleep this week). The kid won this round. So that was like what? Alex’s cuteness 394 and my resolve 0. That sounded about right.
A floorboard creaked but I hadn’t moved. I drew my wand, alert and in full mamma bear mode as I quietly stalked towards the kitchen. When I started renting this place I put a whole bunch of charms and protections on it; only people I trusted could get in without doing major magic. Whoever was in my kitchen was either a powerful wizard (or witch) or family and I wasn’t going to take the chance that it wasn’t the latter.
Or both… I mean Ginny Potter was a legend in her own right and she technically fell into both of my ‘oaky’ categories. Apparently when a Potter boy said they were going to spill a secret they mean now. When did that happen? They used to be better at this whole keeping secrets thing but I guess eight years is enough to change anybody. Or maybe I had just asked them to keep too much.
“Good morning Mrs. P,” I said walking over to the coffee pot and pouring myself a generous cup. Hey, I may be a tea person at heart but I was an American and coffee gave a hell of a bigger kick than tea. Besides, Ginny had already mad a pot and there was no point wasting it.
I could feel a burning sensation on my back where her eyes were staring. That hurt Mrs. P. That really hurt.
See she had been the closest thing I ever had to a mother. Contrary to popular belief a gay couple doesn’t always have to have one butch person and one effeminate person. Neither of my dads were the kind of people to sit around watching soap operas as they ate their body weight in rocky road (at least usually), so I didn’t have a mother figure constantly in my life.
Growing up there had been plenty of women from their travel show who sort of adopted Connor and I as their own but none of them held the same place in my heart as Mrs. P. The people of the show were almost as transient in there nature as my dads were—every few seasons someone would get a better offer, want to settle down, or just get tired of being dragged across the world and quit, just to have someone take their place.
But Mrs. P? She had been there for me from first year when Al invited me home with him over Christmas break until my world crumbled at my feet at the end of seventh year. Even then she had been willing to hear my side before hating me but I didn’t tell her—I couldn’t—this was something James needed to hear first.
If what James had said was true and he had been ready to propose (something I couldn’t let my weary mind dwell on too much right now) then we really would have been family.
And that made the hard look she was giving me cut all the more.
“I’m not sure I could say that. It’s not every day you find out that you’re a grandmother.” I turned my head to look at the magazine she had tossed on the table, slightly afraid. I knew what I would find even before the words printed across the page had time to register.
Neither boy had spilled this particular bag of beans which only made the situation all the worse. I hadn’t intended for any of them to find out this way, but I guess I had been saying that a lot lately.
“If it makes you feel any better, James didn’t know until yesterday either,” I said thumbing through the article.
Oaky so maybe that wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, but sarcasm has always been my automatic defense. I just hope she knew that, besides, my mind somewhere else entirely. Somehow the writer had gotten ahold of almost everything: the abortion, Alex, and even the fact that James was ready to propose.
The whole thing made me out to be a selfish bitch that broke the heart of one of the wizarding world’s favorite sons. I had kind of expected that’s where all this would go when it hit print but what surprised me was how detailed the article was.
Some of the things mentioned weren’t things I easily talked about and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was James’s form of revenge. Could he be so petty as to spill the whole sorry tale to some reporter in the dead of night? I’d like to think not—that even if he would do that to me, he wouldn’t do that to Alex—but it had been a long time and like it or not I didn’t really know him anymore…at least not like I thought I did.
“No it really doesn’t.”
I knew what she wanted; her eyes said everything and despite the craziness of the situation, I couldn’t help but feel thankful that she was giving me an opportunity to say my piece before she started with the yelling and accusations. That was more than I could have said for her oldest.
I sighed and took a seat. If this was going where I was sure it was, I might as well make myself comfortable. “I swear I’ve explained this four different times over the last twenty four hours.”
“Well let’s go for five then shall we?” it wasn’t really an invitation.
It only took a few minutes to give her the cliff notes version which was kind of surprising given how freaking long it took me to pound it into her son’s head. But I guess that’s just because James can be a pig headed bastard sometimes.
She didn’t say anything for a long time after I finished and I couldn’t help but wonder who she thought was in the wrong but I didn’t ask. It wouldn’t be fair to her and the answer didn’t really matter. Besides I was completely terrified that she would say it was all my fault. I mean I knew that but to actually hear her say it would just suck a bit too much for me.
“Can I see him?”
My hesitation was so slight I don’t even think she noticed. Alex had such a bad case of insomnia that I always hated to wake him when he finally did get to sleep but in a situation like this there was really no way I could say no.
I nodded but before I could get up to wake him, a loud thump sounded from down the hall.
“Alex?” I called; pretty sure I knew what happened. It wasn’t rocket science: when a kid slept half out of bed, eventually gravity would win. Well at least I didn’t have to worry about waking him up.
“I’m oaky,” he called back groggily.
I smiled and watched Ginny out of the corner of my eye. She was judging me, I know she was (not that I’d be doing any different had the tables been turned), but I wasn’t going to put on some sort of Stafford mother act. She knew me and she knew the truth about mother hood. If she expected anything more or less that what I was, then that was her business.
Alex came padding down the hall in his star wars pajamas, one hand clutching that stuffed dog for dear life and the other trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.
“See mommy, this is why I don’t like to go to sleep,” he said, not noticing our guest as he yawned, “waking up is a pain in the butt.”
I couldn’t help but catch Ginny’s misty eyed expression on seeing him and I wanted to kick myself again. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? I had thought keeping him a secret was the best thing, honestly I did. But now I had to deal with just how short sided it all was. As much as I would like to tell myself differently, this wasn’t just between James and I. it never had been.
Alex stopped rubbing his eyes when he saw Ginny and studied her for a moment.
“You’re my dad and Mr. Al’s momma, aren’t you?” I was floored. How the hell does he come up with shit like this? And to top it all off he says it as nonchalant as if he were commenting on the weather.
I sighed. Alex had been doing this kind of thing more and more lately and I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was going on. don’t get me wrong, I love my son and think he’s perfect just the way he is, but it was time to admit what I have secretly known for a long time: he wasn’t normal and I didn’t know why.
“That would make you my grandmother, right?” His tone was as curious as always, but I got the feeling he wasn’t asking.
I’m not sure what Ginny was expecting when she came over here, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it. If it was, I don’t think she wouldn’t have had that look of numb shock plastered across her face.
“That’s cool. I haven’t had one of those before.” He said as he went into the kitchen to make his breakfast. I didn’t usually let him have junky stuff too often, but now wasn’t the time for him to show off his culinary skills. With a wave of my wand, the box of cereal appeared on the counter in front of him. Alex knew what it meant and pulled a clean bowl out of the dishwasher.
“Well I guess I’m not going to school today.” He said looking at the clock, “Why didn’t you wake me? Did you over sleep?”
“Yeah, but you already knew that.” I kept the accusation out of my voice but he was smart enough to read between the lines.
He looked at me, confused and I was too emotionally strung out not to want to hit him. As much as I loved him, sometimes I really hated how well he used his cuteness as a get out of jail free card and it wasn’t on accident. Even at seven he was just as manipulative as I was.
“Somebody set my alarm clock four hours late.” There was no question as to just who i thought that somebody was.
Alex didn’t even blush as he opened the fridge. “It might have been Uncle Connor. He was talking about how tired you look.”
Fuck. I couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. That had Connor written all over it…but the writing on the wall could just as easily have spelled ‘Alexander.’ I guess that’s what I get for having so many sneaky bastards in my family.
Now was not the best time for an inquisition so I let it go. There were still a lot of hard conversations I had to have this morning.
“Hey kid, why don’t you take your cereal and go watch TV for a while and let the grownups talk?” I said ruffling his already obviously unbrushed hair.
“Why do I always have to be out of the room when grownups talk?” he muttered.
“Because you’re not a grown up.” I didn’t have the time or the patients for anything more eloquent right now.
He paused as he got a spoon out of the drawer to give me an evil look. I had long ago discovered that ‘because I said so’ kind of answers never cut it with him. Alex would listen to me without hesitation if I could give him a real reason behind my words. Usually I saw that as a blessing; it meant I didn’t have to worry too much about him not being able to think for himself but sometimes I really didn’t want to explain myself to a seven year old.
I think he saw my unease because for once in his life he didn’t ask a single question as he poured his milk and sat on the sofa.
Ginny waited until we could hear the sounds of explosions coming from the television before turning on me and for just a moment I could see where James got the unforgiving stare I had seen so many times over the past couple days.
“You should have said something.” Her voice was tight and I knew she was trying—and not completely succeeding—to keep the anger out of her voice. Ginny was no fool, she had grown up with two versions of George and raised James, and even I noticed that the volume on the TV was just a couple notches too quiet for my son to actually be watching.
“Don’t, just don’t.” I was trying not to be disrespectful right now; I understood her point of view completely but the last few days had pushed me to my breaking point and beyond and right now I was too mentally and emotionally drained to deal with her judgment right now. I had kind of been counting on the few days of rest between now and Sunday before having to deal with James’s family hating me.
“The way I see it, Mrs. P, there is one big difference between the morals of your generation and mine. You grew up in the heart of a war; for you right and wrong, for the most part, depended on whether or not your actions would help Voldimort or the Order. But for my generation—for James and Al and I—the line is a lot more subtle. There is no great evil trying to take over, it’s just us living our lives.” That came out a lot ruder than I had intended but I was already on the defense—I wasn’t going to apologize…at least not just yet, but I could offer some measure of clarification.
“I did what I thought was best and maybe I was wrong. No, you know what, I’ll go ahead and say it. There was no maybe about it: I was wrong but there’s no point beating me over the head about. I can’t change the past.”
Maybe my hard-ass façade had slipped and she saw just how warn I was, or maybe she just didn’t know what to say after that because there was a full minute of silence before anyone said anything.
She sighed and a knot formed deep in my stomach. I readied myself for round two but thankfully she let it go. “Well, since it looks like Alex isn’t going to make it to school today, how would you feel about me taking him for the afternoon?”
“Can I?” Alex asked peering over the couch. Of course he would be eavesdropping. I rolled my eyes. They really didn’t have to gang up on me. I’m not heartless; I would have said yes even without getting it from both sides.
“Of course.” Really, what else could I say?
Max wasn’t surprised that I was late when I was finally to drag my ass into work sometime after what would have been my lunch break. Apparently he had gotten a call from my brother (so the kid was telling the truth. Who would have guessed?) informing him of the plan to get me to sleep in. You would think that as my boss Max would have objected, if only on principle but he didn’t. Hell, it had been his idea to unplug the kid’s alarm clock as well.
I should have been pissed at both of them for denying me the chance to get away from all the Potters that have shown up demanding answers. I mean by the time I left my apartment I was two shy of a hat trick (Harry was at work and I don’t think the news had gotten to Lilly just yet).
What did piss me off was the lack of warning regarding the circus that had sprung up around the office. Due to enchantments, none of the reporters could enter the office uninvited and because we shared the building with several muggle businesses, they couldn’t be obvious about why they were there.
That didn’t stop a virtual army of them from hanging out in the lobby in their not quite matching and out of date muggle cloths. The moment I entered the building they swarmed around me like the vultures they were forgetting or more likely not caring about the confusion of the muggles around them and I was glad that I had let Alex go with Ginny. This wasn’t the place for him right now.
I ignored them, careful not even to breathe abnormally, as I stepped into the elevator. But the moment the doors closed I was sure I was going to break down. In all the times I had imagined our reunion for better or worse I hadn’t really considered this—that the world would take such interest in something that wasn’t their business. I knew I would have to answer to James and his family but this?
It should have been obvious, though. I mean he is the David Beckham of the wizarding world, remember?
“Told you the circus was in town,” Max muttered not even looking up from his computer screen as I entered the large reception room that held the assistants’ work stations. I walked over to the large glass wall that divided his office from ours and leaned against the doorframe.
“You didn’t tell me it was this bad.”
He snorted and looked up at me, his dark eyes seeming to ask if I truly could be so naive. “And it’s only going to get worse.”
I shot him the evil eye as I crossed my arms over my chest. He really didn’t have to be so blunt but I couldn’t deny the truth of his words. This was a shit storm and I had been caught without an umbrella. There was nothing I could do to fix it; I just had to find some way not to make everything worse. But with the way my luck has been…well there was no point betting on that broom just yet.
Max saw my silence as an argument in and of itself. “What? You know they’re not going to go away till they get all the juicy tidbits.”
Warning bells were going off in my mind and a cold chill shot down my spine. I didn’t want to believe that it had been Max that leaked the story—and if I hadn’t been so emotionally tired I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility—but I couldn’t help but wonder.
“Just tell me it wasn’t you and I’ll believe you.” It was a desperate attempt to put my mind to ease and probably futile. I wouldn’t be able to tell if he was lying to me now. After all, if it was him than he had lied before and I hadn’t seen thought it.
“What wasn’t me?” He was genuinely confused but I think he had at least an idea of what I was really asking.
I plopped the paper Ginny had given me down on the desk and waited for him to see the headlines. There were a few beats of defining silence when I was terrified he would realize that the jig was up and confess to everything.
“Do you really think I could do something like this?” he whispered, slightly hurt.
I sat down in the seat across from him usually reserved for clients and sighed. “No, I really don’t. That’s why I would believe you. But you’re the only one besides James and I that knew half that shit.”
“It wasn’t me.”
There was no blame in his voice and I was glad. I couldn’t take him hating me right now on top of everything else.
That only left one person who could have said anything and that actually hurt more than the thought of Max betraying me but it less surprising. He did hate me after all.
“And I don’t think it was James either.” Max said finally looking up from the paper. That caught me completely off guard. Max didn’t know James and yet he sounded so sure that there was a different answer to all this.
“Why do you say that?”
“Come on Jo,” he said rolling his eyes, “if James was the source do you really think they would keep it under wraps, even if he asked them to? With a source that close it would lead credence to every drop of ink they wasted on this trash. Besides, I saw you two on the dance floor. He still loves you—even if it’s just the memories he has of you—and when you really love someone you could never start a smear campaign like this about them.”
As unimportant as it was at the moment, I couldn’t help but wonder if this little speech of his was completely about James and I or if his problems with his parents were bleeding into his words. I didn’t ask. Judging by the quick blow off he gave me the other night, I knew this was still far too raw a wound to dwell on so I changed the subject and hoped he didn’t notice what I was trying to do.
“I think you’re assuming way too much. He’s hated me for eight years and I don’t blame him.”
Max just shook his head and looked at me in a pitying way that made me feel like the one missing something. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to fight about this—not now, not when so much of my life was falling apart around me.
“You make it sound like love and hate are mutually exclusive,” he said with a little laugh. “If he didn’t still love you then he wouldn’t be hurting so much. He would have moved on.”
I looked up at him so ready to shoot holes in his sophistry. There was one giant problem with his logic.
“But I moved on and I still love him—I always will.”
I know it’s cliché, but it was true. James had been my first (and only as of yet) love and that wouldn’t go away just because I hadn’t had the luxury of spending my life wallowing in my pain.
Max knew me well enough to know what I was saying behind my pleasant tone. “Yeah, but you have something you love more that didn’t allow you to wallow and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that.
The rest of the day seemed to drag by with the horrible slowness of a passing cold. Neither of us would admit it, but we were both a little frightened of facing the horde downstairs; no matter what errand needed ran, Max and I would find some excuse to pass it along to Vivi, the only one of us who could slip in and out unnoticed. Besides, even if they surrounded her, I had made it a conscience effort to make sure she knew as little as possible.
As grateful as I was to have someone else wiling do run errands, Vivi wasn’t exactly on my list of confidants. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a sweet girl even if she was a bit of a slut but she had a mind for gossip and lose lips. Not the best combination right now.
The last thing I ever wanted was to turn Alex’s life into a circus. I know how bad it can be when a child is the center of media attention just because of who their parents are. Hell I was best friends with almost the entire Weasley/Potter clan growing up and even the most attention seeking among them (James) hated only being known for their family’s fame.
I was about ready to have a panic attack thinking about Alex having to get through the mob of blood thirsty assholes when Ginny brought him here. If I had known how bad it was I would have just told her to meet me at my place and forget about bringing him to work, but I didn’t know and she didn’t have a cellphone.
It wasn’t so much that I cared what they said about him or me—there were very few people in this world whose options mattered to me, and they, most certainly were not among that number…I just didn’t want Alex to have to deal with that particular brand of chaos. This mess was a product of my mistakes and had nothing to do with him. Oaky, it had everything to do with him but he had done nothing to be put in this situation.
I was so enthralled with wallowing in my own misery that I didn’t even notice when Ginny showed up, Alex in tow. Max’s phone rang. The way he looked at the display told me that it was probably unimportant but he excused himself and took the call in his office anyway, giving us some privacy and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to hug him or throw something at his head.
As much as a brave face as I tried to put on around these people, the truth was that I wasn’t ready to face them. Hell, I hadn’t even been ready to face James and I had a much better idea of how he would react to everything. But dad always said that life was like a freight train: it comes charging at you whether or not you’re caught in the tracks. The old man was right though. I couldn’t stop this shit from happening; all I could was try and hang in there and minimize the damage…try being the operative word.
I kneeled down to Alex’s level and used my fingers to brush his dark hair out of his eyes as he licked a giant multicolored lolly-pop.
“Did you have fun today, baby?”
“Yeah. Me and Nana Ginny stayed home and I taught her how to play video games. She was good. I mean she couldn’t beat the big bad yet but she only got killed once.” That caught me off guard. I was more than a little curious as to why they stayed in, after all I did have a land line and, had I known I could have asked her not to come. “I wanted to go to the park but she said the vultures were too bad for us to go out. I don’t understand mommy, I thought vultures only came around when something was going to die. No one’s going to die, are they?”
I shook my head, “She wasn’t talking about the birds. She was talking about the reporters that are staying outside our house.”
He tilted his head to the side and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Why would they be interested in us?”
I sighed. He always did ask the questions that were the hardest to answer. How was I supposed to explain why we were suddenly so interesting to a million people who didn’t know we existed two days ago? Hell, I didn’t really understand it myself.
“Because your dad just now found out you.” It was a simplified answer that left out so much but it wasn’t a lie and that was what was important. It was hard to get a lie past this kid so often I didn’t even bother. The best I could do is give and answer and hope he didn’t press the subject too much.
He gave an exaggerated eye roll. “But that happens all the time on TV and those people never get pecked to death by vultures.”
I almost laughed. Almost. He had a point and this seemed almost unreal; my life has become a lifetime original move. Had James not been so good on a broom we would have been left to our dysfunction in peace. Who am I kidding? James would have had to have been born with a completely different last name for that to happen.
“T.V.’s not real life, Kiddo. Why don’t you go play on my computer while I talk to your Nana Ginny,” I said raising up to face the woman in question. She gave me a little smile as Alex went over to my desk.
“Ginny, I am so sorry about all this if I had known—”
“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “I had to go through the same thing when I marred Harry. It’s kind of unavoidable sometimes when you’re part of this family.”
That thought hadn’t accrued to me, but she did have a point. No one in that family could escape the vultures without a diversion and an invisibility cloak. The way she was talking it was almost as if this were a rite of passage welcoming me into the family.
I was a little uneasy at that. I knew Al hadn’t been working alone in his plot and I couldn’t help but wonder if she had been in on it and what she thought of it now. Now she had to know just what a lost cause it was and if she didn’t I needed to correct that soon. This was going to be bad enough on Alex without giving him false hope that his mommy and daddy were going to get back together and give him a whole bunch of baby brothers and sisters or whatever else kids tended to think.
As much as she and who knows who else in her family would like to think otherwise, I knew the truth. The thing with James was bound to end horribly—that’s the only way it could, knowing us—and I didn’t want to disappoint her…again.
Max walked over shaking his head in disgust and exhaustion.
“We’ve got a problem,” he muttered and I knew he was serious.
“What’s up?” I didn’t bother keeping the concern out of my voice.
That one word was all he needed. Our friend had a bad habit of doing before she really thought things through and, given all that was going on it was pretty safe to say that now wasn’t the best time for her to pull her bull in a china shop impression.
“Oh god what did she do now?”
“Invited her aunt up to see where she works,” he said, deliberately keeping the frustration out of his voice.
“Doesn’t she know it’s not exactly the best time for that?” I sighed. It could be a lot worse. At least it was just her aunt and not a reporter or something. Annoying and over curious family I could handle but bringing a vulture here would be a different beast entirely.
“That’s what I told her but she’s already in the elevator. I don’t get what she’s doing with this.”
I understood what he meant. This job wasn’t exactly the most interesting to observe. You had to actually be doing it or experiencing the finished product to find it exciting. Hell, even then I still found it boring half the time. There really was nothing to see here so why was Viv trying to show it off?
“What do you want to bet that this has little to do with seeing the premises and a lot to do with seeing the side show?” I said, not even bothering to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. We all were thinking the same thing, there was no point sugar coating it.
“Oh mommy, you really shouldn’t take what Uncle Connor says seriously.” Alex said, craning his neck around the computer monitor. “You’re not a side show, not even once a month like he says.”
I briefly considered adding ‘kill Connor’ to my list of things to do but decided against it. Finding another babysitter who could pull off the same weird hours that my brother could would just be too much of a pain in the ass. Maybe after I figure out just how much of James’s family hated me…
Well that was an issue for another time.
“Well thanks for that,” I called over my shoulder, hoping the internet would suck Alex back in. he wouldn’t understand half of what was going on and right now I really didn’t want to have to deal with his questions right now.
“There’s no way to stop this, is there?” I said, turning to Max and hoping against all odds that he would have some brilliant plain that could save us all from her stupidity. But unfortunately Max had been beaten with the blunt stick a few too many times in his life to want to cushion the blows for someone else unless it was about something a lot bigger than this.
“Looks like it,” he sighed, casting furtive looks at the elevator doors, “I swear, that girl is a few broomsticks shy of a quidditch team.”
“I won’t disagree with you there,” my eyes following the same path as his across the room to where our ‘guest’ would arrive.
When the double doors opened I could tell my life had just gotten a lot more complicated but I wasn’t sure why.
A tall woman with beetle like glasses followed Viv into the room. She was well on in years, probably relying on poorly done cosmetic potions to keep the skin of her face from sagging and her bottle blond hair from graying. She was dressed as impeccably by wizarding standards in a set of bright green robes and volumes furs that would make any muggle stylist cringe. The way she walked spoke of one who automatically thought they owned the world and I immediately disliked her for it.
It was always those who thought they owned the world who felt they had to prove it by building their pedestal on the backs of others and I would be damned if I was going to be one of the poor smucks caught under her heel.
“Rita Skeeter,” Ginny hissed, “why am I not surprised to see you in the middle of all this?”
Well that explained a lot.
I had never been one to read the paper often but ‘Rita Skeeter’ was a by line no one could escape. She was a gossip columnist and biographer (that right there should be your first clue to how reliable she wasn’t) who practically owned the front page. Every time her name appeared in print the story was so sensationalized that there was no way it could be true. Even within the pages of her books she admitted to using nefarious methods to getting the ‘truth' out of those she interviewed.
“I go where the story is and boy is this one juicy.” There was a hatred in Ginny’s eyes that I had never seen before. If she could have gotten away with it, she would have transfigured the older woman into a bug and squished her on the spot.
“Aunt Rita?” Viv asked confused, but the lady ignored her. Poor Viv. As much as a slut as she was in the physical sense, she really was innocent when it came to the facts of life that had nothing to do with the birds and the bees.
“Choices, choices,” she said chewing on the tip of her quill. I reached into my back pocket for my wand. All it would take was just the tiniest bit of magic to have that thing blow up in her face, throwing ink everywhere. Unfortunately I knew better. Rita Skeeter was not a woman you wanted to overtly piss off.
“Do I wright about the harlot that broke the heart of the quidditch world’s darling or do I wright about James Potter the dead beat dad?”
“You leave my son alone,” Ginny hissed but it did no good.
Rita’s smile just widened and I could tell she took a sick form of pleasure at Ginny’s expression. “Or what?”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed. “Or I’ll expose just how much of a disgusting insect you really are.”
There was more behind her words but I didn’t know what and it wasn’t the time to ask.
“You won’t do that. If I go down I will expose just how much your sister-in-law knew. What story would do more damage, do you think, the one covering how your son couldn’t keep it in his pants or the one about the minister of magic leaving a felony unreported for over thirty years?”
Ginny’s face paled. Mutually assured destruction was a bitch and Rita knew it.
“Face it, I can write anything I want and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Aunt Rita, I thought you wanted to see where I worked.” Vivi was shocked at the words falling from her aunt’s lips and I couldn’t help but wonder just how close they really were. If they had seen each other more than once a decade, than I don’t think there was anyway even Viv could have been surprised at the rabid monkey hanging off her family tree.
“Vivian, you always were too naive for your own good.” The condescending tone made me feel for the girl. She actually thought her aunt cared.
Max snorted, leaning against the glass wall that divided his office from ours. His patents had worn too thin for him to cushion his words. “Your aunt used you to get close to a story. She doesn’t give a damn about where you work.” Max said.
Rita turned to Max, staring at him over that rim of her bejeweled glasses.
“You should be careful what you say to me. All it takes is one scalding article to make or break a business.”
Max knew that. Hell, he had practically pounded that simple truth into my head all last week.
“I’m not afraid of you.” He said, but I could tell he was lying. I only prayed Rita couldn’t see it as well. But with the way my luck had been going lately, maybe it would go better for him if I kept my prayers to myself.
“You should be given your deviance when it comes to your after-hours activities.”
A little smile tugged at the corners of Max’s lips. If that was the worst she could do… “It’s no secret that I’m about as straight as a cork screw, what of it?”
He should have just kept his mouth shut and let her think she had something to smear. The last thing he wanted was to give her a reason to get creative.
“But if the world were to know that your preferred partners are a little out of your age grope?” For a second no one really got what she was trying to say until her eyes darted over to where Alex was playing as if to suggest something.
I was numb from shock and I wasn’t the only one. I looked over at Alex instinctively; there was no way in hell Max would do something like that, but still I had to know how he would react. The way Alex narrowed his eyes at the bitch told me that the accusation hadn’t gone as far over his head as I had hoped and that he was just as shocked and angered by it as I was.
Even Viv could read between those lines.
“That’s not true!” She cried, looking at her aunt as if she had just been replaced by a stranger.
Rita turned to look at her and laughed. She enjoyed shattering Viv and why shouldn’t she? She took such pleasure in destroying everyone else, why should family be any different. “The only truth that matters is what I write.” She said harshly.
Vivi’s eyes widened.
I heard the gentle squeaking of the wheels as Alex pushed the chair back and walked over to us. Everything in me wanted to tell him to stay away but I knew he wouldn’t listen and even trying it would do as much good as pricking his finger in a shark pool.
Rita was enjoying her little pissing contest with Ginny that she didn’t notice Alex starring up at her. He just stood there waiting politely as if he didn’t want to interrupt, but once he caught on to the fact that Rita wasn’t the kind of person to really notice kids unless they were making trouble, he changed tactics.
I won’t deny that I enjoyed the little start Rita gave when Alex tugged gently on her sleeve, but I enjoyed what happened next a hell of a lot more.
“Ma’am,” he said using that tone—the one kids use when they were consciously wielding their cuteness as a weapon. “You have something on your face just here.” He handed her a Kleenex from my desk and pointing to a spot on his chin. But there was nothing there.
She took it and gave him a patronizing smile, stooping down to his level.
“Why thank you Alex.” I flinched at the slow and high pitched way she was talking; it was the kind of baby talk used only by people with no experience with kids and it was the one thing that actually pissed Alex off. If he hadn’t already been planning something, that alone would have been enough to put her directly in his crosshairs.
Alex was a good kid in every way, but at the core he was the product of both James and I. He got creative with his payback. Perhaps it made me a bad mom, but most of the time I couldn’t punish him for it—not when I would have done the exact same thing.
He kept his mask of innocence on for one full second before dropping it like it had never been.
“I think it’s a little bit of bullshit left over from all the lies you spewed.”
I shoved my knuckle into my mouth so hard to stifle my laugh; I was surprised I didn’t chip a tooth. The last thing I wanted was for my laughs to tell him that this kind of behavior was a good thing all the time…but I couldn’t deny the mirth I felt at seeing that two-faced bitches shocked expression.
She had gotten so use to her poisoned pen having all the power—too used to it being the stick she use to make sure everyone did as she wanted them—that the idea that someone would be willing to face it’s lash just for the opportunity to shit on her was completely unthinkable.
I was the only one who actually bothered to stifle their laughs. Ginny gave a nice little snort at Alex’s words and Max had to resort to holding onto the wall for support.
“You should learn to be respectful to your elders,” she hissed, trying to intimidate him but Alex just crossed his arms and raised a single eyebrow.
“Maybe when I see something I should respect…but that’s not you.” He leaned in so that he was invading her personal space before hissing his own warning. “Be careful Miss Skeeter, Karma’s a bitch.”
I wanted to hit Max when I saw him pantomiming clapping behind Rita’s back. As much as I loved seeing Skeeter getting her metaphorical ass handed to her by a seven year old, cussing was the one bad habit I was trying really hard to make sure Alex didn’t pick up. But, truth be told, had I not been the parent in the room, I would have actually been clapping—Rita still being in the room would only serve as a bonus.
She narrowed her eyes and I could tell that I wasn’t the only one in the room ready to hit someone. I tensed up, ready to kick her lying ass if she so much as sneezed in Alex’s general direction. My son was too smart not to notice the danger he was in, but he didn’t flinch.
Rita took a deep breath and stood up. “I’ve got everything I need.”
At any other time her cat-and-canary grin would have worried me—and even now it should have—but I was too busy celebrating Alex’s victory to realize that it may not have been as much of a victory as I though.
She turned on her heals and left without a word and although I wasn’t surprised, I was more than a little hurt to see Viv follow after her with nothing more than a single apologetic look back at us.
The moment the elevator doors closed, Alex turned to me and looked down at the floor, ashamed.
“I’m sorry mommy, for saying those bad words. I think I have enough money saved up to put in the curse jar.” I knew he was playing me like a fiddle, trying not to get in trouble but I didn’t care. He was still young enough that it was cute.
“Don’t worry about it kiddo,” I said ruffling his hair, “just don’t do it again.”
“Come on kid, let’s go get you some ice-cream or something.” Max said, holding out his hand.
While Alex’s head was turned, I pretended to strangle my best friend. Didn’t he see that I was trying to do the responsible thing—I mean, I know I’m not all that good at the disciplining aspect of being a parent but him (and my brother, and my parents…and just about everyone) undermining me at every turn didn’t help.
Max gave a crooked little grin and I knew he got my message. Knowing him, that was probably half the point.
Alex just shook his head at Max and I was surprised. Him turning down anything sweet was about as natural as James turning down a game of quidditch.
He turned to Ginny and revealed just how much of the conversation he had been listing to.
“What was that all about?” he asked her with wide eyed innocence, “Do you know something that would get her in trouble?”
I had been wondering the same thing, and I could tell that by the way Max pursed his lips at the question, he had been too.
Ginny sighed. “Rita Skeeter is an unregistered anaimgus—a beetle. Hermione found out in her fourth year and now…”
“And now she’s too far up the chain of command to tell.” I finished for her. It made perfect sense. How Rita was always able to get all those scoops and why she had a particular hard on for the Potters….not that that helped us any—there was nothing we could do.
Rita was right. As messed up as it was, James and I were going to have to bend over and take it because this shit storm was nothing compared to what would happen if Rita was exposed. If it got out that she was an insect in more ways than the metaphorical sense, she would have no reason to keep her from ‘slipping’ that her secret wasn’t as secret as she would have liked.
The whole situation had gone cold war: both sides knew that if they pushed the shiny red button, the other side had just enough time before the missile hit to send one back the other way. If one side got turned into a nuclear wasteland, they were taking the other down with them.
Mutually assured destruction was a bitch.
“We are so screwed.” Max muttered.
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