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Those People by Faux Pax
Chapter 11 : Hard Truths and Accusations
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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 ~~~



FW: When the details of your conversation hit the press so soon after you and Miss Marsden had said discussion, what happened?

JP: She blamed me for the leak.

FW: And you?

JP: I blamed her.

FW: Did both of you making the same mistake make it easier to move on from that particular problem? What I mean is, did they cancel each other out?

JP: In the long run? Not as much as you would think.

~~~

Even I was surprised at how quickly I had taken Jo’s words to heart. it would be so easy to say that I was doing all this for Alex—that he was the only reason I was so egger to wipe the slate clean—but that wasn’t true. I loved the kid, despite barely knowing him, but he wasn’t the only reason I played along. Maybe I had just needed one good reason to let go of all that hate or maybe deep down I had been so desperate for a small glimmer of hope that I let my guard down dangerously fast.

Perhaps that was why the headlines only served to rip my heart out all over again. I wasn’t stupid; I knew this would hit the papers sooner rather than later. That was just an undeniable part of my life and it always would be.

The real betrayal came when I saw the actually article. Most of the details were things only my family knew and none of them would betray me like that. Even if someone (probably Molly) had a motive they wouldn’t want to face the eventual backlash. Nothing can make you feel worse than when the entire family sets themselves against you.

But some details—particularly the one about me being ready to propose—were things only Jo and I knew.  She had to be the one to talk, and given how quick this all hit the newsstands, she must have sent an owl off as soon as the door shut behind me.

Jo’s continuous betrayals wouldn’t hurt near as bad if she just accepted the fact that she was the bad guy in all this and stopped convincing herself that what she was doing could possibly be right. She had always made me believe; that hadn’t changed. All she had to do was tell her side of the story and I believed her. Always.

I wondered if that was some sort of a game to her. How many times could she shatter me before I retaliated? Didn’t she know that I could never hurt her no matter how much I wanted to? No matter how much she deserved it?

As bad as it sounded, I knew that had that situation have been just a little bit different I would have done nothing. As much as I wanted to hurt her and as much as I hated her, I could never do anything more vindictive than speaking a slew of harsh and cutting words directly to her face.

Things were different now though. We couldn’t wage war like this anymore because now Alex was poised right in the middle—the perfect position for collateral damage—and I couldn’t let that happen. If Jo was so desperate to hurt me than she was welcomed to try but Alex wasn’t going to get caught in the middle of this.

And that is why I found myself standing in Freddie’s office in the middle of the day. I hadn’t even bothered to change out of my quidditch robes and I probably could have used a scrungafy spell or two, but this was too much of an emergency.

Had it not been for my own burning anger I would have been uncomfortable. The way my cousin was staring at me reminded me a bit too much of McGonagall every time I had gotten sent to the headmistresses office. 

“I get that you’re trying to get back at Jo and I completely agree that she deserves it, but this is not the way to do it, James.”

He made it sound like this was some sort of bid for revenge and it wasn’t, not at all. It bothered me that he couldn’t see my side of all this—and maybe if I had been just a little bit smarter that would have been my first clue.

“This isn’t about her… It’s about him. She’s not the Jo we all used to know and I don’t want him around someone as twisted as she is now.”

I could tell by the way Freddie was staring at me, that he didn’t believe me.  I couldn’t tell if it was because he doubted that she had changed that much or if he was convinced that I would use Alex as a way to get back at her.

I hoped it was the former. He was family and should have known that I wasn’t like her. Hell, I had only known I was a parent for a few days and already understood that he wasn’t a bargaining chip or an angle to manipulate people around. I couldn’t say the same for her—not after all this. And that was all the more reason to get him away from her.

Freddie sighed and rested his head in his hands.

“And how would that help you?” he said carefully as if he were trying to tiptoe past a sleeping dragoon. “As much as you might hate it, that’s the kid’s mother. She has raised him all his life. If you try and take him from her then he’ll only hate you and besides you won’t win. The mother almost always gets custody in these kinds of cases.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. This wasn’t about me or about her, and he should know that.

“I want him safe.” I tried to make it clear that the matter was closed but Freddie just snorted before turning his attention to a pile of paperwork on his desk. “Are you sure that’s what this is about? You might want to really look at your reasoning again.”

I turned around to look at him sharply but he didn’t even bother to look up from his paperwork. He just continued on with his paperwork as if this was as unimportant to him as his work was to me.

“You think I’m trying to use Alex to get back at her?” I said incredulously.

“You probably don’t realize it, but yeah, that’s what I think.” There was a hard note to the end of his sentence that made me think his patience was running out with me. I don’t get why he was getting frustrated in the first place, it wasn’t like I was asking him to perform the fedilious charm or anything particularly difficult.

I was livid. People had taken the opportunity at every turn to tell me what they thought of the news—people I had never met and often had never cared to meet had gone out of their way to tell me what they thought of the situation. Most strangers were convinced (as I was) that there was something fundamentally wrong with Jo and that if there was any justice in the world he would be as least like her as possible.

But those who had known Jo and I when we were together were convinced that we were both being children about this—me especially —and that pissed me off more than anything. They knew what kind of person Jo was, so why couldn’t they see just how much more rotten she had gotten? My brother, sister, and most of the cousins seemed to think there was some kind of alternate explanation to all this but they were blinded by the mask of decency she had worn during school.

“You don’t know a damn thing.” I hissed, tired of his sanctimonious bull shit. he was either going to file the paperwork or not and the sooner he stopped jerking me around, the sooner I could find someone else to take the case, if that’s what it all came down to.  

He threw his hands up in defeat and sighed.

“It’s going to take a couple months. Because there are so few of them, the court only sees custody cases twice a year and because it’s an international case it’s only going to be that much uglier.” I ignored his tone—the one that said he knew he was dealing with an idiot but didn’t have much choice in the matter.

“There’s nothing we can do to speed it up?” I asked.

“Not unless you can prove that he’s in life-threating danger,’ he said, leaning back in his chair and looking at me as if he already knew what I was going to say. “And no matter how much you say Jo has changed, I doubt she has changed enough to let that be an issue.”

“You don’t know her now.” My eyes narrowed at him. Freddie was family, but he had been several years above us. He didn’t really know her past the connection she had to Al and I.

“And do you?” he said, halfway incredulous. “You haven’t seen or spoken to her for years and during that entre time all you have done is hate her. You think maybe, just maybe, you are being unreasonable. There might be another explanation.”

I didn’t want to hear his shit. Freddie didn’t know what he was talking about and the fact that he thought he did just pissed me off. He was supposed to be on my side right now and all he was doing was trying to protect her feelings.

“Just file the paperwork Freddie.” I snapped and he narrowed his eyes like he hated me.

 “One of these days James,” he breathed, standing up out of his seat and staring me right in the face for the first time since the argument started, “You are going to do something stupid and we won’t be able to get you of the consequences. There will be no one to bribe or blackmail, no favors to call in, and no strings left to pull. There will be a day when you have to see things through—no matter what, and on that day I hope you’re ready to face your stupidity on your own.”

It was my turn to narrow my eyes at him. he made it sound like our family was some sort of—what did the muggles call them­—mafia.as if I had used them as some sort of foothold into the world. How ridiculous. He knew better. I had worked my ass off to make sure everything I got had been for my talents not my name.

“What the hell are you talking about? I have never used the family like that!” I shouted, slamming my fist down on his desk. Frankie just snorted and shook his head, like I was a naive and petulant child he was forced to babysit.

“Are you that blind?” he asked with a disbelieving little laugh, “Do you really think we haven’t done those things to help you? That sixteen year old girl you were caught with didn’t admit to taking an ageing potion to fool you, my dad paid her off. What about all that times that party you were at got raided or all the hotel rooms you have trashed?”

His voice was getting more and angrier as he listed off my supposed transgressions, as if he had been waiting a long time to say these things.  

“Do you really think that shit just goes away? How many strings do you think Al had to pull at the Profit keep that kind of shit from going to print? How many favors and how much has he sacrificed? You and I both know he should have his own column by now, but he’s being held back because he calls in all his favors covering your ass while you get to do whatever the hell you damn well please.”

I didn’t let what he said bug me. If that kind of stuff was true I would have heard about it. everyone form Nana Molly to Lilly seemed to take a particular form of pleasure in telling me just how much of a fuck up I was, just because I liked to enjoy what I earned, and there was no way they would withhold that kind of thing. It would just too good for their smear campaign.  

“So you won’t do it?” I asked, my tone making it clear that I would go elsewhere if I had to.

“I’ll do my job,” he growled, “that’s all I can do. We are family after all.”

I gave a noncommittal grunt as thanks, not entirely sure what he meant by the last bit. it didn’t matter though, Freddie would take care of me. He always had.

“Now leave,” he said, sitting down and rubbing his head as if to ward off an oncoming headache, “I have a meeting with another client in five minutes, and their not family so they’re actually paying me for my time.”

~~~

As much as I told myself he was just being an ass, I couldn’t keep Freddie’s words from echoing inside my head. I didn’t want to even consider the possibility that he had been telling the truth.

On one hand I had had more than a few close calls and not just with the law, but every time it had worked itself out. I mean, just because I had been at those parties doesn’t mean I had sampled any of the ‘special refreshments’ offered and that girl did NOT look sixteen. None of it was my fault…but I had heard stories of people getting into a lot of trouble over less.

On the other hand, though, I knew my family and had they done any of the things Freddie said I would know it. My family be the most supportive and loving family in the world but if you fucked up (and I’m not talking about a prank gone wrong level of mischief here) then they would be the first to chew you out for it. There is no way they would have just let me slide.

I sighed. I couldn’t just take Freddie’s word on this. His job was, after all, to cast doubt and make people believe what they wanted to, but at the same time I couldn’t deny it all—not flat out.

The jingle of keys and the creaking of the front door brought me out of my musings. I didn’t say a word as Jo switched on the lights. Her eyes widened for a second as she saw me sitting there in her living room, but only for a second. It was like she had expected to see me sometime today, but she was surprised to see me already in her house when she got home.

 “Should I just make you a key?” she asked as she hung up her coat. Her voice had taken on that dry tone she used so much—the one where even I had a hard time telling if she was being sarcastic or not.

“Might as well.” I hissed. She didn’t miss how the bitterness and hatred had crept back into my voice since our last conversation.

She sighed but didn’t take her eyes off of me as she barked an order at Alex.

“Alex, go to your room.”

“But—” he began, looking back and forth between us, torn.

“Just do it.” she said. Alex furrowed his eyebrows, clearly not liking it before letting out a long, audible, breath and walking down the hall. I was surprised he went at all, but still it was for the best. He didn’t need to hear what kind of a monster his mother was. 

I waited until I heard the slam of Alex’s door close before turning to his mother, ready to unleash all the fury that had been building since this morning when I first saw what she had done.  I had barely opened my mouth before she held up a single finger to stop me.

There was a beat of silence as I stared at her incredulously before she took out her wand.  I followed suit; if she thought I was going to sit around and let her hex me, she had another thing coming. Jo rolled her eyes at me before pressing her pointer finger to her lips in the universal sign for silence.

 A small ball of white light appeared at the tip and with a flick of her wrist it slowly glided across the room. It hovered in the middle of the room for a moment, apparently doing nothing, before disappearing as if it never where.

I didn’t have a chance to ask what she was doing before she turned on me, like I was the one who needed to explain myself.

“What the hell is your problem, James?” she hissed.

I laughed, a cold, bitter laugh that didn’t sound like me at all—it sounded like the laugh of a mad man.

“What’s my problem?” I said and even I was surprised at the note of danger in my voice. I took a series of slow steps towards her, but she wasn’t intimidated. Not even when I was so close she could feel my hot breath on her scalp. “I should be asking you the same thing. How long did it take you to go to the press with this after I left? It couldn’t have been long if it made the morning edition.”

She looked up at me in confusion for a moment before busting out laughing. Had it not have been for the situation, it would have been just like before after I whispered a joke in her ear. Even after this latest betrayal, I still couldn’t help but remember before. It was as if some part of me still longed for the way it used to be and that just pissed me off more.

“Potter, I’d call you a dumb son of a bitch, but I actually like your mother.”  She said, shaking her head, still laughing.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

She walked into the kitchen and rifled through the cabinets until she had found everything she needed to make that damn tea she was so obsessed with. “I got an interesting visit at work today.”

The change of subject threw me off. She had never been one to so blatantly run from a topic like this. But then again, that had been before and she had changed into something I didn’t recognize since then.

“So?” I didn’t understand what that had to do with anything but I was willing to take the bait…for a little while at least.

“It was Rita Skeeter and she pretty much admitted that she had been spying on our conversation yesterday.” She said, pouring water into the kettle, “Didn’t you notice me making sure no one was here that I didn’t already know about?”

So that’s what the ball of light had been about. Well that answered that, but the whole thing about Rita Skeeter was just too convenient for her. I was tired of her lies and just wanted her to tell me the truth for once.

“A likely story.” I said crossing my arms. Jo looked at me with mingled amusement and pity.

“Your mother was there,” she said calmly, as if she were merely commenting on the weather. “She can vouch for me if my word isn’t enough.”

“Oh,” I muttered dejectedly. That blew my theory right to hell, and all my anger along with it. The small rational part of my brain that was currently beating the rest of it up with a broomstick, wondered why i I was now having worse mood swings than a pubescent girl during ‘that time of the month. One minute I wanted to kill her and the next it was like nothing happened.

“How would she know what was going on?” I asked, curiosity coloring my words far more than the lingering anger, “you can’t honestly think she was spying on you or me on the off chance that one of us would do something stupid.”

Actually now that I thought about it, that might not have been as farfetched as you might believe, because apparently I am known for being something of a fuck up.

“She’s an unregistered anamigus and can take the form of a beetle. We wouldn’t even have known if she was in here while we were screaming at each other.”

I almost laughed. That was easy enough to fix.

“Well then we can just leave an ‘anoumous tip’ with my dad. Being unregistered is still illegal and she can’t bother us if she’s in prison.”

Jo shook her head and took a long draft of tea. “That’s not going to work. Your aunt has known about Rita for a long time and if Rita goes down for it, she’s taking Hermione with her. This whole scandal is nothing compared to what it would be if word got out that your aunt knew and didn’t do anything.”

“Shit.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“So there’s nothing we can do?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

Jo gripped her tea tightly in her hands as if the warmth from the mug could warm the cold feeling of dread blooming in both of our guts. “If there is, I haven’t thought of it yet.”

“But I have.” Neither of us had noticed Alex standing at the end of the table, not two feet from where we sat, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long he had been there.

“You have what?” I asked, his words not meeting with Jo’s in my mind.

He smiled a terse, tense, little smile like a teacher would just before explaining an obvious concept to one of the slower kids in class. The condescendingness sent a little shiver of anger down my spine. It was bad enough getting it from Jo, but from the kid as well? 

“Thought of a way to make sure that word-I’m-not-allowed-to-say gets what she deserves for being mean to our family.” Alex’s voice was a lot harsher than it should be and I knew that it wasn’t healthy. Had the words came from an older person I would have thought them a threat.

“You shouldn’t —” I began, trying to be the responsible one by reminding him that anger is not the answer or some other parent-ish nonsense but Jo interrupted before I had a chance to.

“Alright kid, let’s hear it.” She said, setting her mug down and giving the kid her full attention. Something about  the weary tone of her voice and the infinite sadness in her eyes had me worried. Was she as apprehensive as I was at Alex’s motives? Was she as worried about the little flash of darkness that should not be in the mind of a child, especially one as young and innocent as Alex?

“She’s going to tell everyone the meanest things about us she can think of, right?” There was a smile in his voice that reminded me a lot of Uncle George right before he set up one of his big pranks—the ones that weren’t all in good fun; the ones he usually saved for when he really hated someone one of the cousins had brought home to meet the family. This meant business.

“That’s the general idea.” I muttered, afraid of where this was going. Alex’s smile just widened a bit and for the briefest second it looked almost reptilian.

“But she’s not the only one who wants talk about us in the papers. All we have to do is be nice to the other people and make sure they have nothing bad to write.” He said as if he had just revealed a great truth of the world, but I didn’t really understand how sucking up to the other leaches would help. It would just be feeding the fires.

 “How would that help us?” I asked, staring at him and ignoring the Jo’s little noise of amusement. If she had already figured this riddle out, good for her.

“If she’s the only one writing bad things about us people will think she’s lying.”

I was stunned. There was more than just a little bit of merit to his plain, I should know, I had been involved in enough PR incidents to know. What really creped me out, though, wasn’t that it would work, but rather that Alex suggested it. This was beyond even Jo’s level of cunning and it came from the lips of a seven year old.  Great, maybe having a kid destined to be in Slytherin was my punishment for being so hard on Al when he got sorted.

“That…that just might work.” Jo muttered, her thoughts going along the same path as mine.

Alex gave a slightly pretentious snort followed by a little laugh. “Of course it will work. You guys just have to pretend not to hate each other in public.”

“We don’t—” Jo began, catching the bitter note in is voice then stopped, almost as if she didn’t want to lie to him. He was too smart not to see through that—far too smart.

She sighed, rubbing her forehead as if to fend off a headache. But the tired look in her eyes told me that she knew, as well as I, that the pounding in her temples was not going to just go away.  

“I’ll be right back, if you excuse me,” she muttered, getting up from the table and walking down the hall to the bathroom.   

There was a full three seconds of silence before Alex turned to look at me, his face void of all the almost maniacal glee that had characterized it before.

“You still hate her a little, don’t you?” He asked, but there was no blame in his voice nor was there any curiosity. He was just asking.

“It’s complicated.” He was too smart to swallow a lie but I really didn’t want to discuss the truth right now. The truth was that I didn’t even know where we stood. I did hate her…I think…but I loved her too and, despite what you might think, those too don’t cancel each other out.

“Grownups always say that,” he said with a earnestness that could only be brought on by the convection he was right, “but things are only complicated because they make them that way.”

I didn’t say anything. There was really nothing I could say; he may have had a point, but that doesn’t make anything less complicated.

“Are you still mad about what happened before?” he asked as simply as if he were asking of the weather.

“What do you know about it?” I said with a little bit of a snarl, forgetting for a moment that Jo and I had already discussed her side of the story and that it was unlikely that she had filled his head with stories of her innocents. Even though we had decided to wipe the slate clean, the wound was still too raw to completely forgive just yet.

He looked up at me with wide eyes, almost as if to ask why I was asking; why I didn’t already know. “I know mom was going to have another baby but she got rid of it. I know she didn’t tell you about it because she loved you so much that if you would have asked her to, she would have kept it but she didn’t want to quit school.”

I said nothing, both grateful that she had told him the truth rather than making it all out to be my fault and, at the same time, irked that she had involved him at all. Even if he was far too smart for his age, he was still just a kid. 

“I know that sometimes people make mistakes because even though they look like a grownup, their brain hasn’t grown up as much,” he continued, “And I know that mommy was really sorry that she did it. She told Uncle Max that she kind of hopes that I was that baby just trying to get born again.”

“You know all this?” I whispered, half in inquiry and half in exasperation.

He nodded, his dark hair flopping in his eyes.

“And you know what?” he asked in a whisper as if he were telling me the secret of the universe. 

“What?” I was just humoring him; I really didn’t want to hear whatever excuse Jo had given him or that he had devised for her.

Really, I had tried not to hate her—not after we had cleared the slate—but he seems that no matter how hard I tried, I just could not completely let that bitterness go. But I wasn’t going to let Alex see that. He deserved better than that. He deserved to think that our reconciliation was at least possible.

“If I was that baby, then I think it’s oaky she made me wait.”

I was shocked.

“Why would you say that?” I whispered, trying not to let my turmoil show. Alex just gave me a little smile and I was sure he saw right through it.

“Because some good came out of it.”

I didn’t have to ask what he was talking about; he saw the question on my face, which was probably a good thing because I don’t think I could have strung together a coherent sentence at that moment.  

“I don’t know Miss Rose, so maybe if mom hadn’t have told her about the other baby she still wouldn’t have gotten rid of her baby, but maybe she would have. And didn’t Miss Rose have two babies? Two minus one is still one.”

The thought floored me. I had never thought of it that way; I had never imagined that there could be some silver lining to it all. It had never occurred to me that maybe Rose had considered following in her footsteps. She loves those kids too much now for me to even consider it. But then again, hindsight was twenty-twenty and even if I believed that Rosie wasn’t capable of something like that, it doesn’t mean she couldn’t do it. I had, after all, thought the same of Jo.

“Alex,” Jo said from the hall way and I knew she had heard at least most of what we were talking about. I could tell by her voice that the kid was in a lot of trouble but I didn’t know why. He had done nothing but defend her.

Alex could tell too, but he knew just what he had done wrong. He turned to her slowly and gave a sheepish little smile.

I almost laughed. I had tried that routine more than once on my own mother but it rarely worked and I doubt he would have any more luck.

“Yes mommy?” his attempt at innocence wasn’t working.

“How did you know about that?” Her voice was calm but I could hear the storm raging underneath. I guess it was safe to say that she hadn’t exactly confided all this in Alex. She shouldn’t have been surprised. Almost the first thing I noticed after spending time with him was his particular precocity for knowing things he shouldn’t.

“You told Uncle Max.” he was trying to get her to drop the subject, but he knew it was a lost cause. Jo had gone into a sort of mom mode; lips pressed together so tight they almost disappeared, eyes narrowed into slits, and her hands gripping her hips. I had seen a similar look on my mother’s face enough times to know she was out for blood.

“But you were at school when that conversation happened.”

He gave a nervous little laugh and twitched under her gaze. There was no way to slither out of this one. Alex was going to have to reveal his tricks and I knew he didn’t like that.

I probably could have given the kid a hand and tried to distract her, maybe by bringing the conversation back to ‘grown-up’ topics, but I was too curious about how he had managed to pull it off.  The thing about living in a big family of pranksters is that you learn to appreciate other’s work…even when it’s directed at you.

“Alex!” she didn’t have to finish her sentence.

“Alright, alright!” he said, throwing his hands up in surrender. He actually sound scared for once. He knew he was going to get it.  

Slowly Alex walked over to the vent on the kitchen floor and pulled the grate off easily and I got the impression that he had removed the screws some time earlier and just never replaced them. Alex reached in until the vent swallowed his arm up to his shoulder and pulled out an extendable ear that had been attached to the side with a gob of heavy, gray tape.

Alex placed the fleshy lump in Jo’s hand, not sheepishly looking at his feet and took the receiver out of his ear.  

 Growing up, Lily, Al and I had thought up some pretty complicated schemes to find out what was going on when we were sent out of the room and few of them ever worked (which was probably a good thing given the fact that my parents are still very much in love and there are just some things you don’t need to know about your parents.

 I had to give the kid credit; I never would have thought of that. The whole idea was beautiful in its simplicity and explained a lot about how he knew as much as he did but Jo was too deep in mom mode to see the genius in it.

 “You bugged my house.” Jo said in a disbelieving tone as she looked at what was placed in her outstretched hand.

“Our house, mommy, our house.” He was turning on the charm, still trying not to get into trouble.

“Where did you get it?” Something about the way she said it made me think that she had never taken him to my uncle’s shop, which didn’t seem to mesh with the kind of kid Alex was. One look at the bright colors and tricks in the window and he would have insisted on going on. Did she deny him just to avoid the risk of meeting up with someone from my family? Had she been that determined to keep us apart?

A trickle of shame washed through me when I realize the true answer was just as obvious and a lot more innocent. Hadn’t this entire situation arisen during the grand opening of the chain’s first state-side location? There was no shop for her to take him to.

The more burning question was why was it so difficult for me not to jump directly to the worst case scenario when it came to her?

I mentally shook myself and brought my attention back to reality. There was little use dwelling in these kinds of things.

“Aunt Viv got them for me,” Alex chirped, happy to have a way to deflect the blame even if only slightly.  

“Them?”

Alex’s face turned an unhealthy shade of eggshell. He had slipped up and that one word was going to cause him a lot more trouble than if he had just kept his mouth shut.

Alex didn’t answer his mother’s question. He didn’t have to, the look on his face and the way he twirled his thumbs in a resigned sort of nervousness spoke volumes more than his words ever could.   

“Acco ears.” Jo cried and four more shoot out form equally unobtrusive spots around the house.

I felt for the kid; there was no way out of this one…not with the fire shooting out of Jo’s eyes. She was almost as mad at him now as she had been at me right before leaving the party a few nights ago. Almost.

“Where are the receivers?”

Alex knew better then to try and worm his way out of this one. He walked over to the shoe rack by the door and grabbed a rather tattered pair of sneakers. He pulled out the sole just as easily as he had dislodged the vent, and retrieved a small box from where it had nestled in the hollow groves of the rubber before placing it in Jo’s hand right along with the ears.

Looking down, he walked towards his room without even waiting for Jo to command it.

I laughed so hard my sides felt like they were about to split and I had to grip the counter to keep from falling out of my chair.

“He’ll fit right in.”

The edges of Jo’s lips twitched in agreement, but it didn’t last. The moment she heard Alex’s door close, she looked me in the eyes with such a sad look that I couldn’t possibly guess what she was thinking.

 “Is this always how it’s going to be? The moment anything goes wrong, I’m automatically to blame?” she said, bringing the conversation back to the depressing topic it had been on before Alex interfered.

I said nothing. What could I? It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t trust her anymore but she had betrayed me too many times in too horrible ways for me not to think her capable of it again. The thing was, I didn’t know what part of that hurt more: that I couldn’t trust her or that I really wanted to. 

“So much for a clean slate.” She muttered, bitterly sarcastic.

“Look Jo I’m…I’m sorry.”

I didn’t really know what I was apologizing for. That I jumped the gun and thought of her or that our relationship had come to this. Probably a little bit of both. I felt like shit seeing her like this, but I was lost. One moment I wanted to hurt her but when I did, I only wound up hurting myself more.

She gave a reassuring little smile that was only half genuine. “If it makes you feel any better James, I thought it was you who blabbed.”

It didn’t really help. In the space of two days I had been flooded with just about every emotion I could think of and expected to keep my head above water and I was exhausted. I didn’t know what I was feeling anymore because I was already feeling too much. I had reached my limit and needed time to sort it all out before something else got dumped on my plate.

i sighed and got up and started pacing towards the door.

“Are you leaving?” she asked her voice about as numb and confused as I felt.

“I don’t know if I can do this right now.” I didn’t bother keeping the stress out of my voice.

“Do what?” she asked gently.

“Any of it!” I hollered, almost ready to rip my hair out.

She looked at me like she had never really seen me before and there was a hardness to her face that sent my teeth on edge. “If you can’t do it then don’t—go ahead and walk out—but don’t think you can change your mind six months down the line. If you want out then make it a clean break…for him at least.”

I was shocked. Did she really think I meant that? That I could do that to him? To me? When I said ‘any of it’ he had been the one thing I hadn’t been talking about. Alex was my kid and I wasn’t going to abandon him.

“You really think I could just leave him like that?” Despite all that had happened between us, she should know me better. If I was the kind of person who could have just left Alex, than I wouldn’t have been so mad the first time around.

“Well as you so love to point out: we don’t really know each other anymore and I’m tired of being the bad guy.” She snapped.

I didn’t know what to say. It was her own fault that she was in that predicament. She was the one who had lied and kept secrets.

I was tired of being her victim and I was almost ready to go and say forget about it. Apparently the new Jo and I couldn’t be in the same room for any length of time without wanting to kill each other but I hated that. I hated not being able to let myself love her.   

The sound of the toilet flushing down the hall reminded me exactly why I was here. As if I could forget.

“Alex, you’re supposed to be in your room!” She shouted, not moving her eyes from mine.

“I had to go to the bathroom!” he called back

“Yeah right. Don’t dig yourself into a bigger hole.”

I could tell she didn’t believe him; she thought his motives were a little less straightforward and I had to agree. The timing was just too good and there was a note of triumph to his voice that gave it away. He wanted to remind us of the one thing we still had in common: him.

She turned to me.

“Look James, we are both tired and frustrated. Why don’t you go and I’ll see you Sunday.”

I opened my mouth to say something but she motioned for the door, cutting me off.  I knew we were not going to get anything more figured out tonight.

As I walked down the sidewalk towards the abandoned alleyway u used for an apparition point, I looked up. Alex was staring at me out his window with an unreadable expression. Some part of me, perhaps the insecure-as-a-new-father part was sure it was half disappointment and half hatred.  But that was probably just my mind playing tricks on me.

~~~

That night I had to force myself to sleep. I couldn’t help but dwell on the sinking feeling that had taken root in my gut. Is this how it is going to be between Jo and I now?  One step forward and two steps in an anger filled waltz around a mine field? And if so how is this work now that Alex was in the mine filed right along with us?

I’m not sure if I was ashamed or not that my mind had immediately blamed Jo when I saw that article. I mean, how was I supposed to know about Rita Skeeter’s ability? What other explanation was there? Even she had admitted to casting the blame in my direction when she saw the article.

But I hadn’t even listened to her before trying to retaliate.

I guess I was lucky Frankie was the lawyer of the family. As much as I hated his revaluation about just how much I had really been leaning on my family, I knew I had to do it again.

You would think that, being raised by George, he would be more into breaking the rules than following them. For a while you were right. Frankie was a couple years older than me and went right along with Teddy in tormenting Hogwarts before handing the baton over to me.

During the three years we were in school together he saved my ass more times than I can count. See, Jo and her friends were as big of trouble makers as I was but they were never caught. The only times she was ever handed a detention slip was when a teacher saw her punch me. Other than that no one could ever prove that she was behind half the stuff pinned on me.

All that other students knew it was them and not me, Frankie especially, so he offered alibies for most of the ones that would get me into the most trouble. He took care of me. Of all of us.

He knew me well enough to know that I was just blowing smoke in his office. He had told me as much; he was going to “do his job” and be the smart one of the family.

That still left me with Jo. It had hurt that she thought I was capable of something like that. Didn’t she know better? If it had just been her…well then maybe she would have been right in her assumption, but now it wasn’t just her… or me.  As bad as thing got between us, I would never put him in the middle of a tug of war.

Sometime during my musings I must have fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes the full, bright moon was much lower in the sky and my mind was bathed in the numbing fog that only came from resting on the principle between sleep and wakefulness. 

I threw the covers off and slid out of bed, not even bothering to figure out whether I was still lost in my own dreams. It didn’t matter. My business would only take a minute.

Even though I was living out of an unfamiliar hotel suit, I didn’t turn off the light as I felt my way along the wall to the bath room.  The blinding light would only make it that much harder to get back in bed.

 “Don’t hurt her.” a voice said from over my shoulder once I had pulled my sleep shorts back up. Expecting to be alone, I jumped in surprise knocking over the trash can in the process.

I had to still be asleep—there was no other explanation. I blinked a few times in an attempt to brush the fog out of my mind but I could still see the outline of a small boy reflected in the mirror. Slowly I turned and looked at him, still trying to wrap my mind around the surreal turn the dream had just taken.

“Go to bed, Alex.” It may not have been the most intelligent thing to say, but I was half asleep and really kind of confused how my son got into my hotel room in the middle of the night. Oh wait…it was a dream.

Good thing too because things got weird after that.  

“I don’t sleep, remember?” Alex asked, playfully, his eyes never leaving mine. Something about the smile and the way his voice had taken on a silky quality sent shivers down my spine. It was sort of like in those muggle horror movies. What was happening on screen was innocent enough, but the music set you on edge and you knew that by the end of the scene, someone was going to die.

I said nothing. Alex didn’t seem to as much as breathe as he starred unblinkingly at me.

“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you.” He whispered softly but I still heard every word—it was impossible not to.

I knew dream-Alex was being completely serious, but something deep down refused to acknowledge it. Even though I hadn’t known Alex for long, I did know some things about him. He was smart and manipulative, but he was a good kid. This wasn’t him; my sleep-deprived mind was just tormenting me with my own fears and guilt.

“Aren’t you a little young to be considering patricide?” I asked in an attempt to make light of the situation. I wasn’t going to let my own twisted imagination win.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he said staring at me with the cold, unnerving, little smile, “no one would suspect me.”

I didn’t know what to say to that—I mean, there really wasn’t much I could say and dream Alex knew it. We stood starring at each other for about a minute before he gave a little sigh and disappeared like smoke carried away in the wind.

Getting back to sleep was a pain in the ass after that, but eventually I managed it. The rest of the night was uneventful and dreamless (at least as far as I remember) but the most curious thing happened when I woke up. As I walked into the bathroom to take a shower and spread across the floor was the entire contents of my trashcan.

~~~



A/N:

For those of you who only read fics instead of writing them, you may not have noticed the note on the homepage but HPFF.N is shutting down the queue for the first week in July. Before then I plain to post this chapter and the one after; that’s actually a good place to break because the next chapter is the first of the “interlude” chapters and brings in a guest POV.

 I will also be reposting at least the first couple chapters now that I have a beta and I feel I must apologize to you all. I never should have posted the first drafts (chapter two had no less than 64 comments, most of which were for comma usage) but I was too excited to hear what you guys had to say. Oh well, with any luck, we’ll get to the point where a chapter is beta-ed before it’s posted. How would have thought!

On another note, I just wanted to say that, although this chapter makes it seem like the end is nearing, nothing could be farther than the truth. I have a very rough outline and am expecting it to be somewhere in the vicinity of thirty chapters or so, at least. 


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