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Chapter 13 : Battle Lines
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By the way, if you have reviewed anything before now, than you might want to check my reply. I got caught up on them all during the break.
MS: The first time you encountered James’s family after the revelation about Alex, it was all together, correct?
JM: For the most part, yes.
MS: How did that make you feel?
JM: Scared as hell.
MS: And did James’s behavior once you got there make things worse?
JM: (pauses) No. for a few sporadic seconds, I could pretend nothing had changed.
I could feel Alex, watching me in that quiet, curious way that would have been almost unnerving had I not been so used to it. Every shred of Gryffindor courage had left me the moment I saw the burrow standing there, memories flooding back with it.
Despite what any paperwork may say, this charmingly dilapidated building had been my home, and those within it, my family, since the summer after my first year. Al had invited me over and I had immediately fallen in love. The Weasley’s had embodied everything I had never had. Here there were no quiet evenings by the fire recounting travel stories; there was only the desperate struggle to be heard over a cacophony of voices. There were no nights full of takeout and board games, there was only a holiday worthy spread accompanied by quidditch and pranks.
The burrow had always been full of nothing but invigorating chaos. And for the first time I was frightened of that. James had promised to smooth things over, to make sure they knew it was okay not to hate me, but the Weasley’s stuck close to family—they would not betray James like that, not after what I did.
I reached out to knock on the door, but hesitated.
I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face them. Even after all that had happened over the last few days, I hadn’t built up enough defenses to handle that pain.
“Mommy,” Alex asked softly, “Do you want me to do it?”
“No, baby,” I said, smiling down at him. He was trying to take care of me, and I was thankful, but I wouldn’t hide behind him. I would not put him directly in the line of fire because he was too perceptive not to notice the hostilities and the last thing I wanted was for him to hate them. There would be enough animosity between me and them as it is.
I almost didn’t have the chance to knock before the door was wrenched open in front of me. Standing there with a smile that anyone who didn’t know him would call snooty, was Scorp.
I steeled myself, waiting for the inevitable influx of hostilities, but they never came. Instead Scorp just pulled me into an uncharacteristically bone crushing hug.
“Come in,” he said warmly, “Rose is in the kitchen, helping Nana Molly, and the kids are out back.”
It completely shocked me how nonchalant he was being about everything. Where was the yelling? The screaming? The blame? He was welcoming me pack like the prodigal, and, I had to admit, I liked it. I needed at least one person in my corner to keep me from falling apart.
“You must be Alex.” Scorp knelt down to his level, looking my son in the eyes.
“I see you know my name, Sir,” he replied softly, smiling, “but, unfortunately, I can’t say I have the same pleasure.”
“Are you sure he’s James’s?” Scorp asked, and I had the feeling he was only half teasing. What Scorp didn’t yet know was that Alex was just as much trouble as his father; he was just a hell of a lot more sneaky about it.
I nodded stiffly at my old friend, too tense to be amused at his well-meant attempt to calm me down. I’m not one to be frightened of the little things in life. Spiders don’t bother me, snakes either. I don’t mind heights (although I’m not much of a broom flyer) and thinking of the dark, unknown things in the closet doesn’t send me into nervous convulsions.
No, the things I fear are a lot scarier and a lot more real. The only thing I really fear (besides something happening to Alex, but that’s a given) is getting hurt. And I’m not talking the broken-arm kind of hurt that any competent healer could put right in a second kind of hurt. I’m talking about having my whole world shattered kind of hurt.
I may have had it happen to me once before but that doesn’t mean I want to try again and these were the few people that could do it. Within these walls are most of the people whose opinion of me ever mattered; they are some of the few who were ever close enough to land the killing blow.
“Come on in,” Scorp said, motioning to the door.
I took a deep breath to steady myself before walking into hell. Before I could even get in the door, a lime green streak came barreling out of the kitchen. The boy crashed into a side table and tumbled head over feet to the floor. Luckily for him nothing broke—all the breakables in this house had either long been shattered or enchanted—but Scorp still winced.
“I’m okay,” the boy’s voice called out. He waved one hand over his head as proof of his words as he started picking up the table and everything that had been on it.
“Remy!” Victoire’s voice called from the kitchen, half in admonishment and half in concern.
“Sorry mum. Tripped.” He called back, his fall seeming not to slow him down. Someone in the kitchen snorted and I couldn’t tell if it was Victoire herself or her sister Dominique who was laughing. Either way, I got the impression this was a regular occurrence around here.
“Oi, who’s this?” he asked, studying Alex and I with curiosity.
I blinked, surprised. Somewhere deep down I think I had been expecting everything here to be exactly as I left it, as if time itself had waited for my return home. It was a stupid wish—an impossible wish—but an unacknowledged one I had held close to my heart until this moment.
Last I had seen of Victoire and Teddy’s boy, he had just started parroting my foul language, unaware of just what he was saying, and I had been forced to pawn off the blame for his new verbal repertoire on his father. Now he looked almost ready to start Hogwarts and as much as it shouldn’t have been, the sight was a complete and total mind-fuck.
“She’s a friend of James’s,” Scorp said diplomatically, and I had to wonder just how much the kid knew about all this. Was Scorp quietly telling him not to act like an ass around me because the whole family already hated me, or was he just simplifying things down for the kid?
Remy looked surprised and I had to guess the latter.
“So he’s coming?” he sounded excited and my heart warmed. As much as an ass as James could be, he had always been good with young kids. It was good to know that, even with all the other changes to his personality, that hadn’t been taken from her. Maybe there was hope for him yet.
“If he doesn’t, I’ll kill him, slowly and painfully” I muttered under my breath. The last thing I needed was to have to face the wolves without him. With him here, I at least stood a slight chance.
Remy gave me a big grin that reached all the way to his now bubblegum pink roots before looking at Scorp.
“I like her,” he said and Scorp laughed.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit better about my situation. So that’s at least two on my side. I wasn’t sure exactly how much help Remy would be given his age, but beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, if anything, I could probably trust him to keep Alex busy while the wolves tore into me.
Remy looked at Alex as if he had just noticed him. Being the oldest of his generation meant he was the one responsible for the rest. That could easily have made him bitter towards the younger ones, but he wasn’t. I could see that he didn’t mind helping out the adults a bit in that regard.
“If you like, he can come out back and play with the rest of us. Keep him out of your hair.” Remy was being genuine and I almost took him up on his offer before deciding that there was something we needed to do first.
“Please, Mommy,” Alex asked sweetly and I hurt to say no. he had so few friends despite how hard I tried. Eventually I had to accept the fact that my little prince didn’t mind being alone in his tower.
“Not yet baby. We still have to introduce you to the family.”
He sighed almost as if he were dreading it as much as I was. My heart broke. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel anything less than at home with them, but I guess I had been saying that kind of thing a lot lately. It was one thing for me to be a pariah here—understandable eve—but Alex was one of them and nothing would ever change that.
“Or I could go play and pretend I’ve always been here,” he muttered. So it wasn’t the family he was trying to avoid, it was the meeting itself. I don’t really blame him. It was bound to get awkward and drag on endlessly but still, there was nothing I could do to get him out of it.
Scorp snorted and I almost followed. As amusing as it would be to see Alex try and convince various members of the family that he was not, in fact, a new addition, it wouldn’t exactly help us out in the long run… even if some of them got a kick out of it.
“No. You are not getting into any mischief today,” I said, despite knowing just how impossible it was, “You are already in enough trouble as is.”
Alex had the good grace to look ashamed, but he knew as well as I did that I wasn’t really going to do anything—I never had. I guess I’m lucky he’s generally a good kid; with my lack of patients and discipline skills, I would have snapped if I got landed with a bad one.
Scorp raised an eyebrow curiously and I knew he wanted the whole stories. I had been kind of holding it back a bit—too many people here would find it too amusing and it would just spur Alex on, but I had missed seeing Scorp smiling like that too much to let the fleeting expression go so quickly.
“This little bugger hid extendable ears all over my house and used them to eavesdrop on every conversation I had over the last few weeks.” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the note of pride out of my voice. Doesn’t matter anyway. Scorp and I had done too many similar stunts not to be impressed.
“So he is James’s kid.” Scorp said teasingly, as if that were the defining piece of evidence.
Remy’s eyes shoot up but he didn’t say anything and I could tell this was the first he had heard of this little development. Oh to be young and ignorant.
“Come on Mommy, you have to admit you were impressed.” Alex teased, arms crossed in fount of him. Sometimes it really sucked just how easily he saw through people’s lies, because sometimes you just couldn’t tell a kid the truth. It didn’t matter how right he was, I couldn’t encourage him or he wouldn’t stop.
I narrowed my eyes at him dangerously daring him to continue and he started backpedaling. Smart boy. Today was not the day to be annoying—my nerves are already shot.
“It’s okay, you don’t really have to ad…admit it.” he said, staring down at his hands. Alex was completely faking it, he was never sorry for the stunts he pulls except when he got caught, but as always, he was good; he almost had me wanting to let him off the hook…almost. Actually, had I been in a better mood, it would have worked.
“Well that’s one way to find out what you’re getting for Christmas.” Remy muttered, breaking the tension but I could see the spark of inspiration in his eyes.
“Don’t even try it,” I snapped, “I will mention it to Teddy and make sure he knows what you’re up to.” Normally I wouldn’t have butted in; pranks and stunts were too much like sport around here, but I needed to take my frustrations out some way that wouldn’t result in someone getting killed or seriously maimed (like I was imagining doing to James right now, since apparently he wasn’t going to show up).
Besides, I always did like Teddy and he needed to know these kinds of things, if only to save himself from Victoire’s wrath when she sees—not for the first time, I’m guessing—just how much her son took after his father in the mischief department.
“I take it back, I don’t think I like you,” Remy muttered, looking at me, slightly betrayed.
Scorp laughed a sly little chuckle that made me feel at home. I had missed my friends more than I could ever articulate and the more time I spent around them, the more I wanted to go back in time and strangle my younger self for letting the fear of James’s reaction keep me from them. I had wounded myself too many times just for one person…even if it was James.
“You guys are early,” a voice said from behind us and I turned to look. Muggles have this saying, ‘speak of the devil and the devil shall appear;’ well, they weren’t wrong. There in the doorway stood my personal devil, soaking wet, with a boyish grin plastered across his face.
Something inside me shifted and I wasn’t sure if it was a bad thing or not. I had not seen that particular grin in years… at least not on James’s face. It was the smile he wore almost every day at Hogwarts: all teeth and dimples. And for just a moment I could forget that this wasn’t just another summer holiday.
“Or maybe you’re just late.” I teased, not wanting to give up this one moment of illusion. “Took a bit of a break to go swimming, did you?”
“Portkey landed me in the middle of the marsh,” he said running his hand through his hair, ignoring the mud and dirty water dripping off his robes.
“You better dry off before Nana sees. She’ll skin you alive if you get mud on her floors.” I warned, but it was too late. Just that moment Nana Molly came around the corner, her hands on her hips and a long wooden spoon gripped tightly in one fist.
I took a deep, calming breath before turning to look at her. She was on the warpath and I knew that no matter how much grace Ginny or Scorp or any of the rest showed at my betrayal, Molly Weasley would be the last to ever forgive me.
“James Potter! Are you not a full grown wizard? It would take you two seconds to clean yourself off before—Hello Johanna.” She said, her tone dropped several degrees when she noticed me and there was no need to guess what side she was on.
There it was; the reprimand I had been waiting for. It was all there in that single word. I don’t think I had ever heard a friend speak my full name—I don’t even think Max knew my full name—I had always just been called Jo, never Johanna. That particular honor was reserved only for my parents and only for when I REALLY screwed up.
Hell, they hadn’t even used it when I showed up home and pregnant at seventeen, but then again I had been rather emotionally distraught at the time. Maybe they had been showing a small mercy.
James sensed her chilliness too, which was saying something. The James I knew and loved would usually have been completely oblivious to that kind of thing. I couldn’t tell if Nana Molly was being that obvious or if James had just gotten more perceptive since Hogwarts.
It didn’t really matter either way. What did matter was that James seemed to have a plain.
“Of course Nana,” he smirked, “but then I couldn’t have done this.”
He wrapped his arms around my back and gave me a big hug, soaking me in the process. His face was so close to mine I could feel the smoothness of his skin, and smell the mint of his mouthwash. I stilled, shocked and it had nothing to do with the cold mix of water and dirt dripping down my back. This was too much like before.
For a second, just one second, it was like looking at the ghost of my James—lighthearted, trickster James. My heart bled and I didn’t know if it was in agony or jubilation.
So much over the last few days had been a double sided blade, at one time both my worst nightmare and dizziest daydream. Everything seemed to be both a tragedy and a miracle and therein lies the problem. I didn’t know what the hell I felt about all this so how the hell was I supposed to act accordingly?
I took a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of James’s chest pressed against my back and noticing the effects of all his quidditch training before forcing myself to admit the harsh truth to myself.
James was acting. He had to be. This complete change in attitude was all an act, although I didn’t know who for. Everyone, even Alex, knew he hated me and acting like we were children again wouldn’t change that. Not really. Not in the ways that mattered. If it would, i would have busted out the permanent ink a long time ago.
I played along, laughing as if nothing had changed. The momentary distraction from the tense atmosphere was welcomed but I think everyone understood just how fake it truly was.
Discreetly, I looked over at Alex and wondered just what he made of all this. His arms hung loosely at his side and his face was impassive. The only hint that he was paying any attention to us at all was the slight tilt to his head, but that gave away nothing.
Damn it! I was going to have to make sure Conner never gets the chance to teach the kid poker or he’d clean everyone out.
When the forged moment of intimacy between James and I had passed, I stooped down to face Alex.
“Baby, why don’t you go and help Mrs. Weasley in the kitchen?” I asked, “I’m sure she could use the extra hands.”
Alex studied my face, and he saw through me, saw what I was really asking. I felt bad using him like this, to put his cuteness to work as a cushion between me and the rest of the sharks here, but I knew they wouldn’t hurt him and besides, I really needed to talk to James. This emotional Yo-yoing wasn’t good for my mental state, and honestly, right now I could not afford to lose anymore marbles.
Alex gave a little smile and nodded almost unperceivably before walking over and taking Mrs. Weasley’s hand in his, while his toy dog dangled lifelessly from the other. He looked up at her with those wide, innocent blues, and instantly she melted into putty. I don’t know if I should be proud of that or not—my son, the master sculptor of grownup hearts everywhere—but it sure did come in handy sometimes.
“Mommy’s right,” he said, his voice completely void of the any apprehension. “There are a lot of people here so you’re going to need a lot of help.”
He leaned in on his tip-toes and cupped his hand to his mouth as if to tell Nana Molly a secret. She stooped down to listen, even though Alex wasn’t exactly trying to keep his voice down. “We don’t want mommy to come. Just between me and you, her cooking kind of taste like butt.”
The corner of Molly’s mouth twitched, but I couldn’t tell if it was at Alex’s cuteness or the insult to me. Probably both. Either way, it got her out of our hair. Now all I had to do was to get rid of Remy and Scorp and then maybe, just maybe, James and I could have a heart-to-heart…again.
Alex gave me a little wink and took Remy’s hand, pulling him towards the kitchen too.
“My new friend Remy can come too. We can all help out.”
I had to hand it to him, the kid was good. And I didn’t even train him that way. Scouts’ honor. .. not that I ever was a scout, of course, but you get the idea.
Remy looked over to us apprehensively, almost as if to ask if he really had to. I didn’t blame him; with his lack of coordination, working in the kitchen might just require hazard pay. James gave him a look that almost seemed to tell Remy that it was important that he leave. Remy just sighed, and took Mrs. Weasley’s other hand, as she led both her great-grandsons into the kitchen.
Now it was just James, Scorp, and I left to dwell in the awkward silence. Scorp could sense the tension—he was far too perceptive not to. I kind of wished he would just leave and let James and I clear the air (again), but the scared little girl inside me wanted to cling to his leg and beg him not to leave me alone with James.
“I’ll just go help Rose with…something,” he said awkwardly and I grimaced. Really subtle, Malfoy, real subtle. He was trying to give us as much privacy as we were going to find in a house full of over nosy relatives, but still… Was it too much to ask to be able to keep the illusion that someone other than my childhood best friend and my kid was on my side here?
I didn’t want to hear the truth from James, but living with this sword of Damascus lingering over my head was even less appealing.
“What was that about Potter?” I said, not even bothering to hide the weariness in my voice as I watched Scorp’s back disappear through the door to the living room.
“What Jo? It’s not like you don’t know how to dry yourself off.” he smirked as he did a quick cleaning charm on himself and left me dripping wet. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t eight years ago—that our relationship had completely changed. Was this some kind of revenge? He would act like the boy I knew in school and watch me suffer, knowing that it could never go back to that?
No. James may have grown bitter in the past few years—bitter enough to do that kind of thing—but he could never be that vindictive. It was just not in his nature and if he had changed that much…if it was really possible for him to do that kind of thing now then I had no business being here. If my James was that dead, I’m not sure I want my son around what was left in his place.
“James.” I said, making it clear it wasn’t the time or place for these games.
He sighed, dropping ever pretext as he ran a hand through his already tussled hair. He knew what I was talking about and he knew there was no point keeping up the act—not if I was the only one around to see it and not if I had already realized the truth behind his mask…or at least most of the truth.
“I talked to AL,” he muttered as if it explained everything. And in truth it just might have.
That could either be a really good thing or a really bad thing. I knew form years of experience that the younger Potter brother gave great advice. But the thing was, James was stubborn and Al could be cutting with the truths he spoke. If Al told James something he didn’t want to hear, then it was possible James would do the opposite just to prove how wrong Al was…but Al was never wrong and the world was often ill prepared to deal with the consequences of James’s stupidity.
“Oh. What did he say?” I said, careful to keep anything but bemusement out of my voice. I didn’t want to start a fight if I could help it. That one glimpse of my James had me starving for more and if me being on my best behavior meant I could have a few crumbs then so be it.
James looked up and for once he wasn’t an open book to me. His eyes smoldered with an intensity I had never seen before, and yet at the same time that spoke volumes of a vulnerability I had never thought possible on his face.
He took a slow, measured step towards me and I took a step back, mirroring his, but I couldn’t tell you why. Something about him screamed dangerous, even though I could never be frightened of him hurting me. Maybe deep down it was because I knew if James was vulnerable, I would have no defense against him. I loved him too much to ignore him like that. And that would destroy me; I didn’t have the strength to glue myself back together this time.
“Al thinks that I should stop thinking that you have completely changed from the girl I knew.” He whispered, his eyes never leaving mine. I could hear the unspoken the girl I loved tacked on to the end, but he didn’t say it. He didn’t have to and I was grateful for that. I don’t think I could have survived hearing those words fall form his lips again.
He took another measured step and instinctually I mirrored it again until my back was pressed tight against the wall. I could smell everything, the pure masculine sent of James and sweat mixed with the linen and wool of his cloths, still doused with the faintest hint of lingering detergent.
“And you agree?” I whispered, trying to ignore the way his arm rested on the wall over my head and his face was bent low as it rested on the crook of his elbow.
For one unbearable moment of silence, I thought he was going to kiss me. My heart was screaming for him to do it—for him to take my lips in his and make me forget the loneliness of the last eight years. But my mind was begging him not to—the smarter part of me knew that with one kiss I would be hooked again, a hundred times worse than if I had used one of the potions I found in his apartment that day, and then it would only be that much more impossible to put myself together when it all comes crumbling down.
“Hating you… exhausts me…and I’m tired of being tired.” He whispered so close to my face I could taste his aftershave. A part of me wanted to scoff at his explanation; of course James would go for the less tiring path—but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was like there was some dark, consuming force keeping me locked in the moment and I couldn’t break free. And I didn’t know if I actually wanted to.
The sharp sound of a wolf whistle broke through the moment faster than a bullet through glass and I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to slowly dismember Louis or get him a fruit basket. Either way, it was good to see him.
Despite the three year age difference, Louis and I had always been close. He served as the front for my illicit black market dealings while I had been the only girl in Gryffindor tower who didn’t bemoan the fact that the part Vela heart throb was strictly (okay, mostly) dickly and that had made us fast friends.
“Jo!” he called, giving me that dopy, lopsided grin of his that never failed to disappear into his blond hair. He walked over to me and gave me a bone crushing hug that felt far too strong to come from his lean frame, while somehow managing to completely ignore James’s existence (which, given just how close we had been standing, was quite an impressive feat).
“I’ll go check on the kid.” James muttered, throwing his hands up in exasperation as he left through the kitchen door. He was giving the same flimsy kind of excuse Scorp did, but I didn’t care.
“You haven’t changed a bit.” Louis said as he squeezed tighter and I got the impression that, had we not been in such a confined space, he would have spun me around like I was a child.
“But you have,” I replied laughing.” You must have grown, what? Six inches?” For the first time since coming here, I really felt welcome. If anyone could let bygones be bygones—even over something like this—it would be Louis.
He grinned and shrugged as if he had never been afraid of turning out as short as Flitwick, “I guess I hit my growth spurt late.”
“So how have you been?” I asked, genuinely curious and desperate for something—anything—to keep my mind off of what just happened between James and I. Too much was going on today for me to think about that…my sanity couldn’t take it.
“Good,” he said plopping down on an old couch that had probably seen more than one reparo charm in its lifetime. “The party was awesome, by the way.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, sure he was trying to change the subject. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was glossing over but I knew pressing the issue would just destroy what little bit of good cheer I had today.
“Too bad there weren’t any guys who weren’t chasseing skirts, if you know what I mean.” He said with a disappointed little laugh.
I looked at him intently, trying to figure out if his hair care potions had leaked into his brain or something. “What are you talking about? I know of at least half a dozen people there without ovaries who were drooling over you all night.” I didn’t bother mentioning the couple dozen with ovaries who were doing the same.
“Really?” he asked, genuinely shocked. I nodded slowly, slightly confused. What was so surprising about that? I mean half the female population of Hogwarts literally wept when he came out of the closet, and the other half was related to him.
My breath stalled for an instant as a blot of savage inspiration hit. I had been so consumed with seeing (or not seeing) James that I had been completely oblivious to everything going on around me but now I had to wonder how I didn’t see it.
“I know one who I could introduce you too.”
“Who?” he said, excitedly and I couldn’t help but marvel at just how childlike he was, especially given what I had walked in on with the rest of the family. I’ll never tell James this, but even though I didn’t have a pad of paper and a pen in my hand at the time, I had been taking notes.
But despite his veela-ness, he was an innocent soul; an impossible balance of pure and not-so pure. Or as they say on Facebook: the perfect man, horny AND sensitive.
Lucky for him, Louis wasn’t the only gay guy I wanted the best for.
“My boss Max. He was staring at you the entire time,” I threw out offhandedly. So maybe my attention had been elsewhere that night and I had been more than a little tipsy, but that didn’t mean what I said couldn’t be true. Besides, no one would notice if it was a little white lie and it’s not like Louis wasn’t Max’s type and vice versa.
“Really?” he asked surprised and I wanted to hit him. Now was not the time to play stupid. I knew he was smarter than that. “I didn’t think I was his type.”
“A twenty-one year old, part vela boy-toy? Of course you’re his type.” I snorted and Louis looked up at me almost pityingly.
“I meant I don’t have ovaries.”
I couldn’t help the shocked laugh from escaping my lips. Even if Max’s personality wasn’t flaming, his wardrobe tended to be. There was no way most people would miss that. But then again, Louie wasn’t like most people.
“Damn. Your gay-dar must really suck.” It was cruel of me to laugh at him—really it was—but I couldn’t help it and truthfully, I needed a laugh.
“I guess it is,” he muttered, understanding my meaning even if I was being a bit too muggle in my word choice. “You would think I’d be better at spotting them.”
I snorted. This poor, poor soul.
“Here’s a hint: they sometimes wear way too much eye makeup.” I teased and for once Louis actually looked affronted.
“I don’t—” he defended, not understanding.
“Sometimes.” I reminded him. I wasn’t talking in absolutes and I wasn’t talking about him. Hell, if it hadn’t have been for him being raised with two older sisters, I don’t think Louie would know what a makeup brush was.
“So how has everyone been?” I ask, changing the subject. I didn’t want to risk ruining the good mood I desperately needed.
“Good, but I figure you want more than that, right?” he smirks. I didn’t even bother to smack him for as I nodded fervently.
These people were my family and I had to cut off all contact. The only news I over the last few years about them had been limited to what little the press was able to dig up on their privet lives. Given the secretive nature of the family, that had pretty much been limited to a few wedding and birth announcements and the occasional piece in the business section.
“Scorp is an Aurror, and I think the shame of it gave old Lucius a heart attack, because he croaked not long after Scorp got accepted in the program.” Louis got a wistful look on his face as he brought news of the Malfoy patriarch’s death. I didn’t blame him; even Scorp admitted that he was a real piece of work. Personally, I thought Lucius’s mother had originally intended to name him Lucifer but had been too high on pain potions to do the paperwork right.
“Actually,” Louis continued, “maybe it had something to do with the only Malfoy heir marrying a ‘half-blood blood-traitor.’ That was at about the same time so it’s a little difficult to tell which tragedy had the honor of doing him in. Either way, he’s not missed by too many people.”
I snorted and briefly wondered if even Draco missed the old asshole. Scorp had invited his friends over to his house to stay over summer break after first year. Astoria and Narssia were perfectly polite and Draco, while not exactly welcoming, was on his best behavior. The same couldn’t be said for the head of the Malfoy family.
Needless to say, our visit was cut short. Scorp and the rest of them tried to play it off as if old age had touched the old bat in the head, but we knew better. from then on it was Scorp that came to Al’s for summer visits.
“Hnn.” I muttered, remembering something that had been lost in the chaos of yesteryear.
“What?” Louis asked, curious.
“Well I guess I’m never cashing in on that bet.”
“What?” he asked again, this time confused.
“I bet him fifty galleons in first year that Scorp and Rose were going to get together.” I didn’t even bother to hide the mirthful expression on my face when I saw Louis’s reaction. He seemed surprised, but really he should have known better. After all, if I had been willing to use a (willing) third year as a front for my Hogwarts black market empire, than a little bet with a crotchety old man was nothing.
“You had he bet against his own flesh and blood?” The note of righteous indignation in his voice was telling.
“How much did you have riding on James and I getting together? Humm? And don’t even try to deny it.”
His face screwed up as he pretended to consider this a moment.
“Touché.” He said with a shrug, deciding it wasn’t all that important after all.
“Now that we have that out of the way,” I said dryly, “can we get on with the story?”
He smiled and put his finger to his chin in mock contemplation and I had to seriously consider smacking him. But as fun as that may be, it sure as hell wouldn’t help my situation any. It would be a nice stress reliever, though. Humm… it might just be worth it after all.
Louis sensed my not-so-real agitation and wisely continued his narrative.
“Rose is an unspeakable and seems to really love her job. I’m suppressed though, she isn’t really known for keeping secrets and well…it is part of the job description, but she hasn’t gotten sacked yet—or worse—so I figure she’s doing okay,” he laughed before remembering just how familiar I was with Rose’s inability and quickly changed the subject.
“They’re talking about having another kid, but they’re at an impasse about that. I don’t know who’s on what side of the fence.
“The kids they have now are a handful. Orion is moody and a bit arrogant, but he has a good heart. It’s Cassi they have to watch out for. She’s been hanging around Victoire and Dominique a bit too much; she is already into makeup and keeps asking why she can’t dress like my sisters.”
I shuddered at the thought. Tori and Dom each had a style of their own but neither of them were something you wanted a seven year old girl emulating. Poor Bill, I think after a point he just gave up with them.
Tori acted like the closest thing the wizarding world had to cheerleaders: sexy and untouchable in a girl next door kind of way. Dom on the other hand, was into leather and skinny jeans and got a particular form of enjoyment out of wearing lingerie in public.
“Speaking of which,” he said, his eyes lighting as he anticipated my reaction to whatever he said next, “Dom and Victoire have gone into business together.”
If I had been drinking something at the time I would have done a spit-take. Despite their vastly different dressing styles, those two had too much in common to really get along. That just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen and I would have thought that Bill, or Teddy or someone would have had the good sense to talk them out of it before they invested all their money in something that couldn’t possibly work. Those sisters couldn’t go five minutes without trying to kill each other, let alone the length of time it took to run a shop.
“What kind of business?” I asked but I think I already knew. There was only one thing that interested both of them enough for them to put aside their differences…
“Toys.” He deadpanned.
That shocked me more than the news that they were working together. Not what I expected by far, but then again, maybe motherhood had changed Tori. Although I couldn’t even fathom what could have happened to change Dom in the same ways.
“I guess I’ll have to take Alex there sometime soon,” I muttered in an almost unintelligible whisper. Besides, with all the craziness going on around us lately Alex deserved a treat.
“Not those kind of toys.” He snorted.
“Oh.” So it had been what I expected.
During Hogwarts those two had only had a handful of boyfriends each, so they sure as hell weren’t the school bikes, but they knew more than they should about carnal acts. I remember one time when Alice Longbottom had broken down in tears because she and her boyfriend were going to ‘do it.’ Dom sat her down in the dorm and had explained step by step and in great detail just what to drive the guy wild. Needless to say, later that week when James asked me where I had learned that particular trick, I sure as hell didn’t tell him the truth.
Louis’s continued ramblings brought me back to the present.
“Victoire and Teddy had another kid about five years ago. Dora’s sweet, but she and Remy have begun to use their abilities to morph into each other and confuse the hell out of Tori. She hates it, but Teddy think’s it’s funny, not that he’ll say it out loud—the whipped bastard.” He laughed the last part, and I knew he meant no insult to his brother-in-law. Those two had always gotten along too well for idle insults.
“What about Dom? She got a guy?”
“Bet Bill loves that.” I muttered. Bill had always been one of the more laid back of the Weasleys but when it came to his kids...
Louis laughed and I couldn’t help but be envious of the easy sound; it was impossible to stress this kid out. “I don’t think dad quite understood what it would mean to have part vela kids. Apparently we all have the sex drives of centaurs.”
I shook my head. I’ve known that for a long time, and so hadn’t just about anyone who ever came into contact with that branch of the Weasley clan.
“Alright, let’s see…” he said putting a single finger to his lips as he brought the conversation back to the news report at hand. “What else do we have in the news department? Hugo’s in a band. A muggle one and their doing rather well for themselves.”
“Is that even legal?” I asked surprised. The laws that govern just how much interaction wizards were allowed to have with the muggle world were far too complex for most to keep strait, but then again, I sincerely doubt Hermione Weasley would let Hugo break them just for a taste of fame.
“As long as he doesn’t use magic to give him an undue advantage, it’s fine.” Louis said, waving a hand to brush me off.
I was confused. Last I had heard, British wizards weren’t allowed to compete against muggles in any capacity. It wouldn’t be a fair contest, they rationalized, when all one party had to do was say a spell or take a potion and instantly have the stamina to run a marathon or whatever else they needed to win. I kind of agreed and it was hard for me to image the law changing that much without a gigantic catalyst.
“Hermione got elected minister of magic,” he said reading the expression on my face as easily as if it were a book of nursery rhymes. I guess he thought that one sentence would explain everything. And in a way it did. She was the only one I could think of who had both the passion and the pull to try and bring the muggle and wizarding worlds together, at least as far as the international statute of secrecy would allow.
“No shit Sherlock,” I muttered irritably, “I haven’t exactly been living under a rock.”
He snickered but otherwise ignored my sarcasm.
“Molly got a job at a publishing company and is doing rather well. She’s got herself a boyfriend. We haven’t met him, but I think he’s good for her so far. She’s lightened up so much that it is actually possible to forget she’s Percy’s kid.”
Now it was my turn to snort. Lucy, not acting like a female version of her father? Louis must be joking, but if he was, he didn’t show it.
“Lucy’s a healer at St. Mungo’s. She enjoys her work but hates those she works with—thinks they’re all incompetent. It’s funny though, despite that, she is always pissed because her trainee is outshining her at every turn. I think that’s good. A little humility would go a long way.”
I couldn’t agree more. Lucy was actually more competitive than Lily, but there was one major difference: Lily at least accepted the possibility that she would lose. Any time someone did better on a test than Lucy, they had to be cheating or the teacher wasn’t being fair. As far as she was concerned, she was God’s gift to the world in every way.
Not many people agreed, which led for some interesting moments at school.
“Freddie quit the joke shop and became a lawyer,” Louis said, nonchalantly and I had to wonder if he did it just to see my reaction…but knowing Louis, perhaps not.
“What!” I shouted a bit too loud for the situation. Embarrassed, I looked around. No one came rushing to see what was going on, so if figured I was in the clear.
“Apparently, he found that he likes the feeling of getting away with shit more than actually doing the shit. Whatever that means.” Something about Louis’s voice told me more than his words. He didn’t believe or trust Freddie’s judgment.
Not that I really blame him. If I had been a muggle shrink, I would swear Freddie had some sort of personally disorder or something but I wouldn’t know. Those kinds of things aren’t really talked about in the magical world. I mean, how do you diagnose someone with hallucinations or delusions of grandeur or any of that kind of stuff whey you live in a world where everything literally is possible?
“Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say, Freddie and the joke shop had always seemed like a forgone conclusion. But then again, so hadn’t James and I. It just didn’t seem natural and I had to wonder if this had something to do with the same desire all the Weasleys of my generation had—the aching desire to crawl out of their parents shadows.
“Does he have a girl friend or anything yet?”
“Hell if I know. Freddie’s been particularly difficult lately. I he’s just so…” I could see the frustration on Louis’s face. There was only so much crazy even he could take.
“Bipolar?” I volunteer. Louis gives me a look half amused and half weary.
“I was going to say mercurial, but your word works too.”
“And Roxy?” I ask referring to George’s youngest; last I had seen her, she was only a couple years younger than Alex was now. As much as I hated being constantly reminded that time had in fact, moved on in my absence, there was no point pretending it hadn’t. Besides, I was so starving for news that I would take any truth… no matter how delusion shattering.
“Currently home for Easter Break. She’s only on her second year, but already George had gotten more letters home about her pranks, than Nana Molly had about both twins combined at that age. I don’t know why they bother—it’s not like she gets punished at home for ti. George couldn’t be more pleased.”
I’ll bet. George wasn’t one of those muggle business men who only got into a business to make a buck. He and, by all accounts, his late twin had been master panksmen, so good in fact, that the teachers left a small bit of their handy work linger in a corridor as a testament to their skill. To them it had always been about the pranks first, business second.
And that was why I knew Freddie would never get the shop now that he’s turned his back on it. George would never leave it to someone who didn’t have the same passion for trouble as he did, but if Roxy was already raising that much hell…
“Al’s a reporter for the Profit,” Louis continued with something I was already well of. I didn’t call him out on the duh-ness of the comment, because I knew something I hadn’t been privy to was soon to follow. “And does a really good job at it even though he’s kind of stuck in the middle.”
“Stuck?” I asked, a little confused at the context.
He sighed. “Pansy Parkinson doesn’t like him much, so while they don’t exactly have him fetching coffee, everyone knows nothing with his name on it is going to get on the front page even if he could prove Merlin himself still walked among the living. Probably because he’s one of the few reporters there that won’t twist the facts just to sell papers.”
“And he won’t quit.” It wasn’t a question. I still considered Al one of my best friends—it didn’t need to be.
Louis shook his head sadly. “He likes the job too much.”
“He’s the only natural born Potter—well besides Harry—that actually doesn’t mind not being in the spotlight.” Okay, so maybe that made half the Potters not attention seeking morons. My mind wasn’t at full form today— so sue me.
He gave a one shouldered shrug.
“What about you? What have you been up to?” I asked, remembering how intently he had dogged the question earlier.
“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” he said with a little smile and I knew he wanted me to drop the subject but I couldn’t. He was too much my family for me not to be interested.
“Louis!” I called, not bothering to hide my exasperation.
He sighed, knowing I would not give up. “Not much of anything really. I have a part time job but it’s just to pass time. I still live at home. The truth is, even four years out of school, I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. But I do know this: whatever it is, I don’t want to be working for family.”
“Which cuts out about half the jobs in the wizarding world.” I muttered.
I couldn’t help but pity them. The Weasley/Potter clan was the closest thing the wizarding world had the being a Kennedy. Famous for being great and with a name that would open any door. But they were too proud—the family too new to the privilege fame begets—to think of just riding the name to the top. They all wanted to get to where they were going to go, solely on merits…but I wasn’t sure that was completely possible. Like I said before, the name was too ingrained in the wizard world to be overlooked.
“True.” He muttered, eyeing me intently as if he could read something in my face that wasn’t there.
“Why don’t you just go ahead and ask what you really want to know, Jo?” he asked softly, teasingly. I looked at him completely confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“You want to know who in the family hates you and who is on your side. You want to know where the battle lines are drawn. Don’t even deny it.” Okay, I did want to know that but I had never thought about asking him. I had always kind of figured that truth would make itself known soon enough; there was no point shattering what little bit of fun I was having here before it became absolutely necessary.
“Alright Louis, lay it all out. Who amongst you wants my head on a pike?”
He opened his mouth to tell me but then closed it as the corners of his mouth tugged upward.
“I don’t think I will.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, half playfully and half in frustration. He knew me well enough to know that I didn’t like it when people dangled information in front of my face like a child with a shiny coin, only to jerk it back the moment I reached out for it. If he wasn’t going to tell me he should have just kept his mouth shut.
“You are afraid, Johanna Marsden,” he said, his face merely an inch from mine. Every hint of mirth had been stripped from his voice and replaced with challenge. He was daring me to listen. “And you’re stalling. The only way you are going to find out where you stand in this family is to go in there and see for yourself.” He said pointing to the kitchen door in emphasis.
I stared at him dumbfounded. Of all the times for him to get wise about the facts of life (the ones that actually had nothing to do with sex) it had to be now? He never would have called me out before—or perhaps he never would have noticed—and for a second I wondered what had changed.
I had to bite the inside of my lip to keep a jaded laugh from escaping. What the hell was I thinking? What had changed? How about everything, and it was my fault for being there to see it. It would be so easy to go on and on about how the ball had been in James’s court—about how it was his turn to do something.
But the truth was I was the coward. The ball had been in my court the entire time and I just hadn’t wanted to face the truth. As much as James had been a child about the whole thing, I had been worse and I wasn’t the only one to pay. It was my fault Alex was just meeting his family; it was my fault James was just getting to know his son; and it was my entirely my fault that I had missed out on so much. Well no more.
I nodded in Louis’s direction, hoping no words would be necessary. They weren’t.
He stuck out the crook of his arm and gave a little mock bow as if he were some sort of gentleman asking a lady to dance. I almost snorted.
I took it with a big grin that I wasn’t entirely sure was fake before allowing him to lead me to my doom. As we walked the few steps to the door, I couldn’t help but notice that he was humming and I couldn’t’ tell if it was the empirical march or a funeral drudge, but neither seemed to bode well for me.
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