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Chapter 2 : Morning Encounter
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That’s the first thought that my sleep-fogged brain conjures as I fight awake. This disoriented struggle ends with me on the floor, tangled in bedsheets, wildly looking around. My eyes lose their wild look as I take in my surroundings, note that nothing aside from my bed is moving. With narrowed eyes and a slowing heart, I find the culprit sitting on the edge of the bed with a wide grin on her face.
Slowly, I free myself from the sheets and then stand, rubbing my aching bum as I do. Rotating just a bit, I scowl as I take a pointed look at the darkened sky outside the window.
“What time is it?” I finally rasp out as I stretch my arms high above my head and hear satisfying cracks. I feel as if I’ve been run over by a truck.
“Four,” Alison says cheerfully.
Four? Bloody hell. Even roosters have the decency to keep quiet at that time.
“You have no right to be this perky before the sun even peeks out,” I grumble. Grabbing my purse from the bedside table, I fish around the inside as Alison continues to smile at me. “And what the hell have you done to your hair?”
She smooths her hand over her new pixie-cut. Her previously waist-length brown hair is now auburn, and I wonder at the change. She’s never been this bold. Her idea of edgy is wearing red shoes, and the most daring thing she’s ever worn is a knee-length skirt. I argued with her for months over the wedding dress, because she wanted sleeves. Modest and predictable describes her to a tee, so this is very surprising.
“Don’t you like it?” she asks, an uncertain edge to her voice.
“Of course I do. It’s just... different.” This is the woman who wore her hair the exact same way for the seven years she attended Hogwarts. That is, in a ponytail, and not one hair out of place. Boring and predictable. “It suits you though.”
Her smile returns, because she knows I’ll never lie to her. It’s why I eventually got my way in the end when it came to the dress.
“Lily’s planned a big day for us. Everyone’s going to be here soon, so you need to get ready.”
Right. Lily Potter, the chief bridesmaid, and the best friend. What exactly can she have planned that requires us being up at dawn, anyway?
I extract the cigarette I had been searching for while smothering a yawn. Quickly lighting the end, I take a few needed drags and ignore the disgusted look on Alison’s face. She’s never liked cigarettes. Tough. If I have to be up so early, she has to suffer through my smoking.
Finding a place on the floor, I pull at one of the bags Graham brought up at some point, and begin rummaging through it for something to wear. A cool rush of air greets my bed as Alison throws open a window.
“I’m going to wake up Francis. Try not to choke to death in here.”
I wave an airy hand as she literally floats out of the room, wrapped in a happy bubble brought on by anticipation of her upcoming wedding, no doubt. I wish I could borrow some of her early morning enthusiasm. As it is, I just want to crawl back into bed and get some much needed rest. I know she’ll just be back though, so I reluctantly drag myself to the adjoining bathroom to prepare.
Twenty minutes later I’m in the kitchen devouring eggs and sausages when the doorbell rings. Mum excuses herself to go answer it, while I help myself to a glass of orange juice. My mouth’s full when she returns moments later with three people in tow. Fork hovering at my lips, I swallow painfully. Oh no.
“...so the least I could do was invite him in for breakfast,” Mum’s saying while I rub my aching throat. I miss most of her speech because I’m too busy staring at one of the newcomers, who is busy returning my gaze.
“I hope I’m not giving you extra work, Mrs Church,” the person in question says politely, and directs a smile at Mum.
“Oh no,” Mum insists. “None at all. Have a seat, dear.”
Ha. Of course it’s no extra work, Mum. You’re not the one cooking and cleaning, after all. But Dad likes cooking, so frying up a few extras is no big deal to him.
“So, James. How did your hearing go?” Dad asks, the smell and sound of frying sausages filling the room.
Hearing? For what?
James takes the seat next to me, and I can’t help but inhale the scent floating off him. God, he smells good. I slowly and inconspicuously shift my chair further away from him.
“Not too well,” he says bitterly. “I should be hearing from the board in the next few days. I have a weird feeling that their decision won’t be in my favor.”
“I don’t see why not. It was a clean play, and it’s not your fault he got hurt,” Chace says heatedly, joining in on the conversation. He’s my eleven-year-old brother, and an avid Quidditch fan. In fact, he’s signed up for camp this summer. He says he wants to pull a Harry Potter, and join his house’s team in the first year. I’ve seen him on a broom, and he’s really good, but he feels there’s always room for improvement. I agree.
James shrugs. “Quidditch-related injuries have been at an all-time high these past few years, and they’ve been trying to crack down on that. They want to make me into an example.”
“Ridiculous,” Dad chimes in as he empties the pan onto James’s plate. “Next they’re going to try and turn the quaffles into stuffed balls and remove the brooms altogether.”
“I wouldn’t put that past Crumb,” Lily adds, expression grim. “One of the sadder days was when she made it into the Ministry. These regulations she keeps pushing through and all the interviews she’s given places pressure on the League. They don’t have much choice but to act when someone breaks their back. Accident or not.”
I’m what you’d call a casual fan. I’ll catch a game every now and again, and I know enough about the sport and the rules to not look like an idiot. But I know nothing about any of this. I’m more up to date with happenings in Muggle sports, like football and basketball. With nothing to add to the conversation, I finish eating.
"But I thought your healers could fix a broken back just like that," Mum adds with a snap of her fingers for emphasis.
"They can, and they did. But she feels the injury could have been prevented."
As the Quidditch talk dominates the breakfast table, I excuse myself, because sitting next to James is really starting to bother me. Washing up, I exit the house and sit on the front steps. Hopefully the others will be ready soon, because I don't fancy waiting too long.
I’m carefully folding a gum wrapper when I hear the front door opening.
“Let’s get this show on the road, then,” I say, and stand up. Turning, I pause in the act of blowing a bubble when I see who's standing opposite me.
“Hey,” he says. Leaning casually against a post, he looks past me.
“Hey,” I return flatly. If he’s looking for conversation, he’s barking up the wrong tree.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” he says after a moment. “What? Eleven? Twelve years?”
My shoulders lift and fall. “Just about. Was going for a cool two decades, to be honest. Or maybe the rest of our lives, if I could be so lucky.”
He smiles as if I’ve made a joke, and my brow inches upward. “I take it I’m still not forgiven, then?”
“Oh, you’re forgiven. That doesn’t mean I wanted to see your ugly mug ever again though.”
“You’ve always been good for my ego,” he states, that stupid smile still on his face.
“Someone has to keep you grounded, Potter,” I tell him. Hooking my thumbs into the loops of my shorts and rocking on the balls of my feet, I add, “I’m surprised you aren’t orbiting Mars right about now. The fan-girls keep your head inflated enough.”
That’s a guess, because I haven’t been keeping tabs on him. I haven’t asked one question pertaining to James Potter and his life since I left Hogwarts. But considering how he’s looking these days, and tossing in his profession along with his last name, I’m sure he gets knickers by owl post.
He laughs. I somehow keep my expression neutral, but what I really want to do is scowl. He’s not hooking onto any of my bait, and it annoys me. If we argue, I can’t be held responsible for tossing a flower pot at his head. I really want to, because to be honest, I haven’t forgiven him. I don’t know if I ever will. But I can’t let him know that I’m still holding onto something that happened over a decade ago, so it’s best to pretend that his presence doesn’t bother me.
“Thanks for that. I haven’t laughed in days.”
“My pleasure, King James,” I say mockingly and with an exaggerated bow. It’s what they used to call him while we were at school, because he was just that great on the pitch. Gryffindor went undefeated when he joined the team, and while everyone played their part well, it was mostly because he was a brilliant Chaser. I briefly wonder if he still has the nickname, but expel the thought almost immediately. It’s best not to think about him.
When I straighten, it’s because he’s extending his arm, smoothing a lock of hair behind my ear. “I’ve missed you, Lia.”
The feeling isn't mutual, James. I say nothing, but I don’t need to, because the girls are all making their way out the front door. He’s already dropped his hand, but I think Lily saw it there, if the frown on her face is indication.
“Later, Potter.” Much, much later, if I have any say in the matter.
There’s no chance for him to respond, for I’ve already slipped into the car. Graham’s the only occupant so far, seated behind the wheel with the Prophet open in front of him. I honestly hadn’t known that he’d be driving, but I’m glad he’s here. I always feel safer when he’s about. A retired hit wizard, he knows spells that’d make toes curl, and he’s really quick with a wand. He started working for me because he needed the money. Even though he’s already paid off his debts, he stuck around. He tells me that it’s because I’d get lost without him. Which is true, because sometimes I have no sense of direction. Personally, I just think we’ve grown so close it’d be like leaving a friend behind. I’m glad he stayed, because I don’t know what I’d do without him.
“Okay, Miss?” he asks, surveying me in the rear-view mirror.
I return his gaze, note the creases in his pecan-hued forehead. He’s always worried about me, and sometimes offers advice that gives me food for thought.
He says nothing, but I can tell that he doesn’t believe me. I’m ruffled, and I guess it shows. Damn.
I take a few deep breaths for composure before the other six girls pile into the magically enhanced interior. No one pays me any attention as the car starts. Which is good, because I don’t really feel like talking.
By the time we make it to the cottages, I’m about henned out. I’ve had a blossoming headache ever since we left James at my parents’ place. Throw in functioning on three hours sleep, six girls chattering, squealing, and generally being loud, and I’ve pretty much caught the mother of all headaches. I’m the first one out of the car, and a lit cigarette is at my lips before anyone else exits. Merlin’s arse. How the hell am I supposed to get through this day, anyway?
Lily leads us up to cottage number four, where a butler’s waiting with a tray of non-alcoholic beverages. Too early to start drinking, I guess, as I follow the others.
Nice, I think as I survey the inside. Seriously more pink than I’d like to deal with, but it’s still nice. There’s a bunch of ‘congratulations’ and ‘girls’ night out’ balloons in one corner, a deck of glittery cards, and a bunch of other party accessories. Lily’s already placed a pink and white ‘bride to be’ hat that has a veil attached onto Alison’s head, and is in the process of pinning a matching sash upon her.
“Guys, put on those ties, will you?”
I snatch a black one off the table, read what it says. Snickering, I clip it around my neck and pin a ‘most wanted’ badge onto my shirt. This is followed by a bunch of pictures which I manage to smile in, because really, I truly am happy for Alison.
“I hope everyone’s ready for some fun!” Lily says.
There’s a collective ‘hell yes’, and we’re once again following Lily.
By the time night rolls around, I’m beat. All those activities Lily booked has me sore in all kinds of places, and there’s a bruise on my thigh from where I crashed my mini motorbike into a wall; I still had fun though.
At the moment, we’re relaxing with glasses of champagne. Francis, who can’t handle liquor very well, is already asleep. We took turns decorating her face with silly sayings. She’ll get a laugh out of it when she wakes up.
While the others busy themselves with the card game, Lily wanders over and takes a seat next to me. Today is the most conversation I’ve had with her since I dated her brother. Despite her being my sister’s best friend, we haven’t had much reason to cross paths. I sent one of my assistants out for the fittings, so I didn’t have to be in direct contact with any of the girls, Lily included.
“He was really cut up when you went away,” she says after a while.
It’s quite obvious who she’s talking about. I say nothing, but merely take another sip from my glass.
“I was really hoping that he’d never have to see you again.”
“I’ll have you know that I’ve spent all these years hoping the exact same thing.”
She seems surprised by this, as if she was expecting me to say that it’s none of her business or something. It is none of her business, but I’d like her to know that there’s nothing to worry her pretty little redhead about. The James and Emelia ship crashed into an iceberg a long time ago; it’s somewhere wrecked at the bottom of the ocean.
“Well, good. He’s going through a rough patch right now, and the last thing he needs is for you to use him, and then rip off his head like you’ve done the others.”
She follows the columns, then?
“Trust me, Lily. I don’t want James Potter.”
“You did, once upon a time.”
“Once upon a time.”
She’s thoughtful for a few beats. As she shifts her really long red hair over one shoulder, I take a bottle off the nearby table and refill my glass.
“What happened, anyway?”
I look at her out of the corner of my eye. I’m surprised she doesn’t know, but I suppose with all the rumors that followed the breakup, how could one know the truth unless delivered from the horse’s mouth? James wouldn’t tell her. I’m sure he’d like to keep his actions to himself.
“You might be better off asking your brother that question.”
“I did, but he went all tight-lipped whenever I did, so I gave up,” she grumbles. “So I’m certain that you did something that he’s too embarrassed about to mention.”
Her statement is so ridiculous that the only thing I can do is laugh. I can’t help it.
“Oh yes,” I say, wiping tears from my eyes. “I ripped out Saint James’s heart and walked my six-inch heels all over it.”
Her brown eyes are flashing fire, and her mouth’s set in a firm line. I’ll take a wild guess that she’s not amused. “Just stay away from him. Got it?”
I mock salute her. “Loud and clear, ma’am.”
She narrows her eyes at me before walking away. I honestly don’t care if she has a low opinion of me or not. I know what happened, and James knows what happened. It’s up to him if he wants to clear everything up or not, because I honestly can’t be bothered. Rumors don’t bother me, unless they directly affect my sales. And as I’ve said, I’m more known in the Muggle world. They’re a very forgiving lot, unless you kill a baby or something.
It’s not long before everyone’s passing out, either on beds or on the floor. Soon enough, it’s only Allison and me. I wrap my arms around her and grin. “By tomorrow afternoon, you’re going to be Mrs Frank Longbottom. Couldn’t you have picked someone with a more flattering last name?”
She gives a short giggle, and then holds onto me tight. “I’m actually kind of scared.”
“It’s only natural,” I tell her, ruffling her short hair. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.
“I keep thinking someone’s going to interrupt the wedding. I have recurring dreams about someone giving reason as to why we shouldn’t be married.”
“If someone stands up during that part, even if it’s to use to loo, I’ll knock them out.” She laughs, a nervous, broken sound. I place my hand under her chin, tip her face upward. “Look at me, Allie. I’m serious. No one’s going to ruin tomorrow for you. No one.”
“I hope you’re right, Emmy.”
Hate. That. Nickname.
“Aren’t I always?” We share a smile, after which I release her. “Now get to bed. Don’t want to look like a zombie on your wedding day, do you?”
She gives me one final hug. “Thanks, Emmy. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Wouldn’t have missed this for the world, honey.”
She slips beneath the covers, hat still on. Alison is the definition of adorable. We didn’t spend much time with each other when we were growing up, since I was too busy being a child star. But we connected during our Hogwarts years. I tried to corrupt her, but she’s so inherently innocent and good that it was impossible. She’s the only one of us that didn’t even touch any champagne, and was all too content with juice. Impossibly innocent too, so that all you want to do is protect her.
I watch her until her breathing evens out before laying on my own bed, but I don’t fall asleep right away. I keep replaying the conversations I had with Lily, and then with Alison. The headache I thought I’d gotten rid of is returning, and I rub my temples, eyes closed. This day may have left me unsure about a few things, but there’s one thing I’m certain of. My sister’s wedding is going off without a hitch. Nothing or no one is going to ruin it.
With that thought, I close my eyes and wait for sleep.
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