Staying at Albus's flat sans Albus proved to be far less awkward than staying with any of my cousins or Ashtyn, but it still wasn't an ideal situation. I would've been perfectly happy to sit on the couch all day and read a novel or two but Becca, having heard about my recent breakup with Sean, felt the need to entertain me for the entire day and well into the evening. She also wanted to console me and told me she completely understood what I was going through. But she didn't. She was going out with Al, who was the complete opposite of Sean. Although to be honest, I didn't have a clue as to how their relationship worked when they were both off in other countries for work. Matt retreated to his room pretty much as soon as I entered the flat and didn't reappear all night. I wasn't surprised, seeing how ill he looked.
Becca studies dragons, which is actually how she and Al met. Our cousin Stanley also studies dragons (as do his parents, Uncle Charlie and Aunt Katherine) and Becca was one of his trainees. He set them up, thinking they could have fun when they were both in England, never having any idea that it would turn into something serious. Now here we were, three years later.
Of course, whenever one of my cousins set me up with someone, he turned out to be selling dodgy cauldrons in Knockturn Alley. Or impersonating his Healer brother. You know, normal stuff. I've sworn to myself not to go on anymore blind dates with anyone one of them thinks “would be perfect for Lily.”
“Are you sure you don't want anymore ice cream?” Becca asked around nine o'clock, as she got up to go to the kitchen.
I groaned inwardly as I looked at the now empty pint of ice cream sitting in front of me. “I'm sure.” I'd already done my post-breakup ice cream binge last week and here was Becca, making me do it again.
Becca returned from the kitchen after putting her own pint of ice cream away (she apparently had self-control). “I think I'm going to turn in. I'm off to New Zealand tomorrow around six in the morning. I'll try to be quiet when I get up.”
“You're fine,” I assured her. “I grew up with James and Al as older brothers. I can sleep through anything.”
Becca laughed. “Do you need anymore blankets or anything?”
“I'm good,” I said. There were already two pillows and a blanket on the couch.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Becca finally disappeared into Al's bedroom. Finally, I'd be able to read. I read for about two hours (one of those trashy romance novels where the witch runs off with the sexy Quidditch player and they both live happily ever after) and then fell asleep on the couch without even changing into pajamas.
I woke up around nine, having slept through Becca's departure three hours earlier. I heard noises in the kitchen and figured Matt must have finally emerged. After changing into my work clothes in the loo I went into the kitchen to see what I could find for breakfast.
“Morning,” I said to Matt, who was standing at the counter brewing tea.
“Oh, hey,” he said. “Sorry I disappeared yesterday.”
“Not a problem,” I assured him. “You didn't look so good. Feel better now?”
Matt nodded. “Still, left you with Becca...”
I laughed. “She is fairly intense.”
“Guess you have to be to work with dragons,” Matt pointed out. “Want any tea?”
“Sure,” I replied.
Matt poured two cups of tea while I scrounged in the cupboards for something portable to eat on my way to work. I settled on a pre-packaged cinnamon bun and tried not to think about how much Nana Molly would shudder at the thought of me eating it. Matt and I sipped our tea in silence and I realized just how quiet the flat was without Becca around.
“Well, I'm off to work,” I said after I set my cup down. “Thanks for letting me stay here.”
“No problem,” Matt said.
I grabbed my bag and cinnamon bun and left the flat. Since Al, Matt, and Becca don't live far from my place of employment I decided to just walk, especially since I wasn't at all in danger of being late and I didn't like being early, ever.
The walk was nice since it wasn't raining and soon I had arrived at Diagon Alley. I walked quickly down the path, pausing only to say hi to Uncle George who was putting up a new display in the window of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. By the time I reached the entrance to Knockturn Alley I actually was in danger of being late, but one of the benefits of working for family is that punctuality doesn't really matter.
Neither of my parents were thrilled when I told them I'd accepted a job as a receptionist for my cousin Bradley, who is a private investigator, despite the fact that they'd reluctantly told me it was available. But I'd been out of work for six months as the book shop I'd worked for since leaving Hogwarts went out of business, and I assured Mum and Dad that it was only temporary. That had been five years ago. So much for temporary. However, they seemed to have gotten over their worry and figured it was safe since Bradley was there.
Bradley's premises was a rather shabby building in Knockturn Alley, a place he only bought because of its cheap price. He used to rent it but a few years ago the landlord died and his son didn't want to keep it, so he sold it to Bradley for Knuts on the Galleon. Thus, Bradley'd been stuck with it. It was my opinion that he partly bought it because of its price and partly because he knew it would spite his dad, my uncle Percy, who'd always hated the fact that he conducted his business in Knockturn Alley. I think Uncle Percy always hoped he'd at least move it to a more respectable location.
“Morning, Bradley!” I shouted as I walked in.
The place was very sparsely decorated since Bradley didn't feel the need to make it homey (most of the clients had less than stellar reputations with the Ministry, after all) and the previous receptionist, Gladys, only cared about making it through the day alive. She had thought working in Knockturn Alley would surely mean she'd be killed, and even kept a spare wand in the desk. She left it there for me after she retired. The phoenix feather was poking through the tip, though, so I didn't know how useful it would be. But I hadn't felt much like decorating the place either.
“Lily!” Bradley shouted back. “Glad you're here. I've got to leave immediately. Got a tip about that bloke Hastings wants me to find.”
I shoved my bag into one of the bottom drawers of the desk and locked it with my wand before sitting down. Bradley appeared a few seconds later, dressed as a Muggle, and looking vaguely homeless.
“Is he a bum?” I asked. “You'd fit right in.”
“It's camouflage, Lily. I've no idea if he's a bum.”
“Did you change your hair?” I asked. His hair looked slightly less red than it normally did.
“Yeah. It's a new thing I'm trying. I think the red tips people off.”
“You realize all you do is find information out about these people, not actually capture them,” I pointed out.
Bradley rolled his eyes. “I should be back before lunch. Oh, and I think taxes are due today.”
“I sent them out last week, Bradley,” I reminded him.
“Oh, right,” Bradley muttered as he left the shop.
I giggled to myself after he left. Bradley was quite absentminded, especially when he was out searching for people. Not that this one would be particularly hard. Tobias Hastings was one of our regulars and he always needed Bradley to find people who owed him money, usually from gambling. They were never hard to find and Hastings could probably find them himself, except he was usually drunk. So were the blokes he needed Bradley to find, for that matter. But whatever, it paid my bills.
In fact, most of the people Bradley was hired to find were people who owed money for one reason or another. Not all legal debts, either, but Bradley never asked and since he never asked, he couldn't get in trouble with the Ministry. Every once in a while he got a hard case, like someone looking for their birth parents or a childhood friend. Once, he even had to track down a convicted werewolf from Australia. That had been his hardest case yet, taking him an entire month to complete. That had been before my time as receptionist.
I settled myself in for a quiet morning of paperwork. You'd never know it but there is actually a ton of paperwork involved with a private investigating firm. It was my job to do the accounting and maintain Bradley's schedule and keep records of all the people who had hired him and who he had to investigate. Basically I was paid to organize which was something Bradley was dismal at and I'd been good at all my life. It was a good fit.
Bradley returned well before lunch, having located the bloke Hastings needed and passed the information along. It never took long to find the people Hastings needed as they were usually in seedy bars, sometimes not too far from the office.
“Anyone stop by?” Bradley asked after dropping a bag of Sickles onto my desk.
“Nope,” I said, taking the bag and pouring it out. “Hastings paid you well.”
“He overpaid. I think he was drunk,” Bradley explained.
“He usually is.”
“I would've given it back but as soon as he pushed the bag into my hands he Disapparated, presumably off to catch the bloke I just found.”
“Oh well,” I said as I counted the Sickles. Nice bonus for both of us.
“I'm going to head out again,” Bradley said. “I'll be gone the rest of the day. Need to go see if I can get into Magical Records and Archives.”
“The Gordon case?” I asked. Bradley nodded.
Shawna Gordon, a seventeen-year-old girl in her seventh year of Hogwarts, had hired Bradley to find her birth parents. He'd been working on the case for two weeks but nothing had turned up so far. There didn't seem to be any record of the adoption, which struck both Bradley and I as odd.
“I want to actually go down there and look for myself,” Bradley said. “For all I know they aren't even looking when I ask them to. But if I go there and Todd is working then maybe I can look for myself.”
Magical Records and Archives was located in the Department of Mysteries, although it was not at all affiliated with the Department of Mysteries. It was just the only place available in the Ministry. Todd, our cousin Lindy's husband, works there.
“Good luck,” I said.
“Thanks,” Bradley replied as he left the shop once more.
The rest of the day proved to be rather boring since nobody came into the shop looking for Bradley (Mum would be pleased) and I decided to take off a bit early. Bradley wouldn't miss me when he returned. Plus, I needed to feed Sir Thumbs, my cat, whom I hadn't seen since the previous day when I left for Al's.
The building was strangely quiet when I got there. Usually you could hear the dulcet tones of my neighbors directly below me, who had a set of six-year-old twins. Whether it was the kids screaming or the parents screaming (or crying) or both, usually there was some sort of noise. Or you could hear the noise of my neighbor across the hall, who liked to sing show tunes as she cleaned her flat. But she was silent today as well.
I found out the reason why as soon as I reached my door. There was another note. This one said, 'Water still off. I apologize. Should be back on by tomorrow.' No explanation, unless the scribble at the bottom was an explanation, but I assumed that was just his name. Great. Still no water. I sighed and unlocked the door to find a howling Sir Thumbs sitting in the middle of the floor. His food dish was empty.
Sir Thumbs, who was named for the fact that he's got thumbs, has a hangup about his food dish being empty. It doesn't matter if he's hungry or not but he always insists that it stay full just in case he becomes hungry in the future. It's kind of annoying.
Currently, his water dish was empty too, which meant that I either had to go get some water for him from the Leaky Cauldron or bring him with me, wherever it was that I was going. I preferred the latter since whenever he spends too much time away from me he tends to claw the furniture. But he absolutely hates other pets and children, so the only place I could conceivably bring him is James's flat. That was not at all desirable.
I thought about it for all of ten seconds. I'd have to go back to Al's and stay with Becca and Matt again. Except Becca had left that morning and wouldn't be back for days. Maybe Matt would at least watch Sir Thumbs and then I could suck it up and stay with Hugo.
Twenty minutes and four scratches later I had Sir Thumbs in his cat carrier and a bag packed for myself. I left the building and Disapparated, not wanting to walk carrying Sir Thumbs, my overnight bag, a litter box, and a sack of cat food.
Matt answered the door only a few seconds after I knocked and when he opened it he was still dressed in blue Ministry work robes. I wasn't sure what Matt did at the Ministry, although Al had probably mentioned it before. I also noticed for a split second that he was actually kind of attractive, which I immediately shook from my brain. He was my brother's best friend, not a random cute guy.
“Hi,” I said with a grin, setting down the cat carrier. Sir Thumbs was putting up quite a fuss inside.
“Hi,” Matt replied. He smiled, causing me to notice his attractiveness again. Seriously, when did this happen? I never thought he was cute before. “Still homeless?”
“Very funny,” I said. “Not me so much as my cat. The water's still off and if he's alone any longer he's going to destroy my furniture. Can you watch him?” Smooth, Lily, I thought. Tell him your cat destroys furniture and then ask him to watch it.
“You know it's probably illegal for them to have the water off this long, especially without giving you real notice,” Matt replied.
He probably worked with my aunt Hermione. “Let me guess, you work for Magical Law Enforcement?”
Matt burst out laughing. “No, definitely not. Oh, the robes. I work for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”
“Oh, good, so you must like cats,” I said. “Please will you watch him? I'm going to stay with Hugo and I can't bring him because he hates children and Hugo's got a lot of children.”
“Is there anything this cat does like? What am I supposed to do with him?”
“He likes food. Just keep his dish full and give him some water and he'll be happy. I've got a portable litter box and it magically cleans itself so you don't have to do that. Honestly, he's not a lot of work. Please? You are literally my only option. Well, okay, I could let James watch him but James doesn't like cats.”
“Fine, I'll watch him. But only because I know Albus would if he was here,” Matt said.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I exclaimed as I picked the carrier up and took it inside. Once the door was shut I let Sir Thumbs out. He showed zero interest in Matt and instead just wanted to explore the flat.
I set up the food and water dishes and the litter box. Sir Thumbs took one look at his food dish and seemed satisfied so he continued exploring.
“What's his name?” Matt asked.
“Sir Thumbs,” I said. “But he won't come when you call him, so I wouldn't bother trying.”
“He sounds like a truly wonderful pet,” Matt said.
“He was less angry when he was younger. He's fourteen. I've had him since Hogwarts,” I explained.
“And you'll come get him tomorrow?” Matt asked.
“Promise,” I said. “Unless the water still isn't back on. But even then I'll come to visit. And I'll make you dinner.” Where did that last thing come from? Maybe it was his eyes. They were just so...unique. They were blue, but they were gold at the same time. Did that make sense? Probably not.
“Dinner? Somehow Sir Thumbs seems more tolerable now.”
I laughed. “Okay. Well, I'd better get to Hugo's.”
“Good luck with the kids,” Matt said.
“Good luck with Sir Thumbs,” I said with a grin.
I was still thinking about Matt when I arrived at Hugo's a short while later. Seriously, what was wrong with me? It was probably the aftermath of Angie's wedding. I'd probably find every guy I wasn't related to attractive. Oh well, spending the evening with Hugo's children would surely take my mind off it.
Hugo lives in a rather large house on the border England and Scotland. I think the house was technically in Scotland, but could never remember. They had virtually no neighbors which was probably a good thing considering how loud the place was.
Hugo's wife, Cassie, answered the door. She was in mine and Hugo's year at Hogwarts except she'd been a Slytherin. Neither of us paid much attention to her in school but a few years after we graduated she and Hugo ran into each other in Diagon Alley and hit it off. At the time she'd been in law school, but now she worked in the largest law firm in wizarding Britain. She wasn't a partner yet but I'd no doubt that would soon enough. Despite her small stature and few extra pounds (who could blame her? She'd had five children in five years), she was vicious in the court room.
“Hi, Lily,” Cassie greeted me. “What's up?” Cassie always got right to the point.
“I need a place to stay tonight. My landlord turned off the water-”
“Again?” Cassie exclaimed. “I really wish you'd let me deal with him. I don't even think we'd have to go to court. I could write a strongly worded letter and I'm sure-”
“I don't want to make trouble,” I interrupted. “Other people live there, too.”
“You'd be helping them,” Cassie pointed out.
“Whenever I try to help out, it backfires,” I said flatly, thinking of the time I tried to get James a steady job. He'd nearly burned the book shop down.
Cassie sighed. “Fine. You know you're always more than welcome to stay here.”
“Thanks,” I said as I walked inside. “Is Hugo here?”
“Not right now. He took Oliver and Abby to the store to buy stuff for dinner.”
I nodded. No wonder it was quiet. Oliver and Abby were the two oldest, at ages five and four. Then came the twins, Elizabeth and Billy. They were two. The youngest, Gideon, was almost a year.
“Gideon's asleep and the twins are coloring in the dining room,” Cassie explained as she led me inside. “The guest room is all yours. Oh, if you find a toy dinosaur in there let me know. We watched Remus and Henri last week and they lost one. Victoire said they've been missing it.”
I nodded again and headed up the stairs. Remus and Henri were Victoire and Teddy's seven-year-old twins and they were troublemakers. Nana Molly says they're just like my uncles Fred and George were at that age which always makes Victoire look like she's going to be sick. Luckily their oldest, Sophie, was practically perfect. She kind of off-sets the twins. She's in her third year at Hogwarts.
After setting my bags down on the bed I decided to stay upstairs until I heard Hugo come home. Might as well take the peace and quiet while I could get it since he'd surely put me to work after he got back with the other two kids. A/N: Thank you for all the lovely reviews! I'm really glad that everyone is liking this story so far, since it's so different from what I've done before.