There is only one thing in this world I love more than Fizzing Whizzbees:
I’m the only known teenager in history to admit that, aren’t I?
No, but seriously, they’re so fun. I’m sitting next to my sister Florence in a classy restaurant opposite my mum and stepdad. The din and clatter of cutlery chimes around us as I neatly fold a handkerchief on my lap, watching a cluster of rich men in business suits stroll past our table… Ha. Just kidding. We’re at McDonalds – none of that here. Still, no one’s complaining.
We rarely eat at Wizarding places, which I greatly appreciate. Being stared at relentlessly and hearing the dreaded word ‘Squib’ follow you around the restaurant is not exactly the ideal way to spend a Saturday evening. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little nauseous.
Plus, that pumpkin juice tastes nasty.
“Pass us the salt, would you, Ads?” says dad. I mean, stepdad. Blegh, same thing. Right, he’s been ‘dad’ for as long as I can remember, and thus ‘dad’ he shall remain. I still prefer my biological father, though; he’s more like me (private, antisocial, absolutely crackers under that sensible exterior). If he was still married to my mum, I’d be called Adelaide Fleetwood. How weird is that? I remember when I went through a phase when I persuaded all my friends (Jade) that I had a double barrelled surname: Fleetwood-Best. I ceased the pretence when I realised my name wouldn’t fit on the line allocated for it on school worksheets.
I toss over a few packets of salt and dad doesn’t wait a moment in shredding them open and piling it up over his chips. Honestly, I will not be holding back my ‘I told you so’ once his blood pressure goes through the roof.
“Mummy, I need more ketchup,” states Florence, rubbing a chip into the spotless corners of her tub of ketchup and staring at it desolately to prove her point.
“Alright, darling.” She reaches into her purse and picks out a bit of change. I stare at her, confused, when she drops it on the greasy table top in front of me. “Addie, go get your sister some ketchup, please.”
I groan. “Can’t you?”
Mum raises her eyebrows, obviously affronted. “But I’ve asked you.”
There are two people behind the counter: one man who is morbidly obese (I’m not hatin’, just observing) and a woman (who barely looks older than me) with such a sour expression on her bony face that I wouldn’t be surprised if she had lemon on toast for breakfast this morning. Not exactly what I’d call inviting.
Pouting, I slowly turn my head back to face Mum.
“Now.” Her tone is deep, low and dangerous. She sounds like how a lion does as it taunts its prey just before it goes in for the kill – on cartoons, I mean…
Dad is avoiding eye contact. Florence is looking at me expectantly.
“I can’t,” I mutter, staring down at the table and letting my hair hang like a curtain over my face. The clutches of fear wrap around my arms and legs, constricting me to sit perfectly still, although my heart starts pumping erratically just at the thought of going up there by myself. Ugh.
I don’t exactly enjoy meeting new people. Or re-meeting people I’ve met before. I guess I’m just not a fan of interacting with people, full stop. What’s there to gain, apart from potential embarrassment?
“Of course you can.” Her voice is softer now, more encouraging.
My head snaps up to stare at her, wide-eyed: “Seriously, Mum, I can’t.”
And just like that, all her composure bursts.
“This is what I mean, Addie!” she exclaims suddenly, shoving back her fringe in frustration. I glance around us to check if anyone heard her outburst; unfortunately for me there are several curious onlookers. “If you can’t even go up to someone and ask for some bleeding ketchup, I have honestly not got a clue how you’re planning to get on later on in life! You can’t rely on us forever.” Her shoulders begin to sag and she shakes her head. “I’ve had enough of this, Adelaide. It’s about time you grew up.”
I just blink at her dumbly, feeling only too strongly the sharp stares from the people around us. Public humiliation? Really? Way to stab your own daughter in the gut, mother.
Maybe my reluctance to be sociable is a little pitiful, but she’s gone too far. What a drama queen.
My eardrums begin to ache as the silence reverberates around us. My heart seems to constrict and convulse, sending spasms of pain through my chest, and I can feel the thin shell of self-confidence that was shielding me shatter into miniscule shards. I’ve never felt so naked, not even the time when I accidently pulled my knickers down when getting dressed for PE. Half a dozen pairs of unfamiliar eyes are burning holes into my already burning face. If I could do magic, I would turn myself invisible right about now. How can I possibly be expected to go up in front of all these people now? Why doesn’t anyone understand that?
I suppose that, maybe, I could quickly walk up to the man, stutter out the order; he’d tell me how much I owe him before passing me the ketchup, and then I could scuttle back to my seat. Oh, but people rarely follow the script I lay out in my head. It’s all too difficult; you just can’t predict how other people are going to react…
“Don’t worry about it, Isabelle,” dad says suddenly in what I assume he thinks is a comforting tone (to me, he just sounds condescending), hurriedly getting out of his seat and placing a placating arm on mum’s shoulder. “I’ll get the damn ketchup.”
I cringe at the screech of his chair as he nudges it out of the way. He gives me a fleeting look of warning before ambling over to the counter, oblivious to the stares. Mum is looking at me, not with anger, but worse - disappointment. That’s all I really am to her these days, isn’t it? Holding back the stupid tears stinging my eyes, I turn to stare out the window. As heavy rain thuds against the hazy glass I involuntarily shiver, watching the trickles race each other to the bottom. Hm. What a beautiful summer’s day.
You know what I was saying earlier about how much I love family outings? - I take it back.
They suck. Royally.
There is a ringing noise coming from Mum’s handbag. “It’s work,” she mumbles before turning away to murmur into her phone.
Florence nudges my foot but I pretend not to have felt anything. Why she’s even bothering with me, I don’t know. She always, always sides up with my parents against me at times such as these, as infrequent as they are. I clench my nails into my palm. Doesn’t family loyalty have some sort of rule of order - siblings first, parents second? She’s such a mummy’s and a daddy’s girl, it’s quite sickening. If only she hadn’t asked for that freaking ketchup.
Mum is still on the phone a minute later when Dad returns with enough ketchup to feed a large family of hippos, staying true to his favourite motto ‘too much is better than too little’ (his excuse for the copious amount of salt he uses). He passes it to Florence, who is now looking tremendously guilty. A wave of guilt washes over me just looking at her innocent little face, and I’ve done nothing wrong! Ugh. I decide to give her foot a little tap back; otherwise she’d be liable to sink into a puddle of shame right there in the middle of McDonalds, which would not be fun to clean. See! I am a compassionate sister as well as a considerate citizen!
Okay, so I feel a little shameful for being so… weak. It gets a bit tiring after a while, I’ll tell you that. I remember a few years ago I made an oath to myself that by the time I was fifteen I would be beautiful and confident and chatty. Oh, if only my past self were to see me now.
“I’m going to have to pop into the office tonight,” Mum sighs as she stuffs her phone back in her bag. “So much for a day off.”
Mum’s a reporter for this newspaper called The Daily Prophet. She writes about all sorts of affairs that go on in the Wizarding World. I don’t really keep up with their news, mostly because I’ve never heard of half the people or places that are featured. I am quite interested in the goings on of that Harry Potter bloke though, I mean he has got that whole impressive warrior look about him in all the pictures I’ve seen (I’m really hoping that red-headed lady that’s continually photographed with him is either an avid stalker or a biological family member). Anyway, apparently some large-scale bank had a recent break-in and mum’s going to cover it – I think that’s the gist of it. I don’t really know. She was trying to explain it to me this morning but lost me at ‘bank’.
I don’t know much about journalism, but judging by the way she’s slouched on the greasy table with her elbows propping her up, leaning her lined face into her palms, I can guess it’s a pretty tough job.
She’s been so tired lately. Dark circles seem to be permanently engraved beneath her light eyes, regardless of the amount of concealer she attempts to cake on. I’ve noticed, but I’ve not done anything about it. It’s just the average life of an adult, isn’t it? Taxing and stressful and a plethora of dark circles? Sounds a bit depressing, really. Shame it has to be that way.
“I’ll go to France.”
Wait, what? That sounded suspiciously similar to my own high-pitched voice - the sombre words came spewing out of my mouth without any permission from my brain. Stupid faulty nervous system. It never does as it’s told.
“Huh?” Ever so slowly, Mum removes her face from her hands to gawp at me. She looks as shocked as I feel.
“I’m willing to go to France this summer, like you wanted,” I say, enunciating every syllable clearly and dragging the words out, despite them being physically painful to push out.
Her face brightens and the pain is worth it. That smile takes years off of her. “What?”
“Ugh, don’t make me say it again,” I moan.
“Oh, Addie!” She leans across the table to squeeze her arms around my neck. This is uncomfortable. She was practically calling me a pathetic loser not five minutes ago; this is far too early for displays of physical affection. “Oh, darling, you’re not going to regret it, I promise!”
“I bloody well hope not,” I mutter indiscernibly, but perhaps not quite indiscernible enough, as Florence nudges my foot again - hard this time.
“Fleur’s still expecting you, and I contacted the Department of Magical Transportation a while ago (“they’re the people that deal with magical transport,” Dad adds as an aside to me, the dumb Squib, ever so helpfully) so everything’s ready to go,” Mum goes on excitedly. “You’ll be okay to leave as soon as you’re all packed!”
I dread to think what I’ve gotten myself into.
What does one take with them on a month-long trip to France?
So far, my suitcase is packed full of various bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I like to think of myself as a fairly humble person but I do get a bit obsessed over my hair. Unfortunately I inherited my dad’s crazy curls. It goes all Einstein on me if I don’t alternate the brand of conditioner I use every other day, and I have to use a different brand of shampoo to conditioner every time I wash it if I’m aiming for seriously soft, detangled hair.
Got to keep it on its toes, you know how it is.
“Finished packing, love?” probes Mum, peering round my door with the washing basket cradled in her arm. It seems as if that whole little scene at McDonalds is forgotten.
Ah yes, the washing basket. My family can simply put all their dirty laundry in one big tub, wave a wand and BAM. Fresh as a daisy.
I, however, have to wash and dry my own clothes the ‘Muggle’ way, unless she’s in a good mood and lets me off. Mum insists that I do everything without any aid from a family member as one day I’ll be living by myself with no magic to help me. Oh, and apparently it builds character. Wizards must have no character then.
I glance at my half-empty suitcase. “Er, not exactly…”
“Oh, come on, the portkey leaves in an hour or so!” she frowns, dismayed at my slow progress.
“Can we put it off for a bit longer? I’ve got so much still to do...”
“But of course! I’m sure the Minister for Magic will understand,” she says, voice as sweet as sugar. God, how sassy is my mother? A simple no would have sufficed.
I know better than to talk back though. She acts like a moody fourteen year old and has a temper to match.
“Look, I’ll give you some help.”
She strolls over to my wardrobe, sleek blonde hair swaying out behind her, and chucks some old jumpers and jeans at me, a few landing on my head in the process. Charming.
“Mum, I am not taking this to France,” I declare, looking disdainfully at a huge knitted jumper featuring a silver cat wearing a scarlet bowtie. The eyes light up and everything. Honestly, it should be illegal to own one of these bad boys, let alone wear one. In case you were wondering, my grandma did not knit it for me; she died before I was born. My grandpa bought it from the charity shop for my thirteenth birthday.
Not that I have anything against knitted jumpers; quite the contrary, I practically live in them. Just not… well, ugly ones.
“Why not? It’s really cute!”
Oh, dear God. Did my mother just call an item of clothing ‘cute’?
“Trust me, it’s not,” I reply seriously. “It’s hot in France right now, isn’t it? I think shorts and T-shirts will be slightly more appropriate.”
“Fine then. If you don’t want my help, I’ll leave,” Mum huffs, using a Charm to levitate the clothes back to their original domain before storming out of my room like an angry teenage girl. More often than not, I find myself wondering who the child is in this relationship.
Just under an hour later I’m all packed (fingers crossed) and ready to leave. It would’ve been done a lot sooner if my room wasn’t so distracting – you wouldn’t believe half the stuff I found stuffed under my rug and hidden in the murky depths of my drawers. I didn’t realise I owned half of that junk.
I am absolutely dreading the journey; trust me when I say portkeys are not fun. NOT. FUN. A few years ago I had to use one to get to my aunt’s wedding and I’d never puked so many times in one evening. Imagine the wildest roller coaster you’ve ever been on, only a thousand times faster whilst whirling and gyrating simultaneously.
Feel like throwing up yet?
If you don’t, you’re weird. In a bad way.
“I don’t want to go,” I groan into the deathly silence of my bedroom. Mercury’s ears perk upwards and he turns from his cosy position on the middle of the bed (oh, don’t mind me, honey, I’ll just perch on the very end of my bed, almost sliding off - it’s not like I need more space than you or anything) to look up at me. “At least you’re coming with me, baby.” (Mum only agreed because she’s allergic to him.) “I’d be so lonely if you weren’t coming.” Letting my head flop back against the headboard, I let out a heavy sigh. “It’s gonna suck so bad.”
Mercury blinks at me twice. I’m gonna take that as a sign of agreement.
“Addie?” I jump at the sound of the sudden (albeit timid) voice coming from my doorway. “Who’re you talking to?”
“God, Florence, you scared me,” I huff, clutching my chest. She doesn’t answer, just stares up at me with her shockingly blue eyes. “What’s up?”
“Mum says you need to come downstairs. Now. She’s really angry; she started swearing in French again.” My ten-year-old sister has never spoken this quietly (apart from when we’re out in public). My eyebrows screw together as I flop backwards onto my bed and pat the space next to me.
“Florence, tell me what’s wrong,” I instruct as soothingly as possible, forcing her eyes to meet mine. I’m generally the type of person with that innate skill to make moments of comfort cringey and awkward, but my little sister is a special case.
She runs her fingers along Mercury’s silky fur before shifting him further along the duvet and curling up beside me in his place. “Don’t go, Addie,” she whispers into my hair.
My heart tightens. This girl is my best friend and I don’t know what I’ll do without her. Who am I meant to have secret midnight feasts with for the next month? Who can I argue with mercilessly, and then make up again within the hour?
Though I’ll admit she annoys me to infinity half the time, we’ve never even properly fallen out before. Well, there was that one time… I’d hidden her dolls and then forgot where I put them and she consequently called me a, and I quote, ‘useless Squib’. Those words have haunted me ever since.
Granted, she was six years old then and I forgave her pretty quickly (have you seen her puppy dog eyes?), but still, it was quite hurtful.
“I don’t want to go,” I whisper back, instinctively moving closer to her, “but this is something Mum really wants me to do.”
“Why?” She turns her head to look up at me, desperately searching my face for an answer.
“I don’t know,” I lie. I know perfectly well why - she thinks I’m a sorry excuse for a human being with less than an ounce of confidence to my name, but I’ll go to hell before I admit that to my little sister. You know you’re at a low when your own mother thinks you’re pathetic.
“Can I come with you?”
Smiling slightly, I reply, “I think this is something I’m meant to do alone.” I brush some long strands of blonde hair away from her face. “Look on the bright side - you’ll get to choose what you want to watch on the TV when I’m gone. And you’ll get to sit in the front seat of the car all the time!”
“That’s true,” she replies thoughtfully. My stomach clenches uncomfortably. That was easier than expected. “I’d still rather you stayed home, though.”
“I know,” I sigh. “Look after mum and dad, will you? And yourself. When I get back I want to see you looking exactly the same as you do now. Don’t you dare go growing up in my absence.”
She giggles, the sound soft like tinkling bells.
Suddenly Dad’s head pops round the door. “Addie, love, it’s time to go.”
I follow him out of my bedroom, Florence and Mercury faithfully trailing after me, before turning around and trying to record every aspect of it in my memory, right from the smooth lilac walls to the golden chest in the corner. It’s positively bursting with all the cuddly toys I’ve accumulated over the years (who needs friends when you have Beary Bear and Pinkie Pie to keep you company?). Finally, I blink and turn away, taking my sweet time to shuffle down the stairs. I breathe in the unique scent of my home.
All of a sudden I have the strangest urge to cry. My throat tightens and my eyes are sore and -
I want to stay home.
Ugh. Hold it together, Addie. You’re fifteen years old for god’s sake! It’s not like you’ve never been away from your parents overnight before.
Except, y’know, it kinda is.
I don’t wanna leave my mummy and daddy! You can’t make me! I’m just a kid, I can’t cope on my own! Who’s going to make my bed for me, and (attempt to) brush the stubborn knots out of my hair? I’m not so sure what Fleur would feel about doing that. Ugh, I need my mum.
The woman in question seems to sense something is wrong. She pulls me towards her and I wrap my arms around her tightly, grateful for the familiarity and comfort. Mum Hugs are something I’m definitely going to miss for the next month or so.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you,” she murmurs into my ear.
“It’s okay,” I answer without a second thought. She smiles. She looks a lot like Florence when she smiles.
“The portkey leaves in thirty seconds!” Dad chimes in.
“Oh my God,” I mutter, “I can’t do this.”
“Yes you can, honey,” Mum tells me as Dad dives in to peck me on the cheek. Gross, Dad saliva on my face.
"Where's that smile gone, sweets?" Dad lifts my chin up between his fingers and stretches my lips out into a pitiful smile. I don't have to see the grimace on my face to know it's there.
"Yes," Mum chips in as she smooths my hair down, "keep smiling and don't forget your manners. Remember, Fleur and her family are being so generous to you."
At the mention of Fleur and her family my heart starts pumping louder, harder. Ew, I'll be getting sweaty palms in a minute.
“You’ll ring me, won't you?” I ask, biting my lip. Oh god. It’s really hitting home; I’m going to be living in a stranger’s home for the next four weeks. Four. Weeks. Thirty full days. And not just any strangers, oh no, but snobby French strangers. No parents to mollycoddle me for the first time in fifteen years … this may just be the end of me.
“Of course.” Mum touches my cheek fondly. “Remember, you can come home anytime you like. If you really hate it, I’ll understand, but just know that I am so proud of you for taking this chance, love, and I want you to -”
“It’s time,” Dad interjects. “Bon voyage, darling," he adds, to which I roll my eyes in a typical teenage fashion.
“Bye, Addie!” Florence exclaims shrilly from where she is tucked securely under Mum’s arm, desperately trying to break free from her hold. Her big glassy eyes still seem to be pleading with mine: please stay, please stay. I have to look away before I do as she says.
“Bye,” is all I manage, my voice cracking and croaking like a toad with a very sore throat. Damn you, onion ninja. To be honest, I’m proud of myself for managing to keep the tears at bay for the moment being at least; I’m sure there’ll be plenty of them later on when I’m alone in the confines of my new bedroom.
New bedroom. Gulp.
With one last nervous glance at my mum, who tearfully grins back in encouragement, I link my elbow around the handle of the suitcase and carefully hoist up Mercury’s cage (containing said Kneazle for whom the cage was bought) before grabbing the worn-out trainer with my free hand and, finally, clamping my eyes shut.
Okay, so I won’t deny it: I am a teensy, tiny bit excited to be headed for France.
Just don't tell my mother.
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Disclaimer: I don't own McDonald's :(
Bon voyage - have a good trip