The next morning I awoke to the dulcet tones of the twins screaming as they ran up and down the corridor outside the guest room door. Groaning, I got out of bed and opened my door only to see that the twins were not only running around screaming, but were doing so naked. Oh, the joys of two-year-olds. I quietly shut the door and got back into bed, pretending to never have woken up. The last thing I wanted after a night of babysitting was to wrangle toddlers into clothing.
After Hugo had returned from the store with Oliver and Abby, he and Cassie quickly decided to take the opportunity of a free babysitter having willingly walked into their midst to go out to dinner together, leaving me to make boxes of macaroni and cheese for the kids and then spend three full hours trying to put them to bed. Now, at six in the morning, I was regretting my decision to stay with Hugo.
A half hour later I got up once more and snuck into the bathroom for a much-needed shower. Twenty minutes later I was dressed and ready for work. I quickly packed my bag and ran downstairs to the kitchen, where Hugo had the four eldest kids seated at the table with breakfast in front of them. Cassie, dressed in a fierce suit with a spit-up rag over her shoulder, was carrying baby Gideon while sipping a gigantic mug of coffee.
“Morning, Lily,” Hugo said. “Sleep well?”
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Thanks again for last night,” Cassie said. “We hadn't been out in months.”
Well, it wasn't like I could've said no, I thought. “No problem.”
“Sit down and have some breakfast,” Cassie said, gesturing to the empty seat in between Billy and Abby. “Hugo's made eggs.”
Billy was in the process of smearing oatmeal all over himself while Abby squirted half a bottle of ketchup all over her eggs. It wasn't at all appetizing.
“Er, thanks, but I've really got to get going,” I said. “But thanks again for letting me stay.”
“Anytime, Lils,” Hugo replied as he wiped oatmeal off of Billy.
“And Lily, if you need help with that landlord, don't hesitate to ask,” Cassie added.
Nodding, I hitched my bag up higher on my shoulder and hurried out of the room, and then out of the house. Glancing at my watch, I realized I still had enough time at work to stop by the Leaky Cauldron for a proper breakfast. Turning on the spot, I disapparated.
Partway there, I realized that I'd promised to cook dinner for Matt that night, in return for him watching my cat.
Why had I done that? I thought as I walked through the doors of the pub. Seriously, why? Because he'd agreed to watch my psychotic cat, that's why. It really was the least I could do, but with suddenly think he's attractive rather than just my older brother's best friend, it was weird.
I ruminated over it the entire time I ate my fry-up at the Leaky Cauldron, and by the time I'd eaten the last piece of bacon I still hadn't figured it out. Not that there was anything to figure out, exactly. I'd told him I'd cook him dinner, so that's what I had to do. But I needed to talk to Ashtyn. Desperately.
Bradley was already at the office when I arrived a short while later. I gave him a quick hello and then dashed off a brief lunch request to Ashtyn and sent it with Bradley's owl.
The morning was relatively boring, filled with more paperwork and no new clients. Bradley spent it at Magical Records and Archives since he hadn't finished the previous day. Ashtyn sent a return owl, asking me to bring takeaway for lunch since she only had a half hour and wouldn't be able to go anywhere. At eleven, I put up the closed sign and left, my mind on Chinese for lunch and a heart-to-heart with my best friend.
It's always slightly intimidating to visit Ashtyn at work, which is why I like to meet her somewhere for lunch instead, but she's always too busy. Ashtyn works as an editor for Verne and Beckett, one of two magical publishing firms in the United Kingdom. She spends her days reading manuscripts and fixing all the terrible grammar and spelling she finds. Whenever she's on a deadline she spends nearly all her time at work, and today was one of those times.
The building itself is quite intimidating. It's huge and has security and a burly wizard stationed at the entrance where you have to sign in. Then, they have to verify that you actually have an appointment with someone there. Compared to where I work, it's a palace.
Ashtyn's study is located on the tenth floor. I waved to one of the secretaries as I walked down the corridor and then burst in without knocking. Ashtyn jumped, spilling a few loose papers onto the floor, but grinned when she saw me.
I set the food down on her desk and we hugged quickly. Ashtyn was the third in mine and Hugo's trio from Hogwarts. We met on the first day and have been friends ever since. She's similar to Becca in terms of her beauty, but with much darker skin. She, like Becca, is also quite tall, which makes us quite the pair. I'm about five inches shorter than she is.
“Mmm, is that Chinese?” Ashtyn asked as she opened the bag. “You are brilliant.”
“How's the book?” I asked, taking a pint of lo mein.
Ashtyn rolled her eyes. “It's a great book, but the bloke doesn't know the difference between your and you're. It's going to be a best-seller, I guarantee it, but it's just taking a while to edit. But enough about that. I haven't talked to you in days. How was Angie's wedding?”
“Just like all the other weddings my cousins have had,” I said. “When I got home after I found Sean asleep in my doorway. He begged me to take him back-”
“Lily, you didn't-”
“Of course not!” I exclaimed. “I'm not that pathetic.”
“Sorry. I had to ask,” Ashtyn said, in between bites.
Ignoring her, I continued. “Sunday I had no water, thanks to my lovely landlord. I spent the day and night at Al's flat with Becca, even though Al wasn't there. Matt was in his room the entire time because he was ill. Becca attempted to console me about Sean, even though I'm fine. He's not even the worst of the blokes I've dated.”
“It's kind of sad that that's true,” Ashtyn put in.
“I know,” I said flatly. “But then last night the water still wasn't on so I sucked it up and spent the night at Hugo's and got roped into babysitting all five of his kids while he and Cassie went to dinner.”
“What did you do with Sir Thumbs?”
“I'm getting to that. I left him with Matt, who seemed less than thrilled about having him. So I promised I'd make him dinner to thank him.”
Ashtyn burst out laughing. “But the only thing you can make is tuna noodle casserole.”
“Matt's never had my tuna noodle casserole, so that doesn't matter,” I explained. “That's not the problem.”
“Then what is?” Ashtyn asked, setting down the beef with broccoli. “Could I have some of the lo mein?”
“Sure,” I said, handing it to her. “Did you ever have a crush on Matt when we were at Hogwarts? Or since?”
Ashtyn choked on her bite of lo mein. She set down the container and swallowed. “Is that a serious question, Lil?”
I could feel my cheeks reddening. “Yes. He's your brother's friend, too.” Ashtyn's older brother, John, is another of Al's friends from Hogwarts.
“Lily, I have never once thought Matt was hot. Cute, yes, but not in an 'I want to date him' way. He's nearly half a foot shorter than me and he's quiet as anything. Why are you asking me this all of a sudden? You know my big Hogwarts crush was your brother, James. He and Matt could not be anymore different.”
“Eww, don't remind me,” I said, shuddering. “Yesterday when I dropped Sir Thumbs off I realized that Matt is cute. I've never thought about him like that before, but yesterday, I it felt like it did when I saw Sean for the first time-”
“And look how that turned out,” Ashtyn said, picking up the lo mein again.
“Am I insane?” I asked. “He's Al's best friend. I've known him since I was nine or ten. Why would I suddenly find him attractive?”
Ashtyn sighed. “Look, Lily, I don't think you're insane. He is cute, in a boy next door kind of way. He's got the weirdest eye color I've ever seen and his messy hair does border on hot. But he's just not my type. He's so pale, and he's so short, could you imagine?”
I laughed. “So I'm not insane for thinking he's cute?”
“No. To be honest, you two might make a cute couple. I never thought about it before because he's just always been there, but yeah. I think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself, though.”
“But you see why cooking him dinner is a problem?”
Ashtyn smiled. “Not really. Lily, you've got a bad track record with men. Think about it. Your last three boyfriends have all outright lied to you about either their jobs, their families, their past, or even their actual names. With Matt, you already know his name, his job, his family, and his friends. But all you're doing is cooking him dinner. Remember that. Just friends.”
“I know,” I said. “And I just ended things with Sean.”
“Exactly,” Ashtyn said with a grin. “Now, I've really got to get back to work. But owl me tonight after. You doing this at his place?”
I nodded. “I've got to pick up Sir Thumbs anyway.”
I left work early (another perk of working for my cousin) and picked up all the necessary ingredients for Lily's Famous Tuna Noodle Casserole (I could hear the groans from all my cousins from here). I decided against a bottle of wine and grabbed a box of tea bags instead.
My heart pounding, I walked up the stairs to Albus and Matt's flat, knowing full well Matt would be the only one there. I paused outside the door and made a vain attempt to flatten my hair, but all I managed to do was make it more frizzy. Oh well, I thought, maybe it would be better if Matt didn't find me attractive.
I knocked on the door and Matt opened it a few seconds later. He'd changed out of his blue Ministry robes and into a pair of denims and an orange Chudley Cannons t-shirt. His blonde hair was messy and in need of a cut, falling loosely over his left eye. We made eye contact for a few seconds too long, which was easy since our eyes were at the exact same level. I quickly averted my own and glanced into the flat just in time to see Sir Thumbs jump off the couch and dart out the door.
“I don't think so!” I shouted as I reached down to grab him. He howled his protest at my thwarting of his escape plan and I carried him back into the flat, Matt laughing as he shut the door behind us. At least Sir Thumbs took care of what had quickly been becoming an awkward greeting.
“He did that this morning,” Matt said, turning his arm over to reveal a fresh cat wound. It was nestled amongst many old scars.
“I'm sorry,” I said, wincing. “But it looks like you must've had a cat at some point.”
Matt looked confused. “What?”
“Your scars,” I said, pulling up my own sleeve. “Sir Thumbs has given me plenty.”
“Oh, right,” Matt said, absentmindedly rubbing his arm. “My sister had one when we were little. He was worse than Sir Thumbs, though.”
I laughed. “That takes skill. Really, though, Thumbs used to be quite pleasant when he was little.” I reached down to pet him. He rubbed up against my legs. “I think he just misses being home.”
“Is your water back on?”
“Yes, thank God,” I said, standing up again. I'd stopped by my flat on my way over to check. The last thing I wanted was another night at Hugo's.
“Well,” Matt said, grinning, “what are you cooking me in return for watching your terror of a cat?”
“Tuna noodle casserole,” I said, following him into the kitchen. “I hope you like tuna. It's really all I can make.”
“I'll eat pretty much anything. My sister can't even make a casserole,” Matt explained. “But she married a chef, so that doesn't much matter anymore.”
“I should marry a chef,” I said, unpacking the ingredients. “Where does he work?”
“He owns the Rusty Bludger.”
“Really? That's your brother-in-law? I never realized.” The Rusty Bludger was the favorite pub of all my cousins. I'm fairly certain we keep the place in business. I'd been drunk there on more than one occasion.
Matt nodded. “Amy and Dillan got married about six years ago now. Two of your cousins were in the wedding.”
“I can't keep track of anyone's wedding anymore,” I said as I began preparing the casserole. I scooped tuna into a bowl and set the can down on the floor for Sir Thumbs. He immediately pounced on it. “I've got sixteen cousins.”
Matt laughed. “It was Victoire and Rose.”
Now I remembered. Rose worked at St. Mungo's with Matt's sister. There really was too much to keep track of. We continued to talk about my various cousins and their marriages while I finished making the casserole. It was very odd because I already knew so much about him and he already knew so much about me. There was none of that first date awkwardness. Not a date, though, I told myself. Not a date.
We chose to eat in the living room on the couch because the kitchen table was so cluttered. Sir Thumbs followed us, determined to put on his finest show of begging, in hopes of just a few scraps of tuna. I had a heart of stone, though, when it came to begging, and I'd already warned Matt not to give in.
“This is really good,” Matt said after he had a few bites.
“Thanks,” I said. People may complain about the fact that this was the only thing I ever cooked, but no one ever said they didn't like it.
We ate quietly for a few minutes, but again, it wasn't awkward. It hadn't been awkward since that brief moment when we'd held eye contact a bit too long, but Sir Thumbs had taken care of that.
“It's weird,” Matt said. “We've never really hung out before. I mean, besides when we both happen to be at the Rusty Bludger at the same time.”
“Well, Albus and John weren't too keen on letting their little sisters hang out with them at Hogwarts,” I pointed out. “And then we all graduated and got busy.”
“What have you been up to?” Matt asked. “Last I heard you work at a bookshop?”
“It went out of business five years ago,” I said. “I still miss it. I work for my cousin Bradley now. He's got a private investigating firm in Knockturn Alley.”
“Oh, you replaced Gladys?” Matt asked, laughing. “She was great.”
“You know Gladys?” Seriously, the world was getting smaller and smaller.
“Amy hired Bradley to do some investigating on something to do with her research years ago,” Matt explained. “I went with her and met Gladys once.”
“She still stops by on occasion to make sure I'm still alive,” I said. “She didn't think I'd be able to defend myself if needed, but she doesn't understand what it's like growing up with two older brothers. And it's not like I've had to defend myself there.”
“Well that's good,” Matt said, setting down his empty plate.
“What about you? What have you been up to since Hogwarts?” I asked.
“Besides holding down the fort while Albus and Becca gallivant around the world?”
I giggled. “Yeah, besides that.”
“Working for the Ministry,” Matt said. “Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. It can be pretty interesting at times.”
“I bet. Far less boring than other parts of the Ministry,” I said. “Isn't your dad head of department?”
Matt's cheeks tinged pink. It was kind of adorable. “Er, yeah. Nepotism, what can I say?”
I shrugged. “Hey, I'd be the world's biggest hypocrite if I had an issue with that.”
“We make quite the pair,” Matt said. “Do you want a drink or anything? I might have a few beers in the fridge.”
No, Lily, that would be a bad idea, I told myself. But Matt was just so easy to talk to, and if I said no he'd probably assume that meant I wanted to leave. One couldn't hurt, especially if I drank it slowly.... “Sure.”
Matt returned a few minutes later with two opened beers. I took the one he offered me and sipped it. It was my favorite kind.
“Albus thinks I'm weird for liking this brand,” Matt said.
“Me too!” I exclaimed. “It's my favorite.”
“Really? I've never met anyone who liked it. Dillan told me he keeps them stocked at the pub just for me and one other person. You must be the other.”
I shrugged. “Guess so.” I took another sip, as did Matt, and we looked up at each other at the exact same time. Once again I couldn't help but stare into his eyes, but he didn't turn away. Instead, we stared at each other, neither of us moving, for a full minute, before Matt finally averted his gaze.
I followed suit and set my beer down on the coffee table. What was going on here? Did he like me, too? I glanced back at him and noticed his t-shirt. Chudley Cannons. They were the worst team in the league. This would be a good distraction.
“So, the Cannons,” I said, gesturing to his shirt. “Do you support them?”
Matt looked relieved. That probably wasn't a good sign, but for now, it meant that we could move past the second awkward moment of the evening.
“Yeah, I do,” Matt said.
“But they're terrible!” I pointed out. “They literally haven't won a match in two years.”
“What can I say? They're my team.”
“But why? Is it a family thing? I mean, my uncle Ron supports the cannons, but no one else does.”
“Amy bought me a Cannons jersey when I was eight and then I went to a match and that was that.”
“But why would Amy buy you a Cannons jersey?”
Matt laughed. “Amy doesn't know Quidditch. We'd just moved here from Australia and she wanted to get me a jersey for a team from here and she liked them because they're the underdogs. Who do you support?”
“Puddlemere,” I said, defiantly.
Matt groaned. “Of course. I'm surrounded.”
I laughed. Why had I not realized just how easy it was to talk to Matt before? If there'd been any doubt before about whether I liked him, it was gone now. I really, really liked him.
The topic of Quidditch took us through another beer each. By then it was past nine and time for me to head back to my own flat before I had anymore alcohol and did something stupid.
Matt helped me entice Sir Thumbs back into his carrier, a process that took ten minutes and resulted in me obtaining a new cat wound. I left Thumbs sulking in the carrier by the door while I collected the rest of his things and then Matt and I stood by the door, and suddenly it was awkward again.
I stared into his eyes again, this time noticing that they really were blue, but contained hundreds of flecks of gold, giving them the look of being completely gold if you didn't look closely enough. He averted his gaze, but only for a few seconds. Then he looked back. I suddenly felt warm all over. It was like when I first met Sean, only a hundred times better. And then, I'm not sure whether it was the beer or his eyes or the way his hair fell over his left eye again or the fact that all my cousins were getting married and I was the queen of dating the worst blokes or some combination of all of that, but I kissed him. I leaned in fast and wrapped my arms around his shoulders and pressed my lips hard onto his, kissing him deeply.
He kissed back for a few seconds and I felt tingly all over, like every single one of my nerves was on fire. It felt wonderful and perfect and just a little bit against the rules. But then Matt broke away.
I let my arms fall and took a step back. Matt looked flushed, but happy, and still, vaguely upset. His eyes were bright, though, and the gold flecks were incredibly noticeable.
“I'm sorry-” I began.
“No,” Matt interrupted. “Don't be. It's just...you're my best friend's little sister. I...can't. I'm sorry. Good night, Lily. Thanks for dinner.”
I nodded and bit my lip. I knelt down and picked up Sir Thumbs and all his things. I stood back up and looked at Matt one more time. “Good night, Matt.”
I stepped out into the corridor and Matt shut the door behind me. I stood there, staring at his door, unsure whether I'd just made the best or the worst decision of my life. A/N: Thanks for all the lovely reviews! I made a few edits to the first chapter. They're not really noticeable, but I had to fix a few inconsistencies with that chapter and the chapter I wrote last week.
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