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Chapter 2 : II
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I could hear the beautiful (if not wretched!) cuckoo clock chirping loudly throughout my bedroom as I finished getting dressed. A bashful smile came across my lips as I located my hairbrush that had fallen behind the dresser, remembering it had landed there yesterday in my mad rush to get ready to greet Hamish and Jackie. Turning my head, I caught a glimpse of the cheeky red robin bobbing in and out of its little home. Even though I certainly wasn't rushing for anything, I still had the desire to pick up my pillow and smother it for being so chipper all the time. No one had the right to be happy every hour of the day, least of all a silly little bird.
It had barely gone three minutes past eight when I traipsed into the large kitchen, fully dressed and ready to face the day ahead. The room I found myself in was warm and welcoming in tones of pale yellow and off white, blending seamlessly into one another, again accentuated by vases of pale blue with merry daisies arranged perfectly within them. My mother loved daisies which was why they were constantly found throughout the house, brightening up everyone's day. The suns rays shone a warm and welcoming path across the pastel tiles I leisurely crossed to get to my destination: The pot of freshly made coffee sitting upon the bench top. The only thing that was missing from the heavenly path before me was the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.
"Ah, Melanie. You're awake."
I jumped in surprise upon hearing my fathers' kind voice echoing across the kitchen, successfully breaking my fixation upon the pot of pure liquid rapture that lay within my reach. I hadn't expected him to be up so early. Ever since he'd lost his job as the Keeper for the Falmouth Falcons, he spent a lot of him time either in bed or locked up in his study until nature came calling, or until he got a visit from Hamish and Jackie. It had been nearly six weeks since he'd been fired, after having been the longest playing injury free Keeper in the teams existence, and I knew it wasn't getting any easier for him. It was something I couldn't even begin to guess at how much pain it was causing him, not being able to play the game he lived for because of stupid, career crushing rumours that had been spread about him. A reserve squad member by the name of Myles Barnes was responsible for the rumours, which he admitted to after being subjected to a douse of Veritaserum and then dumped from the team himself. Myles knew he'd never get to play professionally until Patrick Connelly was either injured or he resigned, both of which wouldn't have happened if my father had his way. However, once the truth behind the lies had been brought to the surface it was far too late. The damage had been done, and now dad could never play quidditch professionally again.
"Good morning, Dad," I said cheerfully once the shock of his appearance had faded and the happiness of seeing him in a pleasant mood after being shut away for so long took effect. "Did you sleep well?"
"Alright, I guess. You?" I nodded in reply, turning to pour myself a cup of lukewarm coffee, only for it to appear boiling in my cup. A small smile fell upon my lips, knowing he had used magic to boil the water instantly so I wouldn't be drinking cold coffee for which I was very grateful. Once I had my coffee (filled to the brim with a small amount of milk and double the sane amount of sugar for any normal person, threatening to spill over my fingers and scald them), I headed over to sit at the table opposite him.
My fathers' warm brown gaze was happy as I took my seat, looking up momentarily from his morning copy of The Daily Prophet (which I would pinch once he'd finished it) before falling back upon the sports section, seeing his own name staring back from an article and a frown replaced his happy features. Clearly, the rumours were still a strong talking point amongst reporters, and I was suddenly grateful for all the lush acres of oak trees that surrounded our manor from the outside world. Those trees were nothing, however, compared to the protection spells that were cast around our property, preventing intruders, no doubt those being horrible reporters and photographers, from harassing us. Dad definitely didn't deserve any of it.
Silence spanned between us as I finished my morning coffee (my family and friends knew I was scary until I had had it), and I could hear the deep sound of the grandfather clock echoing through the house from its resting place in the living room, signalling that it was now a quarter past eight. Once it had ceased its deep melodious tune, dad began to speak.
"I know that you're expecting me to go with you to Diagon Alley today, Mel, but do you mind if I break tradition and you get one of your friends to take you instead? I might've been able to fight my way out of my study, but being hassled by the media is more than I can take right now and they're just waiting for the moment to pounce."
I blinked in surprise, not expecting him to say that; I was expecting his routine good humoured jibe about my caffeine addictions before offering to make me another cup. Not only that, but I suddenly felt horrible, like my stomach had plummeted all the way down into my toes as I had completely forgot that today was the 26th of August. A day, that for the past six years of my life, my father and I would go to Diagon Alley to buy my school gear for the year ahead. We would walk hand in hand down the cobblestone streets, ogle the new brooms in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, and then get large peppermint ice-creams from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour and sit outside his shop to watch all the different witches and wizards pass us by until it was time to go home. Dad and I had many father-daughter days that we shared together, this being one of them, and the guilt I felt at having forgotten all about it and having already organised to spend the day shopping with Sharny at Diagon Alley instead was beginning to overwhelm me. It was bad enough that he was at the receiving end of all the rumours, let alone his very own flesh and blood having completely forgotten about our day out together as well. I just hope the guilt didn't show upon my face as it would no doubt have sent him right back into his study until he was somewhat ready to face the world again.
"Oh," I said, trying to feign disappointment to cover my shame, not sure of how well it worked. "That's alright Dad, really." I gave him a small, reassuring smile, hopefully enough to make him feel less guilty about it even though he had nothing to be feeling guilty about.
His responding smile didn't reach his eyes this time. "I really am sorry about this, sweetheart. If it weren't for those bastards..." His voice trailed off into unsaid bitterness, but I knew exactly what it was he wanted to say. I'd no doubt have a similar reaction if someone tried to boot me off my position on the Slytherin Quidditch team, no matter what the reason.
I could see the pain etched so deeply in his brown gaze that it was agonizing to witness. The look of detachment and misery gracing his features added another ten years to his appearance, though I'd never tell him that. Forsaking the rest of my coffee (which was something basically unheard of) I hopped up from my seat and walked around his side of the table, wrapping my arms about his defeated shoulders. He automatically reached up and patted my forearm covering his chest, silently conveying that he appreciated the gesture, but it did little to remove the ache he was feeling.
"If it makes you feel any better, I'll ask Florean to give us a tub of peppermint ice-cream." His soft and broken chuckle was the only reply I got, and since he didn't say yes or no either way, I decided to make that stop for him and hoped it cheered him up a little.
My arms fell from about his weary shoulders and I placed a light kiss amongst his thick brown hair. "I need to go get ready and I'll ask Sharny to come to Diagon Alley with me, I'm sure she won't mind." I bit the inside of my cheek lightly to bite back the guilt of having to lie to my father, considering Sharny was already meeting me outside Gringotts in ten minutes time. Dad merely nodded his head, a sigh escaping his lips as his gaze found the article once more. I quietly began to make the short trip back upstairs to finish getting ready for my day out, deciding to buy him two tubs of our favourite ice-cream instead of just the one.
I'd been waiting outside on the white marble steps of Gringotts Wizarding Bank for only a few minutes, watching with amusement as a blonde woman with three small children in tow was being dragged every which-way, when a blur of exuberant happiness came hurtling towards me. I barely had time to brace myself before I felt my world tumble in a flash of golden sunshine and the dents of the steps became imprinted in my spine. Normally, I would've been mad beyond all reasoning for having been thrown back onto hard stone in a tight embrace, but since this was my best friends bizarre way of a greeting, I was only half as annoyed as I should've been.
"Ouch, Shaz! What did you do that for?" I heard her merry laugh come somewhere above my head given the state in which we'd landed, and soon after my world righted itself out again and I was back to standing on my own two feet. The sound of her laughter was like rain pleasantly hitting a larger body of water, a deeply relaxing sound that couldn't help but bring a smile to my lips once the stars had stopped dancing before my eyes. I gave her a more civilised hug that didn't involve anyone's backs being slammed into concrete or the wind knocked out of either of our lungs before letting her go and inspecting our amused audience.
Sharny had come to Diagon Alley with her parents, Ashton and Janelle Willows, and her younger sister Bronwyn, who was one year away from starting at Hogwarts and by which time Sharny and I would've left. The entire family had gorgeous blonde locks and captivating brown eyes, though forty-two year old Ashton Willows' hair colour was more a molten silver than the vibrant gold it used to be as he began to age, but his eyes still held the darkest colouring out of them all. For the most part, the Willows family dressed respectfully in upmarket clothes that were always neat and tidy, except for Sharny who enjoyed showing off her personality to the fullest, usually through her choice in clothing. Today was no exception, for she was wearing a bright orange shirt and black and white chequered skirt, her hair in pigtails that would've suited Bronwyn's age more, but since Sharny was so short for a person pushing eighteen years, it didn't seem to look out of place at all.
"Hello everyone, it's lovely to see you," I said politely and gave Bronwyn a tight hug, her wild hair hitting me playfully in my face in the process. Janelle and Ashton thankfully both had shorter locks that didn't get in my face as I gave them both friendly hugs too. After a brief catch up it didn't take long for Sharny to start getting edgy, shuffling from foot to foot, anxiously waiting for that time when it was both respectable enough to ditch her family to go shopping, and not wanting to seem rude in doing so. I could hear the soles of her shoes scuffing the marble beneath them and tried not to laugh, but thankfully it was her parents that decided to cut our reunion short as they needed to get some potions ingredients and then get back to their jobs. They both were reporters for The Daily Prophet, and both, thankfully, had nothing to do with the articles being printed about my father.
Once all the goodbyes were said, Sharny and I linked arms and chatted contently about the going ons in our lives that had taken place in the four days since we last saw one another. It turns out that her parents had been bribed to try and get insider information about my dads' situation, not that they needed the money. Admirably, they told their bosses to shove it and threatened to spread Prophet secrets via the WWN and rival newspapers (which they also pointed out they could easily find work in) if they dared to cause an issue about it. Sensibly, the owners of the newspaper decided it was best to find someone else who was not a friend of our family to try and get those reports in order to keep two of their best writers on staff and their secrets safe.
I told her about our visit from Hamish and Jackie and my struggle to get ready on time, to which she gave another pleasant musical laugh that had me joining her. Through our talking we had somehow managed to enter the large white marble building that was Gringotts Wizarding Bank, talked to a rather unpleasant looking goblin and arranged a trip down to our family vaults. For some reason, both of our families trusted us to raid the family piggy banks, though I couldn't imagine why. I guess the thought of having to face them if we took too much was just too frightening to picture.
"Ooh, Mel! Did you see the fire?" Sharny's excited voice yelled into my ear as the cart we were caged in with a rather surly goblin hurtled further into the depths of the seemingly endless caves beneath the bank. I rolled my eyes and clutched onto the seat tighter, my knuckles turning white with the strain as the speed kicked up another gear in its downward decent. Every year Sharny had convinced herself that she saw proof of the alleged dragon hiding in the dark tunnels beneath Gringotts. I never believed her, as by the time I turned to have a look in the direction she had pointed to, the place was already lost to the darkness.
In what seemed like no time at all, the cart jerked to a sudden stop, whipping Sharny and myself forward and back against the seat in less than a second, partially winding me, but Sharny was merely laughing happily at the rush. My hands were still gripping tightly upon the seat, afraid to let go in case the cart lurched forward again unexpectedly. It didn't take Sharny long to stop babbling about the thrill of the cart-ride to notice that I hadn't moved or made a sound.
"God, Mel. Your face looks green! If you're going to be sick, don't you dare turn towards me!"
I rolled my eyes again, something Sharny was more than use to me doing around her, and with a considerable amount of effort, managed to detach myself from where I sat and followed the impatient goblin out of the cart to my parents vault.
"Vault 439," the grumpy goblin stated irritably, clearly displeased by my queasiness and wishing to get this over with a lot faster than the time we were taking. Sharny chuckled as she watched me walk uneasily towards the vault door before starting to sing, waiting for me to return. Her lovely alto voice bounced harmoniously against the caves walls, echoing nicely throughout the darkness which successfully helped to calm my stomach after our vigorous cart-ride, like she knew it would.
It seemed to take no time at all for me to fill my bag full of heavy coins, and for Sharny to do likewise from the Willows vault, before our exhilarating, if not terrifying ride through the damp and musty smelling caves finally came to an end. I was overjoyed to get out of the cart to stand on my own two feet again on the sturdy ground, knowing the only way I would get hurt now would be if I tripped over my own feet, which wouldn't have been a first time occurrence.
"Thank you," I said politely to the goblin after Sharny had clambered out of the cart. The goblin merely stared before turning away, going off to deal with the next people wishing to take a ride straight to the depths of hell and back. Sharny saw the goblins reaction to my words, flipped him the finger, and laughed beautifully as she linked arms with me. She practically skipped out into the marble halls of the Banks entrance area (which was not an easy thing to do when I was determined to walk normally until I felt steady once more), her pigtails bouncing merrily, slapping the both of us in the face in her joyful behaviour.
I was about to ask her if we could sit down for a moment when Sharny came to an abrupt, skidding halt, her bright brown eyes half bulging out of her head in shock. My gaze travelled from hers to where she was looking and I felt my heart instantly plummet all the way down to my toes.
We were not alone.
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