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Not Normal by 800 words of heaven
Chapter 3 : {Chapter the Third}
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 42


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You know your life ain’t normal when you find Regulus Black in your kitchen.

… I have a bad habit of getting ahead of myself. Once again, let me backtrack.

Rose and I had returned from our surprisingly spooky trip to the shopping centre to prepare for the birthday party that was happening this evening. This, of course, had not been my idea at all. My introversion was severe enough that organised social gatherings, especially those where I was the star attraction, caused me more than background-level anxiety. What if no one comes? What if we don’t have enough food? What if no one likes the food? What if people think my house is lame? Or that my party is lame? Or that I am lame?

The people around me gave no fucks, of course. And if I were in a more rational, and less panicked frame of mind, I would thank them. Hell, I’ll be thanking them as early as tomorrow morning. I try to be very strict with myself concerning my insecurities, so I allow my family and friends to push me into uncomfortable situations like these. Plus, Chris loves parties, and he loves birthdays even more, especially his own. I couldn’t steal this joy from him. And Rose had put up a strong argument about how you only turned seventeen once. This was technically true about any age one turned, but I understood the sentiment.

So I’d agreed. We were going to have a party. Sort of. Perhaps sensing my unease through our twin bond (or perhaps hearing me utter the words “I am uneasy about this birthday party”), Chris magnanimously decided that we’d only invite the Potters, Rose (and her parents if they wanted to come), Scorpius, and my second best friend, Ben. Unfortunately, Ben and Scorpius couldn’t make it, and neither could Minister Granger, so we were a cosy party of eleven around our magicked dining table.

Dad had managed to pull himself away long enough from his beloved stone tablets to actually cook all the things I’d put on the list, with Chris assisting. I hated cooking, but loved delegating, so I’d been dubbed ‘event manager’. I’d ordered the cake, found all the decorations, and swept and dusted the day before. Rose had been instructed to actually put up all the decorations, as well as assist in the expansion of the table. When she’d complained that she’d never be able to do it all by herself, I’d relented and agreed that she was allowed to employ one Potter to help. Thank God it had been Lily who’d volunteered as tribute.

And amidst the swishes of wands, the flying of paper cut-outs and lanterns, the stirring of spoons, and the groaning of growing wood (the table), I found myself an hour past the sit-down dinner, and T-minus fifteen minutes from the blowing of candles and the cutting of cake. I leant in the doorway between our living room and the backyard, catching a moment of quiet for myself. Our solid timber table had proved too big to fit into the dining room once we’d stretched it to almost three times its normal size, so we’d moved it outside. In what must have been a birthday miracle, the perfect summer’s day had morphed into the perfect summer’s evening. The gentle hum of conversation commingled with the sounds of cicadas and the occasional car driving past. A little halo of light encompassed our garden, thanks to Rose’s keen eye for floating lantern placement. She always struck the right ratio between least number of lanterns used and the largest area of ground brightened. Just one of the many reasons that made her the quintessential Ravenclaw.

Chris, Potter, and Mr Weasley were laughing together about something, not far from the table. I could see Mr Weasley eyeing the large platter of summer fruits I’d brought out earlier. How long will it take him to levitate a piece of watermelon to himself, I wonder?

I smiled a little as I watched Chris. There was a certain air about Chris that drew the eye. Maybe it was the way he carried himself, or his smile, or his warm, open gaze. I think people called it charisma, and Chris had it in buckets. In freshly-washed black jeans and a neatly ironed button-down shirt, that charisma was almost shimmering in a halo around him.

My smile dimmed a little as my eyes drifted over to Potter, who was identically dressed, except where Chris’ shirt was a deep blue, Potter’s was soft pink. From afar, they could’ve been mistaken for the twins. Both had black hair, and similar slim builds, with Potter being a couple of inches taller. They even had that same charisma oozing out of their pores. My nose wrinkled thinking about how it was so unfair how some people got cool things coming out of their pores, whereas mere mortals such as myself simply got zits. Nowhere near as attractive a trait.

Before I could mutter a subtle curse of adolescent pimple-prone skin in Potter’s direction, my attention was caught by a loud laugh. Despite myself, my heart leapt in my chest, wobbling a little as it landed. My gaze snagged on where James Potter had his head thrown back in open amusement at whatever was happening in that little circle of people. He stood with Dad and Lily, and whilst Lily was objectively my favourite Potter kid, I couldn’t take my eyes away from James.

The embarrassing truth was that I had a good old-fashioned crush on James Sirius Potter. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. It simply was. For as long as I could remember, James had been the cool, fun elder brother, even if only by a year. And in typical girl-next-door fashion, I’d been harbouring a secret infatuation. My admiration had only grown since he’d graduated earlier this summer, and following in his mother’s sporty footsteps, already had a spot on the Tutshill Tornadoes Quidditch team. It made no sense to me how my crush could grow deeper once he entered a career that scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. Fortunately, I possessed enough of my faculties to realise that whatever my feelings for James Potter may be, our current relationship of neighbours-who-are-also-family-friends was unlikely to change. I was quite comfortable pining over him from afar. I mean, if James Potter ever asked me out on a date, I’d probably pass out from the ridiculousness of it all.

As I continued to smile somewhat goofily at the delicious sight of James Potter (that wild auburn hair, those rakish good looks, the roguish smile… swoon-worthy stuff), the hairs on my arm prickled in warning, despite the still night air. I glanced around to see where the fire hazard was, only to find Potter looking at me, his eyes narrowed. Our gazes connected, and I frowned. His damn lips suggested that they were about to launch themselves into a smirk, revealing a thrice-cursed dimple in his right cheek. I was saved from that smirky fate as his eyes flitted over to where I’d been looking: his elder, and quite frankly, much better brother. Dread slithered through my stomach, but just a touch, as if it were water dripping through a little crack in the ground. He wouldn’t be able to tell whom I’d been staring at: there were two other people there. He couldn’t. A small furrow of thought appeared between his eyebrows.

Could he?

He looked back at me.

I maintained the eye contact. If this turned out to be some sort of battle for power, I’d sure as hell come out alpha.

He raised his eyebrows, the furrow disappearing to be replaced with crinkle lines across his forehead; they clearly said, “I’m mocking you but I don’t know quite why.”

I swallowed, still maintaining the eye contact and my slight frown that said right back, “I’m not mocked by you or your eyebrows. Or your forehead.”

He glanced back in the direction of Dad, Lily, and James. My eyes, however, were glued to Potter. I’d have to disinfect my retinas later after such prolonged exposure, but I couldn’t look away. I was in too deep. Seventeen years. Seventeen years I’d successfully hidden my silly, harmless crush. And it was all going to come crumbling down around my head because I’d let down my guard. I’d felt foolishly safe, here, in my own backyard, under the romantic light of the full moon.

And then he looked back at me. Something flashed in his eyes. Crystal, perfectly faceted. Completely baffling. But then his lips finally did what they’d been threatening to do these entire past ten seconds. That smirk sprung to his face, and straight to my heart, which was hastily assuming the foetal position to minimise the damage.

The dread focused itself into a swift stream as the crack of doubt in my belly widened into a chasm. He knew. I knew he knew. And since his smirk only widened, he knew that I knew that he knew.

Fuck being alpha. It was time to beat a strategic retreat.

Even as I whirled away, and hurried into the safety of my living room, I knew that it was too late. The damage was done.

Albus Severus Potter knew my secret.

 

***

 

I leant against the edge if the kitchen sink, my body heavy against my arms. Deep breaths, Ellie. Deep breaths. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad. So what that I had a crush on someone? I was allowed to have crushes on people. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, wasn’t hurting anyone. And so what if someone knew? I’m ninety-five percent sure that Rose knows; there’s an eighty percent chance that Chris and Lily know, too. And probably about seventy-five percent probability that James himself knows. I’ve had the crush for ages, things are bound to slip through the cracks. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that you have no feelings; sometimes you get tired.

Things were different with Potter, though. For some reason, things were always different with him. More complicated. Less clean. His status as my arch nemesis muddied the waters. The most worrying thing was that he’d find a way to use the information against me. He’d use my feelings, twist and turn them into something sharp and spiteful, and them stab me with them. Certainly not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe not the day after. But some day…

I knew this because I’d do the exact same thing if our situations were reversed. It’s what arch nemeses did, after all.

I moved to a cupboard and grabbed a glass, returning to the sink to fill it with some water. I was glad that I was alone in the house at the moment, the blissful reprieve giving me a few minutes to compose myself in privacy.

I took a sip of my water, staring at the empty space where our dining table usually was. There was nothing I could do, really – not until he actually did something. And I wouldn’t know what to do either until he did it. A frustrated sigh whooshed out of my nose. I disliked that I had to react rather than act, and I disliked it even more because I was forced into doing so by Albus Potter. That boy existed to be the Moriarty to my Holmes, the Master to my Doctor, the Joker to my Batman –

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, blown by an ectoplasmic breeze. There was a dead person in my kitchen.

As usual, I gave no outward reaction, easily slipping into what I liked to call my “ghosting mode”. I lowered the glass from my lips, and gently placed it in the sink. Taking one last surreptitious deep breath, I steeled myself for whatever came next, and turned around.

And blinked in surprise at what greeted me.

His pale skin gave the suggestion of those bioluminescent creatures that lived deep within dark, dark caves, the effect multiplied by the contrast of his black t-shirt and jeans. I wanted to put him into one of those UV incubators they use for jaundiced babies, just to get some colour on him. But I could tell that he was – or had been, back when mitochondria were the powerhouse of his cells – quite fit. His arms were toned where they stuck out like sticks of chalk from the sleeves of his t-shirt, and the material of his jeans clung quite snugly to his leanly muscled legs. The way he stood in his calf-high boots – also black – legs shoulder-width apart, back perfectly straight yet perfectly relaxed, showed that he’d been trained to stand that way. No teenager would choose perfect posture over slouching otherwise. His hands were shoved into the front pockets of his jeans, and a knowing grin flashed across his handsome face.

“Hello, Ellie,” he said, his voice a pleasing tenor.

“Hello,” I croaked.

You’ll have to excuse my surprise. As I’ve said, it’s not normal to have Regulus fucking Black standing in the middle of your kitchen.

 

***

 

“Well, I must say, I’m rather flattered by your attention,” he chirped, clearly enjoying my shock. His voice wasn’t completely smooth like I’d first thought. No, it echoed of gravel, scuffing his words as they travelled through his voice box. “But I’m not your type. I’m much too old for you.” He winked, clearly enjoying the irony of the situation, since the bloke looked to be around sixteen.

I blinked again. I don’t think anyone has ever winked at me, especially flirtatiously. Even I knew that he was flirting, at least a little (despite essentially zero field experience), because he had that knowing grin back on his face.

I’d seen photos of Sirius Black, the elder – and more famous – of the Black brothers. Looking at Regulus now, I could see the strong familial link. Regulus had the black hair for which I assumed they’d earned their family name. It was long enough to be slightly wavy, even though it had been styled into something that could only be described as “preppy hipster”. How it had been styled, I had no clue. If the afterlife had spectral hair styling gel, this was news to me. Sirius and Regulus’ face had been carved using the same sculpting guide: that being the devilishly handsome one. His features were rounder than Sirius’, though. Where the elder was all sharp cheekbones and razor-blade nose, the younger had softness, curved rather than blunted.

Those ice blue eyes told the real story, however. His relaxed pose and devil-may-care grin may fool the casual observer, but one glance at those chips of ice and you’d know the truth: it had been a long time since this soul had known any warmth.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, attempting to shake myself out of it. I could think about how cute he was later. Right now, I had to concentrate on how dead he was.

He gave an insouciant shrug. “Just wanted to drop in and say hello. You’re my new assignment.”

I nodded automatically, before his words caught up with me. “Wait, what?”

He made a disappointed clicking sound. “So close, this time,” he muttered. “I’d almost had you.”

Had me?” I asked. “Where? When?”

He waved a careless hand in front of him, as if he could swat away my questions. “Don’t worry about it,” he said breezily. “All will be revealed in due course.”

I hated it when people told me not to worry. As if I actually wanted to worry, like it was something I enjoyed doing. Quite often, it had the exact opposite effect: my worry ratcheted up a few notches.

“Don’t tell me not to worry!” I snapped.

“Okay, okay. Don’t be lasagne.” He stuck his hands out in a placating gesture. “I’ll explain more once you’re at school –”

“Hold up; why do I have to wait until school –?”

“You ask too many questions!” he said, once again waving his hand around like that would dismiss what I was saying.

I took a deep breath, trying to centre myself. I didn’t fancy myself as someone who’d lose their cool at meeting a dead (sort of) famous person. I had to be professional. Take control of the situation.

“Do you know that you’re dead?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes. “No, I’ve always been invisible to the general population and had the ability to walk through walls. Although, know that you mention it, materialising into people’s kitchens is a new development.”

I controlled my own eye roll. I hated it when the ghosts gave me sass. “Then I’ll ask again: why are you here?”

“Wi-fi’s shit on my usual plane of existence.”

I stared hard at him to see if he was messing with me still. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t.

“Do you know how difficult it’s been to stream the new season of Doctor Who?”

“… You know what wi-fi is.” Today was shaping up to be one of those days. First the false Muggle seer with her phoney prophecies, and now this. A bona fide dead ex-Death Eater who streamed Doctor Who. There should be a limit to one out-of-the-ordinary occurrence a week.

“I’ve been dead for more than forty years, Ellie,” he said. I was surprised to hear the first note of seriousness in him since he’d materialised. “The afterlife gets real dull if you don’t keep up with the times.”

“So you just want my wi-fi password?” I asked, not really sure how to follow a declaration like that.

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t need your wi-fi password to use your wi-fi.”

My eyes widened in horror, and he grinned again. “Yes,” that grin said, “I can use my ectoplasmic talents to hack your wi-fi.” I got the distinct feeling that Regulus Black wasn’t my usual type of ghost. Something of my shocking realisation must have passed across my face, because his grin widened.

Before either of us could say anything else though, Regulus’ attention drifted to somewhere over my shoulder.

“Someone’s coming,” he informed me. “I’ll see you at Hogwarts.”

“But –” Before I could splutter anything else out past my shock, he was gone.

 

***

 

“Ellie?” my dad asked from behind me. I turned around to watch him walk towards the kitchen. I had a moment of panic as I wondered if he’d heard me talking to – or rather, spluttering – to myself. But all he said was, “What are you doing in here?”

I smiled, hoping I didn’t look as relieved as I felt. I’d really dodged the stunning charm this time. I was sure I’d be able to deflect any queries concerning my mental stability, but my long-distance encounter with Potter, followed so closely by the baffling appearance of Regulus Black and his claims of shitty wi-fi connection, had me off my game. “Just getting a glass of dihydrogen monoxide!” I blindly reached for the half-empty glass I’d placed in the sink. My fingers brushed against the glass’ smooth surface and I brandished it in the air, a trophy to signify my saneness.

Dad stared at me for half a moment more, his smile still bemused. But as I didn’t show any further signs of my weirdness, it morphed into something more genuine. I felt an unexpected rush of love for my father, and my own face relaxed into a genuine smile of its own.

I put the glass down, and trudged out of the kitchen. Reaching Dad, he enveloped me in a hug. I returned it.

“I love you, Bella,” he was the only one allowed to call me that. If anyone else tried, I’d hex them to the Kuiper belt.

“I love you, too, Dad,” I mumbled into his chest. He wasn’t much taller than me, but I snuggled myself deeper into his hug, like I used to do when I was little.

He gave a wistful sigh. “You’re all grown up, now.”

I smiled as he gave a little sniff, but I didn’t move from my somewhat squashed up position.

“Seventeen’s an important age. Your mum told me about it.” A lump formed in my throat, like it always did when Dad spoke about Mum this way. His voice held all his love and all his heartbreak, too.

He gently pulled me away from him, and fished for something in his pocket. I took the moment to blink my eyes rapidly, hoping to dissolve the rock of grief lodged in my throat.

By the time he’d retrieved the small blue box from his pocket with a triumphant “aha!”, we’d both composed ourselves.

He handed me the box, saying, “Your mother would’ve wanted you to have this today. She said it was tradition.”

The velvet was warm in my palm, the navy blue oddly familiar. I stared at it, trying to place where I’d seen it before.

“Open it,” Dad murmured.

With another frown, I flicked the box open. The lid swung up and back on its little hinge, revealing the treasure inside.

A worn watch greeted me. It’s black leather strap was soft and faded, and it’s face had a lifetime of scratches on it. The exposed cogs – as well as the numerals and hands telling the time – were still visible, though.

“I just gave Chris his,” Dad said, as I gently lifted it out of the box, turning it over to run my thumb over its silver-polished back. “It’s the same as yours. Your mum saw them in a shop somewhere in London when she was pregnant with you two. Said that she knew instantly that these were meant for you.”

I tried to marry the image of my practical, no-nonsense mother with this newly revealed clairvoyant. It didn’t quite sit right with my memories. But pregnancy was weird; what’s to say that a touch of clairvoyance wasn’t part of the deal?

“I –” I cleared my throat of those pesky emotions, and tried again. “Thank you, Dad.”

“Do you like it?” he asked, a touch anxiously.

“I love it,” I murmured, looking down at my gift again. The solid weight of the watch in my palm felt bittersweet. Mum should’ve been here today, with us.

“Good!” Dad said, injecting cheer into his voice. I looked up to see the shadows dancing in his grey eyes. I bit my lip, not sure if I should say something.

The decision was made for me when Chris burst into the living room, singing, “Time for cake!”

I laughed, clutching the watch tight in my hand.

“Time for cake!” Dad sang back.

I sighed, gently placing the gift back in its box, snapping its lid shut, just as I mentally snapped the lid shut on my grief. It was impossible to be sad when it was time for cake.

AN: Hello, folks! Welcome to the end of chapter three. For returning readers: yay! Regulus is back! Rejoice! I’d cut him out of chapter two, so I had to include him in the next one! For new readers! What do you think of Regulus Black? I hope you enjoyed my twist on him. He’s so much fun to write. Bonus if anyone picks up the Twelfth Doctor reference Regulus makes.

I horribly forgot to thank my wonderful beta, PaulaTheProkaryote, in my last chapter, so I’m thanking her twice, here. All hail Paula, Chakravartin of Commas!

The Hunger Games is written by Suzanne Collins. Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty were created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, CE Webber, and Donald Wilson, the Doctor was created by Sydney Newman, and the Master was created by Barry Letts, Robert Holmes, and Terrance Dicks. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and the Joker was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson.

Adios, amigos! :D

 


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