Chapter 29 : 17 Years Later
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It's Christmas again. And Christmas with my family is always a mess. It even has a tendency to get dramatic. Last Chistmas it was aunt Clover "accidentally" breaking uncle Deuce's leg. The one before that, grandad Draco threw up on the turkey and got exiled by great-gran Molly for the rest of the holiday. And the year before that, well, that was the worst: my biological father showed up.
I've always known he was out there, mum had even told me who he was and everything. It has never mattered to me though. For all I care, Chase is my real father. He's always treated me as a son, and I've always looked at him as my dad - and I never had any interest in changing that.
But then he showed up - Brayder, as his name is. He came knocking on our door, completely sloshed, and requested to see me and my sister.
Oh, yeah. I have a twin. Her name's Scarlett and she thinks she's the bee's knees. Bloody annoying at times, but I have to admit that she's the one who inherited our mum's brains. I'm more into sports. Which I apparently got from my biological dad, seeing as he used to be a professional Quidditch player.
So, let's just say, I'm not exactly looking forward to this holiday. But I'm slightly curious as to what this year's scandal will be.
Seventeen years ago, the news of mum being pregnant with my sister and I, was the scandal. I mean, she was like sixteen at the time, so I totally get it. And the tradition has been upheld ever since.
"Bugger," I mutter angrily while I untie my tie for the twenty-second time today. My fingers are fumbling with the knot, and I growl. I hate ties. And tying them is hell. This year I made the stupid mistake of scoffing at dad for offering a helping hand, telling him I was old enough to do it on my own now.
Apparently I'm not. But no way in hell will I go to him with my tail between my legs. I will tie this myself or die trying.
But I give up after another five tries, and go on a scavenger hunt for my mobile. When I find it under an old sock and a beater's bat, I quickly dial a familiar number.
It rings for a few seconds before I hear my godfather's voice on the other end.
"Go for Deuce," he says lazily and I can hear he's got his mouth full of something. That man never stops eating. If he wasn't so osbessed about working out, he'd be a whale.
"Hi, it's me," is all I say.†
"Hey, little dude. What's up?"
"I'm having this tie situation, and -"
"Say no more, mate," he interrupts and I hear him swallowing. "A flick of the wand is all you need, little grasshopper. Fanciosus, is the spell. Anything else?"
"No. Thanks, uncle."
"What did I ask you to call me?"
I sigh and roll my eyes. "Thanks, Deuce-san."
"Very good. See you later, lad. Deuce out."
And then he hangs up.†
He's a weird dude. Dad(who is his twin) says it's because he was dropped on the head as a kid, and one too many bludgers to the old noggin as well. He proclaimed himself as my mentor at my birth, he's told me. So I've grown up as his sidekick - and had him giving me life lessons about things way beyond my matirity level.
When I was seven he told me that†if a woman asks me a question, it's better to tell her the truth. Because chances are she's asking me because she already knows the answer.
At the tender age of eleven, his parting words before I started my first year at Hogwarts was: "The accidental bump, mate. Works every time." And then he winked.
But the man knows mostly anything. And I knew he was the right man to come to for advice. Well, not if you were looking for mature advice, of course.
"We're leaving in one hour and thirty-two minutes, gang!" I hear dad call from downstairs, and I try out uncle Deuce's spell. It works and I check myself out in the mirror for the last time before exiting my room.
The second my foot is over the threshold, I step on something that must be as painful as the Cruciatus curse.
"Bloody hell!" I call out, and jump around on my uninjured foot while clenching my teeth.
"Could you be quiet? I'm reading."
I turn my sour face and find my twin sister curled up in a chair with a book in her hands.†
"You try being quiet when you step on a fucking lego!" I snarl and kick the tiny plaything away with unnecessary force. "I bet he does it on purpose."
"He's five, Scorp," she reminds me dryly without taking her brown-ish eyes away from her book(the Granger eyes). "He's not a genius mastermind trying to take over the world one foot at a time."
I stick out my tongue at her, thinking she can't see me, and turn to walk away.
"I saw that."
"Well, I meant you to," I retort.†
"Whatever, loser. Now go away."
"You know what, Scarlett? You're a bitch sometimes."
"I am aware," she answers nonchalantly. That bloody girl always gets on my nerves. If it hadn't been for us getting into different houses at Hogwarts, one of us would most likely have offed the other.
"I guess that's why you're a Slytherin and I'm not," I jab. And this time Scarlett looks up at me.
"Just because you're a Gryffindor doesn't mean you're better than me, arseface!"
"Actually," I say and pretend to think about it for a second, "I believe it does."
"You know what?†Fuck you!"
A gasp behind me makes me swirl around and I find Scott, our younger brother, staring wide eyed at us, his mouth hanging open. The big brown eyes turn devilish, and he runs to the staircase leading down to the livingroom.
"Mummy! Mummy!" he calls at the top of his voice. "Scarlett said the f-word!"
"Scarlett Zabini!" I hear mum shriek, and I hear her coming up the stairs in record speed. "Language!"
"Shit," I can hear my sister mutter under her breath, and I grin. "Fine, fine! I take it back, Scorp. Unfuck you."
"She said the s-word too, mummy," Scott tattles, and casts a victorious look at Scarlett. "She whispered, but I heard her."
Mum pinches the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger.
"Could you just behave?" she asks Scarlett, and then looks at me. "The both of you? At least in front of the snitch here."
I suppress a laugh, and nod. Scarlett does the same. Mum is off downstairs in a huff, dragging the five-year-old after her.
"But you didn't punish them, mummy!" I can hear him complain.
I turn to my twin sister. She's fiddling angrily with her long, blond hair. A smoother version of mum's actually.
"Still denying he's a criminal mastermind?" I ask with a cocked eyebrow.
She sighs, and slumps back in the chair. "I'm getting a little less sure now, I must admit. The little devil..."
"I think he's joined the dark side, sister," I whisper dramatically, and give her a grave look.
"I fear you might be correct, brother." She returns the look of graveness. "We must use the Force."
I chuckle. When we were younger, we were obsessed with Star Wars. It was the only time we got along.
"Come on, kids!" dad yells up the stairs. "Get down here and put your coats and shoes on."
Both Scarlett and I roll our eyes. Dad hates being late for stuff. You'd think mum would be the one stressing out, but it's always dad who gets all twitchy and weird when we have to go somewhere. Mum freaks out about everything else.
"We'll be late if you don't get here now!" he says in a raised voice, and I can imagine how he pulls his fingers through his brown hair.
"Calm down, Chase, or you'll give yourself a heart attack," I hear mum's voice telling dad. Scarlett and I exchange glances.
"Stop picking your noses and get your arses down here!" she then calls out, and we finally start moving. You don't mess with mum - she usually means business.
When we get down the staircase, we're met with a red-faced dad trying to coax Scott into a semi-presentable outfit. Lately, he's gone through a phase where he's refused to wear anything but his Spiderman pajamas.
"But it itches!" Scott complains loudly and proves his point by excessively scratching his chest. "I hate it!"
"But you can't wear pajamas to Christmas dinner, mate," dad tries and then gives a short sigh. "Everyone else will be wearing nice clothes, don't you want to-"?
"Mummy says it's better to be the odd one out," Scott argues. Dad casts a judging look at mum, who just shrugs apologetically.
"I didn't mean it like that, Scotty, and you know it," she tells him. But Scott points his nose in the air.
"I feruse!" he says loudly.
"You refuse," Scarlett corrects under her breath. She's got an illness. I mean, who corrects a five-year-old's grammar?
"Oh, to hell with this," dad mutters and pulls out his wand. With a quick flick, Scott is fully dressed.
"Unfair!" the little lad screams. "And you said a bad word! Mummy, dad said -"
"You don't have to tattle all the time, Scott," mum sighs, and helps him tie his shoes. "Your father's a grown man. I can't very well punish him, can I?"
"Yes, you can!" Scott protests. "You can ground him, or take away his mobile, or not let him play games, or spank him, or-"
Dad barks out a laugh. "Yeah, baby," he then coos at mum, approaches her and takes her in his arms, "why don't you spank me?"
"Well, you did say a bad word," she concurs and curls her hands around his neck. "And I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't...punish you."
I cough loudly when their lips approach each other. Scarlett makes barfing sounds.†
I avert my eyes when they don't show any signs of having heard either of us.
"I need to poop."
I knew I liked that child.
I can't believe I still get nervous. It's been seventeen years, and I'm still nervous.†
"Chase, are you getting into the car or not?" I hear Del ask me as she leans out to give me an impatient look. I can hear the kids in the backseat discussing something, and I bite my lip.
With a grudging sigh, I sit my arse on the car seat and close the door. For a second I just sit there with both hands on the steering wheel, staring out in front of me without really seeing anything.
"Tip for you, dad," Scorpius says sardonically, "you put the key in the ignition and turn it."
I roll my eyes while I hear the three menaces in the back giggling at my expense. Even Del covers up a chuckle with a light cough.
"This coming from a lad who can't even drive yet," I remind him.
"I can too!" the teen responds indignantly.
"You failed the test, remember?"
"But I can retake it again in a month!"
"And you're just going to ditch school on that day to go get your licence, yeah?"
"Aside from the fact that McGonagall would put you on bedpan-duty for a week if you even asked to skip the day," I start and cast a glance at a sour looking Scorp, "I must ask: How do you intend to pay for it?"
"It costs money?"
I give a humorless laugh.
"Does it cost-? Of course it costs money!" I huff. "We paid for it the first two times, but now you get to waste your own bloody money."
In my rear view mirror I can see him shrug his shoulders in that "teen" way. As if he's saying, 'Whatever, I'm too cool for this anyway, and I don't care about answering you' without really saying anything.
"I know what you're doing. Stop it," Adella mutters into my ear. I look at her, and for a second I forget to remember to feel nervous. She has that effect on me - still, after seventeen years.
"Stop what?" I manage to ask.
"Procrastinating," she answers and gives me a loaded look. I groan.
"Couldn't I just be ill today?" I whine.†
"No, that would be admitting defeat," is her response.
"Couldn't I just admit defeat?"†
Adella chuckles to herself, and her eyes glimmer at me for a second before forcing the car keys into my hand.
"I don't know why you're still like this," she says quietly after I've started the car. The kids are back to squabbling in the back. "You know my whole family likes you."
"Your dad doesn't," I grunt and shift gears a bit too forcefully.
"Oh, come off it!" she tells me. "He totally does."
"That's a lie and you know it," I mutter darkly. "Remember the time he had that "man to man" talk with me? I almost pissed myself!"
"You weed in your pants, daddy?"
"No, he didn't, Scotty," she assures him. "He was just talking a bit nonsense."
I can hear the little lad leaning forward and then I feel his miniature hand on my shoulder.
"It's okay, daddy," he whispers. "I have accidents too, sometimes."
I suppress a laugh. "Thanks, mate," I tell him, whispering as well. When Scotty leans back into his seat, my face returns to its original scowl.
"And it wasn't nonsense, by the way," I tell my wife in a whisper only she can hear. "Your father was scary as shit." I whisper the last word in order to escape Scotty's reprimands.
"Well, considering the situation, can you blame him?" she asks me rhetorically. I think for a moment. But Adella quickly continues. "I mean, you'd just swooped into my life and corrupted me with your charm and your kisses," she says and winks at me. "And then we tell them that we're getting married. And remember how young we were, Chase. We were the twins' age, you know... Imagine how you'd react if Scarlett had a baby with some lad, and then got engaged to some other one."
I grunt. She has a point, I suppose.
Still, after seventeen years - seventeen Christmases, anniversaries, individual birthday parties and father's days - I'd hoped Draco Malfoy would have warmed up to me. But he's still a cold fish. At least it feels like it. I swallow hard when a nervous lump in my throat makes it a bit hard to breathe.
"Chase," I hear Adella whisper. I turn my head slightly, but not too much, seeing as I'm now driving. She puts her hand on top of mine, and I realise I'm clenching it around the steering wheel, making my knuckles white.†
I sigh and try to relax.
He's just a man. A man whose daughter you're married to. A man who is the grandfather of your kids. A man who used to be a Death Eater. No big deal.
I start to sweat.
"Chase," she whispers again. "You're driving a bit fast."
I check, and find out she's right.
"Shit," I mutter.
I groan. That child is a real pain in my hole sometimes.
"Let it go," Adella tells him.
I look in the mirror and find my five-year-old pouting angrily.†
With a sigh, I turn on the radio. One would think that, on Christmas Eve, the radio would be all about cheery jingles and stuff, but apparently not.
"What is this noise?" I say, and quickly switch the channels. But all are playing this new-fashioned sounds they call music nowadays. Aside from screaming the words "baby Jesus", "Santa Claus" and "Christmas pudding", I don't see how this can be an appropriate song for this holiday.
I give up and turn the radio off with a grunt.
"Oi!" Scorp yells indignantly. "I was listening to that!"
"And now you're not," I reply, coolly.
"But it's They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's new song!"†
"That's not a song, it's a gang of lads slowly slaughtering their instruments, and our ears at that."
"They're on The Notorius Note's top ten songs of the season."
"Top ten songs of what? Crap?"
"Daddy said -!"
"Oh, my god, dad!" Scorp snaps. "I don't know why I even bother trying... But I get it, you're too old."
"Pardon?" I check my rear view mirror and try to scowl at the seventeen-year-old who just insulted me. "Old?"
There's no response from the backseat and I growl.
"Hey!" I call, and try to sound intimidating. By the sound of Scarlett's giggle, I fail. "I'm not -!"
"Dear," Del warns. One look into her eyes, and I shut up. That woman can †produce looks that could kill.†
I roll my eyes while sighing heavily. I'm in my sourpuss-mode now.
"I'm not gonna feel like an old fart because I don't like their stupid music," I complain to myself in a low mutter.
I didn't expect anyone to hear, but apparently one did.
"No," Scorp comments, "you should feel like an old fart because you've got hair in your ears."
"I don't have hair in -! Del, I don't have hair in my ears, do I? Do I?!"
Is that a no...?
And now the entire car is laughing.
"Hmph." I grab the wheel tighter and pull my brows down.
"Oh, come off it," my treacherous wife giggles. "Don't be so hostile."
"I like my hostility," I grumble darkly. "It's my comfort blanket in a world that conspires against me."
"Why are you so scared of grandad Draco anyways, dad?" Scarlett asks. Damn. I forgot how 'slytherin' she could be. I bet she's been listening in on our whispered conversation this entire time.
"It's not that I'm scared of him, per se, it's more -"
I pause for a second. "Maybe a little."
"What does that word mean?" Scotty's little voice asks. "Is it a bad word?"
"Nah, it just means that grandad gives him the wobbles," is Scarlett's dry answer.
"Excuse me!" I call out and have to force myself to not swerve in the middle of the icy road. "I thought we established that I wasn't scared. I'm just, you know, I just harbour a strong respect for the man. That's it."
"Yeah, right," Scorp mutters behind me. "Just like mum with garden gnomes; she harbours a strong respect for them as well."†
"It's a phobia!" Del exclaims and turns around to scowl at her son. "Don't mock!"
"Scorp, all we need is to say the word 'butterflies' and your face goes pale," Scarlett teases her brother, and I can only imagine the evil look he's giving her. "So you're really in no position to make fun of others. People have something called feelings, you know."
"Boys don't have feelings," Scotty tells us seriously. "They have muscles."
As always, the first thing that comes to mind when I step inside the Burrow is: Chaos.†
Great-gran Molly sits in her wheelchair shouting out orders like a dictator and she's got a ladle she likes to slap people with if they're too slow; mum's aunt Ginny is squabbling with her brother, Ron, and that earns the two of them a slap of Molly's ladle, which makes her uncle Harry laugh; grannie Hermione and grandad Draco is decorating the roof with mistletoes and gives each other kisses every three seconds.†
I hang my coat and follow the family further into the (mad)house. Scott runs up to our cousin, Oliver, who sits on his father's lap. Uncle James greets my brother happily, and watches as the two troublemakers run off. Oliver's little sister, Sarah, tries to keep up with them, but her legs can't move as fast, making her stumble a lot.
I see uncle Heath playing with his daughter, Suzanne, while Cindy(his wife) takes like a million pictures - it's Suzanne's first Christmas, but seriously, how many photos do you need of a toddler with an elf hat?†
In the stuffed armchair by the fire, great-grandad Arthur dozes off, and I can see uncle Al and Scorp conspiring in the corner beside him. I shake my head. What are the two of them up to now? I guess this is why my godfather is still single - he finds my idiot twin brother amusing.
"Make way! Make way!" I hear someone behind me yell, and I turn around. Aunt Lily passes me with a huff and a puff, with one hand on her large, pregnant belly, and the other one supporting her back. Behind her trails her fiance, Bendik. His arms are full of presents, and he can barely see anything in front of him. They make their way toward the large tree in the far corner of the livingroom, and then dump all the presents beside it. I can hear Lily complaining, but I'm already on my way back to the kitchen - at least that is a safer place than in the near proximity of a hormonal Lily Potter.
"Scarlett!" Great-gran Molly shrieks. I jump st the sound. "Mash those potatoes!"†
I have no wish to be swatted on the backside with her ladle, so I quickly do what I'm told.†
"You don't have to, you know."†
I turn around and see my aunt, and godmother, Ronnie smiling down at me. She winks.
"She's a bit loopy. She has told Dad to mow the lawn three times already. And Hermione has already mashed enough potatoes." Ronnie glances over at the old woman, and then chuckles.
When I look around, I find four bowls of mashed potatoes, and I smile.
"Come, let's get out of here." But just as she is about to leave, a raddish comes flying right at her face. I jump out of the way, manage to trip on my own feet and then fall on my arse with a very As my complete opposite, Ronnie barely moves. With excellent Seekes skills, she shoots out her hand and catches the raddish right before it smashes her nose. I guess that's why she's a professional Quidditch player, and I'm not.
"Nice try, dad," she says and throws the raddish on the bench. With that, she takes my arm and escorts me away.
"Why did your dad throw a raddish at your face?" I ask. If my dad did that, I'd throw a fit.
Ronnie sighs and rolls her eyes. "He says it's to 'keep me on top of my game', but it's pure bullocks. It's not like flying raddishes are very common out on the playing field."
I mentally picture it, and giggle. Ronnie smiles down at me.
"So," she says and sits down on the staircase, "how's my favourite goddaughter?" She signals for me to sit down beside her. When I do, she puts her arm over my shoulder.
"I'm okay," I tell her. "School's good."
Ronnie makes a bored sound. "I don't wanna hear about school! I want to hear the juice!"
"The juice?" I ask, a bit confused. Her eyes are locked onto me. She looks identical to her father - it's almost comical.
"The gossip, girl!"
"Oh, ehm..." I start to fiddle with the long braid hanging over my shoulder. The blond hair is smooth to touch, and in my subconcious I thank some higher power for not letting me inherit mum's bushy texture. Neither did Scorp, but his hair is nothing like either mum's or mine. Apparently he's got our biological father's hair. Almost black.
"Well, there's not much to tell really," I lie.
Ronnie looks disappointed.
"No snogging with boys in the broom cupboard?"
I gasp. "Aunt Ronnie!"
She laughs. "Lighten up, Scarlett. I know you're not as innocent as you look."
My cheeks burn and I have to look away.
"I never said I was innocent," I mumble, eyes still on the floor.
"Ooh, I knew it! Is it a boy? Or a girl, maybe? It's okay, you know, if you are."†
My whole face feels like it's melting off of my skull, and I bet I look like an overly ripe tomato. I know Ronnie likes girls instead of boys, and I don't want to react in a way that makes her uncomfortable.
"I-I know," I stutter. "But for me it's a-a boy... But don't tell dad!" I look up at her with wide eyes as I lower my voice to a whisper. "He would freak."
"Fathers," Ronnie says and rolls her eyes. I nod agreeingly. "You should've seen him when I brought home my first girlfriend." She laughs at the memory. "Luckily, he'd gotten used to it by the time Karen came along."
"Speaking of, where is she?" I ask, coolly changing the subject.
"At her parents. She'll come by later." But then she narrows her eyes as she looks at me. "I was just Slytherined, wasn't I? Very smooth."
My eyes fall to my feet. Damn it.†
"Back to this boy of yours -"
"He's not mine," I correct.
"Then whose is he?"
That's the iffy part. My face scrunches up and I groan.
"My best friend, Mindy..."
"You really are a Slytherin, aren't you?" aunt Ronnie says, and I scowl at her.
"She doesn't love him!" I tell her, and have a hard time keeping a low profile. "And he doesn't love her either. He loves me!"
"Then why don't they break up?"†
"Because..." I sigh. "Because, well, first her father got ill and then it was her birthday - and nobody should be dumped on their birthday. And -"
"How long have you been seeing this lad behind your friend's back, Scarlett?" Oh, no. Ronnie looks serious.
"Ehm, a few months?"
She gives me a strict look.
"Okay, maybe more."
"How much more?"
"Like... A year."
"Bloody hell!" she screams, and attracts everyone's attention. I just want the floor to swallow me whole.
"Sorry!" she calls out. "I sat myself on a cactus, but I'm fine. Now, all of you go back to whatever you were doing. Thank you."
After a few seconds Ronnie turns to me again.†
"Please know that what I'm about to tell you is meant in the most loving and helpful way possible, okay?"
I nod nervously.
"Get your head out of your bloody arse!"
"Wh-what?" I croak.
"You heard me," she says and looks at me sternly. "Enough is enough. Either stop seeing him or make him end his relationship. But whatever you choose, you have to tell your friend. It's not fair to her."
With that she stands up, brushes away some dust on her bum, and walks away.
I still sit on the stairs, mouth hanging open, and my mind processing the harsh truth I've just been fed.
"Scarlett!" Scorp calls and stops in front of me. "Supper's done. And guess who just got here?"
I shrug while getting to my feet. My head is still spinning.
"Uncle Deuce and aunt Clo," he continues. "And guess what!"
I growl. I'm not a guessing kind of girl. He should know this.
"They're together." He grins widely, showing off his perfect teeth. Mine have always been a little crooked.†
"What do you mean, they're together?" I ask, cocking an eyebrow.
"You know what I mean! They're together, like-like, a couple!"
I bark out a laugh. He must be high on something.
"Scorp, what have you been smoking?"
"Har, har," he rolls his eyes, "very funny. But I'm serious! Mum's interrogating them as we speak, and we're missing it. Come!"
"How did this happen, Clover Clearmont?" I hear my mother demanding, and when Scorp and I enter the kitchen, there's quite an audience surrounding her and aunt Clo.
"Calm down," Clo tries, but one look into mum's crazy eyes and she knows it's a lost cause. She sighs, and lowers her voice. "It was just one of those quirky, sort of naughty, sort of wild, sort of, you know, drunken things that people will do from time to time." I can see that she's lying. And if I can see it, mum certainly can.
"Blimey," dad says from the sidelines, and his eyes dart from Clo to uncle Deuce.
"Yeah," is Deuce's answer.†
Those two should write a book together. So eloquent.
Our mother is not like that.
"It took you guys seventeen years to get to this point. That's insane. What the hell changed?" She's almost panting. Mum doesn't do to well with change, you see. "I mean, last year you broke his bloody leg, for Christ sakes!"
"That was an accident!"
"We all know it wasn't," Scorp says under his breath.
"You even admitted it," mum says with an evil look in her eyes and folds her arms across her chest. Clover gasps.
"I knew it!" uncle Deuce exclaims and points at his new girlfriend. "I knew you lied to me! I knew you did it on purpose!"
Clover glares at mum, and stomps her foot.
"Adella!" she roars. "You promised not to tell!"
Mum scoffs. Yeah, looks like Clo's just been slytherined. I'm no good at keeping secrets either. My under-the-radar relationship(or as Ronnie would have called it; affair) with Robert, is the only secret I've managed to maintain secretive.
"Well," mum replies, "Hitler promised not to invade Czechoslovakia, Clo. Welcome to the real world."
Oh, god. I knew it'd be a bad idea to give mum a "European History" book for her last birthday. For almost a year now she's been throwing tidbits of random information in our faces and it's bloody annoying.
"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished decorating this place," grannie Hermione says, but neither mum nor aunt Clo bother to listen.
"Checko-what-the-fuck?" Clo asks with a confused yet annoyed expression.
"Czechoslovakia," mum repeats and rolls her eyes. "It's -"
"I don't fucking care about your imaginary land of checks, Adella!"
The audience circling mum and Clo's debacle splits up, and from behind Harry's legs, Scotty appears. He points a finger at Clover and has the other hand sternly on his hip.
"You said a very bad word," he says gravely and squints his eyes. "Actually, you said a lot of them." Everyone's quiet. Most people in the room find the situation amusing, but Clo actually looks ashamed.
Scott walks up to Clo and stares at her with his great brown eyes. "I'm not angry," he says after a second, then he sighs heavily and shakes his head slowly. "I'm just very, very disappointed."
Ouch. He really went in for the kill.
There are times I want to murder my own spawn - I will be the first one to admit this. But then again, there are times I feel that special proud swelling in my chest.
As I look into Clover Clearmont's guilty face, knowing my five-year-old son is the reason, I feel particularly good about pushing him out of my body.
My deflated looking best friend apologizes to my offspring for cursing, hands over a few quid into his expecting hand for penance, and then the audience disperse again.
Chase and I exchange a husband-and-wife glance of amusement over our child, and then he escorts the smug rugrat away, while he's gripping his money firmly.
Clo, Deuce and I are the only ones not going back to work - and we're swiftly ignoring great-gran Molly's commands to peel more onions.
"I knew you broke my leg on purpose..." Deuce grunts sourly under his breath and Clover rolls her eyes.
"You insulted and mocked me!"
"I did no such thing!
"You asked me if I was, and I quote, attracting lesbian vampires, seeing as I allegedly was so short tempered and particularly unlikeable that day! What do you call that? A compliment?!"
Deuce snorts, but has the decency to look away from the tiny blonde's fierce eyes.†
"Now go do something productive while I talk to Del," she orders. Deuce looks up, not liking her tone.
"You can't order me around!" Deuce straightens his shoulders, trying to intimidate his freakishly short girlfriend.†
All Clover needs to do is stare at him and he cowers a tiny bit - it is barely visible, but I notice it and smirk. Deuce Zabini has met his match in Clover.
"Do you enjoy having sex with me?" she suddenly asks in a low voice, not looking away from him. She cranes her neck so much I promise it'll snap soon. They really are an odd couple, you know, size-wise.
"Yes?" he answers questioningly, casting a half-embarrased look at me. "But wh-"
"Then shut up, and do as I said."
"But-" He catches Clo's warning look and clenches his jaw. "Fine!" Then he stomps off like a sour teenager, muttering bad words under his breath.
"Don't let Scotty hear that!" I call after him, and I hear him quickly shutting up.
"So," I say and turn to look at Clover, "so this is really a thing, yeah?"
"It is, actually," she admits. I look at her. She looks at me. And after about five seconds we start to jump up and down, squealing.
"Oh, my god!" I say, out of breath(I really should hit the gym). "You've been wanting this since you first laid eyes on him!"
"I know!" Clover is grinning from ear to ear. I haven't seen her this happy since I asked her if she wanted to be Scorpius' godmother. "I still can't really believe it."
"But... How did it happen? And when?"
"It actually... Well, it really began right after I , ehm, "accidentally" broke his leg." She blushes as she looks away.
"What? A year ago?" I ask, shocked.
"We didn't get together or anything. I just, well, I felt really bad about it, and I went over to his place to apologize. One thing led to another, and we got to talking. Really talking. Not arguing, or bickering, or throwing snide comments at each other. But, like, about feelings and stuff." She smiles goofily at the memory. "We spoke about how happy you and Chase are, and how we were both a bit jealous."
"Oh, come off it," Clover scoffs. She sits down and signals for me to do the same. But the second I do, we're immediately ushered out of the kitchen for not "contributing". We step out of there and sit down by the fire, almost hidden behind the massive Christmas tree and all the presents around it.
We sit there in silence for a few seconds, just staring into the fire. I'm brought back to our Hogwarts days, in the common room in front of the fireplace.†
Thank god those years are over.
"I mean," Clover suddenly starts and I glance at her. Her hair shines in the firelight - how can she still be so beautiful? I look like a hag. (Even though Witch Weekly named mum, me and my daughter the Prettiest Three Generations of Women.)
"You're, like, perfect for each other."†
I grin. We sort of are.
"It's almost scary how well you two fit together. You've raised three absolutely wonderful kids, and you're still so extremely and disgustingly in love after all this time, and have held together through all the crap that's happened! And everyone can see it - they'd have to be blind not to."
I blush a bit. Wow, is it really that apparent? I never knew.
"Nothing really happened in the beginning," she continues, and I am pulled out of my thoughts about how wonderful my life really is(which is a new experience for me). "We just met a few times, for dinner, for drinks. We both dated other people, but in the end those relationships never lasted more than a few weeks and we spent hours talking about how there were no good people left out there."
She takes a break, and sighs heavily. Then she giggles.
"What?" I ask, smiling.
"Oh, I was just thinking about what Deuce said after I'd appeared on his doorsteps in tears, having just gotten dumped by this guy... I don't even remember his name now, though."
"What did he say?" I dig. I've always loved gossip. I pull my knees up in front of my chest and wrap my arms around them.
"We were sitting on his couch. He'd gotten us some wine and ice cream with Butterbeer flavour -"
"Yeah," she says and grins widely. "He was very quiet and listened to me go on and on about...well, whatever his name was. But suddenly he stopped me. He asked me why I was selling myself short by dating men that were arseholes. I was offended, but I knew it was true. He went on by saying I should stop going after those kinds of blokes. 'But then there are no men left,' I said. 'No, there are a few of them still out there. Someone who will respect you and love you and...well, be proud to have you,' he told me. I didn't believe him. 'And where the hell are they hiding out?' I asked. 'Well, there's one right here on this couch,' he said to my surprise, 'if you'll have him.' And that was it. We've been together ever since. That was four months ago."
"Dear lord," I mutter, eyes wide open. "Did Deuce really say that? Deuce Zabini?"
Clover nods and looks at me with such pride. "I was surprised too. And I had my doubts in the beginning. But he's so sweet! I never knew a bloke could even be like that!"
I am genuinely happy for my friend and I clap my hands together in excitement.
"And I have to tell you," she says and drops her voice, there's a naughty look in her eyes, "the sex is fantastic."
I laugh, and Clover joins in.
"What's so funny over here?"
We turn around and find a very sweaty and red faced, balloon-sized Lily Potter.
"Sex," I tell her honestly. And Lily sits down with a huff on the nearest chair.
"Oh, don't get me started," she groans. "Sex is a pain in my arse."
"Literally?" Clover asks, eyes about to pop out.
I double over in a laughing fit.
"What? No! What's the matter with you?!" Lily exclaims, disgusted.
"Oh." Now Clover is the one who's red in the face. And she can't blame it on pregnancy.
"But Bendik is constantly trying to get me in the mood, and I am in no way capable of that. I mean, who would feel sexy being in this permanent fatsuit?"
"I know what you mean," I relate. "But you have to remember that it's not permanent, and in a few months you'll start to feel less disgusting."
"That's reassuring..." Lily says darkly under her breath. "I'll just have to fight my fiance off with a stick for the next months. That's nice."
I laugh again, and by now Clover has gotten over her embarrasment and joins in.
"I don't see how he can even be attracted to me at this time - I look like an extraterrestrial thing!"
"Not from behind," I joke and wink at her. Clover chuckles.
"Oh, yes I do! My arse has grown at least fifteen sizes in the last four months!"
"Maybe he likes some junk in the trunk?" Clover suggests. Lily's mouth actually twists into something resembling a smile. It's quickly over, and she falls at the back of the chair with a sigh.
"This baby makes me look fat," she complains. "I never used to be fat. I was actually more like a stick-resembling person. I miss that person."
"Well, you're the one who had to go and get yourself impregnated," I remind her.
"That's not true," Lily denies. "It was not planned at all. Ben and I had just started going out when this little "miracle"†of life occoured." Despide her words, she looks down at her belly with love. I know how she feels. It's very contradicting and confusing.
"Being pregnant is an occupational hazard of being a woman," Clover says, and both Lily and I nod in agreement.
"Look on the bright side," I tell her, "at least you're not seventeen, carrying twins and alone."
"You weren't completely alone," Clo reminds me. "You had us. And Chase was in the picture pretty quickly, adopting those kids as his own."
"Yeah, and remember Tristan?"†
I look at Lily, and what she says makes me smile. I hadn't thought about Tristan Knight for a long time.
"Blimey," I whisper. "That's right. I wonder what he's doing now."
"He's a professional Quidditch player slash model," Clover informs me. I look at her with brows pulled down in suspicion.
"I ran into him about six months ago," she tells me and shrugs her shoulders. "He's married, with two kids. And a dog."
"That's nice," I say - honestly happy for him. He deserves a good life, he was a great friend(and briefly, boyfriend).
"Yeah, nice is just what describes him," Clover says and rolls her eyes. "Seriously, that bloke is nice personified."†I laugh. That's just how I remember him. "I mean, he paid for all my drinks that evening, picked up the tab for this lad who'd just gotten dumped by his girlfriend, gave the bartender a huge tip, and walked me to a safe place to Disapparate. I mean, who does that?"
"Tristan Knight does," I say and nod to myself.
"I was even surprised he remembered me at all," Clover says.
"Being a semi-famous designer might've had something to do with it," Lily suggests. "By the way, I love the spring collection and can't wait to fit into them."
"Thanks." Clover smiles and looks away. She's gotten more modest with the years. Luckily.
She changes the subject.
"I bet you can't wait to get that baby out soon, eh? I remember Del at the end. It was not pleasant."
I give her an annoyed look, but she just smiles in return.
"Oh, god, yes," Lily moans and throws her head back. "Two weeks and four days until my due date. But my healer says it could be less. I'm hoping for less."
We sit in silence for a second.
"But on the other hand," Lily starts up again, "I'm sort of nervous about the part after it's out. After she's out. The thought of being a parent freaks me out, I have to admit."
"That's normal," I assure her. "It's new-mum jitters. I had them."
"So I'm not already screwing up my daughter by having doubts?"
"How does it feel?" Lily asks after a while of staring into the fire and stroking her belly. "Being a parent, I mean."
"Like your heart is too big for your body," I answer. I get a bit teary eyed and have to focus on the carpet to stop the trembling of my lip.
Clover notices and helps me out.
"Are you dreading the birth?" she asks, and Lily shrugs her shoulders again.
"I've got a birthing plan, so I'm alright."
"You've planned your birth?" we suddenly hear rudely from behind our backs. "OCD much?"
"Yes, I have. Not that it's any of your concern, dear brother of mine," Lily says to Al through gritted teeth.
"So what's the plan?" Clo asks curiously.
"I basically wanna be numb from the eyebrows down."
"I don't think you can do that, Lils," Al says in an annoying sing-song voice. And he who always used to be the nice one. He gets called as the "Sexiest Potter" once by a magazine and suddenly he's the cat's pajamas.
"Are you a healer now?" Lily snaps. "Did you go to medical school in the last five minutes?"
"No, but -"
"Then shut your food hole."
Lily shoots her famous sizzling stare at him, and he wisely looks away.
"I-I was just coming over to tell you guys that dinner's done," he mutters, annoyed by the fact that his pregnant younger sister had such power over him.
"Ah, about time!" Clover jumps up, and the two of us help Lily to her feet.
We all gather around the long row of different sized tables, and squeeze together. It's a rather tiny kitchen, but somehow nobody's ever suggested we eat Christmas dinner anywhere else.
I sit down beside my husband, and he beams at me the second I slide into my seat. I kiss him on the cheek, and when our gazes meet, I feel a tingle in my chest for a little second. How can he still be able to do that?
Deuce has his arm around Scorpius, as usual filling his head with nonsense. The space on Deuce's other side is empty, waiting for Clover to fill it - people very quickly adapt to couples apparently, and have avoided to sit there.
"My name might as well be Fatty McButterpants. Because no girl is attracted to me anyways.†Uncle Deuce, were you a player?" I hear my son asking over the sound of people cramming into their seats. It takes a long time for the entire clan to settle down - so I wait patiently. Or, at least I try.†
"Oh, yeah," Deuce answers. "Back in the day the chicas jumped into bed with me at the drop of a thong."
Deuce glances over his shoulder for a quick second, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head. His eyes widen when he sees his girlfriend and he turns back to his godson.
"But now I'm all, like, in love and shit. Hey, darling! We were just talking about you."
Clover rolls her eyes, but I can see her smile. She sits down in silence, and doesn't really respond when Deuce takes her hand and kisses it. Deuce leans in close to Scorpius.
"For a woman," he whispers, "silence is the best way of letting someone know you did something wrong. So if your woman's disturbingly quiet - you can just assume you've done some shit, and just apologize right away."
I hide a smirk. He's right.
"Another thing, little grasshopper," Deuce continues. "Women get the last word in every argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument."
"I heard that," Clo says drily.
"Sorry, babe!" Deuce apologizes quickly, and kisses her neck. When he's managed to make Clo smile after whispering soft, words into her ear and kissing her some more, he turns to Scorp and winks. My son is apparently in awe, and gives a silent bow to his godfather.
I don't know what I'm gonna do about those two. I hope to Merlin that Scorpius doesn't take all what Deuce says to heart.
At least, if Scorp succombs to Deuce's evil, manwhoring ways(or, ex-ways now), I will have two kids left to fall back on. On the other hand, Scotty is already posessed by some sort of demonic power. If he's not ending up in Slytherin, I'll eat my husbands dirty Quidditch socks.
But then there's Scarlett. The straight O student. The captain and founder of the literacy and poetry club. She graduated with honours, and got accepted at Healer studies on her first try - which is not an easy feat.†
And she didn't get pregnant. Parenting win!
While I was spying on Deuce ruining my oldest son, everyone had sat themselves down, and great-grandad Arthur is now standing up and clinking his glass to get our attention.
"Quiet down, everybody," he says in his fragile voice, and we all fall silent. "There we are. Well, first of all, happy Christmas to you all!"†
"Happy Christmas," we all bellow back at him, and the old man smiles with emotion.
"Every year I think we can't possibly squeeze another person into this kitchen, and every year I'm wrong. Our family keeps on growing, and it's so wonderful to see you all here - gathered together. It warms an old man's heart. But now it's enough of my rambling. So, on behalf of my wife and myself; dig in!"
And we are off.
Dishes are being sent across the table at record speed, and plates are filled in a split second. Mouths barely manage to contain the food, and we all moan as our taste buds relish with all of great-gran Molly's wonderful cooking. I can never be as good as her. Not in a million years. And I have to stop myself when I briefly imagine a Christmas without her giving out commands in the kitchen.
Conversations are bursting around the table, and it's almost impossible to get a word in edgewise. I see my parents feeding each other spoonfuls, and I roll my eyes. They are only bothered with one another, and doesn't seem to achnowledge the fact that the room is bustling with noise. In fact, they're so into their own little bubble that I notice they start doing stuff under the table.
"Oi!" I shout out at them, and they look up. They seem almost surprised that there are other people around them. "That's a table, guys, not a cloak of invisibility."
Mum blushes, but dad roars out in laughter after realising what I just said. Harry and Ron joins in, having heard it as well. Mum and Ginny exchange glances, and they chuckle as well.
I go back to eating. Parents. They never cease to embarrass you. Even when you yourself are middle aged with your own children to embarrass.
But, I have to say, if I'm half as happy and in love as they are at their age - I'll count myself the luckiest woman in the world.
And as I look at the man at my side, I have a feeling that's not going to be a problem.
That was it. That was the end. The very very end. I can't believe it. I've spent YEARS writing about these characters. First about how Hermione and Draco got together in Otherwise Engaged, and now about their daughter in Expecting Otherwise.†
It has been one crazy ride. And I really am going to miss this story. Miss the people, the characters. And I feel stupid, because I made many of them up! How pathetic is that?
Thank you to my readers. To all of you. Every single one. And I want to specifically thank 'my biggest fan' who wrote me the most beautiful review a little while ago - it inspired me and moved me to tears.
Many of you have followed me from the very beginning, and to you I want to send a special thanks. I give you all hugs for sticking with me, patiently waiting for my slow brain to come up with new chapters, commenting and reviewing and giving me much needed motivation.
I genuinely love you for all of this, and I hope this isn't the last time I hear from you. I will be back with new stories...but then again, it will not be the same seeing as my sarcastic and negative Adella, annoying but funny Deuce, sweet and lovable Chase, weird and cute Clover and the good Tristan won't be in any of them :(
Thank you again, my dearies.
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