Chapter 1 : No Room at the Inn.
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Although there were still two days until Hogwarts’ Christmas holidays, Alexandrina’s seventeen year old granddaughter, Lydia was due to arrive any moment, not on the Hogwarts Express as usual, but via the Floo Network.
The full moon which, for most of her life, Alexandrina had hardly noticed, had now come to dominate their lives, making it impossible for their granddaughter to attend classes the next day and probably unwise for her to travel home the day after that.
“It would probably be very tiring for her,” Madame Pomfrey had advised. “Personally, I’d recommend she return beforehand, especially since she’d be missing Tuesday’s classes anyway.”
Alexandrina had accepted the suggestion immediately. She hated to think of her granddaughter recovering from the painful transformation far from home in the rather impersonal environment of Hogwarts’ hospital wing.
How Lydia had felt about it, she wasn’t sure. While Alexandrina was sure she’d be more comfortable at home, it was one more way her life had changed. Travelling home on the Hogwarts Express was normal, this wasn’t.
At seventeen, she was, of course, old enough not only to express an opinion, but to make the decision herself. She was legally an adult. But whatever her opinion might be, she kept it to herself, simply nodding her agreement when those around her made their suggestions. The passivity worried Alexandrina. Before she’d been bitten, Lydia had been a confident, articulate girl. It might have irritated her parents sometimes, but Alexandrina couldn’t help being proud to see her granddaughter developing into a young woman with her own views and personality.
Now, however, that personality seemed to have been all but extinguished.
She stepped through the flames, looking pale, tired, scared and depressed.
Alexandrina wrapped her arms around her.
“How are you, darling?”
“All right.” The words were almost a whisper.
“You look exhausted. Did you sleep last night?”
“A little. Not very well.”
“You should rest.” She whipped out her wand and waved it at the sofa, turning it into a sofa bed. “Lie down for a little while, all right.”
Lydia nodded and did as she was told.
“You know,” Alexandrina began gently, “you should go to Madame Pomfrey if you have problems sleeping, especially before the full moons. She’d give you a potion.”
“I’m sick of potions,” Lydia burst out unexpectedly.
“Well, I am, and I’m sick of the hospital wing and even Madame Pomfrey. I know I should have gone to her, but I think I’ve been there more often in the last couple of months than in the previous six years put together and I’m just so sick of it.” She sounded close to tears.
Alexandrina sighed and sat down beside her.
“I know, darling,” she said, stroking her arm gently. “It can’t be easy for you: I realise that. You did take your Wolfsbane, didn’t you?”
“Of course.” Lydia looked stricken.
“I’m sorry. I just had to be certain.”
“I wouldn’t skip that.” Her voice shook slightly. “I know how important it is, what could happen…”
Alexandrina realised what she was referring to.
“Darling, nothing would happen, except to you. We’re taking every precaution. It’s you I’m concerned about, not anything else. Tonight will be unpleasant enough for you without making things any worse.”
Lydia’s eyes were full of tears.
“I don’t want to think about it,” she muttered.
“No, you’re quite right. And at least you’ll feel better in time for Christmas.” She tried to sound upbeat and reassuring, but it came out sounding only falsely cheerful. They both knew there was very little positive about any of this.
“What are we going to…do about Christmas?”
She paused for a moment. That question was more difficult to answer than it should have been.
“I was thinking of inviting your parents to spend the day here with us, if that’s all right with you,” she finally replied slowly.
Lydia looked down. When she spoke, it was so quietly Alexandrina had to strain to hear it.
“Do you think they’ll come?”
“Lydia! Of course they will. It was my idea you should come and stay with me for a while, you know, not theirs.”
Lydia passed her wand from one hand to the other and back again.
“They didn’t exactly argue though, did they?”
She met her granddaughter’s eyes, wishing she could tell her anything but the truth. But there was no point in lying. Even without being told, her granddaughter knew the answer. After everything that had happened, it wasn’t hard to guess.
“Not exactly,” she admitted. “But Lydia, it’s not that they don’t love you; you know that, don’t you?”
Alexandrina reached out and pulled her granddaughter close to her.
“Of course they do. You’re their daughter after all. And they write to you, don’t they?”
“Sort of?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Well, they do, but not like they used to. It feels sort of…I don’t know…like going through the motions or something. You’ll probably say I’m imagining it, but I don’t think I am.”
Alexandrina didn’t think she was either. Much as she hated to admit it, it didn’t entirely surprise her that the tone of the letters would have changed. For some reason, her son and daughter-in-law seemed completely incapable of dealing with what had happened to their daughter. She knew it wasn’t easy, seeing somebody you loved go through so much, but it was no excuse. No matter how hard it might be for them, Lydia needed their support.
“I believe you,” she said quietly. “But I’m sure they don’t mean to be hurtful. It isn’t always easy to know what to say…”
“It’s not just that,” Lydia interrupted her. “I know it could be, but it isn’t. I’m sure of it.”
Her hands, which still held her wand, were shaking.
“Shush, darling, you need to try and calm down. Working yourself up will only make tonight worse. If you don’t want your parents here, I won’t ask them. We can do whatever you want.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I do want them. It’s just…just…” She trailed off, tears beginning to spill down her cheek.
Alexandrina thought she understood. If they didn’t come, it would be devastating for her. It would prove everything she feared about them no longer loving her, no longer wanting her.
Alexandrina, however, had no doubts but that they'd come. What worried her was that there’d be an awkwardness, that their new uncertainty around their daughter would show. She’d no doubt Lydia would see that as a rejection.
She gave a half-sigh. This really wasn’t the time for this kind of discussion. Almost all the Healers she’d spoken to over the past couple of months had advised that stress should be avoided in the days before a full moon.
“Being stressed or tired or unwell before a full moon tends to make the transformations more painful,” she’d been informed. “It interferes with the body’s ability to stand up to it, you see.”
Of course Lydia knew this too, but it didn’t make it any easier to relax when you knew that in a few hours your entire body would be stretched and changed and you’d transform into a creature you’d always been taught to fear.
And being December, the moon would rise earlier than in the summer months and the night last longer. It shouldn’t make much difference - the transformation itself was the painful part - but she’d no doubt it added to her granddaughter’s apprehension.
Shortly before the time arrived, Lydia rose from the sofa and headed upstairs. Alexandrina followed her.
“I’ll have to lock the door, you know,” she said softly.
Of course she knew. It was her fifth transformation, so she was now well used to the procedures. But Alexandrina still found it hard to leave her alone to face the upcoming ordeal. She looked so pale and frightened and alone.
There was part of Alexandrina that would have liked to remain with her. The risks were quite low with Wolfsbane and anyway, she wasn’t sure they weren’t a small price to pay if being with her could give Lydia some reassurance, some comfort. She knew though that if anything did happen, Lydia would never forgive herself and her being there would only worry her granddaughter more.
So instead she just stepped inside the room and placed her hand on her granddaughter’s arm.
“I’ll see you in the morning. Call me once you’ve…”
“All right.” Lydia cut her off before she could say the words.
Her complete avoidance of words like “werewolf” and “transformation” was beginning to worry Alexandrina. It felt like a form of denial, a way to avoid the reality of what had happened to her.
Right now, however, that clearly wasn’t the greatest concern.
“It’ll be over soon enough,” she said, before rising to leave the room.
“I know.” Lydia nodded. “I’ll be all right, Grandma.”
The words sounded anything but convincing, but Alexandrina agreed anyway.
“Of course you will.”
There were tears in her eyes as she left the room and performed the necessary spells to secure it. Seeing her granddaughter so unhappy and knowing there was absolutely nothing she could do to put things right or protect her from the upcoming ordeal was one of the hardest things she’d ever faced.
She could almost understand why her son and his wife avoided it. Almost, but not quite. However hard it was for her, or for them, after all, it must be a hundred times more difficult for Lydia and it was high time they appreciated that and started putting her first.
She wondered how they were feeling that night, if they were lying awake as she was, worrying about the pain their daughter was going through and how she was facing it. Surely, they must be. At least Alexandrina had the reassurance of knowing her granddaughter was under her own roof and that she’d see her first thing in the morning. In a way, it was harder when she was away at Hogwarts. Although she didn’t have to be the one to lock the door or see her granddaughter’s face as she was left alone, the not knowing was, in some ways, even more frightening and the feeling of helplessness even greater when most of Great Britain lay between them.
She rose early the next morning, unable to sleep any longer. The moon was still in the sky and would be, no doubt, for some time yet. Alexandrina longed for the summer. At least then, the night had come to an end more quickly and she could check on her granddaughter sooner.
Eventually, after it felt like days, and not just hours, had passed, she heard her granddaughter calling her.
She took a potion from the cabinet and poured it into a goblet, then removed the breakfast she’d left heating in the oven, placed it on a tray and headed upstairs to her granddaughter’s bedroom.
Outside the door, she put down the tray and raised her wand to remove the charms locking the room. Then, pointing her wand at the tray, she muttered “wingardium leviosa” and the tray flew up into her hands again.
Lydia lay on the bed, looking pale and miserable.
Putting the tray down on the bedside table, Alexandrina sat down beside her and placed a hand on her forehead. She felt slightly feverish. Not that that was anything to worry about. Fever was apparently a relatively common after-effect of a transformation, particularly if it had been a difficult one.
“How do you feel, darling?” she asked gently.
Lydia cleared her throat.
“Awful,” she croaked after a pause. “Everything hurts.”
Alexandrina gazed at her sympathetically. “Can you sit up?”
Grimacing, she managed to pull herself into a sitting position.
“Here, drink this.” Alexandrina handed her the potion and slipped an arm around her. “It will ease the pain a little.”
“Do you feel a bit better now?” Alexandrina asked her once she’d finished it.
“Well, that’s something, isn’t it?” She passed her the tray. “Have some breakfast now and then try and get some sleep. Do you need a sleeping draught?” she added, remembering the nightmares that had plagued her granddaughter over the latter half of her summer holidays.
“God, no. I’m so tired, I think I could sleep through the apocalypse.” She paused and took a couple of mouthfuls of her breakfast before asking, “can you…stay with me for a moment?”
“Of course, darling. I’ll stay until you fall asleep, all right?”
She nodded. “Thanks, Grandma.”
To Alexandrina’s relief, she slept for most of the rest of the day, waking only when Alexandrina brought her up some supper that evening.
It was late the following morning when she finally came downstairs.
“Morning, darling,” Alexandrina greeted her. “How are you?”
Lydia flopped down on the sofa.
“Tired,” she said, “and still a bit achy. Though maybe tired isn’t exactly the right word. I’m not really sleepy or anything. I just feel like I can’t be bothered doing anything that requires any effort, if that makes any sense.”
Alexandrina nodded and sat down beside her. “You probably just need to take things easy for another day or two.”
“At least I don’t have to go to class.” Lydia sighed.
“Are you finding things difficult?” Alexandrina asked tentatively. From speaking to Minerva, she already knew Lydia’s grades had been dropping, but she’d deliberately decided not to bring it up. Lydia had enough to deal with at the moment and it wasn’t as if she was actually doing badly. Her results were still perfectly acceptable; they just fell significantly below her usual standard.
“Kind of.” Lydia looked away. “It’s not really much fun going to class when I still feel out of sorts, that’s all.”
“I know I probably should try and get some study done now.” She sounded completely unenthusiastic.
“Leave it for another day,” Alexandrina advised. “You won’t be able to concentrate properly anyway, if you’re still feeling unwell.”
“I suppose so. Grandma?”
She looked away again. “I haven’t exactly been doing so well lately.”
“I know, darling. Professor McGonagall told me.”
“Are you annoyed?”
“Of course not.” She slipped her arm around her granddaughter. “I’m just concerned about you.”
Lydia shifted awkwardly. “You don’t have to be. It’s…well, it’s not all because I’ve been feeling unwell. Please don’t be angry with me.”
“Darling, of course I won't be angry.”
“I…well, I suppose I haven’t exactly been trying as hard as I usually do. It just…seems so pointless. I mean, nobody’s really going to employ me now anyway, are they? No matter how well I might do on my N.E.W.T.S.” She bit her lip and appeared to be trying not to cry.
“Lydia, look at me, all right?”
She did as she was told.
“That is not true. Hermione Granger looks set to become the next head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and there’s already talk of her bringing in some kind of legislation guaranteeing employment for werewolves.”
Lydia flinched at her use of the word “werewolves”.
“It’s not going to happen in the next couple of months though, is it? And even if it did, prejudice isn’t the only problem.”
She wanted to be a curse-breaker, Alexandrina knew, and of course, that was completely out of the question now. Curse-breakers had to work in different countries around the world, travelling wherever they were most needed and not every country was safe for lycanthropes. Britain might not be exactly enlightened, but at least there was guaranteed access to Wolfsbane, access to medical care if a transformation went wrong and some kind of freedom. There were countries in the world where simply being a werewolf meant instant imprisonment and others where the Wolfsbane potion was completely unknown or only available at extortionate prices.
“All right, things are going to be more difficult for you,” Alexandrina admitted. “I’m not going to deny that. But you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You could live for another hundred years. And things are improving. I know you’re too young to remember how things used to be, and I’m glad of that, but I can tell you, we’ve come an awfully long way even in your lifetime. We probably can’t even begin to imagine what changes the next ten or fifteen years might bring. I know a few years sounds like a long time to you at your age, but believe me, it isn’t. You’ve got plenty of time.”
“I suppose.” She didn’t entirely sound convinced.
“Just take things one step at a time. You’ve the N.E.W.T.S. to get through before you can even properly start applying for jobs, so just concentrate on those for the moment. We’ll cross all those other bridges when we come to them. All right?”
“I’ll try, but everything just seems so hard at the moment. It shouldn’t be. It never was before, but…oh, I don’t know. I just can’t seem to concentrate.”
“You’ve a lot on your mind, darling. Considering everything that’s happened, you’re doing really well to keep up at all. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks Grandma.” She attempted a smile. “I love you.”
“I love you too, darling.”
She was going to do her best to ensure Lydia had the best Christmas possible. Not that any gift or party could compensate for the painful transformations or the loss of career opportunities or the damage done to her relationship with her parents, but Alexandrina was determined to spoil her, all the same. She’d spent far more on her than ever before. It wasn’t that she thought her granddaughter would lack for presents. Flavian and his wife would probably shower her with gifts too, an attempt on their part to compensate for their complete lack of support over the last few months.
Of course, it could never begin to do so, but Lydia deserved every gift her parents or grandmother could get her. She’d been through so much the last few months. There was little anybody could do to take away either the physical or emotional pain, so if a gift could bring a smile to her face, even for a moment, Alexandrina considered it money well spent.
“Is there anything you’d like to do over the holidays?” she asked her on Thursday, two days before Christmas.
Lydia shrugged. “I don’t really mind.”
“Have you been in touch with your friends at all? You could meet up with them and go down to London or something. Do some shopping in Diagon Alley.”
Making the suggestion, she wondered if she was entering into forbidden territory. Lydia’d barely mentioned her friends since the awful events of last summer. And she hadn’t received any owls the past couple of days.
Alexandrina couldn’t help worrying. While Lydia’s condition was being kept as quiet as possible, it was impossible to hide it from her closest friends, as they’d been with her when the attack had happened. Alexandrina wasn’t sure of the exact sequence of events – either Lydia didn’t remember or she didn’t want to talk about it - but they’d certainly been close enough to get help, something Alexandrina was immensely thankful for. The possibility that she could have lost her granddaughter wasn’t exactly one she wanted to dwell on.
Lydia fidgeted and didn’t immediately respond to the question.
“We’re not exactly so close any more,” she admitted finally.
“Have they…said anything to you? Anything hurtful?”
She shook her head vigorously. “No, it’s not like that. They’ve been perfectly kind, but they’re a little…awkward around me. I think maybe they feel a little guilty or something. Like they should have been able to do something to prevent…it. I don’t know. And they don’t really know what to say. It’s just all a bit awkward and then I keep missing out on things as well.”
She couldn’t have missed out on that much. There’d only been three full moons since the beginning of the school year and she’d only missed a day each time. But Alexandrina didn’t point that out. She could easily imagine that it felt like more.
“Lydia, will you do something for me?”
“Owl them. Even if it’s only to say ‘Merry Christmas’. A bit of awkwardness isn’t worth losing your friends over.”
“Good girl.” Alexandrina touched her arm.
The only indication she’d done so was the arrival of some owls for her the following day. Lydia made no reference to them or to what she’d written herself and Alexandrina didn’t ask. Lydia was very quiet and clearly stressed on Christmas Eve anyway, probably still worrying that her parents would change their minds and fail to arrive the following day.
That concern, at least, proved false, where the doorbell rang shortly before midday Christmas morning.
Lydia froze. “Do you think that’s them?”
“I would think so, yes. Go on, go and open it.”
Alexandrina followed her into the hallway.
“Hi Mum, hi Dad.” Lydia's voice shook slightly as she greeted her parents.
“Happy Christmas dear.” There was a tentative note in Grace’s voice. Alexandrina hoped Lydia hadn’t noticed.
Lydia reached out to hug her mother. For a moment, Grace froze, then returned the hug, quickly and perfunctorily.
Even without seeing Lydia’s face, Alexandrina could imagine how hurt she must feel. Quickly, she stepped forward to join them.
“Well, don’t just stand around here in the hallway. Come in and sit down.”
“Happy Christmas Mother.” Flavian wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. He’d hardly glanced in his daughter’s direction yet, let alone given her a hug. His very body language had seemed to warn her not to approach him.
Alexandrina returned the hug half-heartedly. She couldn’t help being disappointed in him.
“Well,” he said, sitting down in the living room, “how have you been, Lydia? Everything going well at school?”
“Yes, Dad,” she said quietly.
It wasn’t true and even before he’d asked, he must have known that. If Minerva had spoken to her, she’d certainly have spoken to Lydia’s parents.
“Well, that’s certainly good news,” he said, showing no sign of knowing differently. “Keep up the good work, eh? Bet you’re looking forward to being finished with the N.E.W.T.S., aren’t you?”
“We’ve some presents for you here,” Grace put in. “I hope you’ll like them.”
Lydia got up to take them from her.
As Alexandrina had suspected, there were quite a number and many looked extremely expensive.
“Thanks Mum, thanks Dad,” Lydia said, as she unwrapped an expensive looking bracelet.
“I’d better go out and check on the dinner,” Alexandrina said.
“Oh, would you like me to come and help?” Grace asked.
Alexandrina gave her a hard stare. Both she and Flavian seemed uncomfortable around their daughter now and she couldn’t help feeling the offer was an excuse to avoid spending time alone with her.
“No, you stay here and spend some time with your daughter. You’ve hardly seen her since the summer, after all.”
As soon as she’d said it, she regretted it. Or at least, regretted saying it in front of Lydia. It didn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know, of course, but Alexandrina doubted she’d needed a reminder.
Once said, however, it couldn’t be unsaid, so she simply followed it up by saying, “I’ll let you know when everything’s ready.”
They ate at two o’clock, after two hours in which the atmosphere in the house showed no signs of relaxing. Everybody was trying so hard; they were less like family than four strangers making polite conversation and the strain and disappointment was beginning to show on Lydia’s face. She’d complained about her friends being awkward around her. Surely she should be able to expect better from her own parents.
“This meal is delicious,” Grace said.
“Mother was always a marvellous cook,” Flavian agreed.
“I tried to teach you, as I recall.” Alexandrina attempted to lighten the atmosphere. “Without much success.”
“Flavian can barely boil an egg.” His wife laughed.
“Well, why should I when you both cook so fantastically? I couldn’t possibly compete.”
Laughter filled the room, but it sounded hollow, slightly nervous.
Grace twisted her wedding ring around on her finger and whispered something under her breath to Flavian.
“Oh yes,” he began, “now that we’re all gathered around the table, I have some wonderful news.”
“Really?” Alexandrina put down her knife and fork and gave him her full attention. She couldn’t imagine what he was about to tell her. He hadn’t got a promotion; she was certain of that and she found it hard to think of anything else that would merit such an announcement. “What is it?”
“In a few months – next summer, to be more accurate – you’re going to be a grandmother again.” He patted his wife’s stomach.
Silence fell and Alexandrina turned automatically to her granddaughter. All the colour had drained from Lydia’s face.
Before she could continue, Lydia pushed back her chair and hurried out of the room.
Alexandrina rose to follow her.
“Mother? Aren’t you going to congratulate us?”
“Right now, I’m a little more concerned about the daughter you already have!”
Lydia’s bedroom door was closed, so she tapped on it gently.
“Lydia? It’s Grandma. Can I come in?”
“Yeah.” The word was so quiet, she almost missed it.
When she entered the room, Lydia was sitting on her bed, her knees pulled up to her chest. She looked utterly dejected.
“Oh darling.” Alexandrina sat down beside her and wrapped her arms around her.
“They’re replacing me,” Lydia said miserably. “Oh dear, this child is damaged. We’d better get a new one.”
“It isn’t like that.”
“Yes, it is; it is.” Tears began to pour down her cheeks.
“Shush, darling, it’s all right, it’s all right.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“You’re right,” Alexandrina replied after a moment. “It isn’t all right at all. They’ve treated you very badly, but darling it isn’t because they don’t love you. This has been difficult for them too, that’s all. Not that it’s any excuse. You deserve so much better than this and I hope you know it.”
Lydia didn’t reply. She just continued to sob.
Alexandrina stroked her hair. “Come on now, darling, try to calm down.”
She wished she could reassure her her lycanthropy had absolutely nothing to do with her parents’ decision to have another child, but she very much doubted that was true. It might not be quite as cold as “replacing” her - she certainly hoped it wasn’t – but she doubted they’d be having this child if Lydia hadn’t been bitten.
She felt pretty angry. They had a beautiful, intelligent, kind, loving daughter. How could they treat her like this? Surely they could have predicted how this announcement, coming after months of disinterest would appear to Lydia. Had they even thought of her at all?
Right now, though, what she felt wasn’t important. It was Lydia's feelings that were important and she was clearly devastated.
“All right, shush now, shush, you’ll make yourself ill if you keep up like this.”
“I’m not going down there again, Grandma, I’m not, I can’t.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to. Lie down now, have a little rest. You’ve had a bad shock.”
She wished she’d thought to get some calming draughts the last time she’d been at the Apothecary. Not of course, that she could have expected anything like this to happen, but she should have realised they might come in handy. Her granddaughter was dealing with a lot of trauma.
She touched Lydia’s shoulder gently.
“I’ll be back in a moment. Will you be all right on your own for a minute or two?”
She returned with a glass of water and a damp facecloth.
“Drink this.” She handed Lydia the glass. “You’re probably dehydrated.”
Lydia clasped the glass in both hands, like a small child. Her hands were shaking and some water splashed out of the glass onto the bed.
Fresh tears filled her eyes.
“Shush, now, shush.”
Gently, she wiped her granddaughter’s cheeks and forehead.
“I’m all right now.” Lydia’s voice sounded hoarse. “You can go back down to Mum and Dad if you like.”
“Are you sure? I can stay with you for as long as you want me to.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be OK.”
“All right. Try and rest now. I’ll bring you another glass of water.”
“And darling, you know no matter what happens, I’ll always be here for you, all right? For as long as I’m alive.”
“I know, Grandma. I love you.”
“I love you too, darling.”
She was fuming, she realised, as she headed downstairs. There was part of her that was hardly any more anxious to face her son and daughter-in-law than her granddaughter was, but there was another part that was all too anxious to face them and tell them exactly what she thought of them and their announcement. God almighty, could they have chosen a less tactful way to do it?
“How could you do that to her?” she demanded, as soon as she entered the living room.
“Do what exactly?” Flavian asked. “Is telling her she’s about to have a little brother or sister really so terrible?”
“You didn’t tell her,” Alexandrina pointed out. “You told me. You pretty much ignored her completely. And really, how did you think the poor child would take it, after everything she’s been through recently? You avoid her for months, then announce you’re about to have another child. Of course she’s going to feel replaced; who wouldn’t? Good Lord, can’t you imagine how fragile she is right now? She’s still coming to terms with being bitten, she’s having trouble at school. I’m sure Minerva must have told you her grades have been falling. Not that that worries me in and of itself; her marks are still above average. But it is an indication of the turmoil she’s in right now. This is the girl who got eight Os in her O.W.L.S., after all. And I'm sure she's worried. Studying for N.E.W.T.S. is stressful enough even under normal circumstances. And now you’ve gone and dropped this bombshell on her, that as well as her exams and leaving school and all the difficulties of looking for a job with lycanthropy, she’s also going to have a new little sister or brother and that, just when she most needs your support, you’re going to be busy caring for a tiny baby.”
“Well, what are you suggesting we do?” Grace asked acerbically.
She and Alexandrina had never really got along. Though Alexandrina had tried to tell herself she was being unfair, that she was just being a typical mother, feeling nobody was good enough for her son, the truth was she could never really like the girl. And now, after everything that had happened, she was furious with her. And with Flavian.
“I’m suggesting you go up there and tell your daughter that you love her and that nobody could ever replace her. Tell her you’re glad you’re having this child now, when she’s almost completed her education, so she’ll be free to spend more time with the child. Tell her you know she’ll make a wonderful big sister and this child will be lucky to have her in their life.”
A look passed between her son and daughter-in-law.
“Well...” Grace began.
Flavian shot her a warning look, but she seemed not to notice.
“We were actually wondering if Lydia could stay with you again for the summer,” she continued. “Just while the baby is so small. We don’t want to risk…” She trailed off, realising she’d said far too much.
An awkward silence fell and Alexandrina contemplated what she’d just been asked. She could say no, she knew that. Despite their recent attitude, she knew they’d never leave their daughter without a place to stay. They wouldn’t even tell her they’d prefer she stayed with her gran. What they wanted was for Alexandrina to offer an invitation, which Lydia would accept, because lately, she was responding to everything with complete passivity. That left them completely off the hook.
But it wouldn’t do Lydia any good to spend the summer somewhere she wasn’t wanted. Hurtful as their continued avoidance of her would be, it would be even worse if she were continually made to feel unwelcome in her own home.
“Lydia is welcome to stay here for as long as she wants,” she said finally, her tone brittle.
Even before a word was said, she could feel them relax.
“Thanks Mother,” Flavian said awkwardly. “It’s just that Grace is inclined to be a little overprotective at the moment. New baby and all that.”
His wife glared at him and somehow she knew Grace wasn’t the only one who wanted Lydia out of the way.
“I’m ashamed of you,” she said.
“I’m ashamed of you. I never thought I’d see the day you’d treat your own daughter so dreadfully. You know full well that I would never have done that to you and neither would your father.”
“I…I…” He glanced down at the floor.
“And I’ll tell you something else, he’d be turning in his grave if he could see what you’re doing right now. You know in your heart he’d have fought off a troll for you and he’d be disgusted to see you doing any less for your daughter.”
“That isn’t fair,” Grace defended him.
“Isn’t it?” Alexandrina looked her right in the eyes. “I think it is. Your daughter needs support and reassurance and instead, you’re acting as if she’s done something wrong. None of this is her fault.”
“She was drinking,” Flavian said.
“She’s seventeen. She was abroad with her friends for the first time. Of course she had a few drinks. You did the same thing at that age. The only difference was that you didn’t walk into an unmedicated werewolf. She was unlucky, that’s all and she’s going to have to deal with the consequences for the rest of her life. Those consequences shouldn’t include her own parents rejecting her.”
“We haven’t rejected her,” Grace sputtered. “God, we must have spent more than ever before on her Christmas presents, for all the appreciation she showed.”
“The poor girl has spent the last few days worrying if you’d even show up. Quite frankly, I’m not sure presents are the first thing on her mind right now.” She paused for a moment. “I’m sure she is grateful, but I don’t think she’s feeling very enthusiastic about anything right now. Frankly, I’m really worried about her and I’m extremely surprised you’re not.”
“Of course, we’re worried about her, Mother,” Flavian burst out. “Do you think it was easy for us, hearing what she’d face for the rest of her life.”
“No, I don’t, but however hard it might have been for you, or for me, it must be a hundred times worse for her and it’s time you stopped being so selfish and started putting her first for a change.”
“We don’t have to listen to this.” Grace was indignant. “You’ve no right to accuse us of not putting our daughter first. Who paid for her to go on that holiday, I’d like to know?”
Alexandrina ignored the question and just responded to her previous comment.
“You’re quite right. You don’t have to listen to it. If you can’t even go upstairs and tell Lydia you care about her, then I don’t think I want you in my home.”
“Mother! You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, Flavian, I do. I’ve no intention of sitting down here, sipping elderflower wine with you, while your daughter cries her eyes out upstairs. So if you can’t reassure her you still feel the same as you did before she was bitten and actually mean it, then you can just leave.”
“Fine,” said Grace.
She got up to get her coat.
Flavian paused, glancing from his wife to his mother and back again.
“We do love her, Mother,” he said.
“I believe you,” she said, her voice softening slightly. “But it isn’t me you need to convince. It’s her. Can you do that?”
He turned away.
Once they’d left, she covered her face with her hands. She’d had such hopes for the day. She’d expected hitches; she knew her son and daughter-in-law were uncomfortable with lycanthropy and she knew how nervous Lydia had been, but she’d hoped all of that might be put aside. It was Christmas day after all.
And she couldn’t help feeling she bore some responsibility for her son’s reaction. She’d obviously failed in her attempt to raise him to be caring and open-minded.
She shook herself. This wasn’t the time for self-pity. Lydia was the priority right now. However upsetting events had been for her, they must have been a hundred times worse for her granddaughter.
She took a deep breath and headed back upstairs.
Lydia was lying on the bed, her eyes still stained with tears.
“How are you, darling?”
“All right,” Lydia muttered.
“Your mum and dad have gone.”
A hurt look crossed her face.
“Without saying goodbye to me?”
“I’m afraid that was probably my fault, darling. We had words.”
“Over me?” She looked about to cry again.
“Lydia.” She put her hand on her granddaughter’s chin and gently turned her face to look at her. “None of this is your fault, all right? Absolutely none of it. I want you to be certain of that.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“Anyway, there’s nothing to worry about,” Alexandrina added reassuringly. “I’m sure it will all blow over quickly enough.” She smiled. “It’s certainly not the first argument I’ve had with your dad. You should have heard us when he was your age.”
Lydia forced a half-smile.
“Will you come downstairs and have something to eat now? You barely touched your dinner.”
“I’m not very hungry,” she mumbled.
“You have to eat, darling.” She probably wouldn’t have pushed the issue if she hadn’t already been concerned at how much weight Lydia’d lost over the previous few months. “I’ll bring something up to you, if you like.”
Lydia gave a slight shake of her head. “I’ll come down.”
She touched her granddaughter's arm gently.
She hated seeing her so unhappy, especially on Christmas day, the day she'd intended to give her some comfort, some relief from the months of pain and fear and unhappiness. Alexandrina sighed. All it had done was make everything a whole lot worse.
The decorations, gifts and food looked out of place now, almost mocking her for believing Christmas could heal the rifts in her family.
At least she'd managed to get Lydia to come downstairs and eat something, she told herself. It had to be better than leaving her shut away in her room. Tomorrow, she'd try and persuade her to go into Diagon Alley and take a look at the sales. She needed the distraction.
On Christmas day, however, there was little distraction to be had. The rest of the country was celebrating or so it seemed, while in their home, silence reigned. For the rest of the day, Lydia remained subdued and Alexandrina was at a loss as to how she could make her feel better. How, after all, did you compensate for such a rejection?
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