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Chapter 23 : The Opposite of Dreadful
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CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
In the morning, I sit at our small breakfast table. It’s a tight squeeze, wedged in-between the kitchen counter and the wall, but it’s nicely positioned beneath the window. December sunlight drifts in and I watch the sparse snowflakes drifting about. After falling asleep in the armchair so early, I’ve been awake for hours. I massage the crick in my neck and frown at my cup of green tea. My Mum doesn’t keep caffeine in the house, which somehow always catches me off guard. But I reckon a morning without coffee-induced anxiety is in order. I’m training my thoughts on simple things, like how red my hair actually is in the sun. The small—and nameless—dog-creature snores at my feet. There’s an impressive drool puddle beneath its face. I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of magical mutt. There’s something very Snorkack-like in her squishy nose.
I glance at the two parchments on the table. The first one, a note from my Mum, is a polite request that I help her with charming the Christmas decorations this evening. It’s a small way to cheer me up after our talk last night. The second parchment is from Lisa. It came by owl post, several hours ago—while I grumpily blinked myself awake, she was probably ending her overnight shift. The letter was short: I told Justin. He threw up, like a lot, but now he’s excited. Thank you for being supportive. Catch up soon!
Of course he’s excited, you silly twit. I grin at the thought of Justin vomiting in the bin, and then screaming and grabbing Lisa in a hug. I still can’t believe there’s something resembling a Bertie Bott’s jellybean growing in her belly right now. Times are certainly changing.
I try to imagine everyone’s lives in five years. Lisa would be a certified Healer, while Justin would go down to part-time law. Their daughter—yes, daughter, I’ve decided—will be impossibly pretty, with her hair and his green eyes. She’ll be argumentative and bright. They will probably relocate to a quieter area, I realize. Maybe I could see them on the weekends? But they’ll be so busy…
I look back to her letter. “Catch up soon” now looks more like “Catch up to my perfect life! If you think you can. Loser.”
I don’t want to imagine where I’ll be five years from now. Against my better judgment, I wonder about Oliver. And Rose. How will their careers be? Although I’ve envied them, they’ve both actually passed their prime. With Oliver’s shoulder injury, it’s a miracle he can still play at all. And Rose dug her own grave with the article scheme. Will anyone in the publishing world trust her again? Maybe she and Oliver will stay together. They’re on the same trajectory.
I look down at Nameless Dog, snoozing away. “Looks like it’s just you and me…” I pause. A lock of red fringe is dangling in front of my eyes, “Ginger.”
Ginger releases a particularly loud snore, and I smile into my bitter tea.
When my brothers drag themselves from bed—at the crack of noon—I make my exit. It’s amazing how you can miss your family until the moment you see them. Deciding to take Ginger for a walk, I finagle a wonky Tethering Charm so she won’t run off. Not sure if she can physically run, but with my pet record thus far, I can’t be too careful. We take the Floo to Diagon Alley, which may have given her a panic attack. It’s hard to tell, though. Her breathing always sounds like the Hogwarts Express.
There is more snow in London. The heavy damp air reveals what we’ve all been trying to ignore: winter is here to stay. The shops are already decked out in full-on Christmas regalia. Dozens of different Christmas songs assault my ears from every direction. ‘Tis the season. I cast a Heating Charm on Ginger when her round little body starts shivering.
Remembering the article headline from last night, I slowly meander towards Gringotts. There are even more Aurors here now. I spot at least ten, patrolling the different tiers of the building, and standing on the street corners. Two particularly large men in cloaks guard at the entrance. I stare up at the gleaming white façade and think of Grimma Longfinger. The Oracle Underground said that she magically bound herself to the iron gates in protest. She only made it for several hours before the Aurors forcibly removed her. She’s probably already in Azkaban, locked away for fighting for her cause. I thought this kind of rubbish ended with the War.
Ginger whimpers. The Aurors are glowering down on us, and I feel my skin prickle. “C’mon,” I turn away. The magic in the invisible tether pulls and she trots along.
The cobblestones are slick with ice. Passers-by unsheathe their wands to melt things, and I join in. When we are out of sight Gringotts, something starts pulling on my coat. At first I think it’s Ginger, bumbling along too slowly. But there it is again, pulling harder. I glance down and am surprised to see a folded parchment poking from my pocket. Somebody must have just placed it there. Confused, I search for whoever could have done it. But nobody is giving me a second glance. Scurrying beneath a nearby shop awning, I extract the note.
AT THE GATES OF GRINGOTTS BANK
JANUARY 3, 2007.
JOIN US IN ENDING THE WRONGFUL ARREST
OF GRIMMA LONGFINGER,
CHAIRWOMAN OF THE FEMALE GOBLIN COALITION.
IT’S TIME TO END TO GENDER DISCRIMINATION
AND INCITE POSITIVE CHANGE FOR WOMEN.
My face lights up. This is really happening. Some kind of revolution is rumbling in the ground. The Goblin protests haven’t been receiving as much media attention as, say, Puddlemere’s most recent loss. But maybe this will put them in the limelight. The rally is a month away. How many people can I recruit before then? There’s a tingling in my fingers and toes, like magic.
“What kind of dog is that?”
I cram the flyer into my pocket, crumpling it. A young-ish girl stands a few feet away. She looks to be in that pre-teen phase that I always recall with a grimace. When you can’t decide if you’re supposed to be Devil-may-care or feminine, and so you attempt to straddle that line. She’s wearing wooly tights and a fluffy purple coat, her face dusted with freckles. “What kind of dog?” she repeats expectantly, jutting her chin. Ginger waddles over and sits at her feet, staring up with bug-eyes.
“I—erm—I have no idea, actually,” my voice rises an octave, as it always does when I speak to kids. The girl flicks her lively gray eyes at me. “Do you want to pet her?”
“Yeah,” she kneels and rubs Ginger’s round frame. The dog’s tiny excuse for a tail wags and then, with a great flop, she is on her back for optimal belly rubs. The girl laughs, “Hello, doggy.”
“Her name is Ginger,” I say, embarrassed by my own sickly-sweet voice.
“Really? He doesn’t look like a Ginger.”
“Oh. Sorry.” I have no idea why I apologise. More silence, “Do you have a dog?”
She imperceptibly shakes her head. It’s like I’m not even here. “Well, maybe if you’re very good, then old Saint Nick will bring you one,” I suggest.
This time she looks up, scoffing, “I’m twelve years old. I’m not an idiot. I know Santa Claus isn’t real.”
“Ah. That is, I meant—”
She stands, brushing off her gloves, “You don’t know how to talk to people younger than you.”
“Erm, no, I reckon I don’t. Well, in any case, maybe if you ask your Mum and Dad—”
“Uh, they’re dead?” She says this as if I had missed a gleaming ‘HELLO THERE! I’M AN ORPHAN!’ badge pinned to her coat.
“Ah.” I want to break into a mad sprint. But now I’m feeling quite guilty. So she has no parents—is that why she’s out here alone? Maybe she’s been allowed outside the orphanage for a day, and this is the only social interaction she has. At any rate, she’s kneeling back down to Ginger, so I’m stuck for the time being. Should I buy her an ice cream? A hot chocolate? What do particularly unfriendly children like these days?
“I don’t mind talking about it,” she says, unprompted. “It happened when I was a baby. I don’t really remember them. Besides, I know you’re wondering how they died.”
My face goes several shades of scarlet, “No! I wasn’t!”
She rolls her eyes but doesn’t say anything, scratching Ginger’s chin. The dog is beyond elated to receive this much attention. Attempting to change the subject, I ask, “So, what’re you called, then?”
But she interrupts, “My Mum wanted to come here, to buy me new shoes. My Dad told her it was snowing too much, but she wanted to go anyway, so they had my brother watch me. Anyway, they were going past Olivander’s, you know the wand place? Then the Death Eaters came to kidnap him.” She pauses, looks up, “Remember that?”
Numbly, I nod. It was in 1996; ten years ago. That was the attack that marked the turn of Diagon Alley from a bustling hub to a ghost street. And she’s talking about it as if discussing the weather, “The Death Eaters killed a few people who were standing by. I reckon just because. Anyway, my parents were two of them. My Mum was still holding the shopping bag with my new socks and shoes when the Aurors came.”
My mouth is as dry as parchment. Is this how she’s always told the story, and to complete strangers? Does she think this is her fault? I should say something comforting, but what? I’m not fond of opening up about my family, particularly to strangers. But I say carefully, “I don’t remember my real dad, either. He ran off when I was six, and left my Mum with me and three little brothers. I remember a few things about him, but most of it’s gone fuzzy. That was twenty years ago, though.”
She does the math and her eyes bulge, “You’re twenty-six?” It’s as if I’d said ninety-three.
“Oi! That’s not so old! I’m still cool!” It’s, of course, the lamest thing I could have said.
She sniffs with feigned indifference, “So…what do you remember about him?”
I’ve never really spoken with Seamus and Dean about my Dad. Nor did it often come up with Lisa. My Mum and I like to pretend he doesn’t exist. I don’t want to start talking now. But then I imagine this girl heading back to the orphanage for the Hogwarts holiday.
“Um, well... I remember that he always wore wooly shirts, and they always smelled like smoke. Not cigarette smoke, but like he’d been burning leaves or something. He always had sawdust on his shoes, too. I think he liked to work on our house. Even though he was fine leaving all his hard work, in the end.”
When I finish, she nods with vague interest. “Hmm,” she murmurs, and that’s that. “Oh, and because you asked, I’m Ada.”
“Edie,” we shake hands awkwardly. Ada. Why does that name sound so familiar? It’s common, and I’ve probably heard it a thousand times. But for some reason it’s tugging at the corner of my mind.
“There y’are, you little bugger!”
Ada is suddenly lifted into the air by strong arms. She cries in horror, “Oh my God, stop it!” But he throws her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, laughing at her embarrassment. If I weren’t sick with nerves, I would be chuckling along. But then Oliver’s eyes land on me and the mirth disappears.
“Seriously?” he barks, surprising even Ada. She drops to her feet and smoothes her hair. Oliver is several paces away, but I’m very aware of his imposing height, “You’re harassing my sister for information? That is pathetic, Edie.”
“No!” I exclaim, horrified. I’ve never seen him like this. “I really had no idea!”
It all makes sense, now. Her blunt speech and expressive, calculating eyes—they’re the same as his. I remember that night, at The Hanging Moon. “Will the lovely Miss Ada be joining you?” Oliver was so uneasy at the mentioning of her name. I had thought he was hiding a secret girlfriend. But it was his much younger sister he was protecting.
Then there’s the long list of war casualties that I had stumbled across, researching for the articles. So Jacob and Iona Wood were of relation. I knew that Oliver had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, but I hadn’t known that it was so personal for him. But that’s why he returned—because the Death Eaters had just murdered his parents. He had only been twenty, and was left with a two year-old to care for. For me, even helping to raise my brothers was difficult. I can’t fathom the sacrifices that Oliver has made.
And now he thinks I’m trying to glean personal information from her. The worst part is his knowing look. He knows that Ada has just told me about their parents. It must be my nauseas, guilty expression; he can probably read me like a book. I avert my gaze but he says, “So, will this be your next piece de resistance?”
“Oliver, please,” I murmur. “I didn’t even know who she was. Everything is off the record, honestly. She just wanted to pet my dog.”
He studies me for a long time, while Ada cranes her neck up to him. Now that she isn’t supposed to understand what we’re discussing, she’s very interested. But Oliver must decide that I’m telling the truth, because he suddenly looks at Ginger, “Ha! And what is that thing?”
Only I am aware of the strain in his voice. He’s changed the subject for Ada’s sake. I let out an equally forced laugh, “My Mum surprised me with a gift.”
“I want one,” Ada announces.
“No way. Not ‘til you’re seventeen,” he ruffles her hair, much to her horror. “But if you really want a dog, you’ll be getting a real one and not some lap-mutt.”
“Oi!” I cry, but he cracks a genuine smile. Somehow, mercifully, the mood has lifted.
Ada looks at Oliver, “Can she bring him to our house?”
“Her,” I whisper indignantly, but then I realize what she’s said. My palms go sweaty. An afternoon spent at Oliver’s home. It’s probably three stories high, full of expensive furniture, and baths like those of Hogwarts.
And it’s probably littered with Rose’s thongs.
“Oliver, don’t you have practise today? Your match against Holyhead is tomorrow.” Of course he knows this. But I want Ada to think I can’t come over.
At the mention of Quidditch something flickers across his face, and I know he’s thinking of their loss. How it was basically our two faults, together. “We’ve already had practise this morning. Deverill wants us to rest.” He sees my wary eye and adds, “We’ll be up at four A.M. doing drills, worry not.”
“Oh, well, I just don’t—”
“Aw, you wouldn’t say no to a couple of orphans, would you?” Oliver smirks, clasping Ada’s shoulders. They watch me with the same mischievous look.
Pulling the orphan card, eh? He’s got a royal flush, and I’m stuck with a pair of sixes. I can’t decide if the feeling in my stomach is elation or dread.
I clear my throat, “I reckon we could pop in.”
Ada allows herself a genuine smile, satisfied. She delivers another pat-pat to Ginger’s head, “Let’s go, then.” She whistles and the dog trots after her, besotted. I avoid Oliver’s stare that bores into my head—he has still not grasped the concept of Yes I see you there; I’m just ignoring you—and trail behind Ada.
This cannot be the right place. The house we’ve Apparated before isn’t much bigger than Lisa and Justin’s. It’s probably Oliver’s guest-room. Or his closet. It’s certainly not the sprawling bachelor penthouse I imagined. He lives in the country outside of London, “A forty-minute broom ride away.” The land itself is the most impressive. There’s a large fenced-in garden and another woody area behind the house. There are no neighbours in sight, only pastures and fields.
It’s snowing harder here, and a thin sheet of white crunches under our feet. As soon as we’re inside the gate, Ada throws a stick for Ginger to fetch. The lazy creature only blinks at her.
“She’s not doing it,” she calls, disappointed. She tries again, to no avail.
Oliver is standing beside me, “Quite the noble hound you have there.”
I give him my best sardonic smile, and he shifts his weight so that our shoulders are almost touching. It’s quite the picturesque moment. Maybe he’s feeling comfortable, but I am still reeling. I need to be alone, to think. Smoothing my hair, I quietly excuse myself to the loo.
My hands grip the porcelain sink. Just an hour ago, today’s biggest revelation was the FGC rally. But learning Oliver’s family history is staggering. In all my research, I never came across anything about a little sister, or the murder of his parents. But of course there was so little information. He’s very careful not to make waves; he wants to remain as private as possible. He doesn’t follow the lifestyle of a famous athlete, and it makes sense now. He lives away from town, in an unassuming house, avoiding the press, rarely taking women home—all for Ada.
Some kind of revelation is staring me right in the eye. It’s too close, too blurred out of focus right now. But I feel that somehow, a question has been answered.
I pull my hair into a half-hearted bun, cooling the skin on my neck. Well, can’t hide in the loo all afternoon. One more deep breath, and then I’m walking down the polished wooden hallway. “Don’t snoop, don’t snoop, don’t snoop,” I murmur for all of four seconds before giving up.
Oliver’s house is surprisingly minimalist. His den is very sparse, with only a dragonskin sofa and armchair. Two of his old broomsticks are crossed over the hearth—a Nimbus 2000 and a Firebolt. On the mantle below them is an array of Quidditch medals and cups and trophies. In the middle is the Hogwarts House Cup from 1993. There is an old piano pushed against a window, and I wonder which Wood sibling uses it. I plunk out a note and the piano bursts into a deafening Ragtime. Nearly screaming, I whip out my wand, “Silencio!” I freeze in silence, whooshing out a breath when Oliver doesn’t come barreling in.
I’d say that’s enough snooping for one day.
Going back the way I came, I pass by a room with the door ajar. Halting in my tracks, and I step carefully backwards. Inside, the walls are a dusty rose colour. I spot a four-poster bed, stuffed animals, and a ruby red armchair. A fairy-light lamp has been draped with a colourful scarf, casting purples and blues. The walls are covered in moving posters of bands—some like the Weird Sisters, while others depict winking, frosty-haired boys. I smile to myself, remembering the age of not knowing which music genre was “right,” and listening to everything under the sun.
“Do you like my room?” Oliver calls sarcastically and I jump. He’s standing with his hands in his pockets, smiling knowingly. “I may go with a darker fuschia, for the walls.”
“I always saw you as more of a lavender fan.”
He stands beside me and looks into the room, “Always snooping for something, eh, Miss Journalist?”
“No, really, I can’t express it enough—meeting her was the least of my intentions. I didn’t even want to come over today.”
“Wow, thanks,” he rolls his eyes, looking very much like Ada.
“You know what I mean. I just… I can’t get over that you have a little sister.”
He shrugs offhandedly. There is a pause and he says, “You look nice with your hair pulled back.”
My heart thuds. “It’s getting long. Erm, could I have some tea? Please?” It’s a bit rude, but it was the first thing to jump to my head. Plus I need something to hold, as I currently can’t find anything to do with my hands.
Oliver tilts his head behind him, “C’mon.”
Moments later I am seated at a bar stool in his kitchen. The walls are cream, with the underlying brick exposed in places. Oliver waves his wand at the hearth, where a small cauldron hangs. Flames leap to life and crackle pleasantly. The smell of burning wood again reminds me of my Dad. If Ada hadn’t asked me about him earlier, I would never have made the connection just now. I’ve gone my whole life feeling indifferent towards him. For all I know, he could be dead.
Oliver breaks the silence, “I was a total shock to my parents. My Mum had me when she was sixteen. They got married and didn’t plan on having any more kids but, well,” he gestures outside. “She’s lived with me ever since.”
I shake my head, “It’s so horrible, what happened to your parents.”
His face darkens for a moment with the memory, but he shakes his head, “It was a long time ago. And Ada can be talkative about it, as you noticed.”
“I had no idea you’ve been raising a young girl.” My eyes are betraying my thoughts, so I say it anyway, “That’s really incredible.”
He puts a hand to his chest, “Do my ears deceive me? Is Edie Lennox admitting that she’s been wrong?”
I laugh bitterly, “It might be.” Then I remember running into him outside, after Lisa’s hen night; the embarrassing five minutes we spoke. I had mucked up what should have been a sincere apology, about the Quidditch match. My Mum's words echo in my head. “If you do care about him, then you need to forgive him. You owe it to Oliver, and you owe it to yourself.” I swallow.
If I care about him…
In the quiet light of his kitchen, I say, “I’ve really misjudged you. I'm sorry, Oliver.”
He stops in his tracks, looking as if he’s waiting for me to shout “Just kidding! You’re a twat.” But when I don’t, he positively beams at me. It's as if I’ve just told him he’s the greatest Keeper of all time. “Well. Apology accepted.” We smile at one another for what feels like ages. For the first time since the Hanging Moon, I let myself entertain that there may really be something here.
The cauldron begins to boil and he turns away. I’m grateful. I couldn’t have taken much more eye contact and kept my trousers on. I glance out the warped glass and see that Ginger is definitely in control of fetch. Every time Ada throws the stick, she sits and waits until Ada gives up and goes to get it. But she’s just as stubborn and determined as her brother. Oliver sees and chuckles to himself.
“She’s just like you, you know.”
“Yes she is, to a fault. Stubborn as a mule and doesn’t have a filter on her mouth. Good throwing arm, too.” A cup of tea is levitating over to me. It’s covered in pictures of kittens, and I can guess who had a hand in the selection.
“I dunno, I’d say you have a filter. It’s hard to tell what you’re thinking sometimes.”
“Maybe you just aren’t very perceptive.” I don’t know what to say and take a sip of tea. “How did that photo shoot turn out, by the way?”
I groan, “Oh, I have no idea—I had absolutely no hand in that. It was all sprung on me last-minute. That must have been so embarrassing.”
He shrugs, “Well, it was your job. I wanted to help out. But that’s where I draw the line, I’m afraid. I will definitely not be reading your hard-won article, now that it’s framed in photos of my skivvies.”
Oh, right, the malicious article where I come at you like an angry Hippogriff. Yeah, best not, mate. But I don’t want to think about the articles right now. This is too… nice.
Oliver comes to sit across from me. His wavy hair is sticking up in odd places, as always, and he hasn’t shaved for a time. I’m trying not to stare at the stubble on his jaw when he says, “So, Lisa and Justin’s wedding. Next week, eh? Have you gotten your plus-one all sorted? That young artsy fellow from the Hanging Moon, perhaps?”
He means Jae. “Ugh, definitely not. I’m not bringing a date. But… how did you know about the wedding?”
“I told you, Justin did me a favour years back. He’s invited me.”
I rest my chin on my fist to keep my jaw from dropping. Lisa somehow failed to mention this? I know she’s busy with the baby, and the wedding, and a full-time job—alright, it actually makes perfect sense that she forgot.
“You’re going,” I repeat. “Will I see Rose there?” I’m trying to sound buddy-buddy, like I’m the perfect wingman for a wedding. But it’s obvious that I’m only testing the waters.
Oliver scratches his nose, “Uh, Rose hates weddings, actually.”
“Oh.” I highly doubt that Rose Zeller, queen of champagne and soirees and fancy dresses and romance, hates weddings. “Well, that’s too bad.” I wonder if he can tell that I am not in the least disappointed.
“Italy though, eh? How lavish,” he luxuriates on the word, and I roll my eyes.
“Oh, but don’t you know? It’s the site where he realized, during his plaintive travels, that Lisa was The One.”
“That’s Justin for you,” Oliver sucks air through his teeth. I wonder again how they could possibly know each other. Maybe it’s from as far back as Hogwarts. It could be anything. But I’ve gleaned enough personal information today. No matter how well we’re getting on, I won’t ask.
A comfortable silence settles. He watches as I sip from the ridiculous kitten mug. Every time I glance at him he smiles down at his hands. Something about that makes me feel very pretty.
When he reaches across to push a lock of fringe from my eyes, I grow still. “Your hair is getting long,” he murmurs and drops his hand. The teacup audibly trembles as I set it down, but he doesn’t tease me. My blood is absolutely humming.
The door swings open and Ada comes in, looking grumpy. The little dog trots behind her, shaking the melted snow from her coat. “Ginger is rubbish with fetch,” Ada announces.
“No luck then?” Oliver extends an arm, and she reluctantly comes in for a side-hug. He squeezes her and she makes a face, trying not to smile. “Maybe next time,” he’s talking to her, but his gaze meets mine.
I think my ovaries are about to explode, so I quickly stand. “Well I should scoot,” I make a wild grab for my shoulder bag, nearly knocking the teacup over. “Ha! Whoops!” I say too loudly. They’re watching with the same amused eyebrow-quirk. Merlin, they’re the same person.
“Don’t get up!” I put a hand up to stop Oliver. “I’ll see myself out. Thanks for the tea. Ada, it was wicked meeting you.”
I haven’t said the word “wicked” since I was fourteen. Oliver coughs to cover his laugh, and Ada gives what I think is meant to be a smile. My face has gone fifteen different colours—and I’ve nearly knocked over a houseplant—by the time I get myself and Ginger outside. When the door closes, I release a squeal and bury my face in my hands. My go-to reaction would be to say something like, “That was dreadful. Catastrophic, even.” But the thing is: it wasn’t. Not at all.
“That was brilliant,” I say into my palms, grinning from ear to ear. Ginger snorts in agreement.
A/N: WOW, FLUFF ALERT. AmIright? Another lengthy chapter, or a peace offering for taking so long to update.
So, a bit important: I've gone back to Chapter Twelve and gotten rid of the part in the interview where he reaveals Ada's identity. So if you read an earlier version and are confused, the story has been changed so that Edie never found out until now. I love the idea of Oliver having a twelve year-old sister, and being totally helpless with hair and clothes and the Birds and the Bees and the like.
Thoughts? As always, thank you so much for reading this story. We're getting very near to the end. Hopefully some questions have been answered.
Thank you to Otachi at The Dark Arts, for the lovely chapter image ♥
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