Chapter 9 : Love and Lies
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There was a Ministry car waiting to take us home. I wondered who had managed to swing that as neither of my parents worked for the Ministry, let alone inside the Wizarding World as a whole. Terry sat between Morgan and I, holding my hand, fingers laced together. When Dad told the driver about which hotel to drop Terry off at, I politely -if not a little stubbornly- told him that Terry was coming home with us. Dad stared with hard, disapproving eyes and I held his gaze. Inside, my stomach was in knots. I've never defied my father before.
Terry was none the wiser, thankfully, but from Morgan's wide-eyed looks, I could tell that there had been one or two informative family meetings in my absence.
Dad's tolerance for my behavior only lasted up to the threshold of our front door. With arms filled with bags and packages, he promptly told me to leave them on the floor and follow him to his office. My insides felt like they were melting and mixing together as I complied. I can't remember ever being afraid of my father before, but in that moment, I was terrified.
He closed the door with a sharp click that made me jump. I stood with hands clasped behind my back, eyes trained on the dark red grain of the wood on his desk. I heard him walk around me, around his desk, heard the chair creak as he pulled it out and sat down. Always the stuffy lawyer.
It didn't sound like a suggestion, but I really couldn't bring myself to move. One step and I was sure my knees would buckle. Suddenly, the chair came up from behind me, knocking me into it. I stared at my father, wand in his hand. I've never seen him with it before, never seen him perform magic before. My heart hammered. Magic could do a lot worse than ground you.
"Do you understand the gravity of this situation?" he asked, his voice calm though his body was rigid.
"Well," I said, clearing my throat, "when one of the most powerful wizards of all time throws names like 'Voldemort' around-"
"Don't say his name!" he snapped.
I stared. My sister and I had grown up on the fringes of magical society and were not raised with the same fear of the dark wizard's name as other children our age. "Voldemort!" I cried and he flinched. "It's a name, Dad. Just a name! Like Samantha, Darren, Jacob, Morgan- just names! His is just a little more French, but it's still just a name!"
"Names have power," Dad said darkly. He finally set his wand down, neatly and deliberately in line with the pens on his desk. "You don't understand. You will not say it again!"
"He's not going to materialize in our house, he doesn't know where we live," I argued.
"Not yet, but if you keep abusing the fact that you are now able to tell people- You can't just go tell your friends where you live because you're upset. You're putting the whole family at risk!" And now for the heart of the problem.
"How is keeping the truth from your family not putting your family at risk!" I cried. "Maybe if I had known, I wouldn't have been running across the street that night! I would know that we're in bloody hiding and need to be careful- hell, I probably wouldn't leave my damn room!"
"Watch your language, young lady," he snapped.
This was infuriating. I couldn't even be scared of him anymore, I was too angry. I leaned toward him, the chair creaking under my shifting weight. With the bookshelves behind him and his calm composure, he looked like a portrait hanging on the walls at school.
"Even if you thought it was okay not to tell us growing up, don't you think the moment our Secret Keeper was dumb enough to get killed, it was time for a family meeting?" I had lowered my voice, trying to keep calm. I doubted anyone outside this room could hear our shouting, but I didn't want to take any more chances.
The reaction from Dad was immediate. His face paled, visibly fell from it's stern, angry hold into a look of desolation. Defeat. He almost looked like he could cry. It was the same look I'd so often seen him wear in the weeks before I left. Like his best friend had died. I swallowed hard and sat back in my chair, uncomfortable. I didn't want to see my dad look like that. It broke my heart.
"I think we can agree that we all could have handled things differently," he said gruffly, avoiding my gaze.
"Who was it?" I asked quietly.
He tapped his index finger on his desk like it was a nervous habit. I've never known Dad to have nervous habits. His face twitched like Jake's did when he was fighting tears.
"I'm sorry, you don't have to-"
"He was my brother," he said finally. My eyes went wide. His hand curled into a fist and he finally turned his blue eyes to mine with a weak smile. "My brother."
I scrambled out of the chair to get to the other side of his desk, hugging him tightly. When was the last time I hugged my father? "Dad, I'm sorry," I whispered. My behavior had been beastly today and admitting it now didn't make it better. I'd known he was going through something awful, but how could I have known it was this? I didn't even know he had a brother.
He hugged me back and then pat me on the shoulder to let me know that my daughterly duty was done, but I didn't move.
"You can't just keep stuff like this from us," I told him. "We're a family. Who can you trust if not your family?"
He laughed. Actually laughed. Now I did pull away, staring at him. The smile seemed strange on his face. "Darling, if you only knew my family..."
"I don't care what family raised you, I care about the family you raised." I gave him a pointed look. "We are the Stones and we are stronger together." I offered a small smile. "I'm sorry about Terry... I won't tell anyone else, I promise. Except... Um, I accidentally told Harry, but I didn't mean to!" I added quickly. "I didn't know then, but I don't think it will be a problem, I mean... He's only the biggest... Wizard celebrity... Of our time... I'm losing this argument, aren't I?"
He laughed again, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I think I can trust the boy who lived," he replied. "If Dumbledore trusts him and you trust him and..." He trailed off, his smile wavering slightly. "Let's just say that he has a great many wizards and witches behind him that I respect. Terry, however..."
"He's harmless, I swear!" I said quickly. "He doesn't even know- I just told him he was coming here tonight, that's all, and told him the address. He won't figure it out!"
He arched an eyebrow at me and stood, forcing me to take a couple steps back. "That's not the part I'm worried about," he said. "It's the fact that he is a young man in a relationship with my daughter- I remember being sixteen. That's when I started dating your mother. No teenage boy is 'harmless.' And since when do you like kissing all of a sudden? At your birthday, you looked like you were tasting a lemon!"
I flushed deeply at the comparison, not wanting to admit that part of the reason for my little PDA had been for the benefit of my companions rather than for myself.
He eyed me closely. "Does Harry like you?" he asked suddenly. "Are you trying to make him jealous with this Terry fellow? Because that's a rather Morgan thing to do-"
"What? I know how you two are! And can I just say, I would approve more of Harry Potter than this Terry Boot."
I stuttered for a moment, staring wide-eyed. I had never heard my father speak so candidly about boys or my sister and definitely not my love life. Not that I had much of one before recently.
"Terry is one of my best friends!" I finally spit out. It was hard to be angry when all I wanted to do was laugh in his face. "Harry is nice, yes, but he and Terry's differences go back much farther than me, and I most certainly am not trying to make him jealous! I don't even like Harry like that!"
"Well then, who was that display for?" he asked, hands on his hips.
I don't know if my face can naturally go any redder without my abilities, but I could feel it burning under his gaze. I tried not to think about Ron or Ginny, almost afraid that he could read my mind.
"Was it because of me?"
"No!" Not entirely. More like just a fraction of the reason, really. If anything at all. "It was... For me," I decided. "I agreed to be part of this... Relationship and while I was gone, I realized that I wasn't. And that's not fair to Terry and it's not fair to us. So I made the decision to put myself out there more. I like him, I just... I'm not sure how this is supposed to work." I tried not to dwell on the sinking feeling that Terry had already invested way more of himself in this than I had. He hadn't actually said 'I love you,' had he?
Dad put a hand on my shoulder, bringing my eyes to his. "Don't do anything you're not ready for. Go as slow as you need to. And if he doesn't like it, go back to being friends. And if he doesn't want that, then you don't need him. Okay?"
I smiled, relaxing finally. "Okay." I hugged him again, my head barely reaching his shoulder. "I love you, Daddy."
"I love you, too," he said. He kissed the top of my head. "Did you at least have fun while you were gone? The Weasley's have children your age, don't they?"
I nodded. "Their daughter and I are best friends now. And I might be mortal enemies with their son- I'm a little fuzzy on that..."
"Good girl." He patted my head. "Alright... Let's go entertain our... guest..."
"Dad, I swear, he's a really nice guy. I've known him for years!"
"Well, I've only known him for a handful of days, so..." He cleared his throat, placed a firm hand on my shoulder and put on his best Dad Voice. "Let me be the judge of that."
By the time we left the office, Mum was serving lunch. There was an assortment of fresh vegetables and deli sandwiches on the table in the kitchen where Terry and Morgan were talking animatedly. My sister had our new pets set up in their cages on the edge of the counter. She smiled at me as I entered.
"I've named mine Dreamer and yours is Fairy," she said as I sat down next to Terry.
I laughed. "Oh, no. That is not going to be a thing. He's a boy, for crying out loud!"
"So?" she clucked, casting me a hurt look. "Maybe he's a gay Pygmi Puff! Don't you judge him!"
"His name is Ephialtes- I had it all picked out when I decided to get him!" I cried.
Behind me, my father kissed Mum's cheek and whispered, "I don't think I missed this part."
Morgan wrinkled her nose. "That's a stupid name! And a mouthful." She crossed her arms just under her bust, unnecessarily pushing up her ample chest as she pouted. I made a face.
"It's not stupid when my owl's name is Otus- it's called Greek mythology! Look it up!" I hissed with a wave of dismissal. She continued to pout. Ugh, I did not want to deal with this my first day back. "I'll call him Ephi for short or... Something equally ridiculous..."
She brightened in an instant. "That's so cute!" she gushed, rushing over to coo over my poor Puff's cage. "Ephi! Adorable, just like you!"
I rolled my eyes. "How old are you?"
She stuck her tongue out in response. Beside me, Terry was laughing, a baby carrot cracking loudly as he bit into it. I stuck my tongue out at him and he leaned over to kiss my cheek.
"You two are cute. I didn't realize you got along so well. You hardly ever seem to be together at school," he said.
"If this is what you call getting along, it's a good thing you're an only child," I said sympathetically, patting him on the shoulder. He simply laughed again and shook his head at me.
I looked back at my sister. "Momo, where's your locket?"
Her face reddened slightly and she laughed. "You know, I was getting a rash from the chain? But I got something for it while we were at the apothecary. I'll put it on later."
I shrugged. "Sorry about that. Did anyone's face show up yet? It's supposed to be guarenteed."
"Nope," she said quickly. "Nothing. Maybe my true love is at school." She shrugged and smiled as if apologizing for not having found Mr. Right.
The door from the hallway swung open then and Jacob walked in. The whole room seemed to go quiet, but that wasn't unusual. Jake had a way of jacking up the tension with his mere presence.
"You're home," he stated.
I nodded. "Just got back."
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, staring at me. "Why did you join the quidditch team?" he demanded.
"Jake, that's unnecessary," Mum chided, but he continued to stare at me. He had never used the real name before.
"To get over my fear of heights," I answered quietly.
Suddenly we were hugging and I wanted to cry. I couldn't remember the last time I had hugged my big brother anymore than I could remember the last time I hugged Dad. His arms tightened around me, his mouth next to my ear.
"Don't you ever be so stupid again!" he choked. "Just because you're identical doesn't mean you're replaceable, do you understand me?"
"Jake..." I didn't know what to say. Honestly, I hadn't thought about Jake throughout this whole ordeal. I genuinely didn't think he cared. I hugged him tighter.
"You keep saying Ravenclaws are smart! Promise me you'll use that brain of yours next time!"
My own voice choked. Was this really my brother? Should I ask his security question? I think I was just happy he acknowledged my existence... And ashamed that I had made him so worried. I looked to the side, seeing Terry and the rest of my family. The looks on their faces. I had made them all so worried.
"I'm sorry..." It wasn't just for Jake. It was for all of them. My eyes stung. "I'm so sorry."
Jake was officially introduced to Terry and if we hadn't just had such an emotional moment, it would have been rather comical. Jake offered his hand pleasantly enough to my boyfriend, but the firm shake lasted way too long and I caught Terry massaging his fingers after as if Jake had hurt him.
Not having to stay in a hotel, Terry stayed for the whole week. I gave him the tour of the house (though I was not allowed to show him my basement bedroom) and the tour of the neighborhood, making sure to point out Harry's awful relatives across the street. Unbeknownst to any of us children, as we had never entertained guests before, the sofa in the living room was actually a pull-out bed which meant Terry didn't have to shove his lanky form into the confines of arm rests.
Everywhere we went, Morgan came with us like an awkward third wheel. Well, she wasn't really awkward- it was nice to hang out with her and her presence kept us from being, well, alone. Not that I mind being alone with my boyfriend! It's the boyfriend's wandering hands that I mind. It's not a bad thing, but the first time he grabbed my bum like he had at the party, I yelped and jumped a foot in the air. He thought it was cute. I thought it was an invasion.
The only true interruption to his stay were my chores. They were heaped upon me as punishment for my behavior in Diagon Alley (and for telling Terry where we lived, but that part went unspoken). I was called at the most inopprotune moments to do the dishes, take out the trash, vacuum the living room. If it weren't for Morgan, my poor boyfriend would have been alone most of his visit. Or worse, at the mercy of the Men of the House.
On the last night of his stay, we were left blissfully alone, cuddling on his bed in the living room, watching an old film. The Wizard of Oz was one of my favorites and Terry's family didn't watch TV. In fact, most wizarding families didn't, but I suppose the house of Stone wasn't like most wizarding families.
Terry's arm rested comfortably around my waist and at some point before Dorothy landed in Oz, he had abandoned the pretense of watching the tube for kissing my lips. There were tingles now, a sort of anticipation that flowed through me at his touch which was a nice change to the tension and apprehension I used to have. I snuggled closer to him, one hand on his shoulder and one buried in his short brown hair. His arm pulled tighter around my waist, cinching me up higher on his torso, his shirt sliding up with the friction.
I broke the kiss first, laughing slightly, giddy with desire but alert of my surroundings. Any moment a family member could walk in and if this kissing went much farther, I might welcome it. I didn't want to back-pedal, but I wasn't racing for the finish line either. Dorothy was oiling up the Tin Man.
Terry pushed hair from my face and smiled at me, catching his breath. "I love you."
There was no pretending I didn't hear it this time. There was no uncertainty at whether or not he had said it. And most importantly, there was no response from me except a panicked, wide-eyed stare.
I used to think that saying you loved someone wasn't a big deal. I loved my family. I had told both Luna and Terry before that I loved them. But this was different and I my skin was warm and prickly with fear.
I had to force my mouth to open. "Terry... I-"
"You don't have to say it," he said with a nervous laugh. "I... Piper, I know this is still new. I know it probably seems like I'm moving a bit fast, but the key to a good relationship is communication and not keeping secrets, right?"
A large stone of guilt settled into my stomach as the memory of Ron's lips pressed to mine flashed through my head. I bit my lip and nodded.
"Well... I love you," he said again. "You don't have to love me right now- it doesn't come at the same time for everyone, I don't think. I know you love me in one way at least. The other way just has to grow. I'm just there first. Does that make it awkward?"
Yes. A million times yes!
"No," I replied softly. Mouth! Why do you betray me? "I'm just... Sorry I can't say it back."
His lips pulled up into a smile. "You will eventually," he assured me. Then he leaned down to kiss me as Dorothy and her friends worried about lions and tigers and bears.
Kisses and love and lies, oh my...
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