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Strained by whitelillies
Chapter 3 : Emergence
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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“…his mother wanted sunflowers to be part of the centerpieces and, yeah, sunflowers are great and all, but in a centerpiece? That’s just…”

Alice took a sip of her lukewarm latte, the taste strong, bitter, and comforting. Outside the snow was falling lightly, and she was momentarily distracted by the softness of London during the winter. Everything seemed much calmer somehow, even in the hustle and bustle of the enormous city.

“…what do you think?”

Alice thought that it was rather beautiful. Even if the pavements were slushy and the roads muddy.

“Alice?”

Alice glanced away from the window and at her sister, who was looking at her expectantly, her eyebrows slightly raised.

“Sorry?”

Charlotte rolled her hazel eyes.

Alice had somehow forgotten her sister was talking. About her wedding. Because she was getting married. She was almost certain it had something to do with the fact that Charlotte had been going on about it for the past two hours, ever since they’d settled into this coffee shop near their parents’ house in North London.

“Am I boring you already?” Charlotte asked sardonically.

Alice grinned. “You’ve been boring me for the past hour at least.”

Her sister let out a sharp laugh, causing some of the other customers in the coffee shop to look their way. Alice ignored their looks, but could still feel their heavy gazes lingering on the two of them.

“No, but really, Alice,” Her sister frowned. “You know all of this stresses me the hell out.”

“Yeah, I know, I know, I’m sorry.”

She couldn’t truthfully say she felt it very much, though. Ever since Charlotte had gotten engaged to Max a little over a year ago, all their conversations seemed to somehow revolve around the wedding.

It was in April, three months from now. Max was German and Charlotte had met him five years ago when she’d left for Berlin after university to work in a graphic design company, when one day as she was trying to catch the train, the doors had closed around her purse right as she had elbowed her way inside, and Max had helped her tug it free. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Alice knew the story by heart only because Charlotte thought it was incredibly romantic, and so had repeated it to her at least a few times over the last few years.

Of course Alice understood what Charlotte was feeling—she was marrying someone, after all. And she’d liked Max the few times she’d met him when he’d come over during some holiday or other with Charlotte. And she was incredibly happy for her sister.

Still, after months of Charlotte probing her on whether she preferred ivory white or cream white for linen napkins, she had had just about enough.

“I think you should know me well enough to understand that there is a limit to my attention span, though,” Alice continued She gestured to the folder that was open on the table between them, brimming with pictures of flowers, fabrics, and other similar, wedding-related things. “Even if all of this is absolutely riveting.”

Charlotte groaned. “Yeah, probably. I think I’m just slightly incapable of not worrying—three months doesn’t feel like enough time.”

“But you’ve already planned most of it out,” Alice reasoned. “And I reckon choosing whether or not to include sunflowers in the centerpieces does not take three months’ worth of time.”

Charlotte quickly pointed a finger Alice’s way, as if in triumph. “I knew you were listening!”

Alice resisted the urge to roll her eyes again. “Charlotte—”

Her sister sighed after a moment. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I guess I want to make the most out of it while I’m here, too,” She said. “You give great, almost objective advice, even if it does bore the hell out of you.”

Charlotte had decided halfway through the week that she needed to come to London to talk to Alice about last minute preparations for the wedding—because she wasn’t magical like Alice, it was a bit harder for her to travel to London whenever she pleased, so Alice understood that her time was precious. However, spending the first hours of Saturday morning discussing flowers really wasn’t what she’d envisioned they’d be doing during the weekend. Although she didn’t exactly know why she hadn’t envisioned it going this way—this was usually the way it went. Perhaps she’d been too hopeful.

“Alright,” Alice conceded. “Another half hour.” Charlotte grinned at this. “Then we’re going back to mum and dad’s because I’m practically starving.”

“Deal, you drama queen,” Charlotte grin lopsidedly. “Thanks Alice. You’re the bomb dot com.”

“Please never use that expression again,” Alice replied, laughing, as Charlotte let out another one of her loud laughs. “Of course I agree with you regarding the sunflowers, by the way.”

“Right!” Charlotte exclaimed, arms flailing. “I’m glad you do. That woman is, although lovely, half-mad, I’m sure of it.”


Later, Alice and Charlotte were sitting on the couch in their living room, their parents having gone to bed a little over two hours ago after they’d all had dinner together.

They were drinking tea in their pyjamas. Outside, the wind had picked up speed, making the windows rattle loudly. Alice was glad to be at home with her sister—they rarely saw each other these days, what with them both having full-time jobs and her sister living in Berlin. So she’d decided to sleep here, even though she needed to be back at her flat tomorrow morning to work on the case. Her sister’s plane was tomorrow evening.

They’d been talking about everything except weddings (Alice had insisted). She’d told her sister what had happened at the pub last Friday, to which Charlotte had been appropriately shocked, Alice having recounted Harry Potter’s importance in the wizarding world years back. It really had been the most “exciting” thing to happen to her in at least several months—which was rather pitiful when Alice thought about it. Charlotte had also rambled on about Max’s crazy family for a while, particularly on his brothers, who acted like teenagers when it came to football and getting drunk every weekend.

Truthfully, Alice had never seen her sister so happy. No matter the amount of stress the wedding came with, she could see in her sister’s eyes that she was probably the happiest she’d ever been. It was surprising to Alice, because she’d always been a skeptic when it came to love—not that she didn’t believe in it (she could quite clearly see that her parents loved one another, and that Charlotte and Max did too), but she just hadn’t thought it was something life-changing. And apparently, it was—Charlotte looked like she was glowing more often than not.

So, although she was happy for her sister, it didn’t come without a bit of envy. Alice reckoned it was a normal part of being a sibling—Charlotte had been jealous of Alice’s magic for years when they were children, but then she’d gotten over it after adolescence. So Alice would get over her envy about this, too.

“How are you finding Berlin nowadays?” Alice asked after a small silence.

“Still don’t like it. I’ve lived there for five years—I don’t think my feelings towards the city are going to change any time soon, honestly. But Max loves it,” Charlotte shrugged as if that explained it. “He doesn’t like London anyway, so that wouldn’t be an option, either.”

Alice frowned.

“But don’t you mind living in a city you… passionately dislike?” Alice asked. Her sister grinned at her choice of words. “At all?”

“Well, nah,” Charlotte said, waving her hand lightly. “Not really…I mean, if I get to be with Max, it’s alright,” She explained, shrugging.

“And he isn’t able to move to London for your sake?”

“Well, Max is a big baby sometimes, so he’d probably mope around all day if we were ever to move to London. So no,” Charlotte let out a laugh.

Alice took a sip of her tea. “Hm.”

Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “Stop pitying yourself, Alice,” She patted her knee sharply. Alice smiled slightly at her older sister—she wasn’t surprised Charlotte could read her so well. “One day, you’ll find someone too.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Well, you know how it ended last time I tried to ‘find someone’.”

“Yeah, well, that was one time, and he was an arse,” Charlotte said, and they both laughed.

“Yeah, he kind of was,” Alice conceded.

His name had been Charles, and he’d broken things off with Alice two years ago. He’d been the only person she’d ever been with, and even though she’d somehow known it wasn’t going to last, it didn’t mean that it had hurt any less when he’d left her without explanation.

Mostly because being left had reminded Alice of all the things that were wrong with her and of all the things that she positively hated about herself. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t been in love with Charles—his rejection was enough.

It was his rejection that also reminded her of why exactly she was the way she was: guarded and cautious around people. She didn’t even think she did it consciously, but all her life after early childhood Alice had been that way: afraid of others and what they could and eventually would do to her.

She’d let Charles in because she was tired of being alone. Then he’d left, and it was like he’d never even been there at all—Alice had gone back to the way she’d been before, when all of her self-worth was based on the few awkward kisses and bad dates she’d had with boys who had never bothered to call or owl her back.

A half hour later, after having wished Charlotte goodnight, Alice was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling of her childhood bedroom. As she looked at the minuscule constellation of faded glow-in-the-dark stars above her, she let herself remember.

She had tried so hard to forget what it was like—to be touched, and touched by someone who wanted her. But her conversation with her sister had rekindled that memory as if no time had passed at all. Suddenly, Alice could not keep it at bay—it was glaring at her, and it couldn’t be unseen, no matter how much she wanted it to be.

So for the first time in two years, Alice let herself remember, and let herself want.


The Auror Office on Tuesday was buzzing.

After five months, Robert Anderson had finally been spotted for the first time, just that morning in Devon.

A middle-aged wizard, he’d been employed at the Department of Mysteries for over ten years when he’d suddenly stopped coming in to work five months ago. Then, a mere three weeks later, the Auror Department had been notified of a missing person—his neighbour, Olivia Peckham, hadn’t been seen or heard of by her family for over a week. It hadn’t taken the Auror Office long before they’d found evidence of Anderson’s involvement in her disappearance, but by then, he’d disappeared, too.

Peckham’s body had been found a few days later, buried in Anderson’s backyard. Since then, there had been three other murders which the Auror Office strongly suspected were of Anderson’s doing: all victims had been single, middle-aged women, with brown hair and brown eyes. They’d all been murdered in different ways: some poisoned, some strangled, some with Dark Magic. None of the Aurors knew what Anderson’s motif was—his coworkers hadn’t noticed anything wrong with him in the days leading up to him leaving his job. At meetings, most suspected him to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, magical or not.

When she’d first heard of Anderson’s spotting, Alice had wryly wondered whether he’d been off on holiday—serial killers needed some time off too, she reckoned.

Then, during their meeting that morning, Bennett had shown them the picture a witch had taken of Anderson, and the humour Alice had initially found in the situation evaporated—Anderson was wearing clothes that looked too big for him, his gray hair hanging loosely around his tired and bloodshot eyes.

Since starting at the Office, Alice had often wondered how exactly she’d come to be able to work as an Auror—it wasn’t as if she was particularly fearless or righteous (she’d been a Ravenclaw). She hadn’t even always dreamed of becoming one—it had sort of presented itself to her, an opportunity that, at the time, had seemed interesting, exciting, and attainable all at once. So she’d gone for it, and hadn’t regretted it. But in her haste to finish her training, Alice had forgotten what exactly being an Auror would be about: injustice, and crime, and hate. Over time, she’d managed to separate herself from her work—to see what was before her during the day as evidence, to be forgotten when she was home at night.

But Anderson’s picture had stirred something in Alice—something that she hadn’t felt in a long time and thought that she wouldn’t feel again. She wouldn’t admit it to any other Auror—especially not Margaret, who had looked like Christmas had come early on Tuesday morning—but Alice felt afraid, and disgusted.

It was as if the reality of the situation had finally hit her when she’d seen what Anderson looked like after five months of being missing: the man had murdered four people. People had suffered and died. Their families had grieved. What if it had been hers?

So, instead of chatting excitedly about the possibility of Anderson being caught within the next two weeks as most of her coworkers were doing, Alice spent almost all of her Tuesday sitting at her cubicle, sipping at black coffee and reading parchment after parchment of evidence, trying to get the image of Anderson’s sallow face out of her head.

Margaret hadn’t even badgered her once, too preoccupied with the thrill of Anderson’s sighting to be bothered. Alice had noticed her at Sarah Finnegan’s cubicle a few times throughout the day, sitting at the edge of the girl’s desk with her long legs crossed. She had also seen her talking to Potter in the kitchen when she’d gone to make herself her second cup of coffee, though Alice supposed “talk” was a loose definition of it, as it had mostly been Margaret laughing or “accidently” touching Potter’s arm.

Not that Alice had looked at the pair that long—she was trying to avoid Potter (and she had succeeded rather well in the last week), so she’d just silently brewed her coffee, back turned to the two of them. That didn’t mean she couldn’t hear them, though. At least this way she’d been able to roll her eyes at Margaret’s giggles in peace. Sometimes Alice really wondered when exactly Margaret had the time to get any sort of work done.

At five o’clock, Alice got up out of her chair, stretching her arms above her head languidly. She was tired, hungry, and her body felt stiff from disuse. She slowly started gathering the things on her desk, intent on remembering to call her sister when she got home.

People were steadily trickling out of the Auror Office, chatting quietly to coworkers or yawning after the storm that had been the workday.

“Crazy day, huh?”

Alice turned, still in the process of putting on her coat, and came face to face with a pair of bright blue eyes and a mess of auburn hair. She didn’t recognize her.

“Uh,” She began, brows furrowed. “Yeah.”

“Just started today, actually,” The girl continued pleasantly. She was leaning against the desk behind Alice’s, and Alice realized that she’d probably been there all day. Somehow, she hadn’t even noticed her. “I was in Bennett’s office at nine a.m. sharp, then this owl comes swooping in through the window, and suddenly all hell breaks loose and he runs out to call a meeting about Anderson’s untimely reappearance. Anyway, I’m Emma.”

She extended her hand towards Alice, grinning. Alice took it, disoriented. She wondered why her accent was so odd—it wasn’t quite like anything she’d ever encountered before.

“I’m Alice.”

“Oh, that’s funny. My cousin’s name is Alice.”

“Oh,” Alice responded, her eyebrows raised in mild surprise. There was a silence.

“Well, I just wanted to say hello and all, since we’ll be working beside each other from now on,” Emma explained. “Tried to earlier, but you looked so concentrated, I didn’t want to risk disturbing you.”

“Oh,” Alice repeated. She really did need to learn how to eloquently communicate her thoughts. It seemed most of the time all she was good at was rolling her eyes (which was probably a family trait more than anything). “Yeah, thanks for that,” She said. Then added, “It did get a bit mad after Bennett made the announcement.”

Emma’s eyes went wide.

“Yeah, I bet. That man looks like he could be seriously scary if he wanted to be.”

Alice let out a short laugh.

“That’s very true, though he’s alright once you get past that initial fear,” She responded, shouldering her purse as she pushed her chair in with her hip, her hands being occupied with holding a stack of parchment. “Well, it was nice meeting you, Emma. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Emma grinned back at her, and waved goodbye. “Was nice meeting you, too. Glad there’s at least one familiar face now, excluding Bennett’s.”

Alice smiled one last time, and as she left the Auror Office, she was sure she felt something warm bubbling up inside her chest.


Hi again!

Here is the third chapter. I hope you are all satisfied with it!

To be honest, I had a bit of difficulty writing it, mostly because I had trouble finding the right angle, if that makes sense. Maybe I’m just thinking too much into it. Either way, I stayed up way too late (or early, depending on how you look at it) to just get it over with, so hopefully you liked it! If not, please let me know where I messed up haha.

Thanks so much for reading!

Sofia


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