The Joker and Her
It always felt this way. Like being wrapped in a warm towel after swimming in the freezing ocean. Like drinking something cold after a period of blistering thirst. That was the way it was with her parents, and it was particularly potent since the passing of her mother. Most of all, she was used to seeing her father after long periods of time, and so seeing him so much sooner than she was used to was a relief of gargantuan proportions. If only it were a regular occurrence, and not the obligation of a tragedy.
“Let’s get you home,” Douglas Christie muttered softly, holding Brienne to him securely by the shoulder and guiding her out of King’s Cross. She let herself be guided, suddenly feeling like she was twelve again being cuddled by her father.
The air was freezing and the floor slick -- most of the Station was deserted from some of the service lines being cancelled because of the weather. Brienne wasn’t nearly dressed warmly enough, and she was still nursing the stress from the arguments and adventures of the day. But it was impossible to repress the feeling of being completely and utterly supported, protected and safe, and that none of those things mattered. Her mother had been taken from her, but her father had been returned blissfully.
They exited the Station, trailing around the corner and down the road, dragging Brienne’s trunk behind them. London was bustling with last minute Christmas shopping being done by Muggles rushing into shopping centres. Miniature trees were set in shop windows and bushels of tinsel decorated street lamps and entrances to shops. It all felt very festive.
A few streets down, her father guided her down a deserted, thin alleyway in between two different fast food branches. There was water running down the drainpipes and into the gutters; the trickling of it was the only sound after Brienne’s father cast a Muffliato Charm around the alley.
They grinned at each other in their comfortable silence as Brienne wrapped her arms around her father’s waist, he turned them around sharply and they Disapparated into the darkening day.
“Gah! Let’s get the fire burning.”
Brienne and her father rushed into his Knightsbridge home, clicking on lights and hanging up coats that had gotten cold. Brienne shut the front door behind her, and rubbed her hands together as she took in the familiar surroundings.
She was standing in a high ceilinged but narrow hallway. The wooden staircase on the left led up to the first floor. There were some framed portraits on the walls of certain notable wizards and witches, including Brienne’s slightly wrinkled, dark haired grandmother. The walls were painted burgundy; and all the wooden fixtures of the stairs, floors and doorframes were mahogany and juniper, russet and coffee, which set off the deep red of the walls.
Having hung up her coat on the wooden stand next to the front door, Brienne followed the scent of the fireplace into the living room, where her father was putting his wand back into his pocket with one hand and prodding the fire with the poker with the other. He turned to her and smiled, his ruffled blonde hair sticking up.
“How does it feel to be back?” he asked, hands in pockets. Brienne simply smiled in response.
“I’m going to unpack my things,” she said after a brief moment of silence, and turned to heave her trunk up the staircase to the first floor, leaving her father to his devices.
It was wonderful being back home. Throughout her childhood she spent most of her holidays at her old home in France, but she had always in the back of her mind known that she shared her tastes in comfort and decor with her father; so it never took long for Brienne to feel at home here, regardless of how long it had been since her last visit. However, there were a few drawbacks to leaving school.
For instance, she hated not being able to use magic when not at school, because that meant either doing it the Muggle way or asking her father for help; she was allowed to do magic outside of school when she was a student at Beauxbatons. It felt ridiculous asking an ex-Auror to fix her trunk, when after flipping it open too many times the lid falls off. She needed her father to take her seriously, especially in the coming hours and days.
As she got settled in her now-permanent bedroom a couple of evenings later, she started to think. The room was, like the hallway downstairs, painted a warm maroon, and it made Brienne think of the Gryffindor dormitory, and then of her friends. And then, of George. It seemed odd that she no longer counted George one of her friends, but as something...else
. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what that was. She thought of the moment when his lips grazed hers a couple of days before. A shimmer of something went through Brienne, like someone tickling her stomach, and then she smiled briefly, like she couldn’t help it. It was accidental, but then again...Angelina and Paisley must have made those observations with some kind of evidence.
“Dinner’s on the go.”
Like always, Brienne felt a little bit of enthusiasm whenever her father cooked for her. He was, after all, an amazing cook, and a couple of times over her childhood Brienne had had half a mind to send an owl over the Channel to her father to ask for some edible reinforcements- her Mother had not been a dab hand in the kitchen, and her exploits in the culinary side of things turned out acceptable at best. They were almost family to the Wizarding Cookery and Delivery branch of their area, who would travel by Floo Powder or by Apparition to make sure they had a warm meal in them.
Anyway, Brienne had always thought that if her father had never gone into the Ministry, then he should have created his own Wizarding Catering service, or even opened his own restaurant in Diagon Alley. However, as she hopped down the stairs to the kitchen she heard a rather loud clatter and a bang, and then a cluster of muttered curses and swear words from her father. Then again, perhaps he was not the most coordinated of wizards to operate a kitchen.
“Need any help?” Brienne asked, taking her wand out of her pocket hopefully. Her father looked up from the pan of tomatoes that he had dropped on the floor,
“No, no, you put that wand away.” He levitated the pan and the tomatoes, dropping the pan on the side and the tomatoes in the sink. “You can
help me whip up some tomato sauce. You’re a dab hand at Potions.”
So Brienne gathered, peeled and chopped some plum tomatoes and onions, as her father tended to the rest of the meal. They descended into a quiet silence as Brienne dropped them into a pan and stirred.
“So, tell me about your friends,” Douglas enquired after a couple of moments’ silence, “you mentioned the two Weasley boys?”
“Yeah,” Brienne replied, stirring some balsamic vinegar and sugar into the tomatoes. “I met them on my first day; they’re lovely.”
“I know Arthur, their father; our departments aren’t far from each other. He says they’re a rowdy pair but they don’t mean any harm.”
“I’m also friends with Angelina Johnson. They’re all on the Quidditch team.”
“I didn’t think you to be a fan of Quidditch.”
“I’m not, really,” she said to her father’s hopeful voice, “but they enjoy it. I know this other girl, a Hufflepuff called Paisley -- she’s lovely, too.”
“Do her parents work at the Ministry?”
“No, she’s Muggle-born.”
Douglas turned and looked over his shoulder at his daughter. “Got any, um, boyfriends on the quiet?”
Brienne almost dropped the wooden spoon she was using to stir her mixture. “No, Dad.”
“Are you sure?” he asked teasingly. “I remember when I was at school -- there was an eternal label attached to the Beauxbatons girls: that they were glamorous, beautiful, clever, vivacious. Of course it’s not true, everybody’s different. But then again, I did marry a Beauxbatons girl that fit all of those descriptions.” He trailed off at that point, sighed, and then continued. “You’re a wonderful girl, Brienne; you’ll find someone.”
Brienne had been listening wistfully; she loved it when her Dad talked about her Mum. It was like listening to her two worlds being woven together. “I wasn’t worried about it, Dad.”
“I know, sweetheart. I know you have enough on your plate.”
Brienne then lifted her pan and carried it over to her father, who was frying some scallops expertly. “Is this all right?”
Her father turned the scallops another time, and then got a spoon out of a drawer to taste. “Very good.”
Ten minutes later, they were sat at the dining room table, eating. Her tomato sauce was a bit runny, but her father ate it with relish.
“Dad?” Brienne asked as she took their empty plates over to the sink. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” he replied, muffling a belch with his handkerchief and sitting back in his chintz chair.
Brienne paused for a moment. “How did you and Mum meet?”
He sat up in his chair again, and crossed one leg over the other, his gaze sinking to the floor. “Goodness gracious me, didn’t you know that?”
“No.” Brienne returned to her seat. “Mum only told me that you met when You-Know-Who was still around.”
“That’s right.” Douglas smiled, as if remembering the memory somewhat fondly. “We were both right out of school; your Mother came over here to help with the force against He Who Must Not Be Named.”
“That’s how you met?”
“That’s right. My old acquaintance from school, Re -- oh, you know him as Professor Lupin, he and his mates joined an informal organisation called the Order of the Phoenix after they graduated from Hogwarts. It was a force to bring You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters down.”
“Yes?” Brienne said, encouraging her father to continue. She could tell her father was settling into his story, so she brought her knees up under her chin and got comfortable as he spoke.
“It was only a small ragtag group of Aurors and graduates -- I wasn’t old enough to be an Auror yet, but I was hoping to begin training. Unfortunately, we were the group of people that You-Know-Who targeted the most aggressively, except for the Muggles and Muggle-borns of course.”
“Your mother was part of a small group of fighters from France who bravely came over to help with the cause, and we incorporated them into the Order. Your mother was still young then, and so was I, I suppose. She was beautiful—“
“She always was,” Brienne interjected quietly, her eyes watering at the thought.
“Yes, yes, of course. Well, meeting her and becoming her boyfriend happened more or less simultaneously. We got engaged after a few months and, well, that’s it. You know the rest.”
“After a couple of months
? Isn’t that a bit quick?” Brienne asked incredulously.
“You’ve got to understand darling, people were dying. It was a case of ‘now or never’.” Her father shrugged, his eyes narrowing a bit in what looked like sadness. “I think, in hindsight, we should have waited a bit longer. Perhaps until after You-Know-Who’s downfall. But then again, if that had happened, you would probably still be a little thirteen year old and we would probably not be having this conversation.”
“Mum might still be alive.”
Douglas looked at his daughter, who was mirroring his cheerless expression. “Don’t say that, sweetheart. You don’t know what would have happened.”
Brienne swallowed and pursed her lips. “It wouldn’t be a change from now. I don’t have a clue what’s happening as it is.” She looked up at her father, and finally broached the subject she had been dwelling on for weeks. “What’s happening with the investigation?”
Douglas looked at Brienne sympathetically. “Now’s not the time.” He flicked his wand, and got up from the chair as the dinner plates in the sink began to wash themselves.
“Then when will
be the time?” she shouted earnestly. “I’ve been waiting for months and months to find out what happened.”
“Darling, we have to wait until we get the full picture. If I tell you what I know now, you won’t be any more satisfied.”
“Yes, I will! You don’t know how I would feel--“
“Yes I do, sweetheart. I lost her too, remember.”
“You lost her years ago,” Brienne snapped before she could stop herself. She regretted it as the words left her lips and tried to tell herself she didn’t notice the flash of pain that came across her father’s eyes. “I’m sorry Dad, I--“
But she couldn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t mean it? But she did. She was by far more deserving of the information than her father was; she had lost her mother
. He had lost his ex-wife. But it didn’t excuse what she had said.
Douglas frowned at her, his voice croaking slightly. “Don’t be silly. Of course you need to know, I understand that.”
He got down onto his knees in front of Brienne and gripped her hands, but his tall stature meant that on his knees he was still as tall as she was sitting. “I know that you’re desperate to...to feel a closure. I remember when I lost my mother. I know.”
He got up, straightened his clothing, and sighed deeply. Brienne only realised that tears were streaming down her cheeks when one of them slid into her open mouth.
“How about I send an owl to one of my old friends? Stanley Meadowes, he’s one of the chief Aurors in charge of the investigation. He can come for dinner, and let us both know what’s been going on. How about that?”
Brienne nodded, her father’s unwavering generosity moved her. “Thank you.”
They hugged, and for the rest of the night, they delved back into that comfortable silence and slept soundly.