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Conventional Wisdom by SnitchSnatcher

Format: Novel
Chapters: 22
Word Count: 112,253

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: General, Humor, Romance
Characters: James (II), OC
Pairings: James/OC

First Published: 02/06/2009
Last Chapter: 06/21/2010
Last Updated: 09/09/2011

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request-unconventialwisdomcopy.png picture by chasing_starlight

My best friend is getting married. I should be happy, but there's just one small problem: He's not marrying me. And I'm the mother of his child. What worse is that his fiancee asked me to be her maid of honor. Merlin, I should've stayed in bloody Panama.

Chapter 13: Scattered Black and Whites

Chapter Twelve
Scattered Black and Whites

It was a Sunday.

Most people slept in on Sundays.

I was one of those people.

However, this morning hadn’t exactly gone as planned, but when did anything go the way I wanted? Instead of staring at the backs of my eyelids and dreaming of fields of chocolate, I was woken by my son at the ungodly hour at four forty A.M.

I had been in the middle of a very peculiar dream when Jack’s sudden, ear-splitting screams violently broke through my murky cloud of subconscious thought. Immediately, I assumed the worst - that nargles were trying to take my son. My eyes sprang open as I simultaneously launched myself out of bed, completely disregarding the fact that I tended to get tangled in the sheets when I slept. Barely managing to catch myself on the edge of the mattress, I grabbed the bottom of the sheet and yanked it up around my ankles so I could stumble over to his crib.

I grabbed the railing of the crib and peered down at my son. Jack was lying flat on his back, his little hands balled into tight, angry fists as he screamed shrilly at the ceiling. When he saw my face looming over his, the volume of his shrieks lessened, though he didn’t quit. Since there wasn’t anything visibly wrong with him, my worry increased.

“Jack?” I questioned frantically, pushing my hair out of my face as my hands scrambled for the latch. A howl escaped me when it pinched my skin, which startled Jack. He began to cry harder and louder. Cursing under my breath, I finally undid the safety latch and lowered the bars; they slammed into the slot as I wedged my hands under Jack’s arms and lifted him out of the crib.

I held him against my torso, a hand supporting his bottom while the other caressed his back. He pressed his face into my chest, muffling his intense cries. “What’s wrong, honey? What is it?” I whispered, swaying back and forth. “Huh? What’s all the fuss about?” I kissed the crown of his head, patting gently him on the back.

Like any baby would, he continued to cry, most likely out of agitation because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. Everyone always said that babies had it easy, spending all day eating, sleeping, and pooping, but I tended to disagree. I could only imagine how frustrating it must be when you crying was your only way of letting people know what you wanted. My sympathies went out to my son, even if he had disrupted an otherwise peaceful nights’ sleep.

When he didn’t show any signs of stopping, I decided to leave the refuge of our room and venture downstairs into the kitchen. Thankfully, neither Mum nor Dad woke up as we passed their bedroom on the way to the lower level of the house. Though I knew she meant well, Mum couldn’t resist offering her opinion on how I should handle my son or plucking him out of my arms and doing things “the right way”. In other words, her way. It was annoying, that much was true, but most of the time, she was right, even though I would never openly admit it.

I flicked on the kitchen light as I entered and made a beeline towards the fridge. I didn’t know about Jack, but food always made me feel better and stop crying. Hmm, I wonder if we had any ice cream left in the fridge. . .

By the time I found the container of ice cream, Jack had stopped crying and had fallen asleep in my arms. A part of me was annoyed while the other couldn’t help but smile at the sight of him. His little mouth was halfway open and his nose twitched with every third breath he drew in. Resisting the urge to tap his nose with my index finger, I manoeuvred Jack in my arms gently so I wouldn’t jostle him from sleep as I reached into the fridge for the tub of ice cream and rummaged around the silverware drawer for a spoon.

It was difficult, trying to enjoy my ice cream with Jack’s small fist clenching the collar of my sleep shirt and the awkward angle of my lower back to the seat of the chair. So difficult that I gave up after only six bites of the deluxe cookie dough blend, pushing the carton away from me with a begrudged sigh. As much as I wanted to eat the ice cream, as delicious as it looked, I didn’t want to run the risk of splattering it on the top of my son’s head, matting down his dark hair, in order to enjoy a bit of fattening dairy. My stomach gave a mutinous rumble.

I stared at the various knots in the scrubbed table’s surface for a long while, absentmindedly tracing asymmetrical patterns on the soft skin of Jack’s chubby arm as I thought about the trivial: what Mum would say when I told her I had resisted the temptation provided by the ice cream; if Dad would make his famous green onion, tomato, and cheddar cheese omelettes if I asked nicely; wondering if the London Zoo was opened today and what Jack would think of the animals there. Would he scared or clap his hands together excitedly, much like he did when Grandpa Neville played Peek-A-Boo with him.

Another sigh passed through my lips, this one a wistful one, as my gaze drifted away from the table and towards the kitchen window. I watched as the sky slowly lightened from a dark, almost mystical purple to a light blue with tinges of green, yellow, and orange intermixed in the wispy morning clouds. It had been a long time since I watched the sun rise, so I grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch, draping over myself and Jack, and pushed open the sliding door, stepping out onto the patio. The cement was cold underneath my bare feet, but it felt oddly refreshing as I settled down in a lawn chair.

The sun had just begun to crest over the hills when Jack woke with a gargling yawn. I smiled down at him. “Hey, sweetheart,” I cooed, gently raking my fingers over his head of dark brown hair. “Feeling better?”

His eyes were still heavy with sleep when they found mine. I sucked in a breath, pushing his resemblance of his father to the back of my mind; perhaps it was a Potter gene thing, looking like a carbon copy of your father. My smile faltered a little, but when Jack beamed up at me, flashing his toothless gums, the grin returned to my face.

I couldn’t help it: I pinched his cheek. He scrunched his face up in protest, turning his head away from my hand. I chuckled. “Your Daddy doesn’t like that either,” I professed softly, my voice cracking with emotion. I looked away from Jack, focusing my attention on the rising sun.

It was hard, talking to my son about James, the father who didn’t know his son even existed. Well, he knew that Jack was a living, breathing human being, just not his living, breathing human being. All this time I had been thinking about James’s reaction: what he would do, what he would say. Not once during these past weeks had I considered my son. How would he take to suddenly having a father figure in his life? It had been the two of us - and now Mum and Dad - for such a long time; would he even like James? Did he want a daddy?

Before I could delve too far into thought, Dad appeared on the patio, holding two cups of steaming hot, hopefully black, coffee in his hands. “Here,” he said, holding the cup in his left hand out to me.

I took it. “Thanks Dad,” I murmured appreciatively.

“Not a worry, Mara,” Dad replied as he sank into the chair across from me. “It’s black,” he added when I raised the mug to my lips for an experimental drink. “That is the way you like it, right?”

I nodded. “Yep,” I beamed, taking a sip and humming in delight. It warmed my belly. “It’s delicious.”

“I picked it up at a coffee shop in Muggle London,” he said as he withdrew his wand from the pocket of his dressing gown and waved it over his mug. Two lumps of sugar and a dash of cream stirred themselves into his coffee, turning the liquid from black to mocha.

“You visited Muggle London?” I questioned curiously, setting my cup on the table and shifting Jack so that he was sitting in my lap opposed to laying in it. Though he was able to support his head, he leaned back against my chest, gnawing on the fist stuffed into his mouth. “Did Mum go with you?”

“No,” he said hurriedly, throwing a cautious look at the door. Mum must’ve been in the kitchen. When I raised an eyebrow, he explained, “I went alone to look for a potential anniversary present; it’s coming up in a few months, you know.”

The urge to coo at my father was impressive, but I managed to swallow it. I settled on a smile and a soft laugh. “Did you find anything she might like?”

He shook his head. “No, I didn’t.” He sounded very disappointed. “Oh well,” he said, shrugging. “I still have several months to look. I just don’t want to get overwhelmed with lesson planning and completely forget about you. You remember what happened the last time it skipped my mind, yeah?”

I laughed, recalling the memory. A few years ago, Mum had spent all day in the kitchen, slaving away over my dad’s favourite dishes so they could have a fancy dinner for two when he came home from work. The only problem was that Dad forgot and went out with some of his friends for a drink instead. When he stumbled through the doorway at half past eleven, smelling of fire whiskey and pub smoke, Mum had gone nuts, threatening to throw him out of the house for forgetting the most important day of the year - aside from her birthday, of course. However, Dad saved himself from eviction at the last minute, though he never told me how. I had my suspicions and would rather not think about them.

“Yeah,” I finally said, giving a small shake of my head. “I remember.”

“I’ve never seen your mother that mad,” remarked Dad as he took a thoughtful sip. “Except for when you were born. She wouldn’t stop screaming obscenities, telling me that it was ‘all my ruddy fault’. She’s a peach, she is.”

The glass door slid open again and Mum appeared. “Who’s a peach?”

“You are,” Dad answered as he tilted his head back and pursed his lips. Mum made a show of rolling her eyes before giving him a brief kiss on the lips. It’s always good to know that your parents are still in love with each other. And that I was mature enough not to make gagging noises.

Mum sat down next to Dad, arranging her worn, terry cloth dressing gown just so. “It’s a chilly morning, Mara. Are you sure you should have Jack out here?” She pulled the collar of her robe for emphasis.

This time I rolled my eyes. “He’s fine, Mum. Besides,” I continued, looking down at Jack. He peered up at me with his round, hazel orbs, smiling around his fist. I laughed, kissing him not once, not twice, but three times before giving him a tight squeeze. “We’re bundled up. Snug as two Snargaluffs in a pod, we are.”

He giggled, or more like gurgled, in response. I beamed.

Dad, on the other hand, made a comment about how it was impossible for two Snargaluffs to share a pod; they came individually.

* * *

Several hours later, I was sitting in front of Jack’s new high chair, waving a spoonful of some foul-smelling, baby food mush in front of my son’s face when an owl came soaring in through the kitchen window. It landed on the counter by Mum, who was cleaning up the mess from Dad’s omelettes, and swivelled its dignified head from side to side. When its strange, bright eyes found mine, it hooted and extended a leg.

Setting the spoon down in the bowl (Jack clapped his hands together in approval), I rose from my chair and crossed to the owl. It blinked slowly as my hands worked to untie the string.

“Who’s it from?” Mum asked, drying the frying pan with a dish towel. Mum was one of the very few witches who refused to do her dishes with magic; she claimed that dishes didn’t get anywhere near as clean with magic as they did when washed by hand. I think it was a punishment when I was a child.

“I dunno,” I answered, finally managing to get the string unwrapped. “I don’t recognise the owl. Do you?”

Mum threw a glance over her shoulder and shook her head. “No, doesn’t look familiar.”

I scoffed. “You hardly looked!” Turning my back to her, I quickly unrolled the parchment, smoothing it out on the countertop before reading.

Dearest Mara,

I hope this isn’t an inconvenience to you, but the wine tasting has been bumped up from 4 P.M. to 2 P.M. Apparently, there was a conflict in scheduling with another bride. There’s no need to get concerned, it’s no matter.

I snorted. Me? Concerned over a scheduling conflict? I had a child to take care of, for Merlin’s sake! I was worried about the Ebola virus and owls biting off my child’s fingers, not some stupid, relatively pointless wine tasting. No one cared what the wine tasted like, only that there was a lot of it in supply.

I knew I shouldn’t have trusted James to make the arrangements. I knew he was horrid with directions, but who knew that he couldn’t even make a schedule? You’d think that with all the Quidditch practices he arranges he would be good at this sort of thing, but I guess I was wrong.

If there are any problems with the new time, don’t hesitate to send a post. Gertrude is a very understanding and very efficient owl. Send a reply, regardless of your response.

Sincerely Yours,
Sophie Meyer

I cast a look at the owl perched on the edge of the corner, hooting happily because Mum had just fed it a biscuit. “You poor creature,” I said, reaching out to stroke its beak. When it snapped at me with its pointy beak, I half-shrieked. My case was proven: owls were extremely dangerous, especially around appendages. “I take that back!” I hissed, withdrawing my hand.

Gertrude hooted at me indignantly, poofing up her feathers. Grabbing the nearest quill, I flipped Sophie’s letter over and scribbled my reply on the back. It was short and brief, but to the point. There was no need to add cute little comments about James’s failures. I didn’t want to partake in the falsities.

I couldn’t help but snort though, recalling her words from the other day. It was obvious now that she didn’t know James anywhere near as well as she believed, otherwise she would have known to never trust him with planning something. Unless, of course, it was a surprise birthday party for Nana Molly; he threw one every year for his beloved grandmother and they were always spectacular.

The owl fluttered out of the window almost as soon as I attached the letter. I wasn’t sorry to see it go. If his expression was anything to go by, however, Jack was, most likely because he knew he’d have to shovel down another mouthful of disgusting mush. He grimaced when I sat down in the chair and picked up the spoon.

“Who was the letter from?” Mum asked, taking the spoon out of my hand and nudging me aside with her elbow.

I moved, placing my hands on my hips. I hated when she took over. “Sophie,” I answered, passing a hand over my hair. “She wanted to inform me that the wine tasting time has been bumped up by two hours. Speaking of which,” I trailed off, pushing back my sleeve to glance down at my watch. I had a little over an hour to get ready. “Would you mind -”

“Nope,” Mum said as she coaxed Jack to open his mouth and take a bite. “Not at all. Would you mind if he got a bit of sunlight and helped his grandparents with the gardening?”

I shrugged. “No, I don’t mind. Just don’t let him eat the grass. Or get a gnome. The last time he got his grubby little hands on one, he very nearly ripped its poor ear off!”

Mum chuckled and Jack grinned, like he was proud of what he had done. I might not have fancied gnomes all that much, but it was still cruel. James and Teddy used to punt them over the Burrow’s garden wall to see who could get theirs to go farthest. Teddy tended to win, which infuriated James to no end.

“Mara!” The sound of Mum’s voice jolted me out of the memory. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready? You don’t exactly look like -”

“I’M GOING!” I threw a sharp glare at Mum before hurrying out of the kitchen and up the stairs to my bedroom.

It was suffice to say that I wasn’t looking forward to this. For one, I had to actually put some effort into my appearance. I didn’t want to be out-done by some little American twat. Of course, the chances that I would look better than her weren’t exactly in my favour; every time I had been around her, she always looked fabulous, dressed to the nines, as Gran used to say. A frown quirked at my mouth, down turning the corners. The memory of her sent a pang through my heart, but I pushed it aside. I didn’t want to dwell on something that would make me upset.

Two, I would have to witness James and Sophie being all couple-y and I didn’t want to. The only time I had seen them together, my stomach felt like it was going to fall out of my arse and my eyes had gone all watery. Not because the sight was particularly gruesome - as much as I hated the woman, they did look smashing together - but because it. . .well, it wasn’t me, leaning into the comfortable weight of his arm around my shoulders, placing a subtle hand on his chest, right over his thrumming heartbeat.

It was petty of me. I realised that, but I couldn’t prevent myself from feeling this way. But I would have to swallow my emotions, the tears that my eyes would be begging to release, and just go with it. I might not have been pleased with James’s choice, but it was my own damn fault. If I had just tried a little harder, told him the truth from the get-go, I could be the one walking down the aisle in only eleven days’ time.

I groaned. There were only eleven days to the wedding and I hadn’t done anything to stop it. A part of me wanted to, but I had refrained. I wouldn’t ruin James’s happiness simply because my ego was bruised, though I supposed a lot more than my pride was injured. Of course, I had made my bed and now I was forced to lie in it, regardless of how uncomfortable it was.

Pushing a hand through my hair and grimacing at the knots, I decided to take a shower before facing the daunting task of choosing something to wear. The water felt marvellous against my skin as it pounded a consistent rhythm into my tense muscles, slowly unwinding the coils that had gathered under my skin. Knowing that I didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy the shower, I shut the water off soon after I washed my body and shampooed my hair. All too soon, I found myself in front of my closet again, at a complete loss of what to wear.

After much deliberation, I realised that it was pointless to try and outdo Sophie. Her wardrobe was probably much more substantial than mine and it was likely that most of her clothes didn’t have holes on them or bits of sand still clinging stubbornly to the fabric. In the end, I chose a dark blue sundress, the hem of which fell to my knees. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was the prettiest thing I owned, not to mention one of the most comfortable. And if I couldn’t outdo Sophie then I would settle on being comfortable.

A quick glance at the clock told me that it was twenty till two. I could have lingered in the house and waited until the very last minute, but I tended to overlook the time once I fell into conversation with Mum or I started playing with Jack. With a sigh, I threw my hair up into a ponytail and decided to forgo my glasses. It’s not like I would be required to read something.

“I’m leaving,” I told Mum as I stepped outside of the wards.

“Bye then!” she called, too engrossed in her gardening to spare me a glance. “Have fun.”

I rolled my eyes and spun on the spot, scrunching my face in preparation for the pressure. Five years later, and Apparation was still painfully uncomfortable. The sensation of being squeezed through a tube was momentary, which I appreciated, and with a loud POP, I appeared in front of the Leaky Cauldron.

According to Sophie, who’d sent me the directions to the winery after she received my reply, the place wasn’t very far from here. Instead of taking a cab and selling out money, I walked the last few blocks. It was another nice day and I didn’t want to take the sunshine for granted. The bright rays felt marvellous against my skin. So marvellous that my thoughts ran away from me as I recalled all of the summers spent laying in the tall field grass that surrounded the Potters’ home, staring up at the sky and pondering our existence.

I didn’t even realise someone was calling my name until a stranger tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Miss, I think that young man wants your attention.” She was pointing somewhere over my shoulder.

Confused, I whirled around, only to see the last person I ever expected to see in Muggle London.

He flashed his pearly white smile as he drew close. “Hello, Miss Longbottom.’

“Mr. Kilpatrick?” I blinked, absolutely stunned. “What are you doing here?”

“Please,” he began with another knee-melting smile. “Call me Patrick. And I could ask you the same question.”

My response was a knee-jerk reaction. “Well, I asked you first.”

It was only after he started laughing that I realised how childish I sounded. Or that my hands had found their way onto my hips. The heat rushed to my face and I averted my eyes, trying not to bask the sound of his laughter. It was almost as warming as the sunlight.

“I’m visiting my grandparents, if you must know,” Patrick Kilpatrick answered easily.

“Are they Muggles?”

“No, they’re magical. For some reason, they prefer the Muggle world.” He brought a finger up to his temple and swirled it around in a tight circle, the tell-tale sign for kooky.

I laughed. “The Muggle world isn’t so bad.”

“No, I suppose it’s not,” he agreed. My ego soared to previously unattainable heights. “So, may I inquire as to what you’re doing here, Miss Longbottom?”

“If you want me to address you by your first name, the least you could do is return the favour.”

Once again, he laughed. It had a magical quality to it, his laugh did. It made my insides turn to mush with its deep, almost smoky baritone. The only other person who’s laugh could do such things to me was James.

“Well then, Mara,” his eyes twinkled mischievously when he said my name. I had to admit, I liked the way it sounded on his lips. “What are you doing in Muggle London? Enjoying a nice stroll?”

“I wish,” I answered with a somewhat wistful sigh. “Actually, I’m on my way to a wine tasting. It’s for a wedding.”

“Oh,” Patrick said, his easy-going smile faltering slightly as his blue eyes regarded me. “That’s too bad. I was going to ask if you’d like to join me for a cup of coffee.”

It was difficult to hide my surprise. “Y-you were going to ask me out?” I asked, stumbling over my suddenly heavy tongue. I felt flustered.

“Yes, I haven’t had a chance to get to know you since you started working under me.”

I had to gnash my teeth together to prevent the groan from escaping my lips. I was all but squirming at the thought of - er - working under him. It had been a while since - Oh Merlin, no! Now was certainly not the time for those sort of thoughts, delicious though they may be. My wits needed to be gathered about me, not scattered in the wind. Damn you, Patrick Kilpatrick and your whimsical charms.

“It’s a shame, too,” Patrick continued, taking the time to pause so he could frown. “I was really looking forward to the opportunity.”

I blinked, surprised. Was he implying what I thought he was implying or was I just that desperate for someone to want me again? “Y-you were?”

“I was,” he affirmed with a subtle nod of his head. “As I said the other day, Teddy has told me so much about you. I must say, I’m intrigued.” His grin was wry, just like his tone.

My blush reached my roots. I had to get out of here before I did something incredibly stupid. “Look, Mr. Kilpatrick -”


“Right, Patrick,” I tried again, testing his name on my tongue. It tasted quite nice. Like Sugar Quills. “I have to be going now. My friends are probably waiting for me.”

“Are you trying to weasel your way out of a drink with your boss or do you really have other arrangements?” His grin widened as the teasing note in his voice leaked through.

I chuckled half-heartedly. “I promise I’m not trying to weasel out of a drink with you. I’m not that cruel.”

“I should hope not,” he returned. “So how about tomorrow after work?”

My mouth went dry. “Excuse me?”

“Tomorrow night,” Patrick repeated, casually shoving his hands in his pockets. “Are you busy after work? If not, we can always do Tuesday.”

If I had been blushing before, it was nothing compared to the way my face flared now. I had never been so embarrassed, so. . .flattered. “Um, no. Tomorrow night works,” I said in a rush, hoping against all hope that Bridezilla didn’t have anything planned for tomorrow. I would hate to look like a jerk and cancel on Patrick.

Wow. This was going to take some getting used to.

“Great.” He beamed at me. “I’ll let you go then. Have fun.”

“I’ll try.”

“See you tomorrow, Mara. Goodbye.” Patrick waved before turning on his heel and continuing on his way.

Once he had disappeared around the corner, I released a heavy sigh. What in the name of Merlin had I just done? Agreeing to go out for drinks with my boss? I was just asking for it, wasn’t I? Besides, I was almost certain that inter-office relationships weren’t allowed. But he was the boss. . .not to mention incredibly handsome and dashing and charming and nice and -

I stopped myself before I could go any further. I’d thought the very same things about James and look where that landed me? As the maid of honour in his wedding. Another sigh escaped me as I beat the sidewalk, glancing up at the shop signs every few seconds. I didn’t want to look like an idiot, having to turn around halfway down the street only to realise that I had missed the shop.

As expected, I was the last one to arrive. “Sorry I’m late,” I said, addressing Sophie but smiling apologetically at James.

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured me with a flippant wave of his hand. “They’re not ready for us just yet. Apparently the bride-to-be had a little too much to drink and spewed all over the place.”

I pulled a face, wrinkling my nose in distaste. “Thanks for sharing. That’s exactly what I want to hear right before I’m about to enter the same room.”

“My pleasure.”

Over his shoulder, Sophie cleared her throat imperiously. A guilt look passed over James’s face and he returned to his side. Next to me, Albus made a noise that sounded eerily similar to that of a cracking whip. I bit back a laugh.

“Merlin,” Albus said under his breath. “I can’t believe he answers to her every beck and call.”

“It is a bit ridiculous,” I commented.

He snorted. “More like revolting. He follows her every command. Like a sick and twisted puppy.”

I stared up at him, alarmed. “What sort of puppies have you been handling?”

“Demonic ones,” he answered, jerking his head at his older brother and his fiancé.

I followed his gaze and immediately wished I hadn’t. They were standing so close to each other that their foreheads were touching. Sophie’s arms were twined around his neck and James’s hands rested on her full hips. She pushed herself onto her tiptoes and rubbed her nose along the edge of James’s jaw until she reached his ear. She must have whispered something amusing because he laughed, pulling back far enough to place a chaste kiss on her lips.

I choked on my gag.

“My sentiment exactly,” Albus said with an annoyed sigh. “At least you didn’t have to see them early. Circe, it was absolutely disgusting.” Inwardly, I wished he would stop talking, but being Albus, he ploughed on. He may have been a good secret keeper, but get him started on a rant and he won’t shut his gob. “Practically shagging through their clothes, they were. I only wish Mum and Dad had come along like they were going to. I hardly doubt that Mum would’ve tolerate it.”

“Your parents were invited?”

“Yeah, but they declined because Dad had to work and Mum refused to go along if she was going to be the only forty-something in attendance.” He grimaced as he continued to watch the soon-to-be-newlyweds in dour fascination. “I would’ve skipped out too, but I didn’t want to leave you all by yourself with the lovebirds.”

I tilted my head back so I could glare up at him. Merlin, I didn’t remember him being so tall. “I would have slaughtered you if you hadn’t,” I growled lowly. It was an empty threat and we both knew it.

Albus chuckled lightly, folding his arms over his chest. “I guess it’s a good thing that I showed up then as I rather like being alive.”

“I should hope so,” I mumbled under my breath, my eyes narrowing as Sophie’s hands slowly drifted down James’s back, coming to rest on the top of his bum. “Though death keeps looking better and better from where I’m standing.”

“Aha to that,” Albus said.

“I think you mean ‘Amen’, not ‘Aha.”

We shared a laugh, which seemed to pull Romeo and Juliet from their stupor. When James met my eyes, he had enough sense to look embarrassed by his behaviour; we had both agreed long ago that public displays of affection were entirely unnecessary, mainly because James had stumbled upon Lily snogging her boyfriends one too many times.

“Sorry about that,” James said somewhat sheepishly.

“By all means, Jimbo, don’t stop for our sakes,” Albus remarked loftily. “We wouldn’t want to ruin your fun.”

“Har har har,” was James’s dry reply.

I chanced a glance at Sophie, who was throwing daggers at her future brother-in-law. Obviously she hadn’t appreciated the interruption. Before the situation could get any more awkward, however, a wispy looking woman appeared out of nowhere and breezed over to me.

“Ah, you must be the future Mrs. Potter!” she exclaimed, taking my hand and shaking it enthusiastically before I could correct her.

“Help me,” I mouthed over the woman’s shoulder, much to James and Albus’s delight. Sophie, on the other hand, looked absolutely thunderous.

“Excuse me,” the blonde said, clearing her throat loudly. The woman whipped around to stare at her curiously. “You’ve got the wrong woman. I’m the future Mrs. Potter.” As if to further emphasis her point, she held out her left hand, flashing her sizeable engagement ring in the woman’s face.

“Oh dear!” the woman cried, dropping my hand like it was diseased. I frowned, lowering my head to stare at my shoes dejectedly. “I’m so sorry! I just assumed that these two” - she gestured to Albus and me - “were the ones getting married. I heard them laughing together through the door.”

When Al winked at me ostentatiously, I glowered at him, silently threatening to stomp on his foot. The grin slid away from his face. Message received.

“Anyway,” the woman continued, shaking their hands in a flurry of motion. “I’m Linda, the proprietor of the Little Hills Winery. It’s great to have you here and I hope you find our selection of wines delectable. So, if you would just follow me.”

Linda led us into a comfortably sized room, one that, thankfully, didn’t reek of vomit. There was a small square table with four chairs and she pointed to each of them as we filed into the room as though it really mattered where we sat. Before I could sit down in the chair Linda had pointed me to - the chair that would have situated me between the two Potter boys - Sophie dropped into it with a small sniff. Everyone pretended not to notice, though when I sat down next to Albus I could tell that he was trying his absolute hardest to retain his laughter.

Stuffing a list of wines in James’s hand, Linda made for the door, poking her head around the corner to say that she would be right back. Once she was out of earshot, Albus smirked and threw his arm around my shoulders. “I like her. She thinks we’re compatible.”

I laughed and pushed his arm away from my shoulders with a smile. “Maybe in another life,” I joked, flicking my gaze over at James. My eyebrows rose at the expression on his face. His brow was drawn together and he seemed confused, almost upset. But over what?

Nobody said a word as two nameless young men trickled into the room, each holding a collection of wine bottles in their arms. They handled the bottles gently, carefully setting them on the table that ran the length of the back wall. I watched in mild fascination.

Suddenly, there was a loud scream and a crash from somewhere within the small winery and seconds later, Linda turned. She looked extremely flustered and held a rolling pin at her side loosely. Her wide eyes scanned our faces as she asked in a borderline hysterical voice, “Which one of you is Mara Longbottom?”

Immediately, Albus erupted into a fit of snickers. Much to my chagrin, he was quickly joined by James and Sophie, though the latter was less subtle in her attempts to cover up her laughter. In fact, she made no attempt at all. I couldn’t say that I would either if I was in her position. Slowly, I raised my hand.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but - but there’s an owl waiting for you at the welcome desk.”

I blanched and pushed out of my chair. “Thanks,” I muttered as I squeezed by her on my way out of the door, though it sounded hollow, empty. Like I really didn’t mean it. But no matter. My mind was too busy trying to figure out who could be sending me an owl - Mum and Dad knew I was here and they wouldn’t interrupt me, would they? I shook my head to myself as I walked down the narrow hall lines with doors to the reception area. No, they knew that this was important even if I didn’t necessarily want to be here. So who could have sent it? Unless. . .

I panicked, picking up my pace and all but sprinted into the front of the winery. My heart beat quickened and my stomach dropped at the sight of the family owl, Merchant. I ripped the letter away from his leg with more force than necessary. He hooted indignantly, but I ignored him, unrolling it with shaking hands and hurriedly reading the messy scrawl. The message was short.

Get to St. Mungo’s now. Jack’s sick.

“Oh no,” I gasped, clapping a hand over my mouth. I stumbled backwards until my back hit the wall. My throat constricted and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed by my panic. My legs felt weak underneath me and I slumped against the wall, squeezing my eyes shut tight and trying to remember the basics steps to breathing.

“Hey, I just came to -” James stopped talking, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of me. “Mara?!”

Wordlessly, I held out the letter to him. He took it and had barely read the first two words before he grabbed my hand and pulled me towards him, wrapping an arm around my waist. As he turned us in a tight corner, he whispered in my ear, “Everything’s going to be all right.”

I couldn’t find it in my heart to believe him.

* * *

A/N: Well now, that was certainly a dramatic ending, wasn’t it? I know what you’re all thinking - she updated again? Yes, I did, and I have the lovely members of TGS to thank for that. I’ve only been there for a handful of days and they’ve been a great help and a tremendous inspiration. For once I’m actually excited about writing and the challenges it presents instead of fearing it. Also I feel as though I should warn you now. The next chapter is The Chapter, so don’t forget to check for updates. It’s going to be full of drama! Thanks for reading and review!!

Chapter title credit goes to the fabulous band known as Elbow and their equally amazing song, "Scattered Black and Whites". I recommend it.