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Conventional Wisdom by SnitchSnatcher

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

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

Summary:
Banner @ BitterSweetFlames!
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 20: Sweating Bullets

Chapter Nineteen
Sweating Bullets



“What about this?” I asked, pulling the fourteenth shirt out of my wardrobe and holding it against my chest for Mum to see.

From her position on the bed, she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No. Too ruby red. The colour makes your cheeks look ruddy. Try something else.”

I sighed, shoving aside the rest of my clothes and forcing the hanger back onto the rod. “I don’t have anything else to wear, Mum.”

“Nonsense,” Mum admonished, slipping off the edge of the mattress and making her way towards me. “Of course you have something to wear. Let’s take a look, shall we?” Unceremoniously dumping Jack into my arms, she nudged me to the side and began flicking through my wardrobe.

Almost immediately, Jack started tugging ruthlessly on my hair. It was a habit of his that had only intensified over the last few days. I gritted my teeth and ignored it as best as I could, which was difficult to say the very least. “I’m telling you, you’re not going to find a thing that still fits.”

“Oh, stop being such a pessimist, Mara,” Mom said as she rifled through my clothes.

“I’m not being pessimistic,” I countered, retreating to the bed and plopping down on it. “I’m being realistic and I’m telling you, nothing in that wardrobe will fit this body. Not anything appropriate for a date, anyway.”

Not for the first time, I was thankful that Mum had her back to me. Ever since she had found out about my date - somehow, she had caught wind of it before I even made it home to tell her, so I was ambushed when I got back from picking Jack up - she had been insufferable. Fussing over me as though I was going on my very first date ever. I didn’t need to be mollycoddled; I needed to be reassured that this was a good decision, given the current circumstances. Even the word ‘date’ sounded weird when I said it, and it tasted even weirder.

“You’re just nervous,” Mum said distractedly, pulling out a black shirt that was severely out of fashion. The last time I wore it, I must’ve been in fifth or sixth year. Note to self: once my income becomes steadier, I must get a new wardrobe. This was just pathetic.

Almost as pathetic as Mum’s suggestion.

“I’m not nervous.”

Mum’s chuckle was a bit too harsh for my liking. “Sure you’re not, dear,” she laughed as she put the shirt back and continued her frantic searching. “That’s what they all say.”

“Who’s this ‘they’ that people always talk about, anyway?” I demanded, untangling Jack’s slobbery fingers from my hair with some difficulty. He started fussing, but I grabbed his chain of colourful keys before he could unleashed those crocodile tears. “I’d like to have a few words with them.”

“And say what?”

Even though her back was turned to me and she couldn’t see me, I shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably something along the lines of ‘quit making broad assumptions, you senseless fuc-”

“Mara!” Mum exclaimed, whipping around to glare at me.

“Oh, right. The baby.” Flushing, I pressed a kiss against Jack’s temple. Plastic keys halfway to his mouth, Jack peered up at me, the smallest and most adorable furrow appearing between his brow. Apparently, he hadn’t enjoyed being interrupted. “Sorry, love.”

Mum rolled her eyes and turned back to my despicable wardrobe. “At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if his first word was a curse.”

“I’m not that bad,” I protested lamely as Jack shoved the key ring into his mouth. “Dad says more expletives at breakfast than I can think of in one day.”

“That’s because he’s usually reading over the Quidditch scores, dear.”

“So that makes it acceptable?” I scoffed, and would’ve folded my arms over my chest if Jack wasn’t situated in my lap. I settled for pouting. “You never yell at him.”

“Now you’re just being petulant,” Mum remarked.

“Am not.”

“Thank you for proving my point,” quipped Mum before she stepped back from the closet and put her hands on her hips.

Instead of replying with another witticism (the oh-so-originally ‘I didn’t prove your point’), I fought off a smirk as I stood, clutching Jack to my chest, and joined Mum in front of the wardrobe. “Couldn’t find anything?”

She frowned. “No,” she said with a shake of her head. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

I sent her a wary look. “If you even suggest shopping…”

“Shopping? No, of course not,” Mum replied, “we don’t have time for that.” She checked her watch just in case. “I was going to suggest ringing Lucy.”

I snorted mirthlessly and gaped at her. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” The frown on her face deepened, revealing the lines around her mouth and eyes. “Lucy’s got a wonderful fashion sense.”

“Yeah, maybe if I want to look like a spinster cat lady, she does!”

Mum gasped, obviously offended by this insinuation. “Lucy doesn’t dress like a spinster cat lady!”

“Did you see what she wore to Christmas a few years’ back?” At Mum’s blank look, I said, “Fuzzy pink and purple jumper with a picture of a bloody kitten? Ringing any bells?”

After a few beats of silence, the lights finally flicked on upstairs and a look of utter revulsion crossed her face. “Perhaps you’re right,” Mum consented, a little green around the gills, so to speak. “Shall we ring Lily then?”

“Don’t know why you didn’t suggest her in the first place.”

I ducked out of the room before Mum’s hand could connect with the back of my head.

- - -

“Have you put it on yet?”

I winced at the sound of my mother’s voice, wishing that she would just go away already, but that was similar to asking the sun to shine during the summer - nearly impossible.

“Yes,” I replied slowly.

“Well, what are you waiting for then? Show us!” Mum encouraged.

What was I waiting for? The apocalypse, preferably. That way, no one would have to witness the sight of me in this horrible get-up because they would all be dead. Or severely disfigured, but most likely dead.

The real question of the hour was just what in the hell was Lily thinking when she brought over the collection of clothes she had. The first few outfits had been a total bust because of my bust couldn’t fill them out. My stomach, on the other hand, had other ideas in mind, mostly of the domination of the world sort. I wasn’t so bothered by the other outfits not fitting, but this one - well, I had had hopes for it the moment I slipped it off the hanger. Of course, that hope was misplaced as I looked like the backside of a baboon.

Sighing, I pushed a hand through my hair, wishing that I hadn’t ever accepted the invitation from Patrick. Not only did the evening have the potential to be extremely awkward, but he would have to endure several hours with me, the biggest blimp since the Hindenburg.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Won’t you come out, Mara?” asked Lily, a pleading tone in her voice. “I want to see what it looks like!”

I tried not to grimace as I turned from side to side, studying my reflection and whether or not I looked thinner from a different angle. “Trust me,” I said as I smoothed out the wrinkles, “you don’t.”

“Stop being overdramatic and just come out already!” Mum shouted, slapping her palm against the door. “You’ve only got forty-five minutes before you have to leave! You don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”

Not bothering to answer, I heaved another sigh and flung the door open dramatically.

When they didn’t say anything, I threw my hands up in the air, unsure whether I was happy or sad at being proved right. “See what I mean? I look horrible!”

Lily cleared her throat, shifting Jack from one hip to the other. “Um, Mara? If that’s what you call looking horrible, then you have way too high standards.” She paused and then frowned. “You did sleep with my brother, though, so I can’t really say anything about your standards.”

I chucked a shoe at her, but she dodged it. Damn inherited Quidditch skills! The only thing I received from my parents was a spattering of unflattering flecks and social awkwardness.

“You haven’t said anything, Mum.”

“That’s because I haven’t decided what to say,” she admitted, her eyes trailing up and down my body in a way that made my skin crawl. It was just uncomfortable.

Instead of dwelling on my mother’s lack of reaction, I rounded on Lily. “I told you!”

The redhead rolled her eyes. “You’re being ridiculous. You look amazing! Have you lost weight?”

“Now I know you’re lying,” I accused, narrowing my eyes into slits.

“Because I gave you a compliment?”

I nodded.

Lily chuckled. “Like I said, you’re ridiculous. Isn’t she, Mrs. Longbottom?”

“Very,” Mum agreed with a bob of her head. She stopped her endless eye-roving and met my gaze. “I think you look…well, I would say great, but I don’t think that’s the right word for it.”

“Thanks,” I bit out sarcastically, moving to retreat into my room and never come out. But Mum grabbed me by the elbow and tugged me back out into the hall.

“Come on, don’t be such an infant!” Mum scolded, releasing my arm only after she had bruised it. “You know I didn’t mean it like that. Seriously, dear, you take everything too personally.” She shook her head and sighed. “Now why don’t you just take our compliments and go sit yourself down so I can do something with your hair.” At this, she frowned, patting down a wayward lock of my hair.

I stared at her for a prolonged moment before relenting. “Okay, fine,” I submitted, “but don’t even think about curling it. You know how ridiculous I look with curls.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, dear,” Mum said with a smile, placing a hand on either of my shoulders and steering me into the bedroom. I acquiesced, knowing it was pointless to put up any sort of fight from here on out.

- - -


Twenty-some odd minutes later, my hair was done, my feet were shoved into impossibly high heels, and Mum was putting the finishing touches on my lipstick. I tried not to grimace as she tightened her grip on my chin, her fingernails digging into my skin as she applied the rose-coloured lipstick.

“It’s a good thing I didn’t go with red,” she was saying as she traced the shape of my lips, “otherwise it would’ve made your freckles stand out even more than they already do.”

I attempted to formulate a retort, but the only thing that came out was what sounded like a muffled raspberry. Mum scowled at me. “Don’t move! I’ll get it on your teeth if you do!”

From her seat on the bed, Lily laughed, though whether she was laughing at us or Jack was left to be decided. Ever since I had decided on an outfit and even before then, Lily had been all but literally attached to Jack. He didn’t seem to mind. Quite the opposite, actually; every time I tried to take him out of her arms, he started whinging, which made Lily grin smugly at me. Sometimes, I was convinced my son did things like that on purpose. Merlin help me when the day came and he learned how to talk. I’d be in trouble then.

“I’m not a complete imbecile, Mum,” I said, pushing her hand away as soon as she pulled back to observe her work. “I could’ve done it myself.”

“Perhaps, but it wouldn’t look nearly as good as my handiwork,” countered Mum, barely phased by the abrupt push of her hand.

“You know, it’s amazing that I have any self-confidence left,” I commented dryly.

Mum ignored my remark. “Go check yourself out and tell us what you think,” she said, giving me a shove towards the mirror.

Thankfully, I had worn heels enough in my life to not trip over my feet, though I did stumble from the sudden force. Tossing a glare over my shoulder, I pulled up to a stop in front of my mirror and faced my reflection. All in all, it wasn’t an overall bad effect. My hair was a little too wavy for my taste, my lipstick a bit too bright, and the dress a little too constricting around my chest and my hips, but it was nice. I certainly appreciated the efforts they’d put out and I told them so with a smile on my face.

Lily gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “It’s no big deal. I was happy to help.”

Translation: she was happy to have an excuse to dote upon her nephew. Not that I could blame her.

Mum merely returned my smile as she came to stand beside him. “I just want to see you happy again.”

I frowned. She didn’t think I was happy? Before I could question her, the doorbell rang, the faux sound of the Bells of Notre Dame echoing through the house. A peculiar sensation washed over me as Lily rose to her feet, slinging Jack’s bag over her shoulder as she stood.

“That’ll be James,” she said unnecessarily as she picked Jack up, situating him on her hip. As always, he latched onto her hair, though I noticed his grip was generously more lax than when he grasped onto my hair. Little prat.

Swallowing thickly, I nodded for Lily to lead the way downstairs. Originally, I was going to drop Jack off at James’ flat before Apparating to the restaurant where Patrick and I had agreed to meet. However, Lily’s impromptu visit threw the plans out of whack and instead, James was picking Jack up and taking him along with Lily back to his flat. A part of me was relieved that Lily was going to be there as well; I trusted Sophie with my son as far as I could throw her.

I waited until I could hear James’ voice before daring to follow the pair downstairs. From the top of the step, I could see that James had scooped Jack up in his arms and was blowing raspberries on his stomach, which made our baby’s legs flail wildly. I couldn’t help it; I cracked a smile as wide as the Nile.

It must’ve been my heels clacking against the wooden stairs that caused James to look up at me. I expected him to give me a disinterested once-over before returning his attention Jack, not go slack-jawed. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, I touched the ends of my hair, hoping that Mum hadn’t gone overboard and made me look like a seven Sickle whore. It was difficult to keep my embarrassment off my face as I descended the stairs, the heels of my shoes hitting the floor the only sound except for Jack’s gurgling.

Awkwardly clearing my throat, I flashed a tight smile at James. “Hey,” I greeted once I reached the foot of the staircase, my hand grasped tightly around the banister.

“Wow, you look wonderful,” James blurted.

Heat rushed to my face so quickly, I felt as though I might pass out. I tightened my grasp on the banister and nodded. “Thanks.”

“Oh, so you’ll accept a compliment for him, but not from us?” Mum clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and shook her head in disapproval. Meanwhile, Lily smirked at me, muttering something under her breath about standards.

I stuck my tongue out at her.

“Anyway,” I said after a beat of uncomfortable silence in which James continued to stare at me as though I had just professed my love for him. Which, of course, I hadn’t because I didn’t love him. “I’ve already fed him, though he’s probably due for a nappy change soon,” I informed James in a strictly-business tone.

He nodded. “Okay.”

“Oh, and he’ll probably need a bath before you put him down for the night,” I continued, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear out of habit. “He doesn’t sleep very well when I’m not around unless he’s had one, though you should ask your mum or Lils for help. He tends to splash and get water all over the place,” I added at his questioning look.

His lips sweeping into a grin, James laughed lightly and glanced down at Jack fondly. “Is that right?” He chuckled again and pressed a short kiss to Jack’s forehead. “Anything else?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Is his key ring in the bag? He went a bit mental when he didn’t have it last time.”

“I think so. Let me check.” I crossed over towards Lily, who handed over the bag without much of a fight. Unzipping it, I rifled through everything until I found the item in question. As soon as Jack heard the plastic clinking, he made his signature grabby hands. Rolling my eyes, I passed the key chain over to him and he shoved it into his toothless mouth, smiling at me.

“Brat,” I accused affectionately, giving the bag back to Lily.

“He is a bit spoiled,” James remarked, glancing between me and Jack.

“You try resisting a face like that,” I said, reaching out to stroke Jack’s cheek. “It’s damn near impossible.”

James’ eyes met mine and I felt something profound pass between us. It was difficult to explain for a multitude of reasons, the primary one being that I wasn’t sure what it was. Perhaps it was the realisation that we could do this parenting thing without past feelings arising, or maybe it was the exact opposite. Maybe it was the realisation that while we could get along, it was inevitable that some day in the distant future, we would have to talk about it sometime - about everything.

I broke eye contact first, remembering that I had places to be, a very attractive man to see. Expelling a short breath, I leaned forwards to kiss Jack’s cheek. “You’ll be good for your daddy, won’t you?” I smoothed his dark thatch of hair down and tried not to cry as he gnawed at his key ring, completely disinterested in what I had to say.

“We’ll take good care of him, Mara,” Lily assured me, patting me on the shoulder. “And if anything goes wrong - which it won’t - we’ll be sure to let you know.”

I nodded, hoping my watering eyes weren’t ruining my make-up. “If I get back at a reasonable time, I’ll pick him up from your place, James. Is that okay?”

“Of course it is,” he said, adjusting Jack in his arms so he could open the door. The chorus of crickets chirping in the background served as a reminder of the time. A quick glance at my watch told me I had approximately ten minutes to get myself to the restaurant. “We’ll see you.”

“I’ll follow you out into the yard. I’ve got to Apparate, too.” Turning to say goodbye to Mum, I was surprised to see that she was gone. Frowning, I closed and locked the door behind me before following James and Lily to the Apparation point in our yard.

“Bye,” James said, picking up Jack’s hand and making him wave at me.

I smiled a watery smile. “Bye.”

They disappeared with a loud crack and blinking away tears, I followed suit.

- - -


The restaurant wasn’t as swanky as I thought it was going to be, but instead of disappointing me, I sighed in relief. At least I wasn’t running the risk of being underdressed. As I approached the restaurant, however, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I might be too overdressed and Patrick might read that as a sign of me trying too hard. Cursing inwardly, I looked both ways before crossing the street and saw that Patrick was standing outside the place, dressed to the nines in a clean cut suit that complimented his broad shoulders and general god-like appearance.

When his eyes landed on me, a wide grin spread across his face. “You look -” he cut himself off, shook his head, and whistled lowly. “Just…spectacular.”

I laughed nervously. “You don’t look too bad yourself,” I returned with a smile of my own. “Who’d you have to kill to get your hands on such a suave suit?”

“If I told you that, then I’d have to kill you too,” he replied, his vibrant eyes glinting radiantly even in the dim lighting of the streetlamps. Still grinning, he held out his arm, bent at the elbow, for me to take. “Shall we?”

Hesitantly, I looped my arm through his and allowed him to lead me to the entrance. Ever the gentleman, he opened the door for me and gestured for me to enter first, which I did, only because I didn’t want to be struck behind, staring at his all-too perfect bum. In fact, he did everything a gentleman should do. He pulled out my seat, stood up when I went to use the loo, and even let me order first.

Oh good Merlin, Terra was right: they really don’t make ‘em quite like Patrick anymore.

- - -


All in all, the evening went smoothly. There were several awkward moments in which silence threatened to consume us, but Patrick’s quick wit and utterly devastatingly smile pulled through time and time again. It certainly didn’t hurt that he made fun of the waiter’s nasally voice every time the man turned his back. We talked about anything and everything, except for the obvious and, remarkably, work.

As pleasant of a time as I was having, by the time we finished eating and the plates were cleared, I was more than ready to go home. My lower back hurt from sitting as perfectly straight as I possibly could, and I couldn’t stop my thoughts from wandering to my favourite boy and his father. I knew that James was a more than capable father, but still, I wondered they were doing at that moment. Was Jack sleeping or was he stubbornly refusing to go to sleep? Had Sophie made it over to the flat and, if so, was she finalising wedding plans with James?

The thought made my throat dry and my knees weak, despite the fact I was sitting down. The wedding was a little over five days away, and I had done nothing to stop it from happening. Not that I ever intended to do such a thing, but now I felt like I should have done something to prove that Sophie isn’t the right woman for him. I may have said something over lunch together, but that hardly counted as James didn’t know everything about our…situation, for want of a better word, or how I felt about him.

But the question still remained: how did I feel about him? I wouldn’t call it love, but…

I shook my head to myself. Now was not the time to think such thoughts, not when I was on a date with another man. Another perfectly charming, incredibly handsome, and devastatingly dressed man, who appeared to be asking me something.

“W-what?” I stuttered, wishing the waiter hadn’t taken away our wine glasses as well. I could use another drink.

“I was just asking if you were ready to leave.”

“Oh, right.” I licked my lips. “Sorry. I was distracted.”

“I could tell,“ Patrick chuckled warmly. “It’s quite alright. You must be thinking about your son.”

Inwardly, I frowned. Was I really that obvious? “Yeah.”

“Worried?”

“Not really,” I said, fidgeting with my napkin in my lap. “He’s with his dad, and I know he’s in good hands, but -”

“You still want to get home to him,” finished Patrick, smiling. “I understand. We can go, if you’d like.”

“Do you mind?”

He shook his head. “Of course not,” he replied easily, his smile still firmly intact, “after all, I did just ask if you would like to leave.”

I flushed for the umpteenth time that evening. “Oh! You did, didn’t you?” My following laugh was shaky, much like my knees when I stood up. It was getting to the end of the evening, which meant a goodbye. And I wasn’t sure what Patrick was expecting. He may have been a gentleman and a half, but that certainly didn’t exclude him from being the ‘Kiss On the First Date’ type.

We left the restaurant in much the same way we entered: arms linked. However, the broad smile I had been wearing upon entering was not present on my face as we left, mainly because anxiety was eating away at my stomach. Before we could get too far down the sidewalk, I pulled on his elbow.

“Patrick, wait,” I said in a rush as we came to an abrupt stop. ‘There’s something you should know.”

He gave me a look of utmost confusion. “Is something wrong?”

“Well, yes,” I admitted, letting go of his arm so I could crack my fingers. “I thought you should know that I don’t want to leave because I’m not having a good time - I am! Really. It’s just that - well - it’s as you said, isn’t it? I’ve been fretting over my son the entire night and I feel like I haven’t been a very good date, and -”

“Mara?”

I drew in a deep - and much needed - breath of air. “Yes?”

Patrick took a step towards me, closing what little distance there was between us. I tensed, m heart leaping into my throat. It took all my willpower not to scrunch my face up in displeasure. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to kiss him, but it didn’t feel like the right time, place, or circumstance. However, all the worrying was, as always, for nothing: Patrick merely reached up and tucked my hair behind my ear, his fingers lingering on my cheek.

Our eyes met and he dropped his hand, smiling. “I had a great time tonight.”

I returned his smile. “I did, too.”

- - -


I couldn’t get to James’ flat fast enough. It was only quarter to eleven, but Jack went to bed early, and I didn’t know James’ sleeping habits anymore. Frowning slightly, I stopped on the corner of the street and pulled my heels off my feet, knowing that I would move faster without them. While I doubted James would deny me the right to take Jack home for the evening, I would feel horrible if they were both sleeping and I disturbed them.

Well, not horrible, but I knew what it was like to be woken in the midst of dreams and it was not a very fun experience.

By the time I got to his building, the bottoms of my feet were black and it was nearly ten after eleven. Cursing fluently under my breath, I punched in the key code on the number pad - Lily had told me the combination earlier in the evening - and let myself in. It was only after four flights of stairs (naturally, the lift was out of service) that I made it to his door, the stitch in my side searing brilliantly.

I knocked on the door several times, but there was no answer. Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I mulled over my options. I could stand outside and keep knocking or I could do as I did before and just let myself in. The thing was, there were several problems with the latter option. With my luck, I would walk in on something that would scar me for the rest of my life - or just really piss me off. In the end, my anxiety won out and I tested the doorknob, surprised to see that it yielded under my hand.

The flat was dark, save for the bluish light coming from the television set in the corner. Well, there went the walking-in-on-something-scarring worry. I tried to be as quiet as possible as I shut the door behind me and tip-toed into the flat, nearly tripping over toys and several pairs of shoes on my way in. I wandered to the back of the flat first, checking the small office where an infant’s cot was set up first and then drifting to James’ bedroom. It felt odd, walking through his flat and meandering into his bedroom, especially since I had never been in there before. It felt like I was invading his privacy which, upon reflection, I suppose I was. So instead of poking and prodding around, I gave the room a quick once-over before deciding it was empty and returning to the living area.

And had the wind knocked right out of me by some invisible force.

There, stretched out on the sofa was James, who appeared to be sleeping. Resting flat on James’ chest on his belly was Jack, his mouth opened in a small ‘O’ and podgy fist clutching one of his father’s fingers. The flood of tears to my eyes was so instantaneous that several slipped out before I could stop them. I swiped at them angrily, though I felt no anger at all. No, the only emotions I felt was the tremendous weight of guilt and, surprisingly, affection.

They looked so perfect, so natural, lying there together that I didn’t want to disturb them. I didn’t want to ruin the scene that I shouldn’t have been intruding upon in the first place. This was their moment to share, not mine, yet there I was, standing at the mouth of the small hall with a dumbfounded expression my face, my heart swelling with pride and unabashed love.

This is what our life should have been. This is how things were supposed to play out. It wasn’t supposed to be such a tangled mess, an obscure web of hidden feelings and suppressed memories. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, yet it was, and I had no one to thank but myself.

I wiped away the remaining tears, still staring at them and trying to decide what to do. A large part of me told me to leave it alone and go home, I could always come back in the morning to collect him. But the other part of me - the heinously selfish part - wanted to take Jack home in hopes that James would follow. It was ridiculous and stupid, which is why I stood there for several more minutes, silent as the grave as I contemplated my next course of action.

Sometime during my contemplation, Jack must have sensed my presence or perhaps he woke on his own, hungry as always, and began to stir. Before he could make too much noise and wake James, I crept round the sofa and gently eased him off James’ chest. Once I held him in my arms, I froze, waiting for James to open his eyes and overreact as he always did when roused from sleep. But he didn’t wake, merely wrinkled his nose.

I sighed in relief and glanced down at Jack, who had fallen back to sleep. Silently counting my blessings, I picked up the remote from the coffee table and turned off the television. Perhaps it was the loss of light, but for some reason, my turning off the telly caused James to stir in much the same fashion as Jack had, a low groan escaping his throat.

He groggily opened his eyes before I could tip-toe away. “M-Mara?” he mumbled, his voice heavy with exhaustion.

I didn’t shush him. I didn’t even steal away as quickly as I could. I did something else entirely.

I bent down and pressed the lightest of kisses to his incredibly warm lips. A million and one sensations thudded through my body in time with my heart, and I could barely control the oncoming wave of tears. Before he could respond, I pulled back and headed towards the door. Just as James began to sit up, I slipped out the door and hurried down the hall, pausing by the broken lift to Apparate away.



A/N: Well, there’s the chapter! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you know what to do!


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