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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:
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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 1: Always Expect the Unexpected
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Prologue
Always Expect the Unexpected




Always expect the unexpected.

That’s the moral of this story.

If I had expected the unexpected, I doubt that I would be in my present situation. I wouldn’t be sitting in an uncomfortable, wooden pew in the second row behind some zany woman who thought it was a good idea to wear a peacock on her head as a hat in an old, but insatiable beautiful cathedral strewn with lavish decorations of red, white, and gold.

If I had expected the unexpected, my fists wouldn't be clenched, my fingernails wouldn’t be cutting stinging half-moons into the flesh of my palms. I wouldn’t be biting down painfully on my tongue to prevent myself from crying out, from objecting, to save my best friend from making the mistake of a lifetime - and believe you me when I say I’m an expert on the subject.

If I had expected the unexpected, I wouldn’t be doing my absolute best to keep the hot tears from spilling from my eyes. 

And just so you know, I wasn't tearing up because I’m happy for the groom, who happens to be my aforementioned best friend in the entire world. No, I was two seconds away from bursting out in tears because it’s not me standing there, looking entirely too gorgeous and skinny and blonde in an off-white wedding dress, my shaking hands holding those of the most stunning man that I’d ever met, the man I love and had loved for years.
 
If only I had expected the unexpected, it could be me up there, eyes shining with happiness and tears of joy, not bitterness and sadness, streaming down my cheeks.

But I hadn’t expected the unexpected, and because of that, I was paying the price. And oh, what a high price it was. Because I hadn't expected the unexpected, I was sitting in the uncomfortable wooden pew behind an apparently insane woman with a ridiculous hat and bemoaning all of the wrong turns my life had taken.

It’s eerie how you think you know the direction your life is going, but suddenly, it ends up doing a complete 180 and you’re veering off in the wrong direction. All it takes is one wrong turn, a little mishap and you’re done for. Everything you’ve worked so hard to build - your academic record, your career, your relationships - they all go down the tubes with one quick flick of the wrist.

If you would’ve told me three years ago that when I boarded the flight that would eventually bring me to Panama, it would be the first crack in the tightly-knit relationship I had with my best friend, I would have laughed in your face. I’d have called you delusional and politely suggested that you get yourself to St. Mungo’s as soon as wizardly possible as your head needed to be examined for damage. 

And if that didn’t work, I would have argued with you until Kingdom Come that nothing could tear James Potter and I apart, that it is possible for two members of the opposite sex to maintain a long, sturdy friendship without sexual tension ruining the friendship. After all, James and I had made it through Hogwarts relatively unscathed; the only time he’d kissed me was when we were twelve and curious as to what all the fuss was about snogging. And we’d made it to the ripe age of twenty-two before a surprise visit, too much alcohol, ranting over heartbreaks, and ripping each other’s clothes off finally caught up with us and caused this entire fiasco, for want of a better word.

I closed my eyes briefly, trying not to let the flashes of skin against skin, stolen breath after stolen breath, get to me. I wasn’t allowed to have those thoughts, especially not in the church where James Sirius Potter was getting married to a woman that definitely wasn’t me.

If only someone had been there to warn me.

- - -





A/N:Regarding this particular story. . .well, I don’t really have an excuse. I just love writing, particularly fanfics, and I’ve been dying to write a fic concerning Harry’s eldest son, so I decided to go for it. As you can see, it’s a romance, but not a necessarily happy one. If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask, though I’m sure the first real chapter will clear up a few of them.

So! That being said, REVIEW! Or you know, just anticipate the return of WIITB - it’s probably going to have a different title, by the way, I’m just searching for the perfect one. Au revoir!



Chapter 2: Frazzled
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One


I haven’t the slightest inclination as to why I’d convinced myself that it was a smart idea to travel like a Muggle.

Maybe the Panamanian heat had decided to play just one last trick on me (and believe you me, it had played many, entirely unfair tricks on me over the duration of my stay) before I departed the country forever. Or perhaps I was just concerned about the effects Apparation had on infants. There was no way I was going to take a Portkey - I could hardly stand traveling via Portkey and I was bloody experience witch, so I highly doubted that an infant would enjoy it either.

Regardless of why I’d decided to take a plane back to England, I knew now that it was probably the dumbest thing I could’ve ever done, especially since a four month old baby was my one and only carry-on.

In all honesty, it wouldn’t have been as bad if the layout of the airport wasn’t extremely confusing. You’d think that after three years in Latin America I would’ve picked up some Spanish, but aside from asking where I can find a bathroom and being able to count to thirty, I hadn’t. I knew the standard phrases for simple navigation, but I didn’t know as much as I should. It was absolute hell getting the ticket consultant behind the counter to realize that I didn’t want to go to Canada but England.

If it hadn’t been for the kind businessman with his pretty wife behind me in line, I doubted that I would’ve gotten past the ticketing booth.

“Thank you so much,” I said, hefting my bulky, heavy duffel bag onto the conveyor belt and watching it slowly disappear behind the black flaps.

“Don’t mention it,” the man replied, his voice heavily accented. I couldn’t place the accent. He looked Italian, so maybe that was it. “Do you need any help with that?” He nodded toward the large, overstuffed suitcase resting at my feet.

I considered his offer. It would certainly help and eliminate the need to set Jack’s pumpkin seat down on the less-than-clean linoleum floor. I didn’t want him to contract some crazy illness - especially since he was just so darn cute. Not that I would wish illness upon babies that weren’t cute, but he was my child. Which made him more important than others.

Dragging a hand through my hair - sweat had begun to gather at my temples in the non-air conditioned terminal and my tee shirt was clinging to my body unpleasantly - I flashed the might-be-Italian a grateful smile. “That would be wonderful.”

As he unwound his arm from his wife’s skinny waist to heave my suitcase onto the belt, the woman came forward, looking like an exotic Tahitian beauty with her waist length black hair, deeply tanned skin, and full, pouty lips. A surge of jealousy rushed through me: There was not a single drop of sweat on her. Me? I was drenched. She tossed her hair over her shoulder, leaned forward, and peered into my son’s pumpkin seat.

“How old is he?” she asked, cooing at my son. She twittered her fingers at him and made a ridiculous monkey face, pulling on her ears and puffing up her cheeks. I had to swallow the cry of protest; usually, Jack hated it when people made the monkey face at him. I learned that the hard way when he was two days old. I’d pulled the face to make him stop crying, but apparently it’d only upset him more. He’d screamed and screamed and screamed until one of the older women in the Curse Breakers Training Program, Lorraine, came into my room and soothed him.

However, when this gorgeous woman made the monkey face at him, Jack laughed.

He actually laughed.

That never happened with me.

Once again, jealousy surged through my veins, and I was sorely tempted to pout like a child, but somehow I managed to bite my tongue and swallow my pride. Her husband had been kind enough to assist me with my bags and she had made Jack laugh. If those weren’t the marks of good people, I didn’t know what were.

The exotic beauty looked up at my imploringly, a perfectly arched brow raised in polite question.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, having completely forgotten her question. I ran a hand through my quickly-tangling hair out of nervous habit and chewed on my lip, trying to remember precisely when I‘d pushed the little bugger out of my uterus. You‘d thank that would be something I could never forget, but the drugs they‘d given me during labour were really fantastic. “He’s just about four months.”

“He looks big for his age,” she commented, jiggling the finger onto which Jack’s fat fist had latched. A bright smile stretched across her lips, revealing her perfect, straight, white teeth. I placed a hand subconsciously over my mouth, hoping that her husband hadn’t seen the slight gap in my two front teeth that I’d never bothered to have fixed.

“Really?” I said after my moment of self-consciousness passed. “The Healers said that he was perfectly healthy for his age. In the upper 87 percentile of his group.” Whatever that meant - I never really followed what the Healers said, their bright green robes were too distracting and always made my eyes water. Probably not the best thing for a first-time mother to do when taking her son to check-ups, but if there was something dire about his situation, I’m sure I would be able to notice.

Hopefully.

Miss Tahiti blinked in confusion. “Healers?”

“Doctors,” I clarified, having momentarily forgotten that not everyone was magical, though it would certainly make the world a lot easier if they were.

“He’s beautiful,” she remarked in a matter-of-fact voice, her eyes shining with honesty.

I felt the heat rise to my cheeks. I knew that my eyes were shining with pride. Or maybe they were just watering again. Either way, I completely agreed with her. “I know,” I hummed in agreement.

“His father must be a real looker.”

Before my mouth could fall open in surprise (or outrage, though with me, the two were usually synonymous), the woman gave Jack a small peck on the cheek, leaving a smudge of red lipstick on his fat cheek, twittered her fingers at me, and said, “Ciao!”, and then, her hips sashaying seductively, left.

That bitch!

How dare she insult me! She didn’t even know me!

I mean, it wasn’t really an insult, seeing as how James was a ‘real looker’ as she’d put it, but did she really have to say that to my face?

Especially when I was already more self-conscious than usual about my appearance?

It wasn’t every day that I popped out a baby. I had never been much of a health fanatic, which was probably why I still had a small paunch around my mid-section and I started sweating so easily. Besides, I’d never been all that self-confident to begin with. And everyone knows that you don’t make comments like that to a woman who’s just had a baby unless her body looks like that of Cho Chang, which, obviously, mine doesn’t.

To further add to my self-pity party, I was going back to England for the first time in three years - not by choice, but because my great-grandmother was on her death bed. So it’s sufficient to say that I was already teeming on the edge of an emotional breakdown before she’d ninja-ed my brain with that comment.

Gah! I knew there was a reason why I always hated the Italian Quidditch teams - it was because they played dirty! (Not that I have anything against Italians in general, but at the moment I feel that I’m justified in my dislike for them, particularly that obnoxiously beautiful wench!)

I could feel the tears swimming in my eyes, threatening to spill down my cheeks, but somehow I managed to keep them at bay. I readjusted my grip on the plastic handle of Jack’s pumpkin seat and with a sniff, I started down the terminal, searching for the correct gate. It wasn’t until I’d found an empty seat near to our gate that Jack started crying.

With a heavy sigh, I pushed the trigger on the side of the pumpkin seat that unlocked the latch on the handlebar. Like always, I pinched my finger, yelped, and once I recovered, pushed the handlebar back. By this point in time, Jack’s cries had reached wailing status, causing several people to look at me as though I was Medusa.

Glaring at each of them in turn, silently daring them to come forward and try their empty hands at parenting, I reached into the pumpkin seat and lifted Jack out. His wails returned to cries at the sight of my face, which was comforting to know that someone appreciated the way I looked. I placed him against my chest so that his chin was resting against my shoulder and immediately began rubbing a circle into his small back with the palm of my hand. Almost instantly, his cries turned to whimpers and for some reason, that was all it took for the emotional dam to break.

And then I, as the old saying goes, began to “cry like a baby.”

- - -




I. Hated. Airplanes.

By the time we landed at Heathrow in London, I was ready to rip my hair right out of my skull.

My jaw throbbed from all the subconscious grinding my teeth had done. My brain had apparently gone MIA and an angry rhinoceros had taken its place, repeatedly smashing against the side of my skull in a vain attempt to break free. To top it all off, not only was my tee shirt clinging to my body in the most unattractive way, but the bottom portion of my hair was covered in baby vomit.

It wasn’t my horrific odor or killer migraine that had brought about my conclusion that I hated airplanes. It wasn’t the stupid in-flight movie. It wasn’t my son’s wails of fury at every dip or rise in cabin pressure. It wasn’t Jack’s hourly changing that made sleeping impossible. It wasn’t even the bad food.

Oh no, it wasn’t that at all. Sure, all of the above were incredibly annoying and frustrating and agitating and every other synonym that complied with angering, but I was able to swallow them alongside of the aspirins I took nearly every half hour. No, it was the man that Jack and I had been seated next took my annoyance with airplanes to a level of hatred so burning, even Hades couldn’t bear the heat.

His name was Tayler Wright.

He explained to me at least seven different times why his parents had chosen to spell his name with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘o’, though I hadn’t listened to any of his explanations, which was probably why he’d always said, “You look confused“ with a knowing smirk on his face and then started all over again. But this is about him being an arrogant asshole, not my attention span or apparent lack thereof.

After that, he proceeded to tell me each and every detail of his trip to Panama. It’d only been a three day excursion, but the way he described it, you would’ve thought that he’d lived there his entire life. Unfortunately for me, I asked if this was his first time leaving the country and he decided that in order for me to understand, he had to describe his childhood in full detail. This proceeded for another three or four hours or so.

At first, I thought that he was just extremely talkative and self-centered. Oh no. Those simply weren’t enough bad personality traits for Tayler-with-an-‘E’ Wright. It wasn’t until I rose from my seat, a sleeping Jack cradled in my arms, that I discovered just how much of a fucking pervert this guy was.

This is how the conversation went.

“Going to the bathroom, are you?” Tayler asked.

“Yes…why?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just going to offer my assistance. Your pipes looked a little clogged, and I figured with a little maneuvering, we’d loosen them up in a jiffy.” He winked ostentatiously.

I blinked, taken aback by his crassness.

“So what do you say? D’you want to be inducted into the Mile High Club?”

I blinked again.

“We won’t even have to turn off the lights,” he said as though he was making a generous offer. “Wouldn’t want the jelly to jiggle, would we?”

I blinked once more.

“You sure do like blinking, don’t you? Are you trying to be coy with me? Because if you are, it’s definitely working in your benefit.” He laughed.

I started to walk away.

“Wait for me to come, love! It won’t be nearly as fun unless I do!”

At this point of time, I tracked down one of the stewardesses in a desperate attempt to escape his disgusting presence, but when I asked if there were any open seats, she said that there weren’t and that I needed to return to my seat as we would be landing in London very soon. Disgruntled, I readjusted Jack in my arms and headed back toward my seat where Tayler was waiting for me.

“Ah,” he said, smirking widely. “I knew you’d come back for more - they always do.”

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but when I reached into Jack’s diaper bag, I pulled out a glass jar of the most foul smelling baby food I could find. With as mile that could rival Mother Teresa’s, I opened the jar and turned it over in his lap. I smeared the pureed food around on his shirt, but left his slacks alone - I could only imagine what he would have said to that.

A look of outrage flashed over his features. “What the hell do -”

“If you say anything to anyone,” I interrupted, dropping my voice to what I thought was a scary, intimidating level. “And I do mean anyone, you sick twist, I’ll - well I’ll cut your body off.”

“You’ll - you’ll cut my body off?” he asked, voice trembling.

Yes, I kid you not! His voice actually trembled in fear - and all because of me! Who knew I could be so terrifying!

“H-how are you going to do that?”

Oh, I hadn’t expected that. Frowning slightly, I drew upon the first answer that came to mind. “Magic,” I responded darkly. Doubt found its way onto his face, but I saw the glimmer of fear in his eyes. He wasn’t completely convinced that I wasn’t capable of magic. “Now, leave me a lone!”

Turning my back on him, I kissed Jack on the forehead then leaned over to open the window so we could observe the scenery that passed by the window quickly. The landing was jerky, but luckily Jack didn’t start crying.

Despite the fact our seats had been located near the back of the aircraft, Tayler with an ‘E’ Wright was the first passenger off the plane. I couldn’t help smirking in triumph.

It took me a few minutes to locate all of Jack’s belongings. Somewhere along the trip, he managed to wiggle his little feet out of both of his booties, dropped his ring of colourful, plastic keys on the ground, and lost my glasses. I had been so thoroughly annoyed during the flight that I scarcely noticed that my vision was blurry around the edges until one of the stewardesses asked me if I needed any assistance. When I couldn’t see her face, I realised that not only was I as blind as that one girl from that one Muggle cartoon, but my glasses had gone missing.

I found them quickly enough: they were nestled underneath Jack’s bum.

Grinning at my baby, I reached forward to tickle his cheek. “Did you help Mummy find her glasses?” I cooed in my baby voice, smoothing the wispy strands of dark brown hair out of his eyes. I dropped another kiss on his forehead. He returned the smile. I gave his small, but fat hand a squeeze, mentally comparing his smile to that of his father’s.

They were exactly the same.

“Are you ready to see Nana and Grandpa, sweetheart?” I took his newly bootied foot and kissed the delicate arch. “Because I know they’re practically bursting at the seams to see you.”

When Jack gurgled in consent, I could feel my lips stretching into a wider grin. “You wanna see Gran and Grandpa, yeah?”

He gurgled again.

“Yeah,” I said, hooking my arm through the handle of his pumpkin seat. I rose to my feet with a little difficulty. “Me too, bumpkin. Me too.”

- - -




edited 9/9/11

A/N: Thank you all so much for reviewing! I know that the prologue wasn’t very interesting, and I imagine this chapter wasn’t very exciting either, but I promise - I
promise that the excitement will start with the next chapter. I hope you all enjoyed this, and feedback would be amazing! Ciao!


Chapter 3: Welcome Home, Mara Longbottom - Chapter Two
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Chapter Two
Welcome Home, Mara Longbottom


I had never been much of a crier before I became pregnant with Jack. In fact, it was because of my sporadic crying that I figured I’d better head over to the Healing facility located on site and get myself checked out. When the Healer told me Congratulations, you’re pregnant, I started crying. When I phoned my parents to tell them that I was pregnant, I started crying. When I begged them not to tell James, I started crying - but that was partially because Granny Gus was threatening James’s life and I, being in a completely irrational state of mind, thought that she meant it.

That being said, the moment I saw my parents at the gate, I erupted into pitiful sobs. My entire body shook as I ran toward them, surprisingly agile considering the extra weight I was packing around my abdomen and the twenty plus pound baby in my arms.

As you can imagine, the scene that followed was pretty stereotypical. Well, almost. Mum and Dad hurried toward Jack and I, meeting us somewhere in the middle. If I had been expecting a bone crushing hug from my mother, I didn’t get it. She’d approached me with her arms open wide, oh yes, but her hands zoomed toward Jack, plucking him out of my arms before I even knew what was happening and hugging him greedily. I glared at the top of my son’s head jealously, which I realized only seconds later was completely ridiculous. Of course my mum wanted to see her grandson; she’d only seen him once and that was the day he’d been born. Everything else she’d seen second-hand through moving pictures.

Mum had been moving so quickly that she’d left Dad in the dust. He was slowly picking his way toward us when my mum had snatched my baby out of my hands, and now he was standing a few feet in front of me, a welcoming smile on his face.

I didn’t say anything as I launched myself at my father. Just before impact, he opened his arms to me and braced himself by planting his feet a shoulder‘s width apart, knowing that my hugs were always exuberant. As soon as my father’s arms closed around me, I felt like I was four years old again and I’d just seen my father for the first time in an entire school semester. (Of course, he was the one at Hogwarts, not me.) My excitement, my sheer joy, to see my father again after such a prolonged amount of time was indescribable. Then, it’d been only four months since I’d seen my father. This time around? It’d been nearly a year since I’d last seen him as he’d been unable to attend Jack’s birth due to his obligation to teach. He’d felt horrible and had attempted to come to Panama anyway, but I’d been adamant and insisted that he stayed in England.

Anyway, what I was trying to say was that seeing my father again, being in his comforting embrace, was exactly what I needed to calm my beyond hectic mind.

“Hullo, Mara,” he said, his voice as gentle and kind as I’d remembered it. Except the note of almost undetectable sadness behind his words. I frowned, knowing that he was still lamenting Granny Gus’s terminal illness, and hugged him tighter.

“Hi, Dad,” I whispered against his chest before pulling back to look up at him.

“You look wonderful,” he said, smoothing damp strands of orangey-red hair away from my forehead.

I snorted. “And Merlin’s mother was a goat,” I quipped, subconsciously pulling on the hem of my tee shirt.

“You know, I’ve heard some rumours about that. . .”

“Oh right!” I laughed, backing out of the embrace to smack him lightly on the arm. “I’m sure you did, Dad. Just like you swore to me when I was five that you and Aunt Luna found a real-life Crumpled Horn Snorlack.“

“We did, Mara!” Dad exclaimed, a trained expression of earnestness on his face.

By some miracle, Mum managed to stop her constant cooing at Jack to cluck her tongue at him. “Don’t go telling fibs now, Neville. You wouldn’t want your precious grandson to pick up on the habit, would you?” she joked, winking at us ostentatiously as she pressed yet another kiss to each of Jack‘s chubby cheeks. She’d coated his cheeks with so many kisses that the lipstick stain left by Miss Tahiti was nearly gone.

“Don’t waste your breath, Mum,” I muttered to myself as Dad approached his grandson for the first time. He seemed timid, almost like a father taking their newborn child from the arms of its mother to hold for the first time. Jack’s eyes grew wide as his grandfather approached, but a smile quickly spread over his small, plump lips. Mum passed Jack over to Dad, who held his grandson somewhat awkwardly, but then again, everything that Neville Longbottom ever did was awkward. As you might’ve gathered, he’d passed the trait onto me.

Merlin, I hoped to Circe that Jack had gotten the fortunate end of the gene pool, which is to say James’s end of the gene pool.

While Dad acquainted himself with my son, Mum wandered over to me. Almost immediately, I knew there was going to be trouble. For once, she had the Look on her face, the one that screamed ’Let’s have a mother-daughter heart-to-freaking-heart’. I hated that look, always had and probably always would. Like my father, I’d never been much for talking about personal matters, preferring to skip over them instead of chatting about them relentlessly to someone else; I hated feeling dependent and moody. I may have loved my mum to pieces, but she became increasingly annoying when she was trying to figure out what was bothering me. Which was exactly what she was doing.

She hugged me, squeezing me three times and whispering between each squeeze how much she’d missed me, and how she was surprised that I hadn’t owled her all that much, considering that I was a new mother and probably had dozens of questions. When her probing eyes turned to me, I simply said that I’d wanted to handle it all by myself and had been getting along just fine. Only that wasn’t the truth, and we both knew it. I’d gone to Lorraine nearly every night that first month, begging for her most trusted guidance. Most of the time, I ended up breaking down into tears and tough Lorraine caved. Besides, who could resist an infant?

However, both my mother and I decided to ignore my blatant lie. Unfortunately for me, instead of moving onto something like how the flight had been (horrible wasn’t quite the word I was looking for, but it was the only one I could think of at the moment) or if I was happy to be home (which I was), Mum flashed me another Look.

I blanched, giving another firm tug on the end of my tee shirt.

“So,” she drawled, making a show of picking at her cuticles. I hated it when she drew out her words, it always meant that she was going to ask a seriously uncomfortable question. Like the night she’d snuck into my room, sat on the edge of my bed, and asked if I’d gone all the way with my boyfriend. I had, but I told her that I wasn’t that sort of girl, and you know what she did? She laughed at me, patted me on the leg, said that I was one of the worst liars in existence, second only to my father, and then proceeded to tell me in excruciating detail what her first time had been like.

If you think it’s bad hearing it second-hand, imagine experiencing it. Yeah. It haunts me nearly every day. Or just every time she draws out her words. Like she was doing now.

“Have you heard from -”

“No, Mum,” I grounded out, my jaw having automatically clenched and my arms folding themselves over my chest. “I haven’t.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly taken by surprise. But like a dropped cat, Mum found her footing quickly. “So, you haven’t heard from Gringotts yet?” My mother was a master at feigning innocence. Perhaps that’s where I got it from.

A heavy sigh of relief passed through my lips. Initially, I’d been fearing the worst, that she was going to bring up the Unmentionable Topic - James. Ever since I discovered that I was pregnant with his child, I made my parents swear up, down, left, right, inside, and out that they would not under any circumstances tell James that he was a father. A father to my child no less. Things were complicated between us as they were, the knowledge that he’d fathered my baby would only make it worse. Not that it could possibly get any worse than it currently was, but that was irrelevant. Kinda.

“Oh, well,” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear out of habit. “I have, actually. They sent their reply last Saturday in the post.”

“And?” she asked, positively bouncing with eagerness. I heaved another sigh of relief, though this one was mental. Thank Merlin she was genuinely distracted. For now, anyway. “What’d they say?”

I couldn‘t retain my grin of pleasure. “They approved my request to take a desk job.”

“That’s wonderful, darling!” She lurched toward me, flinging her arms around my neck and choking the air from my lungs. “Neville, dear, did you hear Mara’s exciting news?”

“What news?” My father’s voice sounded oddly nasally, like someone was pinching his nose shut.

When I peered around my mother’s shoulder, I found that his nose actually was being pinched shut and that my infant son was the culprit. I stifled a laugh, hurrying over to them when I saw Jack’s chubby hand clench tighter and Dad‘s face scrunched up in pain.

“No, no, honey,” I said as I gently pried Jack’s hand away from his grandfather’s nose. “You don’t want to hurt Grampa, do you?”

Jack stuffed his fist into his mouth in response, blinking twice.

Mum laughed loudly, making Jack smile. He was only four months out of the womb, and he was already starving for attention. Merlin, he really is exactly like his father. “Oh, he’s just so cute,” she said, patting his cheek gently. “Here, love, give him to me.”

“No!” I exclaimed, a bit too forcefully. Both of my parents blinked at me in surprise. I, too, was surprised at my interjection. I hadn’t expected the sudden way of jealousy to course through me, but it had, and for some reason, I didn’t want my mother holding him. I wanted to hold Jack, wanted him nestled safely in my arms. Besides, Mum had already had her turn. I cleared my throat, blushing furiously as I attempted to recover from my very obvious fumble. “I mean, um, no, Mum, I’ll take him.” I snatched him out of my father’s grasp, holding him close. The familiar feel of Jack’s weight in my arms was wonderful.

A beat of awkward silence passed between us in which Jack continued gumming on his drool covered fingers.

“Right,” Dad began, fidgeting anxiously. “Why don’t we go down to the baggage claim and retrieve the luggage? Granny Gus is awfully eager to see the pair of you.”

Translation: He was awfully eager to get back to Granny Gus. I couldn’t say that I blamed him. I was awfully eager to see her, too, especially since this was probably one of the last days that she would be alive. The thought sent an icy stab through my heart, one that I tried to shake.

“That sounds like a novel idea, Dad,” I said, smiling softly at him when his eyes met mine. Inwardly, I was thankful for the distraction, knowing that the sudden shift in topic had not only diverted Mum’s attention away from my peculiar reaction, but from her real reason for asking about Gringotts. “Lead the way.”

- - -


When we pulled up to the house, my heart fluttered with joy. It’d been much too long since I’d seen the quaint house on the outskirts of the village of Ottery St. Catchpole. It’d been much too long since I’d roamed the high, grassy fields surrounding the house. It’d been much too long since. . .well, since I’d felt so at ease. Suddenly, I was a carefree teenager again. I had a near-perfect life: I was thin, I was graduating soon, and I had a best mate I’d know since birth and I most certainly did not have a baby whose father was said best friend. When I stepped out of the car, I very nearly sprinted into the backyard to see if the begonias had bloomed yet when I realized, quite suddenly, that I couldn’t just run off because I did have a baby whose father was my best friend (or former best friend) and I had already graduated and, with a disappointed glance down at the waistband of my jeans, I was not thin.

My smile immediately turned into a frown as I hoisted my duffel bag out of the trunk.

“Are you a witch or not?” Dad asked. At my confused look, he pulled his wand out of his pocket and gestured toward the bags in the trunk. With an over exaggerated flick, the bags sailed out of the back of the car and zoomed toward the house. “Ringing any bells?” His smile was lopsided.

“Oh,” I muttered, blushing once again. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’m just -”

“Distracted. I know, dear,” he said soothingly. “You have been ever since we picked you up. But not to worry - you’ve got more than your fair share to be distracted by.” He patted my hand, and I smiled at him. “Go on, love. Go on into the house. I’ll get the rest.”

“Are you sure?”

“D’you want your son to fall prey to his grandmother’s hands?”

With that terrible thought in mind, I sprinted toward the front door, yelling, “Mum, no! I mean - er - wait for me, Mum!”

Halfway up the gravel path, she stopped and turned, sending me a very quizzical look. “Where’s the fire, love?” she chuckled, shifting Jack in her arms.

I flinched instinctively when she shifted him. My hands itched to reach out for him, to snatch him out of her arms and cling to him for dear life. It wasn’t like Mum was a senior citizen. Hell, she was only forty-five, if I remembered correctly, but still. Older women didn’t ingest nearly as much calcium as they should in one day, so her bones were probably starting to become brittle, and if she shifted his weight incorrectly, her hip would pop out of socket and they would fall to the ground. Which meant that my baby would get injured. I couldn’t have that.

I said the words before I could stop myself. “Mum, don’t!”

“Don’t what?” Her eyes drilled holes into mine.

I swallowed, my tongue suddenly incredibly thick. “Um.” I chewed on my bottom lip nervously, trying to conjure something to say.

Something must’ve flashed across my face or in my eyes, because suddenly my mother had a knowing look on her face. She laughed. “Mara, honey, I know that you’re anxious and all, but really, there’s no need for you to worry. I’ve handled babies before, and I promise that I’ll be extra special with him.” She pressed a kiss to his temple as proof.

“Anxious? Worried?” I snorted, flinging my hair over my shoulder in an attempt to seem casual. “Who said anything about being anxious or worried? I was just going to say that - er - Jack probably needed his nappy changed. I hadn’t been able to change it for a while.”

She eyed me curiously before shrugging to herself. “Why don’t you help your father with the luggage? He probably needs some -”

“He’s got it under control, Mum,” I said somewhat impatiently. I took a step toward her, my arms outstretched toward my son.

She backed away from me, smirking widely. “Then why don’t you go lie down? I’ll make sure that Jack gets changed and settled. He’ll probably need a bottle too, won’t he?” Something sparkled in her eyes, but the fear gripping my insides was too intense for me to care.

“Yeah, he does. And I’ll do it.”

“No, no. It’d be stupid for you to do it. You’re probably exhausted, sweetheart. Besides, you’ll want a hot shower before supper, won’t you?”

I frowned at this. What she implying that I smelled? “Yes, but -”

“But what, honey?” A teasing note had taken residence in her voice, and I knew that she was taunting me, waiting for me to crack. Which, of course, I did.

“But I don’t want you to do it!”

“And why not?” She shifted Jack to her other hip and laughed loudly when I jumped.

“Because you’ll do it wrong!”

“Believe it or not, but I actually know how to care for babies, Mara. You were a baby once, you know. Still are sometimes,” she added as an afterthought, smiling sweetly when I grimaced at her.

I sighed heavily, pushing a hand through my limp hair. “But what if you do it wrong?” I asked, my voice a mixture of genuine concern and pathetic whining.

“Well, didn’t you do it wrong at first, Mara?”

I blinked at her, considering her words. After letting their weight settle, I shrugged. “Maybe,” I answered uneasily.

“Then just like you, I’ll learn from my mistakes.” She turned her back to me and walked inside the house, cooing to Jack.

As she disappeared into the recesses of the house, I couldn’t help but snort in derisive laughter. Me, learning from my mistakes? Ha! That was funny. I think Jack was proof enough that I didn’t learn from my mistakes; James and I had slept together more than once that week he’d come to visit me in Panama.

- - -


It was eerie how easily we settled in. For once, Mum didn’t linger in my room. She didn’t situated herself on the foot of my bed, her penetrating gaze following me as I removed my clothes from my suitcase and put them in their rightful place. She didn’t lean in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest, and ask me uncomfortable questions. And thankfully, she didn’t lay a hand on Jack aside from laying him down on the mattress.

As soon as she left, the paranoia that he was going to roll off the bed and somehow shatter his skull into a thousand pieces nagged at my mind. As I unpacked, I kept glancing over my shoulder at him. He hardly moved as he was much too fascinated with the drool on his balled fist. Every noise that I didn’t make caused me to jump and/or yelp and hurry over to Jack, saying something along the lines of, “are you okay, sweetheart?” and I proceeded to check over every inch of him to make sure that he wasn’t damaged.

He wasn’t, of course, but I still had to check. Besides, it was a long drop to the floor and I didn’t want his brain to become addled.

By the time I finished unpacking all of our clothes and rearranged furniture and the like in order to accommodate the new addition in my room - Jack, of course -, Mum had already laid out dinner. I gathered Jack up in my arms and carried him down the stairs, careful to take one at a time instead of my usual two. I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw when I set foot in the living room.

“Oh, you guys, you shouldn’t have.”

Really, they shouldn’t have. My parents had gone through the trouble of spreading blankets across the living room floor and bringing down all of my old toys from the attic. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful gesture, but Jack was nearly asleep, the flight having exhausted the both of us. Unlike him, I didn’t have the luxury of passing out whenever the mood struck me.

“It was the least we could do for him, Mara,” Mum said as she eased Jack from my arms and laid him out on the blankets. “He might be sleepy now, but he’ll wake up eventually and want something to do.”

“I dunno about that - he seems pretty entertained in his fists at the moment,” I commented.

My parents exchanged a confused look, but instead of making an inquisition, Dad simply said, “Dinner’s ready.”

It almost felt like old times save for the fact that one very unmistakable person was missing from the scene - Granny Gus. My heart skipped a beat when I glanced across the table at her empty seat, knowing that if she was sitting at the table, she would’ve been giving me hell about marrying James.

Unlike my parents, she didn’t think that it was right for me to have a child out of wedlock and not be married to his father. I’d received one too many owls from her saying that when she was well enough she was going to hunt James down, wring his scrawny little neck for not giving a damn about his own child, and then demand that he make an honest woman of me. For some reason, instead of pissing me off, her letters made me laugh. I’d half-expected Dad to react the way Granny Gus had, but he’d been surprisingly cool about the entire thing. Most fathers would’ve exploded in rage and threatened death to the human being that dared to impregnate a woman and then leave her. Of course, it might’ve been because I’d told them that James had absolutely no idea that I was pregnant with his child and I wanted to keep it that way; that this was my choice, keeping it from him. As I’ve said once before, if James knew that Jack existed, it would only further complicate things between us.

Though dinner was delicious, I found that I was unable to fully appreciate the meal. And it seemed like I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Both Mum and Dad kept glancing at her vacant seat, and there wasn’t much conversation between the three of us. We briefly discussed my new position at Gringotts, which made my entire trip to Panama pointless. I’d been sent to Latin America, particularly areas that were dense with ancient runes (admittedly, Panama was a pretty shitty location given that the majority of the Aztec and Mayan runes were elsewhere, but it was “centrally located” and supposedly lodging rates were much cheaper) by Gringotts for training - I was going to be a Curse Breaker for the wizarding bank, but then I got pregnant. And everything went from inescapably clear to impossibly cloudy in one fell swoop.

“How do you feel about it?” Dad asked between bites of potato.

I shrugged my shoulders, spooning a mouthful of peas into my mouth. “I guess it’s all right. I mean, it’s a desk job. How much fun can that be?”

“You never know, Mara,” Mum said. “You could end up meeting Mr. Right.”

I inhaled sharply, causing the half-chewed peas in my mouth to launch themselves down my throat, banging against my esophagus. Dad was the first to react, clearing my clogged throat with a quick flick of his wand. Coughing, I reached for my glass of water, chugging it down.

Mum was startled, her widened eyes clearly showing her alarm. “What did I say?” She turned to my dad, concerned. “Did I say something wrong?”

“I’ve told you to stop pestering her about that, Hannah.”

“Pestering her about what? I wasn’t pestering her, Neville.”

“About finding a husband. If she wants to get married, she’ll get married.”

“No,” I interrupted quickly, seeing as how Mum had wiped her mouth on her napkin and was leaning toward Dad, her index finger threatening to wag. “No, Mum, it wasn’t that. You - you just said something funny, is all.”

They blinked at me, obviously confused and looking for clarification. I took another swig of water, cleared my throat, and explained about my encounter with Tayler with an ‘E’. Of course, I left out the sexual harassment, knowing that Mum would’ve launched herself out of her seat and called the airline to complain. Not that they could do anything about a perverted customer.

Mum was asking why he spelt his name was an ‘E’ instead of an ‘O’ when a letter shot out of the fireplace and hit Dad in the back of the head. Dad toppled backward in his chair, Mum leapt up onto her chair, and I shrieked, which woke Jack from his peaceful slumber. Almost immediately, he started wailing, his cries practically shaking the house. I bolted out of my chair and dashed over to him, dropping onto my knees beside him. I picked him up and began to soothe him, kissing his head and whispering that everything was going to be okay, that Mummy was just frightened because Grampa and Gran were frightened.

“Neville? Darling, what’s wrong?”

Mum’s voice sounded oddly panicked. I rose to my feet as swiftly as I could with a still-crying baby in my arms. My eyes immediately focused on my father, who’d opened the letter. His face was devoid of all expression and his eyes were hollow as he looked up at the both of us. I knew what had happened before he even said it.

“Gran’s dead.”

But my heart still sank nonetheless.

- - -


A/N: I know that JKR never confirmed if Neville had any children or not (at least as far as I'm aware), but I took the liberty to assume that he did, thus explaining Mara's existence. And yes, she's an only child.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed! I’m really starting to get into this story, particularly all of the characters, and I have you to thank for that. I know that I promised something interesting would happen in this chapter and though it probably wasn’t what you expected, I hope that I haven’t failed you too miserably. And I promise that next chapter, James will
finally make his appearance! Along with a few other characters, some which you might recognize and others that you might not. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away and I’ll respond to the best of my ability!

Thanks for reading, everyone! It’s you that makes the difference!



Chapter 4: Eloquence is Difficult to Come By - Chapter Three
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Chapter Three
Eloquence is Difficult to Come By


The only funerals I’d ever attended were those of people I didn’t even know. They were friends and colleagues of my parents that had either passed on due to some freak accident, which were very common in the wizarding world, or they had finally succumbed to old age. I couldn’t cry for those people, not because I didn’t want to, rather because I had no idea what sort of person they’d been while living. Were they kind-hearted and gentle or were they completely assholes who treated their loved ones like shit? I wasn’t about to ask their remaining relatives, if they had any, if their recently deceased family member had possessed any undesirable character traits that might cast them in a bad light, that would be rude.

It sounds heartless of me, but I couldn’t mourn for someone I hardly knew.

But this time?

This time was much different from one very obvious reason: I was burying my great-grandmother. Since my grandparents were, to put it simply, insane and hadn’t the slightest inclination as to who I was, Granny Gus had taken over as both grandmother and grandfather, playing both roles with startling expertise. She was tough when it was necessary, and incredibly kind at others, but one thing remained constant: She was always brutally honest.

Out of everything, I would miss her brutal honesty the most. Who would tell me when I was acting like a fool? Who would tell me when I looked like a prostitute in the skirt I was wearing? Who would tell me that I was entirely too dim-witted for my own good to see that I had a good thing in front of me?

The thought seared painfully at my mind, eating away at my already tattered and confused thoughts. For the last week, things had been depressing. Dad hadn’t spoken a single word since he’d announced that Granny Gus had died and Mum refused to leave his side. Therefore, I was the one who had to go down to St. Mungo’s to identify her body. Though she hadn’t been murdered or killed in a freak accident, they still wanted to make sure they had the right patient. I hadn’t prepared myself for the revealing of her remains. My heart had stopped beating and my breath had caught in my throat. The tears fell unbidden from my eyes, and I found that I couldn’t speak when the Healers asked me if it was Augusta Longbottom. So I nodded my head and bolted out of the room as fast as I could in search for the nearest loo, where I stumbled into a stall and vomited up my dinner of steak, baked potatoes, and peas.

In death, Granny Gus looked nothing like herself. Opposed to her vivacious and occasionally rough self, she was dull and lifeless. Her deeply wrinkled skin was oddly limp against her face, too pale in the harsh glow of the overhead lights. She was skinnier than I remembered, but then again, I hadn’t seen Granny Gus in nearly three years. The only thing that hadn’t changed about her, even in death, was the customary downturn of her mouth, though there was no faint hint of amusement in the line of her lips - they were as stiff as can be.

I shook my head, blinking myself back into the present. Today was the day of Granny Gus’s funeral, the day I would bury my first loved one. Tears pricked the backs of my eyes again for the umpteenth time since I’d woken up, and I made a quick swipe at them. I didn’t want either of my parents to see me crying - I’d refused to cry in their presence since Granny Gus had died. For one, I didn’t want Dad to see me upset as it would only make him more upset than he already was, and two, Mum would abandon her ever-watchful eye on Dad and seek to comfort me, but he needed it much more than I did.

Besides, I had Jack. Holding him close to my chest, feeling his small heart beating against mine, made everything feel much better, though I wasn’t entirely sure why.

Regardless, I was thankful for it.

Which was probably why I was holding him now.

I was standing in front of my full-length mirror, grimacing at how big my hips looked in the black pencil skirt I’d dredged up from the bottom of one of my drawers. It was so tight around my hips that I’d had to leave one of the buttons undone just so I could breathe comfortably. If that wasn’t enough to make a woman feel overweight, I honestly didn’t know what was. Of course, the skirt was probably tighter than normal because it was nearly six years old - the last time I’d worn it, I was seventeen and graduating from Hogwarts. But it was the only black skirt I had and while I could’ve purchased a new one, I simply didn’t have the energy to make a trip to the store, what with caring for Jack and making sure that my parents remembered to eat in their comatose states.

“It‘s not that bad, is it, love?” I asked, rocking back and forth as I peered down at him. Jack’s hazel eyes glittered with their usual mischief, but his face was that of adorable confusion. Yet another trait he’d received from his father. At least he didn’t look like me when he was confused, which was one of stubborn constipation. Or so I had been told.

I sighed, shifting Jack around in my arms to look at myself properly. “Well, I suppose it could be worse. I could look like a walrus.”

Jack gurgled, which I viewed as a sign of approval. Or disapproval. At times point, however, it really didn’t matter. I kissed him on the temple, grabbed his bag off the end of the bed, and headed downstairs where my parents were waiting. Dad had dressed himself in his best suit and was standing in front of Mum, who was combing his hair with meticulous precision. I tried to be as quiet as possible when descending the stairs so I wouldn’t burst their serene bubble, but like always, the third step from the bottom creaked obnoxiously, startling both of my parents. I cursed the step; it’d gotten me in more trouble over the years than it was worth.

“Hey,” I greeted awkwardly as they whirled around to find the source of the sudden sound.

“Good morning, Mara,” Dad said, speaking directly to me for the first time since Granny Gus’s death. “I trust you slept well?”

I shrugged. “As well as one can sleep on the eve of a funeral.”

His smile was tight-lipped, but it was a smile nonetheless. It was enough for me.

Mum’s greeting on the other hand wasn’t nearly as nice. “Are you really wearing that skirt?” she asked sceptically.

I glanced down at my bottom half self consciously, further examining myself. “It’s the only one I have,” I offered weakly, feeling like a child who’d dressed herself for the very first time. I knew I should’ve went for the black dress pants.

She gave me a very critical, very slow once over. “Well,” she breathed resignedly after a few moments, tucking flyway strands of strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. “I suppose it’ll do.”

I bit my tongue to prevent myself from lashing out at her. She wasn’t the one who’d just had a baby, was she? She wasn’t the one who’d left the semi-comfortable life she’d established in Panama for one of disorder and death, was she? Of course, these were both totally irrational questions, which I realised about two seconds before I was going to blurt them out and thus prevented myself from saying them. Once again, I blamed the hormones - or more precisely, the chaotic mess of my emotions.

“Well, I think you look lovely,” Dad remarked.

I beamed at him. “Thank you, Dad. You look rather dashing yourself.” I nodded at his three piece black suit and smart, pinstriped tie.

He lifted his shoulder, a sheepish smile on his humble face. Good Merlin, this was the most emotion I’d seen from him in over a week and quite frankly, it was a bit alarming how at ease he suddenly seemed. “It’s the least I could do.”

It wasn’t until we were leaving the house that I noticed the half-empty bottle of Relaxing Potion on the kitchen table and the silver spoon resting beside it.

- - -


We were in the Ministry-provided car when it happened - my epiphany of sorts.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t so much of an epiphany as it was a startling realization.

My heart stopped beating, and my throat went dry. I gasped at the sudden lack of oxygen circulating to my brain and did the unthinkable - I launched myself out of the comfortable leather seat and beat my fist against the magically reinforced glass that separated the front of the vehicle from the back.

“Pull over!” I commanded.

“What?” Mum and Dad exclaimed in completely bafflement. “Why?”

“Just do it!”

The driver looked in the rear view mirror, his brown eyes wide with fright. He looked torn, like he was trying to decide the best course of action. Should he listen to the crazy lady in the back seat or should he continue on to the funeral parlour? After all, he’d made a promise to his employer, and it wasn’t every day that a regular Ministry driver like Mitchell Ricks was asked by the Boy Who Lived himself to escort a “close family friend” to a funeral. But still, Harry Potter had stressed that the grieving family receive whatever they wished, and if this mental woman wanted him to pull over, well, he ought to do it.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this, so when the car started slowing down, I thought it was my assertive demanding that had caused the driver to obey, not his obligation to the Boy Who Lived.

I was halfway out of the car before we even came to a stop. The toe of my simple black shoes got caught on the edge of the curb, making me stumble, but I caught myself before I could tumble to the ground completely. Ignoring the stinging sensation on the palms of my hands, I scrambled over the cement and found the nearest shrub to vomit on.

“Mara?” Mum called out, her voice coloured with concern. “Are you alright?”

When I opened my mouth to speak, a fresh wave of vomit surged up my throat and I had to duck my head again to avoid showing my mother my partial digested breakfast. I grimaced as my stomach gave another heave, but thankfully it was a dry one. My stomach was empty of all contents, which reduced the chance of me succumbing to a bout of illness during the eulogy.

The car door slammed and her heels clicked against the pavement as she approached. Mum grabbed me by the shoulders and straightened me out from my doubled-over position. She clicked her tongue in dismay, pulled her wand out of her pocket, and waved it at my face. I blinked stupidly as I was utterly dumbfounded.

Mum tried to again. “What’s wrong, Mara? Why’d you leave the car?”

“I felt sick,” I answered.

“Obviously,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “I meant to say why’d you feel sick? Did you eat meat for breakfast?” The concern evaporated from her voice as she switched from her comforting mode to her scolding mode. “Because if you did, I distinctly remember telling you not to; it’s no secret that you can’t cook and you probably undercooked -”

“No, Mum,” I interrupted, tugging at the sleeve of my dark blue blouse. “I didn’t eat any meat for breakfast - I had hot cereal, remember? I asked you if you wanted any, but you never replied.”

“Oh,” Mum said, tilting her head to the side. “Sorry about that. I was too distracted with your - oh! Nice try, Mara Francis Longbottom!”

Shit, she’d caught onto what I was trying to do.

Once again, my attempts to distract my mother were slashed to ribbons by her oddly perceptive mind. Or maybe it was her extra-special skill in putting her nose where it doesn’t belong. Also, I hated it when she used my middle name. If Mara Francis Longbottom wasn’t a name, I couldn’t imagine what was. (Aside from the obvious, of course: I think that both Albus and that Malfoy boy that Rose was dating - was she still dating him or not; I wasn’t entirely sure - had had more than their fair share of ridicule for their names.)

“Now, tell me what’s wrong before we’re late to your grandmother’s funeral,” she ordered, leaving no room for argument. During her years at Hogwarts, Hannah Abbott might’ve passed under the radar as a nice, pleasant girl, and she still was, the only difference was that motherhood (especially being a mother to a daughter like me) had given her a backbone. And a surprisingly strong one too.

I considered breaking down into tears, which I was on the brink of doing, especially having just realized what I had just realized, but I knew it would be stupid to go into the funeral crying - I’d be sniffling like a maniac before the service even began, which was something I was trying to avoid for as long as possible. So instead I did something entirely uncharacteristic of me: I didn’t stall, rather got straight to the point.

“There’s a rather large possibility that James will be at the funeral, Mum, and I’m scared shitless to see him. I haven’t seen him since. . .well, you know, and I don’t know how I’m going to react to seeing him again. What if I let something slip? What if we’re in the middle of one of those awkward-getting-reacquainted conversations and when he asks me how I’ve been, I’m all ‘Well, for one, I had your baby. . .’ Or worse yet, what if he guesses that he is Jack’s father? I mean, I know that James isn’t exactly a potions mater, but he can put a Quaffle and a broomstick together and come up with a sensible explanation as to why exactly 13 months after we last saw each other I have a four month old baby in my arms and an extra fifteen pounds around my waist!”

Mum stared at me as if I’d grown another head. Like the driver, she looked torn between placing a hand on my shoulder reassuringly or high-tailing it back to the car and telling the driver to take off, to leave me, Crazy-Cakes, behind. I wouldn’t blame her if she did the latter; I know I would if I were in her position.

“Um. . ., well,” she dragged her tongue across the top row of her teeth, her one and only anxious tick. “I’m sure he won’t be able to attend; keep in mind that his Quidditch schedule is very, very busy and I’m not even sure that he’s back from Bulgaria. . .or was it Albania? Or did Ginny say that he was away in Turkey? I can‘t remember. . .” She shook her head to herself, shook away her self-distraction. “As I was saying - should he appear at the funeral, which I highly doubt he will. . .well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, sweetie.”

I stared at her, my eyes wide with incredulity. This had never happened to me before, my mother always had a plan. She was the rock, the one who always thought ahead and packed the Doxie repellent. She wasn’t supposed to say what she’d just said - she was supposed to be reliable!

“So. . .you don’t have a plan?” I asked, wincing in anticipation of her response.

“Not really,” she answered bluntly. “But if by some freak chance he is there, I’ll just stick by your side the entire time and pinch you if you’re about to say anything stupid. How does that sound, love?”

“It sounds like a plan that’s destined for failure.”

She snorted, waving a dismissive hand at me. “Those are your nerves talking, Mara. Everyone gets nervous at the potential prospect of running into an ex.”

“For the love of Agrippa, he’s not my ex!” I exclaimed in exasperation. “We never dated nor did we break up, therefore he is not, I repeat, not my ex!”

Mum rolled her eyes and sighed. “I think the status of your relationship with James at the time of Jack’s conception is the least of your worries - you are burying your grandmother today.”

She was right. As per usual. I should be recalling all of the fond memories I had with Granny Gus, not fretting over the possibility of running into James at her funeral. Sure, it was an intimidating thought, one that had made me order a Ministry driver to pull over so I could vomit all over a bush, but it was nowhere near as depressing as the thought of burying my grandmother.

With one simple statement, my nerves had gone from haywire to practically nonexistent. Now, a knot of sadness was twisting my insides around uncomfortably, the backs of my eyes prickling with a round of fresh tears. I think it’s sufficient to say that I was completely sobered up in a non-alcoholic drink sort of way.

Mum put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. I covered her hand with my own and intertwined our fingers.

“Ready to get back in the car?” she questioned softly, her blue eyes glittering with unshed tears.

I nodded, knowing that words would fail me, and followed my mother’s lead into the car.

- - -


I’m a horrible person.

A horrible person with a terribly short attention span, especially when it comes to paying attention to long-winded speeches.

Of course, the small wizard standing at the podium was delivering my grandmother’s eulogy, and I knew that I should be paying rapt attention, that tears should be streaming steadily down my cheeks as I listened intently, but I wasn’t. In fact, I’d tuned out the wiry-haired man almost as soon as he started talking; his voice was extremely nasally and he used too many superfluous adjectives to describe Granny Gus’s character when she could’ve been summed up in one: Honest.

She was brutally and wonderfully honest, not “genuine“ or “honourable” or “benevolent“ or “captivating“. Not all at once anyway. Sure, she had her moments of compassion and sincerity, but for the most part, she spoke her mind regardless of how spearing her words could be. She didn’t care if people thought she was deluded or conceded or offensive; if you didn’t like what she had to say, you ought to get a stronger spine and not take things so personally.

I found myself rolling my eyes despite myself, and Mum dug her sharp elbow into my side several times when I snorted in derisive laughter. There was little to no doubt in my mind that the man at the podium delivering the eloquent but entirely incorrect eulogy had never encountered my grandmother or, if he had, it must’ve been the day after the end of the Second War, when Granny Gus was so high on her pride for my father’s heroic actions, she’d made amends with Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.

It didn’t cross my mind until three-fourths of the way through his speech that the man at the podium was actually the same man who’d married Teddy and Victorie three days before I left for Panama; James had been my date for the wedding, escorting me down the aisle on the crook of his arm. I had to beat the memories of the balmy summer evening away from my head forcefully, knowing fully well that if I didn’t, I’d be lost forever and quite frankly, I didn’t want to forget my own grandmother’s funeral.

However, by the time I managed to clear my mind of all distractions, the wizard had finished delivering his speech and the organist began playing a mournful tune. Dad rose to his feet slowly, a solemn expression on his starch-white face as he shuffled out of the pew. He held a single peony in his hand; peonies were Granny Gus’s favourite flower. Mum was quick to follow him, but I had a little more difficulty. Adjusting a sleeping Jack in my stiff arms, I held him awkwardly against my body as I walked in my mother’s footsteps, moving closer to my grandmother’s coffin with each and every step.

When I was a few feet away, my throat closed up and tears, hot and salty, sprang into my eyes. I didn’t bother trying to wipe them away. By the time I reached her open coffin, the steady stream of tears that had been decidedly absent from my face during the wizard’s eulogy made a startling comeback. I glanced into her coffin, taking in her heavily lined face and the light blue shadow the mortician had painted across her eyelids. My stomach spasmed as a raw sob tore through me; Dad draped his arm over my shoulder and led me away from the coffin before I broke down completely.

I thanked him for it despite the fact I knew I would only succumb to even fiercer sobs the moment her body was lowered into the ground.

I was right.

- - -


By the time we made it back to the Scamanders’ home - Aunt Luna had been kind enough to offer to host the memorial-of-sorts so that we wouldn’t have people trampling through the house and making a mess of the place - I could hardly breathe through my nose, it was so stuffy from all of the crying I’d done today. I couldn’t even begin to count the mind-boggling amount of tissues I’d used to blow my nose, but I was willing to bet it was somewhere in the high thirties to low forties.

Crumpling the soiled tissue in my hand, I tossed it into the wastebasket beside my feet, wondering if someone could die from blowing their nose so much. The skin underneath my nose was rubbed raw and probably one of the least attractive sights in the room - well, aside from the disastrous hat some blonde woman in the corner was wearing. I hadn’t seen her face, but I doubted that she could be all that pretty with such a massive hat. Granny Gus probably would’ve liked it, though; she had a thing for big, hideous hats.

For the past twenty minutes, I’d been sitting by myself in an armchair in the small sitting room that was connected to the main living area by an archway, my legs pulled up against my chest. Mum had taken Jack upstairs to change his nappy and hadn’t returned. It was more than likely that she was prowling through the house, showing Jack off to anyone who was willing to listen to her spiel about how her grandson was the best infant in the history of infants, even though he’d spent the entire trip to Aunt Luna’s house screaming his little lungs out.

I exhaled heavily, letting my head fall back against the over-padded chair. I closed my puffy eyes, hoping to catch a moment’s peace. Today had been incredibly exhausting, but I figured that it could have always been worse - James could’ve been present. The rest of the Potters had attended, both Harry and Ginny approaching me as soon as they arrived to offer their condolences. When they noticed the baby in my arms, they immediately started asking questions, firing them at me as well as my parents: Why hadn’t they been told that I was pregnant? That I’d had a baby? How old was he? What was his name?

It was enough to make my head spin out of control. Thankfully, Mum quickly intervened, coming up with one of the most wild and outrageous lies I’d ever heard. Apparently, my relationship with my son’s father had ended very badly, which was just one of the many reasons why I had been hesitant to tell everyone that I had a child.

“Despite the numerous social advances in the wizarding world following Voldemort’s defeat,” my mother had said, lying through her teeth as perfectly as a sociopath would, “many witches and wizards held onto the beliefs of old: Conception outside of marriage was unacceptable, a black mark on an otherwise clean record, and if it did occur, marriage much swiftly follow.

Ginny had laughed, tossing her head of bright red-gold hair back and her shoulders shaking. “I understand your concern, but how could you think that we would care about something like that, Mara?” she’d asked me, tilting her head to the side and gazing at me curiously down her slim nose. “After all these years of knowing you?”

Her words had been enough to bring a fresh batch of tears to my already cried-out eyes, which is when I excused myself to the sitting room. I was halfway through the doorway when Mum gently eased Jack out of my arms and assured me that he would be taken impeccable care of.

Thankfully, that was the only awkward encounter I’d had thus far, but I wasn’t about to count my dragons before they hatched. With my luck, people would find my hiding place and despite the fact my grandmother had just died, they would hound me with questions regarding my training in Panama and, most importantly, the sudden appearance of a child. However, I figured that I had another half an hour to myself before one of the more curious members of the Potter-Weasley clan made their way over to me. And since I hadn’t gotten much sleep and had just spent the better part of an hour crying every ounce of moisture out of my body, I was going to nap.

Shifting in a vain attempt to make myself comfortable in the squished armchair, I allowed my thoughts to drift off into memories I hadn’t taken the time to relive in a long time. Most of them concerned Granny Gus. One such memory was the evening in which my parents had tagged along with the Scamanders for some formal event where Uncle Rolf was the recipient of yet another aware concerning his completely bizarre, but relevant research.

Aunt Luna and Uncle Rolf had dropped off their twin boys, Lorcan and Lysander, who were two years younger than me, at our house so that Granny Gus could watch all three of us and spare the Scamanders the cost of a babysitter. I was only seven at the time and had been extremely hesitant to spend an entire night with Granny Gus and the Scamander twins, especially since they were notorious for being rotten little boys. I had been expecting an evening of vegetable-filled dinner, a lukewarm bath, and then straight to be, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. Granny Gus taught the three of us how to play various wizard card games, including Exploding Snap and Hippogriffs, which I still didn’t understand, and regaled us with stories our parents’ bravery during the Second War.

It was one of my fondest memories, but not because Granny Gus was the main figure - no, it was the note of pride in her voice as she spoke of my father that made me recall the memory so perfectly.

A doleful sigh passed through my lips as I struggled to make myself comfortable in the armchair. I was so distracted with finding the most desirable position in which I could take my nap that I didn’t even sense the presence of another figure in the sitting room with me. Even if I had, I doubted that I would’ve assumed it was him. After all, Harry had told Dad that it wasn’t very likely that James would be able to attend, but he offered his deepest condolences nonetheless. There were no words that could adequately explain my relief at Harry’s words.

Unfortunately, Harry had been dead wrong.

“Hey,” a warm, albeit slightly rough voice said from somewhere to my left.

My mind instantly recognized his aching familiar voice and my stomach felt as though I’d just swallowed a mouthful of foul Hangover Potion.

Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!

There was no way he had managed to find me.

There was no way he was actually here.

Despite the fact I was ordering them to remain closed, my eyes opened and I looked to my left. He wasn’t there, so I looked to my right. A startled gasp escaped me. Even though I’d known that it was James by the sound of his voice and had expected to see him when I opened my eyes, it was two different things to think that you’re prepared to see someone and then actually seeing them.

He looked exactly like I remembered him.

His hands were shoved casually into the front pockets of his black slacks and he’d rolled his shirtsleeves up to his elbows, exposing the veins of lean muscle that twisted up his forearm and disappeared underneath his black dress shirt. His hair was an adorable mess of chaos, a dark chocolate brown that swept across his forehead effortlessly, obscuring his amazingly hazel eyes. When we made eye contact, the left side of his mouth quirked into a half-smirk, causing my heart to thunder loudly in my chest.

I didn’t know what to say. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was capable of speech at all. Though my mind had already considered the possibility of his presence at the funeral, when Harry had said that James wasn’t able to attend, my mind immediately dismissed the threat and I resumed my quiet grieving. Now, I was standing face to face with the father of my child, the man who’d once been my best mate in the entire world, but now seemed like a complete stranger. His face might’ve been the same and his smile was just as enigmatic, but I didn’t know the person that was standing in front of me. There was something different about him, something that I couldn’t quite peg. Whatever it was, I didn’t like it.

It was that feeling of dislike that probably encouraged me to respond to his casual greeting in such a rude manner. Instead of being polite, offering up a small ‘hi’ and maybe even giving him an unbelievably awkward hug, I did the unthinkable - I decided to be frank. I said seven little words that would’ve made Granny Gus’s eyes shine with happiness.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

- - -


A/N: I did say that James would be making an appearance this chapter, I just didn’t specify how long (or brief) it would be. I’m not entirely sure if I’m as satisfied with this chapter as I have been with all of the others, but oh well. Drop me a line if you’ve got any questions! Oh, and thanks to everyone who has reviewed thus far - without you guys, I would get absolutely nowhere.


Chapter 5: The Remembrance of an Incredibly Altered Memory - Chapter Four
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Chapter Four
The Remembrance of an Incredibly Altered Memory


Though my parents have never told me, I’m pretty sure the first time I walked on my own, I ran headfirst into a wall.

The first time I kissed a boy, I accidentally bit his lip so hard, he started bleeding.

When I lost my virginity - well, we won’t even get into that one. I don’t want to scar you for the rest of your natural life.

Anyway, I think it’s suffice to say that I’ve established that I’m not the most graceful person on the face of this planet, and I never have been. I was born with two left feet and a tied tongue, cursed to forever walk at a slight slant to the right and say incredibly stupid things at incredibly important times.

This was an incredibly important time and I had just blown it.

Epically.

Like, not even the fucking Big Bang could rival how epically I’d blown it.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected of me to say something stupid, considering all of the trouble my tongue had gotten me into as a teenager, but even I was shocked when the words fell from my lips. I hadn’t expected for my boldness to actually come forth.

Apparently, neither had James.

His hazel eyes widened in surprise, and his mouth fell open ever so slightly. The smile disappeared from his face, replaced by a sombre, ridiculously stiff line that was so tight, it could’ve rivalled McGonagall’s infamous Lip Purse. He cleared his throat in what I assumed was an attempt to break the thick blanket of awkward ice that had formed between us, but naturally, he was unsuccessful. He shifted his weight from his right leg to his left one and removed one of his hands from its pocket to run it through his hair. I resisted the urge to charge forward and slap his hand away; it was one of his more annoying habits that he exhibited only when he was embarrassed or extremely uncomfortable.

I imagined that he was feeling a peculiar mixture of both, just like I was. At least I hoped he was. He deserved to after what he’d put me through. What you’d put each other through, some vague part of my subconscious reminded me, but I quickly shoved it aside. Now was not the time to contemplate the consequences of my decision to hide my pregnancy from James, though something deep in my gut told me that the consequences would very soon reveal themselves.

“Your mum owled me,” James blurted randomly.

I blinked at him, confused. “Why would my mum owl you?”

He gave me a look. “Did you really just ask that question, Mara?”

My heart gave a pathetic little pitter-patter against my ribcage. It’d been much too long since I’d heard my name on his lips, the last time being right after he came. I quickly shook the image of James’s face, clumps of dark brown hair clinging to his sweaty forehead, the smoky lust clouding his eyes, and an unbelievably satisfied smirk gracing his swollen mouth, knowing that such thoughts would do me absolutely no good at all. Except get me pregnant with another one of James’s children. Which, obviously, I didn’t want to happen since he didn’t even know about the first one.

When I didn’t answer, he continued, “When I received word that Granny Gus had died, I caught the first Portkey out of Algeria to get here for her funeral.”

“You weren’t at the service,” I snapped, upturning my chin.

The corner of his mouth quirked upward. “You were looking for me?”

Shit, shit, shit! I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud!

This was yet another prime example as to how I found myself in bizarre situations on a nearly daily basis - it was because I couldn’t control what I say. Early on in life, I discovered that I possessed no filter between my brain and my mouth whatsoever. And as you can tell, the lack of said filter was constantly landing me smack in the middle of problematic scenarios.

“No, I wasn’t. Gin - I mean, your mum apologized for you not being able to make it,” I lied, cutting my eyes toward him. “She said that it was your busy Quidditch schedule and that you were in. . .”

“Algeria,” he supplied when I trailed off, leaving him to fill in the blank like some beyond weird game of Mad Libs.

“Right, Algeria. So,” I said after a brief huff. “That’s why I knew you weren’t at the service. Because your mum told me that you probably wouldn’t be able to make it, not because I was looking for you.”

He rocked back on his heels awkwardly. Scratched the side of his neck. “I see you’ve picked up your gran’s habit of being brutally honest regardless of the situation,” James commented dryly.

“Yeah, well, this is a day of remembrance,” I replied stiffly, tucking my hair behind my ear and sorely wishing that I had a drink in my hand to knock back.

“And I’m assuming you’re trying to keep her memory alive by illustrating certain aspects of her personality?”

“You assume correctly.”

“Somehow I think she’s going to be a little disappointed,” he retorted, a sly, shit-eating grin consuming his lips. His tone might’ve been light and joking, but still, the words stung.

My eyes narrowed to their own accord in a fiery glare as I crossed my arms over my chest, one hip cocked out to the side. In my mind’s eye, I saw an eerily familiar projection of my mother standing in the middle of the living room, throwing daggers at me for breaking curfew yet again. And they marvelled that a supposedly responsible girl like me got knocked up by her best friend. Yeah, because no one saw that one coming.

The smile disappeared as quickly as it had cemented itself to his face. “I’m just going to go out on a limb here and venture that that wasn’t the best thing I could’ve said, was it?”

I shook my head once. “No. Somehow I don’t think it was.”

“Oh, come on, Mara,” he began, an oddly desperate note to his voice. “I’m just trying to break this. . .” he gestured wildly between us, waving his arms up and around. It was quite the comical sight.

“Incredibly stifling awkwardness between us?” I offered nonchalantly.

I watched as his entire body heave a mighty sigh of relief, the tension all but disappearing from his shoulders. What I wouldn’t give to be able to relax at the drop of a hat. If anything, the ease in which he switched from tense to perfectly relaxed was quite disconcerting and made me wonder if I had abnormally high stress levels or if Granny Gus was right and he just didn’t give a shit about anything.

“So, I’m not the only one who feels it?” James hedged, an oddly hopeful glimmer in his eyes.

“No,” I assured him, chuckling to myself. Merlin, now would be a wonderful time for my mother to materialise in the doorway with a nice glass of fire whisky in her hand. “Definitely not.”

His eyes danced with an excitement so familiar, it was almost foreign. It didn’t make much sense, but despite the fact I could recognise that mischievous glint in his eyes anywhere, the initial feeling that something - and I mean something big - was out of place about his general being came screeching back to me. I cocked my head to the side, hoping that maybe it was my equilibrium that was throwing off my James vibe and not the actual man himself.

“That’s good to hear,” he muttered loud enough that I was able to hear him. When I quirked my brow in question, he quickly rectified his statement. “Well, obviously I’m not glad that things are weird and tense and all that other shit between us, but -”

“I know what you mean, James,” I cut him off, sparing him the misery and humiliation of having to explain his feelings in words. Like me, he was all but incapable of expressing his feelings through words; we were both very physical people and our son was proof of that.

My favourite crooked smile took residence on his handsome face, the dimple in his left cheek making itself known after being gone for so long. I hadn‘t realised how much I had missed it until then. “You always did.”

“Still do,” I corrected, fighting off the frown.

Why was he speaking in past tense?

I mean, sure, we haven’t talked in almost a year and a half, but that was only because things had become extremely complicated between us. After all, it wasn’t every day that your best mate in the entire universe surprises you in a foreign country, offering a rare reminder that you weren’t crazy and the people you left behind hadn’t forgotten about you. It wasn’t every day that said friend insisted on experiencing an authentic night on the town and the pair of you end up getting so drunk of a combination of margaritas and shots of tequila. And I’m almost certain it wasn’t every day that you decided to throw all caution to the wind and wave off the repercussions that sleeping with your best friend would cause, and just go for it.

Had he stopped considering me his best mate after he’d slept with me or after we had stopped contacting one another? Though if I may, it was James who stopped returning my letters; I wasn’t the one who gave up all together. I tried to salvage what our friendship to the best of my ability, but I guess it wasn’t enough. Of course, by that point in time I realised that I was pregnant with my best friend’s son and decided that it probably wasn’t best that I keep in contact with him because if he had the nerve to leave without so much as a goodbye, then why the hell would he care about a kid?

As scared as I was of James and all of the memories and drama and potential conflicts he brought with him, a part of me - and a rather large one at that - still considered him to be my best friend in the entire world. I couldn’t imagine myself without James; sure, we hadn’t talked to each other in a prolonged amount of time, but I was one of those firm believers that if a friendship is true, it can stand the test of time. Perhaps James just didn’t share my enthusiasm.

I coughed into my fist awkwardly.

“So,” I drawled, looking over his shoulder at the witches and wizards milling about the living room. It was strange, even though there were others only feet away from us, it felt as though James and I were the only people around for miles and miles. I was half-tempted to pull my wand out of my pocket and Summon a glass of liquid confidence for myself, but James prevented me from doing so.

“So,” he parroted, his hands returning to his pockets. “How’s training been going for you? All right, I hope?”

“I completed my training over a month and a half ago,” I informed him, unable to hide the self-pride in my voice.

“Really? That’s good to hear,” James replied over-conversationally. A line appeared between his eyes and his bottom lip warbled to the side. “If you completed your training, then why did you stay in Panama? The last time - I mean, you always said that you would catch the first Portkey out of there.”

“I stayed because I loved the weather.” The expression on James’s face was enough to make me laugh aloud. “I’m yanking your wand, James. You know that - well, I hated the weather there. It was too bloody hot.”

“So why’d you stay?”

He sounded genuinely curious now, not like he was trying to destroy any chances of awkward silence settling between us like he had been.

“Some of the local Curse Breakers had found an old Aztec temple in southeast Mexico. They wanted a few extra hands and I volunteered to go up with them alongside a few of my other colleagues. I wanted the experience,” I added at an afterthought as soon as I saw his mouth fall open ever-so-slightly.

“Oh. Well, did you last any mummies to rest?”

I rolled my eyes, not bothering to correct him. “No,” I said, smoothing an invisible wrinkle on my blouse. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to.”

“Why not?” James asked, an eerily familiar note of teasing in his voice. “Did you chicken out like you did when we snuck out of the castle to spend the night in the Shrieking Shack to make good on the bet we made with Julian Smith?”

I gasped in mock-shock. “I did not chicken out!”

“If I remember correctly, you totally did.”

An unattractive snort escaped me before I could hold it back. “Your memory’s shot to hell because I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what you’re talking about. Obviously, you’ve taken one too many Bludgers to the head, Potter.”

He threw his head back and laughed. It was the second best sound in the world, the first being my own son’s laugh. I’d always loved hearing James laugh; he had such a rich, smooth laugh that was seriously infectious. If you were in the vicinity of James when he found something particularly amusing, there was no use in trying to stifle your life, for it was one of the most unfeasible feats in existence.

“I’ll agree that I’ve taken one too many Bludgers to the head, Longbottom,” he replied, pushing a calloused hand through his hand casually. “But it hasn’t altered my memory at all. If anything, I think it was that Panamanian heat that’s corrupted your memory of the evening in question.”

I laughed and shook my head. “Oh, no, no, no. I wasn’t the one who chickened out. I might’ve been the one who screamed and sprinted all the way back to the castle, but you were the one who was second-guessing our decision all the way down to the Whomping Willow.”

“Me? Second-guessing a decision to sneak out of the castle?” James sounded absolutely appalled by the mere suggestion of such a ridiculous notion, and he let me know that. “I am absolutely appalled by the mere suggestion of such a ridiculous notion.” I’m sure if he had long hair, he would have flung it over his shoulder haughtily and upturned his nose at me. Instead, he lifted his chin in defiance. “I was the one who made the bet with Smith in the first place, so why would I second-guess it?”

I assumed my best Hannah-Longbottom-is-Absolutely-Pissed stance and raised an eyebrow in what I hoped was a threatening manner. “So you don’t remember saying ‘Mara, this was stupid. I think we should go back‘ ?”

“No. I mean, yes, I remember saying those words, but not because I was scared,” James responded.

My brow furrowed in confusion. “Why did you say that then if you weren’t scared?”

“Because you were clinging to my arm so tightly that you were cutting off my circulation and shaking like a leaf on a tree,” he reasoned.

I tried not to let my shock for such a kind sentiment show on my face. “Only because it was the middle of bloody January and I had forgotten my cloak on my bed!” I argued, hoping that I had disguised my expression thoroughly. “I wasn’t scared at all.”

It was his turn to cross his arms over his chest defensively and raise an eyebrow in question. If he was aiming to be intimidating, he’d hit his target right in the center. Obviously, I had. “Then the why hell did you scream?”

I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Because you jumped about a metre in the air!”

“So you shrieked at the top of your lungs and took off toward the castle?”

“If I remember correctly, you followed in much of the same manner!”

“I didn’t shriek at the top of my lungs!”

“Sure, you might not have screamed at the top of your lungs, James, but I distinctly remember that you passed me right up and ran all the way up to the common room, not once looking over your shoulder to see if I was all right.”

James must’ve heard the timbre of hurt in my words because his arms fell away from his chest, fell to his sides. His hazel eyes found mine, and I saw that they were full of a pitiful mixture of disbelief and realisation; the realisation that he had acted like an idiotic, exceedingly arrogant bastard that night.

“Oh,” he muttered, breaking eye contact with me to stare at his feet. It was only a moment before he looked up at me again. “Well, if it’s any consolation to you, I’m sorry for acting like an arse.”

“It’s okay, James,” I assured him, laying a hand on his shoulder without realising it.

When my fingers fell over the familiar curve of his shoulder, felt the chords of still-tense muscle underneath my fingertips, my eyes widened and I pulled back. My entire arm burned as if it had been dipped into a vat of boiling hot water, and I shook the blistering pain from my hand. I glanced at James to see if he had felt it too. Apparently, he had: he was massaging a small circle on the precise spot where my hand had been.

It was ridiculous and clichéd, the intimate heat that passed between us at the faintest touch, but it was real. It existed. Tearing my eyes away from James, I averted my attention to my hand and turned it over, inspecting it for blisters.

Once we recovered, our eyes met again. We laughed uneasily.

“That was. . .” he trailed off.

“Yeah,” I agreed, tucking my still-warm hand against my side to staunch the random, invisible prickles dancing across my palm and making me want to itch it.

Once again, a stiflingly awkward silence passed between us in which neither of us could bear to so much as look at the other. I lowered my gaze to my blouse, smoothing non-existent wrinkles and picking at imaginary lint. James stared at the unique painting on the opposite wall near the window, though it was easy to see that he wasn’t interested in Luna Scamander’s inventive paintings that adorned the walls of the peculiar house.

Whether it was because the silence had finally gotten to him or he was desperate to talk about himself - I had a feeling it was the former opposed to the latter; James might’ve been arrogant from time to time, but he wasn’t that self-interested - he caved.

“Quidditch has been going well,” he commented as though I had just pointed out the odd cloud formation outside the window.

“Oh, really? I haven’t been able to follow it since I’ve been working so much,” I replied. Immediately, I realised that my comment could be misconstrued as condescending. For some reason, a good majority of witches and wizards, most of them older, thought that a professional Quidditch player wasn’t much of a job at all, that it was an excuse to joke around day in and day out. I used to believe that until James was placed on the reserve team for Puddlemere United. He had since switched to the Chudley Cannons and they had been kicking arse and taking names ever since.

“Last I heard,” I continued, licking my lips and doing the Awkward Shuffle. “You guys beat Russia?”

A wide, proud smile consumed his mouth and I found my heart skipping a beat. It had been so long since I had seen that smile - it may have been one of the many smiles James had in his arsenal, but it was the only one he used when talking about his life-long love, Quidditch.

“We didn’t beat Russia, Mara,” James informed me. “We pulverised them.”

“Final score?”

“Three hundred and fifty to ten,” he answered back, all but glowing from the memory of their victory.

“Wow,” I whistled, letting an appreciative smirk dance briefly on my lips. “That’s impressive. Was your Seeker having an off day or was it an unanimous decision to humiliate the Russians?”

“Wilson? No, he was perfectly fine. Actually, their Seeker was quite good, but every time they chased after the Snitch, it disappeared.”

“That’s odd,” I remarked.

“Yeah, it was,” James agreed with a bob of his head. “The refs suspected foul play, but neither of the coaches made all that big of a deal of it, so they let it go. The only reason why we won by so big of a margin is because their Chasers were horrible.”

“Just how horrible were they?” I asked, recalling the old game we used to play as kids to see who could come up with the most inventive analogy. The last time we’d played it, we were on our fourth margarita and listening to the band play at the bar.

It was obvious from James’s response that he hadn’t caught onto what I was trying to communicate. I blame selective hearing. “Do you remember the match against Canada?” When I didn’t answer immediately, he ploughed on, launching himself into a long anecdote of the match against Canada before he remembered the initial vein of our conversation and switched back to the match against Russia, describing nearly every play.

While I was particularly interested in the nitty, gritty details, I basked in the warmth emanating from him. His face was alight as he spoke, he gestured wildly with his hands as he tried to demonstrate the various stunts he and his fellow Chasers, Mulroney and Boone, had pulled. His expressions were comical, to say the very least, and I found myself laughing despite the fact I wasn’t truly paying attention to the words falling from his lips. James had just reached the climax of his story when Mum appeared in the doorway.

“Mara, are you -” she stopped talking the moment her eyes landed on James. Her blue eyes turned to me and she raised a questioning eyebrow as she glanced back and forth between us. She had a suggestive look on her face. I hadn’t realised until Mum had pointed it out with said look that James and I had situated ourselves on the couch and were sitting so close together, our knees were very nearly touching. “Oh,” Mum said, her cheeks colouring as a glimmer of hope welled in her eyes. “Well -”

I was surprised at how quickly James rose to his feet and strode toward my mother. “Mrs. Longbottom!” he exclaimed happily, enveloping her in a warm embrace.

She gasped in shock. “Um,” she pat him once on the back and stepped out of his arms, tilting her head back to look up at him. “Hello, James. I didn’t know you were here.”

“I almost didn’t make it, but I convinced my trainer to let me leave,” he explained. Keeping his hands on her elbows, he stepped back to look over her once. After his eyes completed their overdramatic journey, he whistled. “Wow, Mrs. L, you look great.”

Once again, Mum’s cheeks turned a bright, rosy red and she chuckled sheepishly. “Oh, James. I don’t look that good.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Mum had always been taken by James’s sweet charms and had hoped that we would end up together. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that she had claimed James and I would end up falling desperately in love with each other, get married, and have at least six children. Each and every time she did, James and I had snorted in amusement, told her to keep on dreaming yet her response was always the same. ‘I will’, she had said defiantly, placing her hands on her hips. Unfortunately for my poor mum, things hadn’t turned out that way. Sure, we had a child, one that James most certainly did not know about, but we weren’t in love, we weren’t married, and I highly doubted that another child, much less five more, would follow Jack.

She had wanted a fairy-tale romance for her daughter, but she had gotten a stereotypical result of an innocent weekend turned horribly guilty. Wasn’t I the daughter of the century?

Before James could respond, however, another person entered the sitting room. Upon their head was that ridiculous hat that I’d seen floating around the living room, flitting to person to person to engage in conversation. Much to chagrin, they were holding my son in their arms, their head bent and cooing at him. My son, who looked entirely too blissful for his own good. I vaguely wondered if Mum had gone against her promise and had given him the strawberry flavoured formula. She had never been able to resist a baby face. I knew from experience.

“What in the name of,” James said at the two new arrivals, clearly surprised. “Um, Sophie, why are you holding a baby?”

Sophie? Who was - oh! That was the faceless woman’s name, wasn’t it? But then, how did James know her? Perhaps she was a friend of his family’s that had come to pay her respects to my grandmother?

When the woman in question lifted her head, I had to hold back a gasp. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in my entire life. Her honey blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, stopping somewhere near her elbows, in big, bouncy waves. Her eyes were an intense mixture of blue and green, piercing yet oddly gentle. She had a cupid’s bow mouth, her bottom lip full and pouty. To top it all off, she had an hourglass figure, completely with perfectly rounded breasts, a trim waist, and full hips.

This - this was Sophie!? A feeling of dread sank in my stomach like a lead bullet in water at the swirl of thoughts that spiralled through my brain. Obviously, this woman was not a family friend - family friends didn’t look like that! Family friends looked like me, average looking with a little extra baggage around the middle.

“Because, James,” the goddess herself began, batting her eyelashes coquettishly. Or maybe that’s how she blinked, all sexy and definitely not like any mortal woman I knew. Also, she had an American accent. “I’ve been waiting nearly an hour and a half to hold him; he’s been passed around from person to person like a hot potato or something.”

I was standing next to Mum now, blindly grasping for her hand, but it was out of reach. I cursed, hoping against all hope that I wouldn’t crack and blurt out something ridiculous.

“Oh, well,” James paused, blinked, and then shrugged. “I guess that’s all right. He’s a cute little bugger, isn’t he?” He leaned forward to peer into Jack’s face, a finger extended. “Hey, little guy,” he said, a smile lighting up his face as Jack wrapped his fat fist around his index finger. James made the motion of shaking someone’s hand, which made Jack giggled.

My heart nearly burst out of my chest at the sight. I had to bite down hard on my tongue to prevent myself from awing. This was the first time James had ever met his son, and he was acting the way any father would when greeting their chid for the first time. Except that James had no idea that this was his kid.

He straightened up, but didn’t pull his finger out of Jack’s grasp. “He’s a cutie,” he remarked, looking directly at Sophie. “What’s his name?”

“It’s Jack,” I blurted before I could stop myself.

James looked over his shoulder at me. “How do you know that?”

“I know,” I answered, knowing that it was pointless to skirt around the issue, especially since I had three people staring at me like I was the sacrifice for some freaky village of satanic people things. I resisted the temptation to cross the room and take my son out of the beautiful blonde's arms. I took a deep breath, fearing the worst. “Because he’s mine.”

Mum groaned, letting her head fall into her waiting hands. So that was why I hadn’t been able to find it.

His hazel eyes widened. “He’s yours?!” he exclaimed. “You can’t be serious!" When I didn't reply immediately, he pushed both of his hands through his thick hair, looking as though he had just seen a ghost. “Mara, what the hell? Why didn’t you tell me you had a baby?!”

I shrugged, averting my gaze elsewhere, to anything but James and the scandalised expression on his face. “You didn’t ask,” I said feebly.

He rolled his eyes. “I’m a man, Mara, you should know by now that I don’t ask those sort of questions. Besides,” he added as an afterthought. “I didn’t expect you to pop out a bloody kid since we last talked!”

I felt every muscle in my body go rigid. Dear Merlin, please, please, please don’t let him calculate the time between our last conversation and Jack’s approximate age. Fortunately, there was no inquisitive look on his face, only one of startled surprise.

“Well,” I said, searching for anything at all to say. Any way to take the attention away from myself and onto someone else's shoulders. My eyes landed on Sophie, who was looking insanely confused. “Who’s she?” I questioned, jerking my head in the blonde’s general direction.

The already-building knot in my stomach tightened considerably at the unexpected smile that graced his features. His arm around its way around her slim waist, and I found myself revolted by how charming they looked together, the three of them: James, Sophie, and Jack. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely that surprised when James uttered his next sentence, for I had been expecting it ever since she had entered the room and revealed her face, I had just hoped that it wasn’t true.

“This,” he said, another note of pride in his voice, as he pulled her closer to his side, “is Sophie.” She beamed up at him, all perfectly straight, white teeth with no gaps whatsoever. Bitch. “Sophie, this is Mara, my. . .best mate from Hogwarts,” he smiled at me, eyes twinkling. “And Mara, this is Sophie, my fiancé.”

And I thought things were already complicated enough between us.

Chapter 6: It’s Just One Plethora of Misunderstandings - Chapter Five
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Chapter Five
It’s Just One Plethora of Misunderstandings


In the past, when someone dropped a bombshell on me, regardless of the size, I was able to digest the news rather quickly with little to no affect on my mental state. Usually, I’d have about a million and one things to say on the subject matter, be it congratulations or complaints. However, for the first time in quite some time, I was rendered speechless; I was absolutely gob-smacked.

No matter how hard I searched my brain - and believe you me when I say that I stood there like an idiot searching my now-vacant mind for any form of reasonable thought over the time allotted to form an intelligent, not to mention coherent, thought - I couldn’t find the right words to say. Hell, I didn’t even think there were such words in existence. I mean, what exactly could you say to someone who’s just announced their intention to marry the world’s most perfect woman?

Though I had never had a bucket of ice cold water dumped over my head, I was more than willing to bet that the strange, numbing sensation pushing itself sluggishly through my veins was eerily similar to the unpleasant act of freezing water trickling down one’s back. I shivered at the mere thought, could practically feel the frigid water creeping down the length of my spine.

My mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came forth. At the back of my mind, I was tremendously glad that I was incapable of speech because it was more than likely that I would say something incredibly stupid and/or rude. People (specifically women if I’m being entirely honest here) tended to think that men were the only creatures on the face of this planet capable of saying the world’s most ridiculous yet slightly to moderately hurtful things. But I knew that if there were a list of all the unusually rude things said in awkward or uncomfortable situations, thirty seven percent of it would probably be things that I’ve said or have thought but was too cowardly to say out loud.

And that’s just a rough estimation.

So, instead of saying something directed at James and his beautiful, blonde, big-boobed fiancé, I decided to address the room at large. In translation: I couldn’t look at James or the woman standing next to him holding my baby without being attacked by the sudden urge to break down and sob my wimpy little heart out, which, as you might’ve guessed, left only Mum to stare at. I saw her eyes widened considerably when I spoke.

“I need a drink.”

You would’ve thought that someone had chased me out with a giant spider, I left the room so quickly. My cheeks burned with embarrassment, and I felt overwhelmed. I ducked my head, hoping that my hair would help hide my horribly pink face, but quickly remembered that I’d done something out of character and actually pulled my hair back into a low hanging ponytail on the car ride back to the Scamander residence. Grunting in annoyance, and scaring the Snargaluffs two elderly wizards standing near to the table where the refreshments were laid out, I snatched up a paper cup and stomped into the adjacent kitchen.

Being in the familiar kitchen brought about a strange sense of calm. Perhaps it was the vivid colour of the cabinets or the memory of all the days I’d spent in this kitchen, sitting at the table with Aunt Luna and drawing pictures of creatures neither of us had seen, but believed in so thoroughly, drinking that disgusting Gurdyroot extract and pretending to like it for the sake of Aunt Luna’s feelings. I highly doubt that her feelings would’ve been hurt, though, if I had told her about my distaste for the Gurdyroot extract. I was a kid back then. And kids say stupid, unintentionally hurtful things.

But apparently, so do adults, and I was proof of that.

At the moment, however, I was proud of myself. I hadn’t said anything overly idiotic yet - yet being the huge keyword here. Of course, excusing myself to get a drink after my best friend announces that he’s engaged and getting married might be considered a rude gesture, but at least I didn’t say that I thought she was much too young, pretty, and definitely not me enough for him.

That counted for something, didn’t it?

I began to rifle through the cabinets, wondering where in the hell Aunt Luna and Uncle Rolf kept their liquor. I tried to remember if they were some of those weird folks who didn’t drink or have all that much fun at all, but then I realised who I was thinking about and shook my head at my own stupidity. Though I’d never seen either of them with a drink in hand, I was sure that they snuck a few sips every now and then; how else would they come up with half of the things they did?

After nearly two minutes of searching, I found what I was looking for. The bottle of fire whisky was coated in a fine layer of dust, which I brushed off with three quick flicks of my wrist, and more than halfway full. Okay, so maybe Aunt Luna and Uncle Rolf didn’t drink all that much, and maybe they really were as nutty as everyone proclaimed them to be.

“Better nutty together than lonely,” I muttered to myself as I twisted tightened my grip on the bottle and twisted off the cap.

Though I was painfully aware of how angst-ridden I sounded, I couldn’t help bringing the bottle of my lips and tipping my head back, allowing a small amount of the grotesque liquor to travel down my throat, scalding the sides as it went down. Truth be told, I wasn’t lonely at all. In fact, I was quite happy with my life. Did I sometimes wish that I had someone to help raise Jack, to be some semblance of a father figure to him? Sure, all the time. Did I need someone else to make me happy? No, of course not. Not unless that someone was Jack. He was more than enough to get me through all of the shit life was bound to throw at me; he was more than I could ever hope for.

He was my own - partially James’s too, I guess - little miracle.

I had just gotten over the sour yet burning taste of the fire whisky and was about to pour some into my paper cup when someone rapped their knuckles on the side of the doorframe. Startled, I lost my grip on the bottle and it slipped from my hand. Since my reflexes sucked, I didn’t bother trying to grasp at the bottle as it fell to the floor. Naturally, it shattered, sending hundreds of tiny shards flying in every direction, the amber liquid inside drenching my shoes.

“Shit!” I yelled for the sake of yelling. It wasn’t like these shoes were anything to moan about - I’d gotten them nearly four years ago after attending some benefit or another for James’s then-Quidditch team, that being the only other time that I’d actually worn them.

Before I could bend down and start cleaning up the mess manually, James cleared it away with a swift wave of his wand. When I looked up at him to offer a disgruntled ’thank you’, he was not smiling. In fact, as soon as our gazes met, his eyes narrowed into dangerous slits and his mouth pulled into a very distinctive grimace.

Instead of doing the adult thing and accepting the inevitable - the inevitable being a conversation about my abrupt departure from the room, I decided to take act the part of a sixteen year old who’d just been caught trying to sneak back into the house after a night of, well, doing Merlin only knows what with only Circe knows who, and delay as much as possible.

“I could’ve gotten that, you know,” I said airily, hoping that this would be similar to all of the nights I’d been caught sneaking into the house, but knowing fully well that it wouldn’t because, simply put, James wasn’t as much of a dumbass as he so often appeared to be.

When he didn’t immediately respond or so much as crack a half-smile, I knew something was seriously wrong. As you might’ve guessed, James wasn’t always the most serious bloke in a room. Even when he was serious, it usually only lasted a few moments before it evaporated, overpowered by his irresistible charm and easy-going manner. However, at the moment, he looked anything but easy-going, not to mention so not amused by my attempt to distract him, the King Creator of All Distractions, from his initial purpose.

“Cut the bullshit, Mara,” were the first words out of James’s mouth.

Yep, I was in trouble.

“What bullshit? I honestly could’ve -”

Now,” he growled through clenched teeth.

I felt obligated to obey. My shoulders slumped in defeat and I began to fidget with the dirty rag in my hands. “What, James?” I asked, suddenly exasperated. “What do you want from me?”

“Hm, I don’t know,” he began, adopting a decidedly innocence tone. He even had enough gall to tap his finger against his chin ostentatiously. “I think an explanation would be nice.”

I snorted, thoroughly amused. “You would like an explanation?” I drawled, rolling my eyes. “I think I’m the one who deserves the explanation here, James.” The slap of the rag against the metal sink made me jump; I hadn’t realised that I’d thrown it down.

His hazel eyes widened in disbelief. “Are you mental? You honestly think that you, the woman who shows up after a year and a half of absolutely no contact -”

“Which wasn’t entirely my fault!” I interrupted, my voice climbing slowly, but surely in volume with each syllable. “It takes two people to correspond!”

“And it also takes two people to have a baby,” James countered, causing my stomach to drop to the floor. Had he figured it out and just pretended to pass it up? Or was he just commenting on the fact that since we’d lost contact, I had had a baby that he didn’t know about and was the reason he was currently up in arms?

I hesitated, waiting for him to finish his sentence. I mentally prayed to all higher deities that his brain hadn’t connected the dots.

“Seriously, Mara, did you think I wouldn’t figure it out?” he asked.

I bowed my head, looking at my hands. This was it. This was when he’d let me have it for keeping the identity of his child a secret from him for so long.

“Look, James, I -”

“Honestly, I know that I’m not always the brightest hippogriff in the herd, but please, don’t insult me by assuming that I’m stupid enough to not see the obvious,” James continued, sounding angrier than he looked. His nostrils were even flaring, which meant he was borderline volcanic eruption.

As I was unable to raise my head in fear of how much my face would give away, I spoke to my hands. “I don’t think you’re stupid, James.”

“You’re sure as bloody hell treating me like I am,” he grumbled, obviously affronted by the way I‘d been treating him. Though, to be honest, I didn’t know what I had done wrong in the last hour of our re-acquaintance, but something told me that he was about to inform me. “Did you honestly think that you hide him from me forever? Me, your best mate in all the world?”

The sudden shift in his tone of voice made me snap my head upward in surprise. So, he didn’t know that Jack was his son. He hadn’t put two and two together and gotten the sum of four. No, instead he had veered in the entire opposite direction, obviously under the impression that, after his departure, I’d been so depressed that I repeated the exact same scenario I’d experienced with him only with a complete stranger and had gotten myself knocked up. I can’t say that he was the first person to think such a thought; Granny Gus had beaten him to the chase.

I was unable to hide my relief. The sigh that passed through me was so large, my entire body slumped forward after the fact. I wanted to curl up into a ball and die; this day had been absolutely horrible, packed to the brim with emotions that I didn’t want to experience nor did I need to experience. I had had enough of my fair share of emotions in the past few months.

“Well?” James pressed, not a single note of anger in his voice. In fact, he sounded quite curious.

Running a hand over my face in an attempt to rub the guilty expression away, I stopped when I reached my hairline, remembering that my hair was back in a ponytail, not hanging free around my shoulders.

“’Well’ what, James? What do you want me to say?” I licked my lips, looked at him beseechingly. “That I was embarrassed about what other people might think of me if I had a child yet was no longer attached to the significant other who’d partaken in the act of creating my son? That I couldn’t stand what you would say when you found out, that I actually feared what your reaction would be since I didn’t tell you from the get-go? That I’ve had nightmares about this very moment because you are and have always been my best friend and I don’t want anything, not even a child, to change that? That people might think that I’m a fat, ugly, lazy bint who doesn’t do anything aside from procreate with random men and then move back in with her parents because things aren’t going very well? That I’ve been worried sick about you, that I’ve resorted to writing your mum once a week just to get an update on how you’re doing, since you won’t return a single owl that I’ve sent you in the last thirteen months. That I’ve -”

I was cut off mid-rant by the crushing force of James’s arms. As soon as I’d revealed that I had been owling his mother for over a year now just to hear about him, James crossed the kitchen and pulled me into one of the tightest hugs in my life. The breath exited my lungs in a sudden whoosh, but I knew it wasn’t lack of breath that was causing my current bout of light-headedness. No, it was something else entirely.

Instinctively, my arms wound around him, clutching him as tightly as possible to my body. The last time we’d been this close, we were both naked, sweaty, and panting with effort. My breasts were pressed uncomfortably against the leanly muscled rock that was his upper chest, but even in my added discomfort, I couldn’t help noticing how wonderfully familiar the line of his body felt against mine nor could I ignore the way our close contact called to mind a spiral of dirty images and even more explicit sounds.

His cheek brushed against mine as he lowered his lips to my ear and whispered in a delicate voice, “I’ve missed you, Mara.”

Thankfully, I wasn’t overcome with the sudden desire to cry the Nile River, and was able to respond. “I’ve missed you, too, James.”

Then he gave me one final, rib-crushing squeeze before releasing me from his grasp.

As much as I would have liked to hold onto James, I knew that I, too, had to step back. I reclaimed my limbs and folded them over my chest as I returned to my position in front of the sink, my back to the window overlooking the overgrown garden.

It felt like I was floating on air, and not because I’d been swept into a hug by my best mate. Sure, it was one of the contributing factor, but mostly it was the relief that a) James hadn’t figured out the real secret yet and b) he’d missed me just as much as I’d missed him. It’s always good to know that you aren’t the only one alone in your misery.

A few beats of silence passed between us, but they weren’t awkward. If anything, it was pleasant, like our shared quiet was a respect for the dust settling between us, though that voice in the back of my head was nagging away ominously, suggesting that things were going to backfire in a very short time.

Ignoring it, I asked the first question that popped into my mind. “D’you want some tea?”

James grinned the grin that made his eyes crinkle in the corners, the one that made his full lips pull back and reveal all of his white teeth, and nodded his head. “I’d love some.”

- - -


We didn’t get a chance to discuss all that much over our tea.

For one, Percy Weasley came bursting into the kitchen alongside his wife, Audrey, holding a pink towel to his nose and shouting at the top of his rather annoying voice about how children were stupid and shouldn’t be allowed out of their play pens. Immediately fearing that Jack had gotten a hold of Percy’s nose and had accidentally performed a fancy bit of magic, I sprang out of my chair and was halfway out of the swinging door before James grabbed my wrist and told me to sit down; it was Teddy and Victoire’s daughter, Dora, who’d caused Percy’s nose to bleed; she and Lorcan Lysander, her godfather, had been tossing a Quaffle between them and she’d thrown it too hard and it’d hit Percy. Relieved, I sank back into my chair and we continued our discussion.

Or tried to, anyway.

Only minutes after Percy and Audrey’s departure from the kitchen - Audrey had fixed her husband’s nose right up with a quick wave of her wand and a kiss on the cheek - the next interruption came barging through the swinging door in the form of a very disgruntled Lily Potter. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips and she was glaring not at James as she usually was, but at me. Startled, I tried to think of any reason why she would be mad at me - I had been owling her nearly every week, telling her about everything except for the biggest detail - but then she broke out into an ear-to-ear grin and held her arms open for me.

As Lily was like a little sister to me, I rushed to hug her and we got sidetracked with our own conversation for a good fifteen minutes, updating each other on one another’s lives. She screamed when she discovered that I’d left out one very important detail over the course of our correspondence, and my eyes widened at the sight of the huge rock on her finger.

“Henry gave it to me,” she’d gushed, her freckled cheeks turning a brilliant shade of scarlet at the mention of her fiancée, one Henry Thomas. Apparently James wasn’t the only Potter with marriage on the mind.

It wasn’t until James cleared his throat loudly that Lily and I stopped our incessantly chatter, though the redhead made me promise to devote an entire day to her and her alone. Grinning, I informed her that I was available on Friday and would now be keeping the day open for Lily-filled activities. With one last hug and a look at her brother, Lily fluttered out of the kitchen as quickly as she’d come.

Thinking we were free of further disturbances, James and I tried to pick up the conversation, but found that we had absolutely no idea what we had been talking about before Percy and Lily had come bustling into the Scamanders’ brightly coloured kitchen. While James listed off everything we had talked about thus far, which wasn’t much, I refilled the kettle and heated up the water as the tea in our cups had gone nastily cold.

The kettle had just started whistling when the door swung open for a third time.

“Who is it now?” I asked, rolling my eyes heavenward.

It was my mother.

“I need you, love,” she said, looking oddly frazzled.

My brow furrowed as a wave of panic washed over me. “Is something wrong?” I swallowed and, my voice cracking, added, “Is Jack all right?”

“He’s not in mortal danger, if that’s what you mean,” Mum commented dryly, tossing her own eyes up at the ceiling. “But he is starting to get a bit fussy. We’ve been trying to stop his crying - I’m honestly surprised you couldn’t hear it, the racket that boy is producing -, but no matter who we pass him to, he keeps screaming his little head off.” She huffed out a long breath. “Anyway, I think you’d better come and see if your motherly touch will help him.”

I rose to my feet without question, draining the last of my tea and setting the cup on the table before departing. Turning, I flashed an apologetic smile at James. “I’m sorry, but -”

“Mummy duty calls,” he said, pushing his chair back from the table, the legs scraping against the floor. He stood. “I understand, Mara. I think our conversation was pretty much doomed from the start anyhow.”

I chuckled as Mum disappeared from the kitchen, but not before throwing a suspicious look at James and me. It didn’t take a genius to understand what she was inferring, but regardless, I didn’t like it. Thankfully, James didn’t seem to notice.

“Besides,” he added as he Levitated our cups over to the sink. “Sophie and I should probably head back to London. We’ve got a dinner date with some of her Muggle friends from America.” His nose wrinkled in distaste.

I stuck out my tongue. “Yuck. I hope they’re not too unbearable,” I responded, trying to express my sympathy. After Tayler with an ‘E’ and the sudden appearance of the beautiful Sophie, it was difficult for me to tolerate Americans.

“Well, I’ve met her parents and they’re decent folk,” he said as he pushed open the kitchen door, gesturing for me to go first. “A little stand-offish at first, but then again, I’m the one who’s marrying their daughter, and all parents seem to be wary of the fiancée.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “I’ve never found myself in that particular situation.”

I meant it as a joke, but a guilty expression overcame James’s face. It confused me; what did he have to feel guilty over? Could he think that I was referring to the last time we’d seen each other and the lack of romantic relationship that’d formed between us? If that was the case, then I should probably set him straight. I hadn’t stopped contacting him because I wanted something more, no I had stopped talking to him because things were awkward between us and, though I didn’t know it until three and a half weeks after the fact, I was pregnant with his child.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” I amended quickly, placing a hand on his arm. The heat that bubbled underneath my fingertips was strange, but nowhere near as electric as it had been in the sitting room when I’d first touched him. Maybe the tea diffused the charge?

“What’re you talking about? You didn’t mean what like that?”

He was feigning ignorance, something that he should’ve been good at, but wasn’t. Or rather, he was good at it, but I’d learned long ago how to see through it.

“I didn’t mean what you thought I meant,” I said.

His brow pulled together. “What do you think I thought you meant?”

“Well, I -,” I stopped and shook my head to myself. “This is ridiculous. I don’t have time to explain. I have to get ou - I mean, my son, before his head explodes from crying too much.”

Bending my head in hopes of hiding my almost-mistake, I hurried past James into the sitting room, where Jack’s obnoxiously loud wails met my ears; somehow, I’d been impervious to them until I had entered the room. I didn’t waste any time plucking him out of a shocked Sophie’s arms or gathering all of his belongings, which wasn’t much as everything was still in the bag.

With a quick look at my mother, I said, “I’m going to take the Floo home. Is the house connected?”

“Yes, it is,” Mum answered. She must have seen the eagerness to get the hell out of there in my eyes because she snapped into alertness almost immediately. “I’ll come with you. Make sure that Jack doesn’t get too scared on the journey home.”

She Summoned her cloak, which zoomed into her waiting hand. She didn’t bother putting it on, rather she grasped my elbow and tugged me toward the open grate, grabbed a handful of the green powder from the small pot on the mantel, and tossed it into the fire. Without warning, she jerked me into the expanded grate beside her and before I could tuck Jack’s head against my shoulder, she was screaming, “14 Willoughby Way!” at the top of her lungs.

- - -

“He knows, Mum.”

“You’re putting too much stock in that boy’s smarts, Mara,” Mum said, trying to soothe me as I paced up and down the length of my bed.

“No, Mum,” I insisted, shaking my head. “You don’t know James. He may say some reasonably stupid things and act like an idiot, but he’s a smart idiot. A surprisingly, alarmingly smart idiot who managed to capsize all of my marks in school, if you’ll remember.”

But Mum was resilient. “Sure, James might be smart, dear, and one hell of a Quidditch player to boot,” she began, her eyes following my path. “But he’s a man, something that you keep forgetting.”

I snorted. “Obviously, I haven’t forgotten he’s a man, Mum. I think that Jack is proof enough of that.”

Ignoring my remark - she hated it when I brought up the night of Jack’s conception as she thought, and rightfully so, that I had acted very foolishly that evening - she ploughed on. “Yes, I know that you know that he’s a man, Mara, but you keep forgetting one important key factor.”

I was intrigued. I stopped mid-stride and pivoted toward her, an eyebrow raised in curiosity. “And what’s that?”

“He lacks common sense,” she said in a matter-of-factly voice. “Well, not common sense, but he’s not exactly a potions master, now is he? Like I said,” she added quickly when she saw me swelling up like a balloon to race to my newly-restored best mate’s defence, “there’s no denying that he’s smart, but unless you tell it to him in plain words, he won’t connect the dots.”

“Meaning?”

Mum rolled her eyes. “Honestly, you two deserve each other,” she mumbled under her breath, just loud enough for me to hear her.

“Hey! I resent that.”

“It’s true. If there were ever two more clueless people in this world than you two. . .,” Mum trailed off, shaking her head to herself.

“I’m not clueless!” I scoffed, folding my arms over my chest and glaring down my nose at her challengingly.

Again, Mum rolled her eyes and shifted her position on the foot of my bed. “Sure you are. You’re just too blind to see the truth of it.” She tucked a strand of reddish-gold hair behind her ear and continued, “What I was trying to say before you interrupted me was that unless you spell it out to him, unless you break it down word for word that he’s the father of your child, he won’t know. And even if he does guess it, which is highly unlikely, especially since he’s preoccupied with that skinny blonde bitch -”

“Mum!” I laughed loudly.

She ignored me. “Even if he does hazard a guess at the parental half of Jack’s parentage, he’ll refuse to believe it. He’ll tell himself that he’s thinking nonsense thoughts and eventually convince himself that he couldn’t be the boy’s father by some horrible, unbelievably confusing formula.”

“A formula?” I asked sceptically.

“The formula doesn’t matter,” she said dismissively. “What really matters is that you’re grasping the point of what I’m saying, Mara.” Her eyes raked over my face. “Do you understand?”

“Of course I do,” I assured her with a firm nod of my head.

As I turned my back to her to remove the uncomfortable blouse I’d been wearing since early this morning, I swore I heard her mutter under her breath, “No, love, I don’t think you do.”

- - -


A/N: Wow, I’m a really bad author! I forgot to add footnotes to the end of the last few chapters, thanking you all for your devoted reading and reviewing. Your responses mean the world to me, and the more I get, the more inspired and eager I am to write more chapters. I hope this was enjoyable and didn’t seem too repetitive or obnoxious or anything else it may have seemed like other than very entertaining as that is what I’m here to do. Anyway, aside from hoping that it was entertaining, I just wanted to thank you all again for reading and reviewing, and encourage you to keep it up! It keeps me going!


Chapter 7: The Missing Shoe and the Second First Impression - Chapter Six
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Chapter Six
The Missing Shoe and the Second First Impression


“Hurry up, Mara! You’re going to be late!”

“I’m coming!”

I threw a sharp glare at the half-opened door, wishing that my mother would stop calling up the stairs every time a minute ticked by. I knew without her constant shouts that I was late, and that I was going to make a bad first impression on my boss. Today wasn’t my first official day at work, but I’d received an owl from Gringotts the previous night asking if I would ‘drop in and take a tour of the bank as a means of further understanding the inner workings of Gringotts - the most trusted name in wizard banking.’

Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to find my other shoe, I aimed my left foot towards the closet door and kicked off the shoe I had found. As it clunked to the floor, I heard footsteps marching up the stairs. I rolled my eyes, pulled off the black socks encasing my feet, and scrambled over to the closet to make it look as though I’d done something productive instead of standing in the middle of my room and pondering the whereabouts of my missing shoe.

I had just begun my frantic search for matching shoes when Mum appeared in the doorway, looking very harassed. “What in Merlin’s pants is taking you so long?” she asked, adjusting Jack, whose face was covered with what looked to be pureed peas and cat vomit.

“None of my shoes match,” I answered, digging deeper through the pile of shoes at the bottom of my closet. “For the love of Circe, I can’t remember having this many shoes!” I was half-ready to tear my hair out of my skull, I was so fed up with everything about this day. If the morning kept up at this pace, I wasn’t going to survive lunch.

“That’s because half of them are mine,” Mum remarked offhandedly, as if I should have known this key factor.

“No wonder hardly any of them fit!” I released a frustrated sigh and withdrew the upper half of my body that the closet had seemingly devoured in my search to glare at Mum threateningly. Unfortunately, she seemed unfazed by my weak attempt to look menacing. It’s always good to know that people regard you as a joke. Really, it boosts the confidence immensely. Dragging a hand through my hair, I continued, “I tried for twenty minutes to get these -” I held up a pair of patent leather pumps that were two sizes too small - “to fit, but they wouldn’t go on.”

I didn’t know why I’d convinced myself that wearing two-inch high heels to work would be a smart idea considering that I could hardly walk in flat shoes without tripping over my own feet, but they looked fancy. And, well, I was trying to convince my boss not to fire me on the first day that really wasn’t my first day at all.

Mum’s face brightened at the sight of the offending shoes. “You’ve found them! Oh, Mara,” she said as she dashed into the room, apparently forgetting that my son was attached to her hip and jostling him. I had the mad urge to yell at her for being so careless, but I didn’t really have time to start another argument over who knew more about parenting - the experienced mother of one might-be-crazy child or the first time mother who got nervous when her baby sneezed three times in a row. “I’ve been looking for these for ages!”

I rolled my eyes. “Glad to be of service,” I grumbled as I pushed myself onto my knees and grabbed the first pair of shoes that I could find - the ones I’d worn to Granny Gus’s funeral. Even though they still reeked of fire whisky if you got too close, they were the only ones I had. And they would have to do. Besides, I highly doubted anyone would be pressing their face against my shoes, sniffing them.

The mental image of a goblin bent over my shoes and surmising that I was an alcoholic was as amusing as it was frightening.

“Did you know your father bought these for me?” Mum asked rhetorically as I sat down on the edge of the mattress and, rather violently, shoved my feet into my shoes. “He saw them at Gladrag’s in Hogsmeade, you know, the place where you used to get all of those unflattering vests that you were so fond of?” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and adjusted Jack on her hip. “Yes, he saw them there while he was supervising a trip to the village and said that they looked like something I would love. And I do.” She sighed happily, a faraway look on her face. Obviously, she was reliving the memory of the initial gift giving. I didn’t want to think of the details of the events that followed. “Your father knows me so -”

“That’s wonderful, Mum,” I interrupted, jumping to my feet as soon as I had latched the strap around my ankle. “But I really have to go.” I hurried toward the door, Summoning my cloak from the armchair in the corner of the room. “Be good for Gran, won’t you?” I asked Jack, who blinked his large, hazel eyes at me innocently. Smiling back, I planted a kiss on his forehead.

“Have a good day, love!” Mum called as I ran down the stairs.

Skidding to a halt in front of the fireplace, I grabbed a handful of the green powder in the flower pot and threw it into the grate. Once the emerald flames flickered into life, I stepped into the grate and called, at the top of my voice, “Gringotts!”

- - -


If I had been expecting a huge welcoming committee complete with ridiculous party hats and loud crackers, I didn’t get it. Luckily, I’d learned early on in life not to expect too much for any situation, especially ones you were throwing yourself into headfirst without any inclination as to how they would turn out.

So when I came stumbling out of the grate, scattering soot and dust all over the fine marble floor, I was surprised to see a goblin leap out of its seat behind a rather rickety looking desk and come waddling toward me. This goblin was a great deal smaller than the others I’d seen over the course of my lifetime, but then again, I didn’t exactly spend all of my spare time in the company of the big-headed, hairy-feet creatures.

“Let me guess. . .Longbottom?” wheezed the goblin in an oddly high-pitched voice.

I blinked in surprise, having expected a deep, almost guttural vocal to come from the creature’s throat.

“Y-yes,” I stammered, my hand instinctively zipping up to my hair and attempting to flatten the undutiful mess; my hair always fell victim to soot-coated tangles during the Floo process, which was one of the three reasons why I hated it. James was the only person who knew the other two reasons why, given that he’d been there for both of them and had laughed for a good twenty minutes on each account.

What a prat.

The goblin raised its hard, black eyes to my face, examining me with its x-ray like vision. Its upper lip curled back into what was obviously a sneer of revulsion when our eyes met, and I gave an experimental sniff. Maybe I had underestimated the potency of the fire whiskey remnants on my shoes.

“You’re late,” it croaked glaringly.

Every ounce of blood in my body seemed to rush to my face, making me uncomfortably hot around the collar. I chuckled nervously, tugging at the neck of my cloak. “It’s actually a really funny story -”

“I’m sure it is,” the goblin deadpanned looking less than amused.

I ignored it, bristling slightly. “Well, you see, it all started when my son woke up - and, um, - well, I couldn’t find my shoes - and then my mother, you know how mothers can be - and then I -,”

“I don’t have time to listen to your excuses, Longbottom,” the goblin grounded out in a wheezy type of croak, effectively cutting me off. “Contrary to popular belief, we goblins have other obligations that don’t revolve around wizards -”

“I wasn’t trying to waste your time. . .er,” I smiled an apologetic smile at the goblin. “What did you say your name was again?”

The goblin’s brow creased in a very disconcerting scowl. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself,” the goblin huffed, straightening its bent back, “because, as I expected from a young witch such as yourself, your tardiness has eliminated the need for formalities.”

I bit down hard on my lips to prevent the offended gasp from escaping me. I was used to petty insults - when your best friend is James Potter, you learn very early on how to take ‘em as well as dish ‘em out. I also wasn’t a stranger to judgment, but honestly? This little shit of a goblin had hardly known me for two minutes and already it was speaking condescendingly towards me. I had tried to be nice - though, admittedly, not very hard -, but apparently this goblin wasn’t having any of it.

So much for a prejudice-free, post-Voldemort world.

Fortunately, I was smart enough not to get on the goblin’s bad side; all it took was one rogue goblin and I was done for, my reputation at Gringotts spoiled. Lorraine, the woman who’d helped me handled Jack in the early stages of my motherhood, had said it was very unwise to displease a goblin, and it was even stupider to argue with one. Judging by the expression of distaste of the nameless goblin’s face, I hadn’t done a very good job thus far at either.

The goblin tutted irritably. “Well, are you just going to stand there waiting for the grass to grow or are you going to wake up and follow me?”

The tone in which the goblin spoke, an annoyed sort of grumble, was enough to spur me into action. Giving my cloak one final pat down and sending spirals of black soot twirling through the air, I waited until the goblin was a few paces ahead of me before following. Once, I had followed this paranoid Hufflepuff named Alexia Gibbs too closely and she hexed me. I ended up singing the Hebrew alphabet for three and a half hours before the matron figured out the counter-curse.

After we descended a short set of stairs, we followed a wide corridor with oak panelling, which was decorated with portraits of goblins and wizards alike. When I squinted at the bronze plaques beneath each name, I saw that they were all former heads of some department or another. It was strange; I hadn’t known that, like the Ministry, Gringotts was broken up into individual departments with their own concerns. Childishly, I’d believed that the bank consisted of the main foyer where the goblins were situated behind their high desks and the caverns beneath.

Apparently, I was wrong.

The squat goblin made a sudden turn and the slapping sound that its hairy feet made against the marble disappeared. Concerned, I sped up, the heels of my shoes clicking still against the marble. When I rounded the corner, the goblin was waddling down the carpeted hallway, this one much narrower than the one we’d just been in. I noted that it was also much warmer, both in temperature and décor. Where the main foyer and corridors were business-like and very cold, this particular hallway radiated a warmth that seemed oddly familiar. I just couldn’t figure out why it was recognisable.

I had been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the goblin had stopped so, naturally, I ran right into it. The goblin gave a pathetic sort of squeal before toppling to the floor. I gasped, both of my hands covering my mouth. I didn’t want the disgruntled goblin to see my laughing expression. As I tried to mask my sniggers, the goblin pushed itself to its feet, grumbling in what could only be furious Gobbledegook under its breath. I caught only snippets of what the treasure horder said, and they were “incompetent”, “obtuse”, and, my personal favourite, “unsightly”.

Merlin, I loved hypocrites and their hypocrite ways. It’s a shame I didn’t have a compact with me. That’d teach the ruddy goblin a few good manners.

The goblin pulled on its jacket, throwing a contemptuous glower in my direction. “I know it’s hard, but please watch where you are going.” As the goblin turned back towards the door, I heard it mutter, “Of all the applicants, he just had to hire her. We’d be better off with a niffler - at least it would be useful and find treasure for us instead of puttering around like an imbecile.”

Before I could formulate an intelligent yet not insulting response, the goblin knocked on the ornate wooden door. My heart started hammering in my chest. I’d never been all that skilled in the face of my superiors, especially ones who were about to offer me my first real job, one that didn’t involve sweeping up owl droppings or restocking bookshelves.

“Just a moment!” a voice called from within.

Hm, how odd. That voice was extremely familiar, but yet again, I couldn’t place it.

I fidgeted, anxious for the door to open yet hesitant to see my new boss. What if he took one look at me and sacked me because I didn’t look the part of Head of the Department of Human Relations assistant enough? What if he thought, like the goblin, believed me incompetent, obtuse, and, oh my bleeding Circe, unsightly?

When the bronze doorknob turned, I sucked in a deep breath and screwed my eyes up tight. If it had been anyone else, they probably would’ve slammed the door in my face. But thankfully, it wasn’t, and the door didn’t slam.

“Mara!”

It was like heaven had opened up and a bolt of Zeus’s lightning struck me where I stood, the sudden realisation as to why the voice sounded so damn familiar.

I cracked one of my eyes open to make sure my ears weren’t deceiving me. When I saw his handsome smiling face and bright blue hair, I knew my instincts hadn’t failed me. I gasped, snapping both of my eyes open.

Teddy Lupin?” I questioned breathlessly, too overcome by my pleasant surprise to speak normally.

If James Potter was my best mate in the entire world, then Teddy Lupin was the closest thing that I’d ever had to an older brother. He was a constant figure in the Potter household during my youth, which is where I spent the majority of my time. Since the Potters treated him like their own flesh and blood, for the first nine years of my life, I thought he actually was a Potter until he corrected me. Because Teddy knew that I was highly amused by his Metamorphing abilities, he always sat next to me at the ridiculous long tables erected in the Burrow’s wild garden on the holidays as a means of keeping entertained. He was easily the sweetest, most caring man I had ever encountered save for Arthur Weasley, who’d always treated me as his granddaughter despite the fact I wasn’t in any way, shape or form related to them.

I could still remember how hard I cried when I tagged along with the Potters to see Teddy off on the Hogwarts Express. It had been both jealousy and the threat of loneliness at those huge family dinners that made fatty tears roll down my face as the scarlet engine pulled out of the station, but after James flung his arm over my shoulder and told me that we’d be going to the enchanted castle, I couldn’t help smiling.

Perhaps it was the fond memories that made me do it. I’m not really sure. But before I was aware of what I was dong, I had flung myself into Teddy’s arms, much like James had only days before, wrapping him in a tight embrace. Unfortunately, he hadn’t anticipated my sudden movement therefore his arms were pinned to his side by mine, unable to return my rather enthusiastic hug. In my haste to hug an old friend, I knocked over the goblin yet again. This time, however, I could hardly care.

Teddy was laughing by the time I released him from my clutches.

“Sorry,” I half-muttered, flushing in my embarrassment.

“No, no, don’t be,” Teddy said hurriedly. “If it hadn’t been for Jabrock standing at your feet,” he gestured at the goblin quickly making its way back up the hallway, “I think I would’ve greeted you in much the same fashion.” The grin he flashed me was enough to quell any sense of guilt I may have had.

Teddy smacked a hand to his forehead. “It seems my manners have flown the coop as quickly as Jabrock has,” he laughed, still grinning that mega-watt smile. Seriously, if he and Victoire hadn’t decided that they loved each other when they were pre-teens, I can honestly say that there is a huge possibility that he would be the father of Jack, not James. “Please, come in.” He pulled the door open, widening the space, and stepped to the side, allowing me entrance.

The office was exactly the way I’d imagined it to be - in an ordered disarray. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it didn’t have that museum feel that most offices do; it looked as though someone actually inhabited the office and did work while in said office. All in all, it was very comfortable, the walls a deep maroon and a leather couch that had seen far better days pushed against the wall next to the built-in bookshelves, which were teeming with various volumes and pictures of his family.

It was the picture hanging over the mantel that caught my attention. When I had left England, it had just been Teddy and his very pregnant wife, Victoire. Now, it seemed, there were two Lupin children: a little girl with moss green eyes and silvery blonde hair and a rosy-cheeked baby with chubby fists that looked to be around Jack’s age.

“I see you’ve expanded the family,” I commented, pointing towards the picture. Victoire had gotten up from her position on the grass and was chasing the little girl around while Teddy held the baby boy in his lap, laughing at the spectacle. Something icy stabbed at my chest and I resisted the urge to rub the sourly cold spot over my heart.

A huge smile spread across his lips. “Yeah, we did. That’s little Dora. We named her after her grandmother,” he informed me, his voice full of fatherly pride. When I looked up at him, for he had come to stand next to me and was tall enough that I had to crane my neck to see him, he seemed to be emitting a vibrant glow of happiness. It made me wonder that if James would speak the same way about Jack. That is, if he knew that Jack was his child and all.

“And that,” Teddy continued, his fingertip hovering over the grinning baby, “is Remy. Or Remus, I should say. We decided to name him after my father.”

I stared at the children as well as their gorgeous mother, another stab of jealousy surging through me. “They’re beautiful, Ted,” I said in a low voice. “Absolutely beautiful. How old are they?”

“Well, Dora’s going to be three next week and Remy just hit the five month mark last Tuesday,” he answered, smiling at the picture. “We’re throwing a birthday party for Dora sometime next week, if you’d like to come. You could bring Jack along.”

I was so eager to accept his invitation that it took me several moments to digest what he had said. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my excited response that I made any move to correct him.

“Of course I would love to come. I wouldn’t miss it for -” I stopped, my eyes widening in surprise and my stomach dropping like a lead bullet in a vat of water. “Wait. How the fuck do you know about Jack?”

Teddy’s laugh was a deep and booming baritone, both warming and alarming in its volume. I didn’t understand what was so amusing, but then again, I’m sure that my expression wasn’t exactly attractive. In fact, if I hadn’t knocked Jabrock down when I had lunged forwards to embrace Teddy, I’m sure the goblin would have pointed out very rudely just how unsightly I was.

“Merlin, he was right about you. You haven’t changed a single bit since the last time I saw you, which was - what, two years ago?” Teddy remarked as he shook his head to himself.

“It’s been three years since I left,” I corrected automatically, my brow furrowing, “and who’s right about me?”

“Three years?!” he repeated, sounding, and looking, extremely surprised by this. He sank down in the winged chair behind his desk, his eyes wide. “No, it can’t have been three years since the last time I saw you.”

“I can assure you, Teddy, that it’s been three years,” I said with a roll of my eyes. Was he ignoring my question on purpose or was he really concentrated on how much time had lapsed since we had last seen one another? “I was nineteen when I left, and I just turned twenty-two a few months ago.”

“You’re twenty-two?” Again, he sounded alarmingly shocked.

“Yes, I’m twenty-two,” I confirmed impatiently, on the verge of stomping my foot like a child. “Now will you please tell me who told you that I was exactly the same as before because I’ll have you know that I’ve changed a great deal since I left -”

“James told me,” Teddy answered offhandedly, seeming much too distracted by my age to care. “He came over to dinner after your grandmother’s wake, which, by the way, I’m sorry I couldn’t attend. Victoire had the stomach flu and I had to take care of the kids.” He blinked at me in rapid succession as though trying to clear his vision, muttering something under his breath.

“As unfortunate as it is, blinking at me isn’t going to make me younger, Teddy,” I quipped as I sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk, “so you can stop now. Besides, it’s starting to freak me out.”

Thankfully, he stopped blinking at me, and sat back in his chair. He looked dazed. “I just can’t believe it,” he murmured to himself. “It seems like only yesterday that we were dancing the -”

“If you even bring up anything pertaining to your wedding reception,” I began, trying to instil as much of a threatening tone in my voice as possible, “so help me Circe, I will tell Victoire all about what happened in Monte Carlo.”

The dazed expression was quickly replaced by one of utmost scandal. “You wouldn’t,” Teddy gasped melodramatically.

“Do you really think I wouldn’t? I mean, it’s not every day that you mistake a man at a bar for a -”

“Okay,” he interrupted swiftly, casting cautious looks at the walls and the door. Teddy’s hair had changed from vibrant blue to a brilliant red, matching the colour of his ears. “Fine. I believe you. But you swore that you wouldn’t tell anyone about that.”

I shrugged. “Well, when necessary, I resort to blackmail.”

“That’s a marvellous thing to tell your boss on your first day in the office,” Teddy deadpanned.

I laughed, unable to hold back my amused smile. “Technically speaking, this isn’t my first day. Besides, I believe the letter I received in the post said that I was going to be getting a tour of the bank as a means of further understanding the inner workings of Gringotts - the most trusted name in wizard banking.”

“You’re telling me that you actually want a tour of the bank?” he inquired dubiously.

“No,” I answered bluntly, tucking my hair behind my ear, “but I figured that if you were going to remind me of my slip-ups, I might as well remind you of yours.”

“Fair point,” Teddy agreed with a laugh. “You’ve made a wise choice in not wanting to go on the tour. It’s not like we would go down to the vaults.”

My brow furrowed in disappointment. “We wouldn’t?”

He shook his head. “No. When they say ’inner workings’, they mean getting acquainted with all of the inner department heads and such. Anyway, would you like some tea?” he added as an afterthought, flicking his wand at the silver tea set sitting on the mantel. Not entirely unexpectedly, it sprang to life, situating itself over the fireplace, the water inside starting to boil.

“Sure,” I said, shrugging again.

- - -


Having tea with Teddy reminded me of how much I had missed not only him, but everyone else while I had been gone. It was unbelievable, how easily we fell into comfortable conversation with one another. For the most part, we talked about Teddy, which was more than fine with me. In fact, he was the one who was uncomfortable with him behind the focus on the conversation. Me? I wanted to know each and every detail I had missed while I was away.

Unfortunately, as Teddy continued to talk, instead of happiness, I felt oddly depressed. I had missed so much in those three years, specifically the last year and a half in which I hadn’t had much contact with anyone outside of my parents. In their letters, they informed me of every day happenings in their lives, but seemed to gloss over the details of everyone else’s, the details that would’ve turned my frowns upside down such as when Dora took her first steps or how Remy was already showing signs of magic.

After a while, I could only hum in agreement, knowing that if I tried to talk, the frog in my throat would make it impossible. And it was more than likely that I would start crying. Not exactly something you wanted to do in front of your boss, regardless of how long they had been your friend.

“So,” Teddy sighed heavily, “that’s about it.” He studied my expression and his smile faltered. “I told you it wasn’t going to be interesting.”

“No, no!” I said hurriedly, setting my tea cup down on top of his desk. “It’s not that. No, it was interesting. It’s just that. . .well, I’m wondering how you found out about Jack. When I asked you earlier, you ignored me.”

“Oh. That.”

“Yeah. That.”

“How can I put this?” Teddy mused aloud, pushing a hand through his hair; it had returned to its typical bright blue shade after he had gotten over his embarrassment. “In the Weasley-Potter family, there are no secrets and you’re an honorary member, love.”

I blinked at him, confused. “What do you mean? Who told you? Was it my mother?” I narrowed my eyes, the temperature of my blood increasing rapidly. “Did she tell you when I specifically asked her not to -”

“No, it wasn’t your mum,” Teddy interjected suddenly. “It was - “

“James,” I finished, somehow knowing that he would always be the source of all my troubles. “I should have figured at much. You said that he came over for dinner following Granny Gus’s funeral.” I licked my lips, hesitant to ask my next question. “So. . .did he say how -”

“He was hurt,” Teddy answered automatically.

I winced, having expected something entirely different. Why couldn’t James just get angry with me instead like a normal person? Why’d he actually have feel hurt about it.

“He couldn’t believe that you had had a baby and didn’t even think to tell him,” he continued. “I can’t say that I blame him, though. I’m even a little offended that I had to find out second-handedly.”

As the flames of embarrassment licked my cheeks, I ducked my head, ashamed. “I’m sorry,” I murmured, “I really am. It’s just that. . .well, I didn’t want everyone to know. And -”

“You know what, Mara? Why don’t you tell me the rest over dinner?” Teddy suggested, causing me to look up at him. “I’ve got loads of invoices to send out, and I’m sure you’d like to get back to your son. So, why don’t you drop by the house around. . .seven. You can even bring Jack along if you want. Does that sound good?”

Whether it was out of guilt or because I really wanted to enjoy an evening with Teddy and his wife, I nodded my head. “Seven sounds great.”

Chapter 8: How Is It That You Know Everything? - Chapter Seven
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A/N: There’s going to be a change in point of view sometime during the chapter, so if the narrative changes, well, that’s why. I figured you all could use a fair warning. Enjoy!


Chapter Seven
How Is It That You Know Everything?


When I came stumbling out of the fireplace at two o’clock that afternoon, I knocked into a chair and let out a stream of colourful curses as the pain throbbed in my big toe, which alerted Mum to my presence. Though she gave me a questioning look, she didn’t say anything as I smoothed out my robes and hurried over to her, for she had Jack clasped tightly in her arms. I couldn’t help grinning ear to ear when he started to wiggle in protest and reach out his fat chubby hands for me.

I snatched him out of her arms before she could put up a fight and nestled him close to my chest; I hadn’t realised how much I had missed him until I actually saw him.

“Oh, Mummy’s so happy to see you too, Jack,” I whispered, kissing his forehead in between syllables. He giggled, which made me smile. I looked up at Mum. “How was he?”

“Perfect,” she answered, but then she frowned. “Well, for the most part, anyway. He was rather upset when you left.”

For some reason, her revelation made my smile widen. “Was he really?”

Mum looked confused by my enthusiastic tone. “Yes. . .he was. For a bit, I was afraid that he wouldn’t stop crying until you got home, but I managed to pacify him with a bottle.”

“Oh. Cool,” I muttered, waving a dismissive hand in her general direction; some part of my brain registered her scoff of offence, but I didn’t say anything. I was too immersed in tickling Jack’s chubby tummy and making him laugh to care all that much.

“Anyway,” Mum said, her tone cooler and brisker than usual. “The Scamanders sent an owl and asked if we would like to come over for dinner tonight. I went ahead and said that we would go.”

This snapped me out of my not-caring-all-that-much mood immediately.

“What?!” I exclaimed, so loudly that it startled Jack. His face screwed up and he made a high-pitched keening sound, not all that dissimilar to the noise I had always imagined a basilisk getting its eyes pecked out by a phoenix would sound like before the great flood of fat tears began. “Oh great,” I grumbled, frowning at my baby in concern, “now look what you did!”

“What I did?” Mum huffed in offence again. “You’re the one that shrieked in his ear, Mara! I did nothing wrong at all!”

“I shrieked in his ear only because you said that you had already told Aunt Luna that we were coming to dinner without even consulting me!” I returned in a very ‘uh-duh’ way.

Mum did not look amused. Not in the slightest. “Oh, I’m to consult you now, am I? After I have taken care of your infant son for the better part of the day?” She scoffed again, much more dramatically than ever before. “Well, excuse me, Your Royal Highness. Sorry if I figured that you wouldn’t have any other plans for the evening!” she shouted, her hands finding their way to her hips.

“Are you suggesting that I don’t have a social life?” I questioned scathingly, lightly bouncing on the balls of my toes in hopes of quieting Jack. It wasn’t working. In fact, it seemed to make him cry louder and harder.

Or maybe it was because of our arguing, but that was just a guess.

“I don’t have to suggest anything,” Mum retorted harshly, “because you haven’t done a single thing since you’ve been back!”

My jaw fell open and I gasped dramatically. “For your information, Mother. I actually do have plans for tonight: Teddy Lupin invited me over to his house for dinner!”

Mum opened her mouth in preparation to yell at me, but failed to do so at the last moment. She pursed her lips and tilted her head, studying me intently. “Why would Teddy Lupin ask you over to dinner?” she finally asked, sounding (and looking) overwhelmingly confused.

“He figured that we should catch up,” I responded, continuing the gentle bouncing, my hand rubbing small circles into Jack’s back. He was no longer shrieking shrilly. Instead, it was a frustrated cry, one that was quickly dissipating.

“Catch up?” Mum parroted.

“Yeah, you know - talk about the old times and what we’ve been up to since we last saw one another at his and Victoire’s wedding.”

“But when did you even see him, Mara?” Mum asked, “I thought you had been at Gringotts the entire day!”

“I was at Gringotts all day, Mum,” I sighed, brushing my hair behind my ear, a typical habit of mine when annoyance inflamed me. She still look as though a giant had clubbed her on the side of the head. “Teddy’s my boss,” I clarified with a roll of my eyes.

“OH! That’s wonderful!” Mum cried, clapping her hands together excitedly. “Now you won’t be uncomfortable around all of those goblins - you’ve always been scared of them.”

Despite the fact that Mum and Jack were the only other people in the kitchen, I couldn’t help blushing all the way down to my feet. “I’m not scared of them. Just intimidated.” And extremely so.

“That’s rubbish, Mara Francis, and you know it,” said Mum with a wave of her hand, “you’re frightened out of your mind of goblins. At least,” she added as an afterthought, “you used to be. Anyway, you need to start getting ready.”

“Getting ready?” I repeated incredulously, my eyes practically bulging out of their sockets. “Mum, it’s four o’clock.”

“So?”

“I’m not supposed to be there until seven!”

“Well, we’ve got to find something that fits you,” she argued.

I glared stonily at her. “Thanks, Mum,” I deadpanned, “you’re a real confidence booster.”

She winced and patted my arm. “Sorry, love. You know me. Open mouth -”

“Insert foot,” I finished monotonously, flicking my eyes at the ceiling. “It’s no wonder where I get it from.”

- - -


James’s POV

It was perhaps the most perplexing thing about women - their incessant need to shop in order to vent their feelings. I didn’t understand it and I highly doubted that I ever would. However, it is highly likely that my opinion is influenced by the fact that I am not a woman, but actually a man. One that most certainly did not enjoy spending three hours in some Muggle department store, browsing rack after rack after rack of the dishes, all of which had the same exact pattern on them.

“What do you think of this one, Jimmy?” Sophie asked, holding up yet another tea cup.

I cringed. Not because of the tea cup, though I’m sure if I saw it up close it’d be as ugly as all the rest had been, but because of the nickname. Jimmy. I hated it. Always had and probably always will. Everyone who knows me knows this, and I’ve told her several times to stop it, but she insists. Why, you ask, when she knows that it annoys me to no end? Because, and I quote, it’s “cute”.

She huffed exasperatedly at my lack of immediate response. Really now, you’d think that she would know better than to expect an instant reaction from me to anything that doesn’t fall under Quidditch, women, and as odd as it might seem, hippogriffs. If you must know, I had a stuffed hippogriff named Buckbeak that I used to carry around everywhere. Actually, I think Mum might have it somewhere up in the attic.

“James!” Sophie exclaimed, stomping her foot on the ground.

“What?”

She rolled her crystalline eyes. “I asked you what you thought of this!” She held up the tea cup again.

I carefully placed the Waterford Crystal glass that I had been admiring on the shelf and walked over to her. The smile returned to her face, and I found myself grinning in response. It was a force of habit, really, more than it was a genuine smile; it’s damn near impossible not to smile when Sophie smiles. Her smile could light up even the darkest of nights.

When I reached her, she handed over the tea cup gingerly, handling the cup like it was a baby. As my hand closed around it, I pretended as though my grip faltered and the cup slipped from my hand. It was inches above the parquet floor when I caught it deftly.

“James!” she shrieked, smacking me roughly on the arm. I tried not to wince. It was possible that it might bruise. “How many times have I asked you to stop doing that?” she continued, hissing through her gritted teeth.

“Oh, come on, Soph,” I replied, resisting the urge to roll my eyes extravagantly. “It’s not like I actually dropped it.”

“You could have,” she countered irritably, making to fling her hair over her shoulder, but stopping at the last minute when she caught the look on the attendant‘s face.

“Yes,” I agreed with a short nod of my head, “I could have. But I didn’t. And that’s all that really matters.”

Though Sophie narrowed her eyes, she didn’t say anything. Instead she glanced pointedly between myself and the cup in my hands. There was a hopeful glimmer in her eyes. With a small sigh, I consented her silent request and turned the cup over in my hands, looking at the pattern but not really seeing it. Not that ‘seeing’ the pattern would change the fact that I couldn’t distinguish the difference between the cup I held in my hands and the last twenty-five.

What Sophie didn’t know certainly wouldn’t hurt her.

Though, admittedly, if she ever found out, she would most likely ki- I mean, hurt me.

“Are those pink swirls?” I questioned hesitantly after a few minutes of ‘examining’ the cup. I didn’t want to upset her.

“Technically they’re spirals,” she responded in an oddly icy tone, “but yes, they are.”

Well, that was new. The icy tone, I mean. I knew, perhaps better than anyone on this planet aside from her parents, that Sophie could be a bit - er - temperamental at times, but typically speaking, she cried when she was upset or made snide little comments. Not once had she dropped her voice and added that extra chill.

Oddly enough, I kind of liked it.

“Why does it matter?” Sophie continued. The glacial note in her voice had dissipated. Drat. “Do the spirals bother you?”

I shook my head, which caused several locks of hair to fall into my eyes. I pushed them away irritably. “No, it’s not the spirals.”

She threw her arms up in irritation. “Then what is it, James? I’ve shown you at least two dozen different china patterns and so far, you’ve had a problem with every single one. I’m beginning to think that you’re disagreeing with me simply for the sake of disagreeing with me.”

“You want a straightforward answer?”

“Of course I do, honey,” she said, her tone suddenly sweet and considerate. Where the hell had my fiancé, gone? Had she pulled a Sybil on me? I certainly hoped not. “That’s why I brought you along in the first place. I want your opinion.”

“Really? Because I could’ve sworn you dragged me all the way to Muggle London with the purpose of boring me to death, Mara,” I commented jokingly before I even realised what I said.

Sophie’s face turned an alarming shade of red. However, I was quick to learn that it wasn’t the comment that bothered her. Sure, she didn’t think that my little quip was clever in the slightest, but it wasn’t the source of her agitation.

“Did you just call me ‘Mara’?” Sophie growled lowly.

Well shit. There goes any hope for a decent afternoon with my fiancé. As much as I wanted to deny it, I knew that it would be stupid for a multitude of reasons.

For one, Sophie could smell a lie from a mile away. Seriously, she was like a niffler, only instead of being able to sniff out shiny, expensive things, she could spot even the most intricately woven lies. It was scary, really, especially when I first found out about her unbelievable talent of smelling the rat, so to speak. I had accidentally broken her remote control after pressing the buttons too enthusiastically and tossed the remote into the fish tank. I expected it to sink to the bottom, but it didn’t, and it was still floating on the surface when she came out of the bathroom. When she asked me what happened, I told her an elaborate story about nargles sneaking in through the half-open window with the aid of some Cornish pixies that just so happened to be living in the flowerbox outside of said window and they broke the remote control and then threw it into the fish tank.

Right, so it might not have been the best or most believable lie I’ve ever told, but I needed no further convincing that it was incredibly stupid to lie to Sophie. However, it was even worse if you didn’t tell her the truth about a lie. That really pissed her off.

Another reason why I didn’t lie is because, well, she didn’t like Mara. Not at all. Hated her, in fact. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but when I told Mum about Sophie’s intense dislike for my best mate, Mum said that it had something to do with jealousy. What I couldn’t comprehend is why Sophie would be jealous of Mara. After all, I hadn’t seen Mara in almost a year and a half following the disaster trip to Panama that I hated thinking about because of how disastrously it had gone, and I saw Sophie on a daily basis. It was my opinion that if anyone should be jealous, it should be Mara. Not that she would be jealous of Sophie - for one, Mara wasn’t the jealous type and two, it was obvious that she didn’t want anything to do with me. Or hadn’t, anyway. I wasn’t sure how she felt now that she was back in England.

Regardless.

“Possibly,” I answered, mustering up my most innocent, most adorable smile, but to no avail.

She didn’t smile back, and her face darkened from an alarming shade of red to an unhealthy hue of bright purple.

“Uh - Sophie, darling?” My voice cracked ever so slightly. “You might want to let go of that cup before you -”

The cup shattered in her hand, the pieces crumbling to the floor. The attendant behind the counter looked scandalised.

“- break it.”

- - -


By the time seven o’clock rolled around, I was exhausted. And nervous. But mostly exhausted.

I had half the mind to send an owl to Teddy and regretfully inform him that I wouldn’t be able to come to dinner because I was so tired, but I changed my mind at the last minute no thanks to my need to know everything. My curiosity to know exactly what Teddy knew was eating away at me like a virus, little by little until, eventually, it’d be too much for my brain to handle and I’d explode.

As the minutes ticked away, I couldn’t help thinking, What could James have told him? There was a plethora of things that James could have whispered into his other best mate’s ear. I didn’t care about some of the things. . .but others? Such as the night in Panama in which Jack was conceived. . .I didn’t exactly want everyone to know about that. James might not have been able to put two and two together and come up with the answer of Jack, but Teddy was sharper than that. In fact, he had probably figured it out before I had come back to England.

Every time I thought about it, my palms began to sweat and my stomach became the home to a frantic jumble of butterflies. It was a childish reaction, perhaps even a foolish one, but it scared me half to death - the not knowing what Teddy knew. He would never use it against me, but still. . . I didn’t want him to think poorly of me.

I threw a final glance at the alarm clock situated on the nightstand next to my bed. It was very nearly seven o’clock. My stomach twisted itself into a painful knot and I fought back the urge to vomit. I had no idea why I was so nervous about having dinner with the Lupins - I got on very well with Teddy’s wife, Victoire, and up until half past six, I had been looking forward to dining with them. But now? Now I was so anxious that my hands were shaking and I could hardly slip my feet into my shoes.

I managed, though I wasn’t entirely sure how. I grabbed the light jacket hooked on the back of the rocking chair position next to Jack’s cot and pushed my arms through the sleeves. I turned towards the cot and smiled down at Jack, who peered back at me through the bars. He wiggled about on the mattress and made the same grabby-motion with his hands that he did when I had first come home. A soft smile touched my lips and I reached down, scooping him up out of the cot and securing him against my chest. He made a noise of contentment.

As always, I dropped a kiss on to the top of his round head, the dark wisps of baby hair tickling my chin. “Are you ready to go, sweetheart?” I asked in him a whisper, lightly pressing my cheek against the crown of his head.

I didn’t expect an answer and I wasn’t disappointed. Heaving a small sigh, I knew that it was time to face the inevitable. While it wasn’t the end of the world, I knew that if I said the wrong thing that there was a good chance that Teddy would go running to James and tell him everything that I had divulged.

Are you crazy? Teddy would never do that.

I snorted at the voice in the back of my head in amusement. Of course Teddy would do that, he and James were best mates. Teddy was more likely to do James a favour than me.

You know that’s not true, my conscience muttered irritably, Teddy loves you like a sister, and he treats you the same way too. If you tell him the truth, I know he won’t tell James. He’s better than that.

Deciding that it was pointless to argue with the voice in my head - even in the wizarding world it wasn’t right for people to hear voices in their heads, even if it was their conscience - I double-checked that Jack had booties on both of his tiny feet and looped my arm through the shoulder strap of the diaper bag. Moving Jack into a more comfortable position, I allowed my eyes to sweep over the room in search of forgotten items, but unfortunately, it seemed as though that, for once, I had remembered everything. A stream of softly murmured curses issued forth from my lips as I turned on my heel and walked out of my room, knowing that if I didn’t leave now, I probably would never leave.

I shouted a goodbye to Mum and Dad, who were in the living room, Dad was reading the Evening Prophet and Mum was knitting, and before I could hear their full responses, I was out in the backyard, striding towards the vegetable garden near the small frog pond. Once I was outside of the safety wards, I squeezed my eyes shut tight, praying that Apparating didn’t cause brain damage to infants, and twirled on the spot.

Seconds later, though it felt like an eternity, I found myself on the sidewalk in front of Teddy and Victoire’s swanky London row house. The wrought iron gate was ajar, and I took that as a sign that Teddy had lowered any of the protective wards that might have been placed around the house for our arrival. Hitching the diaper bag up on my shoulder, for the strap had been cutting painfully into my skin, I hurried through the gate and up the stairs to the front door, which was a cheery shade of red with a bronze knocker. My hand shook like mad as I grasped the knocker and banged it three times against the door. I didn’t have to wait very long for someone to open the door.

“Mara!” Victoire greeted enthusiastically, a pleasant smile of welcome on her face.

“Vicky!” I returned just as eagerly, rushing forward to give her an awkward one armed hug.

“Come in, come in,” she said when we broke apart. “It’s getting cool outside and I wouldn’t want your son to catch a chill.” She stepped away from the doorway and made a sweeping gesture with her hand, ushering us inside.

I smiled and stepped into the house, which was emanating the same warmth that Teddy’s office had. While Victoire busied herself with reinforcing the magical enchantments on the house, most of which consisted of obscuring the house from Muggle view, I looked around the place. As I expected, it was comfortably decorated with plush sofas and deep mahogany coloured wood. The place smelled of cinnamon and marina sauce, which as odd as it sounded, was actually an unbelievably charismatic aroma.

Victoire turned back towards us, another radiant smile on her glowing face. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again,” she gushed, once again enveloping me in a bone-crushing hug. If she kept at it, the strength of her embraces would rival those of Molly Weasley.

“It’s good to see you too,” I managed to reply after spitting some of her long, white-blonde hair out of my mouth. I ducked out of the hug first and quickly glanced down at my son to make sure that he hadn’t been crushed to death in the process of our mini reunion. He hadn’t.

Victoire didn’t waste a moment. “When Teddy told me you were coming over to dinner, I was thrilled. It’s been. . .what, almost three years since you’ve been gone?” She gave me an inquisitive look, one of her sleek eyebrows raised in question, but when I didn’t immediately respond, she continued, “I was even more surprised when Teddy told me that you had a baby. Is this him?” she asked, gesturing towards my arms.

“Yeah,” I answered, shifting him in my arms so that his back was pressed against my chest and he was facing her.

Her squeal of delight caught me off-guard. “Good Merlin, Mara, he’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, her silvery blue eyes wide with affection. Unlike most people who uttered these words to me, I didn’t take offence to Victoire for one simple reason: She had phrased her sentence like a compliment instead of a shocked cry.

I found myself flushing a deep red. “Thank you,” I mumbled pathetically.

“May I hold him?”

“Sure,” I said without hesitation. She smiled widely at me and gently lifted my son out of my arms, cradling him against her chest.

While she cooed over him, I tried to hide my surprise at my own actions; usually, I fought tooth and nail against people who wished to hold my son yet when Victoire asked, I gave him over without so much as batting an eyelash. Perhaps it was because I knew that she, too, was a mother and knew how to handle children. Not that I was proclaiming to be an expert on child-rearing seeing as how I had only become a mother myself just four short months ago.

Victoire continued to babble to Jack as she veered off to the right. I followed her uncertainly, wondering where she was taking us. As we crossed underneath the archway, a loud peal of delighted laughter, a child’s laughter, reached my ears followed by the soft pattering of tiny bare feet against hardwood floor. We rounded a corner and when we emerged in the living room, I couldn’t help smiling. Teddy was on his knees, his arms raised over his head in what I assumed to be scary sea-monster fashion, chasing his daughter around the table. My eyes were drawn to the little girl with a shock of bubble-gum pink hair.

“I didn’t know that Dora was an Metamorphmagus,” I commented to Victoire.

“We didn’t either until last week,” was her reply. At my raised eyebrows, she added, “Last Monday, she broke out in a horrible rash of green and white spots all over her body. We thought that it could be a new strain of dragon pox, but when we took her to St. Mungo’s, they said that her abilities had been lying dormant because the hormone in charge of Metamorphing was not yet present in her system.”

“Until last week?” I questioned hesitantly; I didn’t want Victoire to think that I was dull, it was just the Healing jargon that confused me. Even though none of what she said was necessarily jargon - whenever Healing came into the picture, my attention span seemed to dwindle rapidly.

“Until last week,” she confirmed, smiling delicately at me. She pressed her lips against Jack’s forehead before handing him over to me. I took him eagerly, arranging him in my arms. “He’s such a good boy,” she remarked.

“You say that now,” I began, snorting derisively, “but at three in the morning he’s nowhere near as pleasant.”

“I know exactly how you feel,” Victoire laughed. “Dora wasn’t nearly as bad as Remy is, though. Talk about an impossible child to please.” She rolled her eyes, but it was an affection roll rather than a roll of annoyance.

“Where is Remy?” I asked, suddenly realising for the first time the absence of the small child.

“Upstairs in his cot, sleeping. At least I hope he is.” She pushed a hand through her hair and she suddenly looked very weary. “Thank Merlin he went down easily; he always seems to be much easier to put down when Teddy is the one putting him to sleep.”

A harsh pang racked through my chest and my eyes started to water. If James had been there since the beginning, would Jack go to sleep much easier when encircled within his father’s arms or would he become fussy when anyone else aside from me held him before putting him to sleep? I swiped at the few tears that leaked out of my eyes and attempted to get a hold of myself. That was neither here nor there and I couldn’t very well go back in time and change the decision I had made.

My chain of thought was interrupted by a triumphant yell and the loud squeal of a small child. I looked up and saw that Dora was wiggling in her father’s arms, trying to escape with all her might. She was commanding him to let go, but Teddy refused, his fingers dancing along her ribcage. Another loud peal of laughter escaped Dora and her hair changed from bright pink to dark purple to acid green to the same dark blue hue as her father’s hair. It was one of the most bizarre things that I had ever seen.

“All right, all right,” Victoire called over their laughter. “Bedtime.”

“But Mummy -”

“Don’t argue, Nymphadora,” said Victoire in an uncharacteristically stern tone. “I told you that you could remain downstairs until Mara arrived, and she has. So,” she finished, planting her hands on her hips. “Bed.”

Before little Dora could respond, Teddy scooped her up in his arms and stood up. “I’ll take care of it, Vicky,” he said, throwing their daughter of his shoulder. As he passed us, he winked at me. “Hello Mara.”

“Hi,” I returned with a small wave. Once they had gone, Teddy’s footsteps heavy on the stairs, I turned back to Victoire. “Would you mind if I put him down?” I asked, nodding towards Jack.

“Not at all. I’ll get Remy’s playpen,” she said, hurrying off down the hall. I shifted awkwardly from foot to foot until she came back seconds later. Pulling her wand out of her back pocket, she flicked it at the mass of rods and mesh fabric. It assembled quickly, all of the pieces snapping into place and the fabric stretching itself taunt. I eyed it cautiously; it looked on the verge of collapse.

“Go on,” Victoire urged, correctly interpreting my hesitance, “it might look unstable but I promise that it’s not.”

I found myself blushing a deep scarlet once again as I gently laid Jack down in the playpen. “I know I seem silly, it’s just that. . .,” I trailed off, shrugging.

Victoire chuckled, and she placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Mara. I’ve been in your shoes before.” Leaning forward, she peered into the playpen at the half-asleep Jack. She cocked her head to the side, a ripple of silvery blonde hair spilling over her shoulder. A thoughtful expression took residence on her beautiful face and her brow puckered. “You know, he looks almost identical to -”

A loud thump cut off her words. We turned at the same time to see Teddy picking himself up off the floor, holding his knee that was most likely bruised. As he hobbled over towards us, he explained, “I jumped down the last few steps.”

It was very difficult to hold back my laughter not because it was particularly funny, rather because I hadn’t forgotten, even after all this time, just how clumsy Teddy could be. Before a swarm of childhood memories could overcome me, Victoire spoke.

“Did she put up a fight?”

“No,” Teddy said with a shake of his head, pushing a hand through his bright blue hair. When Victoire raised a sceptical eyebrow, he added, “Well, a bit of a fight. She said that she wanted to meet you, Mara,” he turned towards me, grinning, “said that she wanted to hold her cousin.”

“Cousin?” I questioned, mildly confused. “They’re not -”

“We’ve gone ahead and told her that Jack was her cousin,” Victoire cut in smoothly, “because when it all boils down to it, we’re family.”

I tried to respond, but my throat was clogged with emotion. I could feel my lips trembling ridiculously as well as tears gathering in the corners of my eyes. My gaze travelled from Victoire’s exquisite visage to the encouraging smile on Teddy’s face. I opened my mouth to say something, but Teddy clapped me on the back and said lowly, “We know, Mara.”

- - -


As my chest shook with laughter, I reached for my wine glass, which was very nearly empty, and drained the rest of it. The red wine slid down my throat and I wiped the sides of my mouth on my napkin.

“This is great, Victoire,” I said, gesturing with my fork towards the little remains of my spaghetti Bolognese.

“Thank you,” she replied with a bright smile like a beam of sunshine. “It’s Teddy’s Grandmum’s recipe.”

“Ah, that would explain why it tasted so familiar,” I remarked, forking some more of the sauce covered noodles onto my fork. Chewing and swallowing, I added, “I hadn’t had a decent batch of spaghetti since. . .well, I guess the last plate I ate was at your wedding reception.”

“What?” the Lupins’ exclaimed in unison.

I nodded my head slowly, unsure why they sounded so shocked.

“But that was almost three years ago!” Teddy added incredulously.

“I don’t understand why you both sound and look so scandalised,” I said with a laugh. “It’s not like they eat loads of spaghetti Bolognese in Panama, now is it?”

“It must be bullocks in Panama,” Teddy commented as he reached for the bottle of wine positioned in front of us. He poured himself a glass before raising the bottle in my direction. “More?”

“Absolutely,” I responded, holding out my glass for him. He tipped a generous amount of the red liquid into my glass, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to drink the entire thing without getting tanked. I couldn’t allow myself to get drunk when I had to Apparate home with my infant son. That was just irresponsible.

“And,” I resumed, suddenly remembering Teddy’s statement, “it isn’t bullocks in Panama. Actually, it’s quite lovely there.” I frowned. “If I’m being entirely honest, I miss it.”

“But not as much as you missed all your family and mates in England, yeah?” Teddy hedged.

When I glanced at him, he was smirking widely. I laughed into my glass of wine. “Not even close,” I assured him with a sturdy nod of my head, taking another sip of wine.

“Speaking of Panama,” Victoire began, her tone overly light and conversationally. There was an indifferent expression on her face, but it was the glimmer of desire in her blue eyes that betrayed her. “How was the training?”

I rolled my eyes. “Look, if you want to know about Jack’s father, just ask,” I sighed, my eyes falling on the half full glass of wine. My heart filled with longing, but I resisted the temptation. It would probably be for the best if I remained sober during this. . .interrogation that I had just agreed to.

“Who is he?” Victoire asked at once.

“Some man I met on a dig,” I answered noncommittally.

“’Some man I met on a dig’?” Teddy repeated mockingly. “Oh, come on, Mara. You’ve got to give us more details than that.”

I snorted derisively. “I think you should be glad that I’m telling you anything at all, Theodore Remus Lupin. Besides, I never knew that you had such a penchant for gossip.”

“I’m merely seeking the truth,” he replied airily.

Victoire joined me in my laughter, though she was much quicker to sober up. “I agree with Teddy,” she said finally. “Not that you have to give us more details or anything, but couldn’t you at least give us a name?”

Shit. I hadn’t been expecting this, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. Of course people would want to know the name of my father’s child. Of course they would want to know what he did for a living, what kind of person he was, how we met. While I already knew one of the three answers, I still had to invite two more. The wine was calling to me now, all but begging me to take a drink of the precious.

I resisted.

“His name was. . .Jason,” I said with difficulty. Thankfully, neither Teddy nor Victoire raised an eyebrow at the time it took me to respond; they probably figured it was just hard for me to talk about the man.

“Just Jason?”

I pulled the first surname that came to mind out of my head. “Phillips. His name was Jason Phillips.”

“Hmm,” Teddy hummed. I was surprised that he wasn’t stroking the imaginary beard on his chin. “It sounds American.”

“That’s because it is American,” I retorted, tucking my hair behind my ears nervously. My fingers itched to remove the wine glass from the table.

“Personally,” Victoire interrupted before her husband could chastise me for procreating with an American. “I don’t think it matters what his nationality is. Though I’m curious. . .what was an American doing in Panama?”

“Well, I’ve just said that I met him on a dig.” I looked back and forth between the couple, hoping that they would connect the dots on their own, but their faces remained blank. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Oh!” Teddy exclaimed after a few moments of silence. “He’s a Curse Breaker!”

I was going for Muggle anthropologist, an occupation I had taken a great interest in after conversing with several Muggles present on the site, but I supposed that a Curse Breaker worked as well. For some reason, however, it just didn’t sound as sophisticated.

“Yeah! He’s a Curse Breaker!”

“Does he work for the American branch of Gringotts?” Teddy asked interestedly.

“No,” I replied, a little too briskly, a tad too snappishly. “I mean, no. He doesn’t work for the American branch, but a private investor.”

“So he’s a freelance Curse Breaker?” Victoire questioned, an excited note in her voice, leaning forwards on her elbows.

“Yep.”

“He sounds delicious - I mean, exciting,” she quickly amended after a brief glance at her husband.

“He was very exciting, and fun, and nice,” I said, trying to play up the imaginary man that was the supposed father of my baby.

“If he was so perfect then why’d you break up?” Teddy asked.

“He had to go back to America,” I answered without a moment’s hesitant. Inwardly, I praised myself for coming up with such a quick response. “And before you ask, no, he didn’t know that I was pregnant. . .hell, I didn’t even know I was pregnant until he was gone for three months.”

“Did you try to contact him?” was Victoire’s next inquisition.

“I did, but he was on assignment in. . .Venezuela and I wasn’t going to bother him. . .or burden him with something this huge,” I said. This time, however, I wasn’t making up my response, aside from the Venezuela bit, of course. I hadn’t wanted to burden James with the responsibility of becoming a father, especially since he had left so quickly after our night together.

“Burden him?” Teddy parroted hollowly. Victoire and I exchanged an uneasy glance; the blue-haired man beside me was about to get very angry. “Burden him? What the hell were you doing with a man who didn’t want to assume responsibility of his own child?!”

“He didn’t know, Teddy!” I said loudly, trying my hardest to drown out his rising voice. “He still doesn’t know that Jack exists. And I’m not going to tell him, not after all this time.” I made an angry swipe at the unbidden tears in my eyes. “If he ever finds out and wants to take on the role, then fine,” I continued, my own temper rising, “he can have at it! But the way I see it is that we were already over and done with once I found out that I was pregnant with his child, so I wasn’t about to drag him back in my life when he was so obviously eager to be out of it!”

Teddy was pursing his lips so roughly, the skin around his mouth was turning an alarming shade of white. His wife reached across the table to grab his hand, but when her smooth palm touched the top of his hand, he pulled it out of her grasp.

“Teddy,” she began, but he was quick to silence her.

“No,” he said roughly. “If Mara doesn’t want her son to have a father, then she doesn’t want him to have a father. However, I think you’re making a huge mistake not only because Jack is going to grow up, wondering why his father left and if the man in question ever loved him, but there is also a huge chance that Jack’s father will want to know his son, would want to know that he exists.”

“Teddy,” Victoire tried again, but he ploughed onwards.

“If you ask me, Mara,” Teddy continued, his moss green eyes locking with mine, staring straight into my soul, “I think you’re scared. Scared of what his reaction will be when he finds out that you’ve been keeping a secret like this from him for so long. For a long as I can remember, you’ve hated it when people are angry with you and there’s a fat chance that Jack’s father will be very angry at you for shutting him out of his son’s life.”

“I’m not shutting him out,” I countered firmly, “I’m merely protecting my son from the possibility of rejection.”

“You’re not protecting your son, Mara, you’re protecting yourself,” Teddy corrected.

A knot tightened in my stomach, and I swallowed the gasp lodged in my throat.

He was right. I was protecting myself from the possibility of losing my best mate and my son’s father all in one go. I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, seeing as how I was already a mess when James was still in the dark about Jack. I couldn’t possibly imagine what things would be like if James found out about his son and rejected him. . .rejected me. Not to sound too overdramatic, but it really would be too much to bare.

“Look,” Teddy said after a beat, placing his hand over mine. “I’m not trying to hurt you, Mara,” he assured me, squeezing my hand for good measure, “and I’m not trying to lecture you, but you need to know that your worst fear won’t necessarily become a reality. As I’ve said several times already, there’s a huge chance that you should contact this Jason bloke, and let him know the truth.” His eyes found mine again and his gaze pierced right through me as he spoke his next words with a conviction so profound, I was stunned into silence. “He deserves it.”

- - -


Twenty minutes later, I was hoisting Jack out of the playpen and positioning him in my arms as to not wake him up. Luckily, he didn’t so much as stir as I jostled him around, slipping his left foot back into the bootie he had managed to shake off while he was sleeping. I could feel my heart begin to thrum painfully against my ribcage, threatening to jump in my throat and suffocate me, but somehow I managed to keep my breathing under control.

Slinging the diaper bag over my shoulder, I stepped into the foyer where Teddy was waiting for me; Victoire was still in the kitchen overseeing the clean up procession. I had offered to help, but she insisted that I get Jack back home as soon as possible, and that I ought to see myself into bed almost as soon as I had everything settled. I tried to smile at him, but found that I couldn’t; his words were still echoing in my head and most likely would be for the rest of the evening, if not for the rest of the week.

“Bye,” I said, turning the doorknob and stepping out onto the front stoop. Before I could descend the first step, however, Teddy’s hand wrapped around my wrist.

“Can I just say something?”

“I thought you just did.”

“Very funny,” he said with an exasperated roll of his eyes. “I meant what I said in the dining room.”

“I know you did -”

“No, Mara, I don’t think you understood what I was trying to say,” Teddy insisted, looking very stern all of the sudden. “I know that you know that I want you to tell Jack’s father the truth, and I know that you will, but I meant now. As in as soon as possible, not five, ten, or even fifteen years from now. He deserves to know the truth - James is your best friend after all.”

My mouth dropped open and my eyes all but bugged out of my head. “W-w-what?”

“Goodnight,” Teddy said with a wide, Cheshire Cat-like smile before he shut the door in my face.

- - -


A/N 2: Merlin’s pants, it’s been awhile since I’ve updated and I’m truly sorry for that, but my personal life caught up with me. If it wasn’t the school play then it was helping Student Council prepared for prom. And if it wasn’t prom then it was a project. And if it wasn’t a project. . .well, I think you get the picture. As usual, I want to thank everyone who has reviewed and everyone else who hasn’t - regardless of whether you drop a line or not, I appreciate everyone who reads this. Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to I love prongs; it was her birthday on the 15th and since I couldn’t get the chapter out on time, I figured I’d give a holler! Please review!

Chapter 9: Of Goblins, Bosses, and Redheads Galore - Chapter Eight
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Chapter Eight
Of Goblins, Bosses, and Redheads Galore


I was eleven years old again, standing on the far banks of the vast Black Lake, my eyes dazzled by the gloriously glowing sight of Hogwarts castle across the way. However, my stomach wasn‘t swooping and turning and all other words synonymous with trippy stomach manoeuvres. No, my stomach was a horrendously complicated knot of panic and unease - panicked at the prospect of having to work with goblins (I’m almost entirely certain that Jabrock has spread heinous and completely untrue rumours about me by now) and uneased by the thought of encountering Teddy Lupin. Which, like most things, would end badly. Very badly.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it was stupid to be afraid of Teddy and his goblin cronies, and to let my nerves get the better of me. After all, they were only goblins. The worse they could do was lock me up in the deepest recesses of the underground vaults for making a simple mistake. Teddy, on the other hand, was a much more frightening prospect. He could actually do magic, he didn’t sit around on his arse all day and count coins greedily. And he’s not afraid to use force every once in a while. I should know - I grew up with the bloke, and there had been several occasions in which he punched me in the arm for playing unfairly or wrestled me to the ground when I stole something from him.

As if on cue, my arm twitched. It’s a bloody warning sign.

I knew that after his words last night, Teddy wouldn’t leave me alone until I manned up and told James the truth. Which means I would have Teddy Lupin following me around and nagging me constantly for the next. . .well, I don’t know. Probably forever because Merlin only knows that it’s going to take a lot more than an annoying blue-haired freak to convince me to admit the harsh truth to James, especially when my former-but-still-sort-of best friend is wrapped around the finger of some big-boobed, blue eyed blonde. And an American one at that.

Shit. I was totally buggered.

The sudden sound of my father’s voice prevented me from diving head-first into a self-pitying party.

“If you don’t step into the grate in the next minute,” he said from his position at the kitchen table; he was scanning over the Daily Prophet, a cup of hot tea in his hand, “I’m going to push you through myself.”

I snorted derisively, but didn’t say anything in response. I continued staring at the blackened grate, vaguely wondering when it had last been cleaned and if I could use cleaning the grate as an excuse to stay home. If Mum was home, it might have worked, but she wasn’t, so it wouldn’t.

Damn.

“Mara?” Dad pressed somewhat impatiently.

“I’m going,” I said hurriedly, expelling a shaky sigh. “I just need another minute.”

“That’s what you said five minutes ago,” said Dad. He didn’t sound angry or irritated, but I could tell that my hesitancy was making him nervous.

Before I could reply, Dad rose from his chair and reached for the jar of Floo Powder on the mantel. He scooped up a small handful of the emerald green powder and slapped it into the palm of my left hand. When I looked up at him questioningly, he said, “You might as well get it over with, Mara. Besides, the goblins don’t bite much.”

Half frowning and half glaring at my father, I took a deep breath and cast the powder into the grate, which I quickly stepped into. I shouted my destination at the top of my lungs, accidentally inhaling some soot in the process. Soon, the entire world was spinning and a sharp pain reverberated up my left arm. Holy Mother of Circe, it hurt! I always forgot to pull my elbows within the folds of my cloak to prevent injury when I Flooed!

With a grunt, I tucked my limbs close to my body. I tried not to be sick; I could handle the sensation of being squeezed through an air-tight tube, but the constant, tight circles was enough to make my stomach roll unpleasantly. I was beginning to regret the three pieces of toast, two sausage links, and that steamy bowl of porridge I’d eaten for breakfast.

By the time I stumbled out of the fireplace, I was green in the face and hot around the collar. Casting a quick look around the small lobby, I hurried over to the potted plant in the corner and gripped the cement ledge between my fingers, my stomach heaving. I couldn’t decide whether it was fortunate or not that I had an unbelievably spiffy digestive system and absolutely nothing came up. Once I was entirely sure that the motion sickness had subsided, I straightened, the blood rushing away from my face, only to realise that I had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do.

Well, wasn’t this fantastic? My first official day at work, and I didn’t have a bloody clue. Not that I ever really had a clue, but most of the time I could feign intelligence, bobbing my head along and humming in agreement. It worked well - James could attest to that much as he had been there throughout my entire schooling career when I was incredibly clueless and somewhat daft; hey, at least I’m willing to admit it. Back then, with James around, everything always seemed funnier than it actually was. Laughs were plentiful, and I was usually the butt of the joke, humiliated, but laughing all the same. Now? There was nothing humorous about my current predicament - it was just embarrassing. I was all alone in a massive bank, and with goblins no less. Ruddy goblins who would probably take my innards before ever exchanging a civil word with me. Especially if Jabrock talked to them first.

Stupid goblin.

Some mystical and whimsical part of my mind wondered rather vaguely what James would say if he ever discovered that I was trapped in a building full of goblins. The image of his laughing face came to mind, and I found myself sighing contently at the mischievous twinkle in his hazel eyes, at the bright smile on his lips, crinkling the corners of his eyes and making me wish that I had listened to my mother and brushed my teeth more often as a child. My teeth didn’t look all that horrible, but I didn’t have a megawatt smile. Not like James’ smile, anyway. The thought of a laughing, somewhat mocking James lessened the creepiness of the place. It didn’t, however, prevent me from screaming when I felt a sharp tug at the hem of my robes.

When I looked down, I saw that there was a goblin standing by my feet, its hand still holding onto my robe. The impact of the déjà vu was much stronger than I expected.

“Hello,” said the grumbling voice near my knees.

Unlike Jabrock, this voice did not possess a note of disdain or mocking. In fact, compared to all of the other goblins I had met, which isn’t very many, it sounded quite pleasant. Distinctly less gruff and assertive, too. The same could be said about the goblin’s appearance. Of course, the goblin was short, the top of its head peeking around the middle of my thigh. I was only five foot five, which meant that this particular goblin was a runt. An unexpected flare of triumphant pleasure surged through me - it was one very small victory. Unlike other goblins, this goblin’s head was much smaller, the curve at the top much less severe. Also, the hair, which was a thick, coarse black instead of a fading white or dark grey, grew from the top of the head rather than the sides.

Hmmm, curious.

I tried to smile in reply at the goblin, but my mouth was unyielding, determined to grimace. So I settled on an uneasy greeting instead. “Um, hi,” I muttered, my voice cracking like a pubescent thirteen year old boy’s.

The goblin didn‘t seem fazed. “You must be Miss Longbottom,” the goblin said, turning its face up towards mine. I gave an involuntary gasp - it was wearing lipstick! And not just any shade of lipstick, but red lipstick. And then it dawned on me - holy shit, this was a female goblin! I didn’t even know those existed! I could only imagine what James’s face would look like when I tell him!

Oh wait. I’m supposed to be avoiding him, not confronting him willingly, no matter how interesting he would find this astounding revelation.

I blinked in rapid succession and stared down at the goblin, making sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. But the ruby lipstick didn’t fade and I became aware this goblin had dark blue eyes instead of the customary black. It was shocking, but not in an unpleasant way. For some reason, the idea of a female goblin made me less intimidated, though the feeling hadn’t entirely fled my mind just yet. She was still a goblin.

“Do you mind?” the female goblin pressed rather impatiently.

“W-what?” I breathed, confused until I realised that I was still staring stupidly at her. Blushing, I said, “Sorry. I’m just -”

“Surprised to see a female goblin?” she finished in her oddly gravel-like voice.

“Well. . .yes,” I answered hesitantly, hoping to all higher power beings that I wasn’t offending her. Teddy had told me that offending a goblin was one of the worst possible things I could do, especially if I wanted to remain on good terms with the Gringotts staff. At first, I had thought he was joking, but when that serious look settled in his moss green eyes, I knew that he wasn’t. He wouldn’t joke about goblins. . .would he?

That was all I needed, to upset what was probably the singular female goblin in existence, only to have her clothesline me in the middle of the lobby and gouge my eyes out with the sharpened edge of a Galleon. Or worse, her fingernails, which were probably covered in grim. My eyes flickered down to her small hands. Sure enough, a fine layer of dirt coated what would otherwise be the shiny surface of her nails. Her very sharp nails. I swallowed nervously.

Much to my surprise, she didn’t seem offended at all. In fact, she laughed, which sounded like two strips of sandpaper being rubbed together rapidly. The noise made me wince involuntarily.

She introduced herself as Terra and lifted a sharp-nailed hand for me to shake.

My heart began to beat frantically as I slid my hand into hers, my palms sweating profusely. Her skin as rough as untreated leather and clammy, but her grip was friendly. She pumped my hand three times before dropping it.

“It’s - er - a pleasure to meet you,” I said awkwardly, shuffling my feet like a small child would when confronted by an adult. Once the words leave my mouth, however, I’m surprised to learn that I actually mean them. I was pleased to meet her, mostly because she was female and most certainly not Jabrock, though Terra was probably his replacement because he was too busy. Plotting my death, most likely.

“I’m Mara,” I added hastily, albeit unnecessarily. It was blaringly obvious that Terra already knew who I was, hadn’t the first words out of her mouth been ‘you must be Mara Longbottom’? Hello Mouth, have you met my dear friend foot? If you haven’t, let me introduce you. If you have, well, you can get reacquainted.

She doesn’t waste a second, getting down to business immediately. “You’ll be working for me.”

“But I thought Teddy - I mean, Mr. Lupin was my boss?”

“We report back to Mr. Lupin,” she clarified, smiling at my in an annoying patronizing way. I get enough of that at home, thanks. As quickly as the smile drifted onto her face, it departed, and she’s all business again. “So, if you will, please follow me.” She set off at a brisk pace down the hall.

For such a small creature, she walked very fast. I had to hurry to keep up with her.

As she walked, Terra gave me the basic run-down of what was expected from me in the Human Relations Department and what to expect from the department and employees in return. “We handle everything related to the human aspect of Gringotts: It is our duty to compile the information sent to us via owl from our Curse Breakers on location all across the globe into a file, which we hand over to Mr. Lupin so he may check the progress of each individual as well as review their comments, be they positive or negative, about the sites.”

“What happens to the reports after that?” I asked curiously.

“Once he’s satisfied with the content in the file - or the reports - he signs them and then sends them over to the Head of Gringotts, Mr. Patrick Kilpatrick -”

My laughter escaped me before I could clamp my lips and bite my tongue. Terra stopped walking and whipping around. I expected anger in her eyes, but she looked curious, questioning. Her brow furrowed as she regarded me for several silent moments. “What’s so funny, Miss Longbottom?”

Somehow, I managed to choke back my laughter until I was only giggling. Very slightly, too. “Oh, it’s nothing,” I assured her, my cheeks colouring once more. “It’s just that -” I giggled here - “well, is his name really Patrick Kilpatrick?”

Her eyes narrowed. Her gaze turned suspicious. “Yes,” she replied tersely, her mouth set into a grim line. Oh no, I’ve done it. I’ve upset her, I’ve offended her. Well shit. “He’s the seventh generation Kilpatrick to run Gringotts,” she informed me with a slightly haughty tone, “and he’s only thirty years old, too. Youngest of the Kilpatrick family to assume Head status within these walls.” A smile floated onto her lips. “He’s handsome.”

“Is he now?” I asked, though I highly doubted it.

“Yes,” she said, bowing her head in deep appreciation. “Very handsome.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. Terra eyed me curiously before continuing on, resuming her brisk pace. At the speed we were walking, I could shed some of the baby weight I’ve been meaning to get rid of since Jack was born. Not bloody likely, the voice in the back of my head snorted somewhat cruelly, though I didn’t take the time to correct it.

“The Kilpatricks are a very prestigious family, Miss Longbottom, in both the banking and wizarding world.” I found this funny, considering this was the first I had ever heard of the Kilpatricks. “They’re known not only for their generosity to charities and organisations, but for their cut-throat business tactics and solid morals.”

Cut-throat business tactics and solid morals? Somehow the two didn’t seem to fit together. Of course, I didn’t say this at the risk of offending Terra, so instead, I settled on, “That’s wonderful.” It wasn’t, but I figured that I needed to make up for laughing at my boss’s boss and for gawking at Terra. “They seem like a wonderful family.”

Terra beamed at me, flashing two rows of pointy teeth. Her eyes sparkled. I tried not to cringe, though the effort was wasted. Thankfully, Terra didn’t say anything about it. Rather she continued to talk about our head boss.

“There’s a portrait of Mr. Kilpatrick hanging near our desks, which are located just around the next corner,” she said in a rush of excitement, apparently too elated by my ‘shared’ exhilaration for the Head of Gringotts. “It was a personal gift to me from Mr. Kilpatrick himself.”

I stifled my laughter, and swallowed the remark on my tip of my tongue. I highly doubted that she would appreciate me calling her beloved boss an arrogant prick.

Before I could ask why he gave it to her, she said, “He gave it to me for being the best worker in the Human Relations Department along with a promotion - of course, the top members of other departments received gifts as well, but none of them are quite as beautiful as mine.”

Now my expectations for what Mr. Kilpatrick looked like were insanely high - if he didn’t resemble Adonis himself, I would be severely disappointed because, whether I was willing to admit to it or not, Terra got my hopes up.

“Technically speaking,” Terra continued on, the haughty note returning to her rough voice once more, “I’m the Junior Head of the Human Relations Department. So, if you have any questions, you can always ask me. Most likely you won’t, considering that I’m the one that is training you.”

“Wow, that’s. . .,” I trailed off, unsure of what to say. It wasn’t wonderful, but it wasn’t entirely too horrific either. After all, it could be Jabrock.

Her bare feet slapped loudly against the marble floor as we trotted down the narrow corridor. It filled the silence between us, eliminating all necessity of words. As soon as we reached the end of the corridor and rounded the corner, there it was. The portrait. I bit back my gasp.

I had been expecting an extravagantly fat man with a handlebar moustache and a waistcoat with the straining golden buttons. Or someone who resembled an alien since, you know, Terra held him in such high regard. As you might have guessed, I was entirely wrong. Again. Surprising? Not all that much.

To say that Patrick Kilpatrick was handsome would be an understatement - he was bloody gorgeous. His bright green eyes were accented by his hollowed cheeks and long lashes, which brushed against the top of his cheekbones every time he blinked. A pleasant, almost mischievous smile stretched across his mouth and his eyes seemed to twinkle. The portrait only revealed the top portion of his body, stopping just below his sternum, but I could tell that if he was to shed his suit jacket, his arms would be finely muscled.

My heart gave a painful thump, thump. My knees even felt a little quaky underneath me.

“Is that. . .,” I trailed off, unable to finish my sentence. Probably because of all the drool collecting in my mouth.

“Yes,” Terra said, a misty look in her dark blue eyes. “That is Mr. Kilpatrick.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

Terra chuckled indulgently before she wrapped her leathery hand around my wrist, physically pulling me away from the portrait of my attractive boss in the hopes of actually teaching me what to do.

- - -


It wasn’t until I had been home for nearly three hours that I realised one very important thing: I was late for my prearranged meeting with Lily. In fact, I was so late that I was teeming on the edge of being very late. Though I can’t say that I realised this astounding fact all on my own. If it hadn’t been for Mum bounding out of the house and into the backyard, waving a piece of parchment in her hand and shouting my name, I doubt that I would have looked away from my intense concentration - I had been trying to remember the words to the lullaby Gran used to sing to me when I was younger, but couldn’t.

Curious, I pushed myself into a sitting position, one hand instinctively securing the now-sleeping Jack to my chest.

When she reached the blanket, Mum put her hands on her knees and drew in several deep breaths, panting. Like me, Mum didn’t get much exercise. Once she regained her composure, she said, “You’re late.”

“For a very important date?” I asked, unable to help myself. I grinned at her cheekily.

Unfortunately, Mum didn’t catch on. In fact, it seemed to piss her off. She narrowed her eyes at me, the line of her mouth tightening. “I don’t see what’s so funny. I imagine that Lily’s very upset that you -”

“Oh shit!”

“Mara, for the last time, watch your mouth in front of the baby!” she admonished sternly. She almost wagged her finger in my face, but clenched her fist at the last moment; she knew I hated it when she waggled her finger at me. “Honestly, if you keep speaking. . .well, like that in front of him, he’ll turn out exactly like his foul-mouthed father!”

I chose to ignore her jab, scrambling to my feet instead. “I can’t believe I forgot,” I said as I hurriedly shoved Jack into my mother’s arms. She grunted at the sudden weight. “I was just so distracted with -”

“Save it for Lily,” Mum interrupted, adjusting the still-slumbering Jack in her arms. “You’re over twenty minutes late.”

Twenty minutes!?” I parroted, groaning loudly.

“It’ll be more if you don’t whip your arse into gear,” she warned.

“Merlin, she’s going to kill me.”

Mum laughed. “I don’t think she’ll kill you, but just in case, you might want to -”

“Ack!” I shouted suddenly, realising that Mum was intentionally wasting my time. Resisting the urge to slap her, I pivoted on my heel and ran towards the house, my feet occasionally slipping out from underneath me. Since I assumed that Mum had left the door open on her way outside like she always did, I didn’t bother skidding to halt and prising it open. Instead, I ran headfirst into the door, smashing my nose against the glass. A burst of white swelled to life in front of my eyes before I fell backwards, blacking out before I hit the ground.

- - -


Unfortunately, Mum was right. I was more than twenty minutes late.

In fact, I was almost an hour late.

Which is why I was running down the street at top speed, attempting to shove my arm through the sleeve of my jacket, but failing miserably. I could tell from the curious stares I was receiving for passers-by that I looked ridiculous. Of course, it didn’t help that one of my arms was immobile since it was holding an old dish towel to the lower portion of my face. Even through the padding that the dish towel provided, the ice was unbearably cold against my throbbing nose. Either my mind was playing tricks on me or my nose hurt even worse with the ice pressed against it. I didn’t stop running until I saw the Leaky Cauldron. The derelict and creaky sign looked utterly defeated as it swung back and forth ominously in the non-existent wind.

I nearly ran into the couple who was exiting the pub as I was entering. The woman scowled at me, but her boyfriend nodded in acceptance when I offered an apology. When I slipped inside, I was assaulted by the sound of twenty different conversations. A few witches seated at the bar with huge goblets positioned in front of them glanced at my curiously as I passed through the door, though their eyes didn’t linger; I’m sure they had seen much more peculiar things in their life than a young woman with one arm in her jacket and a bloodied dish towel pressed to her nose.

Trying to locate the unmistakable Weasley-red hair in the smoky and crowded pub was nearly impossible. After a few minutes of blind searching, I finally gave in and approached the barman with a reasonable amount of hesitation. I had to shout over the drone of voices, but when I asked where she had been seated, he pointed to the corner booth. Like the witches, his gaze didn’t linger on me longer than necessary, and for that I was grateful.

I was surprised to see that Lily wasn’t alone like she had originally said she would be. Panic seized me for a moment - was she possess that much audacity to bring James along with her? - but the panic subsided once I got a good look at the people gathered around the table. A broad grin spread across my face, and my nose flared with pain. I hated glass doors.

Lily saw me before I made it over to the table. Though she was smiling, she didn’t look pleased. Her lips were set into a harsh line, making her resemblance to her mother and grandmother even more apparent than it usually was, and she looked as though she was going to chew me out. That is, until she saw my face.

Before she could ask, I said, “I ran into the sliding glass door.”

Lily wore an expression of utmost concern, but her companions most certainly did not. Rose pursed her lips, which quivered tremendously as she tried to retain her laugh. Lucy, on the other hand, laughed freely, going as far as pointing a finger at me to let me know that, yes, she was laughing at me and not the crude joke told by the wizard at the next table.

In a way, I was thankful for their reactions. For some reason, it made the situation all the more humiliating when people - specifically family members - grew concerned.

After a few moments of endless staring, Lily popped up from her seat and engulfed me in a hug not unlike the one we’d shared in the Scamanders’ kitchen. She was so tiny that I could touch my elbows when I hugged her. I’m almost positive that the last time such a feat was achievable, I was still in nappies.

“It’s good to see you again,” Lily said, a bright, genuine gleam in her eyes, “even if your face is a bit -”

“Fucked up?” Rose supplied, sending me a warm and slightly cocky smile. There was no denying the blatantly obvious fact that Rose was absolutely gorgeous, with her round eyes, high cheekbones, and delicately sloping nose. Tonight, she had her red hair pulled back into a careless bun, which in its own way seemed elegant. Her bright brown eyes appraised my ‘fucked up’ appearance. “I would say that you’ve never looked better, but. . .” Rose trailed off, gesturing towards my nose.

I laughed, which hurt, and embraced Rose tightly; though our bond wasn’t nearly as strong as the one I shared with Lily, I had always gotten on very well with Rose, and I found her sarcastic sense of humour to be unbelievably refreshing.

The same process was repeated with Lucy, who sprang up from her seat to give me an one-armed hug before pulling back. Her startling blue eyes found mine as we sat down. I was alarmed by the serious glimmer of her eyes and the way they stared at me, questioningly. Hungrily. She wanted to know something, and I was more than willing to bet that it concerned Jack.

It was no secret that Lucy Weasley loved children. Even when she was only ten years old - I was seven at the time - she said that she was going to have a large family, one that would rival the size of her grandparents’, which everyone did and still thinks is suicide. The Weasley clan is massive, hence the reason why they call it a clan. You can’t have a clan without numerous members and, quite honestly, I don’t think anything really knows the true size of the Weasley family, that’s how large it is.

Anyway, that’s what Lucy wanted and probably still wants, a large family. Which is why I felt incredibly stupid for not seeing it earlier: Lucy had tagged along not because she wanted to see me - it’s suffice to say that we felt indifferently towards one another - but because she wanted to seize the opportunity to meet my son. And probably kidnap him. Maybe even eat him up. I had witnessed firsthand her telling a small child that she could just eat them up, and she’d looked like she’d meant it.

Of course, I was right.

“So, how’s. . .what’s your son’s name again?” Lucy asked, picking up the goblet situated in front of her and taking a lazy sip. She eyed me curiously over the rim of her glass.

“His name is Jack,” I replied, smoothing out the wrinkles in the paper napkin in front of me, “and he’s fine.”

“Why didn’t you bring him along then? I was hoping that I could meet the little guy.”

I glanced from Lily to Rose, who wore an expression of annoyance, and back again before I answered. “He’s only four months old, Lucy, and I don’t think a pub is a suitable place for an infant. Besides, I wanted to have some time to myself. I wanted to have some fun.”

“And we will,” Rose assured me, waving a hand and signalling the waitress. “I wouldn’t have dragged my own arse here if there wasn’t fun to be had.” She winked at me. Lucy glared at a knot in the wooden tabletop.

The waitress came bumbling over to our table, looking imploringly at each person. Lily and Rose ordered themselves another glass of wine while Lucy simply asked for water. When the waitress turned her small, beady eyes to me, I ordered a pint. Lucy raised her eyebrows in shock while Rose and Lily whistled their approval.

As soon as the drinks arrived, the atmosphere turned pleasant. Well, sort of.

I’ll admit that Lucy’s fifteen minute Spanish Inquisition was a bit unnecessary, not to mention annoying, considering she kept asking question and question concerning one subject - my son. She wanted to know everything little detail about him and the birthing process as a whole; she even wanted to know if she could watch the video of Jack being born. When I declined her request, my voice was indignant, and aside from passing around a picture of Jack for everyone to see, my son’s name didn’t come up again.

However, aside from that, everything went smoothly. We took turns exchanging the typical questions asked by those who are reacquainted after such a long time apart - what’s been going on with you? How’s life treating you? Did you shag anybody lately? Though I already knew that Lily was engaged to Henry Thomas, the son of Dean and Parvati Thomas, I was surprised to learn that Rose’s boyfriend, one Scorpius Malfoy, had proposed to her only two weeks ago.

“It was so romantic,” Rose gushed, turning an unnatural shade of bright pink. “And so unexpected, too. I mean, we had always talked about getting married, but I never expressed an immediate interest. I thought that we would be together for a few more years before he ever popped the question.”

“Where’s the ring?” I inquired as I took another drink from my pint of lager. As the liquid slid down my throat, I regretted it. My tolerance for alcohol was pitiful and although I had only consumed half of my pint, my head was already spinning. I pushed the mug away from me and returned my eyes to Rose’s flushed face.

“Oh,” she muttered, looking down at the scratched table. “Well, that’s a bit - er - complicated.”

“Complicated? How so?” Lily and I pressed in unison. Apparently the cousins didn’t share everything with each other.

Rose shifted uneasily under our intense scrutiny and began to pick at a particularly large gash in the tabletop. “You see,” she began, tucking a strand of bright red hair behind her ear nervously, “Scorpius got me a ring and he proposed with it, but I didn’t take it.”

“Why not?” Lily demanded, though I could see by the look in Rose’s eyes why she hadn’t. I knew because I understood what she was feeling - apprehension. Anxiety.

“Because you don’t know how your parents are going to take the news,” I said suddenly, causing all three girls - Lucy hadn’t said much after we had failed to respond to her speech about tightening regulations on the cauldron market - to look at me in surprise.

“Well. . .y-yeah. That’s why I haven’t told them about our engagement,” Rose confessed, her cheeks a deep crimson, “because I don’t know how they’re going to react. I know that Mum won’t make that big a deal out of it, but Dad. . .well, you know my father. He’s a pigheaded git, and extremely prejudice against the Malfoys, which is ridiculous because Scorpius is such a gentleman, and he’s nothing like his father. Scorpius is wonderful, possibly the most fantastic person I’ve ever met in my life -”

“As much as we love hearing you talk about your beloved Scorpius,” Lily started, a smirk on her face, “why don’t you just spare yourself and Scorpius the agony, and tell your parents already. Like you said, Aunt Hermione isn’t going to care, she’ll be happy for you.”

“Yeah, but what about my dad, Lils?” Rose questioned, the anxiety evident in her voice. “What am I going to do about him?”

“Don’t worry about it, Rose,” I said, reaching across the table to take her hand. I gave her fingers a tight squeeze. “Your dad already knows how much you love and care for him. So he’ll act like a little wanker for a while, but so what? He’ll eventually get over it as soon as he sees just how much you care for one another. It’s just like when I found that I was pregnant with Jack. Gran wanted me to tell Ja-”

The word STOP TALKING appeared in bright, red letters in my mind, and I immediately shut my mouth.

“Who?” the girls pressed. “Who did your gran want you to tell?”

My heart was racing. I had almost divulged the secret that I had been guarding so preciously for the past thirteen months. I closed my eyes, gulped down several deep breaths of air, and stayed my shaking hands. The keyword was almost. I had almost spilled the pot of juicy beans, but I hadn’t. I would pat myself on the back if the three redheads weren’t watching and if my hands weren’t shaking so bad.

“Jason,” I supplied, glancing back and forth between the three. “That’s the name of Jack’s father.”

“Oh,” they said in unison, their shoulders sagging in obvious defeat.

Was it me or had they been hoping I would say another name, one that belonged to a tall, handsome man that they all knew and loved dearly? My heart skipped a beat. Did they already know? Did Teddy tell them? Before my temper could flare to life, the voice of reason spoke soothing words. The same soothing words I had been telling myself for the past few days. He would never tell anyone, not Teddy. I trusted him with this. . .didn’t I?

“So did you ever tell him?” one of the girls prompted. I didn’t know who it was.

“No, I didn’t,” I answered automatically, another wave of dèjá vu crashing over my head. Hadn’t I just engaged in a conversation eerily similar to this only nights before? “He had already left the country by the time I found out I was pregnant.”

Thankfully, they didn’t ask anymore questions about the matter, and the conversation returned to Rose’s dilemma: should she get it over with and just tell her parents, or should she make Scorpius wait, which might make him doubt her commitment to their relationship? Though Rose never reached a decision while we sat around the table, the conversation moved onto her plans for the wedding. She said that she would like to have a winter wedding, even though she had always wanted to exchange vows during the summer.

“That way it won’t interfere with James and Sophie’s wedding,” Rose finished, the others nodding in agreement.

“Wait,” I said, confused, my brow puckering. “Why would it interfere with James’s wedding?” I looked at each of their faces in turn, studying their wary expressions. It took a few deep breaths and a lot of self control to force the next question out of my mouth. “When is he getting married?”

“You should tell her,” Rose said to Lucy.

“No, I think it should be Lily,” Lucy countered, glancing at her cousin who was sitting next to me. “After all, he’s your brother.”

“Lily?” I posed hesitantly. “When is the wedding?”

She gulped down a breath of air, her hands clutching the long stem of her wine glass. Her brown eyes were wide and nervous. A horrible thought occurred to me and I voiced it.

“Did they already get married?”

“No,” she responded, shaking her head. “No, they haven’t gotten married yet. . .but. . .oh, I thought that James would have told you by now. I mean, you have been back in England for nearly two weeks and it is coming up soon. . .” she trailed off hesitantly.

“Just - tell me already, Lily!” I exclaimed, jumping at the volume of my own voice.

Lily licked her lips, muttered something under her breath that sounded strangely like a death threat on her eldest brother’s life, before answering, “In two weeks.”

- - -


The front door banged against the wall as I stormed into the house. My parents, who were sitting in the living room, each reading a section of the Evening Prophet jumped in surprise. Dad reached for his wand, pointing it at me. It took him a moment for him to lower his wand, even longer to lower his guard.

“So,” Mum asked, twisting around in her arm chair to look at me. “How was your -”

I didn’t hear the rest of her question. I hurried up the stairs, my footsteps heavy and determined as I climbed the staircase up to my room. A quick glance around my room told me that Jack was sleeping in the guest room; Dad had moved his cot there as soon as he started sleeping through the night, which just happened last week. I slammed my bedroom door behind me and flicked my wand at the door, muttering an irritable incantation under my breath.

For once I didn’t care that I was acting like a teenager suffering an overdose of angst. I stomped around my room, jerking the drawers out of their chests and rummaging through the rubbish layered within them. I tore apart my desk as well as my nightstand before I found what I was looking for: an ink well, some paper, and a quill.

In a flurry of agitation, I flung myself down in the chair on my desk. My hands shook with fury as I attempted to unscrew the lid on my inkwell. So James decided not to tell me that he was getting married in two weeks. That was all right. Except for one major problem: I was his best friend. He was supposed to tell me these things. Just like I told him everything.

Well, except for the one huge thing, but that didn’t matter because I was protecting my son. When it came to protecting people, it didn’t matter what you did as long as your loved ones were safe from harm.

My conscious was so busy screaming at me for being a hypocrite that I didn’t hear my father come into my bedroom. I had torn a huge hole in the piece of parchment laid out before me, but it didn’t matter. At this rate, nothing but expressing my anger towards James for lack of information mattered now. Something told me that I would regret this letter in the morning, especially since I was more than slightly intoxicated.

“Um, Mara?”

“What?” I shouted, wiping around to glare at my dad. He had interrupted me, after all.

“Er, are you -”

“No, I’m not all right,” I said, still glaring at him. I wanted to be angry with my father, but I couldn’t. If anything, I should be thankful for his appearance. He might’ve just saved me a great deal of embarrassment. “What’s that you got?” I asked, gesturing towards the envelope in his hand.

“Oh, this is for you,” he said nervously, edging towards me as though he was approaching a poisonous snake. “It just came.”

I snatched the letter out of his hands and turned away from him. His footsteps retreated and the door snapped shut. Flinging myself on my mattress dramatically, I ripped open the letter, my blood pounding through my veins like a freight train. I recognised the writing immediately: It was from James.

Mara,

Lily told me what happened at dinner. Before you jump to conclusions and send me threatening letters, love; I know you all too well - cap your inkwell before all the ink dries up - I feel that I need to explain myself along with my actions. They haven’t exactly been exemplary. That being said, would you meet me for lunch tomorrow? I’ll understand if you don’t want to come, but I don’t want our friendship to be left in ruins because of me.

Send a return owl regardless of your answer.

Loving you always,

James


“Fuck,” I cursed, crumbling the letter and tossing it aside. As much as I wanted to say no, to tell him to piss off, I couldn’t. My curiosity yearned to hear what he had to said, and, honestly, I wanted to see him. I hadn’t had much alone time with James since I had been back, and maybe, just maybe, this would provide an opportunity to tell him the truth.

I pushed my hands through my hair, sighing heavily. There was a possibility that I would regret accepting his invitation to lunch, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

My reply was ’of course’.

- - -


A/N: Wow. Sorry for the lack of updates. I feel horrible, but life caught up with me. Since graduation and summer are fast approaching, I can with a confident smile that the updates will become more frequent, and that the story will be getting much more interesting - I know it hasn’t exactly been grade A entertainment, but now that the game is set, the match is just about to begin.

Chapter 11: Like a Sucker Punch to the Gut
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Chapter Ten
Like a Sucker Punch to the Gut


It might have only been my second day at Gringotts, but I was already comfortable there. I have Terra to thank for that. Initially, I was surprised at how well Terra and I got on; I expected a gruff exchange of words only when necessary, not full-blown conversations when the mood struck her about everything and nothing at all. Sometimes, she would relate a story about a previous employee whom she’d had the pleasure of firing - I winced for the poor bastards and wondered if I would ever be in that same position - and other times, she talked about her home life.

I know, I know - it’s shocking as all hell. She had been married, but her husband died in an unfortunate accident involving a dragon and three teenagers breaking into the bank; apparently a rock fell from the ceiling and crushed him. I tried not to blush (and laugh), knowing fully well that she was talking about my father’s friends and pseudo family members. I had a sneaking suspicion that Terra knew that I knew what she was talking about, but she didn’t say anything. Thankfully.

I could only imagine how awkward that would have been, but laughter always seemed to strike me at inappropriate times. Like when James got caught in the trip step, smacked his face on the steps in front of him, and knocked his two front teeth out. He had been hysterical, convinced that the school matron wouldn’t be able to fix them. All I could do was laugh. Of course, I wasn’t the only person laughing, but I was his best mate. I was supposed to tell everyone to shut the hell up and comfort him. But I didn’t, and I still don’t regret it.

A loud, buzzing sound snapped me out of my brief reverie. I slopped a considerable amount of hot tea down the front of my new robes in my surprise. “Oh, bollocks,” I muttered to myself, quickly fixing the stain with a quick flick of my wand. I was just about to take another drink when the buzz occurred again.

More tea splashed down my robes. I glared at the portrait of Patrick Kilpatrick, like it was his fault even though it obviously wasn’t. So. . .if it wasn’t the portrait and it wasn’t Terra - she wasn’t at her desk - then what in the name of Merlin’s pants was making that incessant noise?

As I mopped the tea up with a wad of napkins (I couldn’t find my wand on the mess that was my desk), the buzzing persisted until it was a continuous sound. A sound that didn’t have a source, which was more than slightly alarming. I stopped, throwing glances around the space in which Terra and I worked. There was a handful of possible places the noise was coming from. It wasn’t coming from my desk - at least, I hoped not - and it wasn’t coming from down the hall. . .so that left Terra’s unmanned - or should I say, ungoblined desk.

My curiosity now piqued, I tossed the napkins aside and hesitantly inched towards Terra’s desk. As I approached, I could hear the sounds of a muffled and thoroughly irritated voice. Even though it was muffled, it sounded very familiar.

Compared to my desk, Terra’s was impeccable. All of her papers were stacked into tidy, little piles and most of the file folders had labels, every department marked with a different colour. If I wasn’t so curious to figure out where the noise was coming from, I would have gagged, but I could only do so much at once so earlier in the morning without loosing my mind. The only messy part of her desk was the right hand corner. Next to a portrait of what I presumed was her deceased husband was a mound of oddly shaped papers. I threw a glance over my shoulder to make sure that Terra wasn’t coming - I highly doubted that she would appreciate my snooping, but I just couldn’t resist.

I picked up the papers and saw what had given them such an odd shape. It was a statute of a green frog with its mouth hanging open, a fly on the tip of its pink tongue. My eyes remained on the fly. There was no way. . .no, the noise couldn’t be coming from -

A loud buzz rocketed through my ear.

Bloody hell!” I shouted, stumbling backward.

“Oi, Terra! Is that you?” an irritated voice shouted.

I massaged my ear as I glared at the frog statue. “No,” I responded, still rubbing my ear. I doubted that my hearing would ever return to normal.

“No?” the voice parroted with a scoff. “Then who the hell is this?”

I recognised that scoff. I could pick it out of a room full of scoffers. Only one person could make such a noise of disgust. “Teddy?” I questioned incredulously.

His response was one of equal surprise. “Mara? What are you - why are you answering Terra’s pager? Where’s Terra?”

“She said that she was going down to Mr. Kilpatrick’s office to deliver the reports from last night,” I answered, my gaze hardening as I continued to glare at the statute. “And since when do you talk to your employees like that? I’m sure if Vicky knew, she’d have a field day.”

“Just like James would if he found out the truth about Jack?” Teddy fired back.

Damn him. I should’ve expected that. I should have known he was going to throw that in my face; it was his only weapon in his arsenal, but it was the Killing Curse of all weapons - it was the be-all-end-all. And it would most certainly spell my end if he ever used it against me.

“You’re a right prat, d’you know that? I’d wallop you if I wouldn’t get in trouble,” I said heatedly, roughly shoving my hair away from my face. It fell back into place. I huffed in annoyance, giving up.

“Oh, I’m sure you would,” Teddy laughed. “Anyway, when Terra comes back to her desk, will you send her down to see me? I need some help prepping these files for tomorrow morning’s presentation.”

“Sure, but I don’t know when she’ll be back,” I answered truthfully, repeating what the goblin had told me just before departing. “You know how she feels about Mr. Kilpatrick; she’ll stay down there ‘till Kingdom Come if he asks it of her.”

He laughed again. “True. . .hey, are you doing anything right now? Because I could use your help with this.”

I snorted. Quite loudly. Thankfully no one was around to here. “You’re funny, Teddy.”

“How d’you mean?” he questioned curiously. “I was being perfectly serious about that.”

“I have absolutely no experience behind a desk,” I admitted, subconsciously tucking a strand of reddish gold hair behind my ear as I spoke. For once, it stayed in place. “I mean, obviously I was a student and sat in a desk for quite some time, but that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean exactly?” His amusement was evident in his voice, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that if I stormed down to his office and burst through the door, he would be wearing an obscenely smug expression on his face, his moss green eyes glittering like mad, and he’d be leaning back in his chair, arms tucked behind his head.

Wanker.

“What I’m saying is that I have no fucking clue what I’m doing!” I shouted helplessly at the statue of the frog, flapping my arms about frantically. “I’m saying that you’re shit up a creek without a paddle, mate, because I won’t be able to help you seeing as how I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“That’s exactly the sort of comment a boss wants to hear from their new employee.”

You know that sensation you get when someone casts a Disillusionment Charm on you? Yeah, well, that’s how my stomach felt as I made three rather important discoveries in the matter of a few seconds. One, the reply hadn’t come from the right direction - it came from somewhere over my shoulder instead of from the frog statue positioned on the desk in front of me. Two, the voice was most certainly not Teddy’s. Unless Teddy was able to alter his voice from light and pleasant to smooth and smoky. And three? The chances of me losing my job were slim to none.

I gulped and slowly pivoted my upper body so it was facing the opposite direction. Standing near the foot of Terra’s desk wearing a dashing suit and an amused smirk was my boss, the one and only Patrick Kilpatrick. His eyes twinkled when they found mine and he quirked a dark brow in my direction. If I hadn’t been holding onto the back of Terra’s desk chair, I would’ve fallen to the floor, for my knees had gone weak at the simple, but extremely distracting action. Instead, my grip tightened, stretching the skin of my knuckles and turning it the whitest of whites.

Good Merlin, he was gorgeous.

And I had just made a complete fool of myself in his presence.

Go figure.

When I didn’t respond immediately, the delectable man known as my boss smiled at me and extended a hand. “You must be Mara Longbottom.”

I nodded dumbly as I stumbled forward to shake his hand. “Y-yeah,” I stuttered, my tongue feeling like a lead in my mouth, making speech only moderately more difficult than usual. Teddy’s laughter drifted through the frog statute. My embarrassment increased, the heat rushing to my cheeks. “S-sorry you had to hear that,” I said, easing my hand out of his warm grasp as gently as I could. The skin of my palm tingled.

“No, by all means, I’m glad I did,” Patrick Kilpatrick said as he leaned against the edge of the desk and slipped his hands into the front pockets of his pinstriped dress pants. “It’s proof that everything Terra and Teddy told me about you is true.”

I blanched, fumbling with my hands. “Y-you - erm -” I paused to clear my throat “- asked about me?”

“Of course,” he replied flippantly, his mouth growing wider and wider by the minute. “I’d never think of hiring someone without consulting outside sources. There’s a reason why references are required on resumés, you know.”

I didn’t realise I was supposed to respond with a tinkling “Oh, why’s that?” until my boss sent me a rather insulting look, one that clearly questioned my intelligence. Inwardly, I scowled, but I kept my face as neutral as possible.

“People lie,” Patrick Kilpatrick finished.

“Are you suggesting that my friends lied, sir?” I asked instinctively, almost defensively.

“Not at all,” he answered smoothly. He was still smiling, though the impish factor had disappeared. “Quite the contrary, actually. They told me you were - oh, what’s that phrase - a spitfire, I believe.”

Patrick chuckled and licked his lips. I fought against every instinct to moan out loud, gripping the back of the chair as though my life depended on it. Men with mouths like his should not be allowed to do simple things like that. It puts crude and lewd ideas in my head, the most innocent of which involves him clearing off Terra’s desk with a sweep of his muscular arm, wrapping me in his embrace, and taking me right there on his desk, high heels and all.

Circe, I had to stop reading Mum’s Muggle harlequin romance novels before I became a deluded bimbo.

I ran my eyes over his muscled form as discreetly as possible.

It might be too late.

Patrick Kilpatrick said something, but I missed it. When he, once again, sent me an inquiring look, I blinked stupidly and said, “You’ll have to excuse me. I was - er - distracted. Mind repeating that?”

The look changed from questioning to intrigued. “I said that I was glad they were right.” And then he flashed me a knee melting smile.

Hm, maybe this day wasn’t going to be as horrible as I thought.

- - -


Teddy cornered me at lunch. I was sitting alone in the small break room, unwrapping the corned beef and cheese sandwich Mum had packed for me this morning. I felt like a small child, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my best memories came from my childhood.

However, when the blue-haired freak slid into the seat across from me, all memories vanished from my head, replaced with much less pleasant thoughts.

“Hello,” he greeted politely.

I wasn’t fooled. Swallowing the bite of food in my mouth, I glared at him. “What do you want?”

“Oh, so now I have to have a motive to sit and engage in an otherwise pleasant conversation with you?” Teddy pushed his bottom lip into a pout.

“Yes.”

He threw a hand over his heart. “I’m hurt.”

“Or just dramatic,” I grumbled, uncapping my flask of pumpkin juice and pouring it into the paper cup.

“Someone’s in a bad mood,” Teddy said, leaning back in his chair. “I would’ve thought that after your hour-long conversation with the Dreamboat, you’d be happier than this.”

I furrowed my brow at him. “The Dreamboat? Who the hell is -” I stopped once the pieces fell into places and threw my balled-up napkin at him. “Don’t call him that!”

“What should I call him then? Paddywaddykins?”

Despite myself, I laughed. “I’d pay a few Galleons to see that.”

“I don’t want him to get the wrong idea,” Teddy responded, reaching across the table and grabbing the second half of my sandwich. I rolled my eyes. He grinned as he took a bite. “Not as good as Nana’s.”

“If you’re not going to enjoy the sandwich, give it back.” I held out a hand and wiggled my fingers at him, but he answered with another monstrous bite. I made a face at him and he opened his mouth, revealing his chewed food. “Ew!” I shrieked, closing my eyes and turning away. “That’s disgusting. How old are you - four?”

“Three,” he said through a mouthful. Thankfully, he waited until he polished off the rest of the sandwich before speaking again. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something, Mara. It’s serious.”

My stomach plummeted, but somehow my voice managed to stay relatively calm. “I haven’t told him yet if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Obviously,” Teddy deadpanned. I looked at him, confused. He sighed and elaborated. “I’m his best friend, Mara. He would’ve come running to me the moment he found out, all dazed and confused. And angry, most likely. He hates it when people lie to him, which is what you’re doing.”

“I’m not lying,” I protested weakly. “I’m just. . .evading the truth. For the time being.”

Teddy made a show of rolling his eyes and huffing in annoyance. Once he recovered from his bout of immaturity, he said, “Look, all I’m saying is that it would probably be for the better if you told him before he marries Sophie. If he finds out afterwards, I’m sure that Sophie will think that he’s been lying to her the entire time.” He paused, pursing his lips in thought. “Or she’ll think that this is a tactic to get James back.”

“Get him back?” I repeated incredulously. “I never had him in the first place! Okay, so maybe I had him at one point in time,” I corrected under Teddy’s heavy gaze, “but that was - well, it wasn’t a relationship. Besides, it’s not like I -” I fumbled over the word “-love him or anything.”

A few beats of silence passed between us before Teddy reached across the table and grabbed my hand. He squeezed it and I squeezed back, fighting back bitter tears. After a while, he released my hand and I continued eating, pretending like nothing had happened at all.

- - -


By the end of the day, I was more than ready to go home, change out of my work robes into some sweats and a baggy t-shirt, and cuddle with my son. When I Apparated just outside of the house’s wards and picked my way up the paved garden path, I realised none of this was going to happen because Sophie was sitting on the back porch with Mum and a very disgruntled Lily, bouncing my son on her knee.

“Mara!” Lily exclaimed once she saw me through the overgrown rose bushes. “You’re home!” She bolted out of her seat and hurried over to hug me. “Please, I’m begging you, just say yes. I can’t handle her all by myself.”

She pulled away and I stared, wide-eyed, at her. “W-what?”

“You’ll see,” she said, gripping my upper arm and steering me towards the patio.

The moment he saw me, Jack let out a loud squeal of giddy laugh. My heart soared as I scooped him up in my arms, blowing a fat raspberry on his belly. He giggled and I laughed along with him, nuzzling the side of his soft neck with my nose.

“How’s Mummy’s boy?” I cooed, hugging him as tightly as possible without breaking him. His tiny hand closed around the collar of my robe and I looked over his head at Mum, who was smiling at the scene. “So? The verdict?”

“He was an angel,” Mum answered fondly. “I took him over to Molly and Arthur’s this afternoon and he made quite the impression.”

I blanched at the thought of Molly Weasley fawning over my son. Had she been able to see the traces of her grandson in my child? Instead of questioning my mom’s sanity - it’s not like I could say anything with both Lily and Sophie here - I groaned. “What’d he do this time?”

“Just a bit of accidental magic,” my mother said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Molly said she wanted a new tablecloth anyway.”

It was probably for the best that I didn’t inquire any further.

“So,” Lily ventured when no one spoke for a handful of minutes. “Sophie wants to ask you something.” And you better say yes, she added in the silent glare she threw at me.

“Oh?” I turned towards the blonde, who was smiling hesitantly at me, her hair falling around her shoulders with an unnatural amount of grace. I thought of my own hair and how lanky it must look. I grimaced.

Sophie must’ve thought the grimace was directed at her because she said, “I don’t want to make you feel obligated to this, of course, but I was - I was asking because - well, you are James’s best friend and all and -”

“. .. you haven’t asked me anything yet,” I remarked.

“Oh!” Sophie flushed a deep burgundy. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat and straightening her posture in her chair. “Here goes nothing.“ She flashed Mum a tight smile as she chuckled nervously.

What in the name of Merlin’s pants was she going to ask me!? I flicked my eyes over at Lily, who was gazing at me challengingly, daring me to go against her. I wouldn’t dare - she was a Potter after all. With a nasty temper to boot.

Just like her brother, I thought to myself.

Sophie’s question hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. “Would you be my maid of honour?”

- - -


A/N: Um, wow! Sorry for the delay in updates. I’ve been really busy this summer and haven’t had much time to write. I feel horrible for taking over a month to get this chapter out, but it is my hope that things will start to settle down a bit. That being said, I hope you enjoyed this chapter and please review! I love getting feedback from you all! Questions, comments, concerns? Ask away in the form of a review. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 12: Does Your Mother Know?
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A/N: Just so you know, there will be another change in view point during this chapter. =)


Chapter Eleven
Does Your Mother Know?


Watching Sophie and her mother comb through rack after rack of wedding dresses in search for “the perfect one” was a bit like watching primates grooming their young, plucking out the bites of leaves and eating the small bugs. In short, it was amusing yet revolting at the same time, mainly because Sophie and her mother were giggling and cooing over all of the dresses like a bunch of school girls - like they were the best of friends.

At first, I thought it was mildly cute, but after her mother reached forward and groped her daughter’s breasts, turning to look over her shoulder and ask the dress lady person if Sophie would need a strapless push-up bra (I swallowed my vehement cry of “No!”), things turned extremely awkward. I might have had a close relationship with my mum, but there was no way in hell that I would let her openly grope my boobs in public. That was just weird.

I suppose it didn’t help that I was the only other person there. Lily had contacted Sophie earlier than afternoon to let the bride-to-be know that she was going to be late. In Lily Language, that meant she was going to show up for the last five minutes. I swallowed nervously. I was left completely and utterly alone with the woman who would be exchanging vows with my best friend in a little under twelve days and her mother, who was very polite, but also very straightforward. Much like her daughter.

Maybe it was an American thing.

And maybe it was also an American thing to ask the best friend of your future husband to be your maid of honour after only meeting once - and very briefly at that. I’ll admit, I was still a little confused as to how I ended up in the bridal shop, even though Sophie had made herself quite clear. I tried to make sense of it all as Sophie and her mother continued their incessant searching for the perfect dress.

“W-What?”

Sophie shifted in her chair, leaning forwards to take my hand. I don’t know why she thought it was necessary, but I went along with it simply because I didn’t know what else to do. My mind was in panic mode, and generally speaking, I wasn’t the best thinker whilst panicking. Or ever, really.

“Would you like to be my maid of honour?” she asked again, sending me an expectant look through her dark, unbelievably long - and most likely fake - eyelashes.

“Why?”

“Why?” She laughed, acting like it was the most amusing thing she’d ever heard. I highly doubted that, considering whom she was engaged to. “Because I asked you, silly. That’s why.”

“No,” I said with an impatient shake of my head. I slid my hand out of her grasp, returning it to support my son’s bottom. Jack gave a sharp pull on my hair. “I meant why are you asking me of all people to be your maid of honour? We hardly know each other. Shouldn’t the title go to your own best friend instead of your fiancé’s?”

Her smile faltered a bit at the corners, though her expression remained pleasant. “Originally I had planned for my best friend to be my maid of honour,” she began, delicately tucking a strand of wavy blonde hair behind her ear, “but Margaret contracted dragon poxes over the weekend.”

Over my shoulder, I heard Mum draw in a deep breath of surprise.

“Oh dear,” Lily said, sounding genuinely concerned. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Sophie mumbled softly, averting her gaze to her clasped hands and looking resigned. I wasn’t buying it. This was just an excuse, not a reason. Besides, girls like Sophie didn’t ask such monumental questions without an ulterior motive. I was determined to get to the bottom of this very peculiar mystery.

She cleared her throat and blinked dramatically. “Anyway,” Sophie continued, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Like I said earlier, since you are James’s best friend, I thought it was fitting to ask you. If anyone knows Jimmy like I do, it’s you.” The smile on her face didn’t reach her eyes, which were uncharacteristically sharp and, unless it was just a trick of the light, challenging. “Besides, what’s his is now mine. Or it will be soon enough,” she added, giving a simpering little giggle that made my blood boil.


My blood was still boiling when the sound of Sophie’s voice drew me out of my reverie.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked, a slow blush creeping onto my cheeks. I hated when people caught me not paying attention. At least she wasn’t gloating about it like my professors at Hogwarts used to.

Instead, she smiled kindly at me and repeated her inquiry. “What do you think of this one, Mara?”

She held up an off-white dress. It was strapless, with a plunging neckline outlined in beading that, by the looks of it, would stop somewhere above her belly button. On anyone else, the dress would have looked tacky, but there was no doubt in my mind that if Sophie put it on, she would look stunning. Swallowing my jealousy and formulating a polite response was extremely difficult.

“It’s. . .,” I hesitated, trying to find the right words as I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip. “It’s very pretty,” I finished lamely.

Sophie beamed at me and handed the dress over to the consultant.

I had every reason in the world to lie to be, but for some reason, I didn’t. It might not have been very logical on my part, but she had asked me to be her maid of honour because I was James’s best friend and, obviously, she trusted me. At least, she acted like she did. Regardless, in this situation, I could have told her that it was hideous and that she should put it back on the rack without another moment’s consideration. But I hadn’t, and a part of me was vaguely disappointed.

The other half was celebratory.

The dress was very pretty - beautiful, even, but it was also borderline indecent. I would never wear something so tasteless to my wedding, but if Sophie wished to make herself look like a tart on her big day, then she was more than welcomed to it. I wasn’t about to stop her. With my luck, however, she looked like a ruddy supermodel - and she’d be the one taking James home that night, not me.

Twenty minutes and fourteen requests for my opinion later, the little bell over the shop door tinkled merrily and a very flustered looking Lily bustled into the bridal shop.

I perked up, twisting in my chair to greet her. “Finally,” I joked with a dramatic sigh, hoping to get a rise out of her. I received anything but.

“Don’t,” she growled as she tugged her arms out of her jacket and dropped into the chair next to me.

The smile fell away from my lips as I took another look at her. Her eyes were bloodshot and the tip of her button nose was red. Her bright red hair was rumpled, like she had been pushing her hand through it repeatedly. Something she only did when she was very upset.

“Lily?” I asked tentatively, laying a hand on her arm.

She hiccoughed. “What?”

“Are you -”

“I’m fine, Mara,” Lily muttered, raking her fingers through her locks.

Yep, she was definitely upset.

“I don’t believe you. You’re playing with your hair,” I pointed out smugly.

She lowered her hand and tucked it against her chest.

I rolled my eyes. “You should know better than trying to fool me, Lils. I’ve known you since you were born. Before then, actually,” I added as an afterthought, remembering the pictures on the mantle piece of James and I as toddlers, pressing our ears against Ginny’s stomach. I shook the image from my mind.

“I’m not trying to fool you,” Lily said as her dark eyes roved over the shop.

“Right, because I believe that,” I replied, folding my arms over my chest as I settled back in my chair. “You should know that you can always come to me if -”

“Merlin, you don’t give up, do you?” the redhead asked rhetorically, throwing her hands up in the air exasperatedly. “Honestly, you’re worse than my mother.” She pulled her fingers through her hair. My chest swelled and I smiled at her smugly. She rolled her eyes. “Henry and I had a fight, all right? That’s it.”

“Do you want -”

“No,” she interrupted shortly. “I don’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t even all that serious, anyway.”

I cocked my head to the side as I regarded her curiously. She appeared to be telling the truth, and she didn’t give me any reason whatsoever to doubt her. Still, I couldn’t help noticing that something about her seemed. . .well, off.

Before I could inquire any further, Lily nudged me in the side and whispered lowly, “Don’t look now, but here comes Bridezilla.”

I sputtered, choking on my laughter as Sophie and her mother returned from the deepest, darkest recesses of the store. My eyes flickered over her shoulder to the consultant, whose arms were weighed down by several dresses.

“Oh, hello, Lily!” Sophie greeted cheerily, rushing forward to give her future sister-in-law a hug. Lily returned it half-heartedly, patting the blonde on the back while pulling a face at me. Again, I struggled to maintain my laughter. “I’m glad you could make it,” continued Sophie as she released Lily. “I thought you might not be able to come.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Lily said with a gusto so mocking, it was almost believable.

Sophie grinned. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Now,” she said, clapping her hands, “who wants to go first?”

“What?” Lily and I exclaimed in unison.

“You didn’t think that I was the only one trying on dresses today, did you?”

* * *


Ginny Potter was flabbergasted.

When she had accepted the invitation to lunch from her long-time friend, Hannah Longbottom, she hadn’t expected to be hit with such a surprise. Of course, the force of the blow didn’t strike her until Hannah passed over her precious grandson and Ginny felt the weight of the child in her arms. The moment the baby’s - Jack, she reminded herself - deep hazel eyes met hers, she knew there was something off about the whole situation. She only knew one other person in existence with such intense hazel eyes. . .

She shook her head to herself as she slipped her arms out of her jacket, brushing off the bits of dirt that clung stubbornly to the fabric; before departing, Ginny had helped Hannah with her gardening, Jack observing them from his pumpkin seat, his tiny fist wedged in his mouth. No! There was absolutely no way that could’ve happened. They were - and still are - best friends! To think they would - that they would do. Well, it was just ridiculous. Her eldest son might not have acted like the sharpest goblin axe in the bunch, but he was sharper than tacks. Most of the time, anyway. Aside from that, he was responsible. And surely he would have taken up his responsibility as a -

“No,” Ginny muttered as she kicked off her shoes. She flicked her wand at the far corner of the kitchen where a series of hooks were mounted on the wall, holding several different aprons in various states of decay. The newest of the aprons wiggled its way out from underneath the pile and zoomed into her waiting hand.

“My James wouldn’t do that,” she assured herself as she knotted and tied the strings together, giving a more forceful than necessary tug to secure them.

She had raised her children better than that. While she couldn’t control every aspect of their adult lives - particularly their love lives - she hoped that some of her and Harry’s moral teachings and values had been passed down to their three kids. Besides, this was Mara, not just another girl that James happened to be dating. The thought of them being involved romantically and going as far as consummating the relationship. . .well, if she was being entirely honest, it was weird. And not just because she was James’s mother.

They had grown up together, constantly consumed in one another’s presence. They took baths together when they were toddlers, for Merlin’s sake! Those were the sort of things children who went onto become life-long mates did, not lovers.

Ginny cringed at the thought as she opened up the refrigerator and removed some vegetables from the lower drawer. No more, she told herself, giving one last final shake of her head in an attempt to vanquish such peculiar thoughts from her mind. It wasn’t her business and as much as her Weasley instinct was telling her to meddle, she resisted the urge, instead chopping the carrots for tonight’s soup by hand rather than by magic as a means of distracting herself.

* * *


“Are you sure it’s okay -”

“Mara, I swear to Merlin, if you ask me again, I will be forced to hex you!” Lily cried, sending me a very annoyed look.

I held up my hands in surrender, chuckling. “All right, all right. I was just checking.”

“For the seventeenth time?”

“I didn’t ask seventeen times,” I said stiffly, shoving my hands into my jacket pockets. “It was more like three. And I was only being polite; I didn’t want to force my presence on you.”

Lily heaved a sigh and pushed a hand through her thick red hair. “It’s fine, Mara. I’m just a little -”

“Strung out?” I suggested.

She laughed shortly. “I suppose you could say that. First it was the fight with Henry, which, for the last bloody time, I will not tell you about, so quit your asking!” Lily sent me another look and I pushed my bottom lip out into a pout. I thought I would get the goods when Sophie was out of earshot. She rolled her eyes and continued, “Then it was the two whole hours of trying on hideous dresses -”

“They weren’t all that bad,” I objected, albeit very weakly.

“Maybe you should go home and lie down - you’re starting to become delusional,” Lily joked, sticking her tongue out at me when I raised my hand threateningly.

“I think you’re just being overdramatic about the dresses,” I said as we rounded the corner and disappeared into an alleyway. “Sure, a fair portion of the lot were stupendously ugly, but the ones she picked aren’t too horrible looking.”

Making sure no one was around, we linked hands and, with an excruciatingly tight squeezing sensation, Apparated in the small dandelion field to the east of the house. As Lily picked her way through the flowers, she made a disgruntled noise of agreement. “The colour looks absolutely rubbish on me, though,” she mumbled.

It was my turn to send her a look. “Sea green doesn’t look good on anyone - and why are you griping anyway? At least you’re skinny! I’m still carrying around all this stupid baby weight.” I slapped my stomach for emphasis, eliciting a laugh from the redhead at my side. At least she wasn’t bitching and moaning like she had been at the bridal shop. I’d been two seconds away from Avada-ing her arse if she continued harping on about it.

As we drew up near to the house, Lily said, with a resigned sigh, “This whole wedding is going to suck.”

“You’re telling me,” I grumbled lowly as she crossed the lawn. At least you don’t have to watch your best friend and the father of your child marry someone else.

Before my thoughts could turn entirely black, I followed Lily up to the front door, trailing a few feet behind her. By the time I stepped onto the porch, she had already opened the door and was inside, shrugging her arms out of her travelling cloak. I hesitated, fidgeting with my hands as I debated what to do.

“What are you doing?” she asked sceptically. “Come inside.”

“I don’t know if this is such a good idea, Lils,” I said lowly, staring long and hard at my feet.

I didn’t have to look up to know that Lily had her hands on her hips and was glaring at me down the slope of her nose. “And why not?” she demanded.

“Because James is going to -”

“Mara?!”

I closed my eyes and counted to ten, wondering if I should just give up speech all together and become a mute. “Speak of the devil,” I muttered to myself as I looked over Lily’s shoulder to confirm my suspicion.

My eyes widened considerably and suddenly I wished that I hadn’t bothered looking at all. I knew his voice from anywhere.

James was standing at the foot of the stairs in a pair of jeans, which were unbuttoned at the top, and nothing else. Subconsciously, my eyes roved over his body, slowly taking it in. It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t already seen before - I had seen him completely starkers, for Merlin’s sake - but still, I couldn’t stop staring at the flat planes of his leanly muscled stomach nor the little tuff of dark brown hair that disappeared in the waistband of his boxers. The last time I had seen him without a shirt, I ended up pregnant.

Well, one of the times.

“H-hi James,” I greeted, inwardly cursing my inability to speak clearly in his half-naked state. It was like the time in fifth year when I barged into his dormitory to rant and rave about how ridiculous the terms of my detention were and he had just stripped out of his dirtied Quidditch kit. As you might have guessed, it was extremely awkward and we made a silent agreement to never mention the moment ever again. Several years later, we laughed about the story over a pitcher of margaritas on the beaches of Panama and that night, you guessed it! He - or should I say we - got naked together.

Coincidence? I think not.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” James said, sliding his arms into the sleeves of the shirt he had been holding loosely at his hand and pulling it over his head. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. However, the logical part of my brain believed this to be a good thing as I wouldn’t say or do anything stupid now that I was able to think clearly. Well, for the most part.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t think I was going to end up here,” I replied, reaching up to itch the back of my neck. When he sent me an quizzical look, I added, “Lily invited me to dinner at the last minute after the dress shopping.”

He jerked visibly at the mention of the wedding. “Oh, did she now? That was nice of her,” he commented, awkwardly leaning against banister. I assumed that he was trying to pull off the whole ‘nonchalant’ look, but truth be told it wasn’t working. If anything, it only intensified the electricity in the area, making the hairs on my arms stand on end. Or it might have been a bead of water running down the side of his neck, disappearing under his collar.

I am not that drop of water slowly making my way down his stomach. I am not that drop of water slowly -

“So,” James said suddenly, interrupting my train of thought. Inwardly, I thanked him for doing so. Circe only knows what would’ve happened if he hadn’t; I might have jumped him, but then again maybe not. I did have some sense of self-control. “How’d it go?”

“How’d what go?”

He gave me the same look he’d been giving me since we were kids when I said something stupid.

“Oh, you mean the dress shopping,” I said.

“Yeah. So,” he pressed, running a hand over the top of his damp hair. “How did it go? Was Sophie alright? By that I mean was she overbearing?”

“Just a bit at first, but she got -”

“Because she only gets like that when she’s shopping,” James ploughed on, his voice growing gradually higher in volume. “I mean, she’s one of those ‘in the zone’ shoppers, y’know what I mean? How to put this? Hmm, well, she gets like me when I play Quidditch. Like really intense and -”

“I get it, James!” I disrupted, effectively cutting him off. “And if you would’ve let me finish, you would have heard that she got better within the first few minutes. Mainly, she was just worried that her mum had forgotten about their appointment. Apparently her mum’s very forgetful.”

“Yeah, just a bit,” James said, chuckling. When I raised a brow for further clarification, he said, “She kept forgetting what my name was the first three times I met her, but it looks like she’s finally got it down.”

“I should hope - you are marrying her daughter,” I responded, smiling widely at him.

Instead of returning it, he merely nodded his head in agreement. I tried not to feel too satisfied that he wasn’t flipping cartwheels at the prospects of marrying the blonde bombshell. Of course, he could just be nervous especially since the Big Day was fast approaching - only twelve days left until they exchanged vows. That would be perfectly understandable. Hell, I was even nervous about James’s Big Day and not just because I was a part of the wedding party. Regardless of whom he was marrying, he was still getting married and I had to be there to support him, even if I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. Or at any rate, kiss some into him. But the likelihood of that happening was slim to none.

I opened my mouth to say something, but thankfully James’s younger brother, Albus, poked his head around the corner. He looked right at James and said, “Mum says dinner’s ready.” His bright green eyes cut over to me and smiled. His resemblance to his father was astounding, so much so that it almost freaked me out. “Hey Mara.”

“Hi Al,” I said. “How goes it?”

“Good, I suppose, but right now I’m hungry,” Albus replied, his eyes twinkling mischievously behind his glasses. “You coming or not?” He disappeared the way he’d come and I turned to James, once again raising a brow.

“Shall we?”

“Ladies’ first,” James said, giving a grand and quite honestly ostentatious sweep of his arm. I rolled my eyes and punched him on the shoulder as I passed him. “Ouch,” he muttered, rubbing the spot. “You’re abusive, d’you know that?”

I laughed as I followed in his younger brother’s footsteps, passing through the doorway that connected the hallway to the kitchen.

The room was full of activity and obviously fortified with a Silencing Charm as the volume increased tenfold when I stepped into the kitchen. Harry was feeding their giant black dog, Snuffles, whom was named in memory of Harry’s godfather; I thought it was rather strange too, though I teased James about this relentless - he was the only person I knew who shared a namesake with his dog. Lily was helping Albus set the table and by the looks of it, they were arguing about something. I could guess the subject matter. It was always the same with them - Albus was an Unspeakable and Lily was constantly needling him about exactly what his job entailed. Compared to his siblings, Albus was fairly skilled at keeping mum. Ginny was standing at the stove, her back to the doorway.

When James stepped into the room, my back brushed against his chest, and I struggled to maintain my gasp of surprise. It was silly of me, simply stupid to react in such a way over a small amount of contact. I hastily scooted to the side to make room for him and he seemed grateful for it. The door snapped shut behind us, alerting the occupants of the kitchen to our presence. Lily and Albus didn’t seem to care, but Harry looked up and smiled at me.

“Oh, hello Mara,” he greeted warmly as he rose to his feet. Snuffles shoved his nose into Harry’s palm and licked, whimpering for more attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ginny pause mid-motion. “We weren’t expecting you.”

I narrowed my eyes at Lily, who flushed a light shade of pink. “Yeah, that seems to be the general sentiment.”

Harry laughed good-naturedly. It was a pleasant sound, one that brought back memories of my childhood. “Don’t worry about it. You’re always welcomed here. You’d think that after twenty-two years you would’ve figured it out already.”

“Yeah,” I agreed with an uneasy chuckle. “You’d think that I would, but it also took me thirteen years to finally address you by your first names.”

“Something that you still have a bit of difficulty with, if I remember correctly,” James threw in as he pulled out a chair. I half expected him to sit down, but he jerked his head towards me. Flattered, I sank down into the chair, allowing him to tuck it underneath the table.

“Aw, well if you aren’t just the perfect gentleman,” Albus teased as both he and Lily followed suit and sat down in chairs across the table from James and I.

James pulled a face at his younger brother, and I laughed. It was eerie, being back at their house, in their kitchen, and sharing a meal with the entire family. Just like Harry’s short bout of laughter, an onslaught of fond memories assaulted my brain, including a very sticky, very messy food fight that had taken place when Ginny had been away on a business trip. You could still see the stains on the ceiling if you knew where to look for them.

A pale, freckled hand snaked in the space between mine and James’s shoulder, placing a bowl of soup in front of us. “Be careful, it’s hot,” Ginny advised as she floated down the table, pausing to drop a kiss onto Harry’s cheek. Inwardly, I smiled but outside my face remained neutral. It was all but forbidden to show any emotion towards the affection nature of James’s parents’ relationship; I had learned the hard way during Christmas a few years back.

I waited until Ginny had taken her seat at the end of the table opposite her husband before eating. The first bite was hot just like she had warned, but it was delicious. Clearly she had inherited her mother’s cooking abilities.

“This is great, Ginny,” I commented as I spooned some more of the soup into my mouth.

She didn’t respond.

James cleared his throat loudly. “Mum?” he pressed somewhat impatiently.

“Oh!” Ginny said, jerking herself out of her thoughts so violently, the soup on her spoon sloshed down the front of her blouse. “Bullocks,” she cursed, grabbing her wand and cleaning up the mess whilst replying to my compliment. “Thank you.”

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I expected, but perhaps she was a bit miffed that her daughter had failed to inform her of a dinner guest or at least give her a fair warning. I glared at Lily, but the redhead was too busy threatening her older brother with a blunt butter knife to notice.

* * *


“It was great seeing you again, Mara,” Albus said as he gave me an one-armed goodbye hug. He would’ve used two, but he hadn’t taken his little sister seriously and was paying the consequences; she’d jabbed him a bit too hard with the butter knife. “Don’t wait so long to visit next time.”

I smiled at him, reaching up to ruffle his already extremely messy hair. “I won’t as long as you promise not to agitate your sister,” I said with a laugh, nodding towards his arm.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have singed off her eyebrows,” Albus remarked, shrugging. “She’ll get over it.”

“Not bloody likely,” I snorted. I gave him another quick hug before stepping out into the dusky night. “See you, Al!” I called once I got to the edge of the wards, walking through them with a slight shiver.

“Bye!”

I smiled to myself and shoved my hands into my pockets once more, deciding to walk home rather than Apparate. It was a warm, almost balmy evening, a gentle breeze swaying the tall stalks of field grass. Not many nights like this occurred during the summer, and I wanted to savour it. I was halfway down the lane when I heard a voice calling my name.

“Wait up!”

Turning around, I saw James jogging towards me, his hair flapping comically in the wind. I did as he asked and waited until he caught up with me. It didn’t take very long for him to reach me and when he did, he thrust something into my hands.

My jacket.

“You forgot that.”

“Oh,” I said, folding it up and tucking it under my arm. “Thanks.” We stood, facing each other and not saying a single word. The crickets were beginning to chirp and the frogs were bellowing from their ponds. All in all, it would have been the perfect setting for A Moment, but that could and would never happen. I kicked at the gravel, hooking my thumbs through the belt loops on my jeans. “Well, I should go.”

I pivoted on my heel and started down the lane once more. I can’t say that I was all that surprised when James easily feel into step beside me. “I’ll walk you home.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I said earnestly. “I’m a big girl, I’m more than able to take care of myself. Besides, don’t you have to get back to Sophie?”

Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I saw James lowered his head and stare at his feet as we beat the familiar path to my parents’ house. “Why do you always have to say things like that?” he asked quietly.

I furrowed my brow, returning my gaze to the road ahead of me. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

A part of me was tempted to play the oblivious card, but he was being serious. I could tell by the tone of his voice, the way he was staring dejectedly at his feet. My words had ruffled his feathers, so to speak, and he obviously wanted to address the issue even though I wanted to run in the opposite direction.

I lifted my shoulders and shrugged. “I don’t know,” I admitted just as softly, not daring to look at him. “I guess I’m just trying to get myself accustomed to the idea of it, is all.”

The intensity of his stare was enough to make me scratch a non-existent itch on my arm. I wasn’t used to his heavy gaze; I hadn’t felt it for the longest time. It was strange, being under his scrutiny again, so strange that I had to bite down on the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from telling him to quit.

“It’s all happening so fast, isn’t it?” James said suddenly.

This time my curiosity was too much. I tore my eyes away from the road and focused them on James’s face, which looked exceptionally handsome in the fading sunlight. Though I recognised the worried expression on his face, it felt foreign. I could count on one hand the number of times I had seen James truly worry over something. This was one of those times.

I laid my hand on his arm, my eyebrows knitting together in concern. We jumped at the jolt of energy that shot between us at the skin-on-skin contact. “James?” I questioned, lowering my voice in hopes of conveying my trepidations. “Are you -”

“I’m fine,” he said hurriedly, surreptitiously shaking my hand away from his arm. “It’s just - it really is happening so fast. When I agreed to Sophie’s request of a summer wedding, I didn’t think she meant this summer!”

“Did you tell her that you don’t want to get married so soon?” I asked.

“No,” James answered with a heavy sigh. “I didn’t, but I have hinted at it. And before you say anything, yes, she did pick them up. She’s not as stupid as you make her out to be.”

“Hey!” I exclaimed, pulling my best innocent expression. “I never said that she was dumb.”

“You implied it, which is basically the same thing,” he retorted, bumping his shoulder against mine as we crested the hill and slowly began the descent; my parents‘ house wasn’t very far away now. “But she brought up a good point,” James continued.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a Legimens,” I said, returning the bump and stumbling as I rebounded off of his body.

He rolled his eyes and pushed another sigh, this one exasperated, through his lips. “She said that there was no point in waiting until next summer. If we really love each other, we should get married as soon as possible. At one point, she suggested that we go to the Ministry and have a civil ceremony, but her mum convinced her to have an actual wedding instead.” A frown momentarily took residence upon his face, puckering his dark brow. “I’m not sure how I feel about either, to be honest.”

That makes one of us, I thought darkly as we reached the bottom of the hill. We drifted away from the main road, taking the gravel path that lead towards my parents’ yellow house, which was nestled in the valley between two hills. I knew exactly how I felt about James’s upcoming wedding and by this point in time, so did a great deal of other people, namely Mum, Teddy, and Terra, the latter of which was a surprisingly good listener and the most eager to verbally abuse the big boobed blonde.

Usually the sight of the garden gate was a cause to smile, but tonight I felt like frowning. This was the first real conversation James and I had had since I’d been back in England. I didn’t want it to end, not when we were finally getting to points that needed to be discussed, the most obvious of which was still floating around in space, just waiting for the opportune moment to be snatched and brought back to Earth. It had taken us much too long to get to this point.

A part of me wanted to ask him inside, but I refrained, mainly because Jack was in the house and I was paranoid that if James spent too much time around his son, he’d have an Epiphany. I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed one of his epiphanies, but there’s usually a lot of obscene swearing and body flailing. I didn’t want to imagine his reaction to the truth. What would he think of me when the bomb was dropped? I shuddered just thinking about it.

“Well,” I began, resting my hand against the gate, the skin of my palm tingling as the wards surrounding the house registered my presence. “This is me.”

“That is it,” James said with a short nod of his head. “So I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“What’s happening tomorrow?”

“You mean Sophie didn’t tell you?” he asked exasperatedly. I shook my head, prompting him to roll his eyes and shove an irritated hand through his hair. “Tomorrow evening, the bridal party is going out for a wine tasting. According to Sophie, it’s something of a tradition where she’s from.”

“When you say bridal party. . .who does that include?”

“Me, you, Sophie, and Albus,” he answered. “In short, the bride, the groom, the best man and the maid of honour.”

My smile was hard-pressed. “Oh joy. I can’t wait.”

James laughed, nudging me in the side with his elbow. “Come on, it won’t be that bad. I’ll be there.” He preened.

I rolled my eyes. “That’s precisely the reason why I don’t want to go.”

He snorted in amusement. “Whatever, Mara. You know you love and adore and cherish me to Kingdom Come.”

A pang shot through me. He wasn’t being serious about it - he was joking. The sad thing is that he didn’t know how close to the truth he was. Biting in the inside of my cheek to prevent tears from springing into my eyes unbidden, I laughed. It was a hollow sound, nothing like my true laughter, and I could tell that James saw through it. Once again, the crease appeared between his brow momentarily.

“Well,” I said again, unlatching the gate. “Until tomorrow.”

“Until then,” he confirmed with a nod, stepping forward to give me a hug. It was short, but extremely warm and I clung to the remnants of his warmth when we separated. He flashed a grin before dropping a kiss onto my forehead. “Bye Mara.”

I watched him go until he disappeared around the bend. Once he was out of sight, I heaved a sigh and closed my eyes. “Bye James,” I whispered, beginning the first step of letting him go forever.

* * *


A/N: The chapter title comes directly from one of my favourite ABBA songs, “Does Your Mother Know?”

I hope you all enjoyed a little insight from someone other than Mara or James. I felt that it was the little snippet of Ginny’s day was necessary because like some of you have been saying, someone’s bound to notice the similarities in appearance between James and Jack, especially since the baby is supposed to look so much like him, so who better than the woman who raised James? At the moment, she’s merely suspicious, but Weasley women are usually right about their hunches. . . Anyway, thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter and while I realise it’s been a little over two weeks since my last update, at least this is better than waiting a month! Remember to review!


Chapter 13: Scattered Black and Whites
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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 -”

“Patrick.”

“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.




Chapter 14: The Truth Comes Out
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Chapter Thirteen
The Truth Comes Out



I hated hospitals.

They were too white, too clean, and much too busy for their own good. Don’t get me wrong - I love a good crowd, but when diseased and magically-altered beings are stumbling, vomiting, and causing general mayhem in every which direction, I tend to be a little less receptive and much more stand-offish. I wasn’t claustrophobic, but there was nothing appealing whatsoever about the possibility of contracting dragon pox from a wizard who fancies himself as the wizarding world’s next big thing.

But my dislike for hospitals went much deeper than being turned off by crazy people running around the halls, proclaiming to be a dragon or a butterfly or something equally ridiculous. People died here, in the place that was supposed to cure all of their problems. Or, at the very least, alleviate their pain. But even hospitals like St. Mungo’s, a place brimming with magic, couldn’t stop death. I myself wasn’t afraid of death, but I couldn’t say the same thing for the hundreds upon thousands of countless souls that had perished within the walls. I hated to think of others in pain and suffering, and to know that these halls had seen so much of both…it was a hard concept to swallow.

Almost as hard as the fact Mara’s child - sweet, innocent Jack - was one of those unfortunate souls.

It was suffice to say that when we appeared on the sidewalk just outside of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, dread pooled in the pit of my stomach and quickly spread throughout the rest of my body, weighing down my limbs. If I was feeling like this at the sight of the intimidating building, I could scarcely imagine how Mara must be feeling.

As if on cue, she went limp in my arms, slumping face-first into my chest. “Whoa,” I said, tightening my grip around her waist and drawing her closer to my body. “You okay there?”

She made a noise at the back of her throat that sounded like a positive confirmation of my question, but I couldn’t be one hundred sure. Unsatisfied, I frowned. “D’you need a minute to catch your breath?”

This time she reacted. “No,” she mumbled into the fabric of my shirt. “S’fine.” She pushed herself out of my arms and stumbled backwards. She threw an arm out to the side to steady herself and tried to walk through the huge store front window, but her feet slipped out from underneath her and she pitched forwards.

I caught her before she collided with the glass. “Obviously,” I said, giving her a look that (I hoped) resembled one of my mother’s stern glares, “you’re not.”

When she met my eyes, a spark of defiance flared through her brown eyes and she stepped out of the circle of my arms, her steps surer, levelled. “I need to find Jack.” Her tone was defensive, but her gaze was challenging.

“I know that, Mara, but you can’t very well find him if you can’t even walk a straight line.”

She narrowed her eyes into dangerous slits. “Then I’ll crawl.”

Rolling my eyes, I wrapped my hand around her arm and pulled her to my side. She opened her mouth to protest, but before she could so much as utter a single syllable, I was walking us through the glass, shivering subconsciously as the liquid feeling of the glass passed over my face, my shoulders, and the rest of my body.

As suspected, it was a zoo. There were witches and wizards with all sorts of bizarre ailments sitting in the plastic chairs that outlined the room. Some had arms growing out of the top of their heads while others were sporting bright pink and yellow polka dots on their sink. The most noticeable was the young wizard who squawked like a crow every time he opened his mouth. Had it been under different circumstances, I would’ve stopped and observed all of the peculiar cases, but the moment I could only think of Mara, and getting her to Jack as fast as possible.

“Come on,” I said, dropping my hand away from her bicep and taking her hand; my fingers threaded with hers out of instinct. At least, that’s what I told myself as I pulled her towards the front desk.

The moment I laid eyes on the welcome witch, I felt a wave of sympathy towards her. There were deep grey shadows underneath her dull blue eyes, and she looked as white as a sheet. When she saw us approaching, the corners of her mouth fell into a barely-there frown and her shoulders sagged as if saying “Oh great, more people to scream at me.”

“How may I help you?” she asked, not bothering to adopt a cheery tone and a fake smile.

I could tell that Mara appreciated her honesty. “I need to find my son.”

The corners of the witch’s mouth tightened, and I could tell that she was holding back a smart-ass remark. However, she was obviously perceptive enough to swallow the comment and not irritate Mara, a lesson that I had yet to learn even after all these years of being her best friend. “What’s his name?”

“His name is Jam - I mean Jack,” she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and dragged her tongue across her lips, a tell-tale sign that she was anxious. Her eyes flickered back to the welcome witch. “Jack Longbottom.”

She muttered something under her breath as the welcome witch turned towards an intimidating stack of papers and, using her wand, began to separate the stack into piles and search for the correct file. Mara stared at me like she was trying to see through my skull. I sent her a questioning look, which made her sigh in relief. Confused, I shook my head and was about to make a joke about her attempt being futile when the welcome witch let out an exclamation.

“Aha!” Her face looked alight with…well, not happiness. I doubted that anyone could be truly happy when working the welcome desk at St. Mungo’s, but she appeared pleased by the rate of her success. Thinking that Mara would be pleased as well, I tossed a look at her, only to see her brow was furrowed and she was tapping her fingers on top of the desk impatiently.

“Let’s see here,” the welcome witch said to herself, scanning the paper with her fingertip. “It says that he’s on the third floor -”

Mara pushed away from the desk and took off like a bullet down the hall, most likely in search for the lift.

“Wait - Mara!” I called out after her. She didn’t stop. I chewed the inside of my cheek before turning my attention back to the welcome witch. “Room?”

“309. I hope your son’s okay.” The welcome witch smiled.

If there had been time, I would have corrected her. Instead, I returned the smile, muttered a quick thank-you, and sprinted after Mara. For some reason, as I ran, my stomach felt lighter, the dreadful feeling dissipating. There was no logical explanation for it, so I decided to ignore it.

When I rounded the corner, Mara was punching the button mounted on the wall, a furious expression on her face. Once again, she muttered under her breath. It sounded like a continuous stream of curses, but as I drew up next to her, I realised that she was saying the same two words over and over again.

“Come on come on come on come on come on.” And so on and so forth. She sounded as though she was about to cry.

My voice was low, tentative, when I spoke. “Mara?”

She shouted unintelligible words, jumping out of her skin. She refused to meet my eyes. “Jesus, James, don’t do that to me!” She slapped the button again.

“Sorry. He’s in room 309.”

Mara stopped mid-slap. “Thanks.” Then she brought her foot back and kicked the doors of the lift in frustration. The metal doors, mind. “Shit!” she exclaimed, grabbing her left foot and hopping in place with her right.

I placed my hand on her elbow to steady her, trying my hardest not to laugh. Our current predicament was hardly laughable. “That was stupid of you.”

A growl escaped her. Before she could retaliate, the light above the lift changed from red to green and the bell dinged merrily. The doors slid open, revealing an incredibly crowded space. I swallowed nervous.

Shit.

Did I mention that I disliked small spaces? No? Well, earlier when I said that I wasn’t afraid of enclosed spaces - yeah, I lied. I was claustrophobic and I didn’t like how many people were crammed inside such a small compartment. What if there were too many people in the lift and it couldn’t handle the weight? It might operate on magic, but even the most supportive spells failed sometimes.

Turning green around the gills at the prospect of falling to our deaths in a tiny compartment, I turned towards Mara, sending her a pointed look. “Wouldn’t you rather take the stairs? You saw how long it took the lift to get down to the ground floor. Imagine how long it’ll take to get to the third!”

Mara ignored me and grabbed my hand, pulling me into the lift after her. I took a deep breath, my muscles going taut. I was being ridiculous. I knew that much. The lift would be exponentially quicker than the stairs and the stairwell had walls that seemed to encroach upon your personal space, but at least there was oxygen. At this rate, we’d die before we got to the third floor.

Of course, just as soon as this thought passed through my mind, the doors chimed their merry little jingle and the doors open. Before I could so much as breathe a sigh of relief, Mara was jerking me out of the lift and down the hall. For someone who claimed not to be athletic, she was running really fast.

As I wasn’t paying all too much attention to my surroundings, but still silently thanking God that I had survived the lift ride, when Mara skid to a halt in front of a room. I slammed into her back, sending us both careening towards the floor. We must have made a lot of commotion because people were sticking their heads out into the hallway and sending us scolding looks before retreating back into their caves.

Everyone except for Neville Longbottom, who looked as though he had just received the Dementor’s Kiss.

I felt the blood in my veins turn cold. There was an icy hand grappling with my insides, twisting them into a complicated knot and squeezing. Wordlessly, I nodded and pulled myself off Mara, extending a hand to her. As expected, she ignored it and struggled to her own feet. She took one look at the hollow expression on her father’s face and fainted.

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her before she hit the ground and she knocked her temple against the edge of a stray cart. Dropping onto my knees beside her, I took her chin between my fingers and turned her head to the side, inspecting for any wounds. There were no cuts, but an ugly bruise had already started to blossom beneath her skin.

“Ouch,” I hissed, letting her head fall back to the side. A clump of hair fell into her face and I absently brushed it away as I turned my eyes to Neville. “How is he?”

He didn’t respond. He lowered his gaze to his feet, his shoulders sagging dejectedly.

That wasn’t a good sign.

It didn’t take very long for Mara to come back around. She blinked in confusion and asked why her head felt like it had been bashed in by an angry hippogriff. I tried to explain, but she seemed to realise where she was and why she was there before I could get the words out. Batting my hand to the side (I had been tracing the deep purple bruise while I waited for her to wake up), she pushed herself to her feet, her face as white as a sheet.

As her dad had been standing in the doorway quietly observing his daughter, she stumbled towards him and collapsed into his arms as soon as he wrapped her up in his embrace. Though her face was pressed into her father’s shoulder, I could still hear her gut-wrenching sobs. I could still see her shoulders shaking.

Neville led his daughter into the room, nodding at me to come along. I froze, unsure of what I should do. This was a private matter - a family matter. But hadn’t I always considered the Longbottoms as an extended leg of my overly large family and vice versa? I stood in the middle of the hallway and fidgeted stupidly with my hands. Mara was my best friend. I was sure she would want me there for support.

But, I chided myself, she’s got her mum and dad. And this is her son, not her great-grandmother. This is much closer to home.

I shook my head at Neville, dropping my gaze to the floor. They disappeared into the room.

Sighing heavily, I backed up into the opposite side of the hall where a series of highly uncomfortable chairs were arranged against the wall. Just as I dropped into the chair, my body crying out in relief, Mara’s wail punctured the otherwise still, silent air. My head thumped back against the wall as my eyes drifted closed.

Somewhere near the bottom of my stomach, the icy hand gave a painfully strong yank and forced upwards, wrapping its glacial fingers around my heart. It squeezed and I gasped, feeling utterly breathless.

* * *


It wasn’t an hour after our arrival at St. Mungo’s when I saw them at the end of the hall. Furrowing my brow in confusion, I rose to my feet as they drew near. “What are you lot doing here?”

“We came as soon as we heard,” Dad said as Mum stepped forwards to hug me. I accept her embrace graciously, thankful for the familiarity of her arms in such a stiff, uncomfortable place.

“How’d you guys know where to find us?”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “Please tell me you’re joking. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re Potters. When we make demands, people don’t ask questions. They just obey.”

“Albus!” Mum exclaimed, looking scandalised but sounding less than pleased. Dad turned his face into his shoulder and coughed.

“What? What did I do?”

Mum sent him a look. “This isn’t funny!”

“So I can’t make a joke just because we’re in the hospital?” He scoffed and shook his head. “Merlin, you people are ridiculous. I’m only trying to lighten the mood.”

“Well, it’s not appropriate!” Mum scorned, placing her hands on her hips. Her resemblance to Grandmum Molly was profound. Albus shrank back, silenced.

“But it’s appreciated,” I commented, smiling at my brother.

He winked in response. “I knew you could use a pick-me-up. You looked absolutely miserable out here in the hall. Can’t say that I blame you, though, given the situation. How is the little man, anyway?”

The smile slipped from my face and I frowned. “Not very well,” I sighed, passing a hand through my hair anxiously.

My brother’s green eyes, which were usually bright and vivacious, became muted and dull. Dad’s jaw tightened and Mum gasped. “Have you gone into see him yet?”

I nodded. “Just once,” I answered, throwing a glance at the partially closed door. My frown deepened and I lowered my voice, shuffling closer to my family. “It was after the healer had made her rounds to see how the treatment was going. According to Neville, they’ve got him on about five different potions. The vomiting has stopped, but he’s still got an one hundred degree fever and the swelling hasn’t gone down.”

“Swelling?” Dad repeated.

“His throat swelled shut, which is why the healers think it’s an allergic reaction.”

“To what?”

I shrugged and averted my gaze to the tiled floor.

Mum put a comforting hand on my arm. “Don’t worry. They’ll find out what it is, love.”

My stomach tightened, my insides twisting in dejection. “But what if they don’t?” I asked earnestly, surprised by the sudden onslaught of emotion. Were those tears prickling at the back of my eyes? Was my breath hitching in my throat? I had only seen Jack on a handful of occasions, a quick glimpse here and a little smile there. So why was I feeling this way towards a child I hardly knew? And why did I feel justified in my emotions?

“They will, James,” Dad replied reassuringly. His voice snapped me out of my thoughts, helped me regain my focus. “Though they might not always act like it, the healers are very competent and know exactly what they’re doing. In fact,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are going through Mara’s medical files right now to see if she has any allergies or if any medical conditions that may be genetic.”

It made sense now. The emotions - they existed because of Mara. I was more worried about my best friend and how the situation was effecting her than the well-being of an infant. Or that’s what I tried to tell myself anyway.

“Yeah,” I agreed, clearing my throat and bobbing my head. “You’re probably right.”

Just as silence threatened to suffocate us all, Mum said, “Right! Well, I’m going to see if Neville or Hannah need anything. I’m sure they’re exhausted.” Her smile was tight, which made the lines around her eyes more prominent. She knocked softly on the door and waited for a response before disappearing into the room, Dad following behind her, ever the obedient puppy.

“Aren’t you going to go in?” Albus questioned, tilting his head to the side and regarding me curiously.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to impose.”

Albus rolled his eyes. “We’ve known the Longbottoms since before we were born. Her parents are particularly our aunt and uncle! Mara is your best friend, for fuck’s sake! I highly doubt you’d be imposing.”

He was right. For the love of God, my little brother was right. He might be immature and he might spend entirely too much time with our cousin, Fred, but he was also very intuitive. Even if what he said was a bit obvious.

“So…are you going to go inside or lurk around out here?”

I stared at the half-open door, wondering if Jack was all right. If something was wrong, I would know it. Mara’s sobs would trigger my attention. The thought was bone-chilling, but true. There was no reason for me to go inside the room. Not when she had her parents and now my parents to keep her company. I didn’t want to crowd her.

“No,” I answered finally, shaking my head. Albus began to protest, but I silenced him with a look that was probably vaguely reminiscent of our mother. Scary thought, that was. “There’s only a certain amount of people who can be in a room at any given times and I think four is the limit.”

“Then kick Dad out.”

“But what about Mum?”

“What about her?”

“Well, what if Mum starts crying? You know how I am around crying women!” I knew I was grasping at straws, but for some reason I didn’t want to go in that room. Mum and Dad were free to visit with Neville and Hannah all they wanted because this wasn’t happening to them. Sure, it might be their grandson in the tiny hospital bed, but it was happening to Mara. My best friend. And I had no idea what I would say to her when she turned to me for comfort. I wasn’t even sure she wanted comfort from me. Why else hadn’t she so much as looked at me when I went in there earlier?

Albus stared at me long and hard for a prolonged moment of silence. He raised an eyebrow and then shook his head. “You’re believable,” he remarked, purposely knocking his shoulder into mine as he brushed past me into the room.

Once he was out of sight, I heaved a heavy sigh, pushing a hand through my hair and marvelling my pigheadedness.

The Longbottoms may not share any genes with the Weasley-Potter clan, but they were still considered family. Because of this small, otherwise inconsequently fact, the small corridor quickly began to fill up with various members of my family.

Lily was the first to arrive, thoroughly flustered and eyes rimmed red. When I asked my little sister how she knew what was going on, she said that Mum had left a note on the kitchen counter and that she sent an owl to Rose, who, in turn, promised to send word to her parents.

“You told Uncle Ron!?”

“Yeah,” Lily said, sending me an odd look.

“Are you mad?” I shouted, outraged. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron are just as good of friends with the Longbottoms as we are,” she responded, her voice rising in volume. “I thought they ought to know that Jack was in the hospital! I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

“It’s a big deal because Uncle Ron is going to send an owl to Grandmum Molly and she’s going to tell everyone in the whole damn world.”

Lily scoffed. “Stop being so overdramatic. She’s not going to tell everyone. She can’t write that fast.”

“Ha ha,” I deadpanned.

My little sister gave a huff of annoyance as she regarded me with stern eyes. “Whatever,” she sighed, rolling her eyes before she barrelled past me into the room. The darkness of the doorway swallowed her up. The little twat.

I was right.

Soon after Aunt Hermione and Hugo showed up (Uncle Ron had been at the office finishing some last minute paperwork, which made me wonder why my own father was at home), inquiring after Jack, the Weasleys started to come out woodworks. Albus and Dad came out of the room so Hermione and Hugo could go inside, but Hugo remained in the hall, sitting with me, Albus, and Dad. Uncle George, Aunt Angie and their children, Fred and Roxie, were the next to arrive, the men’s arms laden with various Weasley Wizard Wheezes products.

“For the little guy,” Uncle George said as he shoved a Canary Cream into my hands. “I figured we could cheer him up!”

Smiling stiffly, I tucked it in my pocket and fold my arms over my chest, leaning against the wall.

Aunt Luna and her husband were quickly followed by Aunt Audrey, Uncle Percy, and Molly.

“Where’s Lucy?” someone asked.

“Oh,” Molly replied a bit breathlessly. “She took the lift and it got stuck between floors. So we took the stairs.”

There was a brief lull in the crowd before Teddy and his family arrived. He was holding onto Dora’s hand and the little pink-haired toddler struggled to keep up with her father as he marched down the hall. Next to Lily and I, Teddy was one of Mara’s dearest friends, so it didn’t surprised me when he went into the room, leaving Dora with Aunt Audrey, who loved the little girl to pieces despite the fact she’d (inadvertently) broken Percy’s nose. Victoire dropped into the chair next to me, stroking a fussy Remy’s hair away from his face in an attempt to quit his soft cries.

To say that it was chaos would be an understatement, but while it was annoying to have to repeat the story over and over and over again to my family, I welcomed the distraction. I could only hope that Mara’s own thoughts were preoccupied and not focused on her sick son. As soon as the notion passed through my mind, I realised that it was ridiculous. He was her son. Of course he was going to occupy her every thought.

My family members went into the room in groups of two or three. When Uncle George and Fred meandered into the room with their pockets stuffed to the brim with joke products, a frightened Molly following them apprehensively, small bouts of laughter floated from the room. None of which sounded like a child’s laugh.

It could have been hours or minutes later, time didn’t have much of a meaning, before Mara came out of the room. She was accompanied by her mother, Teddy, and a witch in bright green robes. That’s odd - I didn’t remember seeing a healer go into the room. Though her eyes were bloodshot and she kept sniffling, when she passed me, she flashed a brief, albeit restrained, smile and continued down the hall.

“They’re probably going to the tea room,” Victoire said as we watched them disappear around the corner. Once they were out of sight, Victoire yawned widely and shook her head. “Merlin, tea sounds wonderful.”

“D’you want me to go get you some?” I asked, pushing away from the wall, thankful for something to do.

“Oh no, James. That wasn’t a ploy to trick you into getting me some tea! I’m fine for now.”

“Are you sure? Because I could go for a cuppa myself.”

Victoire had always been easily persuaded. Perhaps that was why she was married to Teddy and not some other good-looking bloke.

As I trekked up the stairs - there was absolutely no way I was taking the lift if Lucy got stuck in one - I realised that I really could go for a cup of tea. My stomach felt hollow, like I hadn’t eaten anything for days when, really, it had only been hours since Sophie and I had gone out to lunch before the wine tasting.

A knot formed in my abdomen at the thought of my fiancée. No one had thought to tell her where I was. And even though I knew I was setting myself up for a dastardly argument, I found that I couldn’t care less. At the moment, the only thing that mattered was that ruddy cup of tea.

I was about to push open the door when I heard their voices.

“No,” Mara said sternly. “We can’t. I can’t.”

“Why not?” Hannah Longbottom demanded. “This is your son, Mara!”

“Mrs. Longbottom, please,” an unfamiliar voice said. It must be the healer, I realised, listening closely. “There’s no reason to start an argument between yourself and your daughter. While I know this is a very stressful time, this is her decision to make. As the mother and primary custody holder of James -”

“For the last time,” Mara interrupted rudely. “His name is Jack."

“My mistake, Miss Longbottom. As I was saying, since Mara is the primary custody holder, she is the only one who can approve any medical action pertaining to the health of her son. And if she doesn’t want to ask permission from the boy’s father for access to his medical records, then she doesn’t have to.”

“Tell her about the risks, Healer Benson!”

“I already have,” Healer Benson said smoothly. “But ultimately it’s your daughter’s choice.”

“You’re being ridiculous, do you know that, Mara?” Hannah exclaimed heatedly. “You’re putting your son at risk because you can’t swallow your pride and just tell him already! For Merlin’s sake, James deserves to know that he’s the father!”

Several beats of silence passed as mother and daughter glared at each other. Mara opened her mouth to speak, but it was my stinging voice that cut through the hollow silence that had engulfed the room.

“What?”

* * *


A/N: Please. Don’t kill me. It will hinder the amount of updates you receive. As always, review!

Chapter 15: A First Time For Everything
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Chapter Fourteen
A First Time For Everything


It was official.

In the three years I was gone in Panama, my best friend had changed completely. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure this was my best friend. For all I knew, aliens had abducted him the moment I left. Why else would he come to Panama, willingly, albeit drunkenly, have sex with me, leave, and then get engaged to some godforsaken American?

Because if I knew James as well as I believed I did (which, obviously, wasn’t all that much as I was contemplating the possibility of this being an impostor), he would have started ranting the moment he registered the impact of my mother’s words. He would have ranted and raged and paced about the room, throwing contemptuous looks in my direction as if this entire thing was my fault (it was) all the while cursing under his breath in Gaelic because, apparently, while I was away, he learned how to speak the language.

And you know what? I expected him to rant. I expected him to rage. And pace. And do all that other weirdo shit he did whenever he was angry. Because if he started doing those things, at least I would know how he was feeling. I wouldn’t have to rely on my intuition - or lack thereof - to “figure him out”. James prided himself on being uncomplicated, but right now, he was the most puzzling human being in existence, all because of that stupidly blank face of his. It was devoid of any and all emotions. The only way I knew a Full Body Binding Curse hadn’t struck him was because his jaw was falling gradually closer to the ground. And, if I wasn’t mistaken, there was a tiny rivulet of drool slowly edging out of the corner of his mouth.

Since his face was blank, I hadn’t the slightest inclination what he was thinking, what he was feeling, and most importantly, if these were my last moments on Earth. If so, I would like to see my son one last time and perhaps give my father a hug. Oh, and let Teddy know that it was me who told his grandmother about his indiscretions at Molly and Arthur’s wedding anniversary; in my defence, I was nine and it was an accident.

But I digress.

You see, when James got angry, he had…well, to put it layman’s terms, he had homicidal tendencies. If anyone should know about them, it was me - I had to restrain him physically from killing many an opponent in Quidditch matches during our time at Hogwarts. For some reason, I was the only one who could talk sense into him. Me, the least sensible person in England.

Go figure.

However, the irony was lost upon me as I stared at James. His lack of reaction was starting to twist my stomach into a complicated knot of concern. It was already a tangled mess of worry, fretting, and indigestion because of my son’s condition (and the horribly cafeteria food. Honestly, what did they season their chips with, dragon dung?). Why wasn’t he saying anything? Why wasn’t he doing anything, like wringing my neck with his bare hands, except staring off into space like some catatonic schizophrenic?

Apparently, I wasn’t the one concerned being in the room. The healer, some flighty bird by the name of Julia Benson, who was trying to convince me to tell her the name of the father so they could access his medical records before James barged into the room and Mum opened her big fat trap, cleared her throat and asked, in a very raspy voice, “Are you feeling okay, sir?”

James didn’t budge. He didn’t flinch. In fact, I’m not even sure that he had blinked in the five minutes or so that had passed since the Revelation.

When he didn’t respond to the healer, Mum attempted to stir a reaction in him. Her voice was far gentler and much warmer than I had ever heard it and, for some strange reason I could explain, a jab of jealousy shot through me.

“James, sweetheart,” she began, throwing in the pet name to sweeten the pot, “are you all right? Do you need me to get your mother? She’s right down the hall if you really need her.”

In any other circumstance, James would have assured her that he was perfectly okay, that he was more than capable of handling himself. There would have been a twinge of anger and a dash of indignation in his voice at such a preposterous suggestion. But there was nothing. Not so much as a shift in his expression. Though his lips did look a little whiter than usual.

Mum sighed and cast me a look that clearly said, Why aren’t you doing anything to improve his condition?

I dunno. Maybe it was because I was terrified his eyes would turn into laser beams and he would blow me up with a single glance.

She lifted a brow and I caved, unable to withstand the pressure of her gaze.

I expelled a breath, though it didn’t loosen my chest. If anything, it tightened the muscles in my shoulders and chest, making it harder to breath. A nagging voice in the back of my mind was telling me to stand down, to just walk away and leave James in his vegetative state in the middle of the tea room at St. Mungo’s. There were plenty of beds available on the fourth floor.

“Mara,” Mum hissed when I didn’t immediately spring into action and convince James to not let his brain turn into a carrot.

Rolling my eyes as discreetly as possible, I turned my gaze back to the tall, hazel-eyed man in front of me, trying to ignore the way his hands were clenched at his sides, his skin pulled tight over the crests of his knuckles. I gulped. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Licking my lips, I took a tentative step towards him and said, with the tenacity of a newborn kitten, “Er - James? Are you -”

“I need to sit down,” he interrupted hollowly, not even bothering to look at me.

I rushed forwards to help him sit down, but the moment my palm touched his arm, he recoiled, his hazel eyes snapping over to me. We locked gazes for a fraction of a second before I released his arm, retreating. I glanced over my shoulder at Mum, who looked just as confused as I did.

James lowered himself into the nearest chair in the same manner an old man would, his shoulders hunched and movements incredibly stiff and slow. He leaned his weight on his elbows and pushed his hands through his mess of dark brown hair. I shrugged my shoulders at Mum and she made a fluttering motion with her hands, as if suggesting that I should make another attempt at talking to him.

Thanks for sending me into the lion’s den, lady. I appreciate it.

Clearing my throat, I poised the words on the tip of my tongue. Before I could so much as open my mouth, James muttered in a low voice, “Back off, Mara.”

I blinked in confusion. “W-what?”

He didn’t pick up his head as he spoke, but I had the distinct feeling that he was glaring at the floor, imagining my face in place of the impeccably clean tiles. “I said, back off.” His voice cracked and he drew in a deep breath, his shoulders trembling.

I froze, my eyes widening. Wait a minute. Was he…no, he couldn’t be. James wasn’t crying…was he?

“I-I don’t understand.” And I didn’t. What was he on about?

James scoffed loudly. “What don’t you bloody understand about ‘back off’?”

The temptation to roll my eyes was intense. Irresistible, almost. Even when in a state of emotion distress, James grated on my nerves worse than anyone else I knew. True, we may have been best friends, but he was one of the most annoying gits in history, especially when he was ticked. “Of course I understand what it means. What I don’t understand is why you want me to back off. I mean, don’t you want to -”

“Just give me some fucking air, Mara, all right?!” James shouted.

I jumped in surprise, my heart leaping into my throat and lodging itself there, though a part of me felt relieved. This is what I had been expecting. This is what I wanted to see. The concern loosened in its tight grasp on my innards, making it a little easier to breathe, but only slightly. The likelihood of James striking out and delivering a powerful right hook to my jaw was still very high. Not that I could blame him. I would want to punch my lights out, too.

“James, I -”

“I can’t do this,” James continued, his fingers twining around his hair and pulling hard. He rocked in his chair, his knuckles turning white from the strain. I backed away slowly. “I can’t talk to you right now. I can’t even look at you, for fuck’s sake! You make me sick.”

My mouth snapped shut and I stared at him in wonder. In all the years I have known him, James has never acted so callously towards me. Sure there were times when we were so incredibly frustrated with one another that we avoided speaking for days, but never had he said something so…well, hurtful. He may have made fun of my glasses in first year and laughed uncontrollably when I accidentally singed off my eyebrows in Potions in third year, but nothing compared to the raw, aching feeling in my chest; it felt like my heart had just been ripped out and kicked about mercilessly.

“I-I’m sorry, James,” I whispered.

“Go away, Longbottom, before you make me say something I’ll regret.” His voice was rough, possessing a harden edge that could cut through the toughest of stones, and here I was, a pathetic piece of malleable graphite. However, it lacked the anger, the pure spitefulness that should have carried it to a higher degree. Instead, he sounded resigned and in that moment, I knew.

I had just lost my best friend.

And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

* * *


When we returned to the room, Jack was sleeping, though he looked no better. His skin was still covered in angry red hives and, by the looks of things, he was still having difficulty breathing. My heart breaking, I bent over the bed to kiss him on the forehead, smoothing down the soft tuffs of dark brown hair.

“Is everything all right?” I heard Dad whisper to Mum.

“No,” she answered lowly. I could feel her stare on my back as I tucked the blanket around Jack’s small, sleeping form. “He knows.”

“Who does?”

Mum scoffed. “Who do you think, Neville? James - he knows.”

I didn’t have to look at my father to know that all colour had left his face. At least he understood the weight of the situation. “Bollocks,” he muttered, and I turned to around to see him passing a hand over his tired face.

My parents looked horrible. Dad’s normally tame hair was sticking up in all different directions and there were dark circles underneath his kind eyes. Mum didn’t look much better. Her hair hung limp around her shoulders, which were hunched from sitting by Jack’s bedside for hours on end. Her eyes were bloodshot, the crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes visible.

I frowned. My parents shouldn’t have to suffer. They were getting on in their years - they deserved to go home and rest. I told them so.

“We would never leave you, Mara,” Dad said, striding forward to take my hand within his grasp. “Not when you need us the most.” He might not have said it outright, but I knew he was talking about James. A part of my heart swelled and burst with the joy of knowing that my father, my Daddy, would always be there for me. But the other part became heavy with guilt. If it wasn’t for my stupid decision, none of us would be in this mess and my parents would probably be in bed, reading the morning paper.

Releasing a small breath, I shook my head and dropped his hand. “As much as I appreciate the gesture, Dad, you should go home and get some rest. Both of you,” I added when I saw Mum open her mouth in protest. “This is my problem to deal with, not yours.”

“But we want to help you,” Mum insisted earnestly, drawing up to Dad’s side and looping her arm through the crook of his elbow. “We’re your parents, darling. We’ll always be here for you.” Her smile was drawn, but sentimental.

It was hard to keep the hot tears at bay. “I know you want to help me, but I’ve made my bed and now I’ve got to lie in it.”

Mum and Dad shared a glance before sighing in unison.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Dad questioned, examining me minutely with his soft brown eyes.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure,” I assured him.

He didn’t look convinced, but bobbed his head in resignation. I turned my eyes to Mum. Her lips were pursed and she was looking at me as though I had three heads. Perhaps she wasn’t used to seeing me step up to the plate and assume responsibility. Not saying that I wasn’t responsible; I was, but I had been denying this moment for so long that I think she assumed she was going to have to hold my hand and walk me through it. But now that I had made the decision to face the consequences of my own actions by myself with my head held high, well, I think that made her proud of me for the first time in a long time.

Dad gave me a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek before shuffling over to the bedside to say his goodbyes to his grandson, making a promise to visit in the morning.

While he was busy doing that, Mum placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. I smiled a watery smile and she pulled me into her arms, rubbing soothing circles into my spine. “I think you made the right choice, dear,” she whispered as she stepped back, wiping her eyes. “Just don’t muck things up further.”

Despite the gravity of the situation, I laughed, swiping my thumb underneath my eyes. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“For once,” Mum began, her tone much lighter, “I think I agree with you.”

Maybe they were right: there was a first time for everything. With that bit in mind, I felt hopeful that maybe, just maybe I hadn’t screwed this up beyond repair.

* * *


I was sitting alone with Jack, holding his tiny fist within my palm and admiring all five fingers, when there was a soft knock at the door. I didn’t know how much time had passed since my parents left to get a bit of rest at home, but I knew it had to be a substantial amount because the blinds had shut themselves and the overhead lights came on.

“Come on,” I called out gently, not daring to raise my voice in case Jack woke up. The poor kid needed his sleep.

The door creaked open and for a moment, I forgot how to breathe. My entire body tensed as my mind considered the possibility of whom was entering the room. Faces flashed before my eyes, the most reoccurring one being that of my father’s son. As in most situations, I fretted over nothing. Standing at the foot of my son’s bed were Lily and Albus Potter. I released the breath I wasn’t aware I had been holding and smiled weakly at them.

“Hi,” Lily greeted weakly in an attempt to clear away the awkwardness. “How are you holding up?”

I shrugged and readied my response when Albus blurted, “James told us what happened.”

My shoulders sagged forward. “Oh, he did?”

“Yeah,” Lily continued for her brother, shooting him a glare. “He pulled Mum and Dad to the side and told them in private. Mum was the one who told us, though, because James ‘went for a walk’, whatever that means.”

“Straight off the end of a bridge, if you ask me.”

“Albus!” his sister exclaimed, scandalised.

“What? I was only kidding!” he protested, holding his hands up in an attempt to block Lily’s attack. “Honestly, what is it with everyone around here? I make one little joke in hopes of lightening the mood and instead of laughs, I get slaps!”

“Because you make inappropriate jokes, you eejit,” Lily answered, punching him in the arm once more.

“Ouch! What was that for?” Albus demanded, rubbing his arm.

“For being a stupid and inconsiderate dolt.”


Watching the siblings argue was humorous and despite myself, I laughed. The abrupt sound caused both to stop bickering and turn their attention to me. Lily regarded me curiously, her head tilted ever-so-slightly.

“We weren’t very surprised to learn the truth, you know,” Albus said as he sat down in the chair placed on the opposite side of the bed. He looked at his sleeping nephew closely, the corners of his mouth rising.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Lily chimed in, folding her arms over her chest. I noticed the diamond glittering on her hand and smiled inwardly; it looked like things between her and Henry had been patched up. “Mum said she noticed the resemblance the moment she saw Jack at your great-grandmother’s funeral, but didn’t say anything because, you know, Augusta had just died.”

Before I could say anything, Albus scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that’s true,” he said sarcastically.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“While I don’t doubt that Mum figured it out eventually, I highly doubt that she realised the truth the moment she saw him. I mean, I’ll admit - James and Jack have the same colouring and all, but brown hair and hazel eyes aren’t exactly uncommon, if you know what I mean,” Albus explained, his eyes still fixed on my son. “Would you mind?” He nodded towards my hand, which was still clasping gently around Jack’s.

I grinned, shaking my head. “No, not at all.”

Albus returned the smile and reached forwards timidly, running his fingertip over the smooth ridges of Jack’s knuckles. “He’s so little,” he commented.

“You should have seen him when he was born,” I responded fondly, recalling the first time I held my son in my arms. “He was the tiniest thing, but easily the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.”

Lily sighed. “I wish I could have been there.”

“We wish we all could have been there,” Albus agreed, his attention focussed on Jack.

It was odd, seeing Al being so gentle. Growing up, he was always the rowdy one. The funny one who always had a prank to play and a joke to deliver. He was the happiest little boy alive, never taking a moment for granted. He was loud and occasionally obnoxious, so watching him handle Jack as though he would break was…well, it was precious.

Knowing that I had denied not only James the right to his son, but Lily and Albus their nephew and Harry and Ginny their first grandchild made me feel like the world’s worst person. I was the villain in this situation and I deserved everything that karma was giving me. No, that wasn’t true. I deserved more than anything karma could ever dish out for depraving them of Jack.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, looking from Albus to Lily and then back again.

“For what?” they asked in unison, wrinkling their brow in the same manner as James did.

“For everything. I should have realised that James wouldn’t be the only one affected by the truth. When I made the decision not to tell him, I was being selfish. I was too scared that I would lose his friendship or - or force him into a situation that he didn’t want to be in by telling him what happened. Not once did I consider that I was denying you all of -”

“Mara?”

My breath hitched in my throat at the sound of his voice. I hadn’t been expecting him to come to me. I thought I would have to hunt him down and be the one to initiate our first conversation post-reveal.

He was standing in the doorway, holding onto the doorknob so tightly, his knuckles were white. His voice wasn’t angry, but it didn’t possess the kind smoothness that I knew and loved. When his hazel eyes found mine, I couldn’t not notice the resemblance between him and Jack. Maybe Albus was wrong. Maybe Ginny had known the entire time, but didn’t say anything because, like my mum, she wanted me to take responsibility.

“Yes?” My voice cracked and I blushed.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Eyes wide, I glanced at Albus, who shrugged, before flicking my gaze to Lily.

“Go. We’ll stay with Jack,” the redhead assured me, patting me on the shoulder.

Swallowing the goose-egg sized lump in my throat, I nodded faintly, slowly rising to my feet. I felt numb, like I was marching to my death. For all I knew, I might as well have been. I didn’t know what James was going to say, but Merlin, I hoped against all hope that he wouldn’t abandon Jack. He could throw our friendship out the window and not want anything to do with me, but as long as he wanted to be a part of Jack’s life, I was more than happy to sacrifice what we had. Jack was my world and I wasn’t going to put anything ahead of him ever again.

I exited the room and shut the door behind us just in time to hear Albus and Lily commence to whisper feverishly. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. They were such gossip hounds. I looked to James, but he ignored my questioning look. Instead, he gestured towards another door a little ways down the hall. I nodded and he started walking without waiting for me.

Once we were in the unoccupied room, he started pacing. A piece of me was glad to see his frantic movement as it meant that James was coming back to himself. I took a seat on the edge of the exam table and watched as he paced the length of the room, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so.

Then, quite suddenly, he started to speak. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“What you said back in Jack’s room. Did you mean it?”

I blinked stupidly, trying to recall my own words. “Y-yes,” I stammered nervously. “I meant them.”

He paused mid-step to look at me. “You’re a bigger idiot than I thought you were.”

“Wait just a minute now, I don’t think it’s fair to -”

“You don’t think it’s fair to what, Mara?” James exploded, startling me. So much for the calm façade. Time for the infamous Potter temper to emerge. “To not tell me that I have a son? To keep a secret from me for - what - thirteen months! Do you think that’s fair? Because I sure as hell don’t think it is!”

Feeling attacked, I leapt to my feet. “I didn’t want to force you into something you didn’t want to do!” I shouted back. “I didn’t want to burden you with a baby.”

“Burden me…burden me? Mara, are you listening to yourself? Do you realise how ridiculous you sound? What makes you think that I would consider a baby - that I would ever consider Jack a burden!?”

His eyes drilled into mine and I felt a surge of heat in my stomach. It boiled the blood in my veins, my anger impossible to contain. I knew I had no right to be angry, but I couldn’t help it. My intelligence was not the only thing being insulted - it was the strength of our friendship he was questioning.

“Because you left!” I screamed, heat rising to my face as I strode towards him. “The morning after we slept together, you left. Gone without a bloody trace. No note, no nothing! You were like a ghost - there one minute and gone the next. I come back from my morning conference to a deserted flat and an empty mug of coffee! How the hell do you think that made me feel?” I asked, giving him a rough shove. I wanted him to push me back, but he just stood there with a stupid look on his face. “I thought you regretted shagging me. So excuse me for thinking that you would also regret the outcome of that night!”

Instead of flaring up like I thought he would and vehemently denying my claims, James took several steps back, the force of my words hitting him hard. He reached behind himself blindly, searching for something to grab on to. Eventually he backed into a chair and collapsed into it, burying his hands in his hair.

He didn’t say anything for a long time.

Since he wasn’t talking, I didn’t feel the need to make conversation either. What else could I say? I had laid everything out on the table, let him know the reasoning behind the biggest mistake of my life - not telling him, of course; Jack was the biggest blessing I could have asked for - and now, I felt like I was naked. Folding my arms over my chest as a means of covering myself, I leaned against the exam table and waited.

Minutes ticked by; the silence was deafening.

Finally, James picked up his head and said, “I’m sorry.”

It was enough to extinguish my anger in a second. “No, James, don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s - it’s mine. Like you said, I hid Jack from you for thirteen months. It’s not fair. Not fair to you, not fair to your parents, not fair to your siblings. Not fair to your entire family.” I sighed, pushing a hand through my unkempt hair. “I’m such an arse.”

He didn’t laugh and I didn’t expect him to. I stopped expecting anything from anyone.

“Look, Mara,” James began, rising from his seat and coming to join me by the exam table. He may have been standing a few feet away from me, but I could feel the heat emanating from his body and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and beg for forgiveness. But I knew that wasn’t possible. He might have understood, even accepted my reasoning, but there wasn’t a chance in hell that he would forgive me any time soon. If the tables were turned, I knew I wouldn’t be so quick to forgive.

“I want to let you know that -” he paused to lick his lips and run a hand over his face “- that I’m going to be there for him. Despite your judgment, I want to be a part of his life. How you could think that I would leave my son - or you, for that matter - high and dry…” He shook his head to himself and continued, “Anyway, the point is that Jack is my son and I’m not about to abandon him, not when I’ve just found out that he’s mine. Not when I’ve already missed so much. I just wish I could have - never mind.”

My heart clenched and I chewed on my bottom lip to prevent from interrupting him because I knew this was a one-time only thing.

“That’s not the point. The point is that I’m here, and I have no intentions of ever leaving you behind.” He furrowed his brow and added, “Either of you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t find the right words. So, instead of commenting on how lovely his speech was or how much it meant to me that he said those words, delivered the reassurances, I asked a stupid question. “What about us?”

James stared at me for several moments before shrugging. “I-I just don’t know. You lied to me, Mara. You lied to my face for months and though you told me why, I’m still trying to understand why. All I know is that we’ve already mucked up any chances of -” He cut himself off, the tips of his ears going red. “Well, I’ve got Sophie now and the wedding is next Friday and the guests have already started sending gifts…Mara, I -”

I held up my hand, effectively silencing him. “I get it, James,” I said with a sad smile. “You don’t have to say anything else because I get it. I know I screwed up and I’m willing to pay the p-price. Now,” I persisted before he could say anything else contrary, “how would you like to meet your son for the first time?”

If I didn’t know it was the middle of summer, I would have thought it was Christmas, the way James’ face lit up like a Christmas tree. Beaming ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with life, not anger, he said, “I’d love that.”

* * *


A/N: Ack! Sorry for the lack of updates! This chapter was very difficult to write, and I hope you can see the reasons why. That being said, please tell me what you think of it! Was it too dramatic? Not believable enough? Did you love it? Let me know in a review! Thanks so much for reading!


Chapter 16: A Quick Acceptance
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Chapter Fifteen
A Quick Acceptance


There have been numerous moments in my life when I’ve claimed speechlessness, but it wasn’t until Mara passed Jack to me that I understood the true meaning of the commonly used phrase. My breath hitched as I cautiously shifted him into a more comfortable position, one arm sporting the length of his spine, the other keeping him close to my chest. It was…well, it was bloody indescribable, cradling my son - my brilliant little boy - in my arms.

My son. My boy.

I was his father.

He was mine.

Mine.

Merlin pant’s, it was hard to believe, but so easy to accept.

He was so tiny, so small, compared to me. I could hardly grasp the concept of such a tiny someone, let another partaking in the act of creating one. I was much too absorbed, so caught up in the little wonder staring up at me with eyes so like my own, it was frightening, that I couldn’t even hate Mara, despite how much the rational part of my mind was telling me to. Perhaps it was because in that moment, gazing into Jack’s round face and recognising parts of myself as well as Mara, the unspoken bond was so powerful, I couldn’t think of much else save for how amazing he was.

I didn’t even notice the tear slipping out of my eye until it dripped off my chin and splashed on my arm.

“Circe, I feel like such a poof,” I chuckled lowly, not taking my eyes away from Jack.

Beside me, Mara laughed, a quiet, but warm sound. “You shouldn’t.”

“It’s just - well, he’s just so - what I mean to say is that -”

As always, she leapt to my rescue. “I know exactly what you mean, James,” she muttered gently, scooting closer. She pushed herself onto her tiptoes to look over my shoulder at Jack. However, she respected the newfound, yet undeclared boundaries erected between us and kept her distance. Though I couldn’t see her face, I could tell that she was smiling. It was difficult not to in Jack’s presence.

I knew I was supposed to be furious with her - every rational fibre in my body was screaming in protest as we stood side-by-side, watching our son, but as much as my subconscious wanted me to despise her, I couldn’t. Because, without her, the baby boy in my arms, the silver lining around a particularly dark storm cloud, wouldn’t exist.

And even though I had only know he was my son for a few hours, I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

- - -


Mara left the room some twenty minutes later, saying that I deserved to have some alone time with my son. Murmuring a quick thank you, I waited until the door clicked shut behind her before releasing a deep breath. While it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, there was an underlying tension between us, one that was easily distinguishable in the light words we exchanged and the casual glances.

As Jack drifted to sleep in my arms, I went over the scene in the empty room for perhaps the twelfth time since the incident. Like one of Grandmum Molly’s Celestina Warbeck records, Mara’s words played on a loop in my head.

“Because you left…gone without a bloody trace. No note, no nothing!”

Yes, I did leave and no, I didn’t leave a note. Why? Because after waking up to a cold spot in a rumpled bed, only to find myself completely alone in some second-rate hacienda in Panama, my ego was severely bruised. It was a rash decision - Merlin, it was a stupid one - but how I was to know that she had merely gone to a mandatory work meeting?

Guilt weighed heavy on my shoulders, even though the nagging voice in the back of my head shouted that the guilt belonged to no one but Mara. It was her decision to keep the secret, after all. She was also the one who failed to notify me of her absence. However, as much as I wanted to blame her, as much as I wanted to hate her guts, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Despite all logic and reason, not that I had very much of either, I still thought of her as a close friend, if not my best mate in the entire world.

But she lied to you!

Glancing down at the dark-haired boy sleeping soundly in my arms, despite the angry red welts all over his body, I found it extremely easy to forgive her. And let me tell you, James Sirius Potter is not forgive very often, not without some binding contract or absurd promises. It escaped my notice that, in some ways, Jack was a binding contract, but by no means a burden. No, he was a blessing.

I didn’t even realise that I had begun to sway back and forth until I heard Albus say from somewhere behind me, “Oh, look, Mum, they’re dancing together. How very picturesque.”

Lily thwacked him on the back of the head and Mum chuckled appreciatively. “Let’s hope Jack didn’t inherit his father’s two left feet.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m a world-class ballroom dancer,” I said, tilting my chin defiantly.

Over Mum’s shoulder, Dad rolled his eyes. I inclined my head in greeting towards my father, who smiled back wearily. “All right, James?” he asked.

“More than all right,” I responded, returning my gaze to my son.

“He’s just the cutest thing. May I hold him?” Mum cooed as she shrugged out of her cloak and draped it over the back of a spare seat.

Though I wanted to tell her no, I had only just found out he was mine, I couldn’t deny her, not when she was looking at me with her wide brown eyes and that pitiful expression. No wonder why Dad gave her everything she asked for; her puppy dog eyes were damn near impossible to resist. Perhaps that’s where I got it from. Heaving a great sigh, I nodded. “Sure.”

Her entire face lit up as I transferred Jack into her arms, taking extra precaution as not to jostle him awake. The poor boy had only just fallen asleep. When tears began to well in Mum’s eyes, I had to look away. If she started crying, there was no guarantee that my eyes would remain dry. And I refused to cry in front of Albus. The last time I had, he told the whole bloody school about it. Of course, it was only because Trisha Rookwood kneed me in the family jewels, but he failed to mention that in the rumour that spread like wildfire throughout the halls of Hogwarts. James Sirius Potter, a pathetic sap.

As if.

Dad shuffled over to Mum and gazed down at Jack in much the same manner that Mara had earlier. A gentle smile touched his lips. As I watched my parents taking in the splendour of their grandson, I couldn’t help picturing them when I was born and wondering if they fawned over me with looks of such utter delight on their faces. I’m sure they had; it was impossible not to fall in love with a baby.

After some time, Mum passed Jack to Dad, who cradled him as though he was a precious treasure, which he was. “Hi, little guy.”

While Mum and Dad ‘ooh’ed and ‘awe’d over their grandson, I scooted over to the corner of the room where my two younger siblings were, for want of a better word, skulking. Albus looked particularly put out that he hadn’t had a chance to hold the baby yet.

“So,” Lily began, pinning me with a pointed stare, “how are you really doing?”

Tilting my head to the side, I considered her question. My earlier response had been truthful, I was more than fine. In fact, I was floating on Cloud Nine. Or at least, I had been until my little sister brought reality back into the picture.

“The truth?”

She nodded. Albus wasn’t paying attention, for he was too busy throwing daggers at Dad, who was still holding onto his grandchild and, by the looks of it, didn’t plan on relinquishing said hold until he felt like it.

“I…don’t know, really,” I confessed lowly. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon about Jack, but it’s just…it’s…well, confusing.”

Lily arched a brow sceptically. “That’s it? It’s confusing?”

“Yes, it’s confusing,” I insisted, my tone becoming petulant, “and complicated and unbelievably surreal. D’you know what it’s like to find out that you’ve fathered your best friend’s child?”

“No,” she deadpanned. “I can’t say that I do. Of course, that may because I’m still trying to get over the fact that you two shagged.”

“You and I both,” I muttered, pushing a hand through my hair.

Lily sent me a peculiar look and appeared as though she wanted to say something. She chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully and opened her mouth to speak, but it was not her voice that emerged.

“Where is he?” a waspish voice demanded from the other side of the door.

There was a prolonged moment of silence. “In there,” said Molly.

Next came a shuffling of chairs against the linoleum, a chorus of hushed voices calling for quiet, and then -

“How dare you tell me that I’m not allowed in there!” Her voice was similar to nails on a chalkboard, grating and hair raising. “I’m his fiancée, for Merlin’s sake! NOW LET ME IN!”

I started.

Lily winced.

Mum threw me a nasty look full of contempt.

Dad and Albus were oblivious, too distracted by their quiet argument of whose turn it was to hold Jack. “But you’ve been holding him for fifteen minutes,” Albus whined.

“Shit.”

Shit was right. Seconds later, the door was forced open and my fiancé came stumbling into the room. Her bright eyes were narrowed into dangerous slits and scooped the room in a furious frenzy. Her blonde hair, which was usually perfectly coiffed and shining, was extremely bushy. Paired with her wide eyes and infuriated expression, she looked as though she had been electrocuted.

If possible, her gaze narrowed even further when her eyes found me.

“You!” she growled, sounding more monstrous than I thought humanly possible. She threw out an arm and pointed a bejewelled finger at me.

I blanched. “Sophie, dear,” I began, stumbling over my words, “I can explain -”

“You think I’m going to let you explain yourself, James?” Sophie screeched. “You left me - alone - at the winery! All by myself!”

“That’s generally what alone means,” Lily mumbled darkly under her breath.

As much as I appreciated my sister’s sense of humour, now was not the time to make such a statement, especially when I was on the borderline of laughing and pissing myself in fear of might happen should a chuckle escape. It was highly unlikely that Sophie would like being laughed at.

“Do you know how humiliating it was to have to explain to the hostess that none of my guests, including the love of my life,” she put heavy emphasis on this statement, one of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows rising ever so slightly as if challenging me to contradict her; I wasn’t stupid enough to do so, “were planning on coming back?”

“Look, Soph -”

“I’M. NOT. FINISHED,” she bellowed, her face turning an unnatural shade of puce.

Lily gasped.

Mum gnashed her teeth.

Dad looked up from his fawning, a furrow forming between his brows.

“Oi, James,” Albus said loudly, staring directly at Sophie, “put a muzzle on your bitch, will you? She'll wake the baby if she continues that mad barking.”

While Lily buried her face in her hands to muffle her outrageous laughter, Sophie sputtered stupidly before rounding on me, her face alight with an anger the likes of which I had never seen. Her expression looked harder than stone and her words were sketchily diced, the edges jagged and cutting. “James - do something! You’re not going to let him to talk to me like that, are you?”

I didn’t know what to do or what I should say. Albus wasn’t even paying attention anymore, instead focussed on his nephew. My parents and Lily were watching intensely, each wearing an array of expression. Dad looked highly uncomfortable whereas Mum appeared to be somewhat amused, obviously still relishing in Al’s remark, and Lily was red in the cheeks, her petite shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

Pushing a short sigh through my lips, I grabbed Sophie by the elbow and pulled her towards the door. “Let’s go somewhere private.”

She slammed her heels into the ground to prevent me from pulling her through the door. “You didn’t even tell that stupid arse off for calling me a -”

“My brother is not a stupid arse,” I countered rather unoriginally as I looked down at her, subconsciously tightening my grip on her arm. “Please, Sophie, don’t make things more difficult than they have to be by resisting; I want a chance to explain myself because I feel like you deserve an explanation for such unfair treatment.” My tone was light and loving and all-around pathetic, but it worked.

She relaxed underneath my hand and frowned. “Fine. But this doesn’t mean you’re out of trouble, mister,” she said, shaking her index finger in my face. Throwing a contemptuous look at my brother, she stalked out of the room.

Tugging a hand through my hair, I turned towards my family. “Don’t say it,” I said forcefully.

“I wouldn’t dream of it, mister,” Albus replied with a wide grin.

I picked up the nearest object - a jar of salve - and tossed it at his head. The following thump was reassuring and as I left the room, I felt a little better…

Until I realised that I had to explain to my fiancé, the woman I was due to marry in ten days’ time, that I was the father of my best friend’s - her maid of honour’s - child. Somehow, I didn’t think she would take the news very well.

- - -


In the end, it turned out a lot better than I expected it to, especially since I was anticipating the apocalypse. Sure, she was livid; the way I saw it, she had every right to be. Yeah, she may have Stunned me when the words “I’m Jack’s father,” came out of my mouth, but it wasn’t anything less than I deserved, and at least she didn’t perform an Unforgivable Curse. And maybe punching me in the nose when I mentioned the wedding was taking things a little too far, but at least she apologized for that.

Well, sort of.

Flicking her wand, Sophie conjured an ice pack and handed it to me.

“Cheers,” I said as I accepted it, pressing it to my nose. Immediately, I winced. It was fucking cold.

She didn’t look amused, though her expression was decidedly less severe and the kindness I had fallen in love with returned to her eyes. When she saw that I was smearing blood all over my face as I lightly dabbed at my nose, she took it from my hands and steered me over to a chair, forcing me to sit down. She knelt in front of me and cleaning up my face.

“You’re a mess,” Sophie commented, her tone possessing a certain iciness that stung. “Got blood all over your face. Honestly.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized for what must have been the seventeenth time in the last ten minutes. Still, it didn’t make the words any less sincere.

She hesitated for a few seconds as though debating the best way to phrase her next words. Her fingers curled around my chin and she turned my head to the side, wiping at my cheek. “I know you are, Jimmy,” she said softly.

Spurred by her acceptance of my apology, I continued, “I would have told you sooner had I known, but I didn’t. I swear to Merlin that I had no idea whatsoever until a few hours’ ago that Jack is my son.”

“I know, I believe you,” Sophie replied, reaching into the pocket of her skirt and withdrawing a handkerchief.

My eyes widened considerably as she folded over a corner and scooted closer. “Really?” I asked, my voice cracking.

She laughed gently as she swiped underneath my nose. “Yes. You wouldn’t lie to me,” she said, though her brow furrowed. “Well, not about something this serious, anyway.” Her smile was tight-lipped and strained.

I couldn’t help beaming.

Knocking her hand away, I scooted nearer to her and cupped her face with my hands. At first, she didn’t seem to want the contact, but as the warmth radiated from my hands to her face and circulated between us, she nuzzled my palm.

“Oh, Jimmy,” she whispered.

I leaned forwards and kissed her shortly, but deeply. Pulling back, I rested my forehead against hers. “I love you,” I said, whether out of habit or not, I wasn’t sure. Deep down, I knew I meant them. I did love her, but the question remained: was it enough?

“I love you, too.” Sophie’s responding grin stretched from ear to ear and that curious bubbling sensation appeared in my stomach. I kissed her again, this time on the nose before I withdrew and rose to my feet. I held out a hand and she accepted it without pause.

Linking my hand with hers, I led her out of the tea room and down the stairs. As we walked, Sophie’s head resting against my arm, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right about this. Sophie should be angrier with me; she shouldn’t have accepted my apology so easily nor the fact that if we went through with this wedding - and I assumed we were as she was talking about rescheduling the wine tasting - she would become Jack’s stepmother, ergo he would be a constant presence in our lives, as would Mara. After all, you couldn’t have the son without his mother.

I tried to interrupt her steady flow of information - she was now talking about taking her ring to get polished - but she wasn’t having anything of it. She waved away my suggestion to just perform a simple cleaning spell, saying that the diamond was too delicate, too precious to do something so careless.

“It deserves love,” she said as we rounded the corner, my extended family coming into view.

As we approached, I noticed the absence of my grandparents and several of my female cousins. However, my parents and my siblings were perched just outside of the door. Dad looked to be in deep conversation with his best friends, Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, that latter of which grinned widely when she saw me.

“Congratulations, dear,” she said, not so subtly nudging Sophie to the side to give me a sloppy hug. She was my godmother, after all, so her actions were excusable, if not welcomed. “You must be so excited!”

“’Mione,” Uncle Ron moaned at her side. “Leave the poor man alone. He’s been through Hell and back, haven’t you, James?”

“Er - yeah,” I agreed with a quick bob of my head.

“Still,” Aunt Hermione said as though I hadn’t even spoken. “He must be excited - he’s a father! If I remember correctly, you couldn’t get over the fact.” She nudged her husband in the side and, thankfully, a distraction arrived in the form of their remembrance of Rose’s birth.

Sighing, I dropped into the seat next to Dad.

“How did everything go with…” he trailed off, gesturing towards my fiancé, who was sitting alongside Victoire, bouncing a laughing Dora on her knee. For some reason, this made me smile; maybe she would be all right with becoming Jack’s stepmother. She had been taken with him from the moment she laid eyes on him at the Lovegoods’ house following Augusta Longbottom’s funeral, so why should it be any different now?

Maybe because she knows that he’s the result of you shagging your best friend.

Once again, I ignored my conscience and shrugged. “Fine, I guess. She got me with a Stunner when I told her that I’m Jack’s father and punched me when I brought up the wedding, but all in all, it went much better than expected.”

Dad guffawed, shaking his head. “So does that mean the wedding’s off?” The level of hopefulness in his voice was almost embarrassing.

“Oh no, it’s still on,” I said, pointing to Sophie, who was showing her rock to Victoire, who seemed very impressed, though not very interested. Good, the damned thing had cost me a fortune. That’s the last time I’ll ever take let her pick the diamond for the band.

“Oh. Well, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it, but congratulations, James. You’re going to be a great father,” he said as he stood. “If your mother asks where I am, tell her I went to visit an old friend in the Janus Thickey Ward.”

“Okay.”

He clapped me on the shoulder before departing.

Most people might not consider the brief exchange very significant, but it was. Dad wasn’t the type to express his emotions - unless he was angry. Then he let the entire world know just how he felt. But when it came to more emotional things, he was a brick wall. Just like Uncle Ron. Of course I knew my father loved me, but it was the tiny reassurances that reminded me just how much he cared.




A/N: Yes, I know the chapter is a bit shorter than normal, but I feel like I got everything in that I needed to. Of course, you are all probably wondering why Sophie was so easy to accept James’ apology - and don’t worry, she does have an ulterior motive. She wouldn’t be Sophie if she didn’t!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, drop a review! Thanks for reading!


Chapter 17: Tense Coils
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Chapter Sixteen
Tense Coils



After James signed the consent form to release his medical records to Healer Benson, it was only a matter of time before the source of Jack’s health scare was determined. Apparently, he ingested some of the soil that my parents used in their garden and he had an allergic reaction to it, much like James did when he was a child. I couldn’t help heaving an immense sigh of relief as Healer Benson relayed the news to us.

“So he’s going to be okay?” I asked, wringing my hands as I stared at her, tears stinging the backs of my eyes. It was unbelievably difficult to keep the unbridled hope out of my voice.

“Yes, Miss Longbottom,” Healer Benson replied patiently, “he’s going to be just fine. I’ve got some of the hospital’s best potioneers working on the cure right now. It should be done in a few hours’ time.”

“And then he’ll able to go home?” James questioned form his position in the corner. I tried not to glare at the sight of his arm wrapped around Sophie’s slim shoulders or the way he kept squeezing her happily, pulling her closer to his body.

I folded my arms over my chest, wishing that I hadn’t sent my parents home to get some rest. It would have been nice to have someone here with me instead of having to watch James and his nauseatingly beautiful fiancé be all couple-like. I wanted someone I could kiss and hug and be joyful with, too.

Healer Benson nodded as she tightened her grip on the clipboard in her hand. Clearly our useless questions were bothering her. “Just as soon as the potion starts working.”

James’ lips split into a mile-wide grin and I could tell he was refraining from jumping into the air, if only because Sophie held his hand in a vice-like grip. “Brilliant!”

I didn’t say anything, even though I agreed - it was quite brilliant that I would be able to take Jack home in a few hours‘ time. Mum and Dad would be over the moon with excitement…until they found out that it was because of their dragon dung soil that he had gotten sick. Hm, maybe I wouldn’t tell them about that part. They didn’t need to feel anymore guilty than they already did.

Sensing the tension in the room, Healer Benson cleared her throat. “If you don’t have anymore questions…” she trailed off, gesturing towards the semi-open door. She glanced from the corner of the room to me, and I swore her smile became lighter, less patronising. With a bow of her head, the young healer left the room quietly, but not before asking us to direct our questions to the medi-witch station just a few paces down the hall. Though I knew she had other patients to attend to and she would get to our questions in a timely manner, I couldn’t say that I was happy to see her go.

Especially after the door closed behind her with a sharp click.

If the tension had been uncomfortable when there was a medically trainer professional in the room, it was downright unbearable now that I was trapped inside a small room with my son, his father, and his father’s fiancé.

Averting my gaze, I stared at the floor, pointedly ignoring the weight of James’ heavy stare on the back of my neck, which reddened from the sudden attention. I didn’t have to be a bloody genius to know what he was going to ask me, but I didn’t think I could handle his question. For the past thirteen months, I had been Jack’s sole provider. I gave him a home while he grew into the perfect little creation that he was, I stuffed my face and gained over thirty pounds before I gave birth to him and nurtured and loved and cared for him more than anyone - or anything - else in the world. I was the only parent he knew and I didn’t want that to change. I didn’t want to compete for my son’s love.

I didn’t want to share him.

The silence stretched on for several more minutes. I fidgeted with my hands, twisting and popping my fingers as I gazed down at my sleeping son. Though he hadn’t received the cure, he looked loads better. The welts covering his small body had reduced in size and redness, and Jack didn’t start crying every time he moved, the fabric of his onesie scratching uncomfortably at his raw skin.

I reached down to push his dark hair away from his forehead when James rather suddenly spoke. “Mara, I think we need to discuss -”

“I could use some tea,” I interrupted loudly. “I’m going to go get some. Would you like any?” I looked directly at Sophie, my eyes bypassing James, who grunted in annoyance.

“Well,” the blonde said, licking her lips, “now that you mention it, I could do with some -”

“Sophie!” James exclaimed, an oddly angry expression marring his features.

As she rounded on him, her body flaring with indignation (“Don’t you dare tell me what to do!“) I took it as my moment of escape. I slipped past them as discreetly as I could, closing the door as quietly as possible. My stomach tightened as the thought of leaving Jack alone with James and Sophie; though I trusted James, I didn’t trust Sophie further than I could throw her, which wasn’t very far given my lack of muscles. Then again, did I trust James to be alone with our son? Wasn’t that the original source of my anxiety, anyway? Did he know how to take care of a baby?

Shaking my head to myself but knowing that I was right, I continued on my trek to the tea room, an unsettling feeling settling in my stomach as I climbed the rickety stairs. After Lucy regaled me with her horror story of being trapped in a lift for nearly an hour, I decided that maybe the stairs weren’t such a bad thing. At any rate, I might lose a pound or two exerting the extra effort.

If I had been searching for a bit of privacy in the tea room, I didn’t get any. Aside from the dishevelled witch in the corner and the snoring wizard on the old leather couch, a certain blue-haired someone was sitting at a table with his daughter sleeping against his chest. When I entered the room, he looked up, a weary smile stretching across his lips.

“Hey,” he greeted meekly, exercising a great deal of caution in lifting his cup of most likely cold tea to his lips.

I pulled out a chair and dropped into it, suddenly and utterly exhausted. “Hi,” I returned breathlessly, shoving a hand through my hair; I grimaced at the feel of the greasy strands. “What are you still doing here?”

Teddy lifted the shoulder his daughter’s head wasn’t resting on in a shrug. “I figured you would need someone to talk to, is all. I mean, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.”

I snorted derisively. “And the award for understatement of the year goes to…”

His laugh was short lived and the serious expression returned to his face so swiftly, it startled me. “Mara, I’m serious. If you need me, I’m here.”

My smile was tight, but genuine. “As touched as I am, Teddy, I think you need to get home.” I held up my hand when he opened his mouth to protest. “It’s obvious that you’re exhausted and little Dora,” I paused, my brow furrowing as I stared at the back of her very blonde head. “Speaking of, what’s she doing here? I’m surprised Victoire didn’t drag her out of here.”

“She very nearly did,” Teddy replied, running his fingers along the curve of the cup’s handle, “but Dora put up a sound fight; she wanted to make sure that her baby cousin was going to be okay. Just like I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

I dropped my eyes to the Formica tabletop, pretending to be grossly interested in the pattern the tiny flecks of colour made.

“So,” he hedged cautiously, his eyes guarded as he stared at me, “are you?”

“Am I what?” I questioned needlessly, my voice catching as the air whooshed out of my lungs.

“Are you okay?”

As though someone had flipped a switch - or at the very least pulled the stopper on the tub - the waterworks began. For some reason, little Dora’s concern for Jack coupled with the earnestness that coloured Teddy’s voice as he asked about my well-being made the emotional dam break. My eyes went from dry and bleary to the very embodiment of a human waterfall in one fell swoop. Huge sobs racked through my body as I buried my face in my folded arms, crying like it was going out of style. There was no point in trying to cap the tears - this sort of thing was inevitable.

Thankfully, Teddy kept his distance. If he had started with the whole “Oh, I’m your best mate, I should help you” routine, shuffling around the table to give me a pat on the back or - for Merlin’s sake - a hug, I would have dissolved into a fit of hysterics. The situation was already extremely trying at best, but if he began fussing over me like I should be fussing over my son instead of crying like a petulant child, that would be my undoing.

When my sobs lessened in both volume and intensity, Teddy cleared his throat, reaching around Dora’s head to scratch his brow. “I’ll take that as a resounding ‘no’.”

Laughing thickly, I kicked him in the shin underneath the table. “I’m fine,” I said, pegging him with the insistent sort of look my mother used to give me.

His expression was doubtful. “No,” he said with a shake of his head, “you’re not. Clearly, you’re not.”

“So I cried for a few minutes -”

“- more like ten -”

“- big deal? My son’s in the hospital -”

“-and the man you love just found that he’s the father of said son -”

“- and I think that gives me the right to - Hey!” I exclaimed, his last words hitting me with sudden force. “I don’t love James.”

Teddy snorted.

“I don’t!” I insisted, narrowing my eyes at him in what I hoped was a threatening manner. “At least not in the way you’re suggesting.”

“Which is?” he asked, cocking a brow.

I resisted the urge to kick him again. “In the romantic way, of course,” I said, all but forcing the words out; it was like they were clinging to the sides of my throat or something. They left a peculiar aftertaste in my mouth. “He’s my best friend - or was. I’m not sure where we stand right now.”

Teddy looked as though he wanted to continue with our first thread of conversation - the existence of my romantic feelings for James. However, it appeared as though he swallowed whatever he had to say about that and picked up what little bait I tossed to him. Even though I insisted that I was fine, Teddy was right - I wasn’t fine, but there was no way in hell I was going to open a can of worms willingly. No, I would let Teddy open it up for me, that way he would be the one responsible for whatever flowed from my lips.

“I’m sure you’ve got nothing to worry about, Mara,” said Teddy in what I assumed was the most soothing voice he could muster, but even that failed to completely reassure me.

I shook my head, dragging the pads of my thumbs underneath my eyes in an attempt to clear my years. “You didn’t see the look on his face. It was…” I trailed off, remembering the way his entire face had gone slack, all emotion gone.

“Scary?”

“That’s one word for it,” I muttered, suddenly wishing that I had a cup of hot tea to wrap my hands around.

“On the bright side, at least he didn’t kill you,” Teddy said after a few moments of silence. When I raised a brow at him, he shrugged. “What? He could have gone completely mental and strangled you right then and there, but he didn’t, did he?”

“Your point?”

He sent me a look. “My point is that he’s obviously not as angry as you think he is. I’m not saying that he’s completely anger free, so you can wipe that hopeful expression off your face right now,” he added as soon as a hint of a smile touched my lips. It vanished in the blink of an eye. “But I’m just saying - don’t give up hope. You’ve been friends for your entire lives, I highly doubt that this is going to tear you apart.”

“This isn’t some stupid argument over who supports the better Quidditch team, Teddy,” I argued vehemently, my tone somewhat harsher than either of us expected. “I lied to him about a child. I mean, how would you feel if Victoire lied to you about Dora or Remy?”

Teddy’s expression turned contemplative, his brow pulling together in concentration and his lips pursing at their own accord. It was clear that he was debating how he would feel if Victoire had hidden the existence of their two beautiful children from him as his hands clenched into fists so tight, I feared that the skin over his knuckles would burst open. The Incredible Hulk was the very last thing I needed right now, especially since it was a hypothetical situation.

After a moment, however, Teddy shook his head, passing his free hand through his hair. “Hmm,” he mused aloud, returning his hand to Dora’s back and rubbing it almost protectively.

“See my point?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yeah,” he said with a nod, “I guess I do. But you have to remember that I’m not James, and we react to situations differently,” he added at my crestfallen expression.

For some reason, a part of me wished that he would have denied the validity of my point and assured me that I was just overreacting. But there was a reason why after James, Teddy was one of my closest friends, despite the difference in our ages. He was always honest to me, even when I might not have been entirely square with him.

“No,” I countered, absentmindedly picking at a divot in the table top, “you don’t. React differently, I mean.”

“How d’you mean then?”

Pushing a sigh through my lips, I leaned back in my chair and started from the beginning - where James had waltzed into the tea room and overheard the conversation between myself, my mum, and Healer Benson. Teddy listened quietly, wearing an oddly thoughtful look as I described at length all that had happened since the secret of Jack’s parentage had been revealed. From James’ initial stoic behaviour to his sudden lash out to the conversation we had in the empty room, which I finally gave the reason why I hadn’t told anyone about Jack in the first place. At this, Teddy blinked.

“You’re not - you’re not crying, are you?”

“What?” Teddy exclaimed, outraged, though he made a hasty swipe at his face. “Of course not. I was - well, I wasn’t expecting that to be your reason for lying to him.”

“I prefer evading the truth,” I quipped.

He gave me a look so withering, it could rival my mother’s. “Whatever. The fact remains is that you purposely kept information from him - and rather important information at that - and that, my friend, is the definition of lying.”

I rolled my eyes and asked, “What did you mean when you said you weren’t expecting that to be my reasoning?”

Teddy shrugged. “I dunno, because it’s logical.”

He howled so loudly when I delivered a swift kick to his shin under the table that Dora woke with a start. Lifting her head, she rubbed her bleary eyes with a small fist. “What’s going on, Daddy?” she asked softly. “Is Jackie okay?”

“He’s fine, sweetheart,” soothed Teddy, a gentle smile on his lips. “He should be released in a few hours’ time.”

She blinked owlishly at him, a pucker appearing between her fine brows. “Oh…does that mean we can go home now? I want to sleep in my bed; you’re not very comfy.” As if to further emphasis her point, she poked him in the chest.

Snickering into my hand, I watched fondly as Teddy assured his daughter that they would be going home shortly, stroking her hair from her roots to the tips. She seemed satisfied as she turned around and situated herself in his lap so she was looking at me.

“Your eyes are red,” she stated suddenly. “Why?”

“I was crying,” I responded hesitantly.

Dora tilted her head to the side and blinked again. “Why did you cry? Were you sad?”

I gave a short nod of my head, averting my gaze once more. “Yeah, a little bit. But I’m all better now.”

“’Cause Jackie goes home with you?”

Lifting my eyes, I beamed at her, allowing a reluctant smile to consume my lips. “Because Jack gets to go home with me.” Where he belongs.

- - -


Trying to avoid James and his burning gaze, which was increasing in heat the longer I skirted around him, was similar to trying to hold back your vomit before getting to the toilet. Very nearly impossible and downright unpleasant, especially if hungover.

The fact we were trapped in a room roughly the size of a shoebox certainly didn’t help, but somehow, I managed to avoid his questions for the better part of an hour. His first three attempts to strike up a conversation with me were easily evaded; I just pretended that one of the medi-witches had called my name and stole into the hall, feigning a discussion with the woman that didn’t exist. Thankfully, James didn’t follow me out until the fourth time in which he glared at me steadily for nearly five whole minutes.

To say that his glare was exhausting simply wouldn’t suffice.

After that, he appeared to have abandoned his attempts, settling himself in the chair beside Sophie, who took his hand the moment it was within her grasp. It must have been a force of habit because James didn’t flinch, though I did. The gesture was a bit too possessive for my liking, as was the glare she sent me when she caught me staring at them.

I made a point of staring at my shoes, particularly the scruffy state of the laces. Crossing my ankle over my knee, I leaned closer to inspect the damage. The laces were frayed in some places and torn in others, but they still held together. If one was dramatic enough (I wasn’t), they could perceive the state of my shoelaces as a roughly hewn metaphor for the state of their life. I snorted softly at the thought because, clearly, I was dramatic enough as the thought had occurred to me.

Sighing, I returned my foot back to the ground and sat back in my chair, preparing to get a few winks of sleep before Healer Benson came into room with the release papers. Just as I adjusted my position in the chair, draping my head over the top of the chair as to avoid a crick in my neck when I woke up, there was a knock on the door.

Really?

The guest knocked again, showcasing their impatience, but at least they were polite; they hadn’t opened the door, which meant that it wasn’t family and, I noted with disappointment, a member of the St. Mungo’s staff with Jack’s release forms. With those options gone, I frowned, wondering who could be on the other side of the door as I rose from my chair and crossed the room. The temptation to kick Sophie’s foot was immense, but I resisted, ignoring the grumblings in the back of my mind at the fact neither James nor Sophie had risen to get the door, despite the fact they were sitting two feet away from it.

Oh well. If this was the only form of payback I was going to get for ignoring James, so be it. It was much better than an unexpected fist to the face or wet noodles in my hair.

As Jack was still sleeping, I made sure to open the door as quietly as possible, though when I saw who was standing in the hall with a bouquet of assorted wildflowers and what looked to be a box of chocolates, I couldn’t help letting out a squeak of surprise.

“Patrick!” I blinked in rapid succession to make sure he wasn’t an apparition. He wasn’t. And it was very likely that he thought I had a severe case of on-spot epilepsy. “What are you doing here?”

Talk about the very last person I expected to see at St. Mungo’s.

He chuckled, a pleasant sound that effectively ruptured the bubble of silence that had engulfed the room. Patrick smiled and I found myself smiling with him, almost as though there were strings attached to the corners of my mouth.

“When Teddy didn’t show up for work today, Terra owled his wife and she said that he was here,” he began, shifting his weight from foot to foot subtly. “I asked Terra if everything was all right within his family and she told me the story. Oh,” he added as an afterthought, his eyes sparking with life. “I’m supposed to extend Terra’s condolences - she wanted to be here, but her sister went into labour.”

I tried not to let the peculiarity of the statement effect me. “I’m sorry I didn’t call in,” I said suddenly as if just remembering that I had only worked at Gringott's for a little less than a week and already, I was failing to call in.

Fortunately, Patrick didn’t seem to care. He waved his free hand - he’d shoved the box of chocolate under one arm - dismissively and aimed an arresting smile in my direction. I didn’t even realise my knees were buckling until I had to throw my arm out to support myself. Thankfully, the door obscured the action from view, otherwise I’m sure Patrick would have raised his eyebrow and properly cracked a smile.

In an incredibly sexy manner.

“Honestly, there’s no reason to worry about, Mara,” he said and I all but melted on the spot. Inwardly, I wished he would say my name again. “I understand.”

“You do?” I asked, a note of surprise in my voice that both of us noticed.

“Of course I do.”

“So does that mean you have children?”

If he had been drinking anything, I’m sure he would have spit it all over me. His eyes widened slightly and he shook his head adamantly. “No, no, no,” he said in a rush, “I don’t have children. I just meant that I understand the situation - a family emergency. I didn’t and wouldn’t expect any of my employees to worry about something as trivial as calling into work when their child was in danger.”

I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and press a kiss to his all-too perfect lips and cry for joy - the man was absolute perfection in every sense of the word. He wasn’t just a face that even the gods envied, but a man with a genuinely kind and passionate and understanding personality. But more importantly, he was bloody gorgeous. Luckily, I was better than I perceived at containing myself and settled on opening the door a bit wider, inviting him to come inside without actually saying the words.

It was evident that James and Sophie had been listening in on the conversation as both sat up, straight as pins in their chairs and wore matching looks of guilt. I didn’t bother suppressing the gloating smile as Patrick walked into the room behind me. The expression on James’ face was worth it. Now he knew how I felt the first time I saw Sophie - utterly gob smacked.

The tension in the room increased as Patrick did the very polite thing and introduced himself to the gaping pair. When he shook James’ hand, I saw the latter’s jaw tightened slightly, the corners of his eyes twitching. I continued to smile indulgently. Even though there was absolutely nothing aside from mild flirtation going on between myself and Patrick, it was extremely entertaining watching James think there was, especially when Patrick extended his hand holding the bouquet of flowers towards me.

“These are for you,” Patrick announced unnecessarily, though I could tell by the wicked gleam in his eyes that he knew exactly what was going on. I made a mental note to praise him for picking up on the taut line of tension.

I accepted them with a grateful smile. “Thank you. They’re lovely.” To further emphasis my point, I took a deep breath and inhaled their scent.

“I wasn’t sure what your favourite flower is,” he explained as he casually stuck his hands into his pockets, “so I picked the most colourful bouquet.”

“Calla lilies.”

Everyone jumped at the sound of James’ voice.

“Excuse me?” Sophie and Patrick asked in unison.

“Her favourite flowers are calla lilies.”

I felt like someone had dropped an anvil onto my head from a very precarious height, that’s how heavy the guilt weighed in my stomach. With that small, softly uttered statement, James had effectively wiped the gloating smile off my face and suddenly, I felt intensely guilty for even attempting to make him feel jealous. It was childish - petulant - and I wanted to wring my hands and confess on spot. Heaven knows I wouldn’t, but I felt as though I should. James wasn’t intentionally making me jealous with Sophie; he loved her, that much was evident, and she loved him. Just because they displayed their affections rather unabashedly in front of me didn’t mean they had some elaborate scheme to crush my confidence and make me feel insignificant

“I’ll have to remember that for next time,” Patrick stated, sending me a brief smile and an almost imperceptible wink.

Next time. He said ‘next time’, which meant he planned on giving me flowers again. I tried not to let my heart flutter too wildly within my chest. Thank Merlin for Patrick Kilpatrick.

“Regardless, it was a nice -”

I didn’t get to finish my statement as Sophie’s low growl resounded through the room. My eyebrows made a mighty leap towards my hairline in surprise. What the hell was that? I glanced over at Patrick to make sure he had heard it as well. Judging by the terrified expression on his face, he had.

“Well,” she said huffily, placing a hand on her full hip and flipping her curtain of long, blonde hair over her shoulder in one swift movement. Her eyes burned into James’. “I guess I know why you were so adamant in the flower selection.”

With all the grace of a hundred melodramatic women before her, Sophie stormed out of the room, taking care to slam the door behind her as forcefully as possible. I flinched, knowing the sound would wake up Jack and sure enough, not but two seconds later a murderous scream ripped through his small throat. I hurried over to the bedside at once, swiftly untangling his limbs from the soft blanket and lifting him into my arms.

I threw a scalding look at James, who looked torn between staying here to comfort his son and running after his fiancée. “Go after her,” I snapped, cradling Jack against my chest, rubbing the palm of my hand over the length of his spine. “I’ve got things covered here.”

Something flashed in James’ eyes. It wasn’t anger or anything close to it, but I was certain he wanted to say something or at any rate, do something other than stand there stupidly. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I am,” I bit out as Jack’s screams became shrill. Merlin, it was going to take forever to calm him down again. “Now go get her before she burns down the whole hospital.”

I didn’t know why I was encouraging him to go chase after her, but I knew I didn’t want him to be in the room. There was too much at risk. For all I knew, he would volunteer a hand in calming down our son and he would be better at it than me. He would get it right on the first try when it had taken me weeks to perfect the art of understanding my son’s needs.

Our son, I forcibly reminded myself, unable to fight the grimace on my face. James must have thought the look was directed at him because he gave a brief nod of his head before ducking out of the room. The hinges barely squeaked as he closed the door.

Jack continued to cry, though his face was buried in the crook of my neck, thus muffling what would have been a scream worthy of a banshee. I had no idea why Jack was so upset; he only cried this hard in his first few weeks of life when I didn’t understand what he wanted and needed. Now that I was more attuned to him, he usually only mewed for a bit before settling down. But this…this was almost frightening.

“Is he going to be all right?” questioned Patrick, his voice laced with a surprising amount of concern.

I licked my lips and shrugged, a fresh wave of panic bubbling in my stomach. It was nothing like the capsize I experienced in the winery when I found out my son had been hospitalised, but it was enough to make me feel nausea. As well as contemplating calling a medi-witch into the room for some assistance.

“I don’t know,” I answered, my anxiety leaking through. My hand traced the familiar path of a circle in Jack’s lower back and I kept pressing gentle kisses to his temple, hoping that my unspoken reassurances would be enough to calm him down. Evidently, they weren’t, but I was going to keep trying.

Patrick took a step forward and looked as though he wanted to hold Jack, but refrained from extending his arms. Inwardly, I heaved a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the sight of him holding my baby. It wasn’t because he was too handsome to do it, I realised with a horrible sinking feeling - it was because he wasn’t James.

- - -


By the time the medi-witch arrived with the release forms, Jack had cried himself to sleep in my arms and was currently cradled against my chest, which made it difficult to sign my consent on the forms.

“I can hold him,” James said softly. Ever since he had come back from chasing Sophie into the hall, he had been oddly subdued. Maybe it was because Sophie refused to come into the room while I was still there and since I had no intention of leaving the room so she could be with James, she had been left out in the hall for the better of two hours.

My grin was very difficult to hide, though James’ suggestion quickly snuffed any feelings of pride I had.

“No, I’ve got it,” I insisted, though clearly I didn’t. I couldn’t even hold the quill right, the lower part of my arm was so asleep. Cute though he may be, Jack weighed a tonne.

James sent me a look that suggested he didn’t believe me. With good reason, too. My hand was shaking with effort as I struggled to sign the form with Jack’s full weight resting on my writing arm. Rolling his eyes, James reached over and smoothly lifted Jack out of my arms.

“Don’t do -”

I swallowed my words as soon as James arranged Jack in his arms. The boy didn’t so much as stir in his sleep at being lifted and shifted into someone else’s arms. Usually when he was taken away from me or moved whilst sleeping, he would wake up, crying as loud as his lungs would let him. But with James, it was as if it hadn’t even happened. In fact, the small wrinkle between his brow disappeared as soon as he was settled against his father’s chest. Jealousy welled up and boiled inside of me.

What the fuck was going on?

Blinking back the tears that had suddenly sprung into my eyes, I turned my attention to the forms in front of me and made quick work of the signatures, wanting to get Jack back in my arms as soon as possible. My hand shook violently as I scribbled down my name, it looked like I had given Jack the quill and guided his hand. It didn’t matter and I didn’t care. As long as everything was done and signed, I didn’t care.

“Okay, done,” I said, spinning around so fast the world spun. Once the world steadied itself, I reached for Jack, but James shifted ever-so-slightly, all but giving me the cold shoulder. I frowned, affronted. “I need to get him home, James.”

“He can come home with me,” he said absentmindedly, too engaged with our son to look at me.

I snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have anything at your flat to care of a baby.”

James raised his head, an eyebrow quirked in challenge. “Who said I was going back to my flat?”

Fumbling, I started to formulate a response but stopped abruptly when I realised he was trying to distract me. “I don’t care if you’re going back to your mother’s house, James,” I said, my voice low. “He’s coming home with me. Where he belongs.”

“Where he belongs?” James parroted incredulously, his eyebrows rising to impressive heights on his forehead. “He’s not an object, Mara.” The bitterness in his tone as he said my name broke through my skin and burned.

“You don’t think I know that?” I asked harshly, offended by his accusation, though he was closer to the mark that I would dare to admit. “I’m not taking him home with me because I think he belongs to me. I’m bringing him back to my parents’ because that’s all he knows. How do you think he would feel, coming out of the hospital after thirty-seven hours of sickness, to a place he doesn’t even recognise?”

James sputtered stupidly, his face a mask of confusion. “Mara, I -”

“I’m not doing this to be selfish, James,” I interrupted swiftly. “I’m doing this for our son’s sake. He needs stability right now.” In his stunned state, I took Jack out of his arms and secured him against my chest. A breath of relief surged through my lungs as I noticed my son still fit perfectly, was still comfortable in the circle of my arms. I slid the stack of forms over to him and headed towards the door, where Patrick was waiting for me (he had arranged for a taxi to take us back to my parents’ house).

Before I exited the room, I said, “You can come over tonight and see him if you’d like.”

James blinked, surprised by my offer. “That’d be great,” he responded, nodding his head gently. “We can work something out then.”

Despite the sinking sensation in my stomach, I smiled tightly and nodded. “Yeah. We’ll do that.”



A/N: Questions? Comments? Concerns? Voice them in a review!

Thank you to everyone who had reviewed! It means so much to me. I love you all! *squish*


Chapter 18: Toeing The Line
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Chapter Seventeen
Toeing The Line


Descending the last of the steps, I stumbled into the living area over to the couch, where I promptly collapsed, a huge heap of exhausted person.

Turning the page of his newspaper, Dad didn’t look away from his reading as he asked, “Is he asleep?”

“Yes,” I answered, sinking into the cushions of the couch. “Finally. After three hours of incessant crying, he sleeps.” I threw an arm over my eyes, hoping to block out the afternoon sun streaming in through the open curtains. “Could you close the curtains? I’m not going to be able to sleep with all that light.”

I didn’t need to see Dad’s face to know that he was frowning. All the same, when he lowered the newspaper to grace me with a curious look, I couldn’t help a small, inward smirk. “Why aren’t you sleeping upstairs? You do have a room, you know.”

“That my son is currently sleeping in,” I said, rolling onto my side so I didn’t have to crane my neck to look at him.

“I fail to see the problem in that. After everything that’s happened, I would have thought your bed has never looked so inviting,” Dad reasoned as he regarded me.

“It does look comfy,” I agreed, subconsciously stuffing my hands underneath the throw pillow, “but I don’t want to run the risk of waking him up. Not after all the trouble I went through trying to put him down.”

A furrow appeared in between his greying brows. “Why would you wake him up? I didn’t think that you snored.”

“I don’t,” I conceded with a short nod, “but I don’t want to risk it. No,” I continued as I snuggled into the cushions, finding it hard to fight back a sigh of contentment. It might not have been my bed, but it was still comfortable enough. “All I want to do is sleep until I’m eighty.”

Dad chuckled. “Good luck with that, sweetheart.” With a shake of his head, he shook open the folded newspaper and resumed his reading. “Tell me how that goes for you.”

“Only if you close those ruddy curtains,” I retorted, giving into the fluttering of my eyelids and closing them.

I took the additional darkening of the room as my father’s agreement to terms.

- - -


When I woke up several hours later, my face was pressed into the pillow, my limbs sprawled across the expanse of the bed. How I had gotten into my room and managed to almost-suffocate myself in my sleep, I couldn’t be certain, though I had a sneaking suspicion my dad was the culprit. With a low groan, I rolled onto my side, the springs creaking underneath me as I turned. If I didn’t know that the bed was unnaturally creaky, I would’ve thought it was trying to tell me that I needed to shed the extra baby weight. Not that it would be delivering a message I already knew to be entirely too true for comfort.

It was difficult to blink the cloud of sleep away from my eyes, but once I managed, I focussed my attention on the clock situated on the bedside table. Though it wasn’t as late as I expecting, more time had passed that I would have liked, especially when I remembered that I had agreed to letting James drop by the house later on tonight.

Another groan, this one much longer and louder than the last, escaped me, but for an entirely different reason. I was stupid for agreeing with him, but after the hopeful look he sent me, the earnestness in his voice, and my knowledge of the unspoken bond between father and son, I couldn’t deny him. Not for one second. But if he thought his annoying slag of a fiancée was stepping one foot into this house, he was dead wrong. I might be kind enough to extend an invitation to James, but when a she-devil was involved, I couldn’t put my son at risk.

Speaking of my son…

I pushed myself onto my elbows and peered into the far corner of the room, where Jack’s crib was situated next to my old desk, which was cluttered with sheets of parchment, stacks of books, and old photographs. From what I could see, which was very little, he was still sleeping or at the very least, lying away very quietly. I debated my next course of action. If he was sleeping and I stole a peek into his crib, he would wake up. He always did. But if he wasn’t sleeping and I slipped downstairs for a much need cup of coffee, he would be left in the dark all by himself, staring helplessly at the ceiling or at the prison-like bars of his crib. And I couldn’t very well have that on my conscious.

Sighing, I rolled out of bed, shivering when my feet touched the cool hardwood. I grabbed the faded red jumper I must’ve discarded sometime during my sleep and pulled it over my head as I shuffled into the corner. I was careful as I peered into the cot, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to exercise any caution as he wasn’t laying there. Panic seized me until I realised that Mum or Dad must have come into the room and grabbed him before his cries could wake me up.

I had such great parents.

After a quick poke into the bathroom to see just how haggard I looked (it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. A few slaps to either cheek brought colour to the surface), I exited the quiet sanctuary of my room and headed down the stairs. Though I knew my son was in good hands, I couldn’t help blowing out a breath of relief as I watched Dad adjust Jack on his lap, pointing out various plants in a picture book and saying each of their names.

The bottom step creaked as I settled my weight on it.

Mum looked up from her cookbook, which was thrown across her lap. “Ah, look who’s awake. Did you sleep well?”

I shrugged and noticed that the tension in my shoulders had left. “Well enough.”

She flashed me a satisfied smile before returning her attention to the cookbook.

I migrated over to Dad’s armchair in the corner of the room and sat down at his feet. “How’s he doing?” I asked, absentmindedly picking up one of Jack’s small feet and pressing a kiss into the arch of it. His responding giggle made a wide grin appear on my face.

“He’s okay, I think,” Dad said as he lowered the book to look at me. “And he seems to like looking at the pictures. He keeps making grabby hands at some of the plants.”

I snorted. “That’s probably because he wants to eat them,” I commented as I gave Jack’s foot a small shake. “Isn’t that right, pumpkin?” I couldn’t help myself; I kissed his fat foot again.

Jack squirmed in Dad’s lap, a delighted giggle slipping through his lips. I raised myself onto my knees and held out my hands to him. His reaction was immediate; much like his response to the different plants in the book, he flexed his fat fingers in my direction and squealed. Grinning, I reached out for him and scooped him up in my arms.

“How’s Mummy’s favourite boy?” I cooed, littering his face with kisses. While Jack giggled and squirmed in my arms, making a swipe at my hair, I looked back at Dad, who was reading the book to himself. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Like he hadn’t read the book a hundred times before; he used to read it to me when I was little. “Has he eaten yet?”

“No,” Dad answered distractedly. “I don’t think he has. Ask your mum, though. She’s the one who stole him.”

Getting to my feet turned out to be a bit of struggle, what with a baby in my arms who was keen on pulling as much of my hair out of my skull as possible, but I managed after a few attempts. It was similar to how I had to get out of chairs when I was pregnant with Jack, rocking back and forth to gain enough momentum.

I repeated my question to Mum, who shook her head. “No, he didn’t want to eat when I tried. I could help you, though, if you want. You still look tired,” she said, closing the cookbook and getting to her feet.

“I’m fine, Mum,” I insisted as I walked towards the kitchen. “I don’t need anymore sleep.”

She frowned, not entirely convinced. “You were awake for nearly forty straight hours, Mara,” she said with a distinctly patronising tone. “I think it’s safe to say that you could do with a few more hours of sleep.”

Pausing in my raid of the fridge, I looked over my shoulder at her and shook my head in negation. “No, Mum, I can’t.” Once I found the bottle of pre-made formula I was looking for, I delved a hand into the pocket of my jeans and withdrew my wand.

“And why not?” Mum asked as she placed a hand on her hip. “You’ve been in that hospital for as long as Jack has. You’re sure to be exhausted; you need sleep if you want to be the best you can be-”

I flicked my wand at the bottle and muttered a warming spell. “Because,” I interjected, my words tainted with impatience, “I invited James over, and he should be here relatively soon,” I said, subconsciously confirming my own fear.

Mum’s hand fell away from her hip and she quirked a brow at me. “You invited James over to the house?”

“Yes,” I said with a nod, setting my wand aside to test the temperature of the bottle on the inside of my wrist. It wasn’t warm enough, so I cast another spell. Her eyebrow rose higher on her head and I cursed under my breath. “Well, no, I didn’t invite him over -”

“You didn’t? Then why in the name of Merlin’s mother is the twit coming over here?! Imposing little-”

“Mum!“ I exclaimed, squeezing my eyes shut and trying to regain control of my breathing. “Okay,” I started after a prolonged moment. “So maybe I did invite him over, but only because he looked like a pathetic little puppy dog when I was leaving with Jack.”

Mum rolled her eyes and muttered something about that being my excuse for everything, which made me frown. However, I didn’t comment on the matter as Jack tugged at my hair harder, alerting me to the fact my wand was still pointed at the bottle, the formula inside it starting to bubble.

“Shit,” I cursed, casting my wand aside and picking up the bottle. The plastic was hot underneath the pads of my fingers, but when I tested the formula on the inside of my wrist, it was cooler than I expected. Still hot, but not hot enough to scald Jack’s mouth. When I offered the bottle to him, Jack gave another one of his excited squeals before making his customary grabby hands. I couldn’t help smiling as he sucked down his dinner.

“So,” Mum said, snapping me out of my fascinated staring, “when is James gracing us with his presence?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just told him to stop by sometime tonight.”

She nodded briefly before her eyes narrowed. “He’s not bringing that fiancée of his, is he?”

Again, I shrugged. “I’m not sure. But if he does,” I added hurriedly, seeing the thunderous expression on Mum’s face, “neither of them are coming inside. I don’t want that slag in my house. I mean, your house,” I corrected at her pointed look.

“If he does…” she threatened lowly.

“Mum, he’s not going to bring her,” I assured her, sounding much more confident than I actually felt. A quick glance at Jack told me that he was perfectly fine. “He has more sense than that.”

Mum snorted loudly. “If you say so.”

“I do say so,” I retorted needlessly, but Mum was already distracted by something else in the kitchen.

- - -


I was sitting in my bedroom, dangling toys above Jack’s head and watching in amusement as he tried to grasp them with his pudgy fingers when the door bell rang. Dread twisted my stomach into a complicated knot as I waited for Mum or Dad to open the door. There was no way I was going to venture downstairs to greet him, even though I was the one who suggested he come over so we could talk about things. I did, however, push myself out of bed and tip-toe towards the door in an attempt to overhear what was going on downstairs.

As I listened, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. Mum was all talk, no walk.

I’d been expecting a fair amount of carnage - or at least a tongue lashing, but the moment Mum opened the door, you would’ve thought she was greeting her long lost son. I listened as they exchanged merry greetings, James inquiring after both of my parents. Mum’s response was much warmer than Dad’s, who sounded like he was trying very hard to not say something disagreeable. I smiled; trust Dad to assume the protective father stance when I wasn’t even around.

I didn’t even realise that Mum was leading James up the stairs to my bedroom until the floorboards creaked underneath their feet. Eyes widening, I made a mad dash towards the bed, leaping onto it rather ungracefully and scrambling to find the toy I’d been dangling over Jack’s head. I had just found the ring of colourful plastic keys and started shaking them in a rather showy display when the door was pushed open.

Thanks for knocking, Mum, for all you knew, I could’ve been naked.

As soon as he stepped into the room, the tension intensified. Like someone had wired my body to the circuitry in the walls, every single one of my nerve endings sparked to life. Suddenly, I was paralyzed, left to gape at James as he crossed the threshold into the room. The nearer he got to the bed, the more I wanted to scramble away. Get as far away from him as possible because, at this rate, I would give him anything he wanted, if he just asked.

Swallowing thickly, I attempted to arrange my face into a mask of composed nonchalance, to give myself the same blasé air Sophie carried with her like an umbrella everywhere she went. Tried being the operative word here, people. My face might not have betrayed me, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, the charade was ruined, the illusion shattered.

“H-hi James,” I stuttered pathetically, my mind reverting back to the last time we were together in the same bedroom. Subconsciously, my eyes wandered to the left, where Jack was trying to roll onto his side to grab the set of keys I had apparently dropped. We couldn’t let that happen again.

His responding smile was muted, almost bashful, and I found myself colouring slightly at his expense. He lifted a hand and tugged at the collar of his shirt, which made me sigh in relief. It was one of the few signs that emphasised his discomfort. For some reason, my panic lessened at the thought of James being as unsure of this meeting as I was.

Slipping his hands into his pockets, James leaned back on his heels and returned the greeting with a simple nod of his head. I couldn’t decide if he was quiet because he was experiencing the same juvenile feeling of nervousness that accompanied being locked in the same room as the opposite sex or if he was still mad at me for, you know, not telling him about his child. Silently, I prayed it was the former.

“So,” I hedged, drawing both of my legs onto the bed and folding them underneath me. “How’re things?”

His laugh was short and abrupt, a jagged, sarcastic edge taking away from the delightful sound. It was difficult to refrain from frowning. “Are you serious, Mara?” he asked, his tone and raised eyebrows hinting at his incredulity. “You’re honestly asking me how things are?”

“When you put it like that, you make it sound stupid,” I commented sourly, pulling a face.

“That’s because it is ridiculous,” James retorted, equally acerbic. I was on the verge of replying when he added, with a defeated sort of sigh, “Things are…not well.”

A bubble of hope welled in my chest. “Trouble in paradise?” The words slipped out of my mouth before I could help it.

Surprisingly, James chuckled again, though this time it sounded more like his natural laugh instead of a dry, sarcastic one. The bubble grew fractionally; I liked this James much better than the sourpuss who’d walked into my room. “I wouldn’t say trouble,” he responded evasively, leaning a shoulder against the wall behind him.

“But there’s something…not quite right?” I continued hesitantly, not wanting to ruin things. It might not have been what either of us wanted to talk about, but it was talking, and I would take all of the words I could get from him.

He nodded.

“I’m just going to take a guess and say that she’s angry.”

James bobbed his head in agreement. “Yeah, she’s angry.”

Picking up the keys Jack was still struggling to grasp, I shook them over his head. His exuberant response was immediate. “With you?”

“No, not with me,” he dismissed, pulling his gaze away from me to stare longingly at Jack. “She’s angry with you.”

“Me?” I repeated dubiously. “What in the hell did I ever do to her?”

“Aside from the hide the fact her fiancé is the father of your child from not only her, but the man in question?”

Damn it. The frown returned. “You have a point,” I conceded with a sigh, dropping my hand low enough so the key ring was within the reach of Jack’s chubby fingers. He made a mad swipe at it, but didn’t get it. “If anyone should be angry with me, it’s you, James,” I added.

He snorted. “I can’t say I disagree with you,” James said, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

“So, are you?”

He quirked a brow, folding his arms over his chest and aligning the length of his spine with the wall. “Am I what?”

“Mad at me?”

James shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he answered truthfully, the faintest of grimaces appearing between his brow.

Sighing at his obvious discomfort, I met his gaze briefly and wordlessly, I scooted over on the mattress to make room for him. He crossed the short distance between the door and the bed in two quick strides, perching himself on the edge of the bed. James was far enough so that we weren’t touching, but not far enough that I couldn’t feel the heat radiating off his body. It took all of my willpower not to plant a hand on his chest and push him backward onto the mattress. Well, that and our infant son, who was gumming the plastic ring enthusiastically.

We sat in silence for several minutes, both absorbed in watching Jack. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was easy to see that something was wrong. There was a strain between us, a tension. Things would never be as easy as they used to be, when we would sit around for hours on end, not uttering a word, but we didn’t need. Back then, we were connected on every level, capable of communicating with simple glances and short smiles. Now, there was a canyon between us, which kept filling up with all the things we didn’t say, all the steps we missed in our elaborate dance around each other.

I didn’t realise James had picked up the key ring and started shaking them over Jack’s head until the chubby boy let loose a delighted squeal of laughter. Smiling softly, I picked up Jack’s foot and ran my knuckle along the curve of his foot. His laughter doubled, happy to be with his parents at the same time.

“I miss us,” James said suddenly.

Startled, but not all-together displeased, I looked up, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear to keep it out of my face. Our eyes locked and inwardly, I sighed, knowing in that very moment, though I agreed with him full-heartedly, we could never go back.

“I do, too,” I admitted quietly, quickly averting my gaze back to Jack.

“I wish there was a way -”

“To go back to the start?” I finished with a rueful smile. “I wish we could, but I’ve made damned sure that we’ll never be able to.”

At his questioning glance, I gestured towards Jack, who stared up at us, completely obliviously to the situation at hand.

“If I had been straightforward with you from the start, maybe we could -” I paused to shake my head. No, even if I had told him about my pregnancy - about Jack - things would have never gone back to the way they used to be. It was impossible. We were way beyond the point of no return; had ventured outside of the realm as soon as I leaned forwards to kiss him at the bar.

James relinquished his hold on the keys and gave them to Jack; he shoved them into his mouth and began to gum them with gusto. “We have to talk about it sometime, Mara,” he said softly, the hurt and confusion and pent-up frustration leaking through.

“We already have,” I countered.

“No,” James replied, “we haven’t. Not properly, anyway.” He shifted his position on the bed so that he was facing me, one knee resting on the mattress while the other dangled over the side, his foot on the floor. “We only talked about the after, not the before and,” he paused to clear his throat, colour rising to his cheeks, “during.”

A flash of his lips against my neck, along my shoulders, his tongue tracing the length of my collarbone and dropping lower, was accompanied by the illicit sound of his deep moan. Flustered, I shook my head, banishing the image from my mind. Now was not the time for that. It would never be the time for that.

“Do you really want to do this now, James?” I questioned, once again lifting my eyes to his face. I search the contours of his face, the depths of his eyes for any sign that he was ready for this. That we were ready to have this talk, forgoing all of the attempts to restore our friendship to its previous state. “You’re getting married in a little over a week.”

His expression was one of earnestness, but his eyes flared with determination. “That’s exactly why I want to do this; why we have to do this.”

Was he implying what I thought he was implying? Was he admitting that he, too, knew there was - still could be - something between us? I tried not to get my hopes up, knowing that it would only lead to disappointment.

James licked his lips and, again, a burst of memory assaulted my senses. It was all I could do to bite into my cheek to prevent a moan from escaping. Dear God, what was happening to me? Surely it was the lack of sleep. That was the only reasonable explanation for my reactions to his simple gestures.

“Mara,” he said, reaching forwards to take my hand between his own. My pulse spiked at the feel of his touch, the rough calluses against the tops of my knuckles sending a thrill through me. I hoped to Merlin’s mother that he couldn’t feel the blood quickening in my veins; that would be embarrassing and then some. “I have to know - you have to answer me honestly.” He licked his lips again and blinked owlishly. “Do you?”

Still have feelings for me? went the unaskable question.

I felt the blood rushing away from my face as I gaped at him, my eyes wide and my mouth unbearably dry. “James,” I breathed raggedly. “I c-can’t-”

“Mara,” he repeated, dropping his tone so low I had to lean forwards to hear him properly. We were close enough that if I tilted my head, the tip of my nose would brush against his. I could feel his breath, hot and damp, against my lips; it made my head spin, my heart rate climb. At this rate, I didn’t care if he could feel my heartbeat skipping like a jovial schoolgirl. Didn’t care if my palm was beginning to sweat within his grasp.

I stared into his charming hazel eyes, admiring the random flecks of gold and the soft sheen of silver that seemed to lurk near the back of his irises, only noticeable from such a short distance. Vaguely, I wondered if Sophie had ever noticed…

With a jolt, I pulled back so abruptly, I nearly toppled off the bed. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea to get as far away from James as humanly possible. Slipping off the bed, I stumbled to my feet, scrambling backwards until my lower back collided with Jack’s cot.

“Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, trying to inject a note of fury in my voice, though my vocal chords betrayed me. Instead of mean and assertive, my voice was breathy and flimsy, cracking halfway through from the dryness scratching the back of my throat.

Guilt descended upon his features faster than I could imagine. One moment, his eyes were glossed over, his lips poised into the slightly impish smile they always swept into right before he kissed a girl, and the next, he looked as though a bucket of ice water had been tossed over him, drenching him right down to the core.

“Oh, Merlin, Mara,” he moaned pathetically, dropping his head into his hands. “I’m such a prat. I swear, I didn’t mean it. It’s just - you were so close - and it felt - you looked so beautiful when you were watching Jack - and I don’t know!” He leapt to his feet suddenly, his fingers twisting around his hair. “I just don’t know, all right!”

I took a shaky breath, bringing the hand resting over my still-rapidly beating heart to my hair. Brushing it back from my face, I avoided his gaze. “I think you should leave.”

“Yeah,” he nodded in agreement, rising to his feet swiftly. “I think I should too,” he muttered more to himself than to me.

“I’ll bring Jack by your mum’s tomorrow afternoon,” I said in a rush, wanting nothing more than for him to leave my bedroom. To get out of my house, bringing those feelings of lust and want and desire and every other word with him. “I’m sure your mum wants to see him.”

“Dad, too,” James tossed in uselessly. Clearing his throat, he continued, “Right. I’ll get going. See you.” Bending down, he dropped a kiss onto Jack’s forehead and muttered something to him, which caused the little boy to giggle and give an excited kick of his legs. I only started fighting the smile when my cheeks started hurting.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Jack started crying. Frowning at the sound, I rushed over to him and scooped him up off the bed, cradling him against my chest. As he cried, I rubbed circles into his small back, wishing I could join him in crying, but knowing that I had absolutely no reason to.

- - -


A/N: Right. So, that was the chapter. I know the ending was a bit abrupt, but it was a trifle difficult, trying to transition from a scene like that to one of complete normalcy, so I decided to save the next attempt at a visit between father and son (and mother, of course) for the next chapter. Of course, now that Mara’s venturing into James’ territory, that means you know who could possibly show up as well! Anyway, let me know what you thought about the chapter in a review; I’d love to hear some feedback! You’re the best!


Chapter 19: The Unusual Side of Normalcy
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Chapter Eighteen
The Unusual Side of Normalcy


Pressing a kiss to Jack’s forehead, I passed him off to Mum, who was waiting with opened arms - and a bottle. “I’ll be back soon, sweetie,” I assured him, though his attention was focussed elsewhere, namely the bottle in his grandmother’s hand.

I rolled my eyes, but smiled anyway. This wasn’t nearly as hard as I had anticipated - leaving Jack for the first time to go to work, I mean. I thought it would be a struggle to hand him over to Mum without a fight. Though it wasn’t necessarily easy, it wasn’t heart-wrenching either. It was difficult to explain and hardly logical, considering that I was all but a blubbering mess on my first day of work, but I didn’t want to dwell on the negative.

This was a good thing, I told myself as I grabbed a handful of emerald powder and prepared to Floo to the office. But even as I stepped into the grate and tossed my handful, I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread bubbling in my stomach - but that was mainly because I realised that even after I returned from work to spend time with Jack, I would have to share the time with James as, once again, I made a promise I wasn’t so inclined to keep. Still, he deserved to spend time with Jack just as much as I did - at least, that’s what I assured myself as I called out, “Gringotts!” and the nauseating spinning began.

The ground was unstable underneath my feet as I was rather unceremoniously spewed out of the grate, into the employee’s only break room. Several domed heads swivelled in my direction, but only one of the goblins greeted me with a warm grin.

“It’s so nice to have you back,” Terra said as she waddled over to me. She reached out and tugged the hem of my black robe out of my shoe. “It was getting rather boring.”

“Even with Mr. Kilpatrick around?” I teased, grinning wickedly at her.

She snorted. “It would’ve been better if he hadn’t been hovering so much.” Upon my inquisitive look, she added, “He sat at your desk all afternoon, waiting to hear from you.”

A guilty knot formed in my stomach at the sight of her wistful expression. Goblins may not have favoured humans, but it was clear to see that Terra was infatuated with our boss. I had already felt bad for leaving her alone to do all the work, even though she had done it by herself before I was hired, but now this?

“I think he likes you,” she continued.

“Yeah, well, I don’t like him,” I responded immediately, barely retaining the grimace at the taste of the lie.

Again, she snorted. “Of course you don’t.” She smiled wryly at me, and I knew she wasn’t upset. Probably just a little disappointed she wasn’t several feet taller and, you know, human. “Shall we?” she gestured towards the hallway that led to our desks.

I grinned. “Lead the way.”

- - -


The pile on my desk was sizeable, but manageable, so by the time my lunch break arrived, I was very nearly caught up with what I had missed. Granted, I had only been gone a day, but I had been expecting the worst. Funny how I always seemed to do that - expect the absolute worst of any situation, I mean. Perhaps it was years of experience that made me wary. Or maybe I was just cynical.

“Just one more file, and I’m done,” I informed Terra, who was busy at work.

“That’s nice, dear,” she replied distractedly, a pair of silver rimmed glasses perched precariously on the end of her long, narrow nose. “You’ve made a lot of progress.”

Beaming wordlessly, I swivelled my chair back towards my desk, intent on picking up the last file and getting everything square away, when the phone beeped. Startled at the sudden sound, I nearly toppled backwards in my chair, but managed to catch myself on the lip of my desk. I cleared my throat before pressing the button.

“You’re reached Gringotts’ Department of Human Relations, this is Mara, how may I help you?” I stated automatically with an air of what I hoped was professionalism in case it was Patrick on the other end of the line.

“I wasn’t awake you were a robot.”

My breath caught in my throat and I sputtered senselessly, nearly dropping the phone in surprise. “James?

“Speaking.”

I ground my teeth at the sound of his flippant response. If I could get my hands on that scraggly neck of his… “What are you doing, calling me while I’m at work? Are you mad?”

“Yes, actually,” he replied, catching me by surprise, “but not in the sense you’re thinking.”

Tightening my grip on the receiver, I glared at the base of the phone, imagining it to be his face. “Pray tell, what sense would that be?” I growled.

“Now, now, there’s no need to lose your temper.”

“James, I’m serious!” I said, wanting nothing more than to reach through the phone and throttle him. The fact he was acting so casually towards me after what had happened last night was unbelievable. It was almost as though it didn’t even phase him, even though he had almost cheated on the fiancée he claimed to love oh-so-much. It took every ounce of my restraint not to bring this up.

He exhaled, the sound fuzzy through the line. “Fine then. Where are you?”

“Obviously I’m at work,” I answered slowly, determined to keep my temper for the time being. I couldn’t afford to lose it while at work. If Patrick walked by and saw just how crazy I was…well, it wouldn’t be good, that’s for sure.

“I know that,” James scoffed, his annoyance so tangible it was rubbing off on me. “I’m just wondering why you’re not at my parents’ house. You know,” he tacked on casually, “like you said you would be.”

The temptation to bash my forehead repeatedly against my desk had never been greater. I had promised him that I would bring Jack over in the afternoon, but I didn’t think he would take it literally; it was only a few minutes after noon. Sighing, I settled for leaning back in my chair and scrubbing a hand across my face.

“I said I would be there this afternoon,” I agreed, unable to keep the edge out of my voice. “And I will be, but I don’t get off until four o’clock. So you’ll just have to wait until then to see him.”

If I was expecting a calm response, I didn’t get one.

“Damn it, Mara, I think I’ve waited long enough, and I don’t want to wait anymore!” he shouted so loudly I had to pull the receiver away from my ear to spare my eardrums. I glanced over at Terra’s desk and saw that she, too, was shocked by the sheer volume of his voice. Waving away her look of concern, she returned to her work, though I could tell she was keeping an ear out.

“James, listen to me -”

“No,” he interrupted fiercely. “You listen to me.”

The forcefulness of his voice made me sit up a little straighter in my chair. Clearly, he meant business.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I nodded, despite the fact he couldn’t see me. “Okay,” I said tentatively, “I’m listening.”

“Thank you,” he muttered resentfully, though the angry edge had disappeared. Now, he sounded tired, resigned. I frowned, readjusting my grip on the receiver. “Look, I know you don’t think I can take care of Jack on my own, and I’ll admit that I have no idea what I’m doing, but he’s my son too. And the way I see it, I’ve got to learn sometime, so why not now?”

I could think of a million and one reasons why now wasn’t the right time for him to step up and take responsibility for his son, but I didn’t dare voice them. I highly doubted James would like to hear exactly what I had to say. So instead, I swallowed what I wanted to say and said what I was supposed to.

“I understand, James,” I began cautiously, not wanting to step on his toes, “and you have no idea how…happy it makes me to see - or hear, rather - how much time you want to spend with him, but I can’t bring him over right now. I’ve used too much of my lunch break on this phone call.”

“Then why don’t I drop by your parents’ house and pick him up?” James suggested, a little too suddenly for my taste. Almost as though he had been waiting for this part of the conversation. I narrowed my eyes instinctively; knowing James, he probably had been.

“But I said I’ll bring him by after work!”

“It’d make more sense if I brought him back to my parents’ house,” reasoned James, completely ignoring my pathetic protest. “My parents and I could spend a few hours’ with him and you can pick him up on your way home from work.”

I tried to think of a good reason why it was a bad idea, but couldn’t. Instead, I sat at my desk, opening and closing my mouth like a tuna fish, as I attempted to make an excuse. I used to be so good at that.

Finally, upon realising that it was pointless to argue with his seemingly infallible logic - there was no doubt in my mind that Albus was somehow behind the whole thing; it seemed like the sort of thing he would do - I heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Okay, fine,” I said as the rush of air left my lungs.

“Really?” The excitement in his voice was enough to make me crack a small grin.

“I’ll call my mum to tell her to get his stuff together.”

On the other end of the line, James gave a joyous whoop. In the background, I could hear a faint feminine giggle, which made the blood in my veins boil, my fingers subconsciously tightening around the receiver.

“Stars, Mara, thank you,” James gushed, his words thick with undeserved gratitude. “Thank you so much.”

Another smile, this one much grimmer than the first, wound its way onto my lips. “I’ll be there to get him at five.” Without saying goodbye, I hung up the phone.

- - -


Following the conversation with James, it was difficult to focus on my work. Suddenly, sorting through files and sending them to their proper departments seemed so trivial - and oh so incredibly pointless. Which, I suppose, it always had been, but I hadn’t noticed until that moment in time. All I could think about was my baby boy and how his day was going.

Was James taking good care of our son?

Was Jack confused, unsure about the strangers he was surrounded with?

Did Jack think Sophie was prettier than me, ergo a better mummy?

Sighing, I scrubbed a hand over my face for the thirteenth time in an hour. The thick piles of files stared up at me, waiting to be signed and sent off. I glared back. Such work may have seemed pointless to me, but the sooner I finished, the sooner I could collect Jack and convince him that I was the better mum, not that slag with big tits and even bigger hair.

It wasn’t nice to think of Sophie that way, especially when she was just days away from tripping down the aisle and marrying my son’s father. Making her Jack’s stepmother. I blanched at the thought and seized the topmost file, flipping through it and checking the basics. Once satisfied with the details, I scribbled my name on the dotted line and sent it off. Work might have been pointless, but it was the perfect distraction from such disturbing thoughts.

However, no matter how many files I checked, rechecked, signed, and sent away, I couldn’t get my mind off the one glaringly obvious fact: James was getting married in a matter of days, and Sophie was going to be in our lives forever. If everything went well, of course, which, knowing James as well as I did, he’d never file for divorce. That was one of the most annoying things about his personality, as well as the most endearing; he stuck by the ones he was committed to, whether by blood or by bond of fellowship, through thick and thin.

Ah, James, always the optimist. Except for when I was involved, then he was just downright cynical. With good reason, of course, but still.

As much as I disliked Sophie, I knew I was going to have to get used to the idea of her. She was going to be in the picture, whether I stepped aside or fought her tooth and nail. Whether I liked it or not, she was going to be a second mother to Jack; she was going to love him, hold him, kiss him, and treat him like he was her own son - and if she didn’t, she would have me to answer to. But I knew that wouldn’t happen; from the brief interactions they’d had with one another, Sophie seemed to have a genuine connection with Jack, as begrudged as I was to admit it. It was maddening and frustrating and not in the least endearing, but it was reality, and I had to deal with it.

How does the phrase go? The sooner the better?

Ha. Yeah right.

More like the sooner she went back to the country from whence she came, the better. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind if she brought James with her. At least that complication would be gone from my life and then Jack would be mine, and only mine.

A small smile tugged at my lips as I leaned back in my chair, for once satisfied with the weird turn my mind had taken. It was incredibly easy for me to get sidetrack, especially when I was contemplating issues concerning my son and James. Normally, it was annoying, the way my mind could deviate so far off topic, but today? Today, I didn’t mind all too much that my work was forgotten on my desk or that I was staring up at the ceiling with a stupid look on my face, dreaming of the day when James came to his senses and realised he’d made a dumb choice when he had chosen Sophie as his bride. The day Sophie left England would be a day of rejoicing.

Well, for me anyway.

I continued to daydream various scenarios in which the bitch went nuts, completely oblivious to my surroundings. So when someone grabbed the back of my chair and tilted it backwards, throwing the world off-kilter, I screamed, my arms flailing comically.

Once the legs of my chair were returned to the ground, I whipped around to glare at the perpetrator. Almost immediately, my eyes narrowed. I should’ve known. “That wasn’t funny, Ted,” I reprimanded, glaring at him.

All he could do was laugh. “Really? Because I thought it was hysterical.”

“Evidently,” I retorted sourly. “What do you want, anyway? Don’t you have work to do?”

Teddy snorted, folding his arms and leaning his hip against the edge of my desk. “I don’t think that’s the way an employee should talk to her boss.”

“Technically speaking, you’re not my boss,” I pointed out, “as the last time I checked, Mr. Kilpatrick owns this fine establishment.”

“But I run the department,” Teddy reminded, a grin plastered on his lips. “And by the looks of it, you’ve been slacking off. Care to tell me why?”

I shrugged. “Not really, but if you insist.”

“I do.”

Grinning, I said, “I was daydreaming.”

“About James?” he asked bluntly.

I leaned forwards and smacked him on the arm. “No, not James. I was daydreaming about Sophie.”

Teddy’s eyebrows shot to his hairline. “So you like women now?” He clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, shaking his head. “I had no idea James’ rejection would have such an impact on you.”

The smile fell away from my lips and I glared at him for real this time. “He didn’t reject me,” I muttered, affronted. At Teddy’s sceptical look, I added, “I never gave him the opportunity to.”

His responding grin made me feel a little better, but not much. “Keep up that attitude and you might just win him back.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not trying to ‘win him back‘, Ted. Besides,” I continued, averting my gaze to my hands, “it’s not like I’ve ever had a claim on him. Just because we slept together and had a kid doesn’t mean we’re in love.”

Again, the sceptical expression returned to Teddy’s face, obscuring his otherwise handsome features. However, his eyes reflected a different emotion entirely: caution, edged with hurt. “Are you still harping that bullshit?”

I scoffed, resisting the urge to flick my hair over my shoulder. “It’s not bullshit,” I insisted, lifting my chin defiantly, despite the sudden clenching of my stomach. “And for your information, I do not harp!”

“You do.”

“Do not!”

“Really?”

“Oh, shove off,” I grumbled, shoving a hand through my hair in frustration. “I have work to do.”

Teddy threw his hands up at the ceiling. “Now she gets it!”

“You’re an insufferable little berk,” I commented as he pushed away from my desk and started down the hall. “Do you know that?” I called after him, scowling at his returning form.

“Just like I know you’re in denial!” Though he had his back to me, I knew he was grinning the bloody cat that ate the bloody canary. Arse.

Once he was out of sight, I reverted my gaze back to the stack of files on my desk, which was considerably smaller than it had been the last time I was interrupted, though it wasn’t anywhere near complete. A quick glance at my wrist watch told me it was a little after three o’clock in the afternoon. Only two more hours. Two more hours and I would get to see my baby boy.

I couldn’t wait, but knew that I had to.

- - -


I had never moved faster than I did when the clock struck five. After forty-five minutes of intense watching and agonizing waiting, I was finally able to go and see my baby boy. As I pushed away from my desk and hurriedly gathered my things, my hands shook with excitement.

“Where’s the fire?” Terra asked, amused, as she watched from her desk. Though she had finished her work nearly an hour before, she decided to stick around for a bit. She claimed that it was to keep me company, but I had a sneaking suspicion she was hoping to catch sight of Mr. Kilpatrick. Not that I could blame her.

“It’s five,” I responded, awkwardly trying to shove my left arm into my robe’s sleeve and reorganise the small stack of memos on my desk at the same time. “Time to pick up Jack,” I added at her confused look.

“Oh!” She smiled at me, revealing her crooked, broken teeth. “Well, don’t kill yourself in your hurry.”

Doing the mature thing and sticking my tongue out at her, I managed to shrug my travelling cloak onto my shoulders. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” I didn’t wait for her to reply before taking off down the narrow corridor towards the break room.

I tripped over my feet several times in my haste to get to the nearest fireplace, though I caught myself every time before any damage could be done. That was the last thing I needed, an injury that would keep me away from my son. This wasn’t the longest amount of time I had gone without seeing him - not by a long shot. But it was the first time he’d been in the care of someone other than me or my parents, and I didn’t like it very much. Especially not when Sophie was one of his guardians.

The break room was empty when I burst through the door, meaning there was no line to use the fireplace. Grinning despite myself, I hurried over to the hearth, grappling for the jar of Floo Powder on the highly polished mantel. I’d stepped into the grate and was ready to cast my handful when a familiar voice broke my concentration.

“Mara!”

I inhaled sharply, taking in a lungful of the powder and coughing violently because of it.

“Oh shit,” cursed the voice of Patrick Kilpatrick, “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

Jumping in surprise at the feel of his hand on my shoulder, the warmth of his fingertips seeped into my muscle as his hand drifted away from my shoulder to my back, which he patted at though I was a baby.

“Are you alright?”

Hacking one final time, I nodded. “I’ll be fine.”

“Sorry about that,” he said, colour rising to his unbelievably well-sculpted cheeks. “I wanted to catch you before you left, but when I popped by your desk, Terra said you’d already left, but I ran here anyway, just to be sure.”

“Oh.”

Patrick flashed me a knee-melting smile, a hopeful gleam in his eyes. “So, do you have a minute or are you in a hurry to get out of here?”

As much as I wanted to tell him I needed to get home as soon as humanly possible, I couldn’t, mainly because he was…well, he was Patrick Kilpatrick. He was handsome, charming, and God be damned, sweeter than my mum’s apple pie. Though I figured he wanted to discuss something work related, I thought it was sweet that he’d ran to catch me before I left. The only time James ever ran after me was when I stole the last of the Canary Crèmes.

“I can spare a minute,” I said, pushing my hair out of my face.

“Wonderful,” he replied, his cheeks dimpling as he grinned. “I was wondering if…“ he paused, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip. It took every bit of willpower not to moan at the sight. “Well, I was wondering if you would like to go to dinner with me.”

I couldn’t help it; my jaw dropped open.

Talk about the last thing I was expecting.

“W-what?” I stuttered, completely awestruck. Why in the name of Merlin’s great-grandmother’s beard was he asking me out? And of all the damned times?!

Patrick laughed warmly. “Would you like to go to dinner with me?” he repeated slowly.

Heat rushed to my cheeks and I averted my eyes away from his face. “That sounds lovely and all, but…” I trailed off, unsure of how to phrase it without hurting his feelings.

“You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?” Patrick asked, disappointed. “Don’t tell me - it’s that bloke from the hospital. Your son’s father.”

“James?” I squeaked, surprised he knew about that. Teddy had probably told him; I’d have to teach him a thing or two about secrecy. “Oh good Merlin, no! I mean, yes, he’s my son’s father, but we’re not - he’s getting married on Saturday!”

To see the relief flood into his features made me feel extremely good. “That’s - well, it’s great,” he said, smiling again. Did anything get this man down? “So…would you like to?”

“Go to dinner with you?”

“Yes.”

“I’d love to,” I said in a rush, unable to help myself. “But I can’t tonight. I have to go pick up my son from his father’s house.”

Patrick made a show of rolling his eyes. “First you deny me coffee, now dinner.” He shook his head, painting a solemn expression on his unnaturally handsome face.

“Are you going to hold that against me every time from here on out?” I asked, placing a hand on my hip.

He shrugged. “Depends.”

I raised a brow. “On what?”

“What you say to tomorrow night.”

I fidgeted with my hands, not knowing what to say. I could accept his invitation and have a perfectly wonderful evening with a man light years out of my league, or I could decline and stay at home with Jack. As much as I loved my son and adored spending time with him…

The temptation was too great.

“Tomorrow night it is.”

Patrick beamed. “Great. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.” He moved to leave, but at the last minute, he turned back towards me and leaned forwards, pressing a kiss to my cheek. “I can’t wait,” he whispered, his hot breath tickling my ear.

I waited until he left the room to swoon.

- - -


By the time I made it to James’ house, it was half five in the evening. Between Patrick catching me by surprise and asking me to dinner and jetting home to discard my work robes for comfortable clothing, it was no wonder I was so late.

Excitement tingled through my veins as I raised my fist to knock on the door. Three short wrappings on my knuckles on the wood and I folded my arms over my chest, all but shaking with anticipation. It was ridiculous, really, the way I was getting so worked up over seeing Jack, but I had to know if he was alive and well, or if Sophie had done something drastic like coloured his hair blue to match the flowers at her wedding.

I was ready to knock again when the door opened to reveal a smiling Harry. “I’ve been wondering when you’d arrive,” he said as way of greeting, stepping back to allow me entrance into their home.

“I’m not too late, am I?” I asked worriedly, wringing my hands as he closed the door behind us.

“Not at all,” Harry replied, slipping his hands into his pockets. “In fact, we’ve been hoping you’d be a bit later so we could spend more time with him.”

I didn’t have to ask whom he was talking about. “Oh,” I muttered, the guilt I had felt in the hospital returning full-force to my stomach. The only person I’d been able to think about all day was me; I hadn’t even considered the Potters. “Well,” I began, fidgeting, “if you’d like, I could come back later?”

Harry chuckled and shook his head. “That’s not necessary, Mara. Besides,” he added as he started down the hall, “I think he’s ready to see his mummy.”

At this, I grinned and followed Harry past the staircase and into the living area. Lily and Albus were sitting with their backs to me, each holding up a pillow in front of their face. Across from them, situated on the large carpet, was James, who held a bouncing, giggling Jack in his lap. Ginny was perched on the edge of the couch, watching the scene fondly.

Sophie was nowhere in sight.

Ginny noticed me first. “Mara!” she greeted with a smile, her pretty brown eyes sparkling.

At the sound of their mum’s greeting, Lily and Albus whipped around while James looked up, a frown painted on his lips. In his lap, Jack began squirming excitedly, his small fingers reaching out for me.

Another huge smile spread across my face at the sight. “Jack!” I exclaimed, forgoing calls of greeting to the three Potter children and making my way over towards my son. Dropping down onto the floor in front of James, I held out my arms for Jack, who continued to make grabby hands at me.

James sighed. “If you must.”

Rolling my eyes, I scooped Jack up into my arms and began peppering his face and belly with kisses. His responding squeal of laughter made me forget James’ annoyance with me. It made it worthwhile. Once every inch of his chubby face was kissed, I rearranged Jack in my arms so his back was aligned with my chest and he was facing his family. Inwardly, I paused; what an odd notion.

“So,” I said, looking at each of their faces in turn. Jack started tugging at my hair. “How was he?”

Everyone responded at once.

“When he first got here, he started crying, and I couldn’t have that, so I brought some toys down from the boys’ old bedroom -”

“- should really consider teaching him not to pull at things. You know he nearly pinched off my nose?”

“- couldn’t believe how much he eats! And I thought James ate a lot -”

“- and after he pinched my nose, he went for the ears. Weird habits, that kid has -”

“- and then we played outside for a bit after he woke up from his nap.”

I blinked, overwhelmed by the amount of nonsensical information that had flooded my way. The only person who hadn’t spoken was James. He was still staring at me like I had offended him somehow…or deprived him of four months worth of days similar to this one.

Bollocks.

“So he was good then?” I hedged, ignoring the rough tugs at my hair.

“Very,” the Potters said in unison, save for James.

After sending him a curious glance, I looked down at Jack, beaming with pride. His first foray into the world without his mum had been successful. “Good boy,” I told him, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

A beat of tense silence passed.

Then another.

And just one more.

Before another could pass, James broke it.

“It’s getting late,” he stated suddenly, catching everyone off-guard. Out of everyone, I expected him to be the very last person to remind me of the time. I would’ve thought he’d want to spend all the time he could with Jack, not throw us out the door almost as soon as I came by.

“Well that’s rude,” Lily said, folding her arms over her chest as she glared daggers at her brother. “She only just got here!”

“And we didn’t finish our game of Peek-a-boo!” interjected Albus, kicking at his brother’s foot.

As though he understood and agreed with Albus’ statement, Jack giggled and wiggled in my arms, his little legs flailing in excitement when his uncle’s face disappeared behind his hands.

“No,” I said, staring at James as I redistributed Jack’s weight onto my hip. “He’s right. It’s getting late and Jack hasn’t eaten yet. Neither have I, for that matter,” I added as an afterthought. As if on queue, my stomach gave a low grumble. I blushed whilst everyone minus James laughed.

“You could eat here,” Harry offered politely from his seat next to his wife. “Ginny doesn’t mind, do you, dear?”

The redhead shook her head. “Not in the slightest. We’d love to have you for dinner.”

Damn.

I didn’t know how to get out of this situation without being rude. I’d eaten dinner with the Potters almost as often as I ate with my own parents, but this was different. Things had changed and now that Jack’s parentage was known, it felt…weird, almost wrong to sit at the same table as them, eating the same food, sharing the same conversation. It was mostly because I had lied to their faces for so long, yet they still wanted me around. Or needed me, at any rate, if they wanted to see Jack. After all, I was his primary custodian.

Thankfully, James saved me from responding.

“She can‘t, Mum,” he said, sending his mother a look of utmost annoyance, “because Sophie’s coming over for dinner.”

“Lily is right; you are being rude.“ Ginny frowned at her son. “I fail to see how Sophie’s attendance has anything to do with Mara eating with us.”

James rolled his eyes as he climbed to his feet. “It has everything to do with it. Sophie -”

“-doesn’t like me very much,” I interrupted, struggling to get to my feet as well while holding Jack in my arms. Out of instinct, James held out a hand, which I took without a thought.

Almost immediately, Lily began her reassurances. “That’s not true, Mara, and you know it.”

“Yeah,” Albus chimed in, his bottom lip warbling as he struggled to hold back his laughter. Unlike his family, he wasn’t being at all serious because he knew as well as I did that Sophie hated my guts. And if she didn’t before Jack’s hospitalisation, she most certainly did now. “She likes you just fine. Why else would she make you her maid of honour?”

Pulling a face at Albus, I snorted. “I can think of a number of reasons,” I muttered loud enough for James to hear me.

He frowned at me, the seemingly permanent furrow in his brow becoming more pronounced. “She doesn’t dislike you, Mara,” he said, his words coloured with earnestness.

“But she doesn’t exactly like me either,” I returned, looking up at him. “You know the saying ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer‘?” At his nod, I added in a mock-whisper, “I’m the enemy.”

James rolled his eyes. “You’re hardly the enemy,” he insisted.

Again, I snorted derisively. “Sure I’m not. Just like Portree is the best team in the league,” I replied, knowing he would understand the analogy. We stared at each other for a beat of silence before I shook my head, wondering why I was playing along with this nonsense. “Anyway, we should really get going.”

They chorused their protests at once.

“But you’ve only just got here!” Lily argued again, this time training her sharp stare on me.

“I know.”

“And we’ve barely played with Jack,” added Albus, which only contributed to the knot of guilt forming in my stomach.

“I know,” I said again, my voice sounding pitiful even to my own ears.

“And -”

“Enough!” James exclaimed, his dark eyes flashing as he rounded on his siblings, who clamped their traps shut immediately. “Seriously, you two, sod off. Mara’s been working all day, and I highly doubt she wants to deal with your shit.”

“That’s not true -”

“Now, please,” he continued as though I hadn’t said a word. “Will you lot clear off so I can have a word with Mara before she goes?”

Albus opened his mouth to protest, but Ginny walloped him on the back of the head before he could get a word in edgewise. A string of curses fell from his lips as he climbed to his feet, throwing glares at his mother, who seemed impervious to them. After raising two boys and a girl with the tempers they possessed, I was surprised she didn’t refract the glares back at them.

Once they shuffled out of the living area, James shut and locked the door behind them before casting a Silencing Charm on it.

“In case they try to listen in,” he offered as an explanation, “and knowing my family, they will.”

Despite myself, I grinned at this, glad to see that his bad mood hadn’t completely consumed him. Still, though there was a joking note in his voice, there was something off about his presence. He was the opposite of his usual self, which frightened me. Oh Merlin, I hoped against all hope that he wouldn’t bring up our last encounter and the Almost Kiss.

However, after almost a minute of complete silence, I began to doubt whether he would say anything at all. Shifting Jack about on my hip, I opened my mouth to speak, but of course, as soon as I gathered the courage to speak, James did as well.

“Thanks,” he blurted.

“For what?” I asked, confused.

“For letting me - us - spend the day with Jack,” James said, smiling slightly. “I don’t think you have any idea how much it means to them.” He dropped his gaze to his hands. “How much it means to me.”

I stared at him, unsure of how to respond, aside from the obvious “you’re welcome”. Somehow, I didn’t think it quite fit the situation. So, I went with the next generic response I could drum up. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

James lifted his eyes to my face, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. “Not a big deal? You can’t be serious, Mara.” He shook his head dubiously at my expression. “The fact you’re letting them - me - spending time with Jack is just…” he trailed off, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. “Well, it’s more than I could’ve asked for.”

“But he’s just as much your son as he is my son,” I countered, bouncing the baby on my hip for emphasis. “Did you honestly think that I’d deprive you of the right to spend time with him?”

“Do you want an honest answer?”

I scoffed, my temper flaring at his open-ended offence. “I’m glad you think so poorly of me, James. I know I was selfish for keeping Jack from you for all this time, but you honestly think that I’d make a promise to you and then break it?”

“No! Not at all!”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “That was a rhetorical question,” I deadpanned, wanting nothing more than to get out of the house. “Have you said your piece or do you have something else to add?”

Sighing heavily, James passed a hand over his face. “Look, Mara, I didn’t mean to offend you -”

“But you did,” I interrupted rudely.

“And I’m sorry,” he said in a rush before I could say anything else. “It’s nothing against you. Really, it’s not. I just thought -” he paused to push a hand through his hair, another sigh falling from his lips. “I just thought that this was too good to be true.”

I furrowed my brow. “What is?”

“This!” James gestured between the two of us. “Us!“ He started to pace as he spoke. “After everything that’s happened between us in the past year or so, I thought things would never be the same again. I thought there wasn’t the slightest chance in hell that our relationship would go back to the way it used to be. But now?” He smiled slightly. “Now things are normal - or as normal as they can be, given the circumstances.”

He couldn’t be serious…could he?

“You think things are back to normal with us?” I laughed hollowly, shaking my head. “We can never go back to the way we were. There’s too much between us, too much history.” I stared at him, feeling entirely too sympathetic towards him. Or possibly myself. “I mean, for Merlin’s sake, we have a son! As much as I would like to go back to being best friends, we can’t, James.”

His eyes bore into mine as we gazed at each other. “Why?” he asked thickly, as though he was trying to prevent any emotion from leaking through his voice.

I tried to hold my ground and return his stare with the same force, but I faltered, my resolve crumbling. It was stupid to think I could withstand his will, his determination.

“Because.”

The subtle setting of his jaw indicated his malcontent. Obviously, he wasn’t satisfied with my answer. “Why?” he repeated, the force in his voice cushioned by his clenched teeth. His eyes broke from mine, his gaze trailing over my face.

Tears prickled the backs of my eyes. “You know why,” I whispered, subconsciously tightening my grip on Jack. “We just…can’t,” I sighed pathetically. “Things aren’t what they used to be.” I licked my lips, the words clinging to the sides of my throat stubbornly. “They never will be.”

Silence pressed down heavy upon us for several moments before I decided to break it. Clearing my throat, I picked up Jack’s bag from the armchair and slung it over my shoulder. Rooted in his spot, James did and said nothing as I opened the living room door, expecting a heap of bodies to fall at my feet as I did. But no one was there.

Frowning, I threw a glance over my shoulder to see that James still hadn’t moved. “I’ll bring him by tomorrow on my way to work,” I said. Though he gave no inclination that he heard me, I knew he had.



A/N: This chapter is dedicated to Rachel! If it wasn’t for your endless support and love for this story, I doubt it would’ve gotten this far! I’m so happy you’ve returned. XOXO.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you know what to do!


Chapter 20: Sweating Bullets
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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!


Chapter 21: A Slip of Tongue
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Chapter Twenty
A Slip of Tongue


FIVE DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…


There was a vase of calla lilies waiting on my desk when I arrived at work the next morning. My breath caught in my lungs and for a fraction of a second, I thought they were from James, but then I realised that was ludicrous as the only thing he was likely to send my way was a Stinging Hex and that the flowers were probably from Patrick. Once I shucked off my travelling cloak, I took a gander at the card and sure enough, they were from Patrick; I recognised his loopy handwriting at once. However, as much as I wanted to smile at the thought, I found my facial muscles unwilling to cooperate and it was with a heavy sigh that I sat down behind my desk.

“Good morning, Mara,” greeted Terra once she tottered into the office, her domed head gleaming. “How’re things?”

I shrugged, not sure of how to respond to such a weighty question.

Terra frowned. “Did you not have a good time with Mr. Kilpatrick?” I couldn’t help noticing the slight edge of hopefulness in her voice.

“It’s not that,” I said with a shake of my head. “I’m just…”

“Thrown for a loop?” suggested Terra.

“Suppose that’s one word for it,” I mumbled distractedly, trying and failing to push the memory of the feel of James’ lips out of my head. Besides, it wasn’t as though he had kissed me back; I didn’t give him the chance. “Got any work for me to do?” I asked as a means of deviating from awkwardness.

To my relief, Terra nodded. “Just got a stack of files from Collections. Apparently, there have been many defaulters lately, Ludo Bagman amongst them. I need you to track them -”

“Sounds great,” I interrupted.

Her thin eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”

“I said it sounds great,” I repeated, smiling slightly. “Seriously,” I added at her expression continued to grow more surprised, “I don’t mind. In fact, I’ll get started now. I need something to distract me.”

Terra stared at me for several prolonged moments before shaking her large, domed head and Summoning the intimidating stack of papers onto my desk. “Enjoy,” she said sarcastically, sending me an odd look.

“I will,” I replied with equal sarcasm, though it wasn’t scathing. She rolled her eyes and hoisted herself up into her desk chair, setting about her work. As I turned to the pile of my desk, I expelled another breath of air, hoping this would get my mind off the plethora of things currently distracting me, most of them beginning, containing, or ending with James.

Ha, fat chance of that happening, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

- - -


FOUR DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…

“Mara!”

“What?” I called over my shoulder, preoccupied with adjusting the adhesive strips on Jack’s nappy as he flailed his legs and arms, making his characteristic grabby hands at my hair.

“Can you come down here for a minute?”

Ignoring her request, I grabbed Jack’s leg and flattened in against the changing table for what must have been the sixth time in the last thirty seconds. The kid was surprisingly flexible. “Stop flailing, will you?”

He giggled in response, a glimmer of James’ traditional shit-eating grin worming its way into his smile.

“Mara!”

Expelling a breath of frustration, I released Jack’s leg and shouted, “Can it wait? I‘m kind of busy right now!”

“I suppose it can,” Mum called back, “but don’t take too long. I’m sure Sophie doesn’t have all day!”

It took a moment for the words to register, but when they did, I felt an egg had been cracked over my head and the yolk was slipping down my neck, underneath the collar of my shirt, and over the length of my spine. In short, it was a hideous feeling that made me feel like gagging and choking on the breath in my lungs at the same time. Trust me when I say it was as appealing as it sounds.

Sophie was here.

In my house.

Right now.

Oh fuck.

A million and one possibilities raced through my head at the reason for her visit. The first was that she had found out about me kissing James and had come to kill me. Though Mum didn’t sound like she was being straggled or held at wand point, it was hard to know for sure, as Mum was excellent at keeping her cool.

The second was that she was asking me to help her with some of the wedding plans, as I was her maid of honour. I still wasn’t sure why she had chosen me of all people; I know she explained herself and all, but if she needed someone so badly, couldn’t she have asked Lily? I mean, I might be James’ best friend (or former best friend; I didn’t know where we stood now), but Lily was his sister, therefore the more reasonable choice. A part of me said that she had ulterior motives, but alas, I had no proof.

The third and final logical reason was that James had sent her in his stead to come pick Jack up for the afternoon. We hadn’t exchange so much as a glance, much less a word, yesterday evening when I dropped by his parents’ house to take Jack home, and I doubted that we would ever talk again - at least until he was married.

Not for the first time, my stomach felt as though it was being corroded by battery acid or something equally potent. It hadn’t escaped my notice that James was getting married, but I hadn’t expected the time to fly so quickly. There were only four days left and from what I could tell, there had been no significant changes in James and Sophie’s relationship, aside from all the interruptions caused by yours truly.

“Mara!” Mum screeched up the stairs.

Shooting a look of impatience over my shoulder, I shouted, “I’m coming!”

I turned back to Jack, who was sucking on his fingers with a goofy expression on his face, and took advantage of his momentary distraction to secure the straps of his nappy. Swallowing a noise of triumph, I caught the dissatisfied glare Jack sent me as I snapped the closures on his onesie shut and picked him up. I liked to think the glare was the result of the idea of having to face Sophie, not because I had duped him.

As always, he wrapped his fist around my hair as I carried him down the stairs and into the kitchen. Mum and Sophie were sitting at the table, the latter cupping her hands around a mug of piping hot tea. My stomach twisted at the sight and I silently wondered what Mum was thinking, arming her with a weapon.

At the sound of the kitchen door opening, Sophie twisted around in her seat, a huge grin appearing no her face. “Jackie!” she exclaimed, rising from her seat and coming towards us; I tried not to flinch both at her approach and her unfortunate nickname for my son.

Fortunately, Jack didn’t seem too hip on the nickname either as when she held out her hands for him, he tightened his grip on my hair and made a weird grunting sound. I could’ve danced the conga around the kitchen, watching as her hands fell to her sides and the smile slid right off her too pretty face. She might have stolen James’ heart, but my little boy was just that - mine.

Mum stood up. “I’ll leave you two to it,” she announced, patting me on the shoulder as she excited the kitchen.

“Hello, Sophie,” I said with a slightly mocking smile.

To her credit, she returned it. “Hi, Mara. Are you well?”

I grinned down at Jack, resisting the urge to squish him to death. “Never been better.”

“That’s great to hear,” Sophie said with a bit too much geniality to be taken seriously, as she returned to her seat the table, “Because I have something I want to tell you.”

My stomach hardened as I sank into the chair opposite her. “Oh?” Please Merlin, don’t tell me she and James had eloped. Please, please, please, anything but that.

“You don’t have to look like someone shot your puppy, Mara,” commented Sophie as she lifted her mug to her lips and took a sip. She wrinkled her face in disgust and set it down, pushing it away from her. Cow. “It’s nothing too horrible.”

I tried to look relieved, but it was harder than I expected it to be. “Oh,” I repeated, forcing another smile, “that’s - er - good.”

Sophie nodded her head, her blonde curls bouncing. “It is,” she agreed. “I can’t imagine what I would do if something drastic happened so close to the wedding. I’d probably lose it!” She laughed to herself.

“Right,” I drawled, feeling a bit sceptical. “So…you wanted to tell me something that’s not too horrible, but still not the best news I’ll receive all year.”

Again, Sophie laughed, though I detected a note of condescension this time. “Yes, I did.” She reached up and smoothed her hair behind her ear. “You know how I asked you to be my maid of honour?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Y-yes,” I replied shakily.

“Well,” she began, sitting up straighter in her seat. “It looks as though I won’t be needing your services any longer.”

“Services?” I parroted, a lick of anger coursing through me. “I wasn’t aware that you employed me!”

Sophie snorted. “Oh, Mara, you’re so silly,” she chortled with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Now I can see why James always says you’re funny; before, when I first met you, I didn’t think you were all that funny, but I was wrong.”

“I’m not laughing,” I muttered darkly, wanting nothing more than to reach across the table and slap her round the chops. Merlin knew she deserved it.

Either she was pretending she hadn’t heard me or she actually hadn’t, because she was wearing a stupid smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Anyway,” she said once her laughter died, “where was I?”

I had to remind myself to breathe. “You were about to tell me why you’ve released me from my shackles.”

“Right! Well, you see,” she started, pinning me with a serious look, “the only reason why I asked you in the first place is because my best friend in the whole wide world came down with a case of dragon pox, but she’s recovered, so she’ll be able to come to the wedding after all. So, as much as I appreciate you stepping in to fill her shoes, you don’t need to anymore because, well, she’ll be here!”

I raised a brow, suspicious. “Isn’t that pretty much unheard of?”

Sophie furrowed her brow. “I don’t know what you mean, Mara. Isn’t what pretty much unheard of?”

“Recovering from dragon pox,” I explained, absentmindedly shifting Jack about on my lap. “I thought there was something like a one in a million chance of recovering from it; the damage done to the immune system is so vast.”

A little of the colour drained away from her face and her eyes hardened. “It turns out it wasn’t dragon pox,” Sophie said stiffly, her eyes becoming narrower with every word she spoke. “It was a misdiagnosis.”

“You don’t sound too terribly upset about that,” I remarked caustically. “I know that if my best friend in the whole wide world was misdiagnosed with a disease that’s killed thousands of witches and wizards over just as many years, I would be absolutely livid.”

“I was upset -”

“I can tell,” I deadpanned, wincing slightly as Jack gave a sharp pull on my hair, as if reminding me to play nice and not fight fire with fire. The very last thing I needed was World War III in my parents’ kitchen.

“I don’t have to justify myself to you, Mara,” Sophie said, an edge to her voice. “You’re not my mother.”

“Thank Merlin for that,” I quipped, unable to help myself.

Her jaw locked and she gnashed her teeth together. “Yes, thank Merlin for that,” she growled, every word dripping with venom. “You aren’t much of a mother anyway! Hiding your son from his father! Who does that?”

“Get out.”

Surprised, I looked towards the doorway and saw that Mum was standing in it, her arms folded over her chest, looking positively thunderous. Despite the fact a jab had just been made at my parenting skills by my son’s father’s fiancée, I couldn’t help grinning; it was nice not to be on the receiving end of that glare for once.

Sophie scoffed, raising an eyebrow. “Excuse me?!”

“Get out,” Mum repeated, stressing both words.

“What-”

“You heard the woman,” I said, meeting Sophie’s smouldering eyes. “Get out. And don’t even think about coming back here.”

Slowly, Sophie rose from her seat, removing her jacket from the back of the chair. “Don’t think that James won’t hear about this,” she stated gruffly.

“By all means, tell him,” I responded casually. “In fact, why don’t you tell him that if he’s got anything to say about it, he should come over and say it to my face?”

Instead of replying, she merely huffed, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and marched out of the house, taking care to slam the kitchen door so forcefully, one of the small windowpanes shattered. Once she had Apparated, Mum flicked her wand at the shards and they flew back into place.

“What an awful bitch,” Mum said as she glared out the window.

From my position at the table, I grinned. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

- - -


TWO DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING…

After work, I went to pick Jack up from James’ flat, just like I had been doing for the past few days - except yesterday; James had an impromptu Quidditch practice and instead, I brought him over to Harry and Ginny’s, who were all too happy to watch him for the day. Normally, I didn’t feel a bout of nausea when knocking on someone’s door, but after the unpleasant end to my discussion - for want a better word - with Sophie, I had a feeling that this meeting with James wasn’t going to be a good one.

It took a minute for him to get to the door and I shuffled my weight from foot to foot, shortly debating leaving now and coming back later, with reinforcements. Before I could make a decision, I heard the rattle of the lock sliding out and a few seconds later, the door was pulled open, revealing a not-too-happy James.

I wasn’t able to say so much as a word, for James stepped out into the hall and grabbed my shoulders, forcing me backwards. I had to throw out my arm to prevent myself from stumbling back into the opposite door.

He didn’t waste a breath. “What do you think you’re doing?” he questioned fiercely, his dark eyes searching my face.

Attempting to shrug off his grip and failing, I glared up at him. “What do you think I’m doing? I’m here to pick up my son!”

Instinctively, he flexed his fingers, his short nails digging into my skin. I tried not to wince. “You know that’s not what I meant, Mara,” he seethed, the muscles in his jaw contracting as he spoke.

I should’ve known he would want to talk about the kiss eventually. How could he not? If his thought process was anything like mine (which it was; our friendship had proven that long ago), he had been dwelling on it since it occurred. However, unlike me, he wasn’t confused - no, it was more like he was, well, seething with anger.

Finally, after a lengthy glaring contest, I said, “I’m not sorry.” And I found that I actually meant those words. I wasn’t sorry, regardless of the conflict it caused within me, between us.

James snorted, lessening the intensity of his grip. “Of course you aren’t. You’ve always hated Sophie.”

I frowned. “I didn’t do it because I hate her.”

“Oh, don’t lie to me,” he scoffed. “I know that’s the only reason why you did it. Anger has always been your primary motivation for pretty much everything.”

Though it did nothing to help my case, I flared up. “No, it hasn’t!” I rebuked. “I mean, sure, I’ve done things and said things because I’ve been angry, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only reason why I ever do things!”

Again, James snorted in derisive amusement, rolling his eyes. “Like I’m going to believe that after what you did.”

That very nearly knocked the wind right out of me. My insides ached, as if someone had punched a hole through my chest. Was he really so repulsed by me, by the idea of kissing me when he could’ve been sucking face with Sophie? I tried my best not to let the hurt show in my face.

“Well,” I began, looking him in the eye, “if I had the chance to do it again, I would.”

He laughed hollowly. “Why am I not surprised by that? You would do just about anything to make Sophie look bad. I get that you don’t like her, but did you really have to chase her out of the house when all she was trying to do was let you down gently? She could’ve done it by owl, but -”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, after taking a moment to scrape my jaw off the floor, “what the fuck are you on about?”

James snapped his mouth shut, his lips forming a thin line as he regarded me. Curiosity glimmered amongst the swirl of green and brown, and after a handful of seconds, he raised a brow. “About Sophie’s visit to your house the other day and how you ran her out without giving her a chance to explain herself.” He blinked, cocking his head to the side. “What are you talking about?”

Against my will, a wave of heat surged to my cheeks, all but giving me away. “N-nothing,” I stuttered, wishing I knew a way to Apparate without taking James, whose hands were still on my shoulders, along with me and leaving Jack unsupervised - unless the bloody wench herself was inside, bouncing him on her lap.

“Mara,” James said forcefully, giving me a little shake. “What were you talking about?” Once again, his eyes swept over my face, searching for any giveaway. I flinched underneath his scrutiny. “What aren’t you sorry for?”

“I - can’t,” I managed, knowing that if I told him this, it would open up a brand new can of worms that neither of us wanted, much less needed in our lives. He was getting married in just two days and I had a baby to take care of.

“Mara,” he repeated, his gaze boring into mine. “Tell me.”

I averted my eyes then shook my head. “No, I can‘t.” I reached up and prised his fingers from my shoulder. “I won’t.”

“Why?”

“Because,” I said, shrugging off his other hand.

Instead of frowning as I thought he would, James pursed his lips and once again, narrowed his eyes. Vaguely, I wondered if that was the only way he would look at me from here on out - with a scowl on his face and a sharp word or two on his tongue. “How we are supposed to fix things when you won’t even tell me what you meant!”

The situation was hardly humorous but I couldn’t resist snorting. “Trust me when I say that if I told you, it would hardly help us fix things. In fact,” I continued, chuckling mirthlessly, “it’d probably only muck things up further.”

“Honestly, I don’t think things could get any more fucked between us, Mara,” James replied, “so you might as well tell me. I’m a big boy,” he added before I could negate his assurance. “I handled Jack - I’m sure I can handle this.”

As much as I didn’t want to tell him, as much as my instincts were insisting this would only lead to a tonne of trouble, I knew that he was right. Between his discovery of Jack and our fragmented friendship, I doubted anything could get much worse between us - unless, of course, he returned my feelings, which wasn’t very likely as he was getting married two days from now. Deciding to throw caution to the wind probably wasn’t the best decision I could make, but it was better than not saying anything at all and never knowing what would’ve happened, what could have been.

I expelled a long breath. “I was talking about -”

“-the other night,” he finished for me, sounding oddly distant despite how close he was.

“Yeah.”

He stared at me, long and hard, the faintest of creases appearing in his brow. Neither of us spoke for a considerable length of time, but when he broke the silence, the sound of his voice made my heart rate increase and my palms start to sweat.

“So,” he started hesitantly, licking his lips, “when you said you weren’t sorry, you mean -”

I nodded.

“And you would do it again -”

“Yes.”

“Oh,” was all he said.

Several beats of painful silence pulsated between us. I didn’t dare look at him in fear of what emotion may be written across his features. There were so many possibilities, but the likelihood that the expression would be one of happiness, one that wouldn’t make me want to crawl under a rock and die, was slim to none. More than likely, he would go inside, retrieve Jack from the clutches of his evil wench, and hand him over, telling me not to bother coming to the wedding. And I would listen to him because, well, I was almost positive that if I did go, I’d end up leaving anyway.

Like most silences, this one became unbearable, pressing down upon me to the point where I felt claustrophobic. I even started hyperventilating just a bit. But that might have also been because James took a step towards me, which forced me to take a step backwards, which in turn made my back collide with the wall.

“Jam-”

The sudden press of his lips against mine swallowed the rest of his name. I was so shocked, so startled that I did the first thing that came to mind when I started panicking - I reached up and walloped him on the side of the head.

“OI!” he cried as he broke away.

“Sorry!” I apologised, my chest heaving.

“What was that -”

“Merlin, James, shut up,” I commanded breathlessly and bracing myself against his chest, leaned forwards to connect our mouths again.

For once, he listened to me, one hand instinctively coming to rest on my hip, the other gravitating to the small of my back. The kiss was just that - a kiss. It wasn’t a snog; we didn’t suck face…at least, not until my shoulder blades were pressed into the wall and I could feel the hard line of James’ stomach against my own. Whether it was the familiar feel of his body against mine or the rush of heat that accompanied the movement, I couldn’t be sure, but one moment it was a chaste kiss and the next, my fingers were tangled in his hair, one of his hands was dangerously close to my breast, and we were exchanging salvia.

My conscience told me this was wrong - as in, oh-so-very wrong, but if this was so damn wrong, why did it feel so good? So right? It was the classic question of morals, yet for some reason, in this instance, I didn’t give a damn about morals.

And evidently, neither did James as he nudged my knees apart to slip his thigh between mine, pushing his body closer to mine, and my back now fully flushed against the wall. Our bodies were so close, I could feel the frantic thump thump, thump thump, thump thump of his heart against my fingertips through the fabric of his shirt. I raked my nails over the spot before returning my fingers to their original spot - in his hair.

Somewhere along the line - I think it was when I felt the scorching warmth of his palm against my bare skin - reality came crashing down upon me and I realised that this - this seemingly perfect moment - was entirely wrong, no matter how good it felt. We weren’t together. We weren’t in love. At least, James wasn’t in love with me. And most importantly, we were snogging in the middle of the hall (though it was more to the side as I was still nestled between the wall and James’ body), where anyone could see us.

So, as wonderful as his lips felt against mine, as sweet as he tasted on the tip of my tongue, and as perfectly at home I felt in his arms, I pulled away, my chest heaving. Unfortunately, James didn’t quite understand my message. Instead of backing off, he kissed his way along my jaw and down my neck, where he suckled on the flesh.

“J-James,” I panted, fisting his hair, intent on pulling his mouth away from my skin, but actually just holding his head in place. And then that all-too-familiar sinking sensation appeared in my stomach and I lowered my hands to his chest, giving as forceful of a push as I could manage. He didn’t go very far, but his lips were gone.

With his body heat gone, I felt cold.

Dragging a hand along the back of his mouth, James stared at me, his eyes glazed over. “Mara -”

“Don’t,” I whispered.

“But -”

I held up a hand. “Can you just -” I took in a much-needed breath. “Can you just go get Jack?”

“You know that we just can’t ignore -”

“Actually, we can,” I countered, refusing to meet his gaze in fear of what would happen if I did. Not but five minutes ago, I gave into my curiosity and look where it got me - with lungs searing from lack of oxygen and an even more complicated situation than I had ever bargained for.

The dazed look faded from his eyes and they turned cold. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “I’ll just go get our son and you can be on your way, pretending like this never happened, just like you always do.”

“James,” I sighed.

“No, Mara, if this is what you want, then fine,” he said, throwing up his hands. “Give me a minute to collect his things and I’ll be right out.” He turned to open the door.

Before he could disappear inside, I grabbed his hand. “James,” I repeated, searching his face for something I didn’t even know where to look in the first place.

“I’m getting married, Mara.”

“I know.”

“I’m not going to invite you in.”

“I know.”

He cleared his throat and looked at our hands, which were still linked. “You need to let go.”

I met his eyes for a fraction of a second before nodding softly. “Okay.” So I let go and watched as he opened the door and disappeared inside. When the door clicked shut, I released a shaky breath, praying that I wouldn’t start crying until I was in the comfort of my own bedroom, burrowed under the covers with a pint of strawberry ice cream to stuff in my face as I wallowed in my own misery.

I wanted to doubt that things couldn’t get any worse, but with my luck, I knew they would.



A/N: There’s the chapter! I hope it kept you interested, and that the formatting wasn’t too odd. I’m not too sure if I like it or not, but oh well. Anyway, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a review and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability!

On another note, just one more chapter and an epilogue, and we’re done, people! It’s been a long journey and I’m so happy to have shared it with you all! But I’ll leave the rest of my sappy, departing speech for the next chapter! Until next time! ♥



Chapter 22: Here Comes the Bride
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Chapter Twenty One
Here Comes The Bride


The wedding was tomorrow and I had a major problem.

I was without a dress.

Again.

Now that I was no longer the maid of honour (thank Merlin for small favours), I had to find something suitable to wear to James’ wedding. My wardrobe consisted mostly of old tee shirts marred by baby food stains and jeans that hadn’t been in style for years, and I hardly ever got the chance to play dress up because of Jack. Suffice to say, after nearly an hour of rummaging through my closet, I turned up empty handed and had to resort to the one thing I hated most: shopping with my mother.

“I don’t see why you’re being such a sourpuss about this,” Mum said as she flicked through a rack of sparkly dress robes. “You need a new dress or two anyway.”

“You make a perfectly valid point,” I countered as I pulled a bright red dress from the rack, gave it quick once over, and replaced it, “but I hate wasting my time here when I know nothing’s going to fit.”

Mum sighed in exasperation. “There you go again, with your pessimism.”

“What about it?” I asked as I moved onto another selection of dresses.

“It’s entirely unnecessary,” she responded, holding up a floor-length purple dress robe with small, silver stars.

I wrinkled my nose in distaste, and she put the dress back. “It’s not unnecessary.”

“Yes, it is,” Mum insisted, “because if you keep thinking like that, you’ll get depressed and kill yourself and then Jack will have to live with James and his soon-to-be-wife. Do you want your son to be raised by an American?”

Laughing, I rolled my eyes. “And people tell me that I’m overdramatic,” I commented, sticking my tongue out at Mum when she pulled a face.

“Regardless, dear, maybe you should start thinking a little more positively,” Mum said as she abandoned her search and came to stand next to me. “There’s more good than bad that comes with this, you know.”

I snorted, casting her a doubtful look. “Like what?”

A sly look slid onto Mum’s face. “For instance,” she began with a snicker, “now you can finally have a proper date with that hunk of a man, Mr. Kilpatrick, and actually focus on his perfect bum instead of dwelling on James and all the drama that comes with him.”

“Mum!” I shouted, slapping her lightly on the arm. “How’d you know what his bum looks like?”

“I do have eyes, you know,” she remarked dryly, “and unlike you, I can appreciate the good Lord’s work and Merlin, did the Lord work some miracles on that man.”

Again, I scrunched up my nose. “That’s disgusting. You’re married. And old. You shouldn’t be objectifying men like that, especially not men I’ve dated.”

Instead of taking offence like I thought she would, Mum laughed. “Listen, when you get to be my age, you learn that just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t look at the menu.”

An odd sound that wasn’t a laugh, but not quite a gag escaped my throat and I felt a nausea I hadn’t experienced since I was seven and walked into the kitchen only to see my parents snogging against the worktop. The expression on my face must have been humorous as Mum started laughing so loud, several of the shop women were casting dark glances in our direction.

“Mum, I think you’re disturbing the costumers,” I muttered under my breath, averting my eyes to the floor as my mother continued her obnoxious laughter.

“Oh, who cares? We’re just having a bit of fun.”

“Maybe you are,” I grumbled, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. Turning my attention back to the original task, I pulled a simple black dress from the rack. From the look of it, it was around knee length with thick shoulder straps, a scoop neck, and a tasteful slip up the left side. It wasn’t overly fancy or particularly eye-catching, which is why it appealed to me. “I’m going to try this on,” I told Mum, who had only just begun to collect herself.

“Okay, okay,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand. “I’ll see if I can’t find a few more for you to try on.”

Rolling my eyes, I went into the changing room, slipping the lock into place behind me. I discarded my clothes and pulled on the dress, taking care not to be too rough with the fabric in case it didn’t look right. As I hitched the strap up my shoulder, Mum wrapped her knuckles against the door.

“Everything all right in there?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, examining my reflection briefly before unlocking the door and opening it. “Can you zip me up?”

“Take these first.” Mum shoved a stack of dresses into my hands and, grimacing, I tossed them onto the small bench in the dressing room. Once in place, Mum zipped the dress up to the middle of my waist, where things got a little complicated. “Suck in a bit,” she said as she tugged on the fabric.

“You think I haven’t tried that?“ Mum gave a yank and I gasped as it dug into my sides. “I can’t!”

“Oh yes, you can. Just take a deep breath and I’ll zip.”

“No, I don’t think you understand - I can’t even breathe!”

In the mirror, I saw Mum roll her eyes. “Obviously you can, or else you wouldn’t be flapping your trap. Now close it up and breathe deep; we’re getting this dress on you if it’s the last damn thing I do!”

Unable to drum up anything to say in retaliation, I looked at myself in the mirror and mentally told myself I could do it. I could fit into this dress.

“On the count of three. One…two…three!”

I sucked in just as Mum tugged on the zipper. I held my breath, mostly because I was scared that if I took too big a breath, the dress would burst at the seams. When Mum gave a triumphant little shout, I cracked my eyes open (I wasn’t even aware I had closed them) - and was surprised by what I saw. Instead of looking like a blimp, I looked…decent. More than decent, if I allowed myself a vain moment. The black dress fell just above my knees and had a scoop neck, and it was only a little tight underneath the bust, which made my average sized-breasts look bigger than they actually were. Well, that was always a plus.

Mum’s head appeared over my shoulder in the mirror; she was grinning. “I approve,” she said in an almost singsong voice as she placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze.

Usually, I didn’t agree with my mother, but this circumstance was different. Even though I was practically up to my neck in cleavage, the dress made me feel really, truly good about my physical appearance. That hadn’t happened since well before I was knocked up by my best friend, gained nearly sixty pounds during my pregnancy, and gave birth. Suffice to say, it had been a while.

“What about you?” Mum asked, giving my shoulder another squeeze. “D’you like it?”

Smiling, I nodded. “I do. A lot, actually.”

Again, Mum beamed. “Smashing. Now go take it off so I can have it rung up; I’m not leaving this shop until it’s yours. And please, Mara, dear, try to be careful removing it. It looks as though it might - er - cling.”

Wordlessly, I saluted her and marched back into the stall. The dress might have been difficult to get into (I blamed it on my heaping amount of insecurity), but it was easy to slip off. You know, if easy includes banging your elbow against your chin as you struggle to pull it over your head, only to realise the only way it was going to come off is if you shimmy it downwards. Bloody dresses, I’ll tell you.

The moment I stepped out of the stall, Mum snatched the dress out of my hands and marched towards the register. Shaking my head as I watched her go, I meandered to the back of the store, idly browsing the selection of shoes. Most were ridiculously tall heels with straps so complicated, I doubted an expert weaver could sort them out, and others were just ugly. There were a few, however, that caught my eye, but I didn’t bothered trying any on as Mum had already paid and was probably talking to the owner, a woman named Beatrice that she knew from some place or another. Sometimes, my mother was too social for her own good.

Rather than waiting in a stuffy shop for her when I could be enjoying the weather outside, I passed Mum, who was so deeply immersed in conversation with the shopkeeper that she very nearly hit me in the face as I walked by, and let her know that I was going to sit outside. Though she gave a faint nod of her head, I doubted that she heard me. I shrugged and exited the shop, a robotic-like voice wishing me a nice day.

It didn’t take very long to find an empty bench. There were very few people on the sidewalks, despite the fact it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. With a soft sigh, I sat down on the bench and stared out at the non-existent traffic, wishing there was something to distract me other than my own thoughts. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea of exit the shop after all. Out here, I was all alone without Mum’s constant prattling ringing in my ears. Out here, I was dangerously close to facing a very uncomfortable truth.

Frowning, I shook my head, banishing the thoughts from existence. Or at the very least, from the present moment. There was already so much weight on my shoulder, so much guilt set deep in my stomach, that I didn’t want to deal with any more. Not at this time, anyway. I knew that I would have to face it eventually - and the “eventually” was quickly approaching. The wedding was tomorrow, after all.

“Stop it,” I muttered to myself, pushing a hand through my hair. Determined to notthink about the feel of James’ lips against mine, the pressure of his hands on my waist, and the frenzied palpitations and the tight constriction of my heart at the memory, I shifted my focus to Jack. I wondered how he was doing today and whether or not he was having a good time with James at the London Zoo.

As a mother, I should only want the best for my son, but a part of me - an alarmingly large part of me, actually - hoped that Jack wasn’t having too good of a time, namely because Sophie was there with them. The thought of them laughing together, ‘ooh’ing and ‘aaah’ing at the animals, and being complimented on being such a beautiful family made me sick to my stomach. By the looks of things, though, everything that passed through my mind was making me sick. Perhaps I was the problem.

Sighing again, I folded my arms over my chest and leaned back against the bench, staring rather determinedly at the rubbish bin across the street. I don’t know how long I sat there, glaring moodily at the bin, but it must’ve been for a stretch of time as I jumped out of my skin at the sound of a familiarly warm voice.

“If you stare at it any harder, it’s going to spontaneously combust.”

Not turning around, I said, “It’s not spontaneous combustion if I’m trying to blow it up.”

Laughing that richer-than-caramel laugh of his, Patrick moved into my peripheral vision and asked, in the most unassuming voice I had ever heard, “May I sit?”

I squinted against the sunlight as I looked up at him. “Of course.” I scooted over, making enough room for him on the bench so that no part of our bodies would be touching. My mind may have been wrapped up in James, but I knew the slightest touch from Patrick would send me into a frenzy. It was strange, knowing fully well that I didn’t have any romantic feelings towards Patrick Kilpatrick and yet, I was attracted to him. Maybe he was one of those blokes who had that “animal magnesium” or whatever it was.

“So,” Patrick began, his rich voice pushing the thoughts of my head as he leaned back on the bench, casually draping his arm over the back of it, “is there any particular reason why you’re trying to blow up a rubbish bin?”

I hesitated, unsure of what to say. In the end, I settled on shrugging. “I dunno,” I said, averting my eyes to the pavement.

“You don’t know,” he repeated in a tone that made my response sound even more ridiculous than it already was. “Well, by all means, don’t let me interrupt you. Continue glaring at it. I should like to see if this feat of yours works.”

Despite my sulking mood, I couldn’t help chuckling. “I think you’ll be severely disappointed.”

“Don’t count your dragon eggs before they hatch,” commented Patrick, adopting a goofy sage-like air.

I nudged him with my elbow and he cracked one of his sparkling grins. I couldn’t refrain; I smiled back. “Yeah, well, I hope you enjoy wasting your time then.”

His smile lessened in width, but not in intensity. “It’s not wasting time when I’m with you, Mara,” he said softly.

Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Why did he have to go and be charming and make me melt when I most definitely should not be melting? Especially not about him and his knee-weakening smile and strong arms and angular face and -

“Mara! Where the hell are you?”

Closing my eyes, I expelled a breath of relief. Never had I ever been so happy to hear the shrill sound of my mother’s voice. I didn’t even mind the way the piercing note struck a chord in my eardrums that I didn’t even know existed.

“Over here, Mum!” I pivoted in my seat and waved her over.

Relief washed over her face as she came waddling over. “Merlin, Mara, don’t do that to me again. I couldn’t find you. One minute you were looking at shoes and the next, I couldn’t find you for the life of me. Do you want to drive me to an early grave? Because if you continue to pull stunts like that, you will. Do you want something like that on your - “

“MUM!” I exclaimed, cutting her off mid-rant.

Her hard gaze drifted away from me and over to Patrick, where it softened considerably and turned to appraising. I fought my revulsion to the best of my ability. Of course, my mother would check him out.

Ever the charming man, Patrick smiled at her winningly. “Hello, Mrs Longbottom,” he greeted. “Are you well?”

Mum giggled, her cheeks tingeing pink. “Yes, very, thank you. And you, Mr Kilpatrick?”

“Please, call me Patrick,” he responded and I swear to Merlin, Mum very nearly melted into a puddle.

“So, Patrick,” Mum started, trying his name out and looking like she thoroughly enjoyed it. Over Patrick’s shoulder, I pointed towards my empty ring finger and gave her a look. She rolled her eyes and continued, “what brings you here today?”

“Just doing a bit of window shopping,” Patrick said, sending a suggestive glance my way.

I blanched.

“What a coincidence!” Mum exclaimed, grinning. “So are we! Mara was in dire need of a new dress, so we decided to do some hunting.”

You decided to do some hunting,” I muttered loud enough for Patrick to hear. “I didn’t want any part in this. All the dresses I have at home would have worked just fine.” That was a lie.

Patrick smirked and Mum rolled her eyes. “All of your dresses at home are hardly suitable for a wedding.”

At this, Patrick arched an eyebrow. “A wedding?”

Before I could respond, Mum said in quite a rush, “Mara’s best friend is getting married. She was going to be the maid of honour because the bride’s best friend was ill. Dragon Pox, you see, but the woman was cured so Mara got kicked out of the wedding party, which presented a few problems, the first being her lack of proper dress, the second being the necessity of a date.” She winked at me, and I groaned, nearly dropping my head into my waiting hands. “We’ve got the first portion taken care of, but as for the second…” she trailed off.

This was ridiculous. Completely and utterly ridiculous. My mother was hedging for a date for me.

As expected, Patrick noticed the hint immediately and pivoted so his upper body was facing me, another one of those infuriatingly brilliant smirks on his lips. Damn him. Damn every beautiful man in this world.

Sighing softly, I tossed a thunderous glare at Mum under the cover of my eyelashes before turning my attention Patrick. He was looking at me with an expectant expression on his face, his mirth barely contained.

“Would you like to go to a wedding with me, Patrick?” I asked, trying not to sound too begrudging.

Though he raised his eyebrow at the tone of my voice, he smiled and nodded. “I’d love to.”

Behind us, Mum clapped her hands. “Oh, this is so wonderful! Now you won’t have to sit by yourself at the reception!” I tried not to flinch as Mum continued to ramble on and on about the wedding and again when she invited Patrick over for dinner. Thankfully, he declined, saying that he was going to see his parents, but he would send me an owl afterwards.

As I stood up from the bench, Patrick leaned forwards and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “See you tomorrow, love,” he said, his eyes twinkling as he turned and said goodbye to my mother.

She heaved a happy sigh, tilting her head to the side as she watched his disappear down the lane. “Now there’s one sight I will never get sick of.”

Rolling my eyes, I grabbed Mum’s wrist and tugged her down the street towards a suitable Apparation point.

- - -


This was it. Today was the day I would watch my best friend of nearly my entire life get married to a woman who didn’t deserve his love, but had it anyway.

The first thing I did after I rolled out of bed was trip across the hall to the bathroom and throw up, then I had a cup of coffee. And then I threw up again because the coffee didn’t set right in my churning stomach.

As I stumbled back into the kitchen, Dad frowned at me. “Are you all right, dear?”

I shrugged as I filled a glass with water and took an experimental sip. “I’ve been better.”

“You weren’t drinking last night, were you?”

I nearly laughed at the lack of colour in his face. “No, Dad,” I dismissed with a shake of my head. “I wasn’t drinking…though now I wish I had been.”

“Oh,” was all Dad said before he returned to his steadfast read-through of the morning paper. That was one of the many things I loved about my father. He knew when to leave well enough alone and not push me any further, quite unlike Mum, who, as soon as she came into the kitchen and saw me leaning against the worktop, sighed and said, “You poor dear.”

I wriggled out of the circle of her arms. “I’m fine, Mum.”

“Really? Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes,” I repeated, shooting her an irritable look. “I’m positive.”

Mum looked as though she wanted to say something else, but Dad cleared his throat loudly and shook his head. She shut her mouth and started to prepare breakfast. I looked over at Dad and smiled, mouthing a thank you. He winked.

“So,” Mum said as she cracked a few eggs in the frying pan next to the bubbling saucepan of beans. “What time did you agree to meet up with Patrick?”

Sipping on my water, I wiped my hand across my mouth. “Around noon. I still have to pick Jack up from Harry and Ginny’s. They offered to bring him back, but I figured since their eldest son is getting -” I cleared the frog from my throat “-getting m-married, they would be too busy with all of the, um, you know. Preparations.”

“You know, I don’t think all of this moving around is good for Jack,” Mum said as she pushed the eggs around in the pan. “I can’t even imagine how he must feel right now.”

“I imagine he feels quite a hot potato,” Dad quipped from behind his newspaper.

I bit into my lip to prevent a smile from emerging.

“Neville! That’s not funny,” Mum scolded, “I’m being serious.”

“I know you are, dear,” Dad said evenly, “but do you have to discuss that right now, at this very instant? Today’s a big enough day as it is, for everyone.”

If I were closer to him, I would’ve hugged my dad. I settled on giving him a thumbs up.

Mumbling under her breath, Mum let it go and continued to fix breakfast. She asked if I wanted toast, but I didn’t hear her until she asked if I wanted butter or marmalade. Shrugging at her, Mum rolled her eyes and passed the butter to me. She spooned eggs and beans onto my plate, though she didn’t give me any bacon. Instead of saying anything, I took my plate and headed towards the stairs.

“Where are you going?”

I sighed. “Upstairs.”

“But I thought it would be nice to eat breakfast together!”

“I need to get ready,” I said as a ways of explanation, even though I knew it wasn’t a suitable one nor was it true. I just wanted to get out of the kitchen before the walls started closing in.

Mum studied me, her soft eyes showing nothing but concern. After a few moments, she expelled a short breath and waved me away. “I’m warning you, Mara Francis, if you get anything on the carpet, don’t think I won’t know it. I know the signs of your housekeeping spells!”

Laughing shortly, I trudged up the stairs to my bedroom, struggling to balance the nearly overflowing plate of food and a half-empty glass of water. It was even worse when I attempted to open my bedroom door and spilled some beans on the floor. Cursing colourfully, I set the plate down, opened the door, picked the plate up and hurried inside my room. I grabbed the first thing I found, which happened to be a sock, and wiped up the mess. I didn’t do all that great of a job, but honestly, I didn’t care.

As soon as I closed the door and the silence of the room pressed down on me, I realised that perhaps I should have stayed downstairs with my parents. At least I wouldn’t have the time to monologue internally. Sighing, I sat down on the bed and pushed my breakfast around on the plate, taking a few experimental bites to see if my stomach could handle it. I wasn’t sick - at least not in the physical sense. However, something felt off, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what it was.

I took a few more bites of the surprisingly delicious breakfast before my nausea threatened to get the best of me. I set the plate on the nightstand and collapsed on my bed, staring up at the ceiling and feeling sorry for myself. It could have been worse, though; I could have been face down in the pillows, crying my eyes out. I wouldn’t do that. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that until after James signed away his soul to Satan.

My mindless moping was interrupted twenty minutes later when a knock sounded on my door. Before I could get up to answer it, the door squeaked open and Dad poked his head inside. “Sorry,” he said with a sheepish smile, “but there’s an owl waiting for you in the kitchen.”

I blinked. “There is? Do you know who it’s from?”

Dad shook his head. “No, but I think it might be one of the Potters’ owls.”

My stomach clenched and immediately, I feared the worst. Launching myself out of bed, I hurried down the stairs into the kitchen where Mum was seated at the table, staring languidly at the owl perched on the back of the chair across from her. I crossed the room in two wide strides and unceremoniously snatched the letter from the owl’s leg and unrolled it.

The loopy handwriting was both familiar and comforting, and I was able to breathe as I read the letter.

Good morning, Mara.

Sorry if this finds you at a bad time, but I’ve just had a chat with Harry and he said that it was rather pointless for you to drop by to pick up Jack when we’re all headed to the same destination. So, if it’s all right with you, Harry and I would be more than happy to bring Jack to the church for you. Killing two birds with one stone, you know. I’m sure you’re busy, getting ready and all.

See you soon, dear.

Love from,
Ginny and Harry.

P.S. Don’t feed Hindenburg. He‘s gassy.


Smiling, I reached for the nearest quill and flipped the letter over, writing my response. If anyone but Harry and Ginny had made the suggestion, I would have told them to get stuffed. But I knew they wanted to spend as much time as possible with their only grandchild, and I didn’t want to deny them the right. Once my scribbles were complete, I attached the letter to Hindenburg’s outstretched leg and, feeling sorry for the poor bastard, gave him a gentle pat on the head. He hooted kindly and sailed out the window.

“What was that all about?” Mum asked, unable to resist.

“Harry and Ginny are going to bring Jack to the church so I don’t have to rush.”

She smiled. “That’s nice of them, though I dunno why we didn’t think of it in the first place.”

Shrugging, I opened the kitchen door and made for my bedroom upstairs when Dad’s voice stopped me. “Mara, darling?” I turned to see Dad seated in one of the armchairs in the living room, one ankle crossed over his knee as he skimmed the morning paper. I leaned against the banister and waited for him to speak. He looked concerned. “Are you all right?”

I tried my best not to roll my eyes. “I’m fine, Dad, I’ve already told you. I wasn’t drinking last night, so I’m not hungover -”

“That’s not what I meant,” Dad interrupted. The gentle tone of his voice made my resolve crumbled just a little, but that little was enough for Dad. Setting aside the paper, he rose from his seat and crossed the room until he was standing in front of me. “You don’t have to go today if you don’t want to. I’m sure everyone would understand.”

“Why does anyone keep saying that?” I asked weakly, ignoring the urge to throw myself into my dad’s arms and have a proper cry.

“Because they would,” Dad insisted.

I shook my head, averting my eyes to the floor. “But they don’t understand. Not a thing. They’d think I was some - some sort of coward.”

“You’re not a coward. You’re strong. Stronger than the lot of women your age.” Dad clucked his tongue and patted my cheek. “Honestly, sweetheart, if you don’t want to go, don’t go. But if you do,” he locked eyes with me, “know that I’ll be sitting beside you, ready to hold your hand.”

My eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Dad.”

He leaned forwards and gave me a brief, but tight and heart-felt hug. “I love you, Mara.” He kissed my temple.

“I love you, too,” I said, smiling a very watery smile before turning on my heel and marching up the stairs, a newfound determination in my step. Even if everything about the day was absolute shite and it all went to pot, which it was sure to do, at least I would have my family to fall back upon. Though I had known it all along, it was always nice to be reassured every once in a while.

- - -


Wringing my hands nervously, I paced back and forth in front of the church steps, waiting for not one, but two different people to arrive. After the owl from Ginny, I received another from Patrick - a letter with a lily attached - that said to meet him in front of the church an hour before the ceremony. I bit my lip and glanced down at my watch; it was nearly that time. Mum had already gone into the church to help with any last minutes floral arrangements and the like, even though she had been assured numerous times that there was nothing to be done, that everything was under control. Dad, however, was seated on a bench not too far from where I paced, squinting out into the day.

The heels of my shoes clicked against the pavement as I walked back and forth, occasionally muttering under my breath as a means of reminding myself to remain calm. There was nothing else I could do, much less say, to change the happenings of today. James was getting married and I was losing my best friend. It was inevitable and, oddly enough, fitting. Finally, it felt like I was getting the punishment I deserved for hiding Jack from James for so long.

When a sharp crack resonated through the air, I looked up and saw that Patrick had arrived, looking dapper as ever. As he walked towards me, grinning hugely, I wished that I could bring myself to love him; I wished I could picture myself happy with him. He was a decent bloke, had the looks that could make Narcissus jealous, and he seemed genuinely interested in me. The reason why was completely beyond me, but he didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was treating him. In the end, he would be just another causality of war.

Still, I somehow managed to return his smile as he approached and even reciprocated the eager hug he swept me into, briefly lifting me off the ground. My heart began to pound, but for all the wrong reasons, and when he tried to kiss my lips, I gave him my cheek at the last moment. He didn’t seem fazed; quite the contrary, he was positively beaming down at me as he reached out a hand to touch my hair.

“You look lovely,” he said with so much earnestness, I couldn’t not believe him.

I blushed. “Thank you, Patrick. You look quite charming yourself. Did you bring a stick?”

He wrinkled his brow at me. “Why would I need a stick?” he asked curiously, the vaguest hint of a smile upturning his lips.

“To beat away all of the old women, of course.” It was only when I gestured behind him that I realised his hands were still on my waist, holding me much closer than was appropriate for a boss and his employee. Then again, our entire relationship up until this point had been anything but appropriate, but alas.

Patrick laughed and leaned forwards, but to do what, I would never know as I abruptly stepped out of the circle of his arms to put some distance between us. A frown creased his brow and I fumbled over an apology, though nothing ever came out as I saw Harry and Ginny walking up the drive to the church with Lily lagging behind them.

As they drew closer, I heard Jack let out a little shout of glee. My heart tightened and it was all I could do to remain in one place. Harry, who was holding my now-wriggling son, smiled at me as he came to a stop a few feet in front of me. “He’s been dying to see you all morning,” he said as Jack all but leapt into my arms.

Laughing, I pressed kisses on every part of his face before snuggling his warm, round belly. “Oh, I’ve missed you,” I mumbled, holding him as close as possible without squishing him to death. His responding giggle only made my grin widen.

“Is that cute?” Lily said, smiling.

I nudged her in the side. “Shut it, you. I haven’t seen him in a day. That’s the longest we’ve ever been apart.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not talking about you two,” Lily replied sharply before extending an arm. “I’m pointing at him. Who is that?”

I followed the line of her arm and saw that she was pointing at Patrick, who had struck up a conversation with my dad. Even from here, I could tell that while the conversation was civil, it was awkward as the two weren’t very well acquainted with one another. I felt my face grow red as I settled Jack on my hip and he commenced his habitual hair pulling.

“Oh, that’s Patrick Kilpatrick.”

Lily sucked in a breath of surprise. “You mean the Patrick Kilpatrick? As in the heir of the Kilpatrick family fortune?”

I sent her a strange look. “Yes…that’s him.”

“What’s he doing here?” she asked both sounding and looking awestruck.

My throat constricted and my face grew even hotter, which I didn’t think was possible but evidentially was. “He’s, erm, he’s my date,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, but failing miserably.

Before Lily could shriek in outright and delight, I felt a hand on my arm and tried not to flinch at the familiar feel of callused fingers. My breath hitching in my throat, I turned around cautiously, expecting to see James. I prepared myself for the worst, which was unnecessary, as it was Teddy and Victoire with their children.

I couldn’t help sighing in relief as Victoire reached out to embrace Lily. Shrugging, I gave Teddy a tight, one-armed hug and, without having to ask, he seemed to know what I was going to say. “He’s in the corner room,” he whispered in my ear, “make a right when you enter the church.” He patted me on the back as he released me.

“Thank you,” I muttered, glancing down at the ground guiltily as Teddy takes Jack from my arms and makes a fuss over how handsome he looks in his little black tuxedo. I knew a distraction when I saw one and for once, I took advantage of it. Hurrying across the lawn, I mounted the steps two at a time, a difficult feat to achieve in heels, and took a right as instructed.

There were three doors off the narrow corridor. One led to the loo, the other said “Clergy only”, and the last was unremarkable, save for the small sign that read “Potter”. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I took a deep breath and counted to ten before raising my fist to knock on the door. The sound seemed much louder than it actually was and seemed to change the pace of my heart. My pulse thudded in my ears as I waited for the door to open.

The hinges squeaked as the door opened and to my surprise, Albus stood in the doorway, a lopsided grin on his face. “Mara!” he greeted, his voice a little too loud and just a tad too dramatic for my liking. It made me feel awkward, as though they had just been talking about me…

“Hi, Al.”

“Is that all I’m going to get out of you? A short hello? Some greeting.” He rolled his eyes and pulled me into a bear hug.

Squirming under his tight grasp, I managed to push away, but not before elbowing him in the stomach. He grumbled. “Big baby.”

He punched me lightly on the arm. “Better watch what you say.”

“Or what? I’ll vanish in the Department of Mysteries and never be seen again?” I teased.

Albus shrugged. “Never know, Mara. You just might.” He reached out and ruffled my hair. “I’ll leave you to it.” Then he pushed past me and hurried down the hall before I could protest.

Now that Albus wasn’t standing in the doorway, I could see James. He had his back to the window and he was fumbling with the bowtie in his hands; he didn’t look up as I stepped into the room and, with uncharacteristic gall, closed the door behind me. When I did, the air seemed to rush out of the room, disappearing under even the tiniest of cracks. My throat was dry, yet my palms felt clammy; my hand shook as I released the knob.

The sudden change in the mood of the room made my head spin. Just a moment ago, I was joking with Albus and now, I could hardly breathe.

We stood in silence for an immeasurable amount of time, neither of us looking at the other.

“I’m getting married today,” James said suddenly, his voice quivering.

Licking my lips, I nodded my head at the ground. “I know.”

“Can you believe it?”

“No, not really,” I admitted, fidgeting with my fingers. “Can you?”

He shook his head, several strands of wayward hair falling into his dark eyes. “No,” he answered in a soft voice. James started at the floor studiously, as if he was trying to memorise the pattern of the rug. “What are you doing here?” His voice was still soft, still gentle, though I noticed the slight hitch in his breath.

“To offer my congratulations, of course,” I joked weakly.

He didn’t laugh.

My hand shook as I smoothed my hair down. “Do you want to know why I’m here? The real reason why, I mean.”

James broke his gaze away from the floor and looked at me. Not in my eyes, but for once, his eyes were on my person rather than staring over my shoulder at a point on the wall. His mouth fell open slightly and his eyes went a little wide. Probably, he was surprised that I had actually dressed up for his wedding. He blinked a few times and gave a small shake of his head. The smallest of smiles wormed its way onto his lips. “That is what I asked you.”

I chuckled and began to wring my hands again, more out of habit than actual nerves. Or perhaps it was the other way around. I couldn’t be too sure of anything anymore; everything seemed so topsy-turvy, I doubted my centre of gravity would ever right itself.

“I-I had a speech prepared,” I said, flushing with embarrassment.

James cocked a brow and struggled to not smirk. “Really?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but now I realise that…well, it was ridiculous.”

“And stupid,” he bit out.

“James!”

“Sorry.”

Rolling my eyes, I found the courage to meet his gaze. He flinched when our eyes made contact, but he didn’t withdraw; he held his stance. My voice shook as I spoke. “I haven’t been very truthful with you, James. Not since you visited me in Panama. Do you remember when we were sitting on the beach the first night you were there, drinking a little tequila and catching up?” I waited for him to nod before continuing. “Do you remember what you asked me?”

James dragged his tongue over his bottom lip. “I asked you…if you had found love in Panama. And you said you hadn’t.” He paused and took a short breath, his stare turning sharp. “Were you lying to me?”

I ignored his question and prepared myself. This was it. This was the moment where I would lay it all out on the table. After this, there would be no turning back. No redos, no second chances. This was the only opportunity I would ever have to say this, and I had to say my piece. James deserved to know.

“This isn’t an ultimatum, James,” I began, my voice shaking pitifully. “I would never ever make you choose, especially when it’s so obvious, so damn clear, you know what you want.” I tried to laugh, but the sound that crawls out of my throat is anything but a laugh. “That’s the thing about you - when you know what you want, you always go for it. But me? I don’t. And the one time I did…,” I broke my gaze away from his and sighed. “I fucked up, James. I mean, I massively fucked up when I decided to lie to you. I should have been honest from the start, but you know what they say, right? There’s no time like the present. So here it is. The truth. Finally. For once.”

Taking a deep breath, I crossed the room until I stood in front of him. My arm shook; my fingers trembled, as I lifted my hand to his face. The heat of his skin against my own made me want to cry out in shock, but somehow I kept it in. Somehow, I was able to maintain my composure, though I knew it wouldn’t last very long, which was why I had to get this out now.

I tilted his head so that our eyes were locked. I injected every ounce of feeling that I could muster into my gaze as I confessed, “I love you. There - I said it. I love you, James. You. Deep down, I think I always have, even before Panama.” Lowering my voice, I ran my thumb along the length of his jaw and sighed. “I love you, and I thought it was time to let you know that. You deserve to know that.” I took a step backwards. “Just like you deserve better than me, which is why I think you made the best choice, marrying Sophie. I hope you have a happy life together, James. You deserve it.”

Smiling a very watery smile at him, I backed out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me. I made a beeline for the loo and, once inside the stall, sat down on the toilet and did what I did best.

I cried.

- - -


The service was beautiful; even I had to admit that. From the romantic dimming of the lights to the white, gold and scarlet decorations to the soft music from the string quartet in the corner of the church, it was, to put it simply, beautiful.

Tears stung my eyes as I watched Sophie’s father give her away to James, who smiled as he took her slim hands within his own. I saw his fingers clench, which made my breath hitch in my throat. This was happening. James was getting married, and I wasn’t the bride.

The realisation weighed heavily on my shoulders as I struggled to draw breath. The woman in the ridiculous peacock hat in front of me looked over her shoulder and smiled at me; she must have thought my tears were those of joy, not absolute misery. I held Jack closer to my chest, clinging to him as if he was the only thing keeping me grounded. And, really, he was.

Time seemed to move slowly and quickly at the same time. One minute, Sophie was just arriving to the altar and then next, she was repeating after the priest and giving her vows to James. That was when the tears turned into full-on sobs. I felt like a baby - a big, pathetic baby with absolutely no reason to cry whatsoever. However, just like he promised, Dad found my hand and held onto it as tightly as possible. I squeezed as hard as I could as Sophie slid the ring onto James’ finger.

“Now James,” the clergyman began, “repeat after me. I, James Sirius Potter…”

“I, James Sirius Potter,” he parroted, sparing me a glance.

At least I thought he did. But that was stupid. Sophie was standing in front of him, looking every bit the princess he treated her like, and smiling as if she was the happiest person in the word. Which I suspected she was; today was her wedding day and she couldn’t have picked a better groom.

“-take thee, Sophie Marie Myers-”

He repeated the words.

“-to be my lawfully wedded wife-”

As he repeated the words, he turned his gaze away from Sophie and looked towards the crowd. His deep brown eyes shone with tears. At first, I thought he was staring at Jack, but then I met his eyes and saw that I was wrong.

Completely and totally wrong.

He was looking at me. A tear slipped down his cheek and he smiled.

I smiled back.




A/N: And that’s it. That’s the end. After nearly a year and a half, this story has come full circle. Well, almost. There’s still the epilogue, but don’t expect anything too spectacular. It’s been an amazing ride with you all, my faithful readers and reviewers, and I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it. There were ups and downs, and stretches of time where I grew so frustrated with the characters, I couldn’t write. But I’ve finally made it to the finish line and I couldn’t be any happier - or more distraught. But it’s the good kind of distraught…if such a thing exist.

Anyway, I would like to give a huge shout-out to Rachel (aka PenguinsWillReignSupreme). She has been an unwavering pillar of support throughout this whole story, and I don’t think I would have gotten to the finish line without her. So thank you so much, Rachel. Your encouragement and friendship has come to mean so much to me. I know that sounds really hokey, but it’s true. So thank you, dear! You’re a gem and a half.

And thank you to everyone else who has stuck by this story, regardless of how dramatic and annoying the characters and the plotline has been. Without you, this wouldn’t exist. So I extend my deepest gratitude towards you. I mean it when I say that I love you all very much. Thanks for making ‘Conventional Wisdom’ the best story I’ve written to date. You’re amazing, and I’ll miss you greatly.

Love from,
Molly.

P.S. To get into the mood of the last part of the chapter, I recommend listening to Journey‘s “Faithfully“. It‘s what I had on repeat when I wrote this entire chapter.



Chapter 23: Three Months Later
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Epilogue
Three Months Later



Dragging the back of my hand along my forehead to wipe the sweat away, I reached for the roll of Spello-tape behind me to seal the box shut. As I held down the flaps and taped them up, a knock resounded through the now-empty room.

“Have you got everything packed?” Dad asked as he folded his arms and leaned in the doorway.

I nodded as I stood up, my knees and lower back popping in the process. “Yep,” I responded, flashing a smile at him. “I think that’s everything.”

“Did you check the bathroom?”

Laughing, I rolled my eyes. “Yes, Dad, I checked the bathroom.”

“And?”

“There’s nothing under the sink or in the cabinets. D’you want to know if I checked the ventilation?” I joked.

Dad held up his hands. “I’m just making sure you don’t forget anything.”

“It’s not like I can’t come back home and get it, Dad,” I reasoned as I kicked the box across the floor towards the door. “I’m not moving very far away.”

“But you’re still moving,” Dad pointed out, a slight frown marring his mouth. He met my gaze and added, “You do know that no one is forcing you out of the house, yeah? Just because you got a promotion -”

“-doesn’t mean I have to leave,” I finished for him, nodding my head. “Yes, Dad, I’m aware. I think you and Mum have told me at least a half dozen times a piece.” Reaching out, I put a hand on his arm and gave him another smile. “Don’t worry about me. I’m a big girl.”

“Even so, you’ll always be my little girl,” he said, placing his hand over mine and giving it a pat. He kept his hand over mine for a moment longer before removing it. “That being said, I’ll get the last box.”

Before I could protest, Dad flicked his wand at the box and levitated it out of the room. Rolling my eyes again, I waited until I heard his footsteps retreat down the hall before turning back to my room. My bedroom since I was six weeks old, I hadn’t known anything else. It was strange, packing up all of my belongings and moving them out, but it was stranger still to see just how small the room actually was. When I was a kid, it seemed impossibly large, a place where I could do anything, see the impossible, and be whomever I wanted. This room was my childhood and it tied me down to everything I knew, and now I was leaving it behind.

I took one last lap round the edge of the room, idly running my fingers over the faded purple walls. Though Dad had assured me numerous times that nothing would happen to my bedroom, I knew that as soon as I cleared off, Mum would be in here, picking out new colours for the walls and trying to decide what she wanted to do with the space. I didn’t mind - or at least I told myself I did. It was just a room, a space where I had grown up, had some decent memories…

Releasing a sigh, I crossed back over to the door and, with one last glance round the room, closed it.

When I entered the living room, Mum was sitting on the sofa with Jack in her lap, kissing his cheeks like she wouldn’t see him ever again. Jack, who had just discovered how to blow bubbles successfully, was blowing raspberries at her. I shook my head and laughed. Only one person could have taught him that.

“Are you all ready to go?” Mum asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, that was the last box.” I pointed over my shoulder to the fireplace through which Dad had just disappeared.

“So soon?” She frowned, rising to her feet. “I thought I would have more time with him.”

Jack blew another raspberry in her face.

“Why are you making such a big deal out of this? I’m moving out of the house, not out of the country. You’ll see him again,” I said as I prised Jack out of her arms and settled him on my hip. He latched onto my tee shirt, a small string of drool slipping out of the corner of his mouth. Wiping it away, I added, “In fact, I have a feeling you’ll be seeing more of him than you did when we lived here.”

“Well,” Mum said, mulling the thought over, “when you put it that way…I suppose it won’t be too bad.”

I smiled at her. “It’ll be like we never left!”

“Except it will.”

Sighing, I hooked an arm round Mum’s shoulders and pulled her towards me. “You and Dad worry too much. We’ll be fine. I promise.”

“You also promise to keep your goldfish alive and look what happened to that!”

I blinked. “I had a goldfish?”

“Exactly!”

Shaking my head, I shifted Jack on my hip and looked towards the fireplace. “I should get going. They’re probably waiting for me on the other side.”

Mum looked up at me, her eyes watering. “I wish you wouldn’t leave. You could always stay here.”

I resisted the urge to throttle both her and Dad. “All of my stuff is already moved out. And I can practically hear the cogs in your head churning. Have any ideas about what you want to convert my bedroom into yet?” I teased.

“Oh you!” Mum made a shooing motion with her hands and I stumbled over towards the hearth, using my free hand to reach into the jar of Floo Powder. Before I could shout the address of our new flat, Mum hurried forwards and planted a kiss on mine and Jack’s cheeks. “Take care, dear.”

“We will, Mum,” I assured her as I turned back towards the fireplace. Stepping onto the grate, I shouted our new address and threw down my handful of powder, the familiar sensation akin to travelling through a vortex pressing down upon my ears.

Thankfully, the journey ended quickly and I didn’t so much as tumble as trip out of the grate. As I stepped into the small, but comfy living room, Jack sneezed and took the liberty to wipe away the snot by rubbing his face on my tee shirt. He beamed up at me, his lips parting to show the small teeth just beginning to break through his pink gums.

There were several stacks of boxes scattered through the place along with several pieces of furniture including a worn leather sofa, a bookshelf, two mismatched end tables, and a worse-for-wear dining set. Something about the disarray made me feel more at home than I expected to feel; I smiled.

From the living room, I walked down the small hall and peered into the first bedroom, which was designated as Jack’s. Surprisingly, his cot was already assembled and pushed into the far corner of the room, just underneath the window. Several large piles of baby clothes along with toys and the like littered the floor, nearly obscuring it from view. I swallowed my growl. This was our first day in the flat; dastardly messes were more than allowed. Right?

Upon the sight of his toys, Jack started to squirm in my arms. It was difficult to maintain a hold on him anymore, so I set him down in his cot and picked up his nearest toy, which happened to be a plush dinosaur. He giggled in contentment and fell backwards, his feet up in the air and the muzzle of the stuffed dinosaur in his mouth.

I left Jack to his own devices and searched the rest of the flat, finding no one. Frowning, I went into the kitchen and looked on the fridge. Sure enough, there was a note attached that read, in familiar handwriting:

Gone to get dinner. Be back soon. ♥

Okay, so the heart was a bit much, but still, I couldn’t help smiling as I replaced the note with the magnet and trudged out of the kitchen, not at all looking forwards to unpacking. I sighed as I dropped onto the floor in front of the fireplace and pulled the nearest box towards myself. With my wand, I followed the seam of the Spello-tape and opened the box. It was full of flatware, none of the patterns matching.

I flicked my wand and levitated the box into the kitchen, following in its wake. I hated unpacking. It was almost as bad as packing, except without the afterwards cleaning. Sure, the boxes would have to be Vanished, but at least that was easy. Much easier than mopping the floors and scrubbing the baseboards, which, let’s face it, no one cared about anyway. Pushing a hand through my hair, I set the box down on the worktop and delved into it, pulling out a short stack of plates and opening a cabinet. There wasn’t much space available, so I’d either have to shrink them or we’d have to get rid of some of the dishes. It wouldn’t have been such a big problem if I wasn’t so rubbish at housekeeping spells.

Before I could grouse any further, the front door opened and the sound of someone shuffling inside met my ears. Again, a wide grin swept over my face, though this time it was accompanied by an excited flutter in the pit of my stomach. My hands started to shake with anticipation, which made the small stack of plates in my hands clatter together. I set them down so I wouldn’t drop them and have yet another mess to take care of.

A small gasp escaped me as a pair of warm, strong arms wrapped round my waist from behind and I was pulled flush against the hard line of his stomach. Before I could greet him, he dropped a series of kisses on the back of my neck, occasionally nipping and licking at my skin. I hummed in response and reached up behind me, threading my fingers through his hair.

“If you keep this up, James, I might start expecting it,” I said as one of his hands left my waist and trailed up my arm, leaving a path of raging fire in its wake.

James took my earlobe between his lips, nipped it, and whispered, his hot breath sending shivers and quakes throughout my body as it caressed my skin, “That is the idea.”

As nice as his kisses felt against the back of my neck, the need to feel his lips against mine was damn near unbearable. My fingers never leaving his hair, I twisted round in his arms so I was facing him, my chest flush against his; I could feel his heart beating rapidly and I grinned. Placing my other hand on the back of James’ neck, I pulled his face towards mine, not letting him say another word until he kissed me proper.

It wasn’t until oxygen became a necessity instead of a luxury that we pulled back.

He grinned at me, bending to lean his forehead against mine. “Hello,” he greeted a little breathless, that mischievous twinkle more prominent than ever.

I returned his smile, my pad of my thumb skimming over his now swollen bottom lip. “Hi,” I breathed, marvelling at the smoothness of his mouth. I kissed him simply because I could.

“What was that for?”

I lifted a shoulder. “I felt like it.”

“So you give into your every whim now, do you?”

“More or less, yeah.”

James cupped his hands round my face, the curve of his fingers conforming to my cheeks, and pressed a light kiss to my mouth. The kiss wasn’t heated; it wasn’t long and there was certainly no tongue, but it conveyed every bit as much emotion as a so-called passionate kiss might’ve. Maybe even more so.

My eyes fluttering in time with my heart, I threw his question back at him, though I sounded a lot more breathy than he had. “What was that for?”

“I don’t know.” He brushed the tip of his nose against mine affectionately. It was one of his stranger, yet oddly endearing habits I had discovered over the last few (blissful) weeks. “I guess I felt like it.”

I smiled, staring up into his face and wondering what I had done to deserve someone quite like him. “Whatever it was, you have my full permission to do it again.”

James laughed, a deep and pleasant sound that resonated through my chest. “Well, that’s certainly a start.”

And it was.



A/N: Ah, I always love a happy ending! You didn’t really think I was going to let my beloved James marry that wench of a woman, did you? Come on, now! I find your lack of faith disturbing.






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