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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.

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