Here Comes The Bride
The wedding was tomorrow and I had a major problem.
I was without a dress.
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.
“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.
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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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