This chapter is...well, it's dedicated to The Hunger Games triology. Because it was only after racing through those, being totally messed up in the head because of them, that I was able to crank this out immediately. In two sittings. And you have those books to thank for the intensity of this chapter. So...sorry about that. Except not. Haha :)
The cloud of pain relating to a hangover woke me the next morning. Alicia had fallen asleep beside me and half the pillow was soaked from her hair. She was snoring. Both Katie and Angelina were still asleep in their own bunks, Ang’s leg draped over the side. I quietly slipped out of the bed, careful not to wake Alicia, and got dressed.
It was a chilly morning and George the fire master would have been welcome, but instead I pulled on a cable knit sweater and some jeans. I closed the door behind me with a snap, half-blinded by the sun coming up toward the house. It was a soft orange color mixed with yellows and whites. The backyard was cast in a warm glow. It was vacant save some critters and the random gnome squeaking by.
I pushed into the house through the back door, startled to find Fred at the table. His head was against the wood, glass of water in one hand bottle of aspirin in the other. Upon hearing the door, he shoved both toward me.
“Not a fan of drinking firewhiskey?” I ventured, taking the seat across from him.
“Not when it’s coming back up,” he grumbled, lifting his eyes to meet mine. “We played some sort of drinking game. There were shots involved. Can’t remember.”
“Rest of the boys sleeping it off?” I took the water and swallowed two pills.
“George and Lee are,” he said. “Wood left earlier.”
“Earlier?” I gaped at him, unable to control my expression. “The sun just came up! He must’ve been still drunk.”
“Is he okay?”
I sighed and shoved the water back to him. “Was he okay after I left?”
“I hate thinking while I’m hungover,” Fred moaned. “He was bloody pissed, but it’s Oliver, Janey. You know he won’t talk about it.”
“Wish he would.” I twirled my index finger on the wood. “I really don’t know what to do. Am I being unreasonable?”
“To be scared? I don’t think so.”
I looked up suddenly, finding his warm eyes. “Do you think that’s what it is?”
“You can’t be that daft, Jane,” he said flatly, taking another sip. “You’re scared you’re going to lose him. And Oliver never had that fear. Until last night.” He shot me a very pointed look.
“The Slytherin thing?” I groaned. “He gets so jealous and then shuts off.”
“Well, you get so worked up and just go off.”
Was I really that scared? That freaked I’ll wake up one morning with a letter waiting announcing his immediate engagement to one of the Daughters? It sounded so stupid, but even that thought made my heart race painfully.
“What about what he said?” I asked. “Didn’t say? How he was so comfortable with me holed up in the castle.”
“He’s trying to protect you.”
“I don’t need protection,” I said darkly. “And if I fall for a guy—he won’t fight for me!”
“He’d do more than I would,” Fred said. “He’d do whatever it took to make you happy. I’d knife the guy.”
“Do you actually believe that?” My breathing was ragged. Uncontrolled.
“It’s Oliver. He wants you to be happy. He wants you to wait for him like he’s waiting for you.”
“Does Ang know you’re so sensitive?” I asked quietly, a smirk crossing my lips.
“Don’t you dare tell her.” His brows narrowed.
“I’d never dream of it.”
I knew what this meant. I would need to swallow both my pride and my fear and talk it out with Oliver. Alone. Not with the girls. Not with Fred, George, or Lee. And especially not with firewhiskey.
I reached across the table and ruffled Fred’s hair, trying to think of a plan of how to approach how freaked out I was and how lonely I felt watching my friends’ interactions. “Did he say when he’d be back tonight after practice?”
“He took his stuff,” Fred said. “He’s not coming back.”
“Dramatic,” Alicia said when I told the girls an hour later. They were starting to stir and dress in the semidarkness brought on by drawn curtains. “You’d think he’d have enough sense to talk it out.”
“Maybe he thought he’d say something rash,” Katie said, glancing over with sympathetic eyes.
“More rash than what he said last night?” I asked, removing the towel from my hair and drying it with my wand.
“Point.” She sighed. “I don’t know, Jane. Maybe he needs time to cool off.”
“Or work out a strategy to break up with me,” I grumbled. “Do you think he’s weighing his options?”
“You mean like you did last night?” Angelina raised a knowing brow at me.
“Right.” I didn’t ask for a better answer. Instead, I sank back into my blankets and stared at the underside of Alicia’s bed.
“He said he loved you,” she piped up.
“He does love you,” Katie corrected.
The problem was, I’d only heard him say it once or twice since we’d had sex, which planted more seeds of doubt in my mind. I was about to tell the girls when George sauntered in, flanked by Fred and Lee.
George tossed an envelope at my feet before planting a kiss on Katie’s cheek. “Thought your dad wrote you yesterday,” he said. “Going to start getting daily letters at Hogwarts?”
“I guess this’ll be the Lou update,” I said, sliding my fingers along the edge to open it. “Didn’t know he’d do it last night though.”
So step-mum or no step-mum?
Lou didn’t take it well.
Please don’t cut your vacation short.
I leapt to my feet, vaguely aware of the eyes on me. “I have to go,” I stammered.
“What’s happened?” Katie asked, detangling herself from George’s grasp and snatching the letter. “Godric! Do you want us to come with you?”
“No,” I said, grabbing clothes and stuffing them into my bag. “No, he doesn’t even want me there—but I have to go.” I rake my fingers through the mess of brown hair. “I’m sorry to leave like this.”
“Shut up and keep us posted,” Fred said. His sad expression wasn’t just for my father.
“Give my best to your mum?”
“Go, Janey,” George said, tossing me a tank I’d left on the table. “We’ll carry on. Just owl us.”
With a crack, I was gone.
Dad was motionless in the living room. His legs were sprawled out on the sofa, head lopsided on the pillow. Empty bottle of rum beside him. My father always told me rum was for an emergency. If a boyfriend cheated on me. If I failed a year at school. I could see how this would fit into that category. There was a bit of drool hanging off the side of his lips.
“Dad?” I said, walking toward him and tossing my bag on the ground. It was still dark so I pulled open the shades and he winced. “Dad?”
“Hey, Pumpkin.” His smile was forced and didn’t extend to his eyes.
“What happened?” It’s a simple question, but he doesn’t answer right away. I knew the answer won’t be. I sat on the table to face him. He didn’t shave this morning.
Eventually, while not meeting my eyes, he stammered to talk about the romantic meal he prepared for Lou. Tender steak and slow-roasted potatoes with garlic and spices. Two glasses of champagne. Rich chocolate cake. Four red candles. He told her how much she meant to him—how he’d made some mistakes in communication with me, but how much I liked her too. Which was true. She was all smiles, a flush on her cheeks from the second glass.
And then he told her. Didn’t just blurt it out. No, he explained the situation—kept talking even after the look of shock turned to horror. Even showed her a bit of magic by turning the candles to roses.
That was when she ran. Bolted for the door. Screams about never wanting to see him again. A slam and she was gone.
I stared. “What?” I said in disbelief. “She always struck me as accepting and sweet. And totally in love with you.” I couldn’t believe it. Lou, such an understanding woman, just left without a glance back.
“Not enough,” he said. He was piss drunk, but leave it to my father to still hold himself together. His eyelids looked heavy and he kept forgetting to blink. “She didn’t love me enough, Jane.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. What else was there? “I love you.”
“Love you too, kiddo,” he mumbled, leaning sloppily down into the cushions.
“You need some water.” I stood and went to the kitchen. It was all still there. Tablecloth. Half-eaten steak. Fork on the floor. Dying roses. I quickly filled a glass with water and took it to him, only to find him passed out snoring.
“Bugger.” I set the glass on the coffee table. He had to get to his bed, but I knew I’d never be able to. My hands were still shaking from the argument with Oliver last night, but they were worse now. Performing that spell would probably end up sending Dad flying out the window or something.
That was when I noticed Mum’s picture from my drawer was in his left hand.
Please come over. I need your help.
He was there in ten minutes, face cold an expressionless, but his eyes were full of worry. “What happened?”
I opened the door. “Dad told Lou. Lou didn’t take the news well. And now Dad is passed out drunk and I’m freaking out.”
Oliver looked like he was going to say something snarky, but then his eyes fell on my father. He crossed the room in a couple strides and stared down at him. Silence followed as he glanced back at me.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked quietly. It wasn’t in a hurtful tone. But it wasn’t in a warm tone either.
My voice caught in the back of my throat for a moment and suddenly I felt awkward. Vulnerable. It was still kind of dark in there and neither of them were moving. “Um,” I managed. “Help me move him to the bed?”
Oliver didn’t reply. He moved around the couch, careful to avoid the glass of water, and hoisted my father over his shoulder. He started toward the master bedroom, Dad’s arms dangling lifelessly.
I grabbed the picture that had fallen on the pillow and followed.
Oliver shoved the door open with his boot and carried on into the dark room. He crouched down, setting my dad on the bed.
I crossed the room and placed the picture on the bedside stand, trying desperately not to look at it. I pulled the covers up over Dad, tucking them in a little around his shoulders. He looked helpless, sweat on his brow and light snores coming from his lips.
Oliver took a few steps back. “What’d she say?” he asked gruffly.
“She doesn’t want to see him again,” I replied, moving some hair away from Dad’s forehead.
“Damn,” he mumbled.
I glanced over at him, but there was still no life in his face. The worry was still in his eyes, but that was it. He looked absent. Away in some distant land. The concern must have shown on my face because he said, “I’m glad to help. I’d better go.”
I wanted to tell him to wait. To ask him to stay with me so I wasn’t alone. Because that’s how I felt. But instead, Oliver walked back through the living room, out the door, and I heard a loud crack.
I sank down next to my dad and stared at the picture of my mother, reading Emma, for what felt like hours.
Dad slept through the night, tossing and turning violently, eyelids flickering. I was perched in a rocking chair by the window, staring down at a book I wasn’t reading. Who would read a Charms book over the summer anyway? Not me, even though I was piss poor at Charms. It was a quiet night, the only sounds echoing from the street below and from my own grumbling stomach.
He shook me awake the next morning and the pain in my neck from sleeping in a rocking chair forced a couple more aspirin down my throat. Dad was smiling.
“Hey, trooper,” he said, smoothing my hair back behind my ears. “Why didn’t you go back to your room?”
“In case you needed me,” I said simply, rising and rubbing my neck. “You okay?”
“I’ve been better,” he admitted. He changed his shirt and led the way back to the living room, grabbing the bottle of rum and tossing it into a nearby garbage. “Guess it’s time to move on, huh?”
“That fast?” I said, my jaw dropping.
“False hope isn’t a positive thing to have,” he replied, not meeting my eyes. Dad looked defeated. Worn out. He tried for a smile, but it wasn’t fooling anyone. “Part of me knew she would take it that way.”
He shrugged a little and I followed him into the kitchen where he started to pick up the pieces of Lou’s exit. I helped. “She mentioned on one of our first dates something about a dream with a guy with a magic stick, but it scared the hell out of her. She’s a little obsessive with normal life.” Dad met my eyes.
“Normal?” I said suddenly. “Have you seen the shit she makes in that shop?”
“It was something that really bothered her and I don’t think she ever got past it. So I think once she found out about me all that sort of came back.”
“The dream?” I asked.
Dad nodded. “I just think she wants two parents that are the same. And Amanda. But with me, she can’t have that. She can’t have normal. I’m sure there’s probably more to it. Probably a memory charm gone wrong.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
Another shrug. “Just hope some other wizard doesn’t fall for her,” he said, his voice full of amusement now. “She’s quite the heart-breaker.”
I rested my palm on his arm for a moment. “At least now I won’t have to give Amanda charm lessons.”
A genuine smirk appeared. “You do, however, have to clean the toilet.”
London’s streets were packed. They usually were on weekdays with businessmen and vendors flocking to the sidewalks. I was just glad to be away from the drab of that apartment. The depression inside of it. And my room filled with memories of Oliver.
I still didn’t know what to think. He wasn’t upset and yelling. He wasn’t even sad. He just wasn’t there. Like he had checked out. I wondered if he checked out of our relationship. If he was just tired of fighting. Then again, after fighting constantly since he pissed me off in fourth year, we might have fought out everything we had.
But if he wasn’t willing to talk, I had to at least solve something myself. I pushed through the door of Lou’s shop. It was packed with shoppers and a gaggle of girls flocked to some discount jewelry bins in the front to pick out their favorite shades of statement necklaces.
Amanda’s face went scarlet when she saw me. “Jane!” she squeaked. She was so nervous because she was wearing my necklace. I forgot to care.
“Where’s Lou?” I asked quietly.
“In the back office,” Amanda replied, pointing back to double-doors on the back wall. “Doing paperwork.”
“You’re going to have to come too,” I said impatiently, grabbing her by the wrist and tugging her toward the doors. She didn’t struggle, which was good because I didn’t want to hex her in front of everyone.
My mind seemed just as far away as Oliver’s. It was in a field of thick grass, stretching from metal stands to goal hoops. Picking strips of grass and blowing them into the air. I watched the breeze carry them off. All I wanted was to help someone. Even if, at that point, I couldn’t help myself.
Lou was startled when I walked in. “Jane!” she said. Her doe-eyes were wide and a little scared.
She was just going to go date another bloke, forget about my dad, and live happily ever after.
And if it was a wizard? She would remember all about my father. All about the pain and suffering and the fleeing. And she’d break that guy’s heart too. Not to mention know about the wizarding world.
“You left the cake on the table,” I noted.
“Yes, well, it was a gift.” Lou chewed on her bottom lip. Amanda trembled beside me.
“Why did you leave?”
“Your father,” she started. “Is a very nice man.”
“You broke him.”
Lou sighed. “He needs to be with someone like him.”
“He was.” My mother. The idea made my breathing stop for just a moment before I regained composure.
“For the rest of his life,” Lou said.
“So that’s that?” I asked. “The end? No good-bye? No thanks for everything you’ve given me?”
“That’s it, Jane.” Lou’s tone was final. “That’s my choice.”
I couldn’t believe this, coming from a person of enough tolerance to put up with Amanda on a daily basis. I released a painful sigh. “Fine,” I said. “Fine.” I grabbed my wand out of my back pocket and Amanda dove under the desk. “What’re you doing?”
“You’re going to blow us up!” she shrieked.
“Blow you up—what?” I shook my head. Doesn’t matter. I point the wand at Lou. “You broke my father. I’m not going to let you break someone else’s heart because of this.” I stared at her large, kind eyes. “Obliviate.”
I did the same to Amanda. And they were both gone. Both happy and satisfied and back to themselves. Before my father. Before Oliver and his football goal-keeping abilities. Before me.
I let Amanda keep the necklace as a gift.
“Jane!” Alicia hugged me right when I opened the door. I wondered if she was waiting just inside for me to come back. “We came over to surprise Mr. Perry. And we cleaned the apartment. Are you aware the amount of dirty socks under your bed? Naughty girl!” She swiped me on the head and led me into the kitchen where everyone was picking at the chocolate cake with forks.
They were all there. Angelina, Katie, Fred, George, and Lee. My dad nudging Fred so he could get the good part of the frosting.
All except Oliver.
“Where did you head off to?” Dad asked, pushing Fred’s fork into George’s sleeve and hurrying to rescue the frosting.
“Just took a walk,” I replied softly. “I see I’m missing the party.”
“We brought him a gift,” Katie said with a happy smile. “Tornadoes tickets.”
“You and your Tornadoes,” I muttered, grabbing a fork from the drawer and snagging some cake. “Are they good seats?”
“Just below the boxes,” he replied. “Two tickets. Center pitch. Fancy a Quidditch date with your old man?”
“We’ll see,” I said and I know my eyes sparkled with malice. I was careful to avoid everyone else’s eyes. They clearly assumed I was with Oliver. Which I was not.
Katie’s fingers were laced with George’s. Lee’s arms were around Alicia as he wiggles against her to get a bigger piece of cake on his fork. Fred sat on Angelina’s lap. My eyes flickered to each of them. I ate another piece of cake bitterly.
No matter if Oliver and I worked it out or not. We still wouldn’t have that time together very often.
Would that make me cherish it more? When we did get it? Or would it make me hate my friends because of jealousy?
I tried to shake it from my mind, concentrating on Dad’s season predictions based on training camp stats. Mostly from the Tornadoes. Always from the Tornadoes. He tossed in a few Harpies stats for my amusement, but I was barely there. I was so far away. I was with Oliver. Somewhere. Unsure of whether or not he was with me.
“Jane?” Katie waved a hand in front of my face. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said with a convincing smile. “I’m obviously mourning the loss of Amanda.”
Dad snorted, nearly choking on the cake. “My daughter, ladies and gentlemen.”
Before the girls left, we all agreed that a spa day was definitely in order. I was fairly certain Angelina mentioned it because she could tell I wasn’t exactly with the program. That I might need an escape. Which I did. Dad was perfectly on board and said my pores were looking large. Then he admitted he didn’t know what pores were and gave us all ice cream.
I helped him clean the kitchen once everyone was gone and he grabbed me halfway through, twirling me on the tiles. “What’re you doing?” I laughed.
“Being happy,” he said with that trademark smirk I’d gotten from him.
“How?” I said. “I haven’t even gone through what you have and I’m not happy.” I allowed him to twirl me, hair smacking him in the face.
“What are you going through then? I thought you were just going through watching me make a drunk mess out of myself?” Dad picked me up and set me on the counter, placing his hands on his hips once he was done. “Go on and tell me.”
“It sounds stupid when I say it now,” I moaned.
“Fine.” Dad reached over and put his hand in mine. “Then I’m going to tell you a story.” He let go and walked over to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of chardonnay and uncorking it quickly. He poured two glasses. “You were two at the time. I can remember you crawling up on the sofa because you were too small and getting your hair caught in the cushions.” He chuckled. “You started crying because your mum and I were arguing. Not bad, of course, but we were bickering because we didn’t have enough money to get you a toy broom. And I wanted you to have one. And she thought it was too dangerous.” He chuckled at the memory. I could see the nostalgia in his eyes. “Anyway, it got a little heated because we both loved Quidditch so much, but she thought you’d crack your head on the coffee table. Rightfully so, looking back, and I thought you’d be shunned for never being able to pick up a broom before Hogwarts.
“And she left.”
I glanced up at him, face in shock. “She left? When I was two?”
“Only for the night,” Dad explained. “Went down the street to your grandparents since they were still alive then.” He ruffled my hair reassuringly. “But she left because she thought I didn’t know how to take care of you. How to actually make sure you didn’t crack your head on something. And then,” he continued, “You did. You fell right off that sofa, right onto the coffee table, and then saw the blood. Never heard you scream so loud. Well, until you turned fifteen and wanted your way.” He laughed, but noticing my concerned expression, went on. “I had to mop you all up, give you some ice cream, and send you to bed and I’d never felt so terrified and so alone in my whole life. I spent the whole night sitting on the end of your bed, watching you. I thought you were going to die, even though I’d fixed you up just fine. I thought your mother would never come back.”
“Of course she would,” I said suddenly. “She loved you.”
“It was just blind fear,” Dad said with a nervous laugh. “But she did come home. In the morning. In the same clothes, mascara smeared down her cheeks and I’ve never hugged someone so long in my life. Of course I kept hugging her as I told her you cracked your scull so she wouldn’t hit me, but all the same.” He took a sip of his wine. “But she came back, Jane. And I learned that maybe I was wrong about a few things. And I waited until you were six to give you that first broom.”
After she’d died.
“I remember that,” I whispered. I could almost feel the breeze in my hair. My eyes felt watery, but I blinked it away. “So what are you saying?”
“I’m just telling you a story.” Dad finished his wine, blew out one of the candles, and left the room. I heard the distant sound of his bedroom door snapping shut. It dawned on me that the girls might have mentioned something while I was away erasing Lou’s memory.
I sat on the counter for a while, my legs swinging back and forth. He was right. My father was always right in one way or another. Oliver and I needed some time apart, but I knew already I needed to realize I was wrong. To fall on my face a bit before I could tell him we were going to be fine. And he’d come back to me. Or I’d go back to him. And everything was going to be okay.
Unless of course it wasn’t.
I kept dreaming about Oliver too. About the look on his face. The defeated look on the sand. The absent look in my father’s bedroom. He plagued my thoughts. My dreams. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I just knew what was going through his head. What he thought about me and if we would be together by the time I came back from the spa trip.
I kept feeling distracted and strangely numb to everything. Just because I had no idea what was happening. Would we break up over this? Oliver hadn’t said he loved me for a while. Maybe he wasn’t in love with me anymore.
When was the last time I said it? Maybe he thought I didn’t love him anymore.
Or maybe he thought there was a shred of truth to me falling in love with a Slytherin. Fat chance.
Part of that was why I agreed to meet Valerie Gig for lunch around the corner in a small café. We found a cozy table by the window and dug into our sandwiches and chips. She was just as spritely as ever, legs folded under her and her hair tied up neatly. She still had her name tag on and it looked like she’d just come from an interview.
“I’m glad you met me today,” Valerie said, popping a pickle into her mouth. “Do you remember that group of reporters you meant at the fundraiser?”
“Yeah,” I replied, brushing some hair away from my face. “Most of them gave me their cards. Liam introduced me to a few more later on.”
“Well, we’ve been chatting,” Valerie continued. “You handle yourself so well in front of cameras. You are polite, smiley, and let’s face it, Jane, you’re a little cocky.” She laughed, pointing another pickle at me with arched brows. “That’s why I like you so much. Not these twittery interns we have at the office. They just get my coffee.”
I wrinkled my nose instantly.
“Exactly!” Valerie cried and several people glanced over. “Exactly, Jane! You wouldn’t get the coffee. You would roll your eyes and to show me you didn’t want to get the coffee, you’d write an article, title it coffee, and put it on my desk.” She smirked. “That’s why I want you.”
“To do what? Write an article about coffee?” I offered a small laugh even though my cheeks were tinting pink. I wasn’t used to people speaking highly of me that didn’t know me personally. And even then it was awkward.
“To cover Quidditch at Hogwarts your seventh year,” Valerie said. “We’ll treat it like an internship. You’ll cover some practice information. Write me articles about the games. Do a couple interviews with the players. It’s gold. And we have the nostalgia factor on our side. Everyone remembers Quidditch at Hogwarts. Where they were when their team won the Cup. The cheers from the stands. Who they were holding hands with. I’m telling you, Jane, it’s gold.”
I thought this over for a moment while I chewed. Maybe she was right. I could remember all of my Quidditch games. Specifically, the most recent where I went tumbling into Oliver’s arms. And it would give me a leg up instead of fetching sugar and creamer in a stuffy office.
And she wanted me. She picked me. She liked me.
I took her extended hand with a bright smile. “I’d love nothing more,” I said.
“Good, good,” Valerie said. “I’ll have some of my old articles sent to your flat. You can start looking over style and form and practice until school starts. I’m not daft to think you’re not doing fun summer things over your last actual summer.” She nudged me under the table. “Especially with Mr. Wood.”
The blush got darker. All I could do was smile because I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening with Oliver. But I had to figure it out. And I would figure it out. Because his expression wouldn’t leave my mind.
Hopelessness. That’s what it was. That’s exactly what it was.
A/N: Sorry for the uber depressing chapter. Well, not sorry, but maybe a little bit. And poor Mr. Perry. He'll never find a love like his for Jane's mum. Maybe he shouldn't. Or maybe he should. Who knows?
Thoughts? Anyone want chocolate cake now? I do.
Next up: Spa day.
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