A/N: Hey Guys! I know I take FOREVER to post, but this is an extra long chapter so i hope that makes up for it?? Anyways, shout out to my little sister Em (love you ;) ). And also a huge shout out to my best friend, without whom the editing and brainstorming process of this story would be much slower and a whole lot less fun; you know who you are KitKat (Peculiar Treasures For Life!) ;)
Also, EXCITING NEWS!! There is going to be a sequel to this story FOR SURE! Not that i'm nearing the end of this first installment or anything, but just thought I'd let you know. The title of the sequel will be posted at the bottom of this chapter :) Thank you!
R and R!!
Song of the Day:
Elastic Heart- Sia
Chapter XXIII: ….But Blood is Thicker
I really shouldn’t have brought it up. Honestly, if I’d have known her cousin was a Veela I would have kept my mouth shut. But no. She just let me go on and on about how I was under the strong impression all Veelas were sluts. Seeing as her cousin was incredibly gorgeous I probably should have put two and two together, but really, how many Veelas do you run into these days?
“…. It’s not that all Veelas are sluts. It’s just that all the ones I’ve met are. Except you! Obviously not you. I mean, I don’t know you so you could be. But honestly I doubt it. If you are though that’s totally cool. I really don’t judge. So you are very welcome to be a slut, and--”
“Lily, shut up.”
I clamped my jaw shut, “Okay.”
Zalia was gazing out the window seemingly bored. Telling me to shut my mouth was the first time she’d spoken since we’d gotten into this carriage. Her cousin Heidi, who was sitting opposite us, had met us at the train station after we’d gotten off the Hogwarts express. We three had shared a carriage up to top of a hill where the funeral was going to be held. Heidi seemed nice. She was quiet and courteous and looked to be in her early twenties. She was beautiful like I mentioned earlier. With golden bronze hair that swept just past her shoulders, unusual violet eyes, and a clear porcelain complexion. She wasn’t looking too happy now, glaring out the window on her right, but then I had pretty much just called her a slut.
I gripped my fingers around the handle of my bag tightly as the carriage road over a particularly bumpy area. My eyes kept flitting up to the ceiling of the compartment as they normally did when I was presented with an awkward situation. I didn’t tend to talk this much usually, but I started rattling off at the speed Mary normally did, when Zalia and I had an over-night train ride in which she said about ten words put together.
I felt a light tap on my shoulder and turned to see Zalia staring out her window with a steely gaze. We were approaching our destination. Thousands of flowers littered a pathway we were approaching. Countless garden boxes filled with all manner of herbs and plants whether tropical or wooded scattered the large hill we were climbing. I noticed a few stone benches, statues, and fountains all overrun with vines that sat underneath towering oak and chestnut trees. A long, narrow building was centered amongst the cluttered gardens and I could make out a few old stained glass windows lining the sides. The pathway through the gardens led up to a dark wood door with knockers as big as my head. I could feel my eyes widen as we approached our stop. The scene looked fantastical and decidedly, very old.
The carriage stopped suddenly near one of the oak trees and I flinched when the door flew open next to me. The driver, an old wizard who I wasn’t quite sure had all his sight still, held out his hand for Heidi first, then me, and then Zalia. Heidi and I thanked the old man before gathering up our belongings. Zalia had apparently forgotten we’d brought anything with us. Her feet had hardly touched the ground before she stalked down the pathway towards the stone church, muttering under breath.
I grabbed her bags for her.
Walking up the path was more difficult than it should have been. Apparently these were magical plants. I dropped the bags twice when a few of the plants snapped at my legs and a live branch hit me from behind. After escaping out of the garden of botanical harassment, I ducked into a side door on the church following Heidi’s lead.
“We’ll put them here for now.”
I nodded, letting the bags fall off of me and onto the floor of a small room near the entrance of the side chapel. After shoving the luggage to the side I squatted down to open the burgundy one.
“What are you doing?”
I glanced back at Heidi’s furrowed brow and shrugged, “I’m just going to change for the funeral now. Not really much point in waiting.”
“Oh,” She sat down beside me, grappling at her own bag. “I’d forgotten about that.”
I looked sideways at her ripped jeans, Holly-head Harpies T-shirt and Rasta cap. For a Veela, Heidi sure didn’t dress like one. Most Veela’s you heard about were akin to Sirens. They’d wear elegant dresses and heels everyday, do their hair and makeup; just to enhance their persuasive and hypnotic Veela nature. Heidi almost seemed to be trying to suppress it.
I pulled out the knee-length black cocktail dress Zalia had let me borrow, and grabbed the two inch heels that matched. Heidi followed me out of the small room with her own change of clothes in hand. We spent about ten minutes trying to find a bathroom to change in, and looking out for Zalia as well. We found both in the same place.
“Oh good, I was just going to look for you. Lily, I need your help.”
Zalia had walked out of the bathroom just as Heidi and I turned the corner.My mouth wideened slightly when I saw her. Zalia was pretty enough to be a Veela herself. She had on a long, sleek floor length dress in black silk with a lace trim. She kept walking down the hall without waiting for a response. I motioned for Heidi to go ahead and change, and took a deep breath before following my best friend.
“Now, I know I told you about Frederick right? My God father? I’m sure I did.” Zalia looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. “Then there’s Aunt Francis; Heidi’s mum. She’s a nut case, but I can’t really explain her. You’ll just have to wait till she gets here. Oh, also I may need you to distract some of Dad’s business partners. They’ll be wanting me to invest and--”
The whirlwind of information spouting from her mouth was cut off when I followed her through a creaky door to find a scary looking frenchman, screaming in his native tongue at a wooden spoon.
“What on earth is going on here, Jaques?” Zalia exclaimed; her eyebrows far above their normal place.
I looked between the both of them, baffled. It wasn’t everyday you just walked in on a foreigner berating a cooking utensil.
“Zis is not vat I vanted!” The man yelled, waving the spoon around. “You zaid I vould get a proper kitchen!”
I glanced around the room. It was a unique space. The walls and floors were varying shades of grey stone, but other than the medieval architecture and mozaic paintings, it held very modern, state of the art kitchen appliances with freezers, stoves, ovens, and everything else one might need to cook an epic meal. Seemed like a proper kitchen to me.
Zalia groaned slightly and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, squinting. “I thought I spoke with you about this. Ugh, Sacre Bleu. This kitchen is perfect for what you need. Mother put everything you asked for in here and even threw in a few extra spice racks.”
“No! Not good enough!”
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. The angry French chef looked like he might blow a gasket. A second later I was still holding in laughter as the short, balding man went stumbling backwards in an attempt to back off from my best friend.
“Listen here, Napoleon.”
The cook bristled; clearly offended
Zalia set one hand on her hip and wagged the other in his face. “You will cook in this kitchen, and you will like it. Okay?”
Jacques, the cook, nodded grudgingly with his back up against the marble countertop.
“Good,” Zalia seemed relieved. She wiped her brow and took a deep breath. “You better have at least twenty horderves to serve by four O’clock or i’m going to lite a fire under your ass with the new cookstove that you are apparently above using.”
I snorted and then quickly composed myself before following a hasty Zalia out the kitchen door; shooting Jacques a semi-apologetic glance.
I scuttled around (dress and heels in hand) for at least twenty minutes, trying to keep up with her fast walking pace, weaving in and out of the old stone buildings in the church and the smaller rec. areas attached to it. There weren’t any more people we ran into besides Jaques. It seemed the cook was the only one who’d come four hours earlier for the funeral besides Heidi, Zalia, and myself.
I felt like one of those assistants in the movies that has the really demanding boss, as I followed Zalia around everywhere. She would stop and complain about something and turn to make sure I was paying attention before striding down another dark, stone hall in search of Godric knows what. One thing I was learning from the experience: I did not like nervous Zalia. I assumed that’s what her problem was. Nervousness and anxiety over the funeral ceremony. Not that I could really blame her. I could only imagine what it was like to lose your parents. But I was starting to get tired by the time we’d gone in a full circle and Zaia was shoving scrolls of papers into my hands that I had no idea what to do with.
“Za--” I grabbed at the papers, catching one and dropping another.
“Oh!” She snapped her fingers in the air, “I can’t believe I forgot about that!”
I sighed, “What?” It was all I could do to keep from saying ‘what now?’.
She slapped her palm to her forehead. “I completely spaced on Aunt Francis’ carriage. It’s arriving in fifteen minutes and I’m not even ready!”
I frowned, still trying to hold all the papers together. “Can’t she just hang out until the funeral starts?”
I jumped when Zalia let out a piercingly loud guffaw. “Right! Aunt Francis, hang out? Good one.”
My eyebrows raised to twice their height. The looming Aunt Francis was beginning to scare me.
“Ugh, I can’t believe I forgot. And where’s Heidi?” Zalia craned her neck, “What am I supposed to do when Dad and Mum’s business partners get here? I can’t entertain both them and my Godfather, and Aunt Francis! Then there’s Jaques who works for me and yet it seems I always have to bend over backwards for him. And the papers, the ashes, the will, the lawyer--”
I put up a hand to calm her down. “Okay, okay. I’ll deal with your Aunt Francis. You go find Heidi.”
Zalia’s face seemed less tense, which I guess was something considering I might not survive my encounter with the dreaded Aunt.
“Thanks Tiger Lily!” She took off running like a shot.
“Wait!” I yelled after her desperately. “What am I supposed to do with these….” I glanced down at my overflowing armful,” ….papers.”
I sighed and let them fall from my clutches, tumbling to the ground. Whatever they were, Zalia could yell at me later for leaving them. I closed my eyes for a second and recollected my sanity before spinning back around and heading towards the Church’s entrance.
“I haven’t got any fucking time for this okay? I don’t have a fucking clue.”
It was a good thing my Lawyer didn’t have any particularly strong feelings against profanity.
I scraped my foot along the edge of the old wooden pulpit and glared at everything within my range of vision. I really wanted to punch someone. Or kill someone. My usually tame emotions were pouring out. Scratch that. The one emotion I showed (a.k.a. anger) was pouring out. Just oozing out of me.
“You have to sign them before we bury the ashes.” Aurelius stated blandly.
I scowled at him, wishing that I could summon up the tenacity to punch him in his beautiful face. Seriously? What was it with the people around here? Heidi was a Veela, and Aurelius, my lawyer, looked like a class-A adonis. The guy could melt you into a puddle of drool with a single wink. But, of course, his attractiveness didn’t affect me. I could appreciate sure, but never faun.
I leant back from the pulpit, crossing my arms. “Why can’t I just take off with the urns and throw them over a cliff? So much easier.”
Aurelius the lawyer didn’t appear amused. “You can’t do that. It’s in your parents’ wills that they are to be buried together underneath the church. They even have the stones engraved already. All you have to do is set them inside.”
All you have to do is set them inside.
I stared downwards at the stone slabs lining the front of the church; covering the ground between the pews and the pulpit. Two of the slabs had been removed, revealing a hollow space about as tall as a german shepherd, and as wide as my forearm. Two urns sat on my left, atop a large stone window sill near a statue of Saint Andrew the Scot. The urns were the same size and shape, but were different in their beauty. Both had been enchanted to appear as though the colors and patterns on their surfaces were moving; gliding. Mother’s had streaks of deep blue and grey, swirling around fading vintage calligraphy, stars, and silver moons. Father’s was blood red; always his favorite color. The red moved like water across the Urn, covering and revealing again patterns of Aztec and Celtic runes made of grains of sand. Each container was breathtaking. No doubt my parents had spent a long time deciding upon the artful sense of their final resting place.
I felt my mouth turn down slightly. It was a small thing. But it made me sad they’d never mentioned it to me.
“I’ll do it. But I won’t discuss anything else with you, Aurelius.”
“But, Miss Blackwood--”
I kept my eyes on the urns. “Not today.”
I heard his sigh and a moment after, the slow clap of his steps against the cold floor.
Once the unmistakable sound of a creaky wooden door swinging closed reached me, a sharp breath escaped that I hadn’t known I was keeping in. I still felt suffocated though. Like someone was slowly caving in my chest, taking away the room I needed for my lungs and my heart.
Grief is claustrophobic.
As much as I wanted to quickly get things over with, even I wasn’t stubborn enough to go ahead and bury the ashes without the rest of the funeral party. Speaking of whom, should mostly be arrived soon.
Lily was doing great. Pretty much taking of everything she could take care of and hadn’t said a word in complaint. Thank, Godric. I probably would have ripped her head off if she had started complaining. Despite everything she’d already done for me.
It was just always easier to be bitchy when I was feeling suffocated and sort of…. mildly depressed.
I snapped my head sideways at the entrance of my red haired friend. Lily was walking briskly towards me, moving in and out of the pews and statues all around the interior of the old church. I smiled a little as she approached. Lily looked stunning in the black cocktail dress I’d given her to wear. She was crouching down to fix the ankle straps of the heels as she came over and I gave an amused snort when she stumbled over herself and dissappeared from my view behind a pew with a squeak.
“Slow down, Tiger Lily.” I told her as I walked forward to help her up.
She grabbed the hand I offered her and stood up.
“No problem,” I nodded, “Is everyone here?”
It wasn’t fair of me to put Lily in charge of the guests (especially when I knew without question that some of them were well off their rockers). But I did it anyway, guess it was a good thing my best friend was such a good person.
“Yes,” She gave a clearly forced smile, “Even your Aunt Francis.”
I smirked, “I knew you could do it, Lily. If anyone has the ability to settle down that old bat it’s you.”
She rolled her eyes, “Thanks, I always wanted to have a talent for my friends’ crazy old relatives.”
I ignored her and pointed towards the two urns sitting on the large stone windowsill.
“Are those--” Lily started.
“Yes,” I interrupted her, “And I need you to watch them while I go sign for their legal release from the custody of the Ministry of Magic.”
“Allright,” Lily nodded, “But wasn’t that just your Lawyer I saw--”
“Yes,” I interrupted her again, “But he has all the papers over in the small rec. room with the desk.”
She nodded again and gestured towards the door, “Go ahead, I’ll keep watch in here.”
I moved past her to leave and stiffened when her hand squeezed my shoulder.
“Good luck,” She said softly, a small smile on her face.
I kept walking but muttered a quick ‘thanks’ over my shoulder. Through the side door I heard the shrill voice of Aunt Francis complaining about something or someone. I ducked quickly down one of the smaller halls that lead through the kitchens and towards the rec. rooms. Aurelius was waiting for me, with his reading glasses on, kicked back with his feet up on the desk.
“Pen, please?” I held out my hand as soon as I entered.
Aurelius winked at me and took a bite of the apple in his hand before sitting up.
“Why the rush?
I gave him a look before ruffling through the papers sitting on a manila envelope across from him.
“I just want to get this over with.”
I dropped the messy stack of papers that were in my hands when he cleared his throat and held out a clean, printed document.
I reached out for it slowly. This was what was left of them. The finished product of their lives; just handed over on a sheet of crisp, white parchment. I signed it with a flick of the wrist and handed it back to Aurelius with an indifferent expression. He stuffed it into a black leather bound brief case and gave me a boyish salute.
“You’re not staying for the funeral?” I frowned as he put on a hat and headed for the door.
“I--” He hesitated, “I can stay if you want.”
I folded my arms by instinct and shrugged, staring at the floor. “I don’t care.”
I heard a sigh and i’m sure if i would have looked up I would have seen him roll his eyes.
“No, its okay I want to stay. I just wasn’t sure if i was invited.”
I wrinkled my nose and gave him a look, “Are you kidding me? You’re the family Lawyer. Knowing how much my parents loved transactions, deals, and contracts you were probably their favorite person.”
“I doubt that,” But he smiled all the same.
“Come on then,” I lead the way from the small rec. room and began to silently, but deligently, brace myself for what was to come. I wouldn’t cry. I already knew that. I’d finished my crying way back when, but yelling and screaming? I could very well dip into that can of worms before the day was out.
“We are off schedule! Did you hear me, young lady? Rufus? You sir, with the bowler cap! Did you hear me? I AM SPEAKING!”
Oh, for Godric’s sake.
I rounded the corner with Aurelius at my heels and came face to face with my Aunt Francis.
“What in the name of Morgan Le Fey is going on here? I was under the impression that the funeral should have started at least twenty minutes ago! What do you take us for? A bunch nimby headed colly wobbles?”
I grinned humorously, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Aunt Francis, or as she was properly named, Francine Louis Cliodine Marbury Woodcroft, was standing in the middle of the funeral guests with her hands on her hips, staring around with her usual wide, bright blue eyes. Her hair was tied up in a bun, or at least what looked like an attempted bun. It really resembled more of an electrocuted bird’s nest. Several old and tarnished looking jewels were slung around her neck ranging from pebble sized amethysts to tigers-eyes’ the size of a large pocket watch. Along with her interesting choice of neck jewelry, Aunt Francis wore several silver and gold bangles, at least one ring per finger, jet black witches robes and a ratty looking wool shawl to top it off.
“You there! Where is my Niece? Or Heidi? Yes, I’d like to speak with my blasted daughter.” The old bat brandished a gnarled, be-jeweled finger in my face which I gently pushed aside.
“It’s me Aunt Francis. You’d know that if you wore your glasses like you should.”
“Zalia Grace? Oh, my dear it is you. I knew that. I do not need those glasses I told you that years ago. Those damned healers don’t know what they are talking about.”
“Of course not,” I agreed immediately, it was futile to correct her. Francis was a woman incapable of seeing sense.
“Right, where’s my wonderful excuse for a daughter?” She did a slow one-eighty around the room.
I grabbed Aurelius by his elbow as I saw him trying to stealthily back-down the hallway. With my Lawyer in tow, I weaved in and out of the crowd of visitors. Most of them were business investors who had made deals with my parents’ companies and didn’t want to lose face by not showing up to their funeral. This lead to random handshakes from strangers in fancy black apparel who either showed signs of little interest on their face, or were attempting to butter me up with condolences that were much too forced and fake. I ignored both.
I made it through the room, keeping ahead of my still-yelling Aunt Francis who was trying to follow me. I shoved Aurelius through the side door of the church and stepped inside before shutting and locking it behind me.
“Maybe, I won’t stay after all--”
“Oh, no you don’t,” I laughed dryly as I passed him and stalked towards the front of the church. “If I’m getting dragged into this, so are you.”
“Seems fair,” He muttered, “I mean, after all, everyone knows that being a family lawyer is practically, like, adoption into the clients’ family.”
I ignored the sarcastic sour-puss and kept walking.
“There you are! They’re going ballistic out there.”
“I know, I know,” I waved off Heidi, barely registering how amazing she looked in a black velvet, fitted gown that came down to her knees. But, Veela or not my mind was on other things.
“Hi, I’m…. Aureli....Aur….Au…..you’re pretty.”
Apparently My Lawyer didn’t share that sentiment. He was gawking at Heidi with huge puppy dog eyes. My cousin pulled at the hem of her dress awkwardly and shuffled away, muttering something that sounded a lot like ‘thanks creep’.
“Should I move these to the front of the room?”
I turned my attention to Lily and saw her holding my parents’ urns; one in each hand.
“Wha--” I ran forward without thinking and took them away from her, “Who told you, you could move these?”
“Don’t-- just don’t….” I stepped back from her, refusing to look at her face. Lily hadn’t meant any harm, but I just couldn’t help picturing my parents’ ashes falling from her grip and crashing to the floor. Avoiding her eyes, which would surely show how hurt she felt, I backed up to set down the urns; handling them as carefully as I would bombs about to go off.
“Right….” I stood up from my crouched position and patted down the front of my dress absentmindedly; the overlying lace tickling the palms of my hands. Looking to my left, Heidi was giving herself a pep talk about the eulogy; which i’d asked her to do for me (selfish? well…. maybe a bit), and trying to ignore Aurelius who seemed to be becoming more enamored with my cousin by the minute. Lily was in the back, pretending to be extremely interested in a statue of St. Bridgit the Younger. I would have to apologize for snapping at her later.
Now though, I walked to the main doors of the church and took a deep breath as my hand rested on the huge brass knob. The sooner this began, the sooner it would end. I flung the doors open wide to let in the guests and begin the funeral, wishing for all the world I could be at Hogwarts kicking back with the marauders; however much they annoyed me sometimes.
I’d said way too many ‘thank you’s’ and ‘i’m fine’s’ by the time most of the guests had filed out of the church. Business cards had come flooding to me after the service, from my parents’ old partners. They’d assumed I was taking over the corporations. Which, i guess, technically I was. But I wasn’t going to run them, I was merely going to own them.
My head was pounding harder than a stampede of African Elephants by this point. Lily was no where to be found. She'd probably been abducted by Aunt Francis and was being force fed hundreds of stale biscuits from her purse. The old woman had apparently taken a liking to her, which meant Lily was one unlucky witch.
I slumped back into one of the wicker benches inside the church by the statue of our ancestor St. Wilhelmina, and rubbed my temples as I closed my eyes tightly.
"Are you okay?"
I frowned and squinted as I looked up. "I'm fine."
There we go again. Another ‘i’m fine’. What was that, like thirty now? And counting.
"Ah. Yes, you must have been here for the funeral."
I nodded slowly and looked the man up and down. He stood next to me with a concerned expression. He couldn't have been more than thirty years old, but the strong lines around his eyes and mouth had aged him, and were the distinct signs of a worrier.
"Do I know you?" I asked hesitantly. Though we didn’t own the church, my family (or i guess just me now) did own the land surrounding it.
He chuckled and I noticed the bubble of nervousness that came with it.
"No, no I'm actually here on a family errand."
I raised an eyebrow. A family errand? In an old stone church on top of a hill? Unlikely. Beads of sweat were starting on his brow now and an uneasy feeling clouded my mind.
Before I could begin my suspicious questioning of the man on my right I was distracted by a loud peal of laughter by the side door. Aunt Francis was cackling like an old bat, dragging Lily right behind her.
I let out a deep breath and turned back to tell my new acquaintance he was welcome to wait while I saved my best friend from the clutches of my eccentric aunt. The words died in my throat as I turned my head and saw the man practically running down the side of the church; cloak billowing out behind him. I stood up, bewildered, to ask him to stop. As he turned the corner and fled into the garden, something caught my eye that sent a chill down my spine.
A dark mark of a snake and skull was branded onto his left forearm.
That’s how long it took before it hit me. A death eater had come to visit my parents’ graves.
Several possibilities as to why said death eater was here came flooding into my brain. To revel in a job well done? That thought was unsavory, but believable. No…. he had been too nervous. A worrier. Not the type of man to risk getting caught for a moment of sick euphoria. Guilty conscience? Even less believable. And again, not the type to risk his neck. So what did that leave? My breathing hitched when a thought trickled in from the recesses of my brain.
To finish the job.
He came to finish the job.
My heart beat a little faster and i squeezed my fists, unable to open them for a moment. Had he come here to kill me? It seemed likely. Really likely. So likely that I started to feel like a trapped animal.
Never had the thought entered my head that the death eaters might want me dead. And even if it had; at my parents’ funeral? Sure it had a sense of drama or irony one might find in a good greek tragedy, but still. I snorted in spite of myself. Who was I kidding? These were murderers and thugs. The type of people who killed children because it’s convenient and tortured muggles because it’s fun.
And I’m still sitting on the bench.
I jumped up as though springs had suddenly sprouted at the bottoms of my feet.
Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.
The analytic process was over and panic was setting in. Even if it was some weird coincidence that a death eater showed up at the funeral, even if it really was because of a gloating or guilty conscience…. I couldn’t take the chance. There was a very good possibilty that I had a target on my back. And that sooner or later someone was going to shoot it.
“Lily,” I stated in a dead voice. The first person I thought of.
She was still being dragged along by Aunt Francis, looking tired and battle-worn as the old woman kept her grip tight on her arm. Lily looked up at my call and gave a half-apologetic half-pleading look.
Fuck. I was not going to deal with Francis right now.
“Lily, I need you. NOW!”
She stood up straight and yanked her arm out of Aunt Francis’ grip as soon as the last word left my lips. For however mellow she was, Lily was not a wuss. Francis frowned and said something I couldn’t hear from across the room. I saw Lily stand her ground, fists clench tightly and say something that Francis did not appear to like before walking quickly to where I was.
“What’s going on?” She asked hastily, eyes wide.
“Okay, right….” I shifted from foot to foot and wrung my hands. “How do I say this. Lily, the man he said-- and then-- mark on his arm--”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down.” Lily looked really concerned now. Probably because I never got flustered.
“The death eaters,” I whispered, “They’re going to kill me.”
Great, now I sound like some paranoid drama queen.
“What?!” Lily whisper yelled.
I nodded shakily, “One of them was here. Oh, Lily it makes so much sense. Of course they want to take me out.”
“Wait a minute,” Lily closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “Are you telling me,” She looked at me carefully, “That you actually saw a death eater here?”
“And you’re sure?”
I gave her a look. “I’m not joking here. I’m serious, Lily. I know it sounds crazy or stupid but do you really think I’m the type of person to make this up?”
“No, of course not.” She said automatically, which made me feel slightly better. At least she didn’t think I was nuts. “But you’re really sure?”
“Yes,” I hissed, my eyes darting around the room; scanning for any sign of violence. “He was running out the door and I saw the mark on his arm.”
Lily folded her arms, “You saw the mark? Clearly?”
“I--” I hesitated. Had I seen the mark clearly? It had happened so fast. But no. I was sure. That, paired with the man’s strange behavior, convinced me. “Yes.”
“Zalia,” Lily seemed hesitant as she spoke. “You don’t think it could have been something that looked like the mark? I mean, lots of people have tattoos.”
I groaned, “No! He was acting suspicious and he ran out. Plus, I know he had the dark mark on his arm.”
Lily and I spun around to see Heidi standing shell shocked with a tray of cookies in hand.
“You saw a--!”
I grabbed my cousin by the hair and dragged her unceremoniously into the nearest broom closet right next to us. The tray of cookies rattled to the floor; forgotten. Lily followed and I hissed ‘lumos’ at my wand as we shut the door. With our three faces illuminated by the white glow from my wand, I looked at both girls carefully. Heidi was rubbing her scalp and glaring at me.
“Listen,” I whispered, “ I know what I saw, and even if i’m wrong, we're better safe than sorry.”
I told Heidi the short version of my evidence on the matter and she seemed skeptical but scared enough to agree with me that danger could be close at hand.
“So what do we do?” Lily asked, “Send everyone away? They’re all waiting for the food to be served outside in the gardens.”
“Oh, yes,” I rolled my eyes, “That’s really the issue here.”
Lily gave an irritated schoff, “No, its not. But what do you want to do? Start a panic? Run? Try and go back to Hogwarts? Every man for himself?”
I didn’t answer. What did I want to do? She had a point. I couldn’t just abandon things here. I didn’t even know for sure if the death eaters were after me now. Maybe that guy had been the only one and I’d scared him off. One could only hope. But hope wasn’t proof. However, it didn’t really matter if I decided to stay or go because if there was a plan to take me out then no matter where I was, I was going to have to fight my way out of it. It would still be a day’s ride back to Hogwarts, and since my family’s castle was only a mile or so down the road it would be easier to stay there like i’d planned. I would just have to watch my back. I squared my shoulders slightly, feeling decided.
Heidi had stopped shaking and gave me a little nod of either approval or agreement. Lily sent me a worried glance and what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile, but what came out as a grimace.
We filed out of the closet, ignoring the idiotic rants of Aunt Francis whom I was beginning to consider handing to the death eaters as a peace offering. I managed to claw myself out of her grip and leave for the gardens. A small burst of ironic and dry laughter hit me as I saw the large number of business associates clearly making deals throughout the gardens; whether whispering by fountains or signing legal documents on the scattered tables. They paused whenever I came near, but I couldn’t care less what they did. The one person I was actually looking for I found leaning against a statue of three golden cherubs; wine glass in hand.
“You know, the ‘97 merlot isn’t nearly as good as I expected.”
Even with the weight of my possible death warrant looming over me, my godfather made me smile.
“I almost thought you weren’t coming.”
I’d seen him wander into the back of the church during the funeral, but he’d vanished so quickly afterwards that I hadn't even caught a glimpse of him as he’d ducked into the gardens.
Frederick winked at me and reached over to ruffle my hair as he had since I was little. His salt-and-pepper grey hair was slicked back and a bulge in the front pocket of his blazer gave a clear sign he was still smoking cigars.
I wrapped him in a tight hug making his melodic laugh turn into a wheeze.
“Godric, Blackwood you’re getting bigger by the second.”
I pulled back to give him a skeptical look.
“I mean that in the most flattering way possible, of course.” He winked again.
“You’re late, Freddy,” I hit his arm lightly.
“I know, I know,” He shuffled his feet and shrugged, “Better late than never, right?”
I glared at him from the corners of my eyes, but I couldn’t be mad at him for more than a moment. “I guess I can forgive you.”
“Oh, merci, mon amie” Fred gave a low dramatic bow, dragging out a genuine laugh from me as I rolled my eyes.
Fred and I had always had this sort of relationship. We connected like old friends whenever we saw each other, we were always close, but we never really expected anything from one another. I wasn’t surprised at all that I hadn’t heard from Freddy after my parents’ deaths. He’d probably gone on a week long drinking binge when he’d heard the news. But Freddy wasn’t one of those horribly abusive, capricious, or constant drunks. It was just something he tended towards when bad things happened. It was always fugacious. Like me and my screaming. A coping mechanism.
“Listen, I can only stay one night.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I can only stay one night. How long did you think I was planning on drawing this funeral out?”
He shrugged like he always did. “I don’t know. I guess I just assumed you’d take a couple days out here in the country to gather your thoughts.”
I leaned back and looked at him skeptically. He knew me too well for that. “Gather my thoughts? Did you expect me to become some sort of recluse? You know I prefer moving forward to dwelling.”
He nodded, “Right, sorry.”
It occurred to me that Fred might not be completely past the recovery stage of the effects of my parents’ dying. He had been my Dad’s best friend anyway. They were like brothers since they were children, and stayed that way even through long silences and following as different paths as could be followed. Fred was a traveling man. One of those people who was perpetually ‘finding themselves’.
“Is it just you this time?” I was slightly hesitant to ask the question.
Freddy gave a smirk, “You know me well. But yes, I came alone.”
“Good,” I felt relieved. I loved my godfather and all but he had the absolute worst taste in women. Seriously. One time he brought back a very pretty scandinavian woman who turned out to be…. well not so much a very pretty woman as a very pretty man. Yes. That had been an interesting holiday.
“There’s only five of us staying in the castle tonight.” I told him. Freddy hated crowds.
“Me, my friend Lily, Heidi-- you remember her right?-- Our chef, Jaques, and Aunt--”
“Don’t say Aunt Tilly!” Fred ducked his head and looked around as though someone might try and shoot him.
I snorted, “Aunt Tilly died, like three years ago.”
“Oh,” He straightened up and cleared his throat; reverting to the suave middle-aged looker he was. “Sorry to hear that.”
I snorted again, “Yeah right. Tilly was a bitch.”
“It’s bad luck to speak ill of the dead.”
I rolled my eyes, “You know I don’t believe that crap. And neither do you. Besides, Tilly was rude and conceited, and dying doesn’t make someone a saint. It’s not that hard to do.”
There was moment of quick silence in which Fred seemed at a loss of words. Or maybe he was thinking about death. And my parents.
“So which aunt is it?” Fred frowned, and then paled, “Please don’t tell me your Aunt--”
“--Francis is here?” I smirked at him, “Yep."
He groaned and slumped over, kicking his feet like a little kid who’d just been told he couldn’t have sweets.
“And she’s still a nutter. A very vulture-like, psychotic nutter.”
“Of course,” Fred grumbled, swirling his wine glass around with a scowl. “This is what I get for trying to be the good guy and show up at my best mate’s requiem.”
“Piss off,” I growled at him, grabbing the wine glass and taking a swig. He didn’t bat an eye.
“You’re right,” He sighed, watching as I downed his drink. I didn’t feel any guilt in finishing it off. He’d most likely started drinking at around nine o’clock this morning anyways.
I looked him up and down and then handed back the now-empty wine glass. Fred took it with a bored look and then gestured tiredly to the church doors as if to say “well, let’s get this over with”.
I gave a motion of my head and went off back towards the entrance of the church; doing my best to ignore the irritating hum of business goings on around me. Freddy and I weaved in and out of statues, potted trees and other plants near the set-stone path. Grabbing the large wood door I swung it open, holding it until Fred had stepped inside.
“Are you ready? Can we go? Please? Please?”
I blinked and stepped back, caught off guard by Heidi’s abruptness.
“Whoa, slow down.”
“Sorry,” She sighed and took a breath, nodding an acknowledgement to Fred (whom she’d met only once before) and then looking back at me with an exhausted expression. “But I can’t take any more of her. Seriously, can we go, please?”
I frowned, “Are you talking about Aunt Francis?”
“Yes!” She slammed her heel into the ground and gritt her teeth. It was a little scary to see a dressed-up Veela throwing a tantrum.
“She’s your mother,” I raised an eyebrow; amusement dancing across my expression, “Aren’t you used to living with all that by now?”
Heidi’s eyes went wide, “You think I live with that…. thing?!”
I blinked. Fred was laughing behind his hand beside me and I slammed my foot down on his descreetly; effectively forcing a wince from him.
“What?” I asked my cousin.
Heidi still looked to be at her wits end. “No! I left that place years ago,” She waved her hand behind her and started pacing. “This is the first time I’ve seen her in like a year. I forgot that my mother was this intolerable.”
“Maybe you should have her committed.”
Oh, that really fucking pissed me off.
“No.” I turned, snapping at my godfather. He backed off, knowing me well enough to realize that I was royally pissed. Not that it was his fault, but insane asylums were a sore subject with me.
“Just….” I rubbed my hand down my face, feeling more tired than I could remember. “Just make it through a few more hours.”
At the look on Heidi’s face I put a hand on her shoulder. “We can leave for the castle now though. Francis-- Your mum, can take her own carriage. Tell her it’s because she’s special, I don’t know. She’ll buy it if it’s sounds like we’re complimenting her.”
Heidi nodded and spun off to find Aunt Francis. I turned back around to face my next task of getting all of my parents’ business associates completely out the door. I paused at the look on Freddy’s face. His expression was screwed up in this weird sort of emphatically paradoxical look. I stared at him for a second and then moved past him and out into the gardens again. Of all people, Fred didn’t need an explanation for my behavior.
There were a lot of things on my mind as I took off my formal wear and dressed in a pair of sweats and a ‘Quiberon Quafflepunchers’ T-shirt.
One; that I’d forgotton to say goodbye to Aurelius, the lawyer.
Two; that Aunt Francis was a loud snorer.
Three; that she would be sleeping in the same room as me.
Four; that she would be sleeping in the same room as me because I was paranoid death eaters were going to kill us, and wanted everyone to stay in the same room.
And Five; that my hairbrush was missing.
“Lily?” I poked my head out of the bathroom door, “Did you bring a comb or something that I could borrow?”
She summoned a brush with a wave of her wand and mumble of ‘Acio’, and tossed it to me.
“I still don’t get why I have to sleep in here….”
I pursed my lips at Francis’ grumbling. She was just bitching for the sake of bitching at this point. We’d given her the bed for Circe’s sake. The rest of us would be sharing the floor.
Not everyone had been too happy with the new sleeping arrangements, even after I allowed the guys (Jaques and Freddy) to take the room next to us so the boys and girls could be allowed some privacy. But in the end I played the “well, my parents are dead” card and got my way.
Like hell I was going to give the death eaters the advantage of our separation. There was strength in numbers. You know, the ‘United we stand, Divided we fall’ stuff.
“You should get a new brush.” I handed it back to Lily and ran a hand through my tangle-free hair. The bristles on Lily’s hairbrush were as worn as possible while still being somewhat effective.
She sighed, “I know.”
“It’s getting late.” Heidi was at the window of the room (my room if you wanted to get technical), staring out onto the land I now singularly owned.
I glanced at the huge, ornate grandfather clock in one corner of the room. She was right, it was nearly eleven o’clock.
A knock sounded on the door. Usually such things as common as ‘knocks’ didn’t bother me even remotely, but I was on edge and with a quick glance at Hieidi (who was obviously sharing my thoughts) I reached for the doorknob hesitantly.
“Oh, it’s you.” A breath escaped me.
“Who else?” Freddy asked, stepping inside without an invitation.
“No one.” I grumbled. I was being ridiculous. If death eaters were going to attack, they certainly wouldn’t knock on the bloody door.
“Sooooo, I’ll be bunking with you guys.” My godfather collapsed back onto the king-sized, mahogany, four poster, delicately carved bed and kicked up his feet; grinning while the rest of us talked over each other, complaining about this new development.
“No. Nuh uh.”
I folded my arms across my chest, arching an eyebrow, “Why?”
“Because,” He sat up on his elbows, “Jaques, your ‘chef’,” He used air quotes as he said the word ‘chef’ as if he didn’t quite believe it. “Is really very annoying and I’m pretty sure he made a move on me.”
I snorted while Lily went scarlet. “Jaques isn’t like that. Trust me, I know,” Jaques had roaming hands and more than once had made a move on me (and gotten slapped/cursed). Plus he’d once spent an entire dinner party out our manor staring my mother’s, our maids’, and my, breast-area.
“Yeah, well, still I’d much rather stay in here.”
I sighed and sat down on the dark blue blanket I would be using that night. “Fine.”
“What about Jaques?” Lily asked, clearly concerned.
“He’ll be fine by himself,” I waved her off.
I was tempted to roll my eyes. Ugh, my best friend and her constant empathy for the circumstances of others.
“He’ll be fine.” I repeated, this time with a look. Jaques was in the very next room to us, plus there was no way he was getting anywhere near me while I slept. He was a good cook but pigs would fly before I trusted him with anything more than a spatula.
Lily took my word for it and for the next hour or so everyone spent most of the time fighting over blankets, pillows, and who had to sleep closest to the bed (and Aunt Francis). In the end Lily, Heidi, and I were by the window with our feet near the edge of the bed, and Freddy was made to sleep by the door. As much as I loved the guy, he too snored and if we were going to be attacked tonight, (which seemed to be becoming less and less likely) then i’d bet good money on Fred being the best door stopper.
Aunt Francis went to bed around midnight; her hair in curlers, face full of night cream, and wearing a sleeping mask with the words ‘sweet dreams’ stitched onto it’s plush pink surface. A half an hour or so later Freddy and Heidi dropped off, leaving Lily and I lying next to each other listening to the sounds of night owls, crickets, our own breathing, and the constant rumble of snoring from the others.
UGH. The chapter was too long so I had to make it a two parter. Sorry!
Aaaaaaaand, Here is the Title of the next book as promised....
Zalia Blackwood: Pick Your Poison
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