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A/N: Welcome! This first chapter is a bit fluffy, but rest assured that there is some dark and suspenseful stuff to come. Please review!
Thirteen months ago.
“Can’t you ask to work on a different case?”
I stare at James, looking so handsome on the other side of the table in his blue dress robes, his dark hair artfully untidy as always. We’ve been dating for the better part of three years -- we sleep in the same bed, for Merlin’s sake -- and right now, I feel like I don’t know him at all.
“This is a really big case,” I remind him. “They’re doing me a huge honor by putting me onto the team, as it’s my first job.”
James stands up abruptly, shaking his head. He paces across our kitchen, swatting irritably at the multicolored balloons that bar his path. I sit still, watching him, as a prickly, pins-and-needles numbness spreads slowly through my body. The kitchen is in a state of disarray, scattered with bitter reminders of the evening’s party: a stack of dinner plates perches precariously on the counter, while half-finished glasses of wine litter the table. It’s hard to believe that just a few hours go, the entire Potter-Weasley clan was packed into this kitchen, celebrating the completion of my Auror training.
James turns to face me, his eyebrows furrowed, fists clenched. “So you’re going to go? To Luxembourg?”
“Yeah, I’m going to go,” I reply scathingly, and James’ face flushes. We’ve had our share of arguments over the years, but I’ve never spoken to him like this. “I’ve wanted to be an Auror since I was ten.”
James sticks his hand into his hair, pulling on it. “So that’s it, then, is it? That’s the end of us?”
My jaw drops. My heart thuds dully in my chest. I want to cross the room and wrap my arms around him. I want to say no, I love you, we can make this work, it won’t be forever. But his eyes are cold and fierce. In his mind, I’m picking my career over our relationship -- and I can see that he’s never going to forgive me for it.
“I guess so,” I say simply. I get to my feet, turning away from him so he won’t see my face. James has seen me cry about a million times. He held me tight as I sobbed through my dad’s funeral. He laughed at me when a photograph of an owl sitting on a cat’s head reduced me to tears. But that something that used to exist between us, like an invisible thread that held us together, has been decisively cut.
“I’m going to sleep at Rose’s,” I say, and stalk out of the kitchen as quickly as my legs will carry me. I’m not quite sure, but as the door swings shut, I think I hear a low groan.
Unfortunately for me, biology blessed Rose Weasley with a particularly effective pout.
I remember the first time she pouted at me. We were in third-year, barely friends, and we were late for Potions together. As we scurried along a corridor, ties untied, hair unruly, she caught a glimpse of the sky -- unusually blue that day -- through the window, and stopped in her tracks. She pouted at me until I agreed to skive off class entirely, and wander the sunlit grounds with her instead.
Now, sitting on my unmade bed, swinging her feet furiously back and forth in midair, she unleashes her unholy power upon me once more.
“Come on, Fee, everyone’ll be so excited to see you,” she cajoles me. “It’s been so long since we were all together.”
“It’s been three months since the last time she visited,” says Jasper, who’s lying flat on his back beside Rose. He’s so tall that he extends all the way across the double bed, his shoulders and head dangling off the opposite end.
“Jasper Zipes, your head is unreasonably large and it unsettles me,” snaps Rose. (“Fair enough,” admits Jasper from the other end of the bed.) Then she turns back to me, laying the pout back on. “You’re back for good, now, Fee, and we’ve got to celebrate!”
I look up at her from the mountain of books I’ve been trying to sort by category. “Rose, you’re drunk. You know what’ll happen if we go? You’ll get all belligerent, and then someone will use incorrect grammar, and you’ll get in a fight with them, and it’ll be no fun at all.”
“I’m not drunk,” says Rose, clutching her glass of wine close to her chest. “I’m only one glass in. You need to catch up, is all.”
“I never drink when I’m on a case,” I remind her, giving up on the books and crossing the room to examine my new closet.
“You don’t start until tomorrow,” calls Jasper.
“You don’t start until tomorrow,” repeats Rose triumphantly, jabbing a finger in the air. “And you were on your last case for a full year, so who knows how long it’ll be until the next time you’ll be able to let loose. And it’s your first night back in London, and it’s New Year’s Eve, for the love of nargles!”
I hesitate, considering this logic. It’d be nice to celebrate my return to London with the Potter-Weasleys, my favorite people in the world and the closest thing I have to a family. I’d love to catch up with Hugo, who finally came out last year, and Dominique, who (according to Rose’s reports) dropped out of Hogwarts last year, disappeared to East Asia, and returned just a few weeks ago with an impressive tan and a mysteriously full Gringotts vault.
“And you don’t have to worry about James,” says Rose, making me jump. “He’s just got a new girlfriend and they’re over the moon with each other, he probably won’t even notice you’re there.”
I look around at her, biting my lip. Truth is, the fear of seeing James was the only thing holding me back from going to the family gathering. Will it be brutally painful to see him with someone else? Probably. But at least I’ll be able to have a nice night with the others, without constantly fretting about what he’s thinking.
“Oh, all right,” I sigh, and Rose and Jasper cheer.
The second I enter the Leaky Cauldron, the air rings with a solitary yell. The next thing I know, I’m engulfed in a warm, gangly pair of arms.
“Hi, Louis,” I say, grinning, as the enormous, blonde figure pulls back. The men of the Potter-Weasley family are all (with the exception of poor Albus) extremely tall. Louis, only a puny fourteen-year-old the last time I saw him, has shot up to an absurd height, and now dwarfs me. “You got tall.”
“Yeah, I know,” he crows, his voice about an octave lower than I remember. “And I finally made the Quidditch team, so all the girls in my year are mad for me. I’m glad you’re here. Dom said you wouldn’t want to come because James would be here -- but he’s busy snogging Evangeline anyway, so you won’t have to talk to him much.”
“Great,” I say, struggling to process all this information.
“Louis, don’t hog Fiona,” Rose tells her cousin sternly. She’s been trying to drive this message home to Louis for years, but never quite seems to manage it. I’m not exactly sure why he hero-worships me with such zealous devotion, but it’s comforting to see that that, at least, hasn’t changed.
Rose whisks me into the pub. The Leaky Cauldron is packed for New Year’s Eve -- Rose, Jasper, Louis and I have to dodge our way through the crowd toward the corner that the Potter-Weasleys have taken over. Finally, we make it to them, and I find myself being whisked from one family member to another, receiving warm welcome after warm welcome. Hugo guffaws at my haircut and offers to chop the rest off for me. Scorpius claps me on the back and immediately tries to enlist me in his latest scheme to win Rose’s heart. Mr. Potter, who always approved of me (“almost aggressively” as James used to put it), shakes my hand and wishes me a happy New Year.
I’ve been dreading my return to London since we wrapped up the case in Luxembourg -- but now that I’m here, surrounded by friends, a hot glass of Butterbeer in hand, I finally feel like I’m home.
And then comes the moment I’ve been dreading most.
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he sees you,” says Louis as he, Rose, Jasper, and I draw close to James. “It’s going to be hilarious.”
“Shut up, Louis,” snaps Rose. “Don’t you have some action figures you should be playing with?”
“I’m fifteen,” Louis reminds her.
I stare at the back of James’ head, my cheeks going red already. I haven’t seen him since we broke up -- I’ve visited London a few times over the past year, but he seemed to make himself scarce whenever I turned up. Over his shoulder, I can make out the face of the girl he’s talking to. She’s beautiful. My stomach lurches.
Rose lunges forward and taps James’ shoulder, then draws back. He turns around, glasses slightly askew, unaffected grin plastered as always across his face. His eyes slide over me without pausing.
“Hi,” he says to the group of us.
Rose stares at him with an expression of utmost disgust. “Honestly? You haven’t seen Fiona in a bloody year, and that’s all you have to say? ‘Hi?’”
James blinks. “Er… welcome back?” he tries again, his eyes darting to and quickly away from my face.
Rose frowns, disappointed. “Lovely,” she says to James.
Then, grabbing my wrist, she wheels me about, and drags me back into the fray of Potter-Weasleys.
“Between you and I, Fee,” she mutters to me, “I always thought you could do a bit better.”
Louis and Jasper follow close behind us.
“That was really disappointing,” says Louis loudly over our shoulders. “I thought he’d at least spit out a mouthful of his drink.”
“Shut up, Louis,” says Rose. She marches up to Albus and Scorpius, who have their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders and seem to be singing. Scorpius grins enthusiastically as she approaches.
“Hi, Rose,” he says. “Albus and I are starting a band. Would you like to join? We’re going to have leather jackets and, and lions.”
“Tempting,” says Rose. “Dare I ask, how many Firewhiskys have you lot had, exactly?”
Albus reaches out to me very deliberately, and touches my nose with his pointer finger.
“Er,” I say.
“One,” says Albus tapping my noise lightly with his finger. Then he draws the finger away, and wags it in the air, starting to laugh. “One too many,” he chokes, and then he and Scorpius dissolve into peals of laughter.
“Okay, new idea,” says Scorpius, clearly struggling to keep a straight face. “We invent a brand of cereal, and on the box it says that there’s a -- you know, a prize in every box. But then when you open it there’s just, just lemons.”
He and Albus succumb to another fit of hysterics. Rose and I look at each other dryly.
“I really missed you,” she tells me. I grin.
Rose, Jasper, and I spend a few hours chatting, and catching up with Rose’s many relatives. Louis continues to follow us around eagerly, puppylike, using the odd lull in conversation to bombard me with questions about Auror life. I’m glad to be back, but I can’t help myself from throwing the occasional glance over at James’ corner, where he seems to be alternating between passionately snogging his girlfriend, and whispering sweet nothings in her ear.
It’s over, I tell myself firmly. He’s moved on. I’ve moved on. It’s like we never even dated.
But somehow, I can’t fight the sneaking suspicion that I’m lying to myself. When the clocks finally chime midnight and the pub erupts in a chorus of cheers, I decide that regardless of my confused feelings, I'm going to make the most of this year. I'm going to focus on work and do a damn good job, like I always do.
I take a deep breath, and smile to myself, excited to see what this new case has in store.
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