Harry & Ginny
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hgfan1111 - Brighter Than Sunshine
Chapter 5 - Chapter 5
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August 2001 through October 2001
Emma glanced over at Carter in annoyance, but pushed the feeling away. It wasn't his fault that Anne had been called into an emergency at the hospital and hadn't been able to go with her to Manchester to visit Missy.
And, it was rather lucky that Carter had been able to take the day off, although Emma wasn't sure if she would have preferred to come alone or not.
Carter had been nothing but polite, but it was the extreme chivalry and protectiveness that drove Emma insane. She was a strong woman. She had survived more than Carter Wilkins could imagine in his wildest dreams—not that she could remember it all. It was more a feeling than anything, she thought; a feeling that she had lived several lifetimes already in her short eighteen years.
"Would you like pudding, Emma?" Carter asked, holding his hand out to the waiter who was moving the pudding cart through the restaurant.
"No, thank you." Emma shook her head, silently cursing Missy for having a course this afternoon. They'd spent a very pleasant morning seeing her flat, walking down the streets to the coffee shop where Missy worked and then touring the campus of the Uni. If she hadn't been convinced before, Emma was definitely decided now.
In a few days she would have all of her packing finished and make arrangements to get her things down here to Manchester. Carter would, no doubt, offer his car, but Emma really would prefer Anne bring her.
"We have a few more hours before we need to catch the train home," Carter mused as he paid the bill and held out his arm to escort her out of the restaurant. "Is there anything else you'd like to see?"
Emma pondered, knowing that if Missy, or even Anne, were with her there would be a thousand things for them to see.
"I wouldn't mind seeing Manchester Uni," Carter carried on, before Emma could even answer.
She sighed and shrugged, letting her arm slip from his. He continued to talk, flipping aside his rather longer blond hair. Carter had watched some picture a few months back where the actor had been a bit of a rogue with longer hair. Ever since then, he'd been trying to grow his out. Anne just shook her head and whispered that it was really to impress Emma.
She wasn't impressed. At all. In fact, his longer blond hair rather annoyed her, even though she wasn't sure why. It just irritated her in an irrational way.
Very soon, she told herself as they boarded another train and made their way across town, she would be living here with Missy, and Carter Wilkins would be a thing of the past. Even though the thought made her feel a bit guilty, it made her smile. She didn't want to be awful to him, even he didn't deserve that, but the man never took no for an answer.
Emma sighed as she leaned her head back against the wall of the train, her hand trailing up to play with the end of the plait Anne had helped her put in her long hair this morning. Mentally, she planned how she would decorate the empty bedroom in the flat she and Missy would soon share.
Jack finally let himself relax after a long day at work. The shelves of Manchester's newest bookstore were now stocked, the displays set and the final details completed and waiting the Grand Opening tomorrow afternoon.
Normally, Jack didn't work in that part of the city; the bookstore where he'd started out unloading boxes and then worked his way up to managing the Children and Young Adults section was in a poorer part of the metropolis, closer to Salford. His Store Manager had approached Jack earlier in the week and asked him to help out at the new branch for a few days until they got settled. Jack was more than happy to have the overtime and the extra pay that went with it. Now, the rumble and rocking motion of the train was almost lulling him to sleep.
A discarded newspaper sat in the seat next to him and Jack picked it up, thumbing through the headlines but seeing nothing of interest. The same stories of corrupt politicians promising tax reform, public sightings of the Royal Family and the like filled the pages. Those sorts of things did not interest him.
He had far greater concerns on his mind; such as how to get his flat mate to pay his share of the rent before it was due instead of a week after, and whether or not the loaf of bread that he'd forgetfully left out on the kitchen counter earlier that morning would be too dry to make a sarny or two for him when he got home. And it wasn't that Derek was irresponsible, more that he was just easily distracted.
He glanced up as the train slowed for another stop. The hiss of the doors opening and the travelers jostling in and out kept his focus for a moment before his eyes returned to an article about an upcoming dog show in the park. Jack sighed and rustled the pages closed, letting his eyes sweep over the faces in the car with him, wondering what errands had brought them out for the day.
Across the aisle and two seats over was an elderly woman who wore an ancient looking hat perched on her blue hair at a crazy angle. She wore a bright floral printed frock and clutched a wrinkled brown paper bag in her lap. Her eyes were shut tightly and Jack wondered, amusedly, if she hated taking the train.
Six seats down from the old woman was a youth dressed in baggy and ill-fitting clothing that looked brand new, but obviously was not made for someone so thin and scrawny. He wore headphones that the loud, thumping music leaked out of. Jack narrowed his eyes at the boy as the youth eyed the old woman, hoping that the threat of retribution in his stare would put any thoughts of violence against the elderly out of the boy's mind. He had to smile when the boy quelled slightly and looked away from Jack.
A man in a grey business suit yakked on his mobile and complained loudly that he could not hear the caller. Jack smirked to himself and continued to let his eyes wander. Another man, nearer to Jack's own age, sat right next to the doorway. He was blond and fair, with well manicured clothing that showed at least a bit of wealth. Next to him…
Jack swallowed hard. Next to the blonde man was the most beautiful woman that Jack had ever seen. Her pale skin was accented by a smattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose. Her lips were full and pink, the nose upturned just a bit at the end. Her long red hair was pulled back into some sort of plait that draped over one shoulder. Jack wondered how many shades of color were actually in that hair. From where he sat he thought that there were more than he would be able to count.
It was her eyes, however, that really caught Jack's attention. They were a very deep chocolate brown, wide and expressive, and…looking right at him.
Dark pink bloomed on her cheeks as she quickly looked down at her lap. Jack had to smile at catching her watching him. Somehow, though, he couldn't make himself look away. Sure enough, her face lifted and she glanced at him again. This time their gazes held for a moment as they seemed to study each other.
Jack had seen beautiful women before; exotic women with dark skin, blonde Nordic beauties and curvy brunettes came into the bookstore on a regular basis. He'd been on a few dates in the past few months—pushed by Derek, of course–even had a good night kiss or two, but something always seemed to be missing. The 'spark', for lack of a better word, was never there to hold his interest past a few hours of niceties.
And, for the precisely twenty-seven seconds while the two gazes locked across the crowded commuter train, Jack wondered if he'd found it. The moment was broken, however, when the blonde man touched the redhead's arm and her attention shifted over to him.
It figures, Jack thought dejectedly. He cursed his racing heart and fluttery stomach as he let his eyes lose focus onto the flashes of life outside the window.
Traitorous as they were, his eyes kept wandering back to the redhead. She seemed to be only half listening to what her traveling companion was saying as she looked down at the floor of the train.
Jack's stop was announced and he laid the forgotten newspaper on the seat next to him and shifted in his own seat, preparing to depart. For another moment, their eyes met and the woman smiled brilliantly at him, her cheeks blossoming pink, making his stomach turn over again. The train shuddered to a stop and Jack reluctantly stood, his eyes never leaving hers. The passengers getting off jostled and finally Jack had to take his turn in leaving. The noise of the terminal assailed his ears and he instantly wished for the semi-silence of the atmosphere he'd just left.
Unable to help himself, Jack looked back into the window. The redheaded woman had turned in her seat and was watching him through the glass. She pressed a hand against the window and her smile faded just a bit as Jack gave a small resigned shrug and lifted his hand in goodbye. The train pulled out of the station and she was gone.
He wasn't even conscious of the five block walk home that day. The sun had never shone so brightly, nor had the late summer air ever been as pleasant as it was that afternoon. He was vaguely aware of the rough and tumble boys of the neighborhood who attempted to engage him in a game of football. Jack half-heartedly kicked the ball back toward them and continued on his way.
"About time you got home," Derek grumbled as his black-haired roommate entered the second floor flat. "Was the train late?"
"Huh?" Jack grunted as he flopped back onto the worn second-hand sofa that was nearly the only piece of furniture in the small living room.
Derek turned from where he was leaning against the kitchen counter. "I asked if the train was—" he broke off when he realized that Jack wasn't hearing anything. "What's with you today, mate?"
Jack didn't answer for a moment and then startled suddenly. "What're you talking about?"
Derek grinned. "You, you sod. That's what I'm talking about. Something must have happened for you to be grinning that wide." He laughed out loud as Jack flushed and turned his head away.
"It's that little blond bird at the store isn't it?" Derek laughed. "She finally gave in to the old Ingalls charm and you got a look in her trousers."
"Don't be crude," Jack scolded. "And no…it has nothing to do with her."
Derek smirked and waggled his eyebrows. "Someone else then?" He laughed even harder when Jack tossed a dirty sock taken from the cushion at him. "Come on, a bloke doesn't smile like that unless someone's been playing with his—"
"OI!" Jack yelled. "Can't a bloke just have a nice day? It's beautiful outside. The sun is shining, the sky is blue…"
"Whatever," Derek smiled.
Jack sighed and stared out the window, not even seeing the row of rather filthy, red brick houses across the lane. Derek went back to eating out of the white cardboard take-away box that held something that may have once resembled Chinese food.
"Did you ever have one perfect moment?" Jack finally asked. "Just one moment in the middle of the day, when you least expect it. You're doing something you do every day, nothing really important, and BAM! You realize that you've just done something, or seen something that makes this the perfect moment in time?"
"Er, not really," Derek grunted, giving his flat mate his full attention.
"I had that today…on the train home. One perfect moment."
Derek considered his friend for a few minutes and then tossed the empty food container into the rubbish bin.
"I met someone today," Jack said softly. "Well…we didn't really meet."
"Come again?" Derek shook his head in confusion.
"On the train," Jack continued. "There was this woman. She was…beautiful doesn't even describe her…angelic is more like it." He nodded, knowing that was the word he was looking for. "She was…just perfect."
"I see," Derek said, flopping down on the sofa next to Jack. "And did this 'angel' give you her number."
Jack shrugged. "We never spoke."
"It was that one perfect moment. I looked at her, she looked at me…and that was it."
Derek was silent for a minute and then finally roughly slugged Jack in the shoulder. "You need to get out more, mate. Next time, talk to the girl."
Jack shrugged and absently rubbed his arm. "I don't know."
"Wake up to reality, mate," Derek grunted as he stood up. "You'll probably never see this girl again. Ever."
"I know," Jack conceded with a sigh. "But…"
"Yeah," Derek said. "That one perfect moment." The two friends both looked outside the window again. "It's all for the best anyway…she probably had a high pitched squeaky voice." Jack felt the corners of his mouth turn up slightly. "That's it; she had a laugh like a hyena. Or maybe she would have just wanted you for your money."
Jack finally let himself laugh as he glanced around the flat. Second hand furniture was scarce. The walls of the old flat were dingy and a dull-grey color. Any electronics brought into this neighborhood were sure to disappear in less than a day.
"Come on," Derek reached down and pulled Jack to his feet. "I'll buy you a weak, watered-down pint at the pub before you head off to job number two."
Emma pushed her by-now frizzy hair behind her ear and wiped her hands on the apron that she wore. The coffee house was crazy this time of the morning. She had always figured that the early morning rush was the worst. But by far, the late morning push of young mothers dressed in track pants and jogging outfits as they dropped their children off at the local primary schools was the worst. At least in the morning, customers weren't up to chatting yet, they ordered their coffee and lattes and mochas to go. The mothers wanted to chat with everyone about the latest gossip, how much weight so-and-so had lost that week, what illness their child had picked up at the minder. It was all a bit numbing to Emma.
"Break time," she finally breathed out as she glanced up at the clock. She caught Missy's attention at the register and gave a head jerk toward the back room. She could make out the mouthed 'go ahead' and removed her apron quickly before another mother could shout out her order of an extra grande non-fat latte with extra foam.
"Rough morning?" Carl, the store manager, asked as Emma sighed and sank down onto one of the rather uncomfortable chairs in the back room.
"You could say that," Emma laughed. "You'd think I'd get used to it after two months."
Carl laughed and closed the accounting books he'd been looking at. "Yeah, mornings are always rough. The night shift isn't so bad though, lots of quiet time."
Emma nodded and rolled her head to ease the aching muscles. She reached back to rub her neck, pushing the thick plait over her shoulder and out of the way of her fingers.
"Would you consider switching to the evening shift?" Carl asked suddenly. "I could really use someone reliable to help me out."
Emma sat up straight and stared at him. "Are you sure, Carl?" she spluttered. "I've only been here a few weeks."
Carl smiled. "I know, but you know your way around here pretty well. You've got a head for the numbers and I know you're reliable. Missy can handle the morning if I get someone new in here too. Nate, the kid that usually closes for me on weeknights, is finishing up the term at University and he wants less hours."
Emma considered for a minute. Taking a later shift at the coffee house would allow her to get an early morning job as well as keeping this one. The more money she made, the faster she could apply to University herself and find a better life.
"Yes, Carl," she answered with a smile. "I think I will take the shift change."
"Good." Carl gathered up his paperwork and books. "Have a good break, Emma. And we'll start on the new shift next week."
"Thanks, Carl," Emma said, a genuine smile on her face for the first time in a few weeks.
Hours later she sat in the window seat of the flat she shared with Missy and let her head rest against the coolness of the glass. Her hand absently went to the chain she wore around her neck, lifting the ring that lay heavily on the bottom of it. The gold was getting more and more tarnished from where her fingers habitually rubbed over it. The once-shiny square diamond on the top was now dull. It was the only thing she had from…before, and she couldn't bring herself to part with it.
The move to Manchester hadn't been as adventurous as Emma had hoped. Yes, she and Missy had spent a few days seeing the sights and enjoying themselves. But fairly soon it was time for Missy to go back to Uni and Emma to start work.
"Daydreaming again," Missy giggled as she tossed a small pillow at Emma.
Emma only sighed in response and slipped the ring beneath her shirt.
"The mystery man this time?" Missy questioned. "Or someone new?" Emma tried to keep the agitation from showing too much as she stiffened her back. "I noticed you and Carl talking earlier today. He's a bit old for my tastes, but to each their own."
Emma smiled. "It's not Carl."
"Ah, the mysterious and elusive fiancé then," Missy nodded knowingly.
Emma swung her legs down from the sill and stood, stretching. "I know it's silly. It probably has nothing to do with being engaged. For all I know, it was my mother's or something like that and I just wore it on the chain to be sentimental."
Missy smiled and then shook her head. "Nope, I'm betting…a secret engagement."
The once familiar game between the girls lightened Emma's mood, even if the subject was rather dark. "I was no more than seventeen when I met you, you know. That's far too young to be engaged."
"Not if it was true love," Missy protested as she began straightening up the flat somewhat.
"You watch too many shows on the telly, Melissa," Emma sighed.
"I know," Missy sighed dramatically. "But wouldn't it be nice, one day, to have a life like that? Nothing exciting ever happens around here anyway; secret engagements, knights on white horses, soul mates…that would sure make things interesting once again."
"You know I don't believe in all of that stuff," Emma said as she reluctantly began helping to clean. How two young women could make that much mess she would never understand.
"Oh, but you should," Missy replied. "Maybe that's your problem, you don't believe in love anymore, in magic, in—"
"Reality," Emma protested.
"Umhmm," Missy quirked an eyebrow in slyness. "I remember a few weeks ago when you came here with Carter. You had that secret smile then."
Emma spluttered and then laughed, knowing her red face would give her away.
"Ah ha!" Missy proclaimed. "I knew it. Something happened that day. Please tell me it wasn't Carter. You know I can only handle my brother so much, and if my best friend and he were involved…" She let the sentence die as she gave a rather horrified look.
Emma just laughed. "Carter…well, it's not from his lack of trying, I'll assure you that. No, it had nothing to do with Carter. I just…on the train, there was this man."
Missy plopped down on the small sofa and settled in for what seemed to be a good story. Emma just blushed even further and shook her head.
"It's really nothing, and I'll never see him again. But, for a minute, when our eyes met…I wondered."
"What if?" Missy asked softly.
"Yeah," Emma nodded. "What if?" The two girls sat in dreamy silence for a few minutes.
"So, what did he look like?"
Missy rolled her eyes. "The man on the train."
"Oh, well, he had black hair and it was rather messy, you know."
"Messy? Like he had never seen a comb in his life, or messy like he'd been in a hurry and the wind mussed it up?"
Emma thought back. "Messy like he'd had a long day at work and had run his fingers through it several times." Missy nodded her understanding.
"He had glasses, small and not too thick. But his eyes…oh, he had beautiful eyes." Emma closed her eyes and recalled the smile that the man wore. "Brilliant green eyes."
"What was he wearing?"
"Oh," Emma screwed up her face slightly. "You know, I'm not sure I even noticed. It was nice that day, so I don't think he was wearing a jumper. Some sort of uniform shirt, I'm sure."
Missy nodded and then stood as she noticed the time. "He sounds wonderful, love. Listen, I've got to get to class-Art History," she pulled a face as she gathered her rucksack and a light jacket. "You'll be alright here tonight?"
Emma laid her head on the back of the couch and nodded. "Yeah. Oh! I almost forgot to tell you that Carl asked me to switch to the night shift. It'll be good and then I can get a day job also."
"Oh," Missy said as she grabbed an apple out of the kitchen. "Well, that will help you get closer to Uni…but I'll miss working with you."
Emma sighed. "I know. But… Hey! You like Art History!" she proclaimed as she realized what Missy had just said. "Isn't there that bloke in there?"
Missy blushed and fumbled with the door. "No…well, yeah, I guess so. He's just a friend, really."
"Uhhuh," Emma grinned knowingly. "Just a friend."
"Oh, honestly," Missy grinned as she left the flat and Emma laughed at her.
"Almost there…almost there," Ron guided his wife through the door, his hands over her eyes.
"Honestly, Ronald," Hermione huffed. Her annoyance was betrayed as she laughed, though. "You could have just used a blindfold charm."
Ron stopped, his face going slack. "There's a blindfold charm?"
"Of course there's a blindfold charm," Hermione huffed.
"A few more steps." He grinned, knowing that he if hadn't prodded her forward, she would have lectured him on the proper wand movements and pronunciation of the spell.
"Alright," he said, removing his hands. "You can look now."
He stepped back, taking in the room he'd brought her to and trying to keep his face from cracking. He hadn't smiled this much since their wedding pictures.
Hermione smiled widely, clasping her hands in front of her face while she studied the wall to wall cherry bookshelves. The floors were a bit worn, Ron knew, but this room would be perfect for her study. He told her so.
"It would be," she agreed, throwing her arms around him. It took him by surprise and he picked her up and swung her around.
"The whole house is amazing, Ron," she confirmed, pressing a kiss to his lips. "I can't believe you found it."
"Me either," Ron ruffled his hair. They'd been talking about buying a house for a few months, but hadn't been able to find the right one. When the Estate Agent had called the other day, Hermione had been in the middle of another chapter of her book. Ron offered to go and look at the property and let her know.
He was pleasantly surprised by all the room and the back garden especially. It wasn't large enough for a Quidditch pitch, but enough space for beginning broom lessons. The study, however, was what made Ron want to bring Hermione back.
"Come on," Ron grabbed her hand and tugged her to the large double doors that led out to the garden. "See, you can leave these doors open…" Ron opened them wide and they laughed when a stiff breeze blew a few leaves into the room. "Well…in the summer, anyway, and see the kids." He felt his ears heat at the thought of having children with Hermione. They had talked about it, even to the point of planning to begin trying.
Hermione's book had put things on hold. But that was fine with Ron. Whatever Hermione wanted was fine with him.
They walked out into the garden, Ron putting his arm around Hermione's shoulders in the chilly breeze. "I was thinking we'd ask Neville to come over and help us sort all of this out."
"Mmm, it is a bit of a mess, isn't it?"
The trees along the edge of the property were overgrown, their branches bowing heavily with half-shed leaves. The bushes and lawn were unkempt and growing wild.
"I'd love to be able to grow some fresh potions ingredients," Hermione agreed. "And some flowers would be lovely."
"Yeah. Maybe…" Ron's face flushed and he scuffed his toe along the broken pavers. "Maybe we could plant some lilacs. They were always Ginny's favorite."
Hermione smiled and squeezed his ribs tightly. "I'd love that," she agreed. Let's plant it right here, next to the study, so I can smell them when they bloom.
"Brilliant," Ron agreed, leaning down to kiss her. Together, they went back into the house, securing the doors behind them.
"Can we really afford this, Ron?" Hermione asked, worrying her lip. "Because I was working on the budget the other day, and now that I'm working less hours—"
Ron held up his hand to stave off her question. "We're going to be fine. You're not the only one who knows how to budget."
She raised an eyebrow at him and he laughed. "Alright, I had Percy help me, but…"
"That's what I thought," she laughed.
Ron scratched the back of his neck and shrugged. "Fred and George are going to loan us the down."
Hermione, thankfully, kept her comment back, possibly knowing how much it had cost him to go to his brothers and ask for their help. It had been Ron's pride that had kept him from straightening himself up, costing them an entire year—it wasn't something he liked to think about.
However, when Ron weighed the benefits of swallowing his pride and accepting a small loan from his brothers, who were doing extremely well in their business, and not having a suitable place to raise a family—Ron's pride lost every time.
Fred and George had offered Ron Harry's shares of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, saying that they were sure Harry would want Ron to have it. The Ministry had seized all of the other Potter assets, since Harry's will had left everything to Ginny, and he had no living relatives. Thankfully, there were no records of Harry ever owning shares of the store. The twins had done some fancy accounting and, along with Percy's help, had managed to keep Scrimgeour from finding out about the money.
Ron had declined their offer, suggesting that they keep the shares and let them grow. The family could decide what to do with the money someday—or it would be there if someone needed it.
Percy had suggested a small loan with a reasonable interest rate and Ron had agreed. They'd shaken hands on the deal, and, although both parties had protested, saying that they didn't need documentation, signed Percy's quilled agreement.
"Is this the house you want?" Ron asked, pressing his lips into Hermione's hair. Her arms came around his neck and she pondered for a minute.
"There's enough room so that we can use magic without worrying the neighbors," Hermione listed.
"Enough room to fly a bit, as long as it's kept low," Ron chuckled.
"More than enough bedrooms to fill," Hermione quipped, giving him a heated look.
Ron swallowed harshly and grinned. "Your own library."
"And a garage for your father to fill with all manner of Muggle rubbish."
Ron had to laugh, knowing that his father would indeed begin parting with his beloved collection. He'd already sent several things to each of his sons. Ron had been able to avoid it at first, by claiming that his and Hermione's one bedroom flat wasn't large enough. That excuse wouldn't work for much longer.
"So…you like the house?"
Hermione gave one last glance around the room and nodded. "I love the house."
Jack had just finished the large stack of dishes that had been collecting on various surfaces in the kitchen of the flat when Derek entered and collapsed noisily on the sofa.
"Rough day?" Jack laughed.
"No, not really," Derek mumbled from where his face pressed into the cushion. "Tell me again, why I'm taking so many courses?"
"Because you're suicidal," Jack answered happily back. "And because you stood in the registration queue behind a whole lot of good looking birds and signed up for every course that they took."
"Right," Derek lifted his head to smile at Jack. "And I've been out with how many of them? Where as you, who took all the logical and productive classes, have been on three dates in your entire life."
Jack tossed a soggy flannel at Derek who caught it and tossed it back. "Well, I'm well out of that now."
Derek winced at the realization of his words. "Yeah, but you'll be back to it next term."
Jack nodded and dried his hands off. "Just as soon as I can earn the money to live off of again."
"I told you—"
"Don't worry about it, yeah?" Jack interrupted and Derek knew better than to push his friend. "So, what new girl are you seeing this week?"
Derek rolled over and grinned happily at the dingy ceiling. "Melissa."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, just don't forget the tie on the door handle next time you bring one home. I don't fancy walking in on that again."
"Oi! It only happened that one—"
Derek grinned. "Alright, twice. You know I wouldn't mind seeing a tie on the door handle once or twice."
Jack stood abruptly and moved to look out the window. "Why are you so worried about my love life?"
"Or lack thereof?" Derek teased. "Because, you're only twenty-three, mate. You need to live a little."
"I live just fine, thanks," Jack growled.
"Whatever, mate," Derek agreed wryly. "Listen, Melissa and I are meeting a group of friends at a pub just down the way, why don't you come with us?"
Jack shook his head. "No, I think I'll stay here, have a kip."
"You never come with us." Jack only shrugged. "Look, at least meet us later, before you go to work. Melissa works at this little coffee house, the one on the corner of Lower Seedley and Langworthy." Jack nodded showing that he understood which one. "Her flat mate works the closing shift and Melissa always shows up to walk her home."
"I don't think—"
Derek growled. "Just be there!"
Jack began to protest again but then shrugged. He really didn't do much socially with anyone and felt rather guilty that his friend was noticing. "I'll think about it."
"Fine," Derek grinned. "I'm going to shower. The coffee place closes at eight."
"I said I'll think about it," Jack defended.
Half-seven found Jack shuffling his feet back and forth on the sidewalk across the street from the well-lit coffee house. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his thin jacket and he hunched his shoulders against the cool November temperature. It was stupid, he knew, to feel this nervous over meeting a group of people in a social setting. But, Jack was rather a loner of sorts, always feeling left out in a crowd, although no one else ever seemed to show that they knew how he felt.
Maybe it came from being so poor, he thought. He was always very conscious of how much things cost and how many hours of working it would take to earn back what he spent. Maybe it was that he really didn't have any memories, and the few he had were not pleasant at all. He quickly shoved those feelings down deep where they belonged and determined that tonight he would try to fit in with Derek's friends and not feel so out of place.
He could see the small group in the window, laughing at something Derek had said. A rather curvy blond woman seemed attached to Derek's left arm and shot him adoring smiles every few minutes. Jack grinned to think that he would have to wear earplugs tonight, or find somewhere else to kip so that he wouldn't know the entirety of Derek's social life.
There was another man in the group as well. Jack recognized him from several events at the Uni—Joe or John, or something like that. There were a small handful of girls as well and Jack hoped that Derek wouldn't try to push one of them on him. The three girls he'd been out with hadn't really been his choice, two were setup by Derek and the other…well, the other he had asked out. They'd been out two or three times, but she was rather forward and it made Jack uncomfortable.
"You made it!" Derek's voice boomed from the corner table and he stood to pull another chair into the group as Jack approached, slightly flushed from the attention of the others on him.
"Yeah," Jack said. "I thought I'd drop by for a few minutes."
"Everyone, this is Jack, my flat mate. Jack, this is Melissa," he gestured toward the blond woman he'd been sitting next to. "Joe, you remember him. Cassie, Kristine, Tara and…I'm sorry, I don't remember your name, love."
"Tease," Melissa squealed and shoved Derek playfully.
"You remember Dianna," Derek nodded toward the short brunette who he and Jack had shared a class the last term with.
"Hello," Jack said as he accepted the seat. He observed the group awkwardly as they began their conversation again about some subject at the University.
"So, Jack, I haven't seen you around lately," Dianna said.
"I've taken a bit of time off," Jack explained, "not really sure what I want to do yet."
"Brilliant," Joe complimented. "Otherwise you get stuck in something like Internal Medicine, like me, and hating every minute of it." The group laughed and Jack was confused for a moment.
"Don't listen to a thing he says, duck," Kristine explained, wrapping her arm through Joe's. "He loves every minute of it and he's going to be an excellent doctor." She leaned over and gave Joe an affectionate peck on the lips.
"Do you work, Jack?" Melissa asked.
"Yeah," Jack said. "I work over at the bookstore on West One."
"Oh, I know that one," Cassie piped up. "I go in there all the time. They have the best tabloid section." She giggled and the girls all joined her.
"Go get a coffee, Jack," Joe motioned to the group of cups on the table. Jack shook his head.
"No thanks, I don't really like it much."
Derek rolled his eyes. "They serve other things, mate."
Jack flushed slightly and glanced around the shop. There was only one other table occupied. The young couple there was completely engrossed in each other and oblivious to the world.
"Tell Emma that she should come and join us," Melissa called out and Jack frowned in confusion. Then he remembered something that Derek had said before; Melissa came to walk her flat mate home. Jack nodded absently and approached the counter, staring at the large sign above him that proclaimed hundreds of varieties of coffee.
"What can I get for you, sir?"
Jack shook his head absently and then glanced down at the woman behind the counter. "I don't…"
Green eyes met brown and the two stared at each other.
"It's…it's you," Jack whispered, vaguely wondering why his head felt full of cotton.
"The train," Emma whispered right back. She self-consciously lifted a hand to straighten her hair, which had been haphazardly pulled back into a ponytail earlier in the evening.
Jack cleared his throat and blushed slightly. He really hadn't ever thought he'd see her again.
"Erm, I'll take a tea, I guess. White with one."
Emma nodded distractedly. "Oh, yeah, right." She shook herself slightly and then gathered a cup and poured tea into it, adding the milk and sugar. "Here," she added as she set it down in front of her, tea slopping lazily over the side.
Jack couldn't seem to take his eyes off of her. She was even more beautiful tonight, with her messy apron and rather frazzled appearance. He smiled as the tea dripped down the cup.
"Oh!" Emma cried. "I'm so sorry. I'm not usually this much of a plonker!"
"It's alright," Jack said softly. He reached out to cover her hand as she wiped up the spills from the counter with a wet flannel. "I don't mind."
"Yeah," Emma breathed, looking up into his eyes again.
"How much?" Jack's smile widened as he watched Emma stare at him.
"For the tea," Jack motioned with their joined hands. Emma looked down and jumped as she saw her fingers still touching his. He held back a sigh of regret when she pulled away.
"Oh, don't worry about it. I made a mess of it anyway."
"I don't want to get you in trouble," Jack protested, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handful of coins.
"Honestly," Emma said, flushing even more brightly. "Don't think on it."
Jack nodded and swallowed thickly. "At least let me buy you a cuppa, or a coffee if you prefer." It was his turn to look down at the counter and blush. He could feel his face heating and took a deep breath to calm himself.
"I'd like that," she said. "My name's Emma, by the way."
"Jack," he answered and held out his hand for her to shake.
Derek leaned into Melissa's shoulder and, catching her attention, nodded his head to where Jack and Emma had sat at a small round table together.
"Well," Melissa said, raising her eyebrows. "I never would have thought…"
"Me neither," Derek mused. He was more than slightly amused that Emma had declined to join their group all night claiming that she should be working, but had just joined Jack with no protests at all. In fact, it didn't seem to him that she was even aware she was at work still.
"He's a good bloke then?" Melissa whispered to him.
Derek nodded. "One of the best. It surprises me though, he's usually really reserved, especially around girls."
"Emma's not really one to open up either."
They both turned and smiled to each other as the couple they were watching laughed and seemed very at ease together.
"Have they met before?" Derek asked.
"Not that I knew about," Melissa admitted. "Emma's never mentioned meeting anyone…well, except this one man on the train a few months back."
"The train?" Derek asked, his memory triggered by a distant and somewhat dreamy expression on Jack's face.
"Yeah, it was just before she moved down here to stay with me," Melissa offered. "My brother Carter came down here with her and we spent the day together. She told me that she'd seen this man on the train and he kept staring at her, but not in a bad way, you know what I mean. She said he was really cute and that it would always make her wonder what might have been if they'd been able to talk."
Derek grinned to himself. "I think they might have just been able to." He winked at Melissa and her eyes went wide in recognition.
"So…" Jack said, searching for a safe topic to spark some conversation. He really didn't think raptures over her beauty were the best way to start the evening.
Emma blushed again, but smiled widely. "Yeah."
"You work here."
She laughed and took a sip of her tea and then reached to add a bit of honey. "Well, yeah."
Jack blushed and grinned down into his tea cup. "That was stupid, I'm sorry."
"No, it's alright. I only started a few months ago."
"Really? Where did you work before then?"
Emma smiled at his question. He seemed genuinely interested in the answer and it didn't hurt that he was even cuter close up. His hair was just as messy tonight as it had been that day on the train. His brilliant green eyes sparkled brightly behind his glasses and the smile…it was enough to send her heart racing; completely crooked and it made his nose scrunch the tiniest bit. The only thing to mar the perfection that she found was a faint scar running all along the left side of his jaw, almost hidden on the underside and one peaking out from his hairline.
"I didn't, well, not around here anyway," Emma answered. "I just moved here actually."
"You live with Melissa, right?" Jack asked and then laughed at her shocked expression. "Derek mentioned something."
"Oh, how do you know them?"
Jack felt like slapping his forehead. She hadn't seen him with the group by the window. "Derek's my flat mate."
Emma laughed. "That explains quite a bit then."
Jack laughed. "Yeah, actually, it does. But I can't take credit, or blame, for him."
"Yes," Emma grinned. "He's…interesting."
"That's one word for it." The two laughed and then drank their tea for a few moments in silence. "So, where did you live before?"
"Oh, actually, I've lived with Melissa's family in Kendal since…well for two years now."
"That's where your family is from?" Jack wondered at his question as he caught a flash of pain in Emma's face. "I'm sorry—"
"No, don't be," Emma interrupted. "I don't have any family that I know of. Actually…I was in an accident a few years ago and don't really have any memory prior to that."
Jack almost dropped his cup as he sat up straight and gaped at her. "Are you taking the mickey?"
Emma shifted uncomfortably. "No, I'm not. Why?"
"It's just…well, I was hit by a car two years ago and…I don't have more than a handful of memories before that."
Emma swallowed hard and reached across to grip his hand. "I don't…" She shook her head. "I've never met anyone else," she whispered.
"Me either," Jack agreed. He gave her hand a quick squeeze but didn't let go. "Anyway, I don't have any family either."
"What do you remember, if you don't mind me asking?" Emma asked.
Jack shook his head and furrowed his brow in concentration. "Not many things. Flashes of light, mostly. I don't recall anything about my childhood, except a vague feeling of being very poor and not very happy."
Emma reached her other hand across and rubbed their clasped hands. "I don't even have that much to go on. I woke up in hospital with no memories—nothing to go on except a necklace around my neck. Sometimes I think I remember a bright light, but I don't know what it means."
Jack smiled in sympathy, but somehow they both knew it was genuine and not full of pity. "You've done well for yourself then."
Emma smiled. "I guess I've done alright. I have a fairly good job. I'm saving to be able to go to University soon."
"Me as well," Jack agreed. "I've been able to go two terms so far. It's a lot more expensive than I'd imagined. I worked two jobs as well as doing my courses; about wore myself out."
Emma laughed. "I bet you did."
"It'll be easier if I just earn enough that I can pay for everything up front and then have enough to live on. Although," he smiled wryly, "the way it looks I'll be doing it this way until I'm thirty." He snorted in humorless laughter and Emma joined him.
"We're in the same place."
They continued to talk about the University and all the subjects they'd both hoped to study, their work and many other things, completely ignoring the now-cold tea in front of them, and oblivious to the ticking of the clock and the world around them.
When the lights in the coffee shop turned off abruptly, Emma gasped, realizing that she was supposed to be closing up the shop.
"I'm so sorry," she apologized and gathered up both of their forgotten cups. "I've taken up all your time with your friends. And I'm going to get fired for not doing my job."
Jack grinned at her frazzled state and shook his head. "I had a good time tonight." He glanced at his watch and then swore softly. "Sorry," he blushed. "Is it really half-nine?"
Emma groaned in answer and hurried over to the counter. "I'm sorry."
"No," Jack ruffled his hair in annoyance. "It's not that. I just…I have to go to work. I'm already late." He smiled apologetically.
"Oh," Emma turned to face him once more. "The bookshop is open this late?"
Jack smiled. "No, I also work at the market just down the street stocking shelves at night."
Emma smiled and nodded in understanding.
"You'll be alright, here…alone I mean?" Jack asked.
"Oh," Emma started and glanced around to find the group of friends by the window watching the scene in amusement.
"We'll get her home safe for you, Jack," Derek called out and Jack blushed. He rolled his eyes and turned back to Emma, taking a step toward her.
"I…I really had a nice time tonight." Emma nodded in agreement. "And, I'd like to see you again. Erm, if you want to that is. I mean, we don't have to be at the coffee shop or anything. We could, I don't know, go to the pictures, or—"
Emma stepped forward and grinned at him. "Jack." Jack stopped rambling and smiled in embarrassment. "I'd like to see you as well."
Emma grimaced. "I've got to close again tomorrow."
Jack nodded and thought for a minute. "The next night then?" He hated that he sounded so eager, but he just couldn't hide it.
Emma smiled and blushed as Melissa gave a silent cheer behind Jack. "A group of us were going out clubbing, actually."
"You're welcome to come along, Jack," Derek called out.
Jack laughed and nodded. "I'm not too good at the dancing stuff," he confided softly to Emma.
"It's alright, neither am I," Emma agreed. "So, day after tomorrow."
Jack grinned and leaned in to kiss her cheek. "I've got to go."
Emma nodded and smiled in return. "Have a nice night." Jack backed slowly to the door and then, with one final smile, left the coffee house.
"Jack!" He turned around as Emma leaned out the glass door.
"What?" He grinned at her impish smile.
"That day on the train? What was it you liked about me?"
Jack frowned in contemplation and then laughed at her crestfallen face. "It wasn't just one thing," he said. "It was a hundred different things."
Emma laughed out loud, a sound that rang down the street like the peal of a bell. "I'll keep that in mind."
Missy sighed as she saw her flat mate once again perched in the window seat.
"Em, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," the redhead answered and then swiped angrily at the tears that had left tracks down her face. "It's stupid."
Missy joined the other woman on the seat and pulled her head down onto a welcome shoulder. "It's not 'nothing'. Is it Jack? Was he rude tonight or something?"
Emma snorted a laugh through her tears. "No. Jack was…wonderful. Everything tonight was out of a dream."
"Then what's the problem? You're not still worried that Carl is going to be mad at you? Because I told you, Cassie and I cleaned the whole place up while you and Jack were lost in your own little world. We only closed ten minutes late and besides, he'll never know."
Emma laughed again. "I know. You lot are such wonderful friends. I appreciate it."
"Then what's the problem?" Missy asked. She had a vague idea what it might be, and hoped she'd be able to help.
"It's just…am I a horrible person?" Emma asked, looking up at her friend pleadingly.
"What! Why on earth would you think that?"
Emma shrugged her shoulders. "Because I can feel myself giving up." It was then that Missy saw the ring and necklace clutched in Emma's hand.
"On him? The mystery man?" Emma nodded and Missy sighed.
"No, you're not a horrible person. It's been years, love. We've had this conversation before," she answered carefully.
"I know," Emma swiped at more tears. "It's just…"
Missy reached up to stroke Emma's brilliant red hair. "It's just that you've met someone that makes your heart race and you feel like you're betraying someone else by feeling that way." Emma nodded.
"Should I even be feeling this way about Jack?"
"How do you feel about him?" Missy asked. "I mean, you only met tonight, despite that 'miraculous and perfect meeting on the train'." Emma giggled at the dramatic tone her friend used.
"There's something there," Emma answered vaguely. "I felt it the moment our eyes first met. And tonight when he touched me…it was…like a spark. I feel completely comfortable around him, which is utterly ridiculous because I'm not even comfortable around myself."
"It doesn't hurt that he's really cute," Missy added.
Emma laughed, her tears close to being forgotten. "There is that."
Missy sighed heavily. "I think you owe it to yourself, and to Jack, to find out where this is going for you. Maybe it'll never be more than a few fun dates, or it could be something that lasts for a lot longer. But I think it's a healthy step."
Emma didn't answer except to nod against her friend's shoulder.
"And, maybe it's time to put the ring away for awhile." Missy closed Emma's hand over the ring until it was completely out of sight.
"Maybe it is," Emma agreed.
"You're a cold, cruel…little, little man, Draco Malfoy!"
The urge to laugh welled in him and Draco couldn't keep it in. Astoria had been getting more and more difficult to handle lately. She'd just become so…demanding. Wanting to know where he was at all times, who he was with and what he was doing. And then, after interrogating him for what seemed like hours, she would play coy and claim that she was needed at her parents' home, and that they expected her to remain pure before her marriage to Draco. He'd already had her several times, but she was a bit of a bore, really. Not an adventurous bone in her body.
"Fine!" she yelled, "I'm going to my parents."
Having had enough, Draco stood and walked casually to the sideboard in the richly decorated drawing room. "That will suit me just fine. Leave the ring, love."
She gasped behind him and he could picture her clutching at the full carat diamond ring. He'd spent a small fortune on the ring, but only the best could be seen on the finger of Mrs. Malfoy. And Astoria had definitely fit the bill for a beautiful Malfoy woman. She was tall and thin, and very, very blonde.
Draco hadn't had much to choose from in the way of pureblood women who weren't already betrothed. Only the best families still participated in the old ways. Astoria was young and idealistic. Give her a few months alone and Draco knew she'd come crawling back.
In the meantime, he would have one less person watching his every move.
"You don't mean that?"
"Actually," Draco drawled, holding up his glass of red wine to see the light from the window shining through the deep burgundy color, "I do." He took a sip, appreciating the full flavor of the wine, before looking over to see Astoria's paler than usual face.
"Fine," she snapped, she slid the ring off and tossed it at him, hitting him in the chest. The ring slid down to the floor and, rather than giving her the satisfaction of seeing him pick it up, Draco stepped over it, and sat back down at his desk.
"I'm sure you can find your way out."
Astoria screamed in rage and stomped off down the hallway.
Draco chuckled, sitting back in his chair and hoisting his feet onto the desk. How many times had he come into this same room and seen his father in this exact position? More times than he could remember, actually.
A twinge of annoyance at the old memories flashed through him and Draco yelled for his house-elf.
"Yes, Master?" The elf bowed low and Draco inspected his uniform. Unlike his father, Draco had a healthy respect for the magic of the house elves. Not that he thought they were by any means equals. But he did know that treating them as a servant, and not something that he had stepped in, would get him more respect than his father had ever been shown by the lowly little beings.
"Miss Greengrass has gone home for the evening," he informed the elf. "There will only be one for dinner."
"Of course, Master." The elf wrung his little hands, but bowed low and cracked out of sight.
Yes, Draco mused, the next few weeks would be good. Perhaps he'd even pay a call back to get a few more dress robes. He'd seen the young girl several times last year before Astoria had found out and thrown an embarrassing tantrum. Perhaps it was time to see if the shapely young lady was still around. He could always go to Paris as well…
Astoria would come to her senses, or rather Donovan Greengrass would convince his daughter that taking the Malfoy name would be in her best interest. He'd educate his daughter in what it meant to be head of a house such as the Malfoy's. Donovan himself was rumored to have several mistresses.
And she would come back, crawling on her hands and knees. She would put the ring back on, resume planning their extravagant wedding and spending his unlimited fortune, and learn to turn her head the other way when her husband came home smelling of another woman's perfume.
After all, Draco was on top of the world. The accusations he'd made about Potter in that slimy little Rita Skeeter book had brought his name back into the news again. He'd even been offered several thousand galleons for an exclusive of his own story of the Final Battle. Of course, if that were the offer now…they would pay ten times that in a few months.
He sipped at his wine, reveling in the silence of the huge manor house. Yes, Draco Malfoy had arrived.
A/N: The scene with Jack and Emma on the train in this chapter was inspired by a song. It was actually the very first scene written in this story, years ago when I heard the song. The story grew from there. House points to anyone who can guess as to what the song was. No, Deb and Ella, you can't win. You already know what it is. And no hints, either, you two! ;)