My comfort eating fest gave me quite the nasty stomach bug. I'd been ill for only about a day, but that day had been filled with quick trips to the bathroom, where I held my hair from my face while I coughed and choked up my half-baked, grief filled cookies into the clean white bowl of the toilet. To make things worse, I shifted my position to kneel in front of the porcelain basin, only to have the hard wooden seat lid slam down hard on my head, almost propelling me face first into the loo.
Well, I thought, things can only get better from here. Next time I'd have to remember not to bake. As far as things went, my cooking was usually edible, but baking was a whole other board game. I gagged again but didn't bring up anything so I wiped my mouth on a tissue and flushed the loo, sitting back against the bathroom radiator while I waited for the shivers running through me to subside.
No POE officials had arrived so I assumed everything had gone smoothly at the morgue and I'd obviously not been reported by Drake or Cassie either. When the POE officials weren't off preventing the exposure of witches and warlocks, they acted as muscle men for the 100. I never knew what to make of them. Part of me said they stopped the normal people hunting us with pitchforks, but part of me said they'd be the ones to deal my death sentence if I 'offended' a 100.
I needed Nandos. My mother had always admonished my eating after throwing up, but at that moment I didn't care if it came back to haunt me. I'd eaten nothing but crap and cookies since Harry had died and needed the sustenance. Thinking of Harry made me look at the tunic hung on a temporary washing line above the bath. After mending the small rip and washing it, I could almost pretend nothing had happened, and that Harry was just out with friends or downstairs flicking endlessly through the only four channels we could get on our practically medieval TV.
I stood carefully and splashed some cold water on my face from the sink, before grabbing my toothbrush from where it stood in a mug on the side. When I'd brushed my teeth, hair and applied copious amounts of deodorant, I decided I was public ready. Pulling some socks and my brown leather wrangler boots onto my feet, I grabbed the car keys from their dish and made my way down to my dark green beetle.
I slipped on my black jacket from where it lay on the back seat and grabbed the T shaped ice scraper from the glove compartment to start battling the frost that settled on the windscreen. My mind wandered to Drake and Cassie's invite. They'd seemed like decent people and I probably owed them an apology. My mind was set on that and I resolved to stop by the arena before Nandos.
Climbing into the driver's seat, I turned the engine on and wacked the heating up to full blast, watching as the foggy lines on the windscreen slowly retreated to the outer most corners. As the green square numbers on my dashboard clicked to nine o'clock, I pulled my fingers through my hair to begin braiding it, mind flicking through events while I waited.
Drake had been very direct. My face began to burn with embarrassment. Better to go in prepared to face the music than to have it sneak up on you, I thought, tugging at a knot that formed in the plate. Admitting to stalking and bad chat up lines was one thing, dating was something else, I concluded. I didn't know Drake and he didn't know me. There was no way that he could want more than friends from me if we'd never been friends in the first place. But then again, when it came to dating or any kind of romantic attachment, I was the biggest, most socially awkward rock at the bottom of the deepest ocean. My chances with Drake were not high at all.
Besides, I thought, putting the car into gear and reversing out of the narrow space before heading down towards the bleak buildings I saw ahead, I should focus on my dismal career before I thought about love. I hardly wanted to continue working on just over minimum wage for the rest of my life and my manager didn't seem intent on moving soon. Maybe I should find another Thorntons branch, I wondered as I pressed the CD player on and turned the volume up on my Neon Trees mix.
When I reached the car-park that was slowly becoming my regular, I reluctantly turned down the music. Don't give me that look, I thought at an elderly woman that gave me the evils. I'd listen to my music as loud as I pleased. I turned it back onto full blast and began singing along to 'First Things First' while I parked up into an empty space, taking the key from the ignition before '1983' could begin.
During the brisk walk to the warehouse, I prayed that they'd taken a day off from training. My apologies were often more offensive than I meant them to be. When I'd been much younger, I'd told my primary school teacher during an 'apology' that I was sorry that she was too stupid to see I was right and that I fully understood she couldn't help it. Of course, my mum had been called but was thankfully too busy that year to make parents evening.
When I made it to the corrugated iron door I was shivering. The cold had sliced into me faster than I'd been expecting and I wished I'd worn a thicker coat. I pressed my nose and mouth into the coat's collar, breathing in and out slowly to warm them. Taking my hands out of the tiny pockets I reached for the bar to open the door.
Just as I'd put a hand on it, the door opened inwards without my consent, revealing Drake and a chatty Cassie who followed behind. Whatever she'd been saying died on her lips when she saw me. Drake looked as though he'd been fighting; he held his golden crown-like mask and wore the green and tan leather fighting tunic that was traditional for members of the Fortier family. Cassie on the other hand wore a Hollister t-shirt and a short lacy skirt. The only sign that she paid the cold weather any heed what so ever was the token scarf and black thermal tights she wore.
"Hello," I tried, hoping to break the silence. Drake's eyes crinkled in the strange eye-smile he used and I could tell he was thinking back to our first conversation.
"Hello," he replied, his voice gentle. He looked at me with a funny mix of concern and humour.
"And so, the sexual tension is re-established," came Cassie's hushed stage whisper from behind us, narrating her version of events. I laughed at this, thanking God that they didn't seem angry.
"I'm sorry for running out on you two the other day," I told them, hurrying a little bit but also trying to think carefully about the words before I spoke them. "My brother…" I trailed off, searching for the right word. "My brother died a few days ago." I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked quickly for a moment. "I wasn't in the right frame of mind to hang out with you then, but I would be happy if you would join me for Nandos today." I sagged in relief. I'd done it once, now I was sure I could do it again, should anyone else ask.
Cassie whistled. "I'm not sure what I was expecting when you ran out, but I was not expecting that." She bought her arm up and hugged me close to her. "I'm sorry we tried to push Nemo on you."
Drake gave her arm an awkward pat, behaving so differently today than he had when he'd just come up and hugged me.
"Don't worry 'bout him," Cassie told me. "He wouldn't know sibling love if it came up and bit him on the arse." I sniffed and almost choked on a laugh when Drake sent evils to Cassie over her shoulder.
"You have siblings then?" I asked her as we stood in the arena doorway.
"Twelve of the bloody things! Some of those are half-siblings though." Smiling cheerily, she let up on the hug. "I'm cold," she moaned. "I believe you promised Nandos?" She batted her long eyelashes at me.
"I said you could come to Nandos, not that I would pay," I told her, amusement colouring my tone in a way that had been absent for the past few days.
The fluttering eyelashes turned to Drake.
"Fine, I'll pay for us," he surrendered. I went to protest but Cassie beat me to it.
"Don't worry darling! He can afford it." She winked at me and moved past me to get outside. "Where are you parked? If Fortier's doing the paying, you can drive us."
"And what are you contributing to this little outing?" Drake's voice floated out from startlingly close beside me. Cassie looked offended that she'd even been asked.
"I will be the glorious entertainment, of course!" She twirled theatrically and danced down the path, the layers of her short skirt fluffing up behind her.
I heard him chuckle deeply and his breath ghosted briefly over the back of my neck, making me well aware of how close he was standing. Almost propelling myself forward and away from the goose bumps Drake had chased down my spine, I beckoned to the two of them.
"Come on then! My car's this way."
Cassie and Drake followed me for the chilly walk back toward where I'd parked. Our three sets of footfalls syncing as we walked the short distance back.
When we reached my little car, Cassie was hugging her hands under her armpits and shivering.
"It is freezing out here! Why on earth don't you park closer?" said Cassie.
"Don't mind her," Drake said. "She's gotten too used to being picked up at the door."
"Hey, it's not like that butler dude minds! He's paid to pick us up at the door," she argued back.
"Correction: he's paid to pick me up at the door. You just tend to be my plus one."
The witch's mouth opened and shut again while she tried to find something to say.
"'Plus one' would imply that I wasn't invited. I was very much invited."
"By yourself," I mumbled into the collar of my coat, though clearly enough that they heard it.
Drake snorted and Cassie looked shocked.
"Oh, not you too. I get enough about it from him!" She turned and tried fruitlessly to open the car door before I'd unlocked it. Giving up, she made a little noise and stomped back over, giving me enough time to fumble about in my pocket for the keys. I handed them to her with a smile.
I followed her round to where she wrenched the passenger side door open, clambering quickly into the sheltered warmth of the car, returning the keys to me with my fluffy dice key ring pinched between her thumb and fore-finger.
Drake had already moved round to my side, opening the driver's door for me and standing beside it expectantly. The move struck me with the image of him as a puppy, waggling a long fox-like tail as he waited desperately for his owner's approval. Without thinking, I put a hand up to pat his head. By the time I'd realised what I was doing, I snapped my hand away as though I'd been burned, only to see him looking at me strangely.
Drake would be good at our magic, I thought to my brother's memory. I could picture Harry slouching lazily where he sat on my shoulder, wearing his brown skinnys and blazing red tunic. In my mind's eye Harry looked relaxed, sitting on one of his tiny bare feet and letting the other hang down from my shoulder to just above where my hair came to. His hair was ruffled but his expression was that of someone truly free.
"Are you okay?" Drake's voice dragged me back to reality, where I stared back at him and the open door with a dumbstruck look on my face.
"Yeah," I mumbled, trying to shake the image of Harry from my mind. I had Nando's to eat and royals to entertain. Daydreaming could wait until tonight.
I climbed into the driver's side, pulling the seatbelt round from behind my leather seat. Drake got in behind us and scooted over to the middle, leaning in against the cup holders between the two front seats and I thanked him for opening my door a little too belatedly for my liking and I mentally shook myself for seeming ungrateful.
"It's okay, darling," Cassie said, clapping me on the shoulder in an exaggerated display of camaraderie. "Technically he's doing it for his own gain since the motive is to get into your panties."
"Hey! I can be gentlemanly when I want to be," Drake cut in, shuffling about in the back. I felt my cheeks flame at his obvious discomfort in the cramped backseats of my little car. When Harry and I had bought it, I'd liked how small it was. My car was compact and cute. After all, good things come in small packages.
From what I'd heard, I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Fortier was driven everywhere in a stretched limo, driven by an exact look-a-like of Alfred from 'The Dark Knight' movies.
"What's your butler's name?" I asked, out of the blue.
Drake blinked a few times before answering. "Most of the time I ask Trevor, but it changes day to day. Why do you ask? It's not so glamorous you know," he told me, massaging the back of his neck where he was craned over the arm rest in front. "Most of my family's hired drivers are ex-bus drivers who used to cart school children about."
I chuckled. "I didn't ask whether it was glamorous or not. I just wanted to check you didn't have a butler named Alfred or Jeeves or something."
Cassie snorted. "I'd pay any butler named Alfred double," she declared, waving her arms and almost knocking my air freshener loose.
When we arrived in the town centre, I parked in the multi-story near the Odeon, despite Cassie's persistent attempts to convince me she wouldn't live through another short walk to Nandos.
"But I'll freeze," she moaned. "I'll become a big Cassie-shaped popsicle and neither of you will be invited to my funeral!"
"Damn." Drake turned to me. "We'll be missing the celebration of a century, I'm sure," he drawled sarcastically, while he fished inside his bag for a jacket to conceal the fighting tunic with. With the black super-dry hoodie on, he looked like a completely different person. The arena and its dress code had always seemed medieval to me and cast that light on everyone it touched.
Wandering down the ramps of the multi-story and across the road to Nandos, Drake and I bunched up on either side of Cassie to act as her 'wind breaks'. It struck me again at how normal they acted for royals. Drake was especially different than I'd first presumed.
Being the first born son of the Fortier household and their one and only heir, Drake had everything he could wish for, including the mountainous riches of his families vault. It seemed obvious to me that he'd grow up pig headed and arrogant, just like the other 'first generation' royals.
Cassie surprised me less, as, although the Logan family were both established and wealthy, Cassie was the seventh born child of an obscure branch of their family, and so had grown up much the same as I had: in a middle class family. The only difference seemed to lie in that while she'd tested magically powerful and had been chosen for a career winning prize money from arena fights,, I'd tested below average, and had pit my hopes of a well-paid lifestyle on the snobby delights of an all-girls grammar school.
A warm feeling settled in my stomach while we ate, along with the realisation that I was getting to know them as people, rather than as royalty. I felt special to be able to chat with them about my mundane job, and have them praise it as a position of importance in chocolate heaven.
I learned that while Cassie was a regular customer and preferred food that set her tongue alight, both Drake and I ranked low on the peri peri spice chart, only rising to a medium on occasion. Cassie reminded me of Harry somewhat, with her care free nature and natural flare for dramatics, but she was much more refined than Harry could have ever been, with her neat manicured nails and elegantly plucked brows. My little shoulder image of Harry nodded his agreement and grimaced slightly at the thought of plucking his eyebrows before his face relaxed into whatever hazy breeze had caught him.
"So is he fighting this year?" Cassie asked, tilting her head a little.
My eyes passed between the stony cold expression Drake wore and the excited bounce of Cassie as she hopped about in her seat anxiously.
"Er… yeah?" Cassie clapped and grinned manically while Drake turned to look out the window, looking morbid. I really couldn't tell if that had been the right or wrong answer at this point.
"Oh goody! I haven't fought the Knight yet." She squealed again like an obsessive school girl. "I'm glad he's participating in the Tournament. It'll be so much fun!"
I was at a loss for words. What could I say? That the Knight was dead? The entire idea of equality for all magicians had sailed? An idea struck me.
Just because Harry had died, didn't mean his ideals had too. The revolution that would allow the average, everyday witches and warlocks to fight in the Tournament was still in full force. People enjoyed the challenge the Tournament posed, they loved the idea of the games and how great the thrill of fighting with magic was. The martial arts spin that my brother and I used only added to the appeal. All they were missing now was a leader to bring them the opportunity they deserved.
"That could be you," a little voice whispered in my ear and I looked towards where Harry's apparition sat, his eyes trained on mine, looking entirely focused. When he next opened his mouth, I heard nothing but silence, though Harry's voice still spoke in my memory. We'll be unstoppable once you join.
I had to find out who killed my brother. I had to find out why. It was eating me alive and I couldn't stand it. I had to know for certain.
What better way to do that than to become a Knight? I could fight as well as Harry, I could use the same movements and I could weave my magic to mimic his. The mask and tunic were mine, as the new magical head of our family. All I needed now was to make a decision.
Could I do it?
But would I?
"Yeah," I smiled up at her. "The Knight is ready."
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