Author's Notes: Ok…so I have reached a whole new level of "lame loser." I admit. Literally 90 days since I've updated…I feel so friggin' ashamed. I'm so sorry!! Hopefully this chapter makes up for it.
P.S. Beenie!! I miss you!!
Cedric felt Brooke's arm slide limply from his shoulders as she stared in shock at her mother. He turned, leaving an arm wrapped snugly around her waist, and faced Melinda Stokes.
The resemblance to the girl at his side was uncanny. The same shade of dark brown hair was layered to her shoulders, encasing the same heart-shaped face. Critical brown eyes assessed the scene before her, zeroing in on his arm around Brooke's waist. Thin, stern lips were upturned in a smuggish smirk, and a perfectly shaped eyebrow was arched in question.
Her figure--not nearly as slender as her daughter's, but not quite plump--was encased in a navy blue pant suit, the coat unbuttoned to reveal a white v-neck shirt that clung to her curves.
She was attractive, but cold and hard.
She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, cold expression now fixed on them.
"Mom…what are you doing here?" Brooke asked, frowning.
Melinda smiled coldly. "You couldn't very well expect a mother to simply disregard the fact that her daughter was brutally attacked?" Her critical eyes slid to Cedric momentarily before coming back to her. "Glad to see that you're using your recovery time so…well," she mocked.
Cedric felt Brooke's body tense next to him, and he reassuringly squeezed her waist.
"I was attacked over a month ago, Mom."
Melinda nodded. "I'm aware, Brooke. That's why I'm here." she adjusted the bag on her shoulder. "There are some things we need to discuss. Leave your little distraction now, and come with me."
"Mom," Brooke admonished, but Cedric shook his head, murmuring her name. He stuck out his hand towards Melinda, crooked smile stretched across his face. "Mrs. Stokes, I'm Cedric Diggory. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The older woman stared at his outstretched hand as recognition clicked in her eyes, and she reluctantly shook it. "Amos' son, I presume?"
She eyed him critically, then shrugged. "She could do worse, I suppose. Tell me you at least waited until she was somewhat recovered before you weaseled your way into a vulnerable girl's pants, Mr. Diggory."
Cedric frowned, shaking his head. "Mrs. Stokes, I can assure you I'm not--"
"I'm sure you can, but I'm in no way interested. I'm here to talk to my daughter, not listen to mindless babble from testosterone-fueled nimrods. Now, Brooke, come on. We have things to discuss."
Brooke shook her head, outrage marring her face as she watched the scene unfold before her. She saw Cedric's shoulders stiffen at her mother's words, and the way her mother's eyes appraised him as if he were meaningless.
"Brooke," her mother said again.
Brooke glared at her mother, shaking her head. "No, I'm not coming," she said, reaching for Cedric's hand and pulling herself to his side. His fingers tightened against hers, holding her close.
The motion wasn't lost on her mother, who smirked and pushed a strand of windblown hair out of her face. "Don't be a spoiled brat," she laughed. "I'll be at Honeydukes, and I expect you there in a few moments." She shook her head at the obstinate expression on her daughter's face. "Brooke--"
Melinda sighed. "Say goodbye to the boy and come along."
And with a last withering glare at their entwined hands, Melinda Stokes turned on her heel and walked down the crowded sidewalk.
Brooke stared after her, fighting against the angry tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. Releasing an angry, shaky sigh, she turned to the boy at her side.
Cedric's jaw was cocked to the side, his gray eyes staring after the woman's retreating form.
He turned to look at her then, and he cleared his throat. "Well, that was…enlightening. Does all of your mother's greetings make you feel…." He trailed off, searching for the right choice of words.
"Like you've just been kicked in your goodies?" Brooke asked wry fully. She smiled slightly when Cedric chuckled, running a hand through his tousled hair. "I'm sorry about her."
Cedric shook his head, softly caressing her cheek. "Don't worry about it, love," he said, smiling. "I always thought you were exaggerating. It appears you weren't." He sighed, searching Brooke's troubled eyes carefully. He hated the uncertainty he found in them. As if her mother could ever change the way he felt about her. He smiled and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. "You'd best get going. Wouldn't want to face your mother's wrath again." She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a hand. "I'll be right here waiting for you."
Brooke sat down across the booth from her mother, arms folded tightly over her chest as Melinda settled herself into her seat. Her mother's dark eyes roamed across the establishment, cataloging and critiquing, before coming to rest on her daughter's face. She swiped at a stray hair against her cheek. "Is everything so juvenile here?"
"Considering most of everyone here IS juvenile, yes," Brooke said.
"What's with the tone, Brooke?"
Brooke laughed harshly, leaning forward against the table. "Are you serious?" she demanded. "You were unbelievably rude to Cedric, for one."
Melinda rolled her eyes, smoothing her hands over the tabletop. "Oh, for God's sake, Brooke. Is that what the problem is?"
"Mom, the things you said were outrageous. You insulted him--and the things that were you insinuating…"
"Insinuating? So it's not true then?," Melinda interjected. "The two of you haven't 'tangled in the sheets' or whatever it's referred to now?" Brooke's mouth opened and closed for a moment as she struggled for an answer before finally snapping it shut. Melinda smirked. "I thought so. At least it's someone with some kind of social standing, which is probably more than any of the others have been."
Brooke stiffened at her mother's insinuation, and her eyes narrowed. "There's only been Cedric," she stated firmly, furious her own mother would even think such a thing.
Melinda waved her statement away. "If you say so." Brooke opened her mouth to argue, but she quickly cut her off. "Now, the reason I'm here. I spoke to the prosecutor, and the trial will be starting within the month, which means we only have a few weeks to prepare your testimony. We'll need to find something suitable for you to wear--you need to look like a victim, not a harlot. And we'll need to--"
Brooke shook her head as her mother droned on. "I'm not testifying." She crossed her arms at the outraged glare she received. "I'm not. Aidan told me the evidence was overwhelming as it was, and that there was no need to relive it. The photos of me after the attack, the car that he stole…it's enough to convict him without bringing me into a courtroom." She shrugged. "Besides, I hardly look like a victim anymore," she said, gesturing to her face and arms.
It was a long moment before Melinda spoke again. "Aidan," she said, her voice laced with disdain. She had never been fond of her stepson, and the feelings were much the same on his end. "The boy doesn't know what he's talking about."
"The boy," Brooke said, "is my brother. And he's been doing this for a long time. He knows what he's doing."
"He doesn't know what's best for you."
"And you do?" Brooke braced her palms against the table, trying to keep her voice level and low. "Who decided to rush me to the hospital last year when my fever spiked to 104 and wouldn't go down? Who took me to dinner and a movie in another city when you and Dad were making life so miserable I couldn't take it? Who stitched me back up again--inside and out--over the holiday break? Not you. As I seem to recall, you were never there. Aidan was."
The smile on Melinda's face grew with every passing comment, until it was a cruel, mocking smile. "Things like that happen, Brooke. Children get sick, they get heartbroken. Parents fight. It happens everyday. Parental supervision wasn't needed. However, it's not everyday that a chance to really get your name out in the Wizarding community comes along,…no matter how horrible a situation it might come from. Who better to help you with that than your mother, who happens to spend everyday in the public eye everyday?"
Brooke stared at her mother, heart sinking deep into her stomach. So this was the reason….Melinda Stokes hadn't been worried sick about her daughter--wondering if all of her bones were set, if her scars were healed.
She'd been looking for a publicity stunt.
"Is that all I am to you?" Brooke whispered brokenly, fighting back the tears that welled behind her brown eyes.
Melinda smiled again, cocking her head to the side. "What? Of course not. You're my daughter'; I'm your mother. I'm just looking out for you future. The more the Ministry hears your name before you graduate, the better your chances of a guaranteed position in it is." She shrugged. "This is a perfect opportunity. They pay attention to the Muggle legal system and all that--not that they really understand it. But, honey, admit it. Your name certainly isn't ricocheting off the walls of Hogwarts."
Brooke stared down at the table, no longer able to fight the tears, but too afraid--or ashamed--to let her mother see her cry. Years of insults, of degrading comments, echoed through her head as she listened. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not popular enough….
But enough for Cedric. Enough for Aidan.
Enough for ME.
She set her jaw and raised her gaze to her mother face. Melinda was shuffling several papers from her bag, rambling about different defenses, different attitudes to show in court, the best ways to get the Ministry's attention. And Brooke finally realized that she would never have her mother's attention.
Melinda's startled gaze shot to her daughter's face for a brief moment before glancing around Honeydukes, a faint blush covering her cheeks when she saw other people staring. She turned her gaze back to her daughter. "Brooke Sophia Stokes…lower your voice, and stop making a scene," she gritted through her teeth.
Brooke merely scoffed. "Why? I thought attention was what you wanted? For God's sake, Mom….will I ever be enough for you? Why can't you look at me--just once, really look at me--and see that I'm trying? I'm trying and I am succeeding. Maybe not the way you did--who could ever measure up to you, the Great Melinda? But I am making a name for myself here. Not in huge numbers--but in little ways that mean more than that. In the older classmate who I tutor because I happen to have a gift for charms. Or the heartbroken girl who just wants someone to talk to and just notice that she's standing there. Or in the boy who branched out and held something…so incredible….out to her, and would not give up, even when she pushed him as far away as she could.
"You once told me that I had a one in a million shot of making my mark in this world, Mom, if I decided to go my own way; to make my own decisions based on my own feelings, on my emotions. The one thing that made me 'weak.' Well guess what…I AM on in a million. And you do not control me anymore. Because I see now that it wasn't my fault. It was never my fault."
She laughed softly and gathered her coat in arms, shaking her head. She began to scoot out of the booth, but stopped to stare at her mother's hard face. "You know….do whatever you want. Get my name out there. Tell my story to the Ministry or anyone else who wants to hear it. Bask in the fame. But don't count on coming back to your daughter. From this second on….I'm not her." She stood up, slipping on her coat and flipping her hair over the collar. "Good-bye, Mother."
She walked away then, feeling the stares of the other patrons of Honeydukes, and yet knowing --without a doubt--that her mother's gaze was not one of them.
The minute she stepped outside, releasing a pent up sigh, a warm pair of fingers found her hand and she smiled, letting herself be enveloped by Cedric's strong, protective arms. She felt his lips press a gentle kiss on her forehead, and she breathed in the scent from the crook of his neck.
"Are you all right?" he whispered, his fingers trailing her spine through her heavy coat. She nodded against his neck, pulling him closer. He chuckled against her hair. "You were absolutely breathtaking, Stokes…I didn't think you had that spunk in you. Remind me never to piss you off."
Brooke laughed and swatted his arm playfully, pulling back just enough to press her lips against his in a passionate kiss. THIS is what she was placed on the planet for--to love this man, and this man alone. To stand in this spot, wrapped in his embrace, and just feel well.
"So, I have this idea."
Cedric laughed, running a hand through his hair. "Those are famous last words if I've ever heard them."
He ducked Brooke's half-hearted punch, and wrapped his arm around her waist, tucking her right under his shoulder as they walked through the courtyard.
It had been a month since Melinda Stokes had showed up in Hogsmeade. One month since Brooke had cut herself off from her mother entirely. One month since she'd heard nothing from the elder Stokes woman. And in that one month, Cedric had began to see Brooke blossom more than she ever had before. She walked as if carefree--no worry in the world. Her dimples--those two little dents that showed up in her cheeks when she grinned with all her heart--showed up more and more. Like right now, as she grinned up at him in anticipation. He smiled and pressed a kiss to one. "All right…what's this grand idea?"
Brooke shrugged. "Well…Easter break is coming up soon--which I feel is a pretty big deal, considering how well our last break turned out." She grimaced playfully. "Anyway…I remember you saying that your parents were going to visiting your aunt over Easter and that you weren't really sure what you were going to do for a week by yourself…So I sent a little letter to Aidan and…" She stopped, twirling to stand in front of him, hands clasped in front of her almost in prayer like fashion, that dopey grin plastered to her face.
"And?" Cedric asked, smiling, for he had a very good idea where this idea was going.
"And," Brooke continued. "He agreed that it would be a great idea for the Golden Boy of Hogwarts--who just happens to be dating his favorite and only baby sister--to join us for Easter. Of course, he insists on the whole separate bedroom thing, but he is actually a very heavy sleeper, and with a few muffle charms or something ingenious like that, we could very well get away with anything," she added, arching her eyebrow seductively.
Cedric laughed out loud, shaking his head. He pressed his forehead against hers and pulled her close. "Stokes, are you suggesting that I ravish you in the same house as your brother? Didn't you say he was a cop or something? And carries one of those awful gun things?"
Brooke waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, pish posh, he's just a big teddy bear," she said. "But yes, that is exactly what I'm suggesting." She shrugged. "Besides…Aidan has pretty much figured out just how serious we are, and he's insisting that he meet you before too long. He'd probably have hopped a plane out here eventually. I just beat him to the punch." She stared up at him, crooking her finger into the collar of his Oxford and smiling again. "So, what do you say, Golden Boy? You up to the challenge?"
Cedric smiled, kissing her softly. "If it involves a whole week with the most beautiful woman in the world by my side, I'm up for anything you can dish out, Stokes."
Brooke squealed a happy little squeal and jumped up and down for a long second, causing Cedric to laugh and wonder once again what stroke of luck had brought her to him. She smiled up at him. "This is so great! You are going to love Las Vegas, Ced, I promise! And you're going to love Aidan too…he'll probably pull the whole 'what-are-your-intentions' and 'what-makes-you-think-you're-good-enough' schmeel with you, but I promise that he will eventually warm up to you."
Cedric laughed softly and took her hand, letting her lead him onwards as she discussed her grand plans for Easter break. And with every crazy idea--which he doubted half of them would ever be completed--he couldn't help but think just how madly in love with this energetic American he actually was. And just how lucky he had gotten.
Okay, so there wasn't enough Cedric in this chapter for my taste, so I went back and added that last little segment. So taa-daa! Finally an update!! Hopefully I haven't lost all of you in my absence (which I once again greatly apologize for!!) and I get a couple reviews….which would be amazing. In the meantime…I will get to work on the next chapter, and I hope to hear form you all soon!!