Chapter One: An Inexperienced Mother
Holly awoke with her heart pounding and tears still pouring down her face, but she was safe and warm in her room in Number 7, Stanhope Terrace, Kensington, London. Looking up at the painted night sky on her ceiling, she tried to calm herself, if even a little bit. The dream had been vivid, but it had only been a dream, not a vision. Praise Allah for that, thought Holly as, finally, she began to calm down a bit.
She'd been having several of these types of dreams lately, so vivid that it felt almost real. Remembering the last bit of the dream, and shuddering violently, Holly took the cuff of her red silk pyjama top and wiped her lips off until they were red and sore. Then she wiped the tears away from her eyes and got up. Glancing at the window at the dark morning sky, Holly guessed that it was around five in the morning. A quick look at her alarm clock confirmed this. Sighing as her heart rate continued to slow to its normal pace, Holly wandered into her bathroom and switched on the light, blinking and squinting until her eyes adjusted.
It was then, when she looked in the mirror, that she noticed that she was drenched in sweat. "It's those nightmares," she muttered peevishly, stepping back into her room for a moment to grab some of her winter clothes, including her treasured red pea coat. Then she took an hour-long hot shower.
By the time she was out and dressed, someone was knocking on her door. Quite loudly, it seemed, for six in the morning.
"Who is it?" Holly called, tying her hair up even as she spoke.
"It's me. Your mother," came the reply. Her mother. Alexandra.
"Oh, um... come in, then." Holly said, now beginning to wrap one her black hijabs around her head. The door opened, and Alexandra swept in, looking tired.
"So what's the problem?" she asked, seating herself in one of the leather armchairs by the dying fire and stoking it up until it was blazing nicely.
"How do you know I've a problem?" Holly asked, finishing with her hijab and sitting in the other leather armchair that faced the first one.
"Oh, I can tell," Alexandra said mysteriously. "You've been crying, haven't you? You took a shower, just now, but your nose is still a smidgen red. Do you need a handkerchief?"
Holly shook her head firmly. "No, I don't need a handkerchief. I'm fine."
"Is it boy troubles?" Alexandra pressed on. Holly sighed, trying to be patient.
"It is, isn't it? It's not that boy Cas, is it?"
"No," Holly repeated through gritted teeth.
"Because if it is-"
"I told you, it's not boy troubles!" Holly insisted. "What do you want, anyway?"
Alexandra frowned. "Well, I couldn't sleep. I was wondering if you'd like to go shopping with me today. I daresay you could do with some new clothes. Nimrod may be a dear, but he's hopeless at fashion. Have you seen what that man wears? Atrocious."
Holly frowned anew. "I like my clothes, and Nimrod's suits aren't that bad."
Alexandra waved her away as though swatting a somewhat irritating gnat. "Holly, do you have even one girlfriend to hang about with? Even a mundane?"
Holly thought for a second. It was true that she spent most of her time in the company of her brother, her father, Cas, and Groanin, but she hadn't ever thought of that as being particularly negative. And she did hang about with John and Philippa, when given the chance. "I've got Philippa," she said finally, and Alexandra sighed.
"I thought so. Philippa lives in New York, dear. Not in London. Not near enough to make any real difference." Alexandra studied Holly's appearance, making Holly feel extremely self-conscious and small, as though she had been placed under a microscope.
"What is it?" she finally snapped.
"Not a lick of makeup..." Alexandra muttered to herself, and Holly scowled. She was liking her mother less and less as the conversation went on.
"It makes my face itch." Holly said coldly. "And it makes me feel like a clown."
Instead of criticizing Holly's pronouncement, Alexandra nodded. "I never bothered with makeup, myself. I can't blame you for disliking the horrible stuff." Holly couldn't resist glancing at Alexandra's hands, decorated as they were with complicated henna designs, and raising an eyebrow. "And what about your hair? I don't think I've seen it at all. You wear those silly scarves over your lovely hair all the time."
Holly felt slightly hypocritical, but crossed her arms. "It's called a hijab, and I like them. They're pretty."
Alexandra shrugged, looking away from her daughter and down to the crackling fire, absentmindedly picking up the fire tongs and stoking it up a little more. "That's right, you were raised Muslim. I nearly forgot."
Holly's temper flared. "That's right, you were the one who dropped me like I was a piece of garbage."
"I had no choice, Holly." Alexandra said quietly. "You don't understand-"
"What don't I understand?" Holly asked derisively, feeling quite out of control now. Usually by now, Mark, Cas, or Nimrod would have intervened, but now it was just her and Alexandra.
Alexandra looked once again at Holly, studying her anew. "I had my reasons for entrusting you to Adam Coomes rather than your father. Reasons that I cannot share with you now. I will, though. I promise. Just not now."
Holly uncrossed and then immediately recrossed her arms again. "Why?" she wanted to know, still inclined to be hostile.
"We don't yet know each other. Now, please come with me shopping. It'll be fun, I promise." Alexandra coaxed.
Holly sighed in defeat. She did enjoy going shopping (as all young djinn do,) and it was true that in the area of clothes, Holly had been forced to mostly fend for herself in London. "Oh, all right."
Alexandra seemed delighted. She put the fire tongs back on their hook on the hearth, and clapped her dark, heavily hennaed hands together. "Wonderful! When will you be ready? Does an hour sound like enough?"
Holly shrugged, which Alexandra seemed to interpret as a yes. Glowing, she rose from the chair and bustled towards the door. "Very well, then. Make sure that you're ready."
The door clicked shut behind her, and Holly sat back in her chair, soaking in the heat of the fire, and gazing up at the starry ceiling. What was it about Alexandra that made Holly want to strangle her half the time? It could be that Alexandra had the gift of prophecy, like Holly, though, if Nimrod was to be believed, Alexandra's 'visions' were quite a bit different from Holly's.
It could also be that Alexandra was simply like that: she could be infuriating one minute, and positively sweet the next. Number 7 had been thrown into chaos since they'd arrived back from New York to find Alexandra waiting for them. Although... The more Holly dwelled on it, the more she thought it might be worth it to get to know Alexandra. After all, Nimrod must have seen something in her in the first place, to marry her. Holly wondered if Alexandra had always been the way she was now, so volatile and quite frankly unpredictable. She still didn't know if she'd always been like that, and Holly's curiosity had become greater than her resentment.
Sighing, Holly tried not to think about how awkward this shopping trip with her mother was going to be, and eventually, her thoughts turned back to her disturbing dream.
Now that she thought about it, those dreams were turning out to be a bit of what Alexandra called 'boy troubles,' but not at all in the way that she'd seemed to think of. The first time that Holly had met Azazel, he'd kidnapped her and threatened her life in order to obtain Cas's cooperation. The next time, in Madrid, he'd all but killed her. If it hadn't been for Gabriel, Holly doubted that she- or for that matter, anyone who happened to be on the entire European continent- would be alive. That had been the last time she'd seen Azazel in person, but a few months ago, both the visions and the dreams started up.
The visions were starting to make sense, being mostly warnings about the imminent War that Azazel was plotting, but the dreams were erratic. Sometimes she was in the underground prison, sometimes she was locked in a tower, sometimes she was just sitting in a field... The setting varied, but the events were all essentially the same. Azazel would come, taunting her, and she'd ignore him at first, but then give in and respond in kind. After a while, Azazel would resort to violence, rendering Holly practically helpless, and finally, ending with that same, terrible, horrible, passionate kiss. Holly shivered. The dreams certainly weren't visions or prophesies, so thankfully, they'd never come true, but Holly still had the niggling feeling that they were trying to tell her something. Something rather important.
Holly shook her head in a vain attempt to send the dream from her mind, then decided to go down to the kitchen to find something for her breakfast.