The following morning Henn and I entered the kitchen, where Grace sat at the counter, drinking coffee absentmindedly. Her blue eyes were staring vacantly ahead, and she had a small frown on her face. Henn and I merely exchanged looks and went to the refrigerator, knowing that Grace was predictably preoccupied about Remus and his new girlfriend.
Matters certainly did not improve that afternoon, when we actually met his new girlfriend.
It happened when Gaby woke up and informed us that she needed to work that afternoon. She had gotten a job at Madam Malkin’s, where she would help do the sewing and fitting of robes as the owner’s assistant.
“I don’t want to leave you, Henn,” she said apologetically. Henn’s train was leaving in the early evening, and we wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.
“Why don’t we go then?” Henn asked. “I miss Diagon Alley—in Sweden there is nothing that compares to it.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “Grace? How about you?”
“Sure. It’ll be fun,” she said with the enthusiasm of a person with the prospect of going to an ant farm rather than a day out with her friends.
“Great,” Gaby said. “Shall we Apparate then?”
“No, let’s walk.” Henn patted her stomach gingerly. “I need to lose all that weight from eating so much yesterday.”
“It was no more than normal,” I pointed out
We both laughed. “Okay, let’s get ready then. I can’t be late,” Gaby said, checking the clock we kept above the refrigerator.
About ten minutes later, we were leaving and Grace was locking the door behind us. Henn raised her eyebrows. “If you’re worried about intruders can’t you say some sort of spe—”
We all shushed her simultaneously. “Don’t talk about anything that has to do with the ‘m’ word here,” I said, wincing as I reminded myself of Petunia.
“We live around Mug—I mean…you know, that sort of people.”
“Oh, right,” Henn said, catching on.
“I just don’t want Mr. Livingston trying to sneak in,” Grace explained as we started down the stairs. “That man is just so—oh, hello, Mr. Livingston!”
Our landlord was at his usual spot at the steps, where he was sitting down on a chair and pretending to read the newspaper. As soon as he heard our footsteps he left his seat and stood up, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
“Good morning,” I said for politeness’ sake.
Mr. Livingston ignored me. “You girls had quite a little party last night.” He turned to Henn, suddenly realizing that he did not recognize her. “And who are you?”
Henn raised her eyebrows at his rudeness. “She’s our friend. She spent the night here,” I answered.
“I hope we didn’t make too much noise,” Gaby said apologetically, always the courteous one.
“Well, you did,” Mr. Livingston barked. “Couldn’t sleep at all last night on account of the pounding coming from upstairs. Honestly, young folk these days…”
Grace and I exchanged exasperated looks. We knew for a fact that Mr. Livingston hadn’t heard any noise at all, on account of the Silencing Charm we had placed upon our apartment. “We’ll try to be quieter next time,” Gaby said quickly, just as I was about to open my mouth and let out some rude retort.
“It’s funny,” Mr. Livingston started just as we were going down the steps and readying ourselves to make a quick exit. “I saw at least a dozen people go up to your flat last night, but only three boys left it. How do you explain that?”
“Bye, Mr. Livingston,” I said curtly, already turning on my heel. Grace and Henn followed, leaving Gaby to give a quick apology and hurry on after us.
“I seriously hate him sometimes,” Grace said matter-of-factly as we stopped near at the intersection, waiting for our turn to cross the street. Two guys who were waiting next to us stopped talking for a moment and looked us up and down.
“It’s not his fault,” Gaby said fairly, not noticing that one of the guys was particularly taking interest in her. Then again, men were always looking at her so perhaps she was just used to it. “Most of the elderly are like that.”
“You mean nosy and rude?” I laughed.
“Do you mind?” Henn said, glaring at the two. She was the tallest of us four and the most intimidating when she wanted to be. Finally, they backed off sheepishly, and we crossed the street, leaving them behind.
We were still giggling as Gaby stopped suddenly, looking at a pair of shoes displayed at a store. They were brown with two yellow puffballs hanging from the laces and completely hideous.
“Who would wear that?” she asked wonderingly as we all laughed out loud.
“Maybe we should buy a pair and give them to our lovely landlord,” I suggested, grinning mischievously.
“You wouldn’t,” Grace said challengingly.
“Try me,” I said as I entered the store followed by Henn and Grace and a complaining Gaby.
“You’re only joking, right? Guys, I can’t be late! Do you want me to be fired on my first day?”
“Relax, it’ll only be a moment,” Henn reassured her.
“Yeah, Gaby, relax,” I said. I approached the only salesman I saw and poked him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, how much are those shoes displayed at the window?”
He turned around and my jaw dropped. “Hello again,” he said.
It was Ray, the said landlord’s very grandson. This must’ve been Mr. Livingston’s shoe shop, the one he constantly bragged about. I looked around—it certainly wasn’t nearly as successful or as booming as he said. In fact, we were the only people present.
Henn and Grace, who had been currently challenging each other to trying on the ugliest pair of shoes they could find, turned around on their chairs and looked at me. Gaby stopped checking her watch nervously for a moment and raised her eyebrows as she too, realized who I was talking to.
“Nice seeing you again,” he said when I didn’t say anything. “Are these your friends?”
I blinked. “Oh, right. Sorry. This is Gaby, Grace, and Henn. Guys, this is Ray, Mr. Livingston’s grandson,” I said pointedly. Gaby and Grace widened their eyes, and Henn turned around to suppress her laughter.
“Oh, is this Mr. Livingston’s shoe store?” Grace asked, not able to hide her smile. Gaby was currently hiding her face, which was turning redder by the second.
“Yes, I help out here,” he said as Henn and Grace simultaneously burst out laughing. He smiled confusedly at them, and then turned to me. “So, you want to know the price of those shoes?”
“Actually, no,” Gaby interrupted, looking pointedly at me. “We should be going now anyway.”
“Yes, we have to be somewhere,” I said on cue.
Ray grinned at me. “I don’t blame you,” he said, leaning towards me. “They’re dreadful, aren’t they?”
“They’re certainly different,” I replied as neutrally as possible. Henn snorted.
Ray looked at the pair of shoes. “I told my grandfather to take them off the racks. They’ve been on display for about twenty years and no one has ever bought them,” he explained. “Unless it’s for some sort of joke or something,” he added. He then turned to look at me, raising his eyebrows. “So, who were you going to buy them for?”
“No one,” I said. “Just a little present for me.”
It was impossible to keep a straight face as Grace and Henn started laughing behind me again. Ray smiled.
“Lily,” Gaby hissed, pointing at her watch again forcefully.
“Oh, right. We should go. Good to see you again,” I said as Henn and Grace took off the shoes they had been trying on and put them back on the shelves.
“Feel free to drop by anytime you like,” he said as I paused at the door. “It’s terribly boring in here.”
I smiled and waved in response. As soon as we were out of sight and earshot, I said, “I can’t believe I was going to buy shoes for Mr. Livingston in Mr. Livingston’s own store. That would’ve been embarrassing.”
Grace laughed. “I doubt you would have anyway.”
“Sure I would’ve. As long as they were—” I paused as I checked my pockets for change. “No more than eight pounds. Unless he took galleons of course.”
I realized that Gaby was the only one not laughing. “What’s wrong? Don’t worry, you won’t be late,” I reassured her.
“I know,” she said offhandedly.
“Well, then what is it?” Henn asked.
“It’s just—” She stopped and looked at me from the corner of her eye. “Well, who was he?”
“Ray?” I asked, bewildered. “I told you. He’s that sour old man’s grandson.”
“I know. But why didn’t you mention him before? He seems to be pretty acquainted with you.”
“Very acquainted,” Henn snickered.
I raised my eyebrows as Henn and Grace exchanged identical devilish grins. “I only met him once, a few days ago. What do you mean?”
“He was flirting with you!” Gaby said accusingly, as if she had just witnessed me killing a man rather than meeting one.
I widened my eyes, blushing. “He was not!” I said hotly as Henn and Grace laughed at my expense.
“Really? ‘Feel free to drop by anytime you like’?” Henn imitated, batting her eyelashes.
“Looks like Lily has an admirer,” Grace teased.
“I do not!” I said indignantly. “He’s just nice, that’s all—”
“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. Lily is clearly not interested,” Grace said. She paused, and all three of them looked at me as we waited again to cross a street. Suddenly they were not laughing anymore. “Right?”
“Of course I’m not. I didn’t even realize he was flirting with me until you said so,” I said crossly.
Gaby and Grace were still looking at me suspiciously, as if I had not only betrayed James, which was what they suspected, evident from their expressions, but also them in the process. Finally, Henn said, “She’s right. I mean, usually, when you talk to a guy like that, you’re all over him. But Lily was totally cool about it, right Lily?”
“What do you mean a guy like that?”
The three of them looked at me like I was demented or something. “Oh, I don’t know—maybe because he’s completely good-looking?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice,” Grace said slyly.
“Not really. I mean he’s okay, I guess—”
Again they were looking at me like I was stupid.
“Are you insane? He’s perfect.”
“What?” I sputtered at Henn, completely defensive. “Oh, okay. This coming from the girl who’s dating Aaron Smith?”
For a moment Henn allowed a small smile to cross her face. “Yes, he is quite something, isn’t he?”
They were all quiet for a second as we crossed yet another street and thought about Aaron. I watched bewilderingly as Grace was the first to jerk out of her reverie. “Anyway, but Ray is just as good looking as Aaron.”
“Yes, he’s that gorgeous,” Gaby sighed, although a bit grudgingly.
I snorted at their dreamy expressions. “He is not.”
“Oh, really? Can you think of anyone else who is better looking?”
I paused. Okay, so I had noticed that Ray was certainly handsome, in a way. It seemed however that I was immune to his apparently godlike looks. I wondered why was it that I had not noticed something that to my friends had been evident and unmistakable.
“Well? Who were you thinking of?” Henn asked.
“No one,” I lied immediately. But the truth was, I was thinking of James, who although was not considered the epitome of handsomeness, had a sweet, caring quality to him that to me, made him very appealing. But perhaps he only had that effect on me, for I did not ever recall any of my friends drooling over James the way they were now doing so over Ray.
This thought was still troubling me as we reached the Leaky Cauldron and entered Diagon Alley through the back. Why was it that to me, James was infinitely better than this guy, Ray, who I didn’t even know that well? Who was I to judge who was better?
We stopped in front of Madam Malkin’s, and Gaby paused by the door. “So—I have a lunch break at about four. Do you want to meet somewhere?”
“Sure. There’s this one restaurant right past Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor—why don’t we eat there?” Grace suggested.
“All right. See you at four then,” she said, and then entered the shop, wincing as Madam Malkin scolded her for being late.
“Do you think we can pass by Gringotts?” Grace asked as we made our way across the cobbled street, looking at the various displayed items at the windows. “I’m a bit short on cash.”
“Sure, let’s go,” I said. But as we paused and let a couple and their handful of kids pass in front of us, I turned around and realized that Remus, Sirius, and a girl were across the street from us, apparently unaware that they were in our full sight.
The girl was obviously the infamous girlfriend that Sirius had been complaining about, evident from the way she was clinging to Remus’s arm and Sirius’s ‘kill-me-now’ expression. As he rolled his eyes and looked around, hoping for some means of escape, he caught sight of me.
I had been trying to discreetly block Grace’s view so that she wouldn’t notice, but to no avail. “Hey! Over here!” Sirius bellowed, his utter tactlessness apparent once more.
I watched as Remus turned around, his eyes widening as Grace and him stared at one another. Henn and I simultaneously grimaced as Sirius came skipping over, his relief obvious. “Thank Merlin you’re here,” he muttered. We glared at him forcefully but it went unnoticed as Remus and the girl were forced to come and greet us.
“Hey, girls,” Remus said awkwardly. He glanced nervously at Grace, who currently was looking from her ex-boyfriend to his new girlfriend and back again with a stunned expression.
“Hello Remus,” I said, as Henn nodded in greeting and Grace remained silent. For a moment we all looked down at the floor, trying to ignore the cheery blonde that was hanging onto the side of our friend.
“I see that Remus has forgotten his manners,” she said suddenly. I looked up and saw her grinning widely, apparently oblivious to the uncomfortable mood. Her teeth were brilliantly white, and rather blinding when looked at for too long.
Remus cleared his throat. “Right. This is Caroline. Caroline, this is Lily, Henn, and—” He paused, unsure how exactly to introduce her. “—Grace,” he concluded, unable to keep the slightly different tone out of his voice. Caroline raised her eyebrows and gave him a questioning look. When he did not say anything,
“It’s wonderful to meet you all,” she said cheerfully. “I’ve been wanting to for quite some time. Actually, I was wondering if Remus was trying to keep me a secret or something!” She laughed, and we all smiled uncomfortably.
“Nah, not at all,” Sirius said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“But of course I’m only joking,” she continued as Sirius’s comment went unheard. “I know Remus would never—why, dear, what is that on your arm?” She was pointing at Henn, who bewildered, noticed the smudge of dirt near her elbow. I watched as Sirius rolled his eyes and Remus grimaced, looking anywhere but at us. Sirius hunched his shoulder in a sort of ‘brace yourselves’ movement and gave me a pointed look.
“Oh, this? I dunno, I must’ve just bumped into—whoa! What are you doing?” Henn demanded as Caroline whipped out a handkerchief from her coat pocket and proceeded to rub it vigorously against Henn’s elbow. We all stared at her.
“Oh, I’m just decontaminating you, dear,” she explained as she folded her handkerchief neatly and returned it to her pocket, as if what she had just done wasn’t in the slightest an aberration.
“Caroline works at St. Mungo’s,” Remus said embarrassedly, as if that answered everything.
“Yes, on the second floor—Magical Bugs,” she said, as we all continued to gawk at her, speechless. “I take care of contagious maladies…for a moment I thought that spot on your arm was dragon pox—”
Henn gave her a suspicious look, and then checked her arm, which was suddenly swelling and appearing more like a rash. “It’s purple!” she yelped.
“Just a small side effect of the potion,” she replied nonchalantly. “Not to worry, dear, soon enough it’ll appear perfect, you’ll see.”
I looked at Sirius, who suddenly appeared to have swallowed a particularly nasty bug. “So, where are you all off to?” he asked pointedly, as if to say ‘let’s go, now.’
Henn and I were still looking at Caroline, both of us still clearly affronted from her invasion of space. “Gringotts,” Grace answered when we didn’t, although it was clear from her expression that she was hoping to remain speech impaired for the duration of the conversation.
“Gringotts!” Sirius exclaimed, as if he had just discovered the cure for dragon pox himself. “Why, I’ll just go with you three…I need to take out a bit of money myself—”
“Right,” Remus said, clearly relieved that he no longer had to talk to us. “I’ll just meet you—”
“No need, no need,” Sirius said, giving an awkward, forced grin as he glanced at Caroline. “I’ll just see you tomorrow.”
“It was simply perfect to meet all of you,” Caroline said as Remus attempted to tug her away from us.
“Yeah, bye,” Remus said abruptly and soon they were immersed into the crowd and out of sight.
For a moment we all stood there, speechless. It was Sirius who was the first to say dryly, “So. You’ve met perfect Caroline.”
“I’m surprised,” Henn said, narrowing her eyes at the place where Remus and Caroline had disappeared. “You weren’t exaggerating one bit about her.”
“She really does say ‘perfect’ too much,” I noted thoughtfully. “And she’s a bit too much on hygiene.”
“She attacked my arm!” Henn exclaimed, clearly outraged, as if we hadn’t seen the spectacle for ourselves.
“Yes, she does that,” Sirius said sagely. “Poor Peter is still afraid to go to Remus’s place after she sponged his face with some sort of concoction that kept his eyes swelled up for a week—”
“She better not ever show up at your flat,” Henn said warningly to me. “I’m so glad that Remus had the good sense to not show up at your party with her.”
As we reached Gringotts, I glanced at Grace, who during the whole time we had insulted Caroline, had kept quiet. “Sirius, you coming in?” she asked, frowning a bit no doubt because of the encounter.
“No, I just said that to get away,” Sirius said, grinning.
“Well, I’ll go with you, Grace. I need some money myself,” Henn said, and as she and Grace proceeded to go inside, Sirius and I waited out on the marble steps. For a moment I adjusted myself against the wall a bit uncomfortably—I was not looking forward to another row with him. Sirius, however, did not seem to be thinking about that at all. “So, where’s Gaby?” he asked.
I glanced at him. His anger for me from yesterday was apparently gone. “She’s at Madam Malkin’s. It’s her first day there.”
“That’s right, she got a job there. I suppose she needs one even though we won’t be able to see her as—why are you looking at me like that?” he asked, smiling amusedly at my expression.
“No reason,” I said suspiciously. “I’m just waiting for some sort of angry tongue-lashing directed towards me.”
For a moment Sirius did not know what I was talking about. Then, suddenly recalling, he said darkly, “Oh, right. You mean yesterday.”
I waited. “Don’t you look at me like that! I said that for your own good, you know,” he said, waggling his finger at me as if I was his child who had done something very naughty.
“For my own good!” I repeated disbelievingly.
“Of course,” Sirius said. He leaned against the wall near me and looked at me seriously. “Look, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t resent you a bit. He is my best friend, after all,” he continued, as if I hadn’t already known. He motioned towards both of us. “But we’re friends too, aren’t we?”
“Yes, you are my friend,” I replied earnestly, although I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“Exactly. So, what do friends do? They yell at each other when they do stupid things. And what you did Lily, was—sorry, but it’s true—very stupid.
“So, you see, part of it yesterday was because I wanted to defend James,” he explained even as I tried to open my mouth to retort. “But the other part of it is that you’re my friend, and when my friends do stupid things, I tend to try to correct them.” I smiled, a bit touched. “Okay, you might not think that you’re being stupid, but everyone else does.”
“That’s reassuring,” I said sardonically.
“Well, c’mon, Lily,” he said seriously, turning to look at me. “It’s like I said. Where are you going to find someone like James?”
“No where,” I replied honestly. “I know that.”
He studied me for a long moment. “Do you?” he asked. “Then why did you do it?”
“No, c’mon, why?”
“I already told you!”
“Right,” he said exasperatedly, rolling his eyes. “You think he’ll be better off. Come off it.”
“No, you come off it,” I retorted. “I don’t feel like fighting with you again.”
“We’re not fighting,” Sirius said casually. “Yesterday I fought with you. Today I’m just giving you advice.”
“Sounds the same to me,” I muttered.
Sirius ignored me. “Take him back.”
I exhaled deeply. “No.”
“Take him back,” he repeated.
“Damn it, Lily, take him back!”
I looked at him and was relieved to see that he was smiling. He shook his head at me, grinning. “Stupid girl.”
“I suppose you insult your other so called ‘friends’ also.”
“Yep, all the time,” Sirius said nonchalantly. “Take Remus for example. I call him a prat all the time now that he’s dating Ms. Hygiene.”
Our laughing came to an abrupt stop when Grace and Henn met us outside again. “Did you two kill each other while we were gone?” Henn asked jokingly, although I noticed that she was examining our expressions closely to see if perhaps her suspicions were correct.
“Not particularly,” I said, and Sirius grinned.
Henn raised her eyebrows at us, slightly bemused. Grace, who was putting the clinking bag of coins in her purse, said, “So, now that I have money, where do you all want to go?”
“Quality Quidditch Supplies,” Sirius said immediately, before we could even open our mouths.
“Why do you want to go there? You don’t even play anymore,” Henn pointed out.
Sirius shrugged. “It’ll only be for a second.” He looked at me. “Well, Lily?”
“Why are you asking me? I don’t mind,” I said, and Sirius smirked a bit disconcertedly.
“Excellent! Shall we then?”
It became clear why Sirius had insisted on going there when we arrived. In the corner, examining a broomstick was James. He hadn’t yet noticed our entrance, and Sirius bounded over to him while grinning devilishly at me. I gave him an exasperated look as he raised his arm and smacked James hard on the shoulder so that he dropped the broomstick he had been holding and his glasses flew off.
James spun around, squinting at his attacker. “Damn it! What the—oh, it’s you, git,” he said, immediately grinning as he recognized his best friend.
“Hiya, Prongs,” Sirius said as he watched amusedly James bend down and pick up the fallen broomstick and turn around to locate his glasses.
“Where’re Remus and Crazy Girl?”
“Got rid of them,” Sirius said casually. “Brought the girls though.”
James paused in his search for his glasses and turned towards the door, where Grace and Henn were admiring some Quidditch robes and I was standing awkwardly apart. He squinted towards me and immediate recognition came—even blurry, I’m sure he noticed my flaming red hair.
Finally, when he found his glasses, he gave a quick, furtive look towards Sirius and stood up facing me. “Hi, Lily,” he said sheepishly.
“Hi,” I said as Henn added, “We’re here too, you know.”
“Of course. Thought you had left already, Henn.”
“Nope, train leaves in the evening.”
“They met Caroline,” Sirius said, and immediately the two boys exchanged identically mischievous looks.
“So, what did you think about her?” James asked, although he looked at me as he said this.
“—insane!” Henn finished for me. She showed him her arm.
“Ah,” James said. “Yeah, she tried doing that to me too. She carries those handkerchiefs everywhere, I reckon…”
“So, we’re about to go out to eat, James,” Grace started. “Want to come?”
James glanced at me. “Er…”
“He’d love to,” Sirius said, patting him on the back so that his glasses dropped slightly lopsided. James frowned and straightened them again. He looked at me, as if asking permission to go.
“I don’t mind,” I said, half-irritated half-embarrassed.
James and I simultaneously blushed. It was like we were little kids again, awkward to be around the opposite sex. “Sure. I’ll go,” he said.
As James went to place the broomstick back, Sirius, Henn, and Grace all went outside, already walking to the restaurant. I realized that they had purposefully left me alone with him—I exhaled irritably. When James turned around, ready to head out the door, he too saw that I was the only one waiting for him and smiled uncomfortably. Once again I kicked myself for noticing how he looked—which wasn’t at all different from what he usually wore—but for some reason our break-up just heightened my senses when he was around.
“So, how are you?” he asked as we left the store and went out into the bright summer sunlight.
“Good,” was my immediate response, even though that was not what I had been planning to say. I glared at him for a moment, and he raised his eyebrows at me.
“Yes,” I said. “This is just—” I stopped, flustered. “Why are you like this around me now?”
James turned slightly pink. “What do you mean?”
“You looked at me,” I said exasperatedly.
He raised his eyebrows at me. “Well, I do that often.”
It was my turn to pretend that it was merely the heat that was causing my face to redden. “No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just—okay, if we’re going to be friends…friends should be used to hanging out and when we invited you to the restaurant you—well, you looked at me!”
“Well, I wasn’t sure if you wanted me there,” James replied earnestly. He frowned. “I mean, I knew that you let Gaby invite me yesterday just for politeness’ sake—”
“James!” I exclaimed, outraged. “How can you say that?”
James looked sheepish. “If it wasn’t to be polite—well, then why?”
I contemplated this. Yes, at first I had let Gaby invite my ex-boyfriend merely for cordiality, and also so that I could pretend that I was casual about his presence. But only now did I realize that I would miss him if he hadn’t been there—he completed our group of friends, and not having him around would feel undoubtedly awkward—his absence would’ve been undeniable.
Of course when I answered, I did not elaborate as fully. “You’re my friend. Why wouldn’t I have you there?” I said, and James smiled at me.
We paused at the restaurant’s entrance, and both of us reached for the handle, our hands touching. Our eyes met, and both of our faces flushed again. Before I could try and process what that look meant, I backed away, mumbling an apology.
“Let me,” he said and opened the door to let me through. I walked into the cool restaurant but still felt inexplicably warm, and as I paused and looked around to wait for James, I felt that for the first time in weeks, it seemed that the awkward atmosphere had been lifted off of us, and we were finally comfortable with one another again.
A/N: Hey guys! Hope your summers were all good and that your school year will be productive, good, fun, etc etc. Hehe. I know that this chapter was a bit uneventful, and well, boring. But not to worry. Next chapter will be better and hopefully, delivered more quickly.