Chapter 1 : Laugh Your Heart Out
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“He’s cute,” Iris said. She nodded to a guy walking a few paces ahead. From my standpoint, I could only look up at his shaggy blonde hair, and notice his plain shirt and baggy jeans. Perhaps my sister and her best friend Diana, being much taller, could see something in him I didn’t. I struggled to keep up as they navigated the busy city streets.
“He’s strutting like a peacock!” giggled Diana.
“You’re right!” said Iris, bursting into laughter. She proceeded to demonstrate an exaggerated swagger, causing Diana to giggle harder.
The boy glanced back at us, and smirked at Diana and Iris, now doubled over. They looked up and choked back their laughter at his stare.
“What’s your name?” Iris asked, causing Diana to turn scarlet.
“Nice to meet you, Oliver,” Iris said, struggling to keep a straight face as Oliver raised his eyebrows and stalked off.
My sister’s laughter announced her before she entered the room, and it echoed in the mind once she was gone. It was the last thing I heard before falling asleep, and the sound that usually woke me up in the morning.
“Oh my goodness! Mum, did you see this one?” Iris’ voice resonated in my room, causing me to come groggily into the waking world. She had always been an early bird, the only one to personally greet the paper boy as he went along his route. She always spent Sunday mornings listening to the wireless and reading the comics.
“No, dear,” Mum was answering, as I climbed out of bed and made my way downstairs.
“Well,” Iris said, laughter creeping into her voice, “There’s this owl, and he’s delivering a newspaper or something, and he’s flying over a neighborhood. But then a bunch of mice run onto the street below him, like a hundred, and he gets distracted and flies down to get a snack. And then in the next frame, you see two people sitting with their coffee, and one’s asking the other why the paper is late. And outside their window you see the mice carrying away the newspaper, with the owl tied up behind them!”
I was only five or six, and even I could tell that the comic was a bad one. But nothing could hold back the torrent of giggles that escaped Iris’ mouth as she finished the story. And as always, I couldn’t help it; I cracked a smile too.
When she left for Hogwarts, I looked for her laughter in the other things she loved; daisies, sunshine, tomato soup, card games. By my sister could not be replicated.
“Mum,” I sobbed, a handful of drooping daisies clutched in my hand, “When is Iris coming home? I picked these for her.”
“Sweetie, she only left a few days ago,” My mother said, “But we can send these to her, if you want.” She gently extracted the flowers from my fist with one hand, and hugged me with the other. She led me to the kitchen table, where together we tied together the sorry little bouquet and sent it off with the family owl along with a tearstained letter from me.
“Let’s have of tomato soup for lunch,” Mum said then, “How does that sound?”
“Is Iris having tomato soup at Hogwarts?” I asked hopefully.
“I’m sure she is.”
“Then yeah. I want to have the same lunch as her.”
Days felt emptier without my sister around. I had friends from around town, of course, but they didn’t laugh like Iris. Every time my sister left for school, it took me a while to recover.
“Let’s play hide and seek!” My friend Gracie said, as we sat in her backyard, bored to tears.
“Naw, I don’t feel like it,” I said, picking at a piece of grass. Iris hated hide and seek.
“Exploding Snap, then,” Gracie said, “My brother forgot his set when he went to Hogwarts.”
“I don’t like Exploding Snap.” Iris didn’t either.
“House?” Gracie suggested, “We could be sisters, locked in the attic by our evil stepmother.”
“No!” I said quickly. Iris was the only sister I could ever have.
When she came home for Christmas, Easter, summer, Iris would never have changed. She may have gotten a little taller, or her hair grown longer. As she got older, her homework load got heavier, the amount of makeup she wore a little larger, and she even sometimes had boys to write to. But her laughter would never have changed; it still lit up the room, erased all the bad thoughts from the vicinity.
“Iris!” I cried, leaping into her open arms as she stepped off the Hogwarts Express.
“Oh my goodness, you’re so big!” Iris said, ruffling my hair. “Ready to go to Hogwarts next year?”
“Yes!” I said happily, grabbing her hand as she embraced our parents. Dad took her trolley for her, and we made our way off the platform.
I relished in the smell of my sister’s strawberry shampoo, the silky feel her hand against mine, the clarity of her gleeful voice. She had so much to tell after another year at Hogwarts; her friend Diana had dated a boy for a full eight months now, her O.W.L.s had gone well but her Potions practical could have been better, and she went to Quidditch games more often after she finally learned the rules.
I didn’t bother to tell her about how I’d broken my leg falling from a tree, or how I’d dropped a Galleon down a drain in the street, or how a boy had told me I smelled bad. Instead, I listened to her life, soaking up every detail. When she finally ran out of breath, I told her instead how high up I’d gotten on the oak next to our house, and how I’d run barefoot through the streets one rainy day, and that a boy had moved in next door to us.
When I got to Hogwarts, it was heaven. Never mind that I made a bunch of friends, or that my teachers liked me a lot, or that I finally had a wand and was learning how to use it. Because for the first time in five years, I got to see my sister everyday again.
“Iris! Hi!” I finally found Iris sitting with a bunch of friends at the Gryffindor table. They all stopped talking and turned to look at me as I greeted my sister. “Can I sit with you?”
“Poppy, you’re in Hufflepuff,” Iris said gently, mussing up my hair with a soft hand, “you have to sit at your own table.”
“But I want to sit with you.”
“I want to sit with you too,” Iris said, turning all the way around in her bench so that her knees brushed mine. She took my hands. “But one thing you have to learn while you’re in Hogwarts is that you do a lot of things on your own for the first time. Tell you what,” she added, noticing my pout, “I’ll meet you outside your common room tomorrow morning, and I’ll walk you to breakfast.”
“Ok.” I said, and skipped off to my table.
Another thing my sister liked to do was run. She wasn’t a world class athlete, but she was fast. When she ran, her legs flew out and around, her arms pumped madly, and her luscious dark hair streamed out behind her. She liked to run in the rain, with puddles splashing her up to her waist, and in the sun, so that she could feel the sweat run down her face. She would race anyone ignorant enough to suggest it, and took joy in other running games as well, primarily tag. Even as she grew into a lovely young lady, she still took joy in throwing on cutoff jeans and shabby sneakers, and running all over our property, until she collapsed in exhaustion.
I sat by the lake, doing homework with a few of my new friends. The air was cool and crisp, and I knew this was one of the last days I would get to sit and chat outside comfortably. I huddled deeper into my cloak and reached for my textbook, as a scream pierced the air.
All my friends jumped and looked around wildly, but I would’ve known that shriek anywhere. I stood up and searched for my sister, only to see her laughing wildly as a boy chased her around the grounds. Her bare, pale feet were a blur and her breathless, giggling mouth was lined in scarlet lipstick.
The boy was tall, taller than Iris, and he was laughing too. I was satisfied to see that even though he was a boy, Iris was still faster than him. Finally, gasping, she came to a large tree near me and began climbing it. The boy grabbed her scrabbling ankles and pulled her down into a heap on the ground. Still laughing, they kissed. And I, a scrawny first year, thought, This is love.
Iris taught me a lot of things. She bought me clothes, showed me how to waltz, even lent me a touch of lip gloss once. She and I took a Muggle cooking class during Easter vacation, just for laughs, and when she passed her Apparation test she would take me Side-Along to beaches. I hated running on the beach, because my feet got swallowed by the sand, but she spent many an hour running while I swam.
“Come swim,” I called lazily, floating on my back and allowing myself to be rocked by waves. I folded my hands across my lap and closed my eyes.
“Not yet. I want to get good and hot.” She said, her voice already fading as she took off.
“You’re missing out.”
There was no reply, and I relaxed, content with the knowledge she was nearby. I didn’t have to open my eyes to see her running pell-mell, forehead glistening, laughing as she ran through flocks of surprised seagulls. Her chest would heave in her bikini top, bluer than the water, and her legs would be cased in her usual jean shorts. Never mind that jeans were too warm to wear at the beach; Iris preferred jeans to everything else, and that was that.
I let myself drift with the waves, too hot from the sun and too cool from the water at the same time. It was so peaceful. If I wasn’t careful I’d fall asleep…
I shrieked wordlessly as Iris ticked my foot. I squirmed and inhaled sea water, which spewed out of my mouth as I laughed.
“What in the world was that?!” I asked, once my laughter was spent.
“You looked too calm,” Iris said, “I had to sneak up on you.”
“You would mind if your peace and quiet was disturbed,” I grumbled, but it was half-hearted. Iris grabbed my ankle and pulled me under once again. I could hear the gurgle of her laughter underwater.
Iris became fascinated with traveling during the summer before her seventh year at Hogwarts. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with life, but she knew she loved seeing new, different places. She saved up all her allowance, her babysitting money, her meager wages waitressing at a dinky diner in Diagon Alley, so that she could travel over Easter break. Mum was disappointed she didn’t want to spend the holidays with the family, but I was even more excited than Iris. I looked in travel magazines and told her where she should go, what she should do. I was interested mainly in the US, but Iris had other ideas.
“I want to go to China, or India maybe,” Iris said. She twirled a finger through her hair absentmindedly. “The thing about America is you hear about it enough to be able to picture it. Asia, well, Asia is alien. I want to see things I’ve never dreamed of.”
“How will you talk to people?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Other people have gotten along fine, going to places where they can’t speak the language.”
“Maybe you’d be better off going to Paris or somewhere nearby,” I suggested.
Iris shrugged and looked into the fire for a long time without answering. “You’ll feel it someday,” she said finally, “You’ll feel it under your skin, in your blood. You want to see everything, do everything. You get an itch, realizing you’ve been nowhere. And the only way to scratch it is to go far, far away, and surround yourself with a little experience, a little taste of another corner of this huge world.”
I picked at my socks. America was still my first choice. But Iris was set on something alien.
In the weeks leading up my sister’s big trip, she got more and more fidgety. She couldn’t sit still in class, and was restless during meals. She didn’t loosen up until she was outside, running like the wind. I began to look for her through the windows when I was in class, convinced I’d see her wandering the grounds when she had a free period. I realized it was a physical feeling, that itch of Iris’. I hoped it wouldn’t take a toll on her.
“Thank goodness it’s Christmas!” My sister exclaimed as we climbed off the Hogwarts Express. “I need to be in London and surround myself with strangers again. It’s too cozy, walking the halls and seeing all your ex-friends and your teachers and your boyfriend’s best mates everywhere you look.”
I didn’t answer; I rather liked seeing a friendly face around every corner. Apparently Mum agreed with me, because she made Iris come home with the family before letting her loose in the city. Iris hedged and complained, and I worried that she was becoming a moody teenager a few years too late.
Iris was in and out of the house constantly the first few days of vacation, her mood visibly better when she’d gone for a walk. I left her to her own devices, but finally, a few days before Christmas, I tagged along as she Apparated into the city.
Iris was silent and unsmiling as we walked. I resisted the urge to take her hand, as well as the instinct to point out the things that normally would have had her rolling on the ground laughing. A swaggering young man passed us, as well as a girl with hot pink hair toting a dog in her purse. There were free samples of fudge that Iris didn’t spare a glance at, and we passed all her favorite shops without a word.
We approached a crosswalk, and Iris broke into a run. I pushed through the crowd to follow, but all I knew of the next minute was what I could hear: a honking car, the screech of brakes, and a totally and completely un-playful scream.
I finally made it to the cross walk, and saw my sister, her leg twisted unnaturally and blood splattering her forehead, sprawled on the pavement. I felt my heart stop beating. A man was crouched over her, the door to his car still open, and I rushed forward, my cries caught painfully in my throat.
“Iris?” I whispered, kneeling next to her face. I brushed her hair off her face with trembling fingers, bloodying them. When she didn’t answer, I grabbed her shoulder and shook it. “Iris!”
“Is she your sister?” asked the man next to me. “Miss?”
Kneeling there, with the life draining out of my sister and no way to stop it, I regarded her face. It was oddly peaceful while unconscious. I clutched her arm while the sobs wracked my body, hearing sirens draw closer.
Iris was supposed to laugh. She was supposed to run. She was supposed to go to Asia and scratch her itch.
I sat beside my dying sister, and wept. I wished that instead of clinging to her, holding her life in, I could pour health into her. I wished I could stop the bleeding with a wand, instead of a bone white fist. I wished I could make her laugh again.
Just then, I let Iris’ life go, and took my own into my hands.
That was the moment when I utterly and completely became Poppy Pomfrey.