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Chapter 2 : Of Rain, Back-Up Plans, and Al Potter
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“Sarina! Sarina, hold on!”
It’s not often that I get run after, someone calling my name in desperation, needing my attention. So, when it does happen, I just ignore it because, while I recognize the use of my name, I just automatically assume that the random person who is yelling my name is calling out to a different ‘Sarina.’ I don’t really know how many there are in Wizarding London, but let’s just assume that there’s one more than me.
“Di,” Aisha said, throwing an arm around my shoulder in an effort to stop me from moving. “I’ve been calling out your name since Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor. Why didn’t you stop?”
“I didn’t know it was you! I’m sorry,” I said apologetically, wrapping my arm around her for an awkward side hug. “Hi, though,” I offered her a smile. “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“Well it was me and I was calling out to you,” she said, linking her free hand through mine. “Anyways, I just bought Samir and Janvi’s anniversary gift,” she lifted her right hand to show me a Things Remembered bag. “And I was wondering if you wanted to put your name on it? I know you haven’t had much free time recently, and I highly doubt getting our darling bhai and bhabi’s wedding anniversary would be of much importance to you. Besides, shopping is a bitch.”
I stared at her in surprise. “Well, well, well, Little Miss Diplomat finally broke out of her shell. Is my potty mouth rubbing off on you?”
She glared at me. “Oh, shut up.”
She hit me on the shoulder.
“It amazes me how you will yell at me for every little thing I do, but the second someone says a single thing about you, good or bad, you shut up completely. Almost as if someone had cut out your tongue and you couldn’t speak even if you wanted to.” I said to her, stopping in front of the window of Flourish and Blott’s, staring at the books set up in the display. “Why are you like that? Shy in front of people that you aren’t close to?”
“‘How to Succeed in Charms Without Really Trying’,” Aisha recited, ignoring my question. “Interesting, except you generally don’t really have to try in Charms anyways.”
“Of course you do!” I turned to her in surprise. “There’s all this wand-waving and reciting at the same time and it’s like if you don’t tilt your elbow properly the pillow will blow up instead of float.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “Er. Okay.”
“I’m serious, Aisha! Do you know how many times Lauren Finnigan has told me the story of how her father got his eyebrows burnt off?”
“Which time?” she deadpanned. “I seem to recall hearing many stories of lost eyebrows in that household.”
“Funny,” I deadpanned.
“Not to them,” she shot back with a smile.
I stared at her.
“Alrighty then,” she said brightly. “Shall we move on?” It wasn’t really a question, but she posed it that way nonetheless.
“Wait! I’m debating,” I reached out to grab hr arm. “That book might actually be useful for me to have...”
“You’re a Healer,” she tugged on my arm, her tone filled with disbelief. “You murdered your Charms exams.”
“Good point,” I said, letting her pull me away. We walked in silence for a couple of steps before I realized I hadn’t seen her in a week, and it was slightly odd for me to bump into her in Diagon Ally on a Wednesday afternoon in May. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Oh,” she stiffened slightly, “I, er. I was watching Adi and Sid, and then Samir and Janvi came home, talking about the party and I realized that, er, I didn’t have an anniversary gift for them. So I came here as soon as I could and bought one.”
She was lying.
I knew this for many reasons; first and foremost, I was the one who was watching our nephews this afternoon. My shift at Mungo’s didn’t start until 9 o’clock tonight, I had no plans, and Janvi had bribed me with the promise of a nice, home-cooked lunch. Actually, she had offered the lunch first and then I had broken off my plans with Ella and Scarlett, citing vague excuses that I’m pretty sure my best friends saw through. When I next saw them all, Louis was going to make me regret my decision of picking food.
The second reason was that she was making hand gestures, which was something she only ever did when she was trying to distract someone from what she was telling them. Usually it worked, but I knew her too well.
“Really?” I asked easily, not wanting to call her bluff just yet.
“Yeah,” she eyed me warily, clearly wondering whether or not I believed her. “Why?”
“Oh nothing,” I shook my head, a little smirk creeping onto my face. “It’s just that I was the one who was watching Adi and Sid today, so I dunno...”
She blanched. “Sarina.”
“Why are you actually here?”
The situation probably shouldn’t have amused me as much as it did, but honestly? My sister was 22, a journalist on the fast-track to success, and a beautiful girl with many, as my father would say, prospects. It wasn’t unlikely that she was sneaking around with a boy. In fact, I was expecting it. I just wanted her to be able to tell me the truth.
“Ma and Daddy and set me up,” she told me, jaw clenched. “I met up with the guy for lunch today in Muggle London and I hated it and I’m never going to see him again. I didn’t want you to know because you would make fun of me.”
She was right. I would make fun of her. In fact, I had been trying to hide my laughter behind my hand since she said, “Mom and Dad set me up.” The rest of the information was useless, but that...
That one sentence was priceless.
“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” she whined. “And it was horrible. And this is precisely why I didn’t tell you!”
“Aisha, I’m sorry!”
“It’s not funny, Sarina. Samir’s been married for 10 years and you’re off doing your Healer thing so I’m the one that’s used as a peace treaty when trying to smooth over political enmity. Brilliant. Never mind that I’d really love to have my own life, romantic or otherwise, without our parents butting in all the time. Thanks for laughing at me, it means a lot.”
“Aisha,” I said apologetically. “I’m really sorry.”
“You’re really not,” she mocked. “Because you say this every time I tell you something. It’s like everything you say has to be sarcastic or funny or there has to be humor in everything. God, grow up.”
She wasn’t wrong. I did try to make everything funny or a little less serious. Maybe it was because I had grown up being an adult. Middle child syndrome had sucked for me, especially, since my older brother helped out with the family business, politics, and my little sister was there to look cute. I didn’t have that option. I had to be serious and talk to my parents about things they understood, or I didn’t get to talk to them at all.
Then I grew up and got sick of it.
And so I let myself change, act my age, and have fun. As far as I could help it, I wasn’t completely serious unless I was inside the hospital. Outside, though, I was something different.
I wasn’t just doing this to be difficult, though. Once people found out who I was, they were able to use me. I was careful about who I let close, but I wasn’t a cynic. My walls were up but they weren’t thick. My dates weren’t exactly few and far between, but I wasn’t going out every Friday night. I wasn’t bitchy, I was careful.
Aisha, though...Well, she was a bitch. And eventually my mother decided she had had enough and started setting her up with boys of various friends of my father. Unfortunately, they were all from affluent families and Aish had it in her head that our parents were using her for political reasons.
That was nowhere near close to the real reason, which was that my mother was just a meddling person who was trying to make her daughter happy, but I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that.
“Di,” she said irritably, snapping her fingers in front of my face. “I appreciate your moral support.”
“Aisha, I’m sorry,” I repeated for the third time. “What do you want me to do?”
“I am supportive.”
“You laughed at me and then zoned out in the middle of our conversation. Obviously my life is not interesting enough to have your attention.”
“I’m sorry, I really am. It is, I promise. You can talk to me whenever you want about....uh, what was his name?”
“Jai,” she snapped.
This set me off into another round of hysterics, because I could never imagine someone as white-washed as Aisha ending up with some kid named ‘Jai’. It was only the most common NRI boy name, second to none except maybe ‘Ram’ or ‘Neil’.
Apparently she’s had enough, since she stalked off into the middle of the street, disappearing into the crowd within seconds. I stared at the spot she’d been in thirty seconds ago, still laughing, before I decided it was time to find her again and calm her down. Despite our differences, Aisha and I were cut from the same cloth. I knew I needed to apologize. If I was in her place, she’d be groveling.
Unfortunately, the minute I blended in with the crowd, I realized that there was no way in hell that I’d be able to find my sister in this. Everyone was wearing black wizards robes, and there were more than enough women with dark curly hair to confuse me.
Aisha would not be found.
“Bloody hell,” I groaned, leaning my head back to stare at the sky. It hadn’t started raining yet today, which was unusual for London, but the skies were starting to darken. “Why me?”
“Well,” a voice drawled from my left. “That’s not something you hear a woman say everyday”
I spun around in surprise, unaware that anyone had been listening to me in the first place, only to see a very familiar looking man with brilliantly green eyes smirking down at me. He was leaning on a pillar, one hand shoved in his pocket, the other clutching the strap of his messenger bag.
“‘Why me’?” I said slowly, furrowing my eyebrows.
“Actually no,” he replied. “That I hear everyday. I think it’s something to do with the fact that every woman thinks she’s special and that whatever higher power exists in this world is only out there to make her life miserable.”
“Well,” I humored him. “Women, huh? Such egotistical people I have never seen before.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said wryly. “Just trying to point out the over-dramatized aspects of everyday life.”
“What are you, a writer?”
“Auror, actually,” he replied. “I don’t know if I mentioned that the last time we met.”
“Al Potter,” he said, sticking his hand out. “Auror, if I didn’t mention it before, uncle, and one time visitor at St. Mungo’s. Nice to see you again, Healer Shah.” Painstakingly, he said my name correctly, jogging my memory until I found that moment in the St. Mungo’s corridor, nearly six months ago. I had forgotten about that. Until now.
“Yeah,” I cringed, running my hands over my face. “I distinctly remember yelling at you in the corridor for saying my name wrong.”
“One of the most memorable moments of my life, I can assure you.”
“For the record, you never mentioned that you’re an Auror.”
“I did, less than a minute ago. But don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you.”
“Well, thank you, that makes me feel much, much better.”
It didn’t actually, considering how attractive Al was and how interesting he seemed to be. I had the distinct urge to impress him, and I had a feeling that my current attitude wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Plus, I didn’t want him to remember me as the Healer who fyelled at him in a St. Mungo’s corridor for saying her name wrong. How embarassing.
I was incredibly surprised at how he didn’t question my lack of reaction at his identity. His aunt and my mother had worked together at various points in the last ten years, and I’d met his dad more times than I could count on one hand. Besides, when you’re famous yourself, you don’t feel the need to read gossip rags. There’s stuff about me plastered in there, and I stayed away from those. That I didn’t care who he was made no difference to him.
“We can start over, if you like,” he offered me a smile and his hand. “Albus Potter. But you can call me Al.”
“Sarina Shah,” I said, only a little reluctantly.
“Nicely done! That was a completely normal introduction, much better than last time. Though, I hear Ravenclaws are smart enough not to make the same mistake twice.”
“Ravenclaws don’t make mistakes,” I corrected him with a smirk. “Everything we do, we do it right.”
“Is that so?” he smirked in response. “Well, putting aside our first meeting, I distinctly remember the Christmas of our Sixth Year, December 2020...you were in my year, right?” At my nod, he continued. “Yeah, you lot were supposed to pull a prank but something went wrong with your signal, and I guess it just didn’t happen. What’s your excuse?”
“Our...pyrotechnics guy,” I smiled, half-sheepishly, half-amused that he’d remembered, “ended up having to go home for the holidays, which was an unforseen setback.”
He clicked his tongue. “Not good enough. Any decent plan should have back-up.”
“How are you supposed to forsee something like that?” I asked laughingly. “It’s almost imposs...” I trailed off as it started to pour, staring at the skies incredulously as if that would make it stop. “It’s raining!” I yelled at Al.
Damn it. Now if I got wet, I’d have to go home and shower and change before I got to the hospital, and I’d probably have to whip up a Pepperup Potion just in case. I worked around kids in a hospital, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to catch a cold.
He was hurriedly trying to make it under an awning, and had grabbed my hand to pull me along with him. “Yeah, I figured that out for myself, funnily enough.”
“I should probably go!”
“What?” he yelled back at me, unable to hear me through the rush of people. I tugged my arm back, turning him around in the process, and he gave me an impatient stare. “What?”
“I should go. I have a shift tonight, I can’t be sick,” I explained. “It was nice seeing you again, though.”
“Wait, you’re leaving?” he asked confusedly. “Do you have somewhere you need to be?”
I looked down at myself, my clothes that were getting steadily drenched and then looked up at him. “Unfortunately. I have to go find my sister if she’s still here, and then make it home to shower, eat, and then get back to Mungo’s.”
“Are you walking?!”
I nodded curiously. “Why?”
He quickly unzipped his messenger bag and rummaged through it, before finding what he was looking for. With a triumphant expression, he pulled out a plain black umbrella and handed it over to me. “Here. To decrease your chances of catching a cold.”
“Thanks,” I said, stunned. I grabbed it without argument. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Anything to help the children. Wouldn’t want them to get sick or anything. Oh, and by the way, the rain was an unforseen setback. The umbrella’s my back-up.” He saluted, shot my one last smile, and then turned on the spot and left me standing under the awning outside of the apothecary with an umbrella in my hand.
I shook my head, blinked a few times, and then stepped out into the rain, opening the umbrella over my head.
That was different.
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