The next day, Edwin took her over to the Rickety Walrus. Lily had been sure the day before that she’d misheard him, but when they got there, sure enough, the sign in the window had a sickly-looking walrus on the window next to bold lettering that read, “The Rickety Walrus.”
Lily glanced at Edwin in bemusement, and Edwin laughed. “Ask Annie,” he said. “I’ve never been able to understand it. Nice place, though.”
He turned the knob and opened the door. A little bell went off, and Lily’s estimation of the place went up several notches before she even stepped foot in the door. It was silly, but one of her least favorite things about the muggle world was the fact that most stores didn’t have bells above shop doors. Apparently, that was not going to be a problem here.
And she loved doors that opened into a building rather than out.
She only liked the place more when she actually stepped inside it. The aroma of different kinds of teas, coffees, and hot cocoas wafted across the room, and when she put her foot on the first of the four short wooden steps that led to the main floor, the step actually creaked.
Lily had always liked creaky floors. They reminded her of home; both Grimmauld Place and the Burrow were impossible to sneak around in, because the floors were constantly squeaking in protest to the continuous traffic across them. She had many fond memories of chasing her brothers across those floors, long before they’d decided that they wanted to court death for a living.
The entire shop was littered with mismatched chairs, tables, and couches. Victorian era-style chairs were pushed up against very modern looking block tables, and a chair that looked vaguely like a hollowed-out egg sat less than a metre away from a glass table with two wooden chairs careless pushed up to it.
There were also matching brown leather couches sandwiching a table that both looked like they would be more at home in a stuffy office – like her uncle’s – than a tea shop, though the man who had scorned the fuzzy white armchair that sat only paces away in favor of the no-nonsense brown leather clearly would have disagreed with her.
A bright green couch pushed up against the far wall caught her attention. A dark-haired girl who looked to be younger than Lily had curled up in it with a book. As the girl closed the book, marking the page with her finger so she could take a sip of her tea, Lily was suddenly and irresistibly reminded of Scorpius’s cousin Noah.
Lily was already falling in love with the place.
“Lily!” She turned and saw Edwin talking to a girl over at the counter. She hurried over to join him.
The girl stuck out her hand. “You must be Edwin’s cousin. I’m Annie.”
Lily took it tentatively. “Hi.”
Annie had a very open and friendly face. Her smile lit up the room, and she clearly spent a lot of time in the sun; Lily could see tan lines across her arms.
On the spot, Lily decided that Anthony was right, and that she probably would like Annie quite a lot.
“So what’s your story?” Annie asked, turning back to the counter and beginning to wipe it down.
Lily swallowed hard. She’d thought about what to say, but now that she was actually here, all of her carefully thought out excuses deserted her. “I just need some breathing space from my family,” she said at last.
Annie gave her a curious look. “You’re not likely to get that here,” she said, jerking her head toward Edwin, who was scrutinizing the baked goods behind the glass. “He’s always in here.”
“No,” Lily said quickly. “Not Ed. My parents, and my brothers. They’re just a little…” she trailed off, not sure how to express the dangers of dark wizards and dark creatures in a muggle-friendly way.
Annie smiled. “You’re not cut from quite the same cloth as they are, huh?”
That was a bit of an understatement, but since Lily’s wits seemed to have suddenly gone begging, it would have to do. She shook her head. “But I love them, I do!”
“No judgment here,” Annie said, turning to toss the rag in the sink. “I’ve got some of those as well.” Lily cocked her head to one side, curiously, and Annie laughed. “I want to be a football player. Mum and Dad want me to go to uni. It’s a constant battle.” She spread her arms to indicate the nearly-empty shop. “So as a compromise, I help run my sister’s tea shop and play football when I’m not working.”
Lily finally felt her face crack into a smile, too. That didn’t sound like much of a compromise to her, but what did she know? There wasn’t any possibility of compromise with her family. You couldn’t very well say to your older brother, “Quit your job, please.”
“I don’t think my problem has the potential for compromise,” she said after a moment, tucking her bright red hair behind her ears nervously.
Annie shrugged. “So stick around here for awhile until you feel like facing them. We’re happy to have you. If Ed says you’re good people, I’ll take his word for it unless you prove him otherwise.” She flashed a smile again, and Lily felt herself smiling back without even thinking about it.
She looked around the store. She already felt at home. “Thank you.”
“So what’s your last name?” Annie called as she approached the counter that Edwin was waiting impatiently at. “You another Dursley? I thought I’d finally met all of them.” Edwin was resting his elbows on the counter, and she reached over to nudge him gently. “She’d better not have that damned Dursley sweet tooth. There won’t be any food left.”
Edwin laughed, and Lily shook her head as she headed over to join them. “No,” she said. “I’m actually a second cousin.” She cast her mind around for a familiar last name that wasn’t too distinctive. “Lily Black.”
“Huh. There’s a girl on my football team named Lyra Black. Any relation?” Lily should her head, and Annie shrugged. “Too bad. Lyra’s a great winger. I was hoping for some footballer DNA.” Lily felt her face flood with colour as Annie jerked her head toward Edwin. “Come on, then, you lout. What’ll it be?”
After Edwin spent some time dithering over whether he wanted molasses biscuits or cumin biscuits and finally handed over the money, Annie went through the formal paperwork with Lily. Edwin shot her a worried look when she just stared at it blankly, but as soon as Annie turned away to help a customer, Lily covertly waved her wand over the paper. When Annie was done, she handed it over. She skimmed over it, and her eyes slid out of focus for a moment. Then she smiled and set the paper aside. “Welcome aboard,” she said to Lily, flashing a bright smile. “When do you want to start?”
It took a few days for Lily to really get into the swing of things, but once she’d managed it, she felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She missed her family, and she didn’t even want to think about how angry her parents and brothers were going to be at her, but right now, right here, she felt removed from all of that.
Just not being confronted with it all the time helped in a way she’d hoped it might but hadn’t really expected it to.
She’d known that she liked her cousin, but she was surprised at how much she liked his friends and how easily they accepted her. She had no real interest in the video games they played, but after about a week of trying to convince her that she really would like what they called “first person shooters” without success, Anthony had unearthed an old game system with a game called “MarioKart.”
Lily did not know who Mario was, or why he and his friends were driving cars in such strange places, but it was quite addicting nonetheless.
Even if it was also incredibly frustrating that Edwin always seemed to get the stars and the golden mushrooms and all she ever got were green shells.
And she liked Annie. Annie was a cheerful, happy person, and it was difficult to be around her and not be cheerful and happy, too. She could even take Manchester United fans in stride, and while Lily did not really understand the rivalries in muggle football, Edwin assured her that for a Liverpool fan, that was a big deal.
This was a welcome break from all the hell of the wizarding world – even if she was sometimes lost when they talked about sports or games or television shows (which she still didn’t understand the point of), and even if they looked at her a little funny when she said she wanted a snidget.
She got into work one afternoon and was just putting her apron on when Annie stuck her head out of the back. “Hey, Lily,” she said cheerfully. “I thought I heard you come in. Give us a hand back here, will you?”
Lily waved a quick greeting to girl sitting behind the till, whose name she couldn’t remember. The girl smiled at her and turned back to her book.
Books seemed to be a theme around here.
When Lily entered the back, she found Annie with her hands on her hips, staring at a large jug of water sitting on the floor. She groaned. One of her least favourite things about working here was replacing the jugs that they used to keep the water heated for tea when they’d been emptied. She’d gotten desperate enough more than once to use a quick refilling charm on them – which, unfortunately, had given several people, including Annie, the impression that she was capable of lifting one and replacing it all by herself.
“Come on,” Annie said, and together they heaved the jug up and carried it into the front, where it slotted into a hot water dispenser. Lily rubbed her neck as she followed Annie back behind the swinging door, and Annie shot her an amused look. “Oh, come on, you can do that all by yourself. It wasn’t that bad.”
Lily bit her lip. “I’m—err—feeling under the weather today.”
Annie frowned and reached over to a plate of freshly made biscuits that hadn’t made it to the front yet. “Here, have a biscuit. It’ll make you feel better.”
Lily took the biscuit and bit into it, closing her eyes as the sugary taste flooded her sentence. One of her favourite things about working in the shop was that both the food and drink were amazing.
When she’d finished it, she headed over to the wall and pulled her apron off it. As she pulled it over her head, Annie snapped her fingers. “Oh, before I forget. A guy was in here earlier looking for you.”
Lily paused in the motion of tying her apron and looked up. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest. “What did he look like?”
Annie held her hand up above her head. “About that tall, blond.” She thought for a minute, and Lily could feel her heart slowing down. “Great jaw line. My cousin would be all over him if she ever met him.”
“He’s taken,” Lily said, an intense feeling of relief washing over her as she recognized the description.
“Your boyfriend?” Annie asked curiously as she tossed a used coffee filter and dried up tea leaves in the compost bin.
Lily snorted involuntarily. “Definitely not.” The idea of going out with Scorpius Malfoy was absolutely ludicrous to her. She’d gotten over her crush on him when she was in her second year. “He’s my brother’s best friend. He’s always been really decent to me, though.”
“I told him to come back later. I figured that if you didn’t want to see him, I could just masquerade Chloe as ‘Lily’ or something, and send him on his way.” Annie studied her. “So? Should I be prepping Chloe?”
Lily shook her head and reached up to pull her bright red hair back. “No. It’s okay. I want to see him.” An idea occurred to her, and her heart began racing again. “Did he say why he was here?”
Annie shrugged. “He said he was just stopping in to see how you were, and not to worry.” Lily let out a sigh of relief – with her family, you never knew if someone was going to land themselves in mortal peril – and Annie studied her closely. “You sure he’s not your boyfriend?”
“Yes,” Lily said. “He’s been going out with my cousin for years. They’re very much in wuv and all of that.” She made a face as she turned away. She still didn’t really understand how Scorpius had winded up going out with Rose, who was every bit as reckless as James, but they seemed happy enough, so who was she to question it? “For some reason.”
She glanced over at Annie, who seemed to be on the verge of asking something else. After a moment, however, she shrugged and let it go. As Lily followed her into the front, she felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for Scorpius Malfoy, who really did go above and beyond to call of duty in his support for his best friend’s kid sister.
A/N: Yay, chapter 2! Hopefully you enjoyed this - I'm always worried that I'm not breaking the chapters up well, but I'm pretty pleased with this. :)
Some credits and contexts:
MarioKart is a game produced by Nintendo that was originally released in the early 90s and has been re-released since then on a variety of game consoles. It's an incredibly frustrating game, because a lot of it is about luck, but it's also a lot of fun. First-person shooters are a kind of video game.
Manchester United and Liverpool are both teams in the English Premier League, and their rivalry is one of the biggest in European football.
Thanks for reading, and as always, I'd love to hear any comments you might have. :)