Chapter 1 : Loony
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Ginny’s got a job as a reserve on a Quidditch team, I think, and Hermione’s off to work at the Ministry of Magic. That’s where Harry’s been for a year now, training to become an Auror. I told him years ago that he shouldn’t be an Auror because of the Rotfang Conspiracy, and how Aurors are trying to tear apart the Ministry using Dark Magic and gum disease, but I don’t think he believed me. Nowadays, I think the Ministry needs some change anyway, after all the corruption during the war, and the army of Heliopaths, and the Ministry-controlled Dementors getting out of hand. So perhaps Harry’s doing the right thing. Harry generally does the right thing, even though sometimes I don’t think he plans out how to do it.
I want to find a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, but no one will fund any more expeditions to find them. I expect I’ll have to do it all on my own time. But today’s my first day at the Magical Menagerie in London; although I can’t go off searching for the Snorkack, this job is a lovely opportunity. I get to work with animals.
As I walk down the street towards the Leaky Cauldron in order to get to the shop on Diagon Alley, I’m pleased to see that it’s sunny outside for once. Puffy clouds drift all across the sky. I see one that looks like a peacock: it’s fluffy on one side, and has a long wispy trail behind it. To the right of that cloud is a bunch of little ones in a row, like ducklings following their mother. There’s even one cloud at the end, separated from the others a bit, which looks like a duckling that got left behind. The wind blows the small duckling towards its siblings, but the siblings are moving with the wind too and the little one can’t catch up—
I’ve collided with someone. I look away from the sky and back down to eye level, where standing in front of me is a man wearing a brown tweed jacket and a muted blue tie. His hair is combed smartly; with little grey hairs scattered evenly amongst the dark brown, it makes his head look like a neatly groomed harpsichord. I consider pointing this out to him, but he’s scowling as he hoists his bag over his shoulder, so I just smile instead. There’s a small patch sewn onto the side of his bag that says Property of Mortimer Vespasian-Marlowe. That must be his name.
“Hello,” I say. “I’m sorry I ran into you.”
“It’s all right,” says the man gruffly, smoothing out his jacket. “If you’d watch where you’re going, you wouldn’t run into people.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I agree. “I was watching that cloud there, the one that looks like a row of ducklings.” I notice that the small duckling cloud up in the sky has caught up to the other ones, which is nice. Then once again I look away from the sky, and this time I see a pen lying on the cobblestones by the man’s left foot. His leather shoes look very new and shiny. “Is that your pen?” I ask.
He looks down. “Yes,” he cries gratefully. “Thank you!” He leans down and picks up the pen, then lifts up the flap on his bag to put the pen away. His bag has three slots for pens, above which he has sewn small tags reading Red pen, Black pen, and Pencil. He returns the pen to the slot marked Black pen.
“You’re very organised,” I tell him. My bag is not nearly as neat; it’s full of Gurdyroots, to ward off Gulping Plimpies. And I packed a lunch in there too, although I think my sandwich might have gotten squished by the Gurdyroots. It should still taste fine, though.
“My name is Mortimer Vespasian-Marlowe,” says the man, extending a hand towards me.
“I know,” I say, pointing to the patch on his bag. “Your bag says so.”
He returns his hand to his side, and I realise he had been waiting for me to shake it. “I’m Luna,” I tell him.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he says. A wrinkle forms on his sleeve and he brushes it out swiftly. Then I notice a slight frown crossing his face as he looks at my earrings.
“Those are Dirigible Plums,” I explain. “They’re quite a lovely fruit, don’t you think? And they improve your ability to accept the extraordinary.”
“Extraordinary?” asks Mortimer, narrowing his eyes. “As in weird? I hope not; I detest weird things. I prefer to occupy my attention with matters of great consequence and scholarly pursuit.”
“Well, if you don’t like weird, then you probably don’t like me,” I point out. “Some people think I’m a bit odd. They even used to call me ‘Loony’ in school.”
“You don’t seem that bad,” says Mortimer apologetically. Perhaps he thinks he has offended me. “Apart from the vegetables in your ears. But you know,” he adds, leaning towards me like he’s revealing a great secret, “my cousin Archibald used to stick green beans in his ears when he was young, and he turned out just fine in the end. He’s in the London Symphony Orchestra now.” Mortimer nods to show his approval.
“And what do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a geography teacher,” he says, puffing his chest out.
He’s a Muggle, then. I like talking with Muggles. When I was ten I met an elderly Muggle who swore she had seen a Blibbering Humdinger while on holiday in America forty-four years previously, in a town called Rosalind or Roswell or something. She hadn’t known what she’d seen at the time, and thought it might be an alien, but after she explained it to me I recognised it as a perfect description of a Blibbering Humdinger.
Mrs Quincy was a nice lady. We became friends after she shared her stories of the Humdinger. I painted some pictures for her, and sometimes she’d give me a jar of her homemade marmalade, which was delicious on toast. She got a bit funny as she got older, though.
“Blast,” Mortimer frets quite suddenly.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“Well, it’s started to rain!”
I look up, and sure enough, it’s raining. The little duckling clouds have been replaced by a big grey one that stretches across the sky. It is England after all, so one can’t expect the sunshine to last all day. So I reach into my bag and pull out my lucky yellow umbrella. It’s got an orange circle in the centre, and the metal that holds the fabric up is orange as well, so it’s like holding up my own personal sunshine on a stick. I open it up and hold it above Mortimer and me, and offer him a smile. “Now it’s sunny again,” I say.
Then I hand the umbrella to him while I fasten my bag up again so none of the Gurdyroots will fall out. “I should get going,” Mortimer tells me. “Which way are you going, though? I’m headed up the street this way.” He points to his left.
“Oh no!” I say, as he’s reminded me that I have somewhere to be as well. “I’m supposed to be at work in five minutes. It’s my first day – but I’ve quite lost track of time. It was lovely to meet you, Mortimer Vespasian-Marlowe.” I finish with the clasp on my bag and rush off towards the Leaky Cauldron; I wouldn’t like to be late on my first day. Luckily, I left quite early this morning, so I’m not terribly worried, but it’d be nice to get there with a little time to spare.
A bell jingles as I push open the door to the Magical Menagerie and await my supervisor. The shop’s interior is quite nice; as I look around I see all sorts of colourful animals. I loved visiting this shop when I used to come to Diagon Alley and buy all my school things; Daddy and I would stop by just so I could see the enormous purple toads and the jewelled tortoises, wondering how far they had travelled across the world to end up here, how far from home they were.
A blonde woman comes out from the back room and smiles at me. “Hello, Carol,” I greet her. She’s a nice lady, I think it’ll be lovely to work for her.
“Hi Luna,” she says. We converse about the rain a little while, and then she shows me around the shop. It’s not a very big shop, but it’s crowded, so it’s nice of her to point out where everything is. There are cages all over the place; cats here, ravens there. I can see my favourite tortoises near the window with their jewel-covered shells glittering in the light, splashes of colour reflecting on the walls. In an alcove off to the right are some custard-coloured furry Puffskeins. They look a lot like Feathered Plimpies. Carol’s favourite animals are the Streelers: giant African snails that change colour every hour. They are all green at the moment. And up on the counter near the till are some cages of shiny black rats, and a few colourful bottles of rat tonic for the sick ones.
Carol sets me up at the till for the day. I’ll get to help with animal care after I’ve worked here a bit longer. So I stand behind the counter and look around as Carol chats to me, and we watch the Streelers change to black-and-white checkered.
Soon, a man walks in wearing a Chudley Cannons hat, like the one Ron Weasley used to have. I didn’t think anyone other than Ron actually liked the Chudley Cannons – it’s well known that they all suffer from Loser’s Lurgy. The man buys a raven.
The next time I hear the door bell, I am surprised to see Mortimer Vespasian-Marlowe strolling in, because I thought he was a Muggle. Maybe Muggles can get into Diagon Alley too, though, if they know what to look for. You can find anything if you look hard enough for it.
“Luna,” he says as a greeting, and nods his head towards me.
“Hello. I didn’t think I’d see you here. The Magical Menagerie doesn’t seem like a likely place to find a geography teacher.”
“No, I’ve always known of this place, but I dislike it very much. I’m a Squib, you see, so I don’t have much appreciation for magic. I find it weird. My sister would always come home from that school smelling like owl pellets, carrying books about turning people into salamanders. It was incredibly undignified of her.”
“But you would probably have been sad if she had stayed at school for the holidays, though,” I predict.
“Well… er, yes. Anyway, the reason I came by is to return your umbrella. You left it with me, and then I had to track you down.” He hands my yellow umbrella to me over the counter. The reddish buttons on his tweed jacket are slightly egg-shaped. It makes me wonder what would happen if a phoenix egg caught on fire.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.”
Next to the till, a rabbit changes into a top hat and back again. Mortimer frowns at it.
“It’s very strange, isn’t it?” I ask him. “You must not like it, do you?”
“Certainly not,” says Mortimer, sniffing and straightening up. “You are correct, I dislike weird things. Among the weird things I dislike are rabbits, adventure sports, and hippies.”
“So what do you like, then?”
Mortimer seems pleased by this question. “History, stamp collecting, opera, and ties – but not if they have lurid patterns or bright colours on them. And above all else I like neatness and lists.”
I look back at the counter to see that Mortimer has rearranged the bottles of rat tonic so they are in order by size.
“Are you familiar with the works of Rossini?” Mortimer asks. “The opera La Cenerentola, in particular, is exquisite. Would you believe – it was unpopular at the time it was written? It rose in popularity many years later.”
“No, I’d never heard of it,” I tell him. “But I believe it. Sometimes people take a while to accept things. Like the existence of Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.”
He nods slowly. “I am also quite fond of cheese,” he continues. As he speaks, he begins sorting the rat tonic bottles again, this time by colour. “I know a fair bit about cheese, if I do say so myself. My favourite cheese is Gruyère. It has a complex flavour. Distinct, but subtle.”
“You’re very strange yourself, you know,” I tell him. His eyebrows knit closer together, a little crease in between them; clearly he’s not pleased. “It’s a compliment.”
“I see,” he says after a long pause. “Thank you.” He shakes his head slightly and looks around at all the animals in cages on all the walls.
Mortimer Vespasian-Marlowe doesn’t like to be unique and odd. But I think he is; he just doesn’t see it. As he walks out the door, the hem of his trouser leg is wrinkled and I notice that he is wearing bright yellow socks. That makes me smile. Then I turn back to the desk, where the Streeler is yellow as well.
A/N: Sorry for ending it in a bizarre place, but Cornelius Fudge’s army of Heliopaths cut out my original ending and burnt it up, so you’re left with that. And I'd love a review - please let me know how I did writing Luna in first person! :)
As always, J. K. Rowling owns Harry Potter. The quote in the story summary is from The Breakfast Club.