Chapter 2 : Old and New
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The letter is from Mum; she and Dad have invited me over to dinner on Sunday (I’m assuming James and Albus will be there too… maybe some cousins too, but she hasn’t said). I’m pretty happy about this because even though Mum’s not that great at cooking, she’s much better than I am, and besides I can never pass up an opportunity to have someone else cook for me.
In front of the mirror, I spend about ten minutes dragging a brush through my hair to smooth out all the gnarled tangles that resulted from my sleeping on the sofa. My hair used to be reddish when I was younger, but it’s turned a kind of dull brown colour since then. I’m quite thankful for that, actually – it gives me about two more seconds between when people see me and when they recognise me. For a blissful two seconds, I’m just an ordinary girl, not the daughter of the hero of the wizarding world with the identifiable Weasley red hair.
(Actually, funny fact about identifiable Weasleys: Iris looks more like she belongs in my family than I do, as she has beautiful auburn hair and green eyes. She’s even got the flower name going for her too. If she weren’t Muggle-born, I’d have guessed she was my long-lost cousin or something. Perhaps she is anyway. I have too many cousins to keep track of.)
I toss the brush back on the table and head into the kitchen to make some breakfast. And then maybe later today I'll apply for a job, just so I can fend off any questions Mum will have about my current state of unemployment when she sees me at dinner on Sunday.
It's an ill-fated goal. I spend a good few hours searching for jobs, eventually finding some mildly interesting adverts in the Daily Prophet, but by this point it's one in the afternoon and I know Marta is off work now. She works part-time at an art museum and has afternoons off sometimes. Being unemployed has its perks. So I Apparate to her place instead, just off Knockturn Alley, walk up to the peeling blue door and knock with the metal gargoyle knocker I think she made by herself, which has etched into it her surname and flat number: Zalinski, 24a.
A nauseating smell assaults my nostrils as soon as I open the door, and I see the culprit almost immediately: a half-eaten, probably month-old bowl of noodles is sitting on the floor amidst piles of rubbish, dirty socks, and strange sculptures made out of kitchen utensils that have been welded together. I don't look closely at it, but I'm fairly sure I see a greenish tinge to the noodles. Iris would positively faint. Without introduction, I pick up the bowl, holding it at arm's length, and chuck it right into the bin. Then I wash my hands intently.
"I was going to wash that," says Marta. "It was a nice bowl. I only have one other."
Yes, I did just throw away a perfectly good bowl, but eww. Marta peers into the bin, but the bowl is cracked now. "All right," she says, "let's go rescue stuff from bins. There's perfectly good stuff in the big rubbish bins outside the flat - loads of people throw new things away."
"Marta, you can have some of mine," I insist. "Iris and I have loads of dishes, please help yourself."
"I don't want yours," she says. "Besides, this'll be fun."
So we go out behind her flat, and then a few others, and climb into the large bins. It's not my ideal way to spend an afternoon, but I did just throw away half of Marta's dish set. And anyway, we find a new bowl, and a perfectly good saute pan as well - acquired by relatively honest means rather than stealing, which Marta is prone to doing just for fun. The dishes and cookware just need a little washing, and they're as good as new! And I need a shower.
This is pretty typical of an afternoon with Marta - often we'll just wander around the Muggle world together where no one knows us, as I hate the cameras and staring that accompany me everywhere in the wizarding world. I try to keep her out of trouble, but usually end up getting involved in shady things, which makes it all the better that we only frequent Muggle establishments. It cuts down on the bad press. If Marta had her way, though, we’d be wandering around the wizarding world instead, because she enjoys being seen with Harry Potter’s daughter. I know for a fact that part of the reason she’s friends with me is because of the attention that comes with my unwanted fame; she simply beams for the cameras that come out to snap photos of me. Some paparazzi from the Daily Prophet once captured a photo of Dad where Marta and I are visible in the background, and I swear she will be buried with that news clipping, she loves it that much.
Despite Marta's attraction to fame, her friendly regard for me is genuine. Or maybe it's just that I make a lot of allowances for her, as her childhood was pretty rough; her mum was a teenager when Marta was born, and Marta has still never met her parents. She's lived in seven foster homes: five wizard ones, and then two Muggle ones, and was constantly sent back to social services because she kept getting into scrapes with the law, or else ran away. Both of the times she left a Muggle home, the family had to be Obliviated after she left.
Iris and I have been best friends since the day we met in first year at Hogwarts, and we didn't get to know Marta until fourth year, as she was a Ravenclaw and not Gryffindor like Iris and me. That year, Marta took to following me around between classes to snap pictures of me and sell them to the Daily Prophet, which thankfully never ended up working out for her, but Iris took Marta under her wing and eventually we wheedled the information from her about her home life. The summer between sixth and seventh year, my Mum and Dad took care of her, although they were initially hesitant due to her penchant for shoplifting and vandalism, and because of previous occasions when Marta purposefully alerted paparazzi to Dad’s presence. But I think her stay with us calmed her down a lot. We invited her to stay longer, but she wanted to get her own place. To her credit, she has been successfully living there for a couple of years now, although it is a pretty foul flat.
Marta looks over at me, her eyebrows knitted together. "You're living inside your head again, Lily," she says. It's true; a lot goes on inside my head, but I don’t usually say it out loud. I realise that somehow we've walked all the way back into Marta's flat while I've been lost in my thoughts. She leaves her new dishes in the sink, and then tells me, "Let's go over to your place."
So we go, and walk in to find Iris back from work and absorbed in a book. Marta flops onto the sofa, slouching back in a slovenly manner, her long legs stretched out to either side.
Iris frowns at her over the top of her mystery novel, which is called Murder on the Hogwarts Express. “Marta, that's such an unladylike way to sit,” she reprimands. “For Merlin's sake, do you ever close your legs?”
Marta snorts and grins wickedly at her, and Iris retreats behind her book again. I laugh. Iris is ridiculous, but she’s a good influence on Marta, who’s never really had a proper mother figure in her life.
“What’d you do today, Iris?” I ask. “Other than read.”
Her cheeks flush pink as she grins, but she only says, “Well… I worked, I bought that new vase in town—” she nods her head at a purple ceramic vase on the table by the sofa— “and I made a lasagna. You can have some if you want.”
“Iris Prudence Henley, you are LYING,” says Marta with relish. “You did something you don’t want to tell us about! Ooh, I’ve got it. You bought drugs. Or no – you lit a building on fire? Robbed Gringotts? You’re pregnant? I don’t know. Tell us!”
“Marta,” I say, trying to get her to stop; if she’ll only shut up, I am convinced that Iris will tell us anyway. It’s Iris’s way – she loves making us guess, but most of all, she loves surprising us.
“I’m engaged!” Iris finally exclaims, in a most un-Iris-like squeal, waving her hand excitedly in our faces to show off a ring.
“Eeeee! Oh my god!” squeals Marta, and jumps on Iris, smothering in her in a hug. I pile on top as well, burying Iris in hugs as she giggles. “Congratulations!” I say over the top of Marta’s head, which is wedged under my nose at the moment, her spiky black hair tickling my nose. It smells nice, like coconut.
Despite what Iris may think, it’s the least surprising bit of news. I’ve been expecting it for months. She and Julian Thomas have been dating for five years, and Iris is almost out of Magivet School, at which point she’ll have a steady job taking care of people’s sick Crups and Kneazles. (Seriously, she just cuddles kittens all day, and gets paid a lot for it. She basically has the most perfect life ever.)
I couldn't possibly be more thrilled for Iris, but I feel a sort of petty jealousy that Julian is taking her away from me. I'll miss having her as my flatmate when they move in together. But I keep these thoughts to myself as we all celebrate Iris' news accordingly.
Two days later, on Saturday, I have actually written up half of a job application. It's considerable progress, and I'm proud of it. After all, it's more than I've done in weeks, and I really have to be able to start living on my own once Iris gets married. If even Marta can support herself with her shoddy internship, so can I. I celebrate my paltry successes by going to find the landlord and paying my rent for the month, and then head to the supermarket for a bit before returning home.
I walk in to find Marta and Iris sprawled on the sofa amidst piles of parchment, laughing (Iris’s more of a quiet giggle, and Marta’s a loud guffaw). There’s a mountain of bridal magazines on the table, covering up the usual spread of knitting magazines. For Merlin’s sake, the girl got engaged two days ago – but she has always been the type to plan ahead.
“How’s wedding planning going?” I ask.
“Well, I started,” says Iris, “but then got a bit off track when—”
“Lily, look what we found!” Marta shrieks, leaping off the sofa and shoving a few leaves of wrinkled parchment in my face. I step back and take the parchment from her, flicking through it to find an old relic of our past; it must be from fourth year at Hogwarts. The page on top says IRIS’S FUTURE!!!, surrounded by love hearts, and beneath this are some scribbled lists, like boys’ names, types of cars, pets, occupations, and numbers. The following bits of parchment have similar lists but are titled with mine and Marta’s names.
“Oh, Merlin, I remember this,” I say, laughing. “Why the hell was this game ever a thing?”
“We’re kind of playing it again,” says Iris, holding up a crisp, new piece of parchment. “So retro of us. According to this, Marta’s going to live in a wheelbarrow.”
“But I’m either going to marry Neighbour Lance, or Harry Potter!” says Marta gleefully.
“Gross, Marta, you know that’s my dad you’re talking about." I’m disgusted that she still has a crush on him. At least she has always been respectful enough to not be vocal about it when she's in the presence of my dad.
“The saviour of the Wizarding World, hello! And his hair hasn't gone grey yet. You'd better believe that there are more people than just me who fancy him. Your mum's quite fit too, with her Quidditch and everything, I know Ben Finch-Fletchley used to fancy–”
I stuff my fingers into my ears. “Lalala,” I say loudly. “Can't hear a word you're saying.”
“We did one for you too, while you were gone,” says Iris. “You’re going to marry Jane Macmillan, and your wedding will be in Paris. And you’ll teach Divination.”
“I can only hope I’ll be better at fortune-telling than that game is,” I say.
“Stop being a stick in the mud,” says Iris, which I find hilarious, because Iris is the biggest stick in the mud I’ve ever met. Iris shakes her head and bends over the parchment again, tapping down the words with the quill until she draws a line through some of the neat print. “Good news, for both of you. Marta will marry Neighbour Lance.”
“Wonder if I should tell him?” Marta asks with a grin, standing up from the sofa as if she’s about to go across the hall to knock on his door and propose to him right now.
“No, don’t,” says Iris calmly. “He’s already a little creeped out by you as it is – he hasn’t forgotten what you tried with him on New Year’s.”
“Sure he has,” says Marta. I laugh. Poor Lance. He’s rather shy, and Marta is just too much for him. I think that’s why she likes him though; she enjoys making people squirm. Of course, if he ever reciprocates the feelings, Marta will probably drop him like a hot Fire Crab, because that's how she is. "He's not creeped out by me," Marta continues, "I just saw him today, and he thinks I'm fantastic. Well, maybe not for long... Eh, fuck it."
Before I can ask Marta what she did this time to potentially get on Lance's bad side, Iris heaves a long-suffering sigh. “Marta, please refrain from using such foul language in the vicinity of my delicate ears.”
Marta wrinkles her nose. “You’re like a living textbook. Who speaks like that? I’m, like, almost positive that was iambic pentameter.”
“No it wasn’t,” Iris insists. “I just happen to enjoy sounding intelligent by not using common, simple words.”
“Ah. Forsooth,” says Marta with a smirk. Iris scowls at her.
I clear a space in all the parchment and magazines, and sit down beside my friends. “Talking of sounding intelligent, what will Julian think of this game?” I ask Iris, grinning as I see that her list predicts her marrying the Giant Squid that dwelt in the lake at Hogwarts.
“Ugh, that was Marta’s doing,” says Iris, and giggles again. “Oh, we should do one of these for Julian too, I’m sure he’d find it amusing.”
The game, however, is interrupted when we hear a knock at the door. Iris's lap is covered in parchment so I stand up to let in our visitor: it's our neighbour, Lance. He towers above me, and grins when I remain in the doorway as if to deny him entrance into the flat. I try to take up as much space as possible, but he grabs me in a one-armed hug and easily moves me out of the way as I laugh.
"Lance!" Iris exclaims happily and stands up to greet him. Marta lounges even more on the sofa, stretching her legs out to show them off, but rather than looking sexy she just looks silly, as she's surrounded by the parchment game with doodles and hearts all over it.
"I hear you got engaged," Lance says to Iris. "Congratulations!" He produces a bottle of wine from behind his back.
"Thank you," says Iris, her eyes teary. She invites Lance in to stay for a while, although she'll be leaving soon to go to Julian's for the night. With glasses of wine in hand, after a toast to Iris, we all sit and chat, though after a while Iris and Lance just catch up on Muggle news for a bit, as Lance’s Dad is a Muggle and both of Iris’s parents are as well, so they understand each other’s need to discuss the world outside the magical bubble. Marta keeps interjecting with irrelevant information about Muggle politicians and singers whom I think don't actually exist, and I just listen. Eventually, after many hugs, Iris heads out to Julian's, Marta goes into the kitchen, and Lance turns to me.
"So, any news on the job front, Lily?" he asks.
"Yeah," I lie easily, "some stuff. Social work. I'm waiting to hear back about my application." This is the story I'm going to tell Mum and Dad at dinner tomorrow when they inevitably ask.
"That's great," says Lance. "You'd be brilliant at it, and of course since you're famous, people will listen to you and you'll make a huge difference."
"That's not really how it works," I say. "I don't want to just use my father's fame to be noticed, I want to do something on my own merit."
"I'm not saying use that connection to get a job, I mean once you have the job... you have an advantage, and you can do a lot of good with it. You know, with great power comes great responsibility."
"Ugh, you didn't come over just to quote Superman, did you?"
He looks offended. "First of all, Spiderman, not Superman. They may both wear red and blue but they are completely different, Lily. And it wasn't him, it was his uncle who said that."
"Whatever." If Lance wants to talk about Muggle superheroes, he really should be talking to Iris, not me. She loves that stuff.
Marta strolls back in with a large bag of pistachios. "You're out of ice cream," she says, and sits on the sofa next to Lance.
"Damn," I say. We wouldn't be out if Marta didn't come over and eat it all the time, but I don't mention that. "So, Lance, enough about me - how's work going for you?"
"It's good," says Lance. He has an internship in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic where I'm fairly certain he talks to ghosts. "Marta came to visit me today, actually."
"No way!" I say, looking over at Marta, who grins and loudly snaps a pistachio shell. "How come she gets to go, but you wouldn't let me visit and talk to the ghosts of my grandparents?"
"Because she wasn't doing anything she's not allowed to do," says Lance pointedly. "She just wanted to get lunch, and on the way she saw the corridor and my office, that's it."
I'm shocked; Marta is always doing things she's not allowed. Has Lance actually managed to get her to stop?
"Well, I wanted to do more than just get lunch, babe," says Marta with a lopsided grin. "But I understand, you have to keep up a good reputation at work. I suppose there's always next time."
Lance ducks his head a bit to scratch behind his ear, and coughs uncomfortably. This only makes Marta's grin wider. She stretches one leg out and rests her bare foot on Lance's lap.
"Why do I ever hang out with you?" he mutters.
"Because think how boring your life would be without me," she says. She removes her leg from Lance's lap, and he relaxes. And then Marta offers the bag of pistachios to us, so we all just sit around the table and chat, until Lance heads back across the hallway to his flat, and Marta Apparates home. What a weird, though sadly typical, night.
As I'm brushing my teeth about ten minutes after Marta and Lance have left, I notice an unfamiliar sound coming from the kitchen; a sort of mechanical humming. I wonder briefly if Iris got a robot Pygmy Puff, as that’s the closest thing I can think of that would make this sort of noise.
There’s a large silver cube sitting atop the kitchen worktop, next to the wooden chopping board. As I lean closer, I’m able to determine that this is the source of the humming sound… but what in Merlin’s name is it? I’ve never seen it before, and it certainly doesn’t look like a kitchen tool. Perhaps it’s Lance’s, and it actually is a robot; he would have something like that. I pick it up, tap it against the worktop a couple of times, and nothing happens. It continues humming. So I put it in a bag, which I then put into a cupboard – this mutes the sound somewhat. And then I leave it there, and head to bed. I’ll ask Iris about the cube in the morning.
A/N: The story is still setting up, so I realise most of the sci-fi elements of this story have not shown up yet - but they will, I promise :p
Disclaimer: I do not own Murder on the Orient Express, which is by Agatha Christie. I also do not own Spiderman, by Stan Lee.
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