Chapter 1 : ONE: A Seed In the Vegetable Patch
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Cue: a heck load of swearing, lotsa OCs and everyone who ships Novus hating my guts!
ONE. A SEED IN THE VEGETABLE PATCH
Sometimes, Dahlia wondered whether accidentally pouring freshly-made coffee onto someone's lap would get her fired. In this case, "sometimes" meant every other day and "accidentally" meant unapologetically on purpose, staring the other person dead in the eye as she gave them a first degree burn where the sun didn't shine. And by "someone", she meant the absolute tosser that was Kaikane Call-Me-The-K Paoa.
"So the secretary asked me out of a group of twenty interns, some of them years older than me, to handle the situation," he was saying now, a boast amplifying his voice. "Can't say I was surprised - after all, The K was the only man there keeping his head. Everyone else was just so inexperienced. I actually felt sorry for them, they clearly had no idea what to do..."
"I'm sure," Dahlia said as shortly as she could without risking a reprimand from the bosses. Luckily for her, Kaikane was so far up his own arse, she could be smacking him senseless and he probably wouldn't realise that she'd reached the end of her tether with him.
"You know, I'd be surprised if they don't hire me full-time after this. We had a fiasco on our hands but I was in there, sorting everything out, keeping a calm head - I was in my element, you know? Really thriving-"
"Here's your coffee, sir," she interrupted, all but throwing the cup in front of him. "Same as usual: latte macchiato with an extra shot of espresso and two sugars."
"Ah, no need to call me 'sir', Dahlia," he laughed, though there was a note of approval that rang high in it. "Surely, you know me well enough by now!"
As much as it pained her to admit it... he was right. Kaikane Paoa had frequented The Harpy's Lounge every two or three days for the past two months Dahlia had been employed there. Each time, he ordered a latte macchiato with an extra shot of espresso and two sugars, watched her make it, and then proceeded to chat about the epic gloriousness of himself.
He called himself The K.
It was easy to grasp why Dahlia hated him.
She bit back the venomous retort on her tongue, shrugging. "Harpy policy." She even attempted a smile, though the effect made her look somewhat constipated.
In her defence, she had a reason to be. The K was a specimen no one should suffer through a conversation with so the fact that she had to be polite in one? If Dahlia hadn't needed the money, she would have kindly informed him to fucking shove his bullshit stories where the sun didn't shine and fuck off back to his shithole of an office to drool over invoices or whatever it was he did and leave her the fuck alone. But alas, she was nineteen years old and needed a steady job to, you know, stay the hell alive so she had to suck it up, grit her teeth and pretend like she gave a shit about The K.
Thankfully, it was at that moment that salvation arrived in the form of Nova Hale.
Or, at least, it did to some extent.
"Pass me a white chocolate mocha, won't you, Dahlia?" she asked distractedly, rummaging through her bag.
She slid onto the stool next to The K, oblivious to the startled look of recognition he threw her. Dahlia, however, was not and proceeded to fix him with a menacing glare, Harpy policy be damned, as if daring him to say anything.
"Um, no," she said mildly as she pulled out her wand from the pocket of her apron. She maintained eye contact with the imbecile next to her friend until an expression of deep discomfort rose to his face. Idly, she wondered if slashing her hand across her throat would be a step too far in her warning. "We don't serve people like you."
"And just what are people like me?"
"Oh, you know. Bags of flesh who use up all our damn oxygen."
A choked laugh scraped its way out of Nova's throat. She smiled, the tug on her lips a little reluctant, a little involuntary and a little sad. It brought attention to the melancholic red tint to her puffy eyes, the raw tip of her nose, the way the layers of clothes she wore seemed to be more of a wall than a source of warmth in this cold weather.
For once in his life, The K got the hint. "I shall be going now," he announced, standing up to his impressive height of 6ft 3 inches. He towered over the two of them in a way he was probably proud of in every other situation – a presence that commanded attention. At this moment in time, however, he was decidedly more awkward.
"Till next time, Dahlia," he said, lifting his coffee as if to remind her why.
She fought off her answering grimace. "Yeah. Till then." Her eyes stayed trained on his back as he walked out of the café - but almost immediately after the door closed behind him, they snapped back to Nova. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," she said automatically.
Dahlia raised an eyebrow. "And I'm the fucking Queen of Sheba."
"Nice to meet you, Your Majesty," she said dryly, her fingers clasped around her purse. "Do your royal fingers know how to make me my white chocolate mocha?"
"They know how to dump it all over your fucking head."
She twirled her wand (cedar, 12 inches long, rigid), the movements precise and practiced. She still messed up every now and again but on a Wednesday afternoon, when work forced most of the country indoors and business was slow, she was perfect. It was just her at the counter right now: what had been a curse when The K had lumbered in was now a blessing in the company of her friend. She spun her wand in tight circles above the mug, watching the components of the drink blend together.
"I'm fine," Nova insisted again, though her words wobbled with the lie. "Just – stressed out. The Harpy is one of the only places I don't get hounded by idiots in the bush or wherever the fuck the press hides."
That was understandable. The Harpy's Lounge had a No Press Policy: anyone famous who walked through those doors had the right to be left alone by all in the café, finally allowed to relax. It made sense. After all, the place had been opened and owned by Louis Weasley and Teddy Lupin since about a year ago and God knows they had experienced the brunt of media attention before. The place was somewhat of a safe haven, a midway point for the famous and their lowly adoring fans.
Dahlia poured the mocha into a styrofoam cup and scrawled Nova's name across it in spiky black ink. She slammed it down in front of her - not because she was particularly angry but because she happened to do everything rather forcefully. It was just how she was programmed.
"Why did you break up with him?" she demanded.
Nova flinched. "It was a mutual decision. I told you that."
"You did," she conceded. "And while I'm all for you regaining your senses and moving away from men - since, as we all know, they're fucking useless disgraces to this society - " Take The K, for example. " - you also happen to be my friend, unfortunately, and this break up has clearly made you miserable. So why do it? It makes no effing sense."
A spark of defiance entered her. "It just wasn't working out." At the noise of an impatient interruption, she held up a hand and continued, "No, listen, Dahlia. I... I love Al, okay? Nothing can change that, not even your passionate speeches about how he detracts from my empowerment or whatever, and yeah, that means breaking up doesn't change that. But the truth is that we just don't... fit together after Hogwarts. Our timetables clash, we had to skip dates, we argued more because of it. It just stopped working."
"How does the hell does love stop working?"
She smiled sadly. "It doesn't. But relationships do. Look, Al and I were heading down a path that wasn't good for either of us. Better to end it now when we don't resent each other and can still be friends in the future. Less painful."
Less painful? This was less painful? Nova had cried for days after she’d broken up with Potter, curled up in her bed in a rotating cycle of pyjamas and depressing movies on the MagiVision, despondently shoving spoonfuls of chocolate ice cream into her mouth. She was still crying now, if her red eyes said anything! She had cried and her heart had shattered and then she had knitted herself together with rudimentary stitches because she had just lost her first love. Her first everything.
And Dahlia had watched it all with a growing frustration and despair that bubbled out, as per usual, in snark and enough swear words to put a nun in St. Mungo's. Because, loath as she was to admit it, Albus Potter wasn't all that bad for a guy. Yes, he had this infuriating smirk whenever Dahlia told him to crawl in a hole and die; yes, he was a literal cliché down to his messy black hair and Quidditch robes; yes, he did shit like shag Nova on school trips to Rome and consequently send their friend Nala into a tirade about how lucky the girl was to have such a "romantic boyfriend".
But he also made her happy. He'd held her close when she had broken down from the stress of their NEWTs. He'd endured the somewhat psychotic and entirely nosy behaviour of her best friends with the patience of a thousand men. He'd even gone out of his way to befriend them all.
And was that not what mattered in the end?
Not knowing how to word this, Dahlia scoffed, "Why does his career matter more than your happiness?"
She was quiet. "I'm not going to tell him not to follow his dreams, Dahlia," she murmured somewhat reproachfully. "He's wanted to play for the Magpies since he was a kid and now he's their reserve Seeker. Why would I take that away from him?"
"Because you're the best thing that ever happened to the twat?"
She didn't know how to express it in words, this concern she felt over Nova's relationship falling apart. After all, she was no romantic. She didn't believe in fairy tale princesses swanning around in their towers, waiting for a pretty prince to save them; as far as she was concerned, damsels were better off getting themselves out of distress. That way, they were out of danger and not chained to a man for the rest of their lives.
But she did believe in love.
That quiet sort of love she saw in her parents: in the care her mum put into cooking meals for her dad, in the feather-soft reach of his fingers on the back of her hand as he left for work in the morning, in the fish and chips he brought home every now again just because it’d been the first thing they’d ate in this country. An unspoken acceptance that she was herself and he was himself and that they could survive without each other but simply chose not to.
Not this fierce, fiery competition in who owned who that was all the rage nowadays. Lately, it seemed that it was cool to be psychotically jealous, trendy to be obsessively in lust, forever deluded with the idea of love instead of experiencing the real thing itself.
Nova and Al had been the first kind of couple. Dahlia knew that almost as well as she remembered the way she had first informed the twat that she hated the sight of him. (She didn't.) She knew this, but for the life of her, she could not figure out how to word it.
"He doesn't deserve you if he doesn't realise that," she said in the end. Her words weren't as aggressive as always and perhaps that said it all for Nova merely shrugged.
"Or maybe I don't deserve him."
Like always, when Dahlia apparated into her bedroom, she rocked back too far on her heels, sending her flying onto her arse and crashing down on the bed in the ultimate epitome of grace. She groaned and then decided to just fuck it and lay down. With a flop, she collapsed back, her legs stretched out as far as possible so her shoes just about skimmed the carpet. Body still as taut as the string of a bow, she focused on the mechanics of slipping them off.
Left heel against her right toes – a forceful flick down – shimmy to release – and then swap.
Ah. That was the spot.
And then the world exploded.
"DAHLIADAHLIDAHLIADIDI." Her bedroom door crashed open and a small blur zoomed in. It crossed the floor and threw itself onto her in three seconds flat. "YOU'RE BACK, YOU'RE BACK."
"Khayri, if you don't get off me, I'm going to chuck you out the window."
Her little brother grinned at her, all cheek and chocolate drop eyes, melting her dead, ice-cold heart within seconds, but he listened all the same and slid off her. He sat cross-legged, the sole of his left foot pressed against her hipbone.
"I heard you, you know," he said excitedly. "You're always so loud when you come home which is both cool because we know you're home and not cool because if someone else was here, you'd be in a lot of trouble. Like if it was Auntie Supriya! She would probably tell everyone what happened."
"Guess I'd just have to murder her then, wouldn't I?" she said lightly.
Khayri laughed, a giggle that ended in a small snort she absolutely loved. "Yeah, it's the only way to keep our secret from all of Oldham."
With Khayri, the word held so much weight.
Seven and a half years ago, Dahlia had her entire world shaken up like a snow globe; one where, when the flurry had settled, she'd found her crappy town replaced with Hogwarts Castle and the word "witch" stamped onto her birth certificate. First had come the disbelief, the utter scepticism that came hand in hand with being a Muggleborn. Next had been the cool sensation of relief, the knowledge that all these strange occurrences that had plagued her mum and dad at night weren't bad, that she hadn't been made wrong. There'd been the excitement of pouring over textbooks with her brother, Danyal, of fantasising of this shiny new world they were now part of.
Exactly two years after that, she found out that Danyal was not a wizard.
Neither was Jaspar.
But Khayri... Khayri was a different story. He had been a few days shy of three when she had whisked away to Hogwarts and had grown up with only glimpses of her, snatches here and there for a total of about three months a year. He had known Dahlia as messy handwriting on parchment, talking about the flashiest aspects of her life at school - which, considering it was still school, wasn't much - and then later as the only person who seemed to know why he'd managed to make Mrs Gallagher grow a beard.
The secret of Dahlia's magic was the concern of the entire immediate Darzi family - but now it included Khayri's powers too.
If she thought she had loved her little brother before, that was nothing compared to now.
"Will you let me use your wand today?" he asked excitedly. "You said you'd let me if I put out the laundry on your turn."
"That was before you broke Mum's vase with it."
"That was an accident!" he protested. "And you fixed it!"
"Did I? Did I really?" she said, giving him a serious look. At his glower, she grinned. "At least let me eat first, you little twa – uh, you little twit."
After a particularly long day at work like this one, it always took her a while to get out of the habit of swearing every two seconds. Yes, that was right: Dahlia Darzi, the creator of half of Hogwarts' current favourite curses, had a mouth cleaner than soap whenever she was home. It was an unwritten rule in the Darzi household that swearing was forbidden - which probably explained why she did it so much the second she stepped outside.
He scrambled up and began tugging on her hands like a six year old, pulling her upright. Before she could protest, Khayri yanked her out of the room and down the stairs, so quickly she nearly slipped and cracked her head on them. With a yelp, her hand shot out to grab the banister and she jerked to a stop.
"KHAYRI!" she shrieked. "You nearly killed me, you idiot!"
He blinked owlishly at her. "Oops?"
Dahlia glared. "You're lucky I'm so hungry right now," she said. "So I'm going to be too busy eating to bury you in the garden."
"You can't bury me in the garden, you'll ruin Mum's vegetables."
"That's exactly why I'll bury you there. Vegetables deserve to be ruined.”
He cocked his head to the side. "Okay." He shrugged, apparently deciding that being buried alive in their mum’s vegetable patch was a mere minor inconvenience, and added, "Mum made dal, you know."
"Get out of the way," she said and all but threw herself over the banister.
She landed clumsily, all knees and pain and ringing in her bones, prompting a shriek from the living room on just who the hell made that sound - but, far too concerned with the thought of dal, she brushed it off and stumbled upright.
"Cool!" Khayri exclaimed, hurtling down the stairs to follow her into the kitchen. "I wanna do that."
"Um, no," she scoffed.
"Why not? You did it."
"Yeah, because I'm nineteen and made of steel. You're, like, five and will probably snap if I even poked you."
"Not true," he said vehemently. "I'm actually really strong. And I'm ten, by the way."
"Sure. Ten... days old."
Khayri opened his mouth to retort, but he was cut off by a disapproving, "Dahlia, was that you who made that sound?" In the open doorway appeared Aadyha Darzi: thirty nine years old, five foot two inches tall, wearing a reproachful frown and a beige salwar kameez.
"No," she said automatically. She shot Khayri a look of warning, but there was no need: the kid didn't plan on ratting out his favourite sister any time soon.
"Yes, it was."
"If you already think it was me, why ask?" she replied, turning Mum's frown upside down.
Laughing, she drifted into the room, ruffling Khayri's hair as she passed him and guided Dahlia into a chair. "I made dal," she told her. "You sit down and I'll get you a plate."
"Okay." She grinned, happy to be waited on. "Give me quite a bit, I'm honestly starving."
She leaned back to stretch out on the chair, back arched like a cat, and let her eyes drift shut. As always, her mother began to hum as she fluttered around the kitchen, words tumbling from a foreign tongue like pretty petals, comforting and familiar, especially after such a long day. Dahlia stayed poised like that - spine curled, messy hair in tumbles, the somewhat angry line that often existed between her dark brows smoothed away - and tilted her head to the side to absorb it all. She wasn't particularly fluent in Hindi so for the life of her, she couldn't understand most of the melody, but it didn't really matter in the end.
The sound meant one thing and one thing only: she was home.
Of course, that effect was ruined by the front door slamming open and a loud, "AMMUUUUUU, HAS A LETTER COME FOR ME YET?" There was the hurried patter of feet; Dahlia opened her eyes just in time to see her younger sister run into the room.
Sana Darzi was nothing like Dahlia.
For one, she was a few months shy of fourteen years old. Dahlia was a few months into nineteen. For another, she was a social butterfly - not that Dahlia couldn't be sociable herself, it was just that she was prone to grabbing a cup of tea with someone and then telling that person to drown in it. It was all part of her charm.
It was not part of Sana's.
Sana preferred infectious giggles and whispers behind hands when the teacher's back was turned and clumsily rolling lipstick across the bow of her mouth. She was the sort of girl who doodled her crush's initials on her Maths exercise book, enthusiastically ran for her life in the bleep test, added person after person on Facebook and then Instagram and then Snapchat, and then actually talked to them on all three apps. Her face reflected that bright, cheerful innocence in the rosy apples of her cheeks and wide eyes. She was cute and loveable, though Khayri gave her a run for her money.
"The hell do you sound like a stampede of elephants for?" Dahlia asked by way of greeting. An automatic reprimand interrupted Mum's humming; Khayri snickered like a horse.
"I didn’t sound like an elephant," Sana objected.
"You're right. You were a herd."
"Shut up, Dahlia Didi," she shot back. "No one was talking you.”
"You are literally talking to me."
"No, I was talking to Mum."
"You see this? What’s going on between us? It's called a bloody conversation i.e. you're talking to me."
Sana's mouth opened and closed several times in frustration. For all her beams and rose-tinted glasses, she, like many, was not immune to the aggravation her older sister easily brought on. They loved each other and they loved to argue with each other.
"Amu!" She finally settled on, stomping her right foot once on the linoleum floor. "Make her stop."
"Dahlia, stop," Mum said dutifully, though her voice was as stern as if it was her own decision to cut in. She placed a plate of dal and roti in front of her and then a glass. "Just eat."
Sana was smug; Dahlia shoved half a roti into her mouth to stop an acerbic retort from rising into it.
"So, Amu," Sana said, turning to their mum. She now had their back to them as she scrubbed away at whatever was in the sink. "Did a letter come for me?"
Dahlia rolled her eyes.
Khayri made a face and said, "Why would a letter come for you?" His mouth wrapped around the words in exactly the same way hers would have, though they were rendered much sweeter since they were, after all, Khayri's. Clearly picking up on this, Sana shot him a disapproving look and then levelled it upon his role model. Dahlia ate some more roti.
"School has this pen pal system," Sana explained, pulling out a chair and perching on the edge. "Our year has it with another school from somewhere else in Greater Manchester and we were supposed to get our first letters this week."
"At 8pm?" Dahlia raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I was just asking..."
"Shut up, Dahlia Didi. Just because we can't all have ugly owls like you do to send our letters in the middle of the night."
"Don't speak like that to your sister," their mum threw over her shoulder.
"My owl isn't ugly," Dahlia said, even though he really was.
Euripides might have had a cool name that his owner was unapologetically proud of, but he was also an eagle owl with angry amber eyes, a sharp beak and an omnipresent expression that suggested he was plotting someone’s murder. He had cost her an arm and a leg to buy (since owls were not the cheapest thing on sale in Diagon Alley) and spent the majority of his time snoozing in his cage, but she had thought him a wise investment now that she no longer had access to school owls. She could, of course, go to the post office every time she wanted to send a letter - but to have to constantly pay money to communicate with her friends seemed unbelievably stupid to her. So, much to her parents' chagrin, Euripides had been bought exactly two months ago.
"Yes, he is. And he has a weird name."
"You have a weird name," Dahlia retorted. "Chickpea."
"Stop saying that! My name doesn’t even mean chickpea. It means brilliant."
"Whatever you say, chickpea."
Sana glared. "Brilliant."
"CHICK TO THE FREAKING PEA."
"WILL YOU TWO SHUT UP RIGHT NOW!" Mum yelled, throwing down the dishtowel she had been using to wipe one of the plates. She whirled around and smacked her forehead angrily. "Agar tum dono jhaghad te raho ge, mera sir phod do ge!"
There was silence.
And then Khayri smiled and said, "I like Euripides. He lets me stroke his feathers."
The kitchen exploded with laughter.
Do you see what I mean about the horrible ending?
Also, Dahlia's mum's outburst at the end means "if you two keep fighting, you're going to make my head explode" in Hindi according to the lovely 800 words of heaven.
Also, what do y'all think of this chapter? Like, do you hate it and me? Do you want to bask in the glorious shadow of The K? Are you wondering how the hell a waitress gets an article in WW? Lemme know in the review box below
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