Chapter 4 : Witch Weekly's Most Charming Scowl Award
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WITCH WEEKLY'S MOST CHARMING SCOWL AWARD
abyss @ tda
Dinner together with the quartet was starting to become more of a regular affair. Remus and Dorcas had taken a liking to each other, though they were both too shy to make it official. Since James didn’t want to be a third wheel, Lily was invited as well. Marlene somehow managed to always have something crop up. Not so subtle, McKinnon: Lily knew the brunette was trying to force her to interact with James. She didn’t want to spend excess time with the bloke, but she liked Remus, and Dorcas was one of her best friends, so she endured it.
As enigmatic as the spectacles-wearing, wild-haired former Gryffindor was in some mannerisms, he had gotten to become quite predictable. Conversations with Potter tended to go one of two ways.
Exhibit A, the short, irritating exchanges, culminating in either Dorcas or Remus clearing their throats and/or in her wanting to hex the hell out of him:
“Could you pass the potatoes please, Potter?”
A slight smirk. “Hmm. I could.”
“Will you, James Potter, pass. The. Sodding. Potatoes.” A pause. “Please.”
“Why, Evans, you could have just asked.” He passed the potatoes. She wanted to fling the whole bowl at him.
Or Exhibit B, the long, heated arguments, sometimes over trivial topics, culminating in either Dorcas or Remus trying to change the topic and/or her wanting to hex the hell out of him:
“Well, I for one think Divination is stupid.”
“How narrow-minded can you be, Potter? People make their livings on the trade; you can’t just sweep all that under the rug and say that it’s stupid.”
“Merlin, Evans, it’s not even that important.”
“What if someone said that Quidditch was stupid?”
“Quidditch isn’t stupid--!”
“I never said that it was, Potter, I just said what if--”
Dorcas, sensing an argument, tried to nip it in the bud. “Lily, you didn’t even like Divination. Stormed out of the class one day because Trelawney pissed you off, remember?”
A huff, on her part. “Not the point, Dorcas. Trelawney’s just a bint and predicting that I’d end up alone for the rest of my life was way out of hand.” At this point, Remus looked like he was holding back a laugh, which she could take with good nature, but Potter’s smirk--damn, she hated that smirk--was too much. “My point still stands. Just because one professor isn’t the best in the subject, doesn’t give Potter the chance to go around lording his biased, condescending ways over everyone else.”
“Oh, so I’m not allowed to have an opinion, is that it?”
“You’re allowed to have an opinion, and I’m allowed to have an opinion about that opinion! And your opinion is always, I’ve noticed, deprecating others.”
James looked like he was about to say something, but he was interrupted by Remus, who cleared his throat. “So, how about that Harpies match, eh?” The rest of the dinner was spent with the Auror sulking in the background.
There was, however, one time when he was most curious.
It had been a conversation centering around their worst possible traits. Potter, of all people, had been the one to bring it up. He had said, with a grin over at Remus that had momentarily looked roguishly boyish, that they had known each other long enough that there should be no qualms about discussing that, anyway.
“Are you so arrogant, Potter, to believe that you don’t have any qualities so bad that we might change our minds?” she had asked right away.
“No, I’m in the firm belief that Remus is saintly enough for you lot to want to remain around him, and I stick around for the hell of it,” he had quipped back right away.
“Right, then, since you volunteered the topic, you might as well volunteer yourself to go first,” she replied, studying him intently.
He did not stiffen under the inspection, meeting her gaze with an intense one of his own. “I’m good at holding grudges,” he said, without missing a beat. “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.”*
“So you don’t believe in second chances?” she had asked curiously.
“If you want to interpret it that way,” had been the vague answer.
She had not quite been sure what to make of that. All she could conclude was that there were parts of James Potter that still remained very much an enigma, even if she thought she had him pegged down.
On approximately the third week of James and Remus moving in, Remus’s cousin Petrova Pettigrew came to visit. There were quite a few things of note about the witch, but one key characteristic was that she still nursed a mad, archetypal schoolgirl crush on James.
Thing was, Petrova had hung around the three of them--James, Sirius, and Remus--quite often while at school. It had started out awkwardly at first, but somehow, they’d formed a group: the Marauders. The kind of group that you wouldn’t be surprised if you found out they went through a boy band phase (er, boy band plus a girl) and were as thick as thieves.
She had been one of the guys--she was called Pete, when she wasn’t called Wormtail. But sometime in their fifth year, about two months after they had all become illegal Animagi for the sake of her (flattered, grateful, but positively livid) cousin, she had developed something of a crush on James, and suddenly, being one of the guys wasn’t good enough. The group had splintered into more of a trio than a quartet after graduation, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t come over for the sake of full moon. Especially when Black made some lousy excuse about not showing up.
Lily Evans did not know of this, though. Mostly, she knew that the first time Petrova Pettigrew saw her, she called her a crazy bint in a not-so-subtle whisper and Potter had laughed, and that killed any chances that Pettigrew might have had at a good first impression.
And she knew that Remus looked noticeably ill the few days that she hung around, and even Potter seemed tense and annoyed at times, which was strange, because she would have thought he’d bask in attention of the female persuasion. Fueled by her own dislike, she (perhaps incorrectly) deduced that the two must not have liked Petrova much.
Petrova was definitely jealous of Lily, for reasons that Lily could not quite comprehend. Did she seriously think that the arguments that Potter picked with her were something to be envious of? Whatever the reason, she tended to pick on her whenever they bumped into each other in the hallway or had dinner together. It ranged from jabs at her appearance to her personality to her career: seldom was the same insult reused.
One evening at dinner had been particularly awkward. Remus had excused himself halfway through, and Dorcas--who Petrova was actually decent to--had hurried to check up on him. So it was just her, Potter, and the rat, and she should have known it wouldn’t end well before it had even started.
It began with the chicken.
“Isn’t that the third drumstick you’ve eaten?” Petrova asked, crinkling her nose.
Lily, who had been helping herself to more, paused. “So?” she asked, defiantly. “Just because you seem to have some vengeance against protein and carbohydrates doesn’t mean we all have to follow suit.”
Potter had snorted, but Petrova scoffed. “I can’t imagine trying to keep my figure, eating like that. Can you, James?”
“Are you trying to call me fat, love?” Lily retorted, not sure if she should be amused or exasperated. She hated how low other girls could get, insulting other girls’ appearances to impress boys. At least she was not insecure enough to buy into whatever Pettigrew said.
“Well, it’s not ladylike, that’s all.”
Before Lily could incredulously ask what century she was living in and spew off on some spiel about feminism, Potter had cut in. “Pete, you’re not one to talk about ladylike,” he remarked. “Don’t you remember the kinds of things you got up to with us?” She was surprised that he was leaping to her defense.
So was Pettigrew. “That was back when we were kids,” she sniffed. “Things are different now.”
There was a silence. And then: “So, you’re a trainee healer, right, Lily?” Petrova asked, a glint in her eye. Merlin, that girl wouldn’t stop, would she? At the wary nod from Lily, she continued, “D’you not possess enough talent for them to promote you, or something?”
“Pete,” Potter had said warningly.
“What? I was just asking.”
“Oh, yeah,” Lily said sarcastically. “I only ever got into the program because I slept with the healer in charge.”
Potter had choked on his wine, but Petrova didn’t even miss a beat. “Really?” A penciled eyebrow arched, she eyed the redhead. “A wasted investment, if you ask me.”
Lily only gawked at her, incredulous and half-irate, and James cleared his throat. Thankfully, both of them were spared a response with the return of Dorcas, who reported that Remus was resting. Petrova focused her attention on simpering to Dorcas, instead, and that had been that.
“I thoroughly dislike her,” Lily said later, when they had returned to their own flat. “Even more than Potter, which is saying something.”
“Well, I don’t think she was that bad,” Dorcas said sheepishly.
“That was because she was actually somewhat decent to you, to suck up to her cousin--”
“Oh, come off it. Not everyone has ulterior motives all the time.”
Lily shot her a look. “She was acting like Marge!” When Dorcas didn’t seem to understand, she clarified, “Er, my sister’s boyfriend’s sister. Met her once. Wasn’t pleasant.”
Dorcas nodded, absently. Her mind was on other things. “Remus said that she’s only staying for a day or two more. So you won’t have to deal with her any longer, regardless. Speaking of whom, he’s been really pale and ill-looking lately, hasn’t he? And last night, when I knocked on their door because I’d forgot something there earlier--” Dorcas blushed at the questioning glance Lily threw her way. “Um, I’d surprised him with chicken soup because I thought he had a cold or something, and I left my jacket there.”
“Is this the jacket you’ve been missing for a week or so now?” Lily asked, a hint of a smile on her face now. “If you knew it was there why didn’t you just retrieve it at any of the times we’ve had dinner since then?”
Dorcas chose to ignore the question. “Anyway, when I knocked, no one answered. It didn’t seem like anyone was in the flat at all.”
So the conversation turned to the topic of the small mystery, leaving the one of Petrova Pettigrew behind. And good riddance, too.
One thing was for certain: when the time came to bid her farewell, Lily was all too glad.
“I wonder when we’ll get to meet this mysterious third flatmate of theirs,” Remus commented one rainy day, as he and James walked home after getting takeout at the Chinese restaurant two blocks away. (It had been clear out when they had left, though at least Remus had the foresight to check the weather and bring an umbrella.)
“Bet she’s attractive. Bet Sirius is regretting not moving in with us.” James was still a bit bitter about their other best mate being a no-show, especially when he had been the one with the idea to move there in the first place. “Think we can convince him to come down for a visit?”
“Dunno.” Remus’s eyebrows creased together. “He seems really against this place, for some reason.”
“Oh, that’s rich. He’s against it now, but he wasn’t when he’d picked it out and then told us that he’d already leased it in advance for us.” James rolled his eyes. Though he supposed he couldn’t stay mad at Sirius: he had needed to find a flat in London, and Sirius had been great enough to take care of everything. Anyway, Netherfield Flats wasn’t that bad, contrary to his initial opinion. He refused to believe that his opinion had changed because of a certain redhead.
“That’s Sirius for you. He vacillates.” The two had gotten into the lobby of their block of flats, and Remus had started to shake the umbrella on the mat before stepping further inside, smiling briefly at a black-haired man that he happened to make eye contact with. “We ought to be used to it by now.”
James sighed, leading the way up the stairs. “Still, we should convince him to come. He can’t avoid this place forever--and for no good reason, too. Family business my ass.” Sirius couldn’t fool anyone, least of all James. He might be on better terms with the family, and found them amusing to make fun of, but he didn’t give a damn about what those motherfuckers thought anymore. “He didn’t even come to last full moon, and even Pete went to that.”
Remus shot him a look. “The first rule of full moon is?”
“That we don’t talk about full moon,” James chorused with a knowing smirk. “Especially within potential earshot of potential new girlfriends. Relax, mate; no one is even listening.”
“Shut up, Prongs, for more reasons than one.” They rounded the corner that would lead them to the corridor containing their flat, and that was they bumped into the mysterious third flatmate as she was locking the door.
The two wizards stood stone-statue still.
“Marlene?” came Remus’s surprise statement.
“McKinnon?” Simultaneously, James’s had resounded. “You’re the third flatmate?”
Marlene, on her part, looked flustered. “Remus, James. Hey. What’s up? Haven’t spoken to you two in a while.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” James muttered, the first of the two to get over the initial shock.
Marlene ignored him, as did Remus, who managed a polite smile. “Nothing much, just, you know, moving and all that,” he said warily. “I hope that you’re well?”
James began to scrutinize her to gauge her answer; Marlene saw the challenge and rose up to it. “Oh, I’ve been fantastic,” she said, jutting out her chin just a little. Defiantly. “If that wasn’t the answer you were looking for, well, sorry to disappoint.”
Remus opened his mouth to answer, but James cut in coldly. “It wasn’t the one that we were looking for, but it was the one we were expecting.”
“Don’t pretend that I wouldn’t fail the test no matter what I said, expecting it or not,” Marlene shot back.
There was a heavy silence, and the three former lions played a game of Who Would Break It First.
Marlene won: or lost, depending. “Look, I have to go. My boyfriend’s waiting downstairs, and if I keep him waiting too long he’ll come and check up on me, and if he sees me talking to two blokes, his natural jealousy will kick in.”
“Right,” James said coolly. “No need to babble, love. We were on our way inside, anyway.”
The two groups moved like glaciers in the northern seas: icily, deliberately, with cracks in their foundations, drifting apart.
“Prongs, you’ve got to learn how to control yourself.”
It was two days after the encounter with Marlene, and immediately after Lily and Dorcas had departed from another one of their biweekly dinners. When Marlene’s name had been mentioned during the dinner in passing by Lily, James had turned it into a full-fledged heated argument, and Remus was sure that the ensuing fight shook the very foundations of the building.
“It’s not my fault that Evans insists on defending her sodding friend.”
“Lily did exactly what anyone would do if someone insulted one of their best mates in front of them,” Remus pointed out.
James rolled his eyes. “It was well-deserved,” he said automatically. “And it must say something about Evans’s character, if she’s so quick to be on the defensive about that kind of a person.”
“You should know better than to judge people by the people that are around them,” Remus said pointedly.
They were both silent, thinking of Sirius’s mum and dad. “Yeah, I know.”
“And what you said about Marlene was harsh.”
James scowled, but agreed to this, too. “Yeah, I know.”
“You should apologize.”
“Rather not, Mum,” James said, half cheekily. There was a thoughtful pause. “But I guess I’ll stop bothering Padfoot about coming here. Reckon he won’t want to see her, either.”
“Ah, returning at last to your harlot of a friend, huh?” And that had been the nicest of the insults.
Lily looked over to see Marlene standing by the open screen door that led to the balcony, a cigarette lingering between her fingers. The room smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, and if she hadn’t felt bad about what her friend had overheard, she might have reprimanded her for smoking inside and/or taking advantage of her magic to silence the smoke detectors. “You heard?”
“Christ, I think the whole neighborhood heard,” Marlene laughed hollowly. She took note of Dorcas’s concerned expression. “Don’t look at me like that, Dorky.”
“Call me that again and I’ll start calling you Marlot,” Dorcas quipped. A pause. “Too soon?”
“Nah, it’s fine. I’m fine. It’s not like he said anything that I haven’t heard before--charming, wasn’t that tirade?” She preferred to laugh it off.
“He’s a prat,” Lily said automatically.
“I’m sure James Potter can be charming in his own right,” Dorcas said, playing devil’s advocate.
“Yeah, I bet he can win Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Scowl Award hands down,” Lily smirked wryly. “Anyway, Dorcas, you’re too forgiving. How can you still be defending him after he’s slighted two of your friends now?” Glancing over at Marlene, she added, “How does he even know you, anyway?”
Marlene took a long drag of her cigarette. “It’s not important.”
“Really? He went and called you a slut--”
“He probably didn’t mean it that way,” frowned Dorcas.
“In what universe does ‘slut’ have a positive connotation?”
“We can ask him to apologize--”
“That won’t be necessary,” Marlene interrupted. At Lily’s and Dorcas’s skeptical expressions, she added, “Really, it’s not. It’s like you said before, Lily; it doesn’t matter what he says, right?” Extinguishing her cigarette, she smirked, almost snapping back to her old self. “Oh, but the sexual tension in that argument.”
Lily rolled her eyes and cracked open a cupboard to change the subject. “Well, we’ve all had a long night. Who’s up for some vodka?”
* direct quote from Pride and Prejudice
A/N: Yup, in this universe, Peter is Caroline Bingley. Heh. I actually slipped that in sneakily last chapter: Petrova is Remus's art-collecting cousin. And yeah, I did throw in a Fight Club reference, if you caught it.
Thank you again for the reviews and support so far! ^___^
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