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Chapter 3 : Taking in a Stray
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The flat had only three rooms. The living room and kitchen occupied the same space, with only a change in flooring from thin brown carpet to tarnished white tile to mark the separation between them. A ragged blue couch sat in the center of the living room with a small coffee table and floor lamp nearby to keep it company. There was limited counter space in the kitchen, though it did house a refrigerator, a grimy electric stove, a microwave, and a wooden island that seemed to serve as the dining table. The pair of cabinets on one wall held a set of mismatched plates and silverware and a small collection of drinking glasses. Next to them was an aged plastic corded phone. Down the short corridor was a small bedroom. The full-sized bed looked battered yet comfortable, and the open closet revealed a simple but adequate female wardrobe. Finally, across the hall, there was a tiny bathroom, complete with a tub, sink and porcelain toilet.
It wasn’t much, but she seemed to keep it quite clean, and Sirius supposed it was plenty of space for a woman living alone. In fact, he thought it looked like a mansion compared to his old cell.
“How long have you lived here?” He asked, coming to a stop inside the living room.
“About three years.” She said, moving into the kitchen and setting her purse down on the counter.
“I see.” He nodded, taking in the peeling wallpaper. “You ever thought about fixing it up?”
“Yes.” She laughed softly. “I’ve just never gotten around to it, I guess.”
“Mmm.” Sirius said, putting his hands in his pockets. “So, erm, I suppose I’ll take the couch, then?”
“That’s what I figured, yeah.” She glanced up at him. “But you want dinner first, don’t you?”
“Dinner?” If he were still in dog form, his ears might have actually pricked up at the word.
“Of course.” She smirked, washing her hands in the kitchen sink. “Do you know anything about cooking?”
“No.” He confessed, slightly ashamed.
“That’s okay. No better time than the present.” She motioned for him to come over to her, and he obliged, rolling up the sleeves of his borrowed shirt and washing his hands as she had done.
“What are we making?” He asked.
“How about spaghetti?” She suggested, pulling a box of noodles out of a drawer.
“Sounds lovely.” He said, though most anything would have. He watched as she pulled several rich, red tomatoes still on the vine from the refrigerator, along with a plump white onion, two large cloves of garlic, and a block of mozzarella cheese. Last, but not least, she withdrew a jar of Italian spices from the cabinet. Satisfied with her pull, she set a pot on the stove, turning on the heat as she poured tap water into it for the noodles.
Sirius stared at the stove, mystified. He had never been inside a Muggle house before, and the idea of cooking without the use of a wand was entirely foreign to him. To be honest, waiting for the water to boil without a spell to hurry it along was terribly boring. As strange as it was, the look on his companion’s face seemed to suggest that she held similar feelings at the moment.
When the water finally began to bubble, she broke up the noodles and dropped them into the pot, turning to her cutting board and beginning to work on the tomatoes. He watched her for a moment and then took a clean knife, starting to slice up the onion and garlic.
“No, no, not on the counter.” She directed gently. “Here, let me do that. Why don’t you grate up the cheese?” She handed the block of mozzarella to him, and he looked at her blankly. With a smirk, she opened a drawer and handed him a strange metal tool with a number of sharply edged holes in one side of it. After giving him a bit of continued guidance, she soon had him grating the cheese somewhat efficiently, though he did slip and cut off small chunks from time to time.
Before too long, they were leaning on opposite sites of the small island, twirling spaghetti noodles and bits of the chunky homemade sauce in their forks. “This is delightful.” Sirius remarked, taking another large bite. “You make meals like this often?”
She nodded, taking very tiny nibbles. “I don’t eat out much.” She paused after a moment, putting her fork down and looking thoughtful. “I almost forgot. Would you like some wine?”
“Wine, yes.” He said, watching her go and retrieve a bottle of merlot from the cabinet. She poured each of them a glass, taking a small gulp of hers. He ate more spaghetti, coming to believe that she made a habit out of substituting drink for food whenever possible.
“So what do you do when you’re not at the diner?” He asked, watching her begin to work on the small pile of dirty dishes they’d generated, her own plate of pasta seemingly forgotten.
“Read, mostly.” He hadn’t previously noticed the thin bookcase in the corridor, but she pointed it out now, its shelves packed full of classic Muggle literature. “I work as much as I can, though.”
“Have you ever thought about getting a dog or something?” He suggested. “I mean, unless you’re allergic… it must get sort of lonely around here, that’s all.”
Yes. More lonely than you know. She wanted to say this aloud, but she kept her cool. “It’s not bad.” She lied. “I enjoy my solitude.”
“I suppose I can understand that.” He was lying, too.
“Well, like we said earlier, you can make yourself comfortable on the couch.” She said, changing the subject. “There are leftovers in the refrigerator if you get hungry, and I’ll go get pillows and blankets from the closet for you.” She stood up, heading into the bedroom to fetch them now.
He watched her walk away, cleaning his plate. Pillows? Blankets? These were fine luxuries to him.
She returned a moment later, handing him her finds and turning back to her unfinished dinner. She moved to scrape it into the garbage can, and he cleared his throat. “If you’re… full… would you mind leaving it? This way I can avoid eating all of your leftovers.”
She paused, and then set the plate back down on the island. “Sure.” With a shy smile, she bid him goodnight and headed back to the bathroom, intending to take a shower before bed. Closing the door behind her, she pulled off one article of clothing at a time. No longer covered by her loose t-shirt, the bones at her hips and underneath her small breasts protruded slightly from under her skin, only slightly too visible for her slender form to pass as beautiful. She thought sadly of her forsaken spaghetti, of the fresh vegetables and expensive spices that would have gone to waste were it not for her unexpected guest. She only ever bought pasta and rice anymore, forcing herself to stick to inexpensive foods until she could figure out a way to kick-start her appetite once more and make the added expense of variety worthwhile. The ingredients in tonight’s dish had been a splurge, a reminder of her continued hope for a normal life. She would have to go back to getting cheap, canned tomato sauce next time.
She glanced at the mirror as she removed the rest of her clothes. She had come to treat this spot in her home as a shrine, and she began to unwittingly worship her image in the mirror now. The bones in her jaw were beginning to stick out a little bit too much, but she saw more defined features, the beauty of a woman completely in control of herself. It made the many months of suppressing her appetite seem worth it, chasing her nostalgia for her lost hunger away for another evening. Nothing will ever taste as good as this feels, she reminded herself. Was it true?
She turned from these deep considerations now, focusing her attention on getting in and out of the water before it got too much later. She would need to be up early for the breakfast crowd that hardly ever came. She pulled a towel around her, attempting to shut out the neverending chill, and turned the nozzle for the hot water. Nothing came out. She fiddled with it for a few moments, and then, with a sigh, she reached into the medicine cabinet, withdrawing her wand from the bottom shelf. It was eight and a half inches, rosewood, and filled with a hair from a unicorn’s tail, showing nowhere near the wear a wand that had been in the possession of a witch for more than twenty years should display. This, of course, was because she only used it in emergencies. With a light tap, the hot water began to pour from the showerhead at last, and she abandoned the towel, putting the wand back in its hiding place and stepping underneath the stream of water.
In the living room, Sirius settled into a comfortable position on the sofa, piling pillows under his head and pulling the blankets up close to his chest. As he lay in the darkness, he thought about the blonde woman who would be sleeping only a few yards away from him. She was beautiful, but it was marred by her too-thin figure and the hint of sadness that seemed to taint her every smile. No matter what she said about her life, her unhappiness reached all the way into her eyes.
He closed his eyes, hearing the shower turn off and a door opening and closing, signaling that she had retreated into her bedroom at last. She had been unreasonably kind to him, leading him to believe that she was merely desperate for a friend. That, he realized, they both had in common.
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