A/N. This chapter has been beta-ed by JLHufflepuff. Thanks so much, Jessi. Also, thanks to GubraithianFire who helped me with the beginning of the chapter. To my readers, sorry for the delay. There's nothing I can say that can make up for my carelessness. So just scroll down and read the chapter. Please do not forget to read and review *huggles to all*
A week passed since that eventful day when the Marauders and Lily met Salma Shekh. True to his word, Mr. Shekh had taken them shopping, and, not surprisingly, they had spent almost all of their money on clothes and a few accessories. Lily had tried very hard to save her money, but after Salma explained to her that everything was more expensive these days, she backed down with a sigh.
The next few days had been pretty unforgettable for the boys and Lily. They went exploring. After school, Salma took them to various malls and theatres and other places which always left them awed. It seemed to Lily like the four of them were standing quite still while the world zoomed past them. She voiced her thoughts to the others, one night, when they were all sitting in the living room, chatting, after Salma’s family had turned in.
“The world has grown so much since our time,” stated Lily. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Salma look up from her book.
“I agree,” nodded Remus, checking out his jeans which Salma had bought for him a week before. “I mean, look at all these pockets. There are at least five to six here!”
Sirius laughed and piped up. “That’s nothing. Have you seen my black colored trousers? It contains eight pockets with strange round metal hooks,” he told Remus, who raised his eye-brows in amusement. Sirius continued, “There are six in front and two at the back, by the hips. Really amusing. Dunno how boys these days wear them.”
“It’s fashion, Sirius,” Salma spoke up.
“Sure, but if we wear such things at Hogwarts, people’ll laugh at us,” James told her. “Our reputation will be in ruins.”
Salma rolled her eyes and continued her reading. Lily shook her head at the boys. “I am not just talking about clothes…but forget it, you won’t understand,” she said, pursing her lips in irritation.
“So, what exactly are you reading, Salma?” Sirius asked, leaning closer to the other girl and peering into her book. It was as thick as the length of his thumb.
“Physics,” she replied. “We are going to have a test tomorrow. And I don’t know anything.”
“Are you serious?” Lily asked, looking baffled. She could never remember a time when they had test and Lily hadn’t already summarized the whole chapter.
Salma grinned at her. “Relax. I’ll just cheat.”
James whistled while Lily could only stare at her. “You shouldn’t cheat, Salma,” Remus said. “That’s…” (pause) “…cheating.”
James and Sirius glanced at each other, trying to stifle their laughter while Salma rolled her eyes. “Really, Remus. It’s all set. Don’t worry about me,” she said assuringly. “Besides, it’s just a small test. I don’t cheat in big exams.”
Neither Remus, nor Lily, looked convinced but they wisely kept quiet. What Salma did, was her own problem. They had been together for almost a week but there were many things about Salma that they didn’t know. And even though they got along pretty well, they were not the bestest of friends with Salma.
“It’s late. We better turn in,” she announced, flipping her book onto her table, getting up and stretching. Her night gown fell just below her knees and Lily noticed, for the first time, how frayed and old it looked. Salma said good night to them and left after switching off the lights.
Lily couldn’t sleep that night. Sure, she had found it hard to sleep in Salma’s house from the beginning, since she had to sleep with the boys and she was not at all comfortable with that. But then, there weren’t many rooms in this house to spare. Salma didn’t even have a room to herself; she slept with her grandmother and sister. No privacy at all! But Lily had no right to judge Salma’s family. They were not that rich.
Lily turned her to look at the three boys. All of them were sleeping soundly. How could they sleep anywhere other than their own dorm at Hogwarts and their house?
“Boys are weird,” she muttered to herself.
For the past week, Lily had been struggling to sleep peacefully. Sleep usually came to her, even if pretty late in the night, but tonight, it was different. She was feeling groggy but she just couldn’t close her eyes.
James was sleeping nearest to her (while Lily slept on the small mattress, the boys only had a thin sheet to cushion the hard ground) and looking at him, Lily’s mind wandered back to the day when she and the three Marauders had been transported into this world. Was it destiny? Was it written in their destiny to come here and meet Salma? Lily wasn’t sure she believed in destiny but it could be true…
“Come on, just let me sleep!” she ground out in frustration, shaking her head to get rid of the disturbing thoughts.
After five minutes of staring blankly at the ceiling, sleep came to her. But, unfortunately, for Lily, who was still in a half-conscious state, an unfamiliar sound woke her up. What exactly is that sound? she wondered, groggily, peering curiously through the darkness. The boys were still sleeping; James and Sirius snoring lightly. Lily closed her eyes and concentrated hard on whatever she was hearing.
It sounded like a moaning sound, as if someone was crying. It was very low and Lily presumed it was probably coming from somewhere below. Perhaps it a child crying… Her eyes began to feel heavy again and she fell asleep.
The next night, the same sound woke her up again. She didn’t get it. Who would be crying at this time of night? It really irritated her because whenever she tried to fall asleep, that crying sound would start.
This went of for days. Once, Lily even stood up and, putting her laziness aside, glanced out of the window, fully intending to shout at whoever that was disturbing her already fitful sleep. But the streets were bare. She couldn’t see a soul outside. And the thing that surprised her most was that when she stuck her head out of the window, the sound of crying became dull.
“What the hell,” she said to herself, frowning, as she turned back glance around the room. A reluctant thought came to mind that this sound was coming from within the house itself. Determined to investigate, she crossed the room, aiming to head towards the kitchen, but suddenly stopped in her tracks. The sound was coming from the ‘computer room.’ Heart pounding against her chest, Lily retraced back a couple of steps and tip-toed towards the small room. It had no door but the curtains were drawn.
Did she dare pull open the curtains and see who it was? She didn’t know what to do. Someone was crying in this room, really hard, Lily felt a twinge in her heart. She so badly wanted to peek inside. Was it Salma? Or was it her sister of Mrs. Shekh? It was impossible to tell. Lily put a hand to her mouth when the sound became more gut-wrenching. It was low, but in the silence of the night, it suddenly seemed deafening to Lily, who turned tail and went back to where she slept.
The next morning, at breakfast, she observed all four of the females in the Shekh family. She didn’t think it was Salma’s grandmother who she heard crying, so she focused her attention on Salma, her sister and their mother. Surprisingly, they seemed normal…almost happy.
Salma’s voice brought her back to the earth. Lily jumped and quickly asked, “What?”
Everyone was eyeing her oddly. “What’s the matter, Lils?” asked James. Had Lily not been so occupied with her thoughts, she would surely have reprimanded James for referring to her as Lils instead of Evans.
“No-nothing,” she answered, as casually as she could, pushing toast around in her plate.
Salma’s dad spoke up from behind the newspaper, “Is there some problem? Do you want anything?”
Lily shook her head. “No, Mr. Shekh. I am quite good.” She smiled at everyone reassuringly. They resumed their breakfast but Lily knew Remus was unconvinced by her answer. He kept throwing her worried glances.
“What’s your problem, Lily?” he asked, catching the first opportunity he could lay his hands on. “You have been acting strangely.”
“Have I?” Lily asked, reluctant to tell him just yet. She bit her lip.
“Yes. Since this morning. And you have slight bags under your eyes,” Remus replied, worriedly. “Are you sleeping alright? Because, if it’s those two snoring, we can just snuff some cotton into their mouth.”
Lily giggled. “Thanks, Remus. But I am fine,” she said firmly. Remus dropped the matter, but Lily wasn’t one of those people who quit easily.
That night, she lay awake, waiting for whomever it was who cried in the computer room. Since nobody slept in that small, almost suffocative, room, it was but obvious that someone went there every night. And for that, they would have to pass the room where Lily slept, along with the guys.
Einee, meenie, mina, mo, Lily kept thinking in her head so that she would not fall asleep. She had been awake for over two hours and no sign of anyone sneaking in. The voice of James Potter muttering something in his sleep made her giggle. She raised her head slightly to look at him from above the pillows that separated the boys from Lily. Her sudden, totally un-Lily-like idea of tickling James in the ear, was instantly forgotten when she heard low foot-steps coming from the kitchen.
There was low bumping noise and somebody hissed in pain. “Ow!”
Lily put her hand to her mouth, stifling her gasp in shock at hearing the familiar deep voice of Salma Shekh. Lily quickly put her head on her pillow and pretended to sleep as Salma passed. It was when she heard the curtains (of the other room) closing, that Lily sat up and looked around in disbelief.
Lily couldn’t comprehend the fact that it was Salma who cried every night. She did not sleep the whole night, wondering what it could be that bothered the Indian girl enough to shed tears regularly. Did she have a secret? Was someone bullying her at school? No, that seemed impossible; Salma was a strong and intimidating girl. No one would dare bully.
“Then, what is it?” she thought to herself, without realizing that she had spoken out loud.
“What is what, Evans?”
Lily looked up at James’ voice. All three boys were staring at her. She vaguely remembered that they had already had breakfast and Salma had left for school. Lily felt hungry again. She bit her lip, debating whether to tell the boys or not. Finally, she decided she should. They all were in this together and maybe they could help Salma in some way.
“What is it that’s upsetting Salma,” replied Lily softly, fiddling nervously with her thumbs.
“What do you mean?” asked Sirius, sharing confused looks with Remus and James.
“I…uh…heard her crying last night.” And she told them everything, word after word spilling from her mouth like water. “…and I can’t help wondering what it is that’s bothering her.”
“Maybe she’s being bullied,” suggested James, after the shock had subsided.
“Ruled out,” said Lily, shaking her head. “Do you seriously believe anyone could bully Salma Shekh?”
James sighed and sank back. Lily was right. It was probably something really bad that was getting at Salma. It was hard to imagine the girl cry. She was always laughing and making sarcastic jokes.
“Why don’t we ask her ourselves?” Sirius piped up, his tone uncharacteristically grave. “She’s sure to tell us.”
“No, Sirius, she won’t. She doesn’t strike me as the type of girl who shares her problems with others,” stated Remus, pursing his lips in thought. “If she hasn’t told her parents, it’s only obvious she won’t tell us.”
Lily agreed with him. “Besides, we don’t want her to think we are prying in her business. It’s just that she has done so much for us that I want to help her too.”
“We understand, Evans,” said James, and Lily smiled lightly at him.
“Call me Lily.”
James looked surprised and Sirius broke into a wide grin. “Now that’s what I am talking about,” he beamed. Lily blushed, and then turned serious.
“So what do we do now?” she asked them in general, her expression anxious.
“Let’s just play along and see where it takes us. If nothing works, we could always catch her red-handed,” declared Sirius and the others couldn’t help nodding.
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