The Missing Shoe and the Second First Impression
“Hurry up, Mara! You’re going to be late!”
I threw a sharp glare at the half-opened door, wishing that my mother would stop calling up the stairs every time a minute ticked by. I knew without her constant shouts that I was late, and that I was going to make a bad first impression on my boss. Today wasn’t my first official day at work, but I’d received an owl from Gringotts the previous night asking if I would ‘drop in and take a tour of the bank as a means of further understanding the inner workings of Gringotts - the most trusted name in wizard banking.’
Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to find my other shoe, I aimed my left foot towards the closet door and kicked off the shoe I had found. As it clunked to the floor, I heard footsteps marching up the stairs. I rolled my eyes, pulled off the black socks encasing my feet, and scrambled over to the closet to make it look as though I’d done something productive instead of standing in the middle of my room and pondering the whereabouts of my missing shoe.
I had just begun my frantic search for matching shoes when Mum appeared in the doorway, looking very harassed. “What in Merlin’s pants is taking you so long?” she asked, adjusting Jack, whose face was covered with what looked to be pureed peas and cat vomit.
“None of my shoes match,” I answered, digging deeper through the pile of shoes at the bottom of my closet. “For the love of Circe, I can’t remember having this many shoes!” I was half-ready to tear my hair out of my skull, I was so fed up with everything about this day. If the morning kept up at this pace, I wasn’t going to survive lunch.
“That’s because half of them are mine,” Mum remarked offhandedly, as if I should have known this key factor.
“No wonder hardly any of them fit!” I released a frustrated sigh and withdrew the upper half of my body that the closet had seemingly devoured in my search to glare at Mum threateningly. Unfortunately, she seemed unfazed by my weak attempt to look menacing. It’s always good to know that people regard you as a joke. Really, it boosts the confidence immensely. Dragging a hand through my hair, I continued, “I tried for twenty minutes to get these -” I held up a pair of patent leather pumps that were two sizes too small - “to fit, but they wouldn’t go on.”
I didn’t know why I’d convinced myself that wearing two-inch high heels to work would be a smart idea considering that I could hardly walk in flat shoes without tripping over my own feet, but they looked fancy. And, well, I was trying to convince my boss not to fire me on the first day that really wasn’t my first day at all.
Mum’s face brightened at the sight of the offending shoes. “You’ve found them! Oh, Mara,” she said as she dashed into the room, apparently forgetting that my son was attached to her hip and jostling him. I had the mad urge to yell at her for being so careless, but I didn’t really have time to start another argument over who knew more about parenting - the experienced mother of one might-be-crazy child or the first time mother who got nervous when her baby sneezed three times in a row. “I’ve been looking for these for ages!”
I rolled my eyes. “Glad to be of service,” I grumbled as I pushed myself onto my knees and grabbed the first pair of shoes that I could find - the ones I’d worn to Granny Gus’s funeral. Even though they still reeked of fire whisky if you got too close, they were the only ones I had. And they would have to do. Besides, I highly doubted anyone would be pressing their face against my shoes, sniffing them.
The mental image of a goblin bent over my shoes and surmising that I was an alcoholic was as amusing as it was frightening.
“Did you know your father bought these for me?” Mum asked rhetorically as I sat down on the edge of the mattress and, rather violently, shoved my feet into my shoes. “He saw them at Gladrag’s in Hogsmeade, you know, the place where you used to get all of those unflattering vests that you were so fond of?” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and adjusted Jack on her hip. “Yes, he saw them there while he was supervising a trip to the village and said that they looked like something I would love. And I do.” She sighed happily, a faraway look on her face. Obviously, she was reliving the memory of the initial gift giving. I didn’t want to think of the details of the events that followed. “Your father knows me so -”
“That’s wonderful, Mum,” I interrupted, jumping to my feet as soon as I had latched the strap around my ankle. “But I really have to go.” I hurried toward the door, Summoning my cloak from the armchair in the corner of the room. “Be good for Gran, won’t you?” I asked Jack, who blinked his large, hazel eyes at me innocently. Smiling back, I planted a kiss on his forehead.
“Have a good day, love!” Mum called as I ran down the stairs.
Skidding to a halt in front of the fireplace, I grabbed a handful of the green powder in the flower pot and threw it into the grate. Once the emerald flames flickered into life, I stepped into the grate and called, at the top of my voice, “Gringotts!”
If I had been expecting a huge welcoming committee complete with ridiculous party hats and loud crackers, I didn’t get it. Luckily, I’d learned early on in life not to expect too much for any situation, especially ones you were throwing yourself into headfirst without any inclination as to how they would turn out.
So when I came stumbling out of the grate, scattering soot and dust all over the fine marble floor, I was surprised to see a goblin leap out of its seat behind a rather rickety looking desk and come waddling toward me. This goblin was a great deal smaller than the others I’d seen over the course of my lifetime, but then again, I didn’t exactly spend all of my spare time in the company of the big-headed, hairy-feet creatures.
“Let me guess. . .Longbottom?” wheezed the goblin in an oddly high-pitched voice.
I blinked in surprise, having expected a deep, almost guttural vocal to come from the creature’s throat.
“Y-yes,” I stammered, my hand instinctively zipping up to my hair and attempting to flatten the undutiful mess; my hair always fell victim to soot-coated tangles during the Floo process, which was one of the three reasons why I hated it. James was the only person who knew the other two reasons why, given that he’d been there for both of them and had laughed for a good twenty minutes on each account.
What a prat.
The goblin raised its hard, black eyes to my face, examining me with its x-ray like vision. Its upper lip curled back into what was obviously a sneer of revulsion when our eyes met, and I gave an experimental sniff. Maybe I had underestimated the potency of the fire whiskey remnants on my shoes.
“You’re late,” it croaked glaringly.
Every ounce of blood in my body seemed to rush to my face, making me uncomfortably hot around the collar. I chuckled nervously, tugging at the neck of my cloak. “It’s actually a really funny story -”
“I’m sure it is,” the goblin deadpanned looking less than amused.
I ignored it, bristling slightly. “Well, you see, it all started when my son woke up - and, um, - well, I couldn’t find my shoes - and then my mother, you know how mothers can be - and then I -,”
“I don’t have time to listen to your excuses, Longbottom,” the goblin grounded out in a wheezy type of croak, effectively cutting me off. “Contrary to popular belief, we goblins have other obligations that don’t revolve around wizards -”
“I wasn’t trying to waste your time. . .er,” I smiled an apologetic smile at the goblin. “What did you say your name was again?”
The goblin’s brow creased in a very disconcerting scowl. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself,” the goblin huffed, straightening its bent back, “because, as I expected from a young witch such as yourself, your tardiness has eliminated the need for formalities.”
I bit down hard on my lips to prevent the offended gasp from escaping me. I was used to petty insults - when your best friend is James Potter, you learn very early on how to take ‘em as well as dish ‘em out. I also wasn’t a stranger to judgment, but honestly? This little shit of a goblin had hardly known me for two minutes and already it was speaking condescendingly towards me. I had tried to be nice - though, admittedly, not very hard -, but apparently this goblin wasn’t having any of it.
So much for a prejudice-free, post-Voldemort world.
Fortunately, I was smart enough not to get on the goblin’s bad side; all it took was one rogue goblin and I was done for, my reputation at Gringotts spoiled. Lorraine, the woman who’d helped me handled Jack in the early stages of my motherhood, had said it was very unwise to displease a goblin, and it was even stupider to argue with one. Judging by the expression of distaste of the nameless goblin’s face, I hadn’t done a very good job thus far at either.
The goblin tutted irritably. “Well, are you just going to stand there waiting for the grass to grow or are you going to wake up and follow me?”
The tone in which the goblin spoke, an annoyed sort of grumble, was enough to spur me into action. Giving my cloak one final pat down and sending spirals of black soot twirling through the air, I waited until the goblin was a few paces ahead of me before following. Once, I had followed this paranoid Hufflepuff named Alexia Gibbs too closely and she hexed me. I ended up singing the Hebrew alphabet for three and a half hours before the matron figured out the counter-curse.
After we descended a short set of stairs, we followed a wide corridor with oak panelling, which was decorated with portraits of goblins and wizards alike. When I squinted at the bronze plaques beneath each name, I saw that they were all former heads of some department or another. It was strange; I hadn’t known that, like the Ministry, Gringotts was broken up into individual departments with their own concerns. Childishly, I’d believed that the bank consisted of the main foyer where the goblins were situated behind their high desks and the caverns beneath.
Apparently, I was wrong.
The squat goblin made a sudden turn and the slapping sound that its hairy feet made against the marble disappeared. Concerned, I sped up, the heels of my shoes clicking still against the marble. When I rounded the corner, the goblin was waddling down the carpeted hallway, this one much narrower than the one we’d just been in. I noted that it was also much warmer, both in temperature and décor. Where the main foyer and corridors were business-like and very cold, this particular hallway radiated a warmth that seemed oddly familiar. I just couldn’t figure out why it was recognisable.
I had been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the goblin had stopped so, naturally, I ran right into it. The goblin gave a pathetic sort of squeal before toppling to the floor. I gasped, both of my hands covering my mouth. I didn’t want the disgruntled goblin to see my laughing expression. As I tried to mask my sniggers, the goblin pushed itself to its feet, grumbling in what could only be furious Gobbledegook under its breath. I caught only snippets of what the treasure horder said, and they were “incompetent”, “obtuse”, and, my personal favourite, “unsightly”.
Merlin, I loved hypocrites and their hypocrite ways. It’s a shame I didn’t have a compact with me. That’d teach the ruddy goblin a few good manners.
The goblin pulled on its jacket, throwing a contemptuous glower in my direction. “I know it’s hard, but please watch where you are going.” As the goblin turned back towards the door, I heard it mutter, “Of all the applicants, he just had to hire her. We’d be better off with a niffler - at least it would be useful and find treasure for us instead of puttering around like an imbecile.”
Before I could formulate an intelligent yet not insulting response, the goblin knocked on the ornate wooden door. My heart started hammering in my chest. I’d never been all that skilled in the face of my superiors, especially ones who were about to offer me my first real job, one that didn’t involve sweeping up owl droppings or restocking bookshelves.
“Just a moment!” a voice called from within.
Hm, how odd. That voice was extremely familiar, but yet again, I couldn’t place it.
I fidgeted, anxious for the door to open yet hesitant to see my new boss. What if he took one look at me and sacked me because I didn’t look the part of Head of the Department of Human Relations assistant enough? What if he thought, like the goblin, believed me incompetent, obtuse, and, oh my bleeding Circe, unsightly?
When the bronze doorknob turned, I sucked in a deep breath and screwed my eyes up tight. If it had been anyone else, they probably would’ve slammed the door in my face. But thankfully, it wasn’t, and the door didn’t slam.
It was like heaven had opened up and a bolt of Zeus’s lightning struck me where I stood, the sudden realisation as to why the voice sounded so damn familiar.
I cracked one of my eyes open to make sure my ears weren’t deceiving me. When I saw his handsome smiling face and bright blue hair, I knew my instincts hadn’t failed me. I gasped, snapping both of my eyes open.
“Teddy Lupin?” I questioned breathlessly, too overcome by my pleasant surprise to speak normally.
If James Potter was my best mate in the entire world, then Teddy Lupin was the closest thing that I’d ever had to an older brother. He was a constant figure in the Potter household during my youth, which is where I spent the majority of my time. Since the Potters treated him like their own flesh and blood, for the first nine years of my life, I thought he actually was a Potter until he corrected me. Because Teddy knew that I was highly amused by his Metamorphing abilities, he always sat next to me at the ridiculous long tables erected in the Burrow’s wild garden on the holidays as a means of keeping entertained. He was easily the sweetest, most caring man I had ever encountered save for Arthur Weasley, who’d always treated me as his granddaughter despite the fact I wasn’t in any way, shape or form related to them.
I could still remember how hard I cried when I tagged along with the Potters to see Teddy off on the Hogwarts Express. It had been both jealousy and the threat of loneliness at those huge family dinners that made fatty tears roll down my face as the scarlet engine pulled out of the station, but after James flung his arm over my shoulder and told me that we’d be going to the enchanted castle, I couldn’t help smiling.
Perhaps it was the fond memories that made me do it. I’m not really sure. But before I was aware of what I was dong, I had flung myself into Teddy’s arms, much like James had only days before, wrapping him in a tight embrace. Unfortunately, he hadn’t anticipated my sudden movement therefore his arms were pinned to his side by mine, unable to return my rather enthusiastic hug. In my haste to hug an old friend, I knocked over the goblin yet again. This time, however, I could hardly care.
Teddy was laughing by the time I released him from my clutches.
“Sorry,” I half-muttered, flushing in my embarrassment.
“No, no, don’t be,” Teddy said hurriedly. “If it hadn’t been for Jabrock standing at your feet,” he gestured at the goblin quickly making its way back up the hallway, “I think I would’ve greeted you in much the same fashion.” The grin he flashed me was enough to quell any sense of guilt I may have had.
Teddy smacked a hand to his forehead. “It seems my manners have flown the coop as quickly as Jabrock has,” he laughed, still grinning that mega-watt smile. Seriously, if he and Victoire hadn’t decided that they loved each other when they were pre-teens, I can honestly say that there is a huge possibility that he would be the father of Jack, not James. “Please, come in.” He pulled the door open, widening the space, and stepped to the side, allowing me entrance.
The office was exactly the way I’d imagined it to be - in an ordered disarray. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it didn’t have that museum feel that most offices do; it looked as though someone actually inhabited the office and did work while in said office. All in all, it was very comfortable, the walls a deep maroon and a leather couch that had seen far better days pushed against the wall next to the built-in bookshelves, which were teeming with various volumes and pictures of his family.
It was the picture hanging over the mantel that caught my attention. When I had left England, it had just been Teddy and his very pregnant wife, Victoire. Now, it seemed, there were two Lupin children: a little girl with moss green eyes and silvery blonde hair and a rosy-cheeked baby with chubby fists that looked to be around Jack’s age.
“I see you’ve expanded the family,” I commented, pointing towards the picture. Victoire had gotten up from her position on the grass and was chasing the little girl around while Teddy held the baby boy in his lap, laughing at the spectacle. Something icy stabbed at my chest and I resisted the urge to rub the sourly cold spot over my heart.
A huge smile spread across his lips. “Yeah, we did. That’s little Dora. We named her after her grandmother,” he informed me, his voice full of fatherly pride. When I looked up at him, for he had come to stand next to me and was tall enough that I had to crane my neck to see him, he seemed to be emitting a vibrant glow of happiness. It made me wonder that if James would speak the same way about Jack. That is, if he knew that Jack was his child and all.
“And that,” Teddy continued, his fingertip hovering over the grinning baby, “is Remy. Or Remus, I should say. We decided to name him after my father.”
I stared at the children as well as their gorgeous mother, another stab of jealousy surging through me. “They’re beautiful, Ted,” I said in a low voice. “Absolutely beautiful. How old are they?”
“Well, Dora’s going to be three next week and Remy just hit the five month mark last Tuesday,” he answered, smiling at the picture. “We’re throwing a birthday party for Dora sometime next week, if you’d like to come. You could bring Jack along.”
I was so eager to accept his invitation that it took me several moments to digest what he had said. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my excited response that I made any move to correct him.
“Of course I would love to come. I wouldn’t miss it for -” I stopped, my eyes widening in surprise and my stomach dropping like a lead bullet in a vat of water. “Wait. How the fuck do you know about Jack?”
Teddy’s laugh was a deep and booming baritone, both warming and alarming in its volume. I didn’t understand what was so amusing, but then again, I’m sure that my expression wasn’t exactly attractive. In fact, if I hadn’t knocked Jabrock down when I had lunged forwards to embrace Teddy, I’m sure the goblin would have pointed out very rudely just how unsightly I was.
“Merlin, he was right about you. You haven’t changed a single bit since the last time I saw you, which was - what, two years ago?” Teddy remarked as he shook his head to himself.
“It’s been three years since I left,” I corrected automatically, my brow furrowing, “and who’s right about me?”
“Three years?!” he repeated, sounding, and looking, extremely surprised by this. He sank down in the winged chair behind his desk, his eyes wide. “No, it can’t have been three years since the last time I saw you.”
“I can assure you, Teddy, that it’s been three years,” I said with a roll of my eyes. Was he ignoring my question on purpose or was he really concentrated on how much time had lapsed since we had last seen one another? “I was nineteen when I left, and I just turned twenty-two a few months ago.”
“You’re twenty-two?” Again, he sounded alarmingly shocked.
“Yes, I’m twenty-two,” I confirmed impatiently, on the verge of stomping my foot like a child. “Now will you please tell me who told you that I was exactly the same as before because I’ll have you know that I’ve changed a great deal since I left -”
“James told me,” Teddy answered offhandedly, seeming much too distracted by my age to care. “He came over to dinner after your grandmother’s wake, which, by the way, I’m sorry I couldn’t attend. Victoire had the stomach flu and I had to take care of the kids.” He blinked at me in rapid succession as though trying to clear his vision, muttering something under his breath.
“As unfortunate as it is, blinking at me isn’t going to make me younger, Teddy,” I quipped as I sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk, “so you can stop now. Besides, it’s starting to freak me out.”
Thankfully, he stopped blinking at me, and sat back in his chair. He looked dazed. “I just can’t believe it,” he murmured to himself. “It seems like only yesterday that we were dancing the -”
“If you even bring up anything pertaining to your wedding reception,” I began, trying to instil as much of a threatening tone in my voice as possible, “so help me Circe, I will tell Victoire all about what happened in Monte Carlo.”
The dazed expression was quickly replaced by one of utmost scandal. “You wouldn’t,” Teddy gasped melodramatically.
“Do you really think I wouldn’t? I mean, it’s not every day that you mistake a man at a bar for a -”
“Okay,” he interrupted swiftly, casting cautious looks at the walls and the door. Teddy’s hair had changed from vibrant blue to a brilliant red, matching the colour of his ears. “Fine. I believe you. But you swore that you wouldn’t tell anyone about that.”
I shrugged. “Well, when necessary, I resort to blackmail.”
“That’s a marvellous thing to tell your boss on your first day in the office,” Teddy deadpanned.
I laughed, unable to hold back my amused smile. “Technically speaking, this isn’t my first day. Besides, I believe the letter I received in the post said that I was going to be getting a tour of the bank as a means of further understanding the inner workings of Gringotts - the most trusted name in wizard banking.”
“You’re telling me that you actually want a tour of the bank?” he inquired dubiously.
“No,” I answered bluntly, tucking my hair behind my ear, “but I figured that if you were going to remind me of my slip-ups, I might as well remind you of yours.”
“Fair point,” Teddy agreed with a laugh. “You’ve made a wise choice in not wanting to go on the tour. It’s not like we would go down to the vaults.”
My brow furrowed in disappointment. “We wouldn’t?”
He shook his head. “No. When they say ’inner workings’, they mean getting acquainted with all of the inner department heads and such. Anyway, would you like some tea?” he added as an afterthought, flicking his wand at the silver tea set sitting on the mantel. Not entirely unexpectedly, it sprang to life, situating itself over the fireplace, the water inside starting to boil.
“Sure,” I said, shrugging again.
Having tea with Teddy reminded me of how much I had missed not only him, but everyone else while I had been gone. It was unbelievable, how easily we fell into comfortable conversation with one another. For the most part, we talked about Teddy, which was more than fine with me. In fact, he was the one who was uncomfortable with him behind the focus on the conversation. Me? I wanted to know each and every detail I had missed while I was away.
Unfortunately, as Teddy continued to talk, instead of happiness, I felt oddly depressed. I had missed so much in those three years, specifically the last year and a half in which I hadn’t had much contact with anyone outside of my parents. In their letters, they informed me of every day happenings in their lives, but seemed to gloss over the details of everyone else’s, the details that would’ve turned my frowns upside down such as when Dora took her first steps or how Remy was already showing signs of magic.
After a while, I could only hum in agreement, knowing that if I tried to talk, the frog in my throat would make it impossible. And it was more than likely that I would start crying. Not exactly something you wanted to do in front of your boss, regardless of how long they had been your friend.
“So,” Teddy sighed heavily, “that’s about it.” He studied my expression and his smile faltered. “I told you it wasn’t going to be interesting.”
“No, no!” I said hurriedly, setting my tea cup down on top of his desk. “It’s not that. No, it was interesting. It’s just that. . .well, I’m wondering how you found out about Jack. When I asked you earlier, you ignored me.”
“How can I put this?” Teddy mused aloud, pushing a hand through his hair; it had returned to its typical bright blue shade after he had gotten over his embarrassment. “In the Weasley-Potter family, there are no secrets and you’re an honorary member, love.”
I blinked at him, confused. “What do you mean? Who told you? Was it my mother?” I narrowed my eyes, the temperature of my blood increasing rapidly. “Did she tell you when I specifically asked her not to -”
“No, it wasn’t your mum,” Teddy interjected suddenly. “It was - “
“James,” I finished, somehow knowing that he would always be the source of all my troubles. “I should have figured at much. You said that he came over for dinner following Granny Gus’s funeral.” I licked my lips, hesitant to ask my next question. “So. . .did he say how -”
“He was hurt,” Teddy answered automatically.
I winced, having expected something entirely different. Why couldn’t James just get angry with me instead like a normal person? Why’d he actually have feel hurt about it.
“He couldn’t believe that you had had a baby and didn’t even think to tell him,” he continued. “I can’t say that I blame him, though. I’m even a little offended that I had to find out second-handedly.”
As the flames of embarrassment licked my cheeks, I ducked my head, ashamed. “I’m sorry,” I murmured, “I really am. It’s just that. . .well, I didn’t want everyone to know. And -”
“You know what, Mara? Why don’t you tell me the rest over dinner?” Teddy suggested, causing me to look up at him. “I’ve got loads of invoices to send out, and I’m sure you’d like to get back to your son. So, why don’t you drop by the house around. . .seven. You can even bring Jack along if you want. Does that sound good?”
Whether it was out of guilt or because I really wanted to enjoy an evening with Teddy and his wife, I nodded my head. “Seven sounds great.”
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