A/N1: A thousand
thanks to Bel, a.k.a. TDU, for being kind enough to lend me her time and
knowledge. Without her, these British
teens of the mid-70s would still be acting like American teens of the mid-90s.
A/N2: Though there’s
no foul language or adult content, there is teen girl content—and we all know
teen girls can get a bit nasty.
The Big Sister Beauty Cult
Everyone in Petunia’s class noticed
when Tracy Baxter came to school with her hair curled just like a certain
famous blonde actress. Tracy spent the whole day tossing her
head from side to side, so that finally their teacher was forced to ask her to
“stop flitting about so incessantly—you’re killing brain cells you can’t afford
Ruthie McDonald was the next one to go. A week after Tracy started channelling Farrah Fawcett-Majors,
Ruthie showed up for school with two thin arches on her forehead where a bushy
black caterpillar had formerly been. In
the course of one day, Ruthie’s trademark gesture changed from a Groucho Marx
waggle to a strikingly grown-up single eyebrow lift, the visual illustration of
the phrase “You have got to be
The third girl to follow was Norma
Engle, who came to school three days later with pink, glittery powder on her
eyes and a matching gloss on her lips.
She kept batting her newly blackened and lengthened eyelashes, and
though Petunia privately thought Norma just looked like she had something in
her eye, the boys seemed to be more impressed—doubly so when Norma was yelled
at and sent to the loo to wash it all off.
The other girls whispered about
their classmates’ transformations. Some
claimed that Tracy’s new hair was actually a wig.
Others suggested that Norma’s rich doctor father had hired a
professional stylist to do her makeup that morning. (Mandy Jenkins had a theory that Ruthie had
sold her soul to the devil for perfect eyebrows, but Mandy Jenkins’s mother was
a hippie and her father was a chiropractor, so nobody really listened to Mandy
Liz Fowler was the one who finally
figured it out. Karen Andrews had
overheard Tracy and Norma (new best friends) talking at lunch, and she had told
Megan Price during ballet. Megan had
told Joanna Donovan during science class, Joanna had told Samantha Thomas at
their Girl Guide meeting, and Samantha had piano lessons with Mrs Fowler on
Thursday afternoon, which is when she had told Liz.
“Tracy’s sixteen-year-old sister showed
her how to do her hair, and Norma’s glam aunt Linda gave her the makeup, and
I’d bet anything that Ruthie’s cousin Mary did Ruthie’s eyebrows for her,” Liz
said. Her eyes sparkled with a
frightening light as she added, “I can’t wait
to ask my sister how to shave my legs.”
Over the next month, Petunia watched
as her female classmates, one by one, succumbed to what was clearly the Big
Sister Beauty Cult. Even Fat Helen’s
older sister showed her how to do a good manicure, and Helen’s long, pink nails
soon became the envy of their class.
But Petunia’s hair stayed straight
and limp, and her face remained plain, and her nails continued to be chewed
on. She thought about asking her mother
to show her all these things, but her mother didn’t know anything about fashion, and what if somebody asked her who’d taught
her? What was she going to say, “My mummy
did it for me”?
She was in a stall in the girls’
toilet one day when she overheard Joanna and Samantha chatting in front of the
“I love your nail polish,” Joanna
said. “I wish Mrs Paulson hadn’t caught
me and made me take mine off. I had to
borrow a bottle of light pink from Helen.”
“Next time, hide your hands in the
sleeves of your jumper,” Samantha said.
“But the colour you have on is pretty!
It matches your lip gloss.”
“I know. I just don’t want to seem like I don’t care
at all. You know. Blah.
Like Petunia Evans.”
Petunia had been about to flush the
toilet, but she instead pressed her face against the stall door to peer out the
Samantha was fluffing her hair, her
sparkly red nails flashing. “I don’t
understand Evans,” she said. “I mean,
she has an older sister, doesn’t she?
Why doesn’t she ask her how to, I don’t know…comb her hair?”
Petunia put a hand up to her
head. It was only a little tangled!
Suddenly, Joanna turned and shushed
Samantha. “Don’t you remember?” she
whispered. “Evans’s sister is in a special school.”
There was a pause, and then Samantha
nodded wisely. “Oh.” Then she giggled. “Hey, maybe Evans’s sister did show her how to do her hair.”
Joanna clapped a hand over her own
mouth. “That’s not funny!”
Samantha’s pretty face twisted into
a wicked grin. “Oh yeah? Then why are you laughing?” Giggling, she linked arms with Joanna and led
her out the door.
Petunia flushed the toilet and
walked out of the stall. Her reflected
face loomed red above the sinks. “You go to a special school,” she said,
and it felt like shouting but was more of a whisper. “A special school for…” and then she said a
word that she never would have dared say in front of her mother.
The next few weeks passed without
incident. As the weather grew colder,
the Beauty Cult girls were able to add long, coloured scarves to their
repertoire of unnecessarily cutesy apparel, which by now included absurdly wide
lapels, fat-knotted ties, and platform shoes that were only just not high
enough to arouse their teachers’ wrath.
The girls stood in small circles before school in the morning, and
though they didn’t shut Petunia out on purpose, she just didn’t like being the
only one there in a regular old school scarf instead of one that was pink or
blue or orange.
The day before Christmas hols, their
class had a small party. For the gift
exchange, each student brought a small present—the girls brought girl presents,
and the boys brought boy presents, all of them anonymously given. Petunia was particularly proud of her
contribution; she had managed to find a never-used stationary set at a rummage
sale for well within the price limit set by their teacher. It was nice and feminine, with paper the same
colour as the stupid lip gloss her classmates were all wearing. It was even scented, though lightly, with the
smell of roses.
The time came for the gift
swap. The girls all put their presents
on a table and then, one by one, selected another, usually on the merit of its
gift wrap. Petunia had done an excellent
job on hers, so it was snatched up almost immediately, much to her
They opened their gifts one after
another, as determined by the circle they sat in. Norma went first, and unwrapped two tubes of
nail polish and a flavoured lip gloss. Karen
got a set of three hair barrettes.
Megan, Mandy, and Ruthie all received different lipsticks.
Petunia began to feel a little
Helen unwrapped three tubes of nail polish, including one of golden sparkles. Liz got a charm bracelet—to the envy of all
the other girls—and Joanna’s gift turned out to be a small bottle of
perfume. It was now Petunia’s turn.
She slid her index finger under a flap of gift-wrap and slit it
open. As she cautiously pulled the
layers of paper apart, she heard the now-familiar distinctive sound of two
bottles of nail polish clacking together.
She let them fall out onto her hand:
“Fishnet Stocking Red” and “Passionate Pink.” She smiled and said “thank you” and pretended
not to see Samantha whispering to Joanna behind her hand.
Only two girls were left. The
next girl, with Petunia’s present in hand, was none other than the Cult Queen
herself, Tracy Baxter. “What pretty
gift-wrap!” she said, shaking back her glorious hair, and the other girls oohed
and aahed appreciatively. Petunia wanted
Tracy wasted no time ripping the wrapper
off of the gift and pulling aside the last scrap to reveal Petunia’s stationary
set. Everyone stared. A stationary set? For Tracy Baxter? “How…nice,” Tracy said at last. Everyone tried not to look at Petunia. Petunia wanted to die.
Samantha opened her present, which turned out to be a set of Christmas
hair ribbons, and the group of girls dispersed to either the snack table or the
group of boys, who had just finished opening their own presents. As they left, Petunia caught Tracy’s eye and hurried over to her.
“Trade with me, Tracy?” she asked.
Tracy blinked. “What?”
“I like stationary,” Petunia explained.
“And I…I have these polish colours already.” She knew she was probably blushing but this
was hardly the most embarrassing thing to happen to her today.
“If you’re sure…?” Tracy said, and before she could add
anything else, Petunia pressed the nail polish into her hand and snatched back
her own gift.
Lily came home two days later and their parents made much of her, as
they always did, and she showed Petunia those weird moving photographs of all
her friends, like she always did, and Petunia pretended to be really, really
interested, though she didn’t really care terribly much. Christmas came and went. Lily got package after package from her
friends at her school and Petunia got a card from her best friend Susan who’d
moved away last summer.
In the weeks of the holiday, Petunia studied her older sister. Lily had always been the pretty one, but
Petunia was only just beginning to realize exactly what that meant. Lily’s hair was bouncy, just like Tracy’s, and her nails were smooth and
rounded, like Helen’s. She had a very
pretty face, but her makeup wasn’t obvious like Norma’s was. But more importantly, Lily was graceful. She carried herself like a pretty girl,
because she was a pretty girl.
It took Petunia thirteen days into the holiday to work up the nerve, but
she finally cornered Lily in the living room one afternoon and said, “Lily,
show me how to fix my hair.”
Lily stared. “What?”
“And do my makeup. And paint my
Lily’s mouth opened and closed.
“And do a Windsor knot, maybe. On
my school tie. Show me how to do that,
Lily’s eyes were wide open with surprise. “What—why?”
Petunia frowned. “What do you
“Why do you want to know about makeup and things? You’re too young to—“
“I’m almost thirteen,” Petunia said.
Lily blinked. “Right.”
“So? Will you?”
Lily opened and closed her mouth twice before finally saying, “Look,
Petunia, why don’t you ask Mum to show you?”
At the horrified look on her sister’s face, she added, “Guess not.”
“Mum doesn’t know anything,”
Petunia explained. “But you—you’re,
y’know, pretty. And you’re sixteen. All the other girls at school’s sisters…”
Lily bit her lower lip.
“Petunia,” she said, “You know I’m not like the other girls’ sisters.”
Petunia rolled her eyes.
“Seriously, Petunia,” Lily said.
“All the other sisters…well, they know how to do hair and makeup the
Mug—normal way. I don’t.”
Petunia stared at her. “I don’t
Lily frowned. “It’s true,
“I don’t believe you,” Petunia repeated.
“You know how to do makeup. You’ve
got lipstick on, and eyeliner, I can tell.
And your hair’s done. I’m not
“Did I say you were stupid?” Lily said.
“No. And I didn’t say I don’t
know how to do makeup, either.”
“Yes, you did! You said—“
“I said I don’t know how to do
makeup the normal way. I learned how from older girls in my House at
school, so I learned how to do make up with…you know. Stuff I learned at school.”
“Magic,” Petunia filled in.
Lily nodded. “Magic.”
Lily shook her head. “I can’t.”
Petunia rolled her eyes again. “I
should have known not to ask you. You’re
too busy answering your letters to
help out your own sister.”
“That’s not true,” Lily insisted.
“I’d love to help you.”
“Then show me!”
“Yes you can!”
“No, I can’t!” Lily said. “Look.
I’d like to show you, but I’m not allowed to. They don’t let us do magic outside school.”
Petunia scoffed. “That’s a lie,”
“It is not!”
“If you’re not allowed to do magic outside of school, how come you’ve
been able to do your hair every morning?
Either you can do magic or you
do know how to do it the normal
way. If you don’t want to help me just say it and stop lying!”
Petunia started to walk out of the room, but Lily grabbed her hand. “Wait. When I’m by myself, if I do magic, they just
think it’s Mrs Chapel across the street.
But if I do it in front of you, they’ll know it was me.”
“They can tell when someone uses magic in front of a normal person, and
that’s completely illegal, so they pinpoint exactly where it happened. They’d find us right here in this room. But they don’t notice when I do magic by
myself because Mrs Chapel does so much magic by herself so close to here that I
don’t even register.”
Petunia was quite for a moment.
“Maybe,” she said at last, “if you do magic in front of me Mrs Chapel
will get in trouble for it and not you.”
Lily shook her head. “No. It doesn’t work that way.”
“How do you know? Have you
“No, but it wouldn’t work that way.”
“But you don’t know,” Petunia insisted.
“Yes, I do!” Lily
exclaimed. “I’m the one who knows how these things work, not you!
You’re a Muggle, Petunia!”
Petunia backed away from her sister.
“Fine,” she spat. “I guess you
Lily blinked. “Don’t be like
that,” she said. “I’m sorry I snapped at
But Petunia had already turned and left the room.
After Petunia’s parents had left to take Lily to the train station,
Petunia gathered up all her Christmas money and walked to the tiny magazine
shop. She walked up and down the aisles
(all two of them) until she found what she was looking for. She picked up as many copies as she could
afford and brought them to the counter.
“Ah, yes,” the shopkeeper said, “the ever-popular Jackie. Beauty tips,
romantic advice… if a week goes by that my girls aren’t reading their copy like
it’s the Bible!”
Petunia made an indistinct “hmm” and glanced at the clock on the wall.
The shopkeeper rang up all six copies.
“I’m surprised I had this many old ones in the store,” he said. “Tell you what, miss, go and grab another old
one. No charge.”
Petunia looked surprised. “Thank
you,” she said, and darted off. She
returned with a seventh copy of the magazine, this one from early November.
“My girls love this thing,” the shopkeeper said as he slid the magazines
into a bag. “We get it at the
house. They do fight to see who gets it
first—bit daft, really, as they just end up reading it to each other anyway.”
He took Petunia’s money and handed her the bag. “What about you, miss? You read these to your sisters?”
Petunia shook her head. “My
sister goes to a special school,” she said.
“She doesn’t understand normal things like this.”
“Oh, miss, I’m sorry,” the man said, and he looked like he meant it.
“Yes,” Petunia said, “it’s a shame.”