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After We Fall by Arithmancy_Wiz
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Three Weeks Earlier
Even after seven years there, Scorpius Malfoy still had trouble calling Malfoy Manor home.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like the place. He’d been visiting it for as long as he could remember, traveling down to Wiltshire with his parents for holidays and long weekends. As a child he’d spent hours running up and down the endless corridors, bouncing from room to room, fancying himself a pirate or treasure hunter seeking out ancient relics hidden beneath overturned cushions or behind faded draperies. Christmas time had always been particularly special – candles in each window, the tall hedges blanketed by heavy snow, a beautifully decorated tree standing nearly a story high in the main entryway, surrounded by a mountain of presents just for him.
Scorpius Malfoy had always loved visiting the Manor. He just didn’t like living there.
The ornate grandeur of the place was only part of the problem. While it was true that Scorpius found the Manor to have a coldness that had little to do with the old, drafty windows that stretched from floor to ceiling in almost every room in the house, he was hardly unaccustomed to the stuffy lifestyle that seemed to permeate every family with so-called “old money.” His childhood home had been much smaller than the Manor, though still luxurious in its own right, with high arched ceilings and white Corinthian columns running along the base of the row houses that made up his street. It too had been full of expensive-looking items he was not allowed to touch and rooms with doors he was not allowed to open.
No, the real problem with Malfoy Manor was that it was missing something very special to him – something no amount of antique furniture or expensive artwork could ever hope to replace.
In the summer before her death, Astoria Malfoy had been quick to reassure her then eleven-year-old son how big and handsome he was becoming. Scorpius had known it was a lie, the sort of thing all mothers had to tell their children. He was, in reality, rather small for his age – thin and boney, with a sallow complexion, despite a healthy appetite and as much time in the sun as the rainy London weather would allow. He knew he wasn’t very strong or fast or even particularly clever, and he had fretted a lot that summer over what would become of him when he started his first year at Hogwarts. When he’d finally gathered up enough courage to relay these fears to his mother, she had looked down at him with one of her knowing smiles before scooping him up in her arms and promising that soon enough he’d be just as tall and good-looking as his father.
Scorpius hadn’t believed her at the time, but she had been right, of course. Within six months he’d outgrown almost all of his clothes, the ends of his new robes already brushing the backs of his knees. Astoria had promised her son a trip to Diagon Alley as soon as he returned home for the Christmas holiday. New robes, new jumpers, and if he did well in all his lessons, those new trainers he swore all the other boys at Hogwarts were wearing.
But that trip never came. By the time December rolled around, his mother was already confined to bed. By New Years Day, she was gone. Within weeks, his father had sold their home and moved them in with Scorpius’ Grandparents, and the pair had been residing at Malfoy Manor ever since.
Scorpius, now eighteen, was not a child anymore. He had done a lot of growing up in past seven years. The man that stared back at him from the bathroom mirror was now tall and lean, the soft, round edges of childhood morphing into the sharp angles and long muscles of early adulthood. Traces of stubble were visible along the sculpted jaw line of a face finally free of teenage blemishes. He was properly dressed for once, sporting a well-tailored grey suit and matching tie, which worked wonders to hide the last of his adolescent frame.
As he combed his hair, he wondered if the face reflecting back at him was the one his mother had expected him to grow into. He wasn’t quite the spitting image of his father she often claimed him to be, though the resemblance was hard to deny. The face behind the glass held few traces of his mother. She had been blessed with an almost exotic beauty - with dark, chestnut hair and eyes so brown they looked almost black at times. He was just the opposite, ghost-like and sickly, with pale grey eyes lined with pale lashes, all set against porcelain skin, and topped off with white-blonde hair that curled around his ears.
The Malfoy genes are strong, his mother would say. In terms of appearance, at least, that seemed to be true.
Scorpius set down the brush and turned on the tap. He let the water run for a moment, making sure it was nice and cold before gathering it up in his hands and splashing it across his face. It was so icy it burned his skin. He repeated the process several times before turning off the water and blotting his face with a clean cotton towel.
There was a rap on the bathroom door. A voice on the other side called out, “It’s time to go.”
Scorpius listened as his father’s footsteps faded down the hall. After one final glance in the mirror, he turned off the lights and headed downstairs. Minutes later, the sound of three loud POPS! echoed through the house.
Malfoy Manor was empty once more.
When they arrived at their destination only seconds later, Scorpius was greeted with a blast of sea air that was surprisingly chilly despite the fact that it was the middle of summer. Huge gusts of wind had blown in a thick layer of marine clouds that was unusual for this part of the coast. While the sun was doing its best to break through the small cracks in the grey façade, it was a losing battle. A dark line of storm clouds was visible along the horizon, stretching on for mile after uninterrupted mile out over the ocean.
They were standing at the bottom of a hill, cut down the center by a narrow path that zigzagged its way up to the to the top of a steep cliff. One by one the trio began their climb, Scorpius forced to run at times just to keep up with his father, who remained several paces ahead. More than once he found himself stumbling along as the smooth soles of his shoes slid over loose gravel.
When they reached the halfway point, Scorpius stopped and turned around, eyeing the third Malfoy keeping pace behind him. Lucius – his grandfather – was managing better than Scorpius would have expected. He watched as the older man limped along, head bent, leaning heavily on his cane as he fought his way up the steep incline, stopping every few minutes to clear his throat or wipe the sweat from his brow. Scorpius remained where he was for a long moment, intent on letting his grandfather catch up with him, but as the older man drew near, he seemed to gather renewed strength, brushing past his grandson without comment.
Just as Scorpius resembled his father, the same was also true for Draco and Lucius. Both Scorpius’ father and grandfather were tall men, naturally thin, though age had left them somewhat soft around the middle. They each shared the same pale skin and long pointed faces, accented by eyes the color of polished steel.
By the time they reached the top, all three men were out of breath, the sound of their ragged breathing drowned out by the wind and the crashing waves. The path they’d been climbing led them to the top of a cliff nestled high above the southern coastline. The base itself was wide but the cliff narrowed sharply as it stretched out of the water, tapering to a point no more than ten feet across.
Scorpius stepped away from the others, walking right up to the very edge. Looking down, he saw that he was surrounded on three sides by jagged rocks that marked the beginning of a very long drop to the ocean below. Inching forward, he allowed the tips of his shoes to clear the ledge, leaving them to hang there in midair as he took in the expansive view that seemed to continue on forever in all directions. It was, to Scorpius, like standing at the very edge of the earth. If he were to take just one more step, he could leave this world altogether, falling into the nothingness of space.
A strong hand touched his shoulder. Scorpius turned to see his father standing behind him, an unreadable expression on his face. Scorpius gave him the kind of smile that could have been mistaken for a grimace before taking a few steps back and away from the ledge.
Scorpius’ grandfather had joined them again. In addition to his cane, the old man was also clutching a small wooden box. There were no markings on it, no inscriptions of any kind, at least none that could be seen with the naked eye. Scorpius knew, of course, what was in the box, and he found himself less bothered by it than he would have expected. Perhaps because it, just like everything else that had happened over the last three days, seemed so surreal to him, it was almost as it was all happening to someone else. Though he could see the box – knew without a doubt that it was there, within arm’s reach - his brain seemed unable to make the connections. It stirred no emotion in him. It was if someone had flipped the switch but no lights were coming on.
Lucius Malfoy stepped forward, passing his cane over to his son. He withdrew the box out from under the crook of his arm, removing the lid and handing that off to Draco as well. Then, inching perilously close to the edge of the cliff, just as Scorpius had done moments before, the old man lifted the box up and out over the ocean. It was if he was offering up some precious sacrifice to a long-forgotten sea god, for whose blessing they were now so desperate to receive.
And then, without further ceremony, Lucius tipped the box just so and the three men watched in silence as the ashes of Narcissa Malfoy were picked up by the wind and carried out over the ocean.
It was raining by the time they returned to the Manor. He heard his father mention something about an early supper, but Scorpius was already on his way back upstairs. Once inside his room, he made to close his bedroom door but stopped short when a flicker of movement caught his eye. Even without turning on the light, he could see that the window on the far wall had been opened, the wind rushing in and rustling the tall curtains that hung down from the ceiling, the heavy, dark fabric billowing out into the room like a large plume of smoke.
Careful not to slip in the rainwater that had gathered in puddles large puddles on the floor, Scorpius crossed to the window, shutting and locking it in place. From three floors up, his bedroom window provided a panoramic view of the garden below, the vast lawns looking more like a sprawling green ocean than a front yard. The rain leaking down the windowpanes only added to the effect of gazing out over the sea through a ship’s porthole.
As he stared out his window, Scorpius saw something strange near the main entrance gate at the end of the long gravel drive. A darkly-clad figure was running along the path that wound through the maze of hedges and up toward the main house. Even at that distance, he could tell the person was much too small to be either his father or his grandfather. Whoever it was, they were dressed all in black, a hooded raincoat obscuring their face. Scorpius watched as the figure drew closer, but instead of heading toward the front door, it veered right as if headed to the back garden. Scorpius turned, making it over to the adjacent just in time to see the person round the house and enter the side yard.
A great gust of wind blew then. It rattled the shutters on the house and blew the stranger’s hood straight back. Bright red curls tumbled out, flying every which way in the wind.
For the first time in days, Scorpius felt himself smile.
Lily Potter had arrived at last.
* * *
Even at a run, it took Scorpius several minutes to make his way through the garden hedges and down to the spot where he knew Lily would be waiting for him.
He could still recall the day the two of them had first stumbled upon what would become their secret hiding place. They had spotted it while wandering about the garden, looking for wild flowers Lily could take home to her mother. And suddenly, there it was, half obscured by a large Hawthorn tree, the roof looking like it might give way at any second. At one point, it had probably functioned as a carriage house or servant quarters, but by the time the pair of them had discovered it, the tiny structure with the dark timber beams and tall stone chimney had been relegated to little more than a long-forgotten storage shed.
Stepping inside, they had found every visible corner stuffed to bursting with musty old furniture and rotting wood crates, all of which Scorpius was sure had been there longer than even his grandfather could remember. Large oriental rugs had been rolled up tight and left propped against the walls. Oversized coat racks and rickety-looking tables had been piled one on top of another, all of them covered in several inches of dust. Every room felt damp and cold, the smell of wet dirt rising up through the floorboards, which had begun to disintegrate with age. Between several large cracks, Scorpius could see the pointed ends of large tree roots working their way up through the softened wood. All around them, they could hear the scraping of tiny claws as who knew what type of creatures went skittering around in the blackness. It felt to Scorpius like the earth itself was trying to reclaim the house from the inside out.
Scorpius remembered suggesting that they should take a match to the place and put it out of its misery, but Lily had fallen in love with it on the spot. She had somehow seen past all the years of neglect and decay, insisting that with a little work, they could turn it back into something wonderful. Scorpius hadn’t really understood her fascination with the tiny house, but he’d been willing to play along. She’d always been able to get him to agree to just about anything.
It was hard to believe that more than five years had passed since then. It was one of the best summers they had ever spent together – it was also the last summer they had spent together. Lily stopped coming around much after that. She had stopped doing a lot of things in the years that followed. Scorpius had tried visiting the place a few more times on his own but found that without her, the old house was just an old house once more.
The door was already open when he arrived, the strong smell of wood rot greeting him as soon as he stepped inside. The room he entered was dark, but there was just enough light filtering in through the leaded glass windows to illuminate the path they had created through the towering mess all those summers ago.
When he finally caught sight of her, she was sitting on the floor, her back towards him. She had removed her coat and was using it as a makeshift rug spread out before the stone fireplace. Her wand was out and he watched for a moment as she sat there shooting small purple sparks into the empty hearth. They seemed to dance in midair before melting away into the blackness.
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
Lily remained where she was, giving no indication at all that she had heard him speak, though Scorpius was sure she knew he was there. Her attention was still focused on the fireplace, as if staring at it long enough might cause it to burst into flames.
Scorpius stepped forward, settling down on the floor beside her. He looked at her in profile, the muted lighting casting long shadows across her face. Lily Potter was a very pretty girl. It wasn’t the sort of thing Scorpius had always noticed, but once he was old enough to recognize it, it had proven nearly impossible to ignore. She was small and thin, but not too thin, with delicate features that were perpetually overshadowed by the mess of red hair that tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. Her round face was accented a thick wave of freckles that ran across the bridge of her nose. They had faded some as she aged, but even in the darkness he could still make them out. Lily had always hated her freckles, especially during the summer month, when the sun would turn her already pink skin a deep shade of red. He remembered how she’d been forced to wear these ridiculously over-sized hats whenever the two spent time outdoors. Scorpius had thought they made her look like a kid playing dress-up. Lily had thought they made her look like an old maid.
She was still refusing to look at him, focusing instead on the stream of sparks she continued to expel from her wand. They were small and fast, like tiny smokeless fireworks that evaporated on contact with the cold stone. It was a cute bit of magic, Scorpius thought, if somewhat pointless.
He watched as she cast one final spell, a burst of bright-pink flame that popped and hissed before veering off into the darkness. Once it was gone, she set her wand down, finally turning to face him. “So why did you bother asking?”
“What?” Scorpius asked, not at all sure what she was talking about.
“You said you didn’t think I’d come. So why did you bother asking me to?”
“I...dunno,” he said. It was a fair enough question, though he hadn’t a clue how to respond. “I was just....hopeful, I guess. Does it matter?”
Lily shifted slightly and a long strand of damp hair fell across her forehead. It was so red it looked to Scorpius like a freshly garnered scar, the irony of which was not lost on him. She wiped at it with the back of her hand, tucking it behind one ear.
“Well, it seems like at least one of us ought to know what I’m doing here, don’t you think?” She seemed to direct this question more to herself than to him, not bothering to wait for a reply before adding, “Though I am sorry to hear about your Granny.”
“Errr...thanks, I guess.” Scorpius was struggling to keep up with the rapid change in subject matter.
“It wasn’t in the papers. I checked after I got your letter. I thought it might be, what with your family and all, but there was nothing, far as I could tell.”
Scorpius didn’t miss the offhanded comment about his family, but he found he wasn’t bothered by it. He knew she hadn’t mean it as an insult, not the way some people did.
“That will be Dad’s doing, I expect,” he said, though she hadn’t really asked for an explanation. “The way he’s acting, I’m not surprised he wants to keep it quiet. Not that I’m all that bothered, mind you. I mean, about it not being in the papers.”
His mother’s death had taught Scorpius that grieving was a private affair. As far as he was concerned, the less people that knew about his grandmother the better. That way, at least, they wouldn’t have to play host to crowds of so-called well-wishers, who were really just eager to get their noses through the door and snoop around. Still, it surprised him that it hadn’t received so much as a mention in the papers. There weren’t a lot of old wizarding families left anymore, and the passing of one of their own usually warranted at least a few lines on the back page of The Daily Prophet.
“Or maybe,” he added, thinking out loud, “people just don’t care about us anymore.”
Lily shot him a look. “That’s a bit cold, don’t you think?”
“I don’t mean it like that. I just meant...Well, it’s not exactly like we’re the most popular people in the neighborhood. Maybe they left it out of the papers for a reason.” Lily pursed her lips, clearly unconvinced. “Oh, come off it,” he said, recognizing the look she was giving him. She thought he was being insensitive. She had always nagged him about things like that. “It’s not exactly as if they’re beating down our door for dinner invitations.”
“Well, I’m sure somebody would care, if they knew. I mean, how are people going to know to come to the service if nobody even bothers to tell them she’s...gone?”
“Well, that won’t be a problem,” Scorpius said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “There won’t be any services. It’s already done with.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, they cremated her. Did it yesterday. We only just got back from...getting on with it...right before you showed up.”
“Yesterday? Isn’t that sort of quick? I mean, don’t these things usually take time?”
Scorpius shrugged. “That’s what I’m saying. Everything that’s going on...It’s all happening so fast. Something’s just not right.”
“Are people in your family...I mean, are they usually...cremated?” She seemed to struggle with the word, uncomfortable with the morbid turn their conversation had taken. “That’s not typical for wizards, is it? And I’ve seen your family plot. It just over there.”
She pointed over her right shoulder, indicating the small cemetery where just about every Malfoy who had died over the past three hundred years had been laid to rest. Scorpius had shown it to her the same summer they had discovered the house they were now sitting in. He had meant it to be cool and scary, a place he could show off how brave he was, walking among the old, crumbling tombstones. But Lily had hated it, insisting they leave straight away and never come back. She said it wasn’t natural to have so many dead people in one’s back garden.
Scorpius shrugged again. “Like I said in my letter, the two of them – Father and Grandfather both – they haven’t been right since it happened.”
And with that, they fell into silence once more, either unwilling or unable to continue discussing such gruesome matters while held up in such a depressing little place. At least that’s how Scorpius was feeling. Now that he was back there, he found the small house was just like everything else these days – it reminded him of Lily and how absent from his life she had become.
Desperate to keep from dwelling on the things that had passed between them, Scorpius forced himself to say something – anything – to fill the silence. “Did Al get his exam scores yet?”
Albus – or Al as he was better known at school – was the younger of Lily’s two older brothers. He and Scorpius had been in the same year at Hogwarts, both having graduated together just a few weeks before. They hadn’t exactly been mates, but they’d got on well enough. In truth, the two probably hadn’t exchanged more than a dozen words over the better part of the last three years, but it wasn’t as if they actively disliked each other. Mutual indifference was perhaps the most apt description for their relationship, though there had been a time at the start of last term when Scorpius feared he might end up on the wrong end of one of Al’s curses – or worst, on the wrong end of his fist.
“Not yet,” Lily said, sounding miffed. “But he won’t shut up about how glad he is to be done. He’s laying it on pretty thick at the moment. Like he’s got such big plans or something, and I’m really missing out by having to go back.”
For the first time since starting at Hogwarts, Lily would be returning alone next year, without either of her brothers or her cousin Rose. Scorpius knew her well enough to know how much this bothered her - how she often felt one step behind the rest of her family.
“It won’t be so bad,” he said. “You’ll be busy with studying and all. You probably won’t even have time to—”
She cut him off then. “I don’t want to talk about school, do you?”
“Errr, no? I mean, I guess not.” When she failed to say anything else, he asked, “Then what do you want to talk about?”
“Do we have to talk at all?” She sounded exasperated now, as if she were having to explain something very simple to someone very stupid.
“I suppose not...” He tried to give her a half-hearted smile but she was no longer looking at him. She had already picked up her wand and was once again shooting sparks into the fireplace.
And so they just sat there, Scorpius watching as Lily alternated between creating small colorful flames and slow moving smoke rings, unconcerned about doing underage magic, knowing she was well within the property lines of three fully qualified wizards.
After a time, she seemed to grow restless. Her spells were becoming more erratic, sometimes missing the fireplace altogether. Scorpius worried she might burn the place to the ground if she wasn’t careful, the old furniture acting as more than enough kindling to bring the whole place down on top of them. He was about to point this out to her when she abruptly stood up.
“I should go.”
“What? No!” Scorpius said, jumping to his feet, Lily now refusing to meet his gaze. “You...you only just got here. Please stay, just a little while longer. I promise, I won’t bring up school again.” He was surprised by how high his voice was, how anxious the thought of her leaving was making him feel. He was upset, agitated that their meeting was not going as planned. “Stay,” he pleaded.
“For what?” she snapped, looking him square in the face now. “What do you want from me, Scorpius?”
Scorpius recoiled, taken aback by the unexpected flash of anger in her voice. “Nothing...I don’t want anything...I just –”
“Just what? We aren’t friends anymore. Do you understand that? We haven’t spoken in months. Maybe longer. And then this letter from out of the blue, begging me to come and see you...?”
“Well, you didn’t have to come,” he fired back. Now it was his turn to get angry. Her use of the word ‘beg’ had been an unexpected shot to his ego.
“Of course I did! And you knew it.”
He had no reply to that. She was right. He had known she would come if he asked her to. It wasn’t in her nature to turn people away.
“I should go,” she said again, snatching her coat up off the floor and flinging it over her shoulders. “No one even knows I’m here.”
By ‘no one,’ Scorpius knew she meant her parents. It didn’t take a genius to figure out they wouldn’t be happy to find her there. He couldn’t imagine what they must think of him these days. Not that it had always been that way. For years the two had been friends, their parents grudgingly allowing the unlikely relationship to play out on its own. Had they not been so young at the time, he might have thought of Lily as his girlfriend – not that they had shared much more than a few innocent kisses. But then, after last summer, things were altogether different.
“Fine!” he shouted at her. “Just go. See if I care.” His breathing was heavy now, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger as the blood began to surge through his veins. He could feel the muscles in his neck begin to tighten.
Lily’s own anger seemed to ebb as a look of genuine concern crossed her face. “Scorpius...I...”
But Scorpius didn’t want to talk anymore. “Just GO!”
For a moment she stood frozen to the spot, too shocked to move. But she soon recovered herself, and with what Scorpius was sure were tears in her eyes, she turned and disappeared into the darkness. A moment later, he heard the door slam shut behind her.