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Quantum Physics by peppersweet
Format: Short story
Chapter 3: 3
I'd be sad that I never held your hand as you were lowered
but I'd understand that I'd never let it go
- blackberry stone, Laura Marling
It was close to four o’clock when the train passed over the Forth Bridge. Not quite dark yet; the day’s leftover light glittered like cold coins on the surface of the water below, a ship docked at Leith like a tongue in the mouth of the river. On the left, the North Sea stretched out infinitely to the horizon.
Lucy couldn’t quite help thinking she should have got off the train at Kirkcaldy. She had a bad feeling about the arrangement. Leith, never the nicest of places, and a bit of a trek from her small, well-worn corner of Fife. But, then again, Scorpius seemed to have travelled from Leith to small pockets of Fife every day. She felt she owed him something.
In the claustrophobic comfort of her room with a mug of tea warming her hands, it had all seemed so sensible. Just a girl talking to a boy about schoolwork. Just a cynical squib trying to convince a wizard she’d found in a supermarket car park not to abandon his studies and sit Highers instead. Weird from the outset, although it hadn’t seemed so at the time. Molly had given her hell for it. Molly said she knew things about Scorpius that would make Lucy’s hair curl, but she wouldn’t tell and Lucy wouldn’t believe her.
Things had started to seep out after the Christmas dinner, when Molly was cosy in front of the fire with a glass of grown-up wine she’d been permitted to have with pudding. Someone told me he vanished his own mum after a fight. Stole rats from the Transfiguration department and kept them in his dormitory. I’ve seen him disappearing into the Forbidden Forest. He’s a vampire. He’s actually a ghost that used to live in the Astronomy tower, the Professors put a spell on him to stop him walking through walls. He just keeps turning up in weird places. Like the island in the middle of the lake.
I bet he’ll vanish you, Lucy. He’s so crap at magic. He'll just touch your arm and, poof, you'll turn up somewhere in Cornwall.
The rumour about him being a ghost was Lucy’s favourite by far. She thought she might tease him about it, make a joke of it, but then, in the dull, freezing daylight on the way to the train station, she thought better of it. She’d lied to her parents and told them she was going to see her friends in Edinburgh. They trusted her because she was exactly the sort of girl who wasn’t prone to spontaneous trips to Leith. She was dependable, downtrodden, Loser Lucy.
But there was someone across the river who half-understood how she felt and, even if was only half, she felt she’d rather be there than stacking shelves in Fife again.
His little terraced house on a busy road was not difficult to find, and he answered the door within seconds of her ringing the bell. Behind him was his father, anxious and pale: the two looked so alike it was startling, except the elder Malfoy was straight-backed, proud, holding himself tall. It was an almost exact copy of the night he’d taken a cup of tea at her house. There was a request for the kettle to be put on the boil, a request to come upstairs, it was just the second room on the left, but as they climbed the stairs she was acutely aware of wary eyes following them: she realised how the father was afraid of the son.
Inside his room (which was surprisingly ordinary, although a little bare) she tried to break the ice with the story about him actually being a ghost. He laughed and told her it was all true, then – look, my hand will go right through you – swept his arm through the air, his hand coming to a stop against her sleeve. Oh, I suppose I’m broken.
Her face split into a smile as she said something about how she didn’t usually associate with the undead, perhaps she should leave? But I did say weird things happened on the solstice. Although I suppose this is January.
Weird things did happen on the solstice. She’d made a friend.
A night in Leith that mirrored the night in Fife; he walked her to the train station at nine, when it was dark and the air was biting, where the houses began to thin out and her eyes strained to spot ice on the pavement. She wanted to thank him for just being around to talk to, but couldn’t quite find an appropriate way to express it when they were so bundled against the cold, hurrying down dull suburban streets. If she were to say it, it should be meaningful.
A particularly icy patch at the end of the road caught her by surprise and, in unsuitable shoes, she went tumbling to the ground, and it was only after he’d laughed at her that he leant out a hand to help her up. Stiff, numb, she rose to her feet, and he let go of her hand at once as if she’d electrocuted him.
‘Molly told me you vanished your mum once,’ she said, once they were on their way again.
‘Did you really?’
‘I don’t think it’s possible to vanish people, actually.’
‘Unless, maybe, you stick them in a box with…radiation, or whatever you call it-’
She elbowed him. ‘That’s just supposed to be a theory. I don’t suggest you try it out.’
At the train station, she hugged him as she might hug one of her school friends, only it went on a little too long, she was a little too sad when they had to break apart so she could buy herself a train ticket from the machine. She was on the verge of asking him to get the train with her too, had they not lived on opposite sides of the bridge. When he turned and made his solitary way down the street, she was ready to call him back.
In the dark, it was almost impossible to see the North Sea from the train.
The first day of the Hogwarts term came and went and nothing, nobody could shift Scorpius from his room at home. His father gave up after an hour and left to work; Scorpius quietly removed the chair from where he’d jammed it under the door handle and sat by the window, ignoring the owl that came to tap on the glass and hoot silently at him around lunchtime.
His mother arrived at seven and told him he was going back to school. He realised he had no idea what he’d have done instead anyway. And that was that.
It would be a year before he could return to Leith. The thought of that made him sadder than anything.
It was a fantasy she’d never fully realised because, from the outset, it had been so unrealistic, but somehow to be told that it would never happen was painful. Of course he would have gone back to school. It was the right thing and, besides, it was the law. But, for a moment, she’d actually considered that he might be able to get a special dispensation, a place at the Academy for the Non-Magically Able. Even if he was anything but.
It was the first time he’d written her a letter but, then again, they’d only known one another for a fortnight or so. It came, unusually, by owl post, just as letters from the Ministry about her education did. A messy scrawl told her that he had to be back for the start of lessons some two days away. And then he apologised and signed his name, and it somehow seemed so formal. She knew she had to see him again, somehow communicate to him the profound impact he’d had on the last fortnight of her life.
The note she sent back was brief. It was only a pipe-dream. I’m working tomorrow but it would be nice to say goodbye once my shift finishes.
She named the time and place of their first meeting, sealed it, and sent it back with the same owl.
It was only a pipe-dream, but there was one last piece of hope she felt she could hold on to. She stood there, in her break, and told him in a rush about how, one fine summer’s morning next year, she’d drive away. And, perhaps, she could stop by Leith and pick him up?
You and me, she sold it. We could make it as muggles, maybe.
It was hard to believe she’d only known him for a fortnight. If she’d known how to drive, if she’d had a car, she would have offered to drive both of them away that second.
He said he’d wait by the train station. Every morning if he had to. Even if the weather was horrible. And then he laughed and said he’d probably make a terrible muggle, but it was always worth a shot. You never knew if you didn’t try.
He promised to write letters, said he’d visit if he got the chance. Said it was nice to have something to look forward to. She promised, in return, to do her physics homework so he could have copies of it, but the joke fell flat and they were left looking at each other with nothing else to say.
The startling blue of his eyes again; it was like she’d been doused in cold water. Why should the colour of his eyes surprise her? Was it so shocking that the pale wisp of a boy before her had substance, had any colour at all?
A farewell passed between them like a binding cord; the more they bade each other goodbye, the closer they seemed to cling. She kissed him on the cheek because somehow it seemed more appropriate, and it was the sweetest, briefest thing either of them had known.
There had never been a better place, there in the miserable January chill of the car park, there in the wasteland – but if she put her arms around him again and shut her eyes, she could only see a dark infinity where she was only anchored by his hand on the small of her back. She couldn’t see the orange flare of her work tabard, nor the piles of slush that surrounded them; she had made herself blind and, why, if those definitions could not be seen, then surely, by his bizarre logic, they did not exist.
That moment of dark infinity: the sweetest, briefest thing either of them will ever know. There will never be a fine summer’s morning and, in the drudgery of the school routine, he will eventually run out of things to write to her about, and when her driving instructor takes her through Leith for a practice, she will miss his presence by the train station by mere minutes, and, besides, she will never pass the driving test she has only half a care about and she will never own a car, and his father will find a new job in Manchester and move the Malfoys away from Leith forever, and a new family will live in the house where, once, he managed to vanish himself into the garden on the winter solstice without feeling a thing.
The fine summer’s morning will never come but – one midwinter day – they do say strange things happen on the solstice.
There is a quiet, chaste existence in a bedsit in London for Lucy, a small sum of benefits from the Ministry to support her minor office job where she types and files and makes cups of tea for the witches and wizards in the room next door. There is a job in a bookshop on the West Coast for Scorpius, who can never quite scrub the feeling of her lips from his mind, and their paths run quite parallel and never meet.
Cats and radiation in boxes. She likes to read and there is a pub he likes to frequent with the few friends who tolerate his frank strangeness. The heating never works in her bedsit and he always picks stronger drinks for the way they make him feel warmer. Cats and radiation in boxes, pick your poison: will the cold get you, or will you drink yourself to death?
Either way, it is slow for both of them.
If you put a cat in a box with radioactive material then you cannot truly say whether it is alive or dead so it ceases to exist. Lucy never forgets her first love, and it gnaws at her over the years until she realises that she does not even know whether he is dead or alive. They have few friends and make very few impressions and it is as if they do not exist; they will vanish.
One midwinter day, when the year cleaves in two, they will vanish.