Chapter 7 : Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
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A masculine voice called the name, which was carried up the long flight of stony stairs on a flying carpet of breeze and the scent of spring flowers.
Lily was sitting alone in the windowsill in the owlery when the call reached her, her long, slender legs pulled up against her chest and a handsome eagle-feather quill resting between her fingers. When she heard the call she turned towards the doorway, from which she could faintly hear the echo of heavy footsteps, familiar footsteps, climbing up the steps.
With hasty fingers she hurried to tie a piece of parchment tainted by her thin, slanted writing to the leg of a snowy owl, whispering the name of the addressee against the bird's feathery head before watching it fly off into the azure sky. Then she turned, facing a tall boy with tawny skin.
He cocked one eyebrow. "You're sending letters?"
"To mum and dad." Lily lied, staring down at the rat carcasses and owl droppings that littered the owlery floor. The letter was really for Tom, her best friend back at home, although her boyfriend would not appreciate that particular piece of information.
The boy in the doorway pulled a distinct grimace, but made no comment other than stating the fact that there was only one week left of term and therefore quite unnecessary for Lily to send her parents anything. Then, he turned his attention towards the glassless window. "What's that?" he asked sharply, pointing a dark-skinned finger towards a drawing pad resting on the sunlit sill.
"Oh, that..." Lily muttered, hurrying to stuff the pad and a number of Muggle drawing pencils into her schoolbag. She knew that her boyfriend would not enjoy seeing her draw with Muggle means; especially not when she used another man as model for her artwork. "It's nothing, just some drawings..."
The golden boy said nothing, he merely eyed her schoolbag wearily as Lily slung it around her shoulders and made to leave the owlery alongside him.
Hogwarts was always beautiful in May, when all the flowers had awoken and the sun stood high upon the cloudless sky. Nevertheless, all the earthly beauty of the Scottish countryside could never quite compare to the meadow right next to Lily's house, closest to her heart.
Lily's time at Hogwarts was rapidly approaching its end.
At seventeen years of age, Lily had grown into a beautiful, alluring young woman. She was still surrounded by a dreamy mist, though once high on testosterone most boys found that aura easy to ignore. What was harder to ignore was the fact that Lily was seeing none other than Nathaniel Zabini.
It was hard to imagine a more unlikely couple than Lily Potter and Nathaniel Zabini. Nathaniel was the only son of Blaise Zabini and Pansy Parkinson, and the sole heir to their combined fortune. He was a handsome youth, the best of both his parents in looks; the worst of them when it came to social conduct. He was a dodgy character at best, loud, mean and manipulative in demeanor, and the polar opposite of Lily Potter in, it seemed, every way.
Lily was the very picture of virtue, shy as a flower, yet with a personality that shone through her modesty and enchanted anyone who came close enough to fall under her spell.
The improbably couple had come to be under haphazardous conditions, when they had been paired up for a project in potions when their last year at Hogwarts dawned. Less than a month after they had spoken for the first time, Nathaniel asked Lily if she wanted to be his girlfriend. And seeing that Lily always strived to do everything to make everyone around her happy, she obliged, accepting Nathaniel's offer.
Lily had walked into her first relationship holding the prediction that she would fall in love with Nathaniel, because it was in her belief that every person was lovable in his or her own way. She had expected to feel a certain thrill when Nathaniel's tan skin made contact with her snowy white, that his lips against hers would feel like a thousand pins and needles, that her blood would rush and her heart would beat in unison with his.
Now that the year was nearing it's end, and Nathaniel's lips were once more showering her neck with cold kisses, she realized she felt nothing at all.
She still could not believe all the written rumors James and Albus had spent the entire past year sending her by owl, she knew Nathaniel could be sweet as an angel when alone with her, yet she also knew that he could be posessive, controlling and spiteful when they were surrounded by others. Every other man was a potential threat, an enemy that needed to be wiped out of the way by either brute force or hurtful invectives so that Nathaniel could uphold his monopoly in the Great Hall and keep Lily by his side, as though she would ever have the nerve to leave him.
It was not in Lily's nature to purposely hurt someone, either, even if it meant her getting hurt instead. But when she felt Nathaniel's callous fingers climb up her thighs and slip underneath her shirt as they lay together in the sweet-smelling fields outside Hogwarts, she could not help but gasp, slap his hands away and sit upright, looking frightened, as though her stuffed animal had just turned savage.
Nathaniel's handsome features were instantaneously twisted in annoyance. "Come on!" he said in frustration, when his second attempt to approach Lily only yielded a frightened whimper from the girl. "We've been dating for almost a year, Lily!"
"I... We should get back to the castle." Lily said, gathering her school-things hastily, getting to her feet. She did not even get to take one step before Nathaniel had grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back down.
"Not yet, you don't," he growled, and he pressed his lips against hers, forcefully, painfully. He pushed her back, into a bed of wildflowers and gained on her like a predator on its pray.
Lily closed her eyes tightly against the sharp sun and the looming shadow of a boy she thought she knew, a boy she once thought she could fall for. If she had ever felt a spark from where his lips touched her it was now completely gone, replaced by ice where his mouth traced a wet line of kisses down her alabaster neck.
Suddenly, however, he was gone. With a short, harsh intake of breath the shadow disappeared and the frosted lips were replaced by the warmth of the unrestrained sunlight.
For several minutes Lily just lay there, stretched out upon a mattress of daisies, carnations and lisianthus, breathing slowly underneath the May sun. When she finally dared to open her eyes, comforted by the sound of humming bumblebees and distant splashing from the lake, Nathaniel's body was but an indistinct silhouette far away, soon to be swallowed by the shadow of the castle.
Lily was merely sitting in the flowery field, staring towards the castle, not quite daring to step up to its majestic outline and face whatever was waiting inside. It seemed rather pathetic that, for the first time, she was scared to walk through the school's door, with a bare week left until she had to leave forever.
When Nathaniel had pulled her forcefully to the ground her sketchbook had fallen out of the confinement of her bag, and it now lay open a few feet away from where her body lay on the meadow. Slowly Lily reached out for the pad and looked down at the drawing she had spent since Christmas perfecting.
It was a very realistic drawing in charcoal and chalk portraying a young, heartbreakingly beautiful man, with deep eyes that seemed to contain the world.
"Marcus..." Lily muttered, tracing his cheekbone with one finger, accidentally smudging the coal.
Lily never talked about Marcus anymore. She hadn't done for years, not since Christmas Eve in her first year at Hogwarts, when she had overheard the concern her spectral friend had caused her parents. Harry and Ginny had been distraught, even contemplating sending Lily to see a psychologist in order to help her rid herself of the hallucinative friend. Never having intended to cause her parents worry, Lily vowed to herself never to mention Marcus' name to them again.
But the fact that she did not speak of Marcus did not mean that she did not speak to him, at least for the few weeks that she got to spend home during the course of a year. And it certainly did not mean that she did not miss him, because she did, more than anything. To her parents, her brothers and Tom she could send letters, whilst with Marcus she had no means of long-distance communication whatsoever. The drawing she had made entirely from memory, reconstructed Marcus' handsome features from all the nights she had sat up beside each other on her bed and just talked in hushed voices, so her parents wouldn't hear.
Lily had spent the past Christmas at Hogwarts with Nathaniel, so now it had been almost an entire year since the last time she had seen Marcus, and she was looking forward to seeing him more than any of her kinsmen back home. Marcus, and his seldom smile, his even rarer laugh, his deep, melancholic voice and his kind, black eyes.
Lily shut her sketchblock carefully and stuffed it back into her schoolbag, comforted by her memories and the approaching reunion with Marcus. In less than a week she would be far away from Nathaniel, far away from Hogwarts, back in the mansion beside the wildflower field, with Marcus, Tom, her mum and dad and her brothers. Back home.
Absence really did make the heart grow fonder, she reflected, as she followed Nathaniel's footsteps up towards the castle.
It was nearly dinnertime by the time Lily walked into the entrance hall, although on her way to the Great Hall she nearly ran into the transparent form of Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor House ghost.
"I wouldn't go in there if I was you." Nick said solemnly, after predicting which way Lily was headed.
Lily swallowed and braced herself. "Why?" she asked, boldly, staring right through Nick and at the tall, suddenly intimidating door leading towards the dining hall. From within she heard the muffled yells and the sound of the usual chaos that occurred whenever the entire school was gathered inside four walls.
Nick did not answer immediately. He looked as though he was taken by his own musings, and Lily had to cough softly to bring him back into the present. "What did you do to him, Lily?" Nick asked seriously, when he looked down into Lily's curious stare, which almost instantaneously turned panicky.
"What I did?"
Nick nodded. "Zabini's been telling the whole school how you made some sort of guardian apparition appear to threaten him. That's really advanced magic, Lily. I always knew you were your grandmother reincarnated, but by Merlin-"
"What are you talking about?" Lily asked, shaking her head so that her long locks of auburn hair danced around her shoulders. "I didn't do magic."
Nick looked at her, thoughtfully. He stayed silent for so long that Lily wondered if he had fallen victim to nostalgia once more. She, herself, was busy analyzing the details from that afternoon, looking for any possible explanation for how Nathaniel could possibly claim that she had summoned some monstrous spirit to attack him. She had not had a wand, and even if she did she would never have used it against him.
"Nick," Lily said suddenly, making both herself and Nick return abruptly to the entrance hall. "Can ghosts go places?"
Nick cocked his head, but quickly straightened up when it threatened to tip over. "I'm going places, am I not?"
"I mean..." Lily bit her lip, searching for words. "Like, could you go on a vacation if you wanted to? As a ghost?"
"I most certainly could!" Nick asked, pretending to be offended by her question although he couldn't hide the fact that he was a little smug, being given Lily's fullest attention. Lily's attention was rarely undivided. "But... Ghosts do have a tendency to linger."
"Linger?" Lily inquired momentarily. "What do you mean, linger?"
"Ghosts usually stay in places that were important to them while they were alive, the grounds on which they thread when they still were able to. They feel drawn towards the locations to which they are emotionally attached."
Lily climbed the numerous of moving staircases up the the north tower, giving the Fat Lady the password, pineapple fritter, before continuing her journey up to the seventh year girls' dormitory.
There, in the middle of the four four-poster beds clad in covers of crimson and gold, she stood in the glow of the sunset seeping through the windows and looked around, as though to make sure that she was quite alone. When she had made sure that there were, indeed, no one else there, she spoke a single name into the dying day.
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