Chapter 1 : Too Much Time
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Too Much Time
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
- T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
There is nothing in the world more boring than doing nothing.
The plant's tendrils crept toward my feet as I stared out the window over the Downs, but I was tired of shying away from those cursed vines as they crept across the sitting room floor. It was the ferocity of the sunset that held me, its reds and oranges burning the trees at the end of the field, bringing the horizon down in flames. After weeks of dreary, rainy skies, I relished the sight of something that was, for once, not green or brown or grey. The phonograph blared the dying notes of a soprano in the throws of agony, the sun and her voice as one as they plunged into the deep.
“Stop it!” I threw a paper-weight at the vine and it slithered back beneath a chair, its end curled like a magical eye.
When I turned back to the window, the sun had set and the song had ended.
I turned back to the darkened room. The plants were at last falling dormant. If I had the power to defy nature, I would have kept them in the dark all the time. Maybe then I would have some peace.
Uncle Neville probably enjoyed the sunset over the Mediterranean with his new wife, arms around one another, faces glowing in the light as it dipped below the velvet depths. My eyes watered, not because I had a romantic soul, but because it would have been an improvement over my current situation. A mere caretaker. A runaway from reality.
I shouldn’t call him Uncle Neville, not when he’s been Professor Longbottom for the last seven years, but I told myself that, as soon as I’d escaped Hogwarts, I would revert to my previous state of happy childhood ignorance. And it had led me here.
James and Albus were looking after the Leaky Cauldron for our now-Aunt Hannah. Having the time of their lives too, from what I’ve heard. There they were, running the busiest wizarding pub in Britain and making the name for themselves that they had failed to do thus far. Not that I could say much in my own defence. After all, I was looking after a houseful of plants who disliked me only somewhat less than other humans. The last caretaker had been sent to St. Mungo’s, half-choked to death after taking a morning nap.
They were a very particular set of plants. And I was a very particular sort of person. Or should I say, peculiar?
They likely preferred me because, in my most recent experiment with hair dye, my hair, instead of the luscious blonde locks promised by the box, had turned a sickly shade of green. Whether I could blame this on my brothers or on my hair’s desire to remain “Weasley Red”, I would never know. Although I had finally managed to get my hair a decent shade of yellow, it now had the texture of straw, and the plants seemed to appreciate it.
One would have believed that Uncle Neville’s personality would have tamed these wild examples of magical flora, but they had minds of their own, minds that constantly turned to sedition and outright revolution, guillotine and all.
I wandered from the room, watching where I stepped, just in case.
I was spending too much time alone. Some would say that I was overcompensating for my brothers, whose overconfident, overwhelming, over-everything natures were so unlike my own. There is something to be said about people who throw themselves into the crowd, just as there is something to be said about those who stare at sunsets without an iota of romantic feeling.
Boredom. That was all I had. The plants were tended every morning. The books were read every afternoon. The window was stared out every evening. The darkness was kept company every night. There was little else to do.
My foot was beginning to hurt. Soon I wouldn't be able to ignore it and I would be trapped once again in a chair, in the dark, staring at the wall, with only my thoughts for company.
Why else would I be trapped here, looking after plants? It wasn’t as though anyone believed I had a knack for Herbology. It was because I was the only one who was suitably passive, meaning that I limped about the world while my cousins charged through it at top speed.
What did it matter that Lily Potter, the once-promising Quidditch player, just like her parents, would now be nobody, hunched in a chair, rubbing uselessly at the injury that had effectively hobbled her life?
To the world, it mattered very little. Not everyone in my family could be famous.
I raised myself from the chair, clenching my teeth at the pain, but heading for the staircase nonetheless. It was a glorious thing, all walnut and reaching high into the attic room, the only place I had not yet explored in this cottage, and, I must add, the only place where plants did not grow.
The stairs were excruciating.
By the end of the first flight, I had forgotten why I was doing this. Every nerve in the damned thing was screaming, sending the other nerves in my body tingling in sympathy. It was a burning pain; the ankle would be swollen to the size of a grapefruit before long, and I would have to remove my stocking. I had lost too many already.
By the end of the second flight, I was numb. All that remained was the drive to continue, just for the sake of continuing. To stop would be worse. It always hurt more when I stopped, the throbbing at its worst when the thing was propped up on a million pillows beneath bags of frozen peas piled like a fortress.
Uncle Neville didn’t like peas. I would instead conjure up some ice.
The telephone rang.
The sound echoed throughout the cottage and I looked down the stairs, wondering if it would wake the plants. They were finicky about their sleep, acting up with the least disturbance, but I saw no vines creeping around the doorways, nor any rumbling from the potted plants in the foyer.
It rang again. I shuffled over to the side table at the end of the hall.
“How are you, Lily?” It was Mum, checking up on me. I was, after all, a cripple in a houseful of diabolical plants, completely incapable of looking after myself, much less them.
“Fine, Mum. It’s very quiet here.”
“Are they behaving?” She was perhaps the only other person who had a bad feeling about those plants.
I caught myself nodding at the ‘phone, no better than Uncle Ron. “Fairly well. They miss Uncle Neville.”
“It’ll only be a couple more days.” She was stalling. She had become too used to my constant presence at home, the girl she’d always wanted finally flown the coop. “Is there anything you’d like to do when you get home?”
What would I be capable of doing, in other words.
“I don’t know, Mum. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Of course.” She very well knew that all I had time to do was think.
This conversation picked at my nerves. She just wanted to hear my voice and be assured of my continued existence. The sound of her voice when she was like this numbed the place my heart used to be.
“Sorry, Mum, but I’m on the ‘phone upstairs, and I’m getting sore.”
“I’m sorry, Lily.” There was a strangled quality to her voice that I did not like.
“Look, Mum, it’s o–”
“It isn’t. It will never be okay again.”
Honest as always. I felt the corners of my eyes become wet with the evening dew and I closed them, unwilling to see my own reflection in the nearby window.
“I’ll get by. I have to.”
Silence. No, wait, there was her breath, once and again. I could imagine her rubbing the bridge of her nose with one hand, sitting at her desk, editing the latest copy of the Quidditch report, waiting for Dad to return from the office so that they could eat dinner together, alone in their minds.
“Good night, Mum. I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Lily. ‘Night.”
She knew better than to wish me sweet dreams.
I put down the instrument, clicking it back into place. For all that my foot throbbed, I did not move. The pain was worse somewhere else.
There was a small flight of stairs at the other end of the hall, hidden behind a thick wooden door to keep out the draught. It was not locked, as such doors usually were in stories, and Uncle Neville had never told me that I could not go in there. That was probably why I had never gone further than the door: there was no draw, no fatal curiosity.
I stood at the door, wondering whether it would be worth the trouble of climbing another set of stairs. Crawling into bed was equally tempting, but I would never sleep in more than fitful bursts, my mind always retreating to that moment of falling, falling, falling, cras–
Thud. Thud. Thud.
It was not someone at the front door.
It was not something downstairs.
It was upstairs.
But what could it be? There was no wind outside, nothing that would have caused something to knock. Unless....
I limped more heavily than I had for many months, dragging myself up the narrow stairway, feeling gritty dust beneath my hands. I wiped my hands on my robes before pulling out my wand with a whispered “Lumos!”
The attic room was largely empty. No one was there. There was no place to hide.
In one corner were some trunks, the labels too yellowed to be read. They were all the same, though, and I wondered which of Uncle Neville’s relatives had left all their belongings here to moulder and disintegrate. One was filled with women’s robes of the last century, perhaps from the war with Grindelwald. The demure collars and neat embroidery were set off by moth holes the size of my fist. Another held books, their pages peppered with mould. The last contained a nest of spiders.
There was also a small jewellery case I initially thought to be empty, its red velvet blackened with age, but still revealing the shapes of each piece of jewellery that had rested on its surface. Bracelets and necklaces and brooches once sparkled in the light of the woman’s dressing table as her hand hesitated above them, deciding which would compliment her new robes.
The lip fell from my hands. The image had come to mind so vividly, so without warning. I did not even know who she was.
A gold ring dropped to the floor with a delicate ting.
I stared at it, counting a minute before I reached down and held it to the light of my wand. There was something inscribed inside the band, something that had nearly worn away.
It was probably meant to be romantic, one of those soppy impersonal quotations provided by jewellers to any young man with an eager wallet and little imagination. I put the ring back into the box and turned away from the trunks, unwilling to venture further into the forgotten life of their owner, long turned to dust.
The other end of the room hold only a cupboard, something akin to a wardrobe. It reminded me of those books Aunt Hermione once leant me, the kind of wardrobe that one could walk through to another world. It was a silly idea, really, probably based on a faulty vanishing cabinet that whisked one off to Merlin-knew-where. The only thing special about wardrobes was that they usually contained boggarts, and this one was much too silent for that.
The wood was lacquered, the once sleek black surface crackled with the passing of time. As I approached, my wandlight illuminated the gold-leaf that ornamented the cupboard’s doors.
I knew what it was. A place to hide.
A vanishing cabinet.
I should have been afraid. I may have been a Potter, but I was – how shall I say? – handicapped. There could have been any sorts of monsters and dark wizards lurking within, though surely they would have attacked by now, devouring me whole.
So I opened the door.
It contained only one thing: a slip of paper, hardly larger than one of those Chinese fortunes. It was not yellowed, not aged, the ink still fresh enough to smudge on my hand.
You will find what you seek inside.
Inside of what? The cupboard? And who was the "you"? Where was the partner to this cupboard?
I leaned forward and my tired foot decided just then to put itself out of its misery and collapse beneath me, sending me tumbling into the cupboard, the door conveniently closing behind me with a sharp snap. My wandlight went out and all went dark.
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