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Chapter 3 : Chapter Three
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“You’re an idiot. You know that, right?”
The verbal assault began just as Lily finished pulling shut the heavy iron gate that marked the entrance to Malfoy Manor. She hadn’t seen him right away – still distracted by her unpleasant encounter with Scorpius - but she would recognize that know-it-all tone anywhere.
Albus Potter stepped forward from beneath the elm tree where he had been waiting and into the center of the dirt road that served as the only non-magical connection between the Malfoy property and the nearest muggle town. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his jeans, his eyes squinting against the sun that had just begun peaking through the last of the rain clouds.
“Thanks for the update,” she said without pausing, bumping into her brother’s arm as she pushed passed him, wiping the last of the tears from her eyes.
“Hey! Watch it, will you?” he shouted, clearly not noticing that she’d been crying. “That’s my bad shoulder.”
Lily didn’t respond. She just kept walking. She’d had no interest in getting into a row with Al, having already had her fill of fighting for the day. Besides, what did she care about his latest Quidditch injury anyway? It’s like she kept telling him: stop being such a git and maybe the other players will quit trying so hard to knock you off your broom. And it wasn’t as if he got paid for all that banging about. At least their mother had been a professional player. Al’s idea of professional was him and his mates racing around in the back garden, doing their best not to be seen by the neighbors.
After a long pause, she heard the sound of running footsteps coming up the road behind her, and she picked up her already hurried pace.
"Slow down, will you?” he called. “I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
She stopped then, spinning on her heels. Al had to throw his hands up to keep from slamming into her. “I don’t need you or anyone else checking up on me. Got it?”
“Hey, relax. What’s got your wand in a knot?”
“None of your business. I’m of age now, so you can just back off!”
“Nice try,” he said. “But you’ve still got a week left until your birthday, and you know what that means.”
Lily groaned. “You’re worse than Dad.”
She was walking again, though at a more modest pace, allowing Al to keep up. She noticed with satisfaction, however, that he was careful to leave a fair bit of distance between them incase she decided to take another swing at his arm.
“What are you doing here, Lils? Really?” He was using his grow-up voice now, one she had a hard time taking seriously. It was still difficult for her to think of her brother as an adult. He certainly didn’t act like one. But of course, unlike her, he was officially of age – a true and proper wizard.
“Visiting,” she said, careful to keep her answer vague. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Oh, come off it. Don’t give me that visiting crap. I know he sent you post. So what's going on, really?”
Lily did a double take. “You read my post?”
“Hey, I’m not a total snoop. You’re the one who left this sitting out on the kitchen table.”
They had stopped walking again and she watched as he reached into the front pocket of his sweatshirt and pulled out a folded envelope. Lily recognized it at once as the letter Scorpius had sent her. Albus held it out to her and she snatched it away from him.
“A bit of advice,” he said. “If you don’t want people to know your business, don’t leave your letters lying out for the world to see. You’re just lucky it was me who found it.”
Lily winced. He was right, of course. It had been careless of her to leave it sitting where anyone could have found it. What if one of their parents had gotten to it first? Lily would have had some serious explaining to do then.
“But if you didn’t read it,” she said, turning the letter over in her hand, “then how did you know where I’d be?”
Al grinned, gesturing over at the envelope. “The Malfoys aren’t exactly a subtle bunch.”
She looked down at the letter still clutched in her hand. Unfolding it and smoothing out the wrinkles, she spotted something she hadn’t noticed before. In the top left corner, where the return address should be, there was instead a beautifully scripted green M, the swooping tail of which seemed to be twisting and looping as it glided across the front of the envelope.
“Ooooh,” she said, watching with fascination as the emerald ink slowly formed the letters A-L-F-O-Y.
“Yeah, Ooooh is right. Told you I’m not a snoop.”
Lily hastily refolded the letter, tucking into her coat pocket for safekeeping. “Alright, I’m sorry."
“I guess I can forgive you...just this once. But really,” he said, his voice serious again. “What’s going on here?”
It was eerie how much he looked like their father, especially now. While she had inherited her mother’s slender features and flame-colored hair, Albus was the spitting image of their dad, and he seemed to grow more like him with each passing day. Short but solid, they each sported copious amount of untidy brown hair that was always falling into their bright green eyes. While she had been cursed with an abundance of freckles, his face was clear and smooth, just like their father’s. And it wasn’t just their appearances either. Over the years, Al had developed the habit of sticking his nose in other people’s business. This might be a good trait for someone working as an Auror, but it wasn’t at all endearing in an older brother. Not that Lily hadn’t been accused of the same thing on occasion.
She sighed again. “You promise you won’t snitch to Mum and Dad?”
“Have I ever?”
“Alright,” she said, and Lily began to tell her tale.
Al proved a good audience, listening without interruption as she filled him in on what Scorpius had written to her, about how his Granny Malfoy had died and how his father and grandfather were being strangely silent about it. She told him too about the brief but unpleasant encounter in the cottage – leaving out the bit about how she’d run out of there crying. She didn’t her brother to think she was a baby.
When she was done, he seemed to take it all in for a moment before saying, “But I still don’t get it. I mean, I’m sorry his grandmum died, but what’s that got to do with you rushing over here?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just...He didn’t sound right. There was something strange in that letter.”
Al kicked at a large stone and watched as it bounced ahead of them down the path. “Strange how?”
"I don’t know,” she said again. “Just strange. I thought if I came over here, if I saw him face to face...”
“And nothing. We argued and I left. That’s all.”
“Did you ask him about it? The letter, I mean.”
Lily shook her head. “No, not specifically. We talked about his grandmum a bit, but then I got upset and he got upset, and that was that. I don’t know. I wonder if...I wonder if maybe he just needed to see me.”
Al seemed to consider that. “Well, maybe that’s it then. Maybe he wrote to you all cryptic-like so you’d be worried and come running over to check on him. A bit manipulative, if you ask me, but Scorp seems the type.”
“I’m not sure that’s it. I think there’s more to it than that.”
But Al wasn’t to be dissuaded. “Come on, Lils. You've said it yourself; he’s a lousy git when it comes to girls. Maybe you just want there to be more so you have an excuse to start coming over here again –”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” she snapped. “I never said anything of the sort. Don’t you put words in my mouth, Albus Severus.” She took her time, dragging out each syllable in his name, knowing how much it annoyed him to be addressed by his full title.
“Oh, right, I forgot,” he mocked, hand on heart. “Last summer, the one you spent crying to Mum about how awful he was - how much he hurt you and how you’d never forgive him. That was all just my imagination, I suppose? You locked yourself in your room for a month. It was pathetic.”
Lily punched her brother square in the arm.
“Owww!” he screamed, grabbing his shoulder.
“You deserved it, you creep.”
Lily stomped off down the road, and this time Albus let her go.
They stayed like that for a long while, her marching ahead, him bringing up the rear, rubbing at his sore arm. Below them, the first glimpses of town came into view at the bottom of the hill. The sun had managed to fight its way through the last of the clouds and the smattering of buildings seemed to shimmer and sway as the light reflected off the last of the raindrops.
An old car rumbled up the lane toward them. Lily stepped aside, allowing it to pass. It coughed and sputtered as it rolled by, spitting large plumes of exhaust fumes out of its rusty tailpipe. By the time the clunking of its engine had faded into the distance, Al had seemed to gather his nerve, catching up with her once again.
“Hey, Lils?” His voice was soft, little more than a whisper.
After a long pause she said, “Yeah?”
"Do me a favor, will you? Just think hard before you get tangled up with Scorpius again, okay? I don’t want to see you get hurt. Will you do that for me?”
Lily said nothing. She just kept on walking.
* * *
Though she’d never admit it to him, Lily did think about what Albus said. She was so preoccupied with it, in fact, that she hardly even realized she’d agreed to let Al Apparate them both back home until she felt that disquieting tug deep behind her navel. It didn’t seem to matter how good a person was at Apparating – and Al was really good with complicated magic – the whole experience was so dreadfully unpleasant, Lily could understand why so many wizards chose not to bother with it at all.
The house was empty when they arrived. Al muttered something about ice for his shoulder before disappearing into the kitchen. Lily ambled up the two flights of stairs and down the narrow hallway that led to her bedroom, stripping off her raincoat as she went. Being the youngest of the Potter children, she’d been relegated to the smallest room in the house, made to feel even smaller by the large desk and oversized wardrobe that stood half-open against the far wall. But at least she’d never had to share the room with anyone. She got her fill of bunkmates during the school year. A little peace and quiet made for a nice change – not that things were ever really all that quiet at home, particular with her eldest brother James stopping by every other day to nick some food or beg their mum to wash his dirty socks.
From somewhere below, Lily heard the steady THUMP! THUMP! of a bass issuing from the Wireless. Tossing her coat on the floor, she slammed her door shut and collapsed onto her unmade bed, unsure what to do next. She made a half-hearted attempt to read the first chapter of the latest girl-meets-wizard romance novel one of her fellow Gryffindors had lent her for the summer, but soon gave up on it, flinging the silly book aside before reaching instead for the letter still tucked in her jacket pocket.
Unfolding it, she began to read it for the second time that day.
I don’t know if you’ll actually read this once you realize who it’s from, but I hope you do. I didn’t know who else to tell.
My Grandmother is dead. We found her body two days ago. Her body. Those are Father’s words, not mine. I can’t think of her like that. I was the one who found her, just after it happened. I didn’t know one person could leave behind so much blood. Is it supposed to be that red? I’ve begged them – Father and Grandfather both – to tell me what happened to her, but if they know, they won’t say. If I try and ask, they just get angry and tell me it doesn’t matter. That it won’t bring her back. I can’t help but wonder if she —
He stopped there, crossing out whatever came next before continuing on.
I think she might have hurt herself or something. Maybe like an accident. I can’t think how but she was getting old. Still, it just doesn’t add up. Not with all those wounds. Dad says the sooner it’s all over the better off we’ll all be. That we just need to pick up and move on. I don’t know what to think.
If you’re not too busy, if you’ve even read this far, it would be great if you could come. I could really use someone to talk to. Please. We could meet you-know-where.
Don’t tell your Dad, okay?
Lily read through the letter several more times, hoping to see something she hadn’t noticed before. But nothing jumped out at her. Nothing except that one horrible line:
I didn’t know one person could leave behind so much blood.
Even as she thought on it, the words seemed to climb up and off the page and straight into her heart like the sharp blade of a cold knife. She shivered.
Lily considered again what Al had said to her, about how Scorpius might just be using it all as an excuse to see her. But she couldn’t make it fit. Could Scorpius really make something like that up just for attention? Surely even he wouldn’t sink that low. It was all so gruesome it almost had to be true.
There was a loud knock at her door. Lily nearly let out a shriek. Heart thudding, she stuffed the letter and its envelope under her pillow.
“What?” she called, stacking a second pillow on top of the first and smoothing out the edges.
“Mum’s home.” It was Al’s voice. She relaxed a bit. “She says if you want supper you better get your butt downstairs and help.”
“I’m not hungry.”
She heard him sigh through the door. “Fine. Whatever.”
She waited for a moment, listening as his footsteps retreated down the hall. When she was sure he was gone, she removed the letter again. Pulling out her wand, she tapped the parchment once and whispered, “Evanesco.”
The words disappeared.
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