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Chapter 6 : Chapter Six
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Lily was in serious trouble.
She had known it the instant she heard her mother call out to her in the darkness. And sure enough, within seconds of arriving back home, Lily found herself on the receiving end of an exhaustive telling-off, during which her parents tossed around a lot of phrases like poor judgment, truly dangerous, and worried sick.
Catching their daughter doing underage magic right outside their own front door was only half the problem – and Lily hadn’t bothered to deny it either, though she was quick to assure her parents that she’d been alone at the time. Worse still was the fact that her parents had arrived home from work to find their youngest son covered in blood and Lily nowhere in sight. Al, it seemed, hadn’t seen fit to change out of his soiled shirt and was forced to admit to their parents that there had been an accident at Grimmauld Place. This, combined with the fact that Lily had run off without bothering to tell anyone where she was going, meant that Mr. and Mrs. Potter were already in a state long before Lily ever pulled out her wand.
When it was all over, Lily found herself grounded for three weeks, her resulting cries of indignation doing nothing to lessen her sentence. She was finally forced to retreat to her room, stomping up the stairs and slamming her door shut as loud as she could in one final act of defiance. She threw herself onto the bed, still fully dressed. She was so angry she couldn’t even take solace in the fact that Albus had been forced to come clean to their parents about his little mishap. Though as neither her mother nor her father had mentioned anything about locked doors or dangerous spells, Lily was left to assume she wasn’t the only one who had been telling half-truths that evening.
Lily spent much of that night lying awake, staring up at the ceiling, stewing over her punishment. By the time dawn began to break, having hardly slept a wink, Lily found herself in an even fouler mood than when she’d gone to bed. Al seemed to sense her sour disposition and did his best to stay out of her way. The two said little to each other as they set about their work at Grimmauld Place early the next morning, avoiding each other entirely until much later that afternoon.
“I’m beat,” Al said. He had just come downstairs, having spent the better part of the day scrubbing toilets and washing old bed sheets. He didn’t look to be in a particularly good mood either, slouching in the doorway of the small pantry where Lily was still hard at work. “Are you almost done in here?”
Lily jumped down off her stepstool, careful to avoid knocking over any of the many potion bottles that now littered the floor. The Boulstridges, she’d discovered, had designated the top shelf of their kitchen pantry as the perfect spot for housing their extensive collection of potion ingredients. She’d been working to remove them, taking them down one by one and sorting them into three groups: those that would be safe to throw away, those that might be worth keeping, and those that she just didn’t recognize.
She used the legs of her jeans to wipe the dust from her hands, looking around at her progress. “Not really. But I guess you can head on without me. I can catch up in a bit.”
Al pulled a face. “Sorry, no can do. Mum said I wasn’t to let you out of my sight. Once we’re done here, I’m to take you straight home.”
“What?” Lily said, nearly kicking over a jar of pickled slugs. “You mean to tell me that not only am I grounded, but I’ve got a babysitter now too?”
“Hey,” Al said, throwing up his hands. “Their orders, not mine.”
“Well, you think you’d ease up a bit about it seeing as how I’m in this mess because of you.”
“Me? What did I do?”
“It’s more like what you didn’t do. You could have told Mum and Dad what really happened, like I said to from the beginning. Instead, you don’t even bother to clean yourself up. Sitting around in a shirt covered in blood? You really are as thick as you look.”
“You’re not in trouble because of me. You’re in trouble because you ran off without telling anyone where you were going. Not to mention casting a spell loud enough to wake every muggle from here to Caerphilly. Doing magic in the middle of the street – have you gone mental?”
“I hardly ran off,” Lily said, bending down and moving some of the bottles into an empty wooden crate. “I left for a while, then I came home. That’s completely different. Besides, you were the one who said you were fine. What exactly was I supposed to be hanging around for?”
“Don’t take it up with me. Tell them if you’ve got a problem with it. I’m not the one who grounded you –” Al stopped then, wrinkling his nose. “What’s that smell?”
She stopped too, sniffing at the air. After a moment, the scent reached her. It was horrible – a putrid mix of burning hair and spoiled meat. “Uggh, what is that?”
“There!” Al shouted, pointing down at a spot just off to Lily’s left. She turned to look.
A dark green smoke was seeping out from beneath the stopper of one of the potion bottles she’d sorted into the “do not recognize” pile. As it hit the air, the smoke expanded and spread with alarming speed. Within seconds, the small pantry was enveloped in a thick toxic haze.
“Open the door!” Lily yelled, trying not to retch as she buried her mouth and nose in the crook of her arm.
Al, coughing and sputtering, pulled blindly at the door before managing to yank it open. They both flung themselves through before slamming it shut behind them.
“What do we do now?” They were back in the main kitchen, and Lily could already see the first tendrils of smoke slipping in through the crack beneath the door.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“We can’t just leave! What if it’s poisonous or something?”
“Exactly! Now move!”
He was tugging at her the sleeve of her shirt, but Lily stood her ground. “There are muggles next door! What about them?”
Al stared at her for a moment, eyes wide, before sighing and releasing his grip on her. “Fine," he said, "but we’ve got to move fast. Get me a bucket. Anything with a lid.”
Lily nodded, running to the closet on the far side of the room, remembering the small rubbish bin she had spotted in there the day before. She grabbed it and hurried back to her brother, passing it over to him.
“Okay, now stand back,” Al said, pulling out his wand.
Lily did as instructed, taking several large steps back and away from the door. “Be careful!” she called after him as he threw open the door and disappeared into the cloud of smoke.
A second later, he burst back into the kitchen. He was carrying the bin in front of him, his arms stretched out as far as they would go. Smoke was now leaking out from beneath the lid and the smell was worse than ever, literally burning Lily's throat as she struggled not to breathe in too deep.
Al turned and ran towards a second door the led from the kitchen out into the main hall. She heard him cough again and then the sound of footsteps as he sprinted up the stairs. From somewhere overhead came the sound of metal hitting glass. Then silence.
When she saw Albus again, he was leaning against the doorframe of the bathroom on the second floor, his hand clutching his side, breathing hard.
“What did you do with it?” she asked him.
He pointed over his shoulder. “...Down...the...drain...” he panted.
Lily peeked around him and into the bathroom. A milky haze seemed to hover a few feet above the floor, but the room looked otherwise undisturbed.
“There’s a sink in the kitchen, you know," Lily said, turning back to him. "Why didn’t you just dump it in there?”
Al took another deep breath, as if trying to expel the last of the fumes from his lungs. “And risk turning the whole thing into a puddle of goo?" He shook his head. "I used the bath. Dad’s got to replace it anyway. Who’s gonna' know the difference?”
“I have my moments.”
After a pause, she asked, “Any idea what that was? It didn’t look – or smell – like anything I’ve ever brewed before.”
Al shook his head again. “No, but whatever it was, it’s gone now.”
The potion may have been gone, but the smell continued to linger. Despite their best efforts, which included opening every window in the house that wasn't nailed shut, Grimmauld Place continued to smell worse than the boy's changing room after a Quidditch game. And it wasn't just the house that smelled either.
“You stink,” Lily told her brother as they made their way across the back garden and into their own house less than an hour later.
“You smell terrible. Whatever was in that bottle, you reek of it.” She waved her hand back and forth in front of her nose to emphasize her point.
“Well, it didn’t exactly leave you smelling like a rose.”
Lily lifted up the collar of her shirt and sniffed at it. “Ugggh,” she groaned. “You’re right. That’s horrible.”
At that moment, a single thought seemed to pass between them. Aside from the one attached to their parents’ bedroom – which they weren’t supposed to enter without permission – there was only one other bath in the whole house...
They each took off at a sprint, elbowing one another as they scrambled towards the stairs. They were neck and neck as they reached the top landing, but Al was bigger and stronger and with a final shove, he knocked her out of the way. A second later, he was locked in the bathroom and Lily was left alone, banging her fist against the door even as she heard the sound of running water coming from the other side.
Steadfastly refusing to sit around in smelly clothes, Lily went into her room, stripped down to her underwear and wrapped herself up in a white cotton robe. When she was done, she was careful to fold her soiled clothes up into a nice neat pile before tucking them between the sheets of Albus’ bed.
When she returned to her room, Lily found she was not alone.
Perched on the corner of her desk sat one of the most unusual looking owls Lily had ever seen. It was large and black, with two great tufts of hair that sat perched on top of its head. It stared at her from behind round, amber eyes, and in its beak it carried a small envelope, which it promptly dropped on the floor.
Lily bent down and scooped up the letter. She didn’t even bother looking for a name on the front. She had no doubt who it was for or where it had come from.
Can I see you again...soon?
That was all it said. It was even shorter than the last note. Scorpius hadn’t even bothered to sign his name.
Lily had known he would write her again. She’d been expecting as much. What she hadn't expected was to hear from him so soon. She thought she would have more time...time to figure out what she wanted, how she would reply.
But if she was honest about it, Lily didn’t need any more time. She already knew what her answer would be. She’d known it before he’d even asked the question.
Lily began digging around in her desk, coming up a moment later with a spare piece of parchment and a quill. Dipping the pen into a half-filled bottle of ink, she began to craft her reply.
I’ll be in London tomorrow. Alone if I manage it right. Can you be there at noon?
Beneath her signature, she wrote out an address. Once that was done, she folded the letter in thirds before turning back to the bird, holding the piece of parchment out to it. The owl clicked its beak once before snatching up the note. It hopped across the desk and back towards the open window. Once on the ledge, it spread its massive wings. With a sharp kick of its legs, the bird was off and out of sight.
It was later that evening, just as Lily was about to crawl into bed, when the owl returned. The letter it carried was, as she expected, brief and to the point. Just three simple letters long:
Lily knew it was risky to suggest that she and Scorpius meet up again so soon. But unless she wanted to wait until her grounding was over, she was going to have to sneak off to see him, so what was the point in delaying? At least she was already scheduled to be out of the house. And both her parents would – as usual – be at work. That only left Albus to contend with.
Lily debated confiding in her brother, telling Al she would be going off to see Scorpius and that he better keep his big mouth shut about it if he knew what was good for him. But she quickly scratched that idea. Al may not be one for following all the rules but she couldn’t imagine him letting her wander off on her own to meet a boy – especially one he wasn’t fond of – when she was supposed to be staying put under his watch. What would be in it for him?
That left Lily with only one option. If she was going to slip out and meet Scorpius, she was going to have to keep Al as far away from Grimmauld Place as possible. Fortunately for her, Lily’s red hair and penchant for trouble weren’t the only things she’d inherited from the Weasley side of the family, and it was going to take a special Weasley to help rid her of her brother for an afternoon. With the aid of one her Uncle George's more industrious inventions, Lily could all but guarantee that Al wouldn’t be anywhere near London tomorrow. And while she didn’t relish the idea of poisoning her brother – even just for a few hours – she couldn’t see any other way around it.
The next morning, Lily was up and dressed early, making sure she was downstairs long before Al even made it out of the bathroom. As she entered the kitchen, she half-expected to find her father sitting at the breakfast table, reading the paper while he drank his coffee. But the kitchen was empty. It seemed she wasn’t the only one making an early start of it that day.
After waiting a moment to make sure there was no one lurking near by, Lily reached into her pocket and pulled out two tiny pink candies, each no bigger than the size of a bean. If everything went as planned, she’d only need one, but she figured she’d better play it safe and keep a spare near at hand.
Al was, to say the least, a creature of habit. Any minute now he would come downstairs dressed in jeans and an old Quidditch t-shirt, having not yet bothered to brush his hair. Then, just as he always did, he would fix himself three pieces of toast with raspberry jam, washing it all down with a large glass of pumpkin juice.
The plan she had devised was simple. She would slip one of her Uncle's candies into Al's morning drink. Then all she had to do was sit back and let the magic do its work. Holding her breath, Lily dropped the tiny sweet into the half-empty jug of pumpkin juice. It fizzed for a long second before disappearing into the dark orange liquid. The job done, Lily set the jug on the table before slipping back upstairs - intending to be as far away from the kitchen as possible when the moment arrived.
As expected, Weasley’s Boil Bottom Bonbons worked just as advertised. It wasn't long before Al was screaming and swearing so loudly Lily was sure the neighbors could hear him through the walls. Of course, she would have been shouting too if she found her backside covered in large, painful welts. Thinking on it, Lily could see why the candies had proven such an unpopular addition to the Skiving Snackbox collection. Who on earth would subject themselves to such a thing just to get out of lessons?
It took almost half an hour to calm Albus down. Their mother, who was particularly good at staying cool during a crisis, had at last convinced Al to hold still long enough for her to cast a few spells she insisted would help ease the pain. Once Al was once again resting comfortably – or as comfortable as one could be stretched out face down on the sofa – the inevitable question was raised.
“What exactly did you get into?” their mother asked, propping another pillow up underneath his chin.
“Me? I didn’t get into anything. I was just sitting there when WHAM! This happened.” He lifted one arm, waving it behind him in the general direction of his bottom.
“Well, you must have touched something. What about you, Lily? Did you notice anything?”
Lily shook her head, trying her best to keep her expression neutral; the right mix of confusion and concern. She’d been anticipating just this scenario and she’d rehearsed her part well “No, I didn’t see anything,” she said but then stopped, as if just now recalling something that might be important. “Well, Al and I did come across a pretty strange potion yesterday. Maybe that had something to do with it.”
“Strange how?” her mother asked, but Al cut in before Lily had a chance to reply.
“It was nothing, and besides, I was fine all night. Who ever heard of a potion that waits that long to take effect?”
“I’m sure there are lots of potions that take a while to kick in. Just cause you’ve never heard of any doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”
“But you were there too,” he said, “and there’s nothing wrong with you.”
“Well, I wasn’t the one who carried it upstairs. I mean, you were pretty well covered in it.”
Al didn’t look convinced, but their mother seemed to consider the possibility. “Where’s this potion now?”
“Gone. Al poured it down the drain.”
“Well, it’s always possible, I guess,” her mother said, still thinking it over. “Though I don’t of any potion that does...that.” She was kind enough not to point directly at her son’s backside. “Looks more like something from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, if you ask me.” Lily swallowed hard at the mention of her Uncle’s shop but said nothing. "But potions never was my best subject. We can take you over to St Mungo’s and let a Healer take a look at you. I’d imagine they’d have a better idea of what caused it –”
“No way!” Al said. “I’m not about to have some stranger staring at my arse!”
“Language, Albus,” their mother warned him.
“Fine. My bottom then. But the point still stands. I’m not going.”
Mrs. Potter seemed to be weighing her options and Lily was praying she would side with Al. She hadn’t considered that her mother might be concerned enough to drag her brother into see a Healer. If anyone figured out what she’d done, her three week grounding would turn into three years.
“Alright,” her mother said at last. “We’ll wait it out for the moment. But if it’s not better by this evening, I’m taking you downtown. No arguments, alright?” Once she was sure Al was in agreement, she turned her attention back to Lily. “What about you? Are you going to sit around here with Albus, or do you want to head back to Grimmauld Place? I’m not sure I like the idea of you going there by yourself if there are dangerous potions lying around. Maybe your father and I should go back and take another look. Or I can ask Hermione to stop by.”
Lily had been expecting a long, drawn out fight with her mother about going back to Grimmauld Place alone, but it seemed that in all the confusion, Mrs. Potter had forgotten Lily wasn’t supposed to go anywhere unsupervised.
“They aren’t just lying around,” Lily assured her mother. “They were in the pantry, and one of the bottles had a crack in it. But the rest looked fine. And besides, I’m all done in that room anyway.” That last bit was a lie, but if it made her mother feel better, Lily could skip cleaning over the rest of the pantry for now.
She could see her mother considering this latest piece of information. She’d already given into Al’s about not being taken to hospital, and now she was debating sending her daughter off alone to face whatever hazards might still be lurking around that old house. Lily did her best to put on a reassuring smile, and her mother relented.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll take you over myself on the way to work. But at the first hint of trouble, you send word straight to me or your father. Understood?” This last bit was directed at both her and Al, and they nodded their heads in silent agreement. “And I’ll be back early. Lily, I’ll pick you up at exactly three, so be ready to go.”
Lily nodded again. She could feel the first stirrings of butterflies deep in her belly. Her plan was working. It looked as if she was actually going to get away with it all.
Once everything was all settled, their mother exited the room, telling Lily to be ready to leave in five minutes.
Alone now, Lily turned toward Albus, giving him a half-hearted smile. “I’m really sorry –” she began, but he cut her off.
“I know it was you.”
Lily’s mouth fell open in surprise. “What—?”
“And don’t bother denying it either. You don’t think I know the effects of Boil Bottom Bonbon when I see it? A first-year could have come up with something more original.”
“But I didn’t—”
“Oh, cut the act,” he said. “I’m not going to tell Mum, so what does it matter? I can’t prove it anyway. But I’m telling you, I know it was you, and I’ve got a pretty good idea why you did it.”
Lily said nothing. She just stood there staring at her brother, dumbfounded.
“Not so thick now, am I? And just think about this,” he added, his voice so quiet now she had to lean forward to hear him. “If I’m any good at guessing, I’d say this has something to do with Scorpius. And it’s been what? A week since he showed up again? And look what he's already gotten you to do. To your own brother. So, ask yourself, Lils. Is this really the kind of guy you really want back in your life? What possible good is going to come from hanging with a Malfoy?”
It was just after ten o’clock and Lily was back at Grimmauld Place, all on her own, Al’s warning still ringing in her ears.
She still had several hours left until she was set to meet Scorpius at the little coffee shop a few blocks away. Despite her brother’s words, Lily felt both nervous and excited at the prospect of seeing her old friend again.
Having no interest at all in cleaning, Lily took to wandering aimless around the house, reexamining the dusty nooks and darkened corners she had explored with her mother during their first visit. There was little of interest along the way and before long, Lily found herself climbing up the short flight of steps that led to the upper most floor. She was planning to have a quick snoop around in the bedroom with all the covered furniture, but before she even reached the top of the stairs, something strange caught her eye
She saw it without registering what it meant. An open door – hardly an unusual sight. But it was, of course, very unusual, considering what door it was. It was the door just to the left of the staircase – the one her mother hadn’t been able to blast through despite her exceptional magical talents. The one Al was convinced had been enchanted with a spell strong enough to send him flying across the room. That door. It was open...just a crack.
Lily stopped where she was, staring straight at the tiny opening that revealed only a sliver of the room that lay beyond. She felt herself reach into her pocket and pull out her wand, despite the fact that she knew she wasn’t allowed to use it. A nearly impossible choice presented itself to her: walk over and push open the door, risking whatever spells might still be protecting the contents within, or turn around and walk away.
Hesitating for only a moment, Lily lifted her wand and used the end of it to push the door inward. It was heavy but put up little resistance, swinging noiselessly on its hinges. She paused in the doorway, half expecting to be blasted back into the hallway. But nothing happened. It was just like entering any other room in the house. That was, of course, until she saw what lay on the other side.
The room itself was a mirror image of the one on the opposite side of the hall: the same size, the same low ceiling, the same heavily draped window set into the far wall. But the similarities ended there. The room was in total disarray. A large mahogany wardrobe was lying open on its side, splinters of wood littering the ground beneath it as if it had been sent crashing to the floor with one heavy shove. The sheets had been ripped off the bed and thrown carelessly into one corner. The mattress has been removed and was now leaning against the window. Drawers had been pulled out of the desk and the bureau, their contents strewn across the worn carpet. Posters that had adorned the wall looked as if they had been torn at by wild animals, so shredded now that whatever they had once depicted was no longer recognizable.
There was no way to tell if the damage had been sustained recently or if the mess had been hidden away up there for years. Everything was covered in dust and cobwebs, the air stale and smelling of mildew and decay. Looking down, Lily could detect the faint outline of footprints visible in the dust that had settled on the carpet. But as with the rest of the mess, she had no way of telling how long they had been there.
Lily picked her way across the room, carefuk to avoid stepping on the larger pieces of debris scattered across the floor. She didn’t know what she was looking for but she felt compelled to make a full examination now that she had come this far. To her untrained eye, there seemed to be no obvious focus for the destruction. Nothing had been spared the vandal’s touch. Not even the mattress box spring had survived intact. She could see a giant slash running down its center, exposing the coils like the metal innards of a gutted animal.
After a few minutes, Lily had seen enough. She turned on her heals, heading back towards the door. An instant later she was flat on her face, the wind knocked out of her as she hit the floor with a loud THUD!
“Ugggh,” she groaned as the air was driven from her lungs.
For a second, Lily thought that whatever spell had gotten Albus had caught up with her, sending her crashing to the floor. But then she caught sight of the spot where she’d been standing only moments before. A piece of the floor had come loose and was now sticking up ever so slightly above the rest. She must have tripped over it and lost her footing.
A thought occurred to her then, so sudden it was like a bolt of lightening to the brain. Someone had been in that room looking for something...something small enough to be hidden in a dresser drawer or tucked inside a mattress. Or maybe, she thought, small enough to be hidden beneath an old wooden floorboard.
Lily scrambled to her knees. Using her fingers, she began pulling at the plank of wood, digging into it with her fingernails, trying to wrestle it from its resting place. It gave slightly but not enough to yank free. She looked around, spotting an ivory-handled letter opener sticking out from beneath the desk. Grabbing it, she wedged it firmly between the loose board and the one that lay beside it. After much twisting and turning, she managed to fit the tip of the knife up under the plank. With a POP! it sprung free.
The hole beneath was deep and dark. There had to be at least a foot between the floorboard and the rafters below. She reached in a tentative hand, her arm disappearing all the way down until even her elbow was hidden beneath the floor. With outstretched fingers, she felt around in the blackness. She was greeted with nothing but empty air. A wave of disappointment rushed over her. She had been so sure she was on to something.
And that’s when she felt it. A tiny metal...thing. Wrapping her fingers around it, she pulled her arm upward. But it was too big; she couldn’t get her hand and the object back up through the hole. She dropped it, grabbing it again but this time from what she hoped was a better angle. It worked. A second later, both her hand and the object were out from under the floor and resting in her lap.
The thing, it turned out, was a small silver box, like the sort her mother kept her jewelry in. Unable to contain her excitement, Lily opened the lid. The inside was lined in purple velvet that was still soft to the touch despite its apparent age. Sitting in the bottom of the box were two items. The first was a folded scrap of yellowing newspaper. Lily noted right away that it must have been rather old. The figure in the picture wasn’t moving anymore, though the man depicted in it was clearly a wizard, dressed in dark robes and making no attempt to disguise the wand in his hand. He appeared to have been photographed mid-conversation, his mouth half-open as he seemed to speak with someone just to his left, out of sight of the camera.
Lily unfolded the paper. The printed words around the picture had begun to fade and were difficult to make out now. One thing, however, was very clear. Scribbled in large angry letters, the ink the color of midnight, was a handwritten message. It read:
THIS MAN IS NOT DEAD. HE IS VERY MUCH ALIVE.
Lily’s eyes traveled back up to the photograph. The face was so familiar, like that of someone she might have met a very long time ago. But before her mind could make the connection, she spotted the bolded caption just below the picture.
Recently Cleared Ex-Death Eater and Former Headmaster of Hogwarts Severus Snape in One of the Last Known Photographs Taken Before His Death.
No wonder he looked familiar...
But what did it all mean? The man in the photo was Severus Snape, the caption told her as much. And according to whoever had scribbled the message onto that scrap of paper, the man in the photograph was not dead. But that would have to mean that...
Severus Snape was very much alive.
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