For the second time that afternoon, Lily felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. It wasn't possible. There was no way the man in the photograph was alive. Severus Snape was dead. Everyone knew that. Her own father had witnessed his death - his murder - at the hands of Voldemort. No, it just couldn’t be true. Whoever scribbled that message was either sorely mistaken or else had a very sick sense of humor.
Setting the mysterious note aside, Lily turned her attention to the other item still resting at the bottom of the box. It was a man’s pocket watch hanging from a slender golden chain. Or at least it looked like a pocket watch. Lily popped open the cover. Inside was a flat, white face with large roman numerals running along the edges, marking out the hours of the day. Nothing unusual there. But in the center, just above the VI, was second, smaller face. And inside of that were nine strange symbols Lily had never seen before.
As she examined it further, Lily thought she detected the faintest ticking noise coming from inside the watch. She lifted it to her ear. But instead of the usual tick, tick, tick of the second hand, the watch was beating out another eerily-familiar rhythm. Tick-tick. Tick-tick. Tick-tick. Just like the sound of a beating heart.
Lily pulled the watch away from her ear and looked down at its face again. According to the dials, it was a quarter to noon. She was supposed to meet Scorpius in less than fifteen minutes. She glanced down at her own watch to confirm the time. If she didn’t want to be late, she was going to have to get moving.
Stuffing the watch and the newspaper clipping into her pocket, Lily replaced the lid and maneuvered the box back into the space between the floorboards. She did her best to secure the wood plank back into place, hammering it with her fist until it was once again level with the rest of the floor. Brushing the dust off the seat of her trousers, Lily started out of the room but then paused, debating for a moment on whether or not to close the door behind her. In the end, she decided to leave it just as she'd found it – with just the smallest sliver of space left between the door and the jam – before heading downstairs and out into the warm afternoon sun.
Half-walking, half-running, Lily made it to the cafe with less than a minute to spare. There was no sign of Scorpius yet, so she took a seat at one of the tables set up along the sidewalk. The air around her was heavy with the smell of cinnamon and chocolate. Through the shop window she could see row after row of sticky buns, biscuits, and muffins the size of her fist. It all looked so good, and Lily was wishing she’d thought to grab some of the muggle money she kept tucked under her mattress for just such emergencies.
Noon came and went but there was no sign of Scorpius. More than once Lily extracted the newly acquired watch from deep within her pocket, growing more and more frustrated as noon became quarter-after, and then half-past, and finally quarter-to. By quarter-after one, Lily was getting worried, wondering what in the world could be keeping him. She considered taking a quick walk around the neighborhood, checking to see if he had ended up at the wrong address, but she was afraid that if she wandered off they might end up missing each other altogether. By the time two o’clock rolled around, Lily’s concern had turned to annoyance and then finally outright anger. Her backside was growing numb from hours spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair, and the woman behind the bakery counter had started throwing disapproving looks her way, as if telling her those seats were for paying customers only. Lily had risked a lot to be there that afternoon and Scorpius hadn’t even seen fit to show up.
At half-past two, Lily decided she couldn’t wait any longer. Her mother would be returning for her soon and Lily couldn’t risk not being there when she arrived. With one final glance up and down the street, Lily headed off and back towards Grimmauld Place.
Her mum arrived to collect her at precisely three o’clock, and the two were soon home again. They arrived to find Albus looking well, having moved himself from the couch where they had left him over to the kitchen table, where he was busy polishing the handle of his Quidditch broom. He seemed to have recovered well enough from his "accident," making no further mention of his suspicions regarding what she had done, and Lily was allowed to retire to her room in peace.
Stretched out across her bed, she began mulling over the day’s events, which swirled around in her brain like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Her brother’s accusations. The mysterious door .The cryptic message. Scorpius’ failure to meet up with her as planned. If there was a pattern to it all, Lily couldn't see it, and as much as she wanted to arrange them all into something meaningful, the picture they presented was little more than jumbled nonsense.
Without meaning to, Lily drifted off into a fitful sleep. When she awoke several hours later, she was disoriented, confused to find herself in bed still fully dressed. The room was dark now, the only light coming from a small desk lamp, which cast an eerie orb-shaped glow across the ceiling. The handmade quilt she kept at the end of her bed had been pulled up and draped across her arms – a sure sign her mother had been in at some point to check on her.
Lily looked over at the clock sitting on the bedside table. It was almost midnight. The house around her was quiet and still. Despite the hour, Lily no longer felt tired. She considered going downstairs, realizing that she hadn’t eaten a thing all day. But before she even managed to make it out of bed, she heard something that stopped her dead in her tracks. There was a strange scrapping noise coming from somewhere nearby. At first she thought it was one of her parents, their slippered feet dragging across the wooden floor. But as she listened, straining to hear, she realized the noise wasn’t coming from inside the house.
Lily climbed out of bed and crept over to the window, trying to make as little sound as possible. It was pitch-black outside, the garden below awash with shadows. Had it not been for the tiny blue glow hovering a foot above the ground, Lily never would have seen him. He was little more than a shadow himself, a shaky silhouette that disappeared almost completely into the darkness. Only the light of his wand gave him away.
Scorpius Malfoy was standing directly below her, his wand clenched between his teeth as he tried unsuccessfully to climb the ivy-covered lattice that hung outside her bedroom. Every time he got more than a foot off the ground, the lattice would start to bend under the added weight, rubbing against the house and making the strange noise that had drawn her to the window.
Lily wanted to shout at him to knock it off before he pulled the whole thing loose, or else fell off and broke his neck. It was a miracle that neither of her parents had heard him yet, and the last thing she needed was to have her father and mother come bursting into her bedroom to find a boy outside her window.
It took several seconds, but she was at last able to catch his attention. Putting up both hands, she signaled for him to stop. He seemed to get the message, letting go of the lattice and dropping back down to the ground with a small thud. He stepped back and away from the house, staring up at her expectantly.
Lily looked around, spotting a pair of beat-up trainers sitting beside her wardrobe. She threw them on, not bothering to do up the laces. Seconds later she was back at the window, climbing out feet first, descending the lattice with an expertise that came from years of practice.
“What are you doing here?”she hissed. She had landed only feet from where he was standing, grabbing him by the elbow and steering him deeper into the garden and away from the house. “In case you haven’t guessed, I’m in pretty serious trouble after the other night. What were you thinking? My parents will kill us both if they find you here.”
They had stopped moving, coming to rest on the far side of the shed. Lily hoped it would be enough to muffle the sound of their voices. At least the surrounding blackness would keep them hidden from view.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything –” But Lily stopped short, catching sight of Scorpius’ face, illuminated by the pale glow of his wand. “Scorpius! What happened to you?”
His face was white as stone, devoid of all emotion, as if all the feeling had been drained out along with the blood. The skin beneath his eyes was a labyrinth of dark purple splotches. Lily couldn’t tell if they were bruises or if he simple hadn’t slept in days. The eyes themselves were bloodshot, an angry red that made them look like they were on fire.
“What happened?” she repeated. “What’s going on?”
Scorpius shook his head, wincing as if the simple movement caused him great physical pain. “I don’t know...It doesn’t matter...I just had to see you.” He was mumbling, and Lily had to strain to make out what he was saying. She wondered for a moment if he might not be drunk.
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Of course it matters. Did you father do something to you?” She didn’t know where the question came from. It just popped out of her mouth without a second thought.
But he shook his head again. “No. But you need to listen to me. You’ve got to listen!” His tone was intense, almost manic, and she noticed that his hands were trembling.
“Okay,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm even as her own heart thudded in her chest. “I’m listening. Tell me what’s going on.”
“I had to see you. I was going to...this afternoon...but I couldn’t. I couldn’t get away. They were there...watching us.”
“What, at your house? Who? Who was there?” He seemed reluctant to say, just staring at her, his eyes wide as saucers. “It’s all right,” she assured him. “Just tell me who it was.”
“... you dad."
“What?” Lily shouted, forgetting for a second that she was supposed to be keeping her voice down. A dog several houses away let out a loud bark. “But that’s ridiculous,” she said, her voice dropping back down to a whisper. “Why would my dad be watching you?”
“He’s been at the house all day. He’s still there...I only just got away.”
“That’s not true. He’s upstairs sleeping.” Lily gestured toward the house but Scorpius was already shaking his head.
“No, he’s not. He’s at the Manor right now. And he’s not alone. I heard them ring the bell, and when I went down to see who it was, I saw him. They were all heading into the study. When they saw me, they shut the door. But the other bloke – your uncle – kept sticking his head out to check on...something.”
“But it—” she started, but he wasn’t done yet.
“They wouldn’t let me leave. None of them. Granddad practically stood guard at the door. Kept telling me to wait upstairs. I only got out once he finally fell asleep.”
“But...but I don’t understand. Even if he’s there like you say, what’s the problem? Dad visits loads of people for work.”
“That’s just it. Don’t you see? He’s there working. They know something...something about Gran. About how she died.”
“Scorpius,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. “That’s a bit of a leap, don’t you think.”
“No, it’s not. I told you. Father and Grandfather have been hiding something about what happened to her. And now the Aurors have caught on and they’ve sent your dad to investigate.”
“But why? Investigate what?” Lily was having a hard time following Scoprius’ logic. Even if she accepted the idea that her father had been at the Malfoy's all day, she didn’t think it was anything to get so upset over. And why on earth would he be interested in the death of an old woman anyway? That didn’t make sense unless...
“Scorpius...What exactly do you think happened to your grandmother?”
He seemed to almost sigh in relief, as if she was finally catching on. “They killed her. I know they did.” She’d expected that would be his answer as soon as she’d asked the question, but it was still shocking to hear him say it with such certainty. “It’s the only thing that fits. Maybe it was an accident...I don’t know. But something bad happened to her and Father and Grandfather know exactly what it was. Why else would they be covering it up?”
“Who says they’re covering it up? Scorpius, that’s a really serious accusation. And you’ve got no proof. Just because they don’t want to talk about it with you doesn’t mean–”
“It’s not just that they don’t want to talk about it. There’s more to it then that. I’ve caught them whispering to each other, always shutting up the second I come in the room. And when I found her... Father, he was screaming at me. Not out of shock or anything, but like he was angry. Angry that I’d caught him before he had time to cover his tracks.”
“Scorpius, I...” But she didn’t know what else to say.
Lily couldn’t decide if he was talking crazy or if what he was saying made total sense. He’d been telling her all along that something strange was going on. And if he was right, and her father and uncle had been at the Manor all day, it almost had to be on official Auror business. They were no friends of the Malfoys. They wouldn’t just drop by for a visit. And if the Aurors were involved, it almost had to mean something bad was going on.
“So what are you going to do now?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Dunno yet.”
“Will you go back home?”
He shrugged again. “Haven’t decided for sure.”
“What can I...What do you want me to do?”
He hesitated, looking down at his feet. “I kind of thought that would be obvious...”
“Well, I just thought that you could...look into it for me. With me,” he amended quickly. Lily didn’t respond, not at all sure what he was asking her to do. “I mean, he is your dad and all...”
Now Lily understood, and she was none to pleased at the request. “You want me to spy on my father?”
“No, not spy. I didn’t say spy. I just thought that you could have a look around. You know, like if he leaves anything lying about...”
Lily was incensed. This – all of it – the letters, the fight in the cottage, his failure to show up that afternoon, the crazed theories. It was so unlike the Scorpius she remembered, she wondered if there was any of her old friend left inside him anymore. And then there was her own behavior. Sneaking out of the house, lying to her parents, slipping potions into her brother’s drink. She hardly recognized herself the way she had been acting the last few days.
“Look,” she said, trying to keep her temper in check. “Even if I wanted to help you, do you really think I could find out anything useful without him noticing what I was up to?”
“You could if you wanted.”
“Well I don’t want to, Scorpius. This is crazy. If you think something bad is going on then go to the police. Talk to my dad yourself. This is over my head.” Something else occurred to Lily then, and the mere thought of it made her blood boil. “Exactly just how long have you been harboring these suspicions?” He said nothing, his eyes suddenly refusing to meet her own. “Is that why you wrote me? Visited me? So I would get information for you?”
“No! It’s not like that. Honestly.”
“I don’t believe you. I think you’ve been planning this all along.”
“Lily, I swear. I wouldn’t use you like that. I just...I just thought you could help.”
“Well, I can’t. And I think it’s time you left. It’s late, Scorpius. Go home.”
Scorpius looked like he wanted to protest but after a moment seemed to think better of it. For her part, Lily just stood there, arms folded across her chest as she watched the last bit of hope drain from his face.
His shoulders slumped, head dropping in defeat, Scorpius began to make his way back across the garden and out toward the street. He didn’t bother turning around, and a moment later he was out of sight. How far he walked before Apparating away she would never know. She was already back inside her bedroom, her window shut up tight, before the faint POP! rang out through the silence.
The bed was shaking.
“Lily, wake up!” The hushed whisper called out to her from somewhere in the darkness. “Come on. You’ve got to hurry.”
Lily opened her eyes. Albus was standing just beside her bed, his hands pressing into the mattress as he leaned over her.
“What...?” she asked, her voice heavy with sleep. “What’s going on? What time is it?”
“Never mind that. Just follow me...andbe quiet.”
Albus made for the door, and Lily sat up, the clock beside the bed telling her it was just after four. She’d only just managed to fall back off to sleep.
“Come on,” Al hissed, waving at her to hurry up.
Lily rose, her bare feet making no noise as she followed Al out into the hall. He was waiting for her at the top of the stairs, crouched down on his hands and knees, his head resting against the banister.
“What are you-?” she began, but he put a finger to his lips, silencing her.
The upstairs hallway was dark. The sun wouldn’t be up for another hour, but several lamps had been turned on downstairs and the faint yellow glow illuminated the foyer below.
Al motioned for her to join him and Lily stepped forward, bending down so that she was eye level with her brother. She stayed silent, listening carefully, and after a moment, she heard voices rising up from somewhere down below. They were muffled, but if she listened hard, she could make out most of what they were saying.
“...exactly what I said. Obvious, wasn’t it? Lying through his teeth...”
Lily looked over at Al. “That’s Uncle Ron –”
“Shhh,” Al hissed. “Just listen.”
She focused back in on the voices trickling out from behind the closed kitchen door. The next one she heard belonged to her father.
“...I mean, I didn’t expect they’d come right out and give us what we asked for but...”
Lily couldn’t make out what came next, picking up the conversation again when she heard her mother say, “So you think they're in on it together, then?”
“Of course they are,” her uncle replied. “Fat chance they’ll own up to it though.”
“Well, what do you expect, Ron? I mean...”
Lily again looked over at Al. “Is that...?”
But he was already nodding his head. “Yeah, it’s Aunt Hermione. Now be quiet and listen, will you?”
“...but someone is dead.” It was her uncle talking again. “You can’t cover that up for long. Did they really think no one would notice? Hasn’t gotten much smarter with age, has he?”
“It seems...to believe...we knew the...for years...” Someone was pulling out one of the kitchen chairs, scraping it across the tile floor, and most of whatever her mother was saying was lost in the subsequent shuffle.
When it was quiet again, she heard her father reply. “Not much we can do at this point. Keep pressing, obviously, but we’ve got no proof.”
“And you’re absolutely sure?”
“I am,” her father said. “It’s just a matter of proving it.”
“It’s terrifying,” her mother exclaimed. “I mean, how on earth did he get a hold of something like that? Was it an accident, you think?”
“Always possible, but not likely,” her father was saying. “Had to have stolen it. Or been given it by someone. Someone who knew exactly what they were doing.”
“But who would...” There were more scrapping of chairs and then silence again.
“Well, I can think of a few,” said her uncle. “Don't exactly hang out with the most savory characters, the Malfoys.”
Lily gasped, forgetting she was supposed to be staying quiet. Up until that point she’d been struggling to figure out what the four adults were discussing so intently at this hour of the night. But now she was starting to understand.
“...after all this time? That seems a bit far fetched, Ron.”
Lily could almost hear the shrug in her uncle’s voice. “Not really. We’ve had more than a few cases like this over the years. Remember the Hatburns? And the Connors? Bob Connor was never the same after his wife died. Went a bit mental, that one.”
“Oooh, that’s right,” her aunt said. “I’d forgotten about that. What a dreadful thing that was. The poor kids. They weren’t even Hogwarts age yet, were they?”
“Nine and six, I think,” her father replied.
The four adults fell silent again, as if pondering the gravity of what they were saying. When the conversation picked up again, it was Lily’s mother who was speaking this time.
“Is it safe to have him out on the loose? You don’t think he’d —”
“Not much we can do about it at the moment,” her father said. “We’ll keep an eye on them, but if we act too soon, it will just ruin our chances of making a good arrest down the road. You can’t rush a murder investigation - especially not one the Daily Prophet would sell their wands to get a lead on. But yes, I think it’s safe for now. I doubt he even...”
But Lily had stopped paying attention. Murder? Arrest? Her head was swimming. She couldn’t believe it. Scorpius had been right about everything. Her father and uncle had been at the Manor - investigating the death of someone that had to be Narcissa Malfoy. And from the sound of it, Scorpius had also been right when he'd said that his father and grandfather knew more than they were letting on. A lot more. Was it possible? Had the two men murdered poor Mrs. Malfoy? It was almost unfathomable. But then...they had been quick to hush the whole thing up. No funeral. No mention in the newspaper. They wouldn’t even explain to their own flesh and blood how the old woman had died. It seemed that either one or both of the men had played a hand her death and were now trying to cover for one another.
And what about Scorpius? He had come to her for help and she had sent him away. What if he went home? What if the elder Malfoys realized he was on to them? Scorpius could be in real danger.
She forced herself to concentrate, returning her attention back to the conversation, desperate to hear more. But it was too late. The adults were done discussing murder for the evening and had already focused their attention on more mundane matters. Lily could hear her mother and aunt discussing Hugo and Al’s upcoming trip.
“...still hasn’t started packing, of course. Expects I’ll do it for him. Well, unless he does his wash soon, he’ll have nothing but a pair of swim trunks and Ron’s old dress robes to wear at Charlie’s...”
Lily listened for a few moments longer, and when she was sure she wasn’t going to learn anything more, she turned to look at her brother. He was already on his feet, staring down at her.
“Come on,” he said, tilting his head in the direction of his bedroom. “We need to talk.”
Lily agreed, standing up and following him inside. She took a seat at the end of his bed, snatching up one of his pillows and hugging it against her chest.
“How did you...” she began, but her voice betrayed her. She was still too shocked to speak.
“I was on my way back from the bathroom when I saw the light on downstairs. I figured it was just Dad getting home late or something, but then I heard the voices.”
“So Dad’s been gone all day then?”
Al nodded. “He missed dinner...again. Still wasn’t back by the time I came up to bed. Guess he just got home. Ron and Hermione must have been with him.”
Lily said nothing for a long moment, trying to take it all in.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
“Yeah...I mean...I don’t know. I don’t understand what’s going on.” That wasn’t entirely true. She did understand something. She understood that Scorpius had been right and she hadn’t done a thing to help him. She’d just sent him straight back into the lion’s den. “Al, what are we going to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it obvious, isn’t it? We’ve got to help him.”
“Scorpius!” Lily shouted the name, no longer caring that they were supposed to be staying quiet.
“Lils, look,” Al began, his tone sober. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but seriously, just stop it right now.”
“No. Listen to me. I knew you’d never believe me if I told you. That’s why I woke you up, so you could hear for yourself. Whatever’s going on with the Malfoys, whatever it is they’ve done, it’s got nothing to do with you. Do you understand? You need to stay away from them.”
“But how can I just stay away? Scorpius could be in real trouble.”
“Whatever it is that’s going on with you two, you’ve got to end it. Tonight. This isn’t about me not liking Scorpius. I mean, I still think he’s a prat for what he did to you but that’s not why I’m doing this. This is serious, Lily. Someone’s dead. Leave this to Dad, all right? It’s way over your head.”
Lily said nothing, surprised to hear Al repeating back the very thing she had told Scorpius only hours before. And of course, they had both been right. She was sixteen...not even allowed to do magic outside of school. What was she supposed to do about a murder? Still, how could she just leave it alone? What if something happened to Scorpius and she had just stood by doing nothing? How was she supposed to live with that?
She could hear voices again coming from downstairs. The group had moved out of the kitchen and into the hall. From the sound of it, they were offering up their hushed goodbyes.
“You’d better get back to your room,” Al told her.
Lily nodded, the mattress creaking as she stood. A minute later, she was back in her own bed, shivering despite having pulled the quilt up to her chin. Over and over she heard the voice of her father saying those terrible things, all of it interlaced with Scorpius’ own admitted suspicions. Lily felt nearly mad as she lay there, staring up the ceiling, wondering what to do.
An hour later, just as the sky outside her window began to brighten, sleep took her again, and Lily drifted off into a dream world of mayhem, murder and Malfoys.