Chapter 1 : 1
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A wee note and disclaimer: the 'cat in a box' thing talked about throughout this fic is the fancy ~quantum physics~ paradox idea known as Schrödinger's cat, developed by the scientist Erwin Schrödinger: the idea is in no way mine and it is a lot more complicated and deeper than I even halfway make out here. I suggest you look it up, it's a bit mind-boggling. The three Laura Marling songs the quotes come from are the three that inspired the fic; I listened to them near constantly throughout.
Actually, I think I'm mostly just posting this so I can use the banner I made. It's a whim and a fancy of a fic and...well, I should really stop making excuses and let you read now.
I hope you enjoy it regardless.
you don't desire
as someone you don't want to be
- rambling man, Laura Marling
It was the loneliest time of the year, when the countryside had a starved, desperate look, when the air was a dull, damp cloak of fog, when the shy, sluggish sun barely shone for more than an hour a day. Winter: cold, the heavy threat of snow clinging to the clouds, breath turning to translucent silk on the air. Cold was a creature that nipped at fingers and stole into the corners of cottages, slept at the foot of beds, rendered the village pond comatose and stripped the trees bare. A carpet of leaves lay decaying on every path, a blanket for the beaten dirt. In winter, when it was dark, it seemed eternal.
Lucy woke at half past five. She left before anyone else had even begun to stir; it was half and hour’s walk to the village alone, and her shift started at seven. Half an hour in that eternal darkness, careful of her steps in case of ice, her fingers balled into blunt fists in the sleeves of her jumper. The bus, late as usual, shuddered and gasped its way along the narrow lanes, the windows weeping condensation. Lucy shifted in her seat as the bus climbed the flyover to see how the sky was turning from dusty velvet to opaque grey, fired from beneath by the sickly orange glow of the streetlights.
From the bus stop, only five minutes until she had to start her shift; she hurried her way into the worker’s entrance, lifted her fluorescent orange tabard from its hook on the wall, threw an apology at her supervisor. Work was the only place where nobody knew what she really was.
If Rose had inherited all the brains and Victoire had inherited all the looks, then Lucy was the Weasley who’d inherited all the bad luck. If she looked back into her past, back at the family tree that seemed so stretch out infinitely behind her, there was a definite thread of misfortune that seemed to run in the family. She’d inherited that thread as if it had been sewn through her shadow; it seemed to follow her wherever she went.
Perhaps it had come at its most extreme when she was the only Weasley in generations who hadn’t got her Hogwarts letter at the age of eleven. The only Weasley who wasn’t magical in the slightest. It was like being shown the gates of some fantasy land, and then, when finally permitted to enter it, being blindfolded.
Of course, there was a school for her sort. Special lessons, special dispensation, special treatment, special bursaries and schemes from the Ministry or the government, or whichever part of the country she even belonged to. She was not a witch, but she was not a muggle. Squib was the word, although it wasn’t politically correct these days. Non-magically able was the appropriate term for paperwork and newspaper reports. Not for day-to-day use.
She knew that she couldn’t be a Weasley. It wasn’t possible. She was supposed to be a half-blood. Instead, she was a squib. There was no way she could be related to them, a family of talent, of fame, of fortune. In her youth, she’d entertained fleeting fantasies of her past – she was a baby that had been found on a doorstep, or she’d been adopted, or rescued, or there had been a mix-up at the hospital – but, of course, there was no way of denying or concealing the truth. Aside from her black hair, she was the spitting image of her father. She was a Weasley all right. She’d just never felt like one.
It had started at eleven, when the others had gone off to Hogwarts, the magic school, and she’d had to stay at home. There was a special school in the next county that serviced most of Britain. She split her time between the magical arts and the muggle subjects. History of Magic, Ancient Runes, Herbology, Astronomy, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature. Art and Music if she so wished, although she hadn’t the inclination.
There was no way she could ever hope to get on with her cousins. They were also so hopelessly talented, so precocious, so clever, each gifted at subjects beyond her, subjects like Transfiguration and Charms. If they weren’t academic, they were good at sports, or they were good at painting, or they were even, simply, good-looking. Lucy wasn’t good at sport, nor was she an artist or even a pretty face. She was good at English Literature, good at the muggle sciences at a push, but what did this matter to her cousins when they didn’t know what those subjects were?
There was a future for her they’d never understand, either. It was either chance it in the muggle world with a handful of muggle qualifications and poor social skills, or join magical society. There would be a bedsit in London if she so wished to pursue one of the Ministry-approved plans for the non-magically able, a small sum in benefits, a guarantee of something suitably mediocre and low-paid for someone without any discernible magical talents. A guarantee of a label for life. There would be identity papers. Tests and assessments at the Ministry. They had to keep an eye on the squibs as a precaution. Its wasn’t joining magical society at all. It was being shackled to the welfare state. The thought of such dependence made her feel sick.
She planned to try her luck the first way. As soon as she was eighteen and legally an adult by muggle standards. She would have her driver’s licence and her few qualifications by that point. With any luck, she’d have a car. Lucy knew what she had to do. She’d pick a nice summer morning for it. She’d be up before anyone else in the house, just as if she was going to work. Then she’d simply drive away and never return.
Winter was always the worst time to work at the supermarket. It was busy, it was cold, and the managers insisted on playing something called The Best Christmas Album Ever…Ever! over and over again until the songs became a sort of mantra, a tinny, wailing chant.
Another blast of sleigh bells from the shop’s puny speakers; Lucy gritted her teeth, already crossing over to the far side of the car park. It was her break, and she had no wish to spend it inside. She had nothing in common with the muggle workers. Conversations with them inevitably ran into the ground. They called her things like socially awkward when they thought she couldn’t hear.
Ten minutes, though, at the very least, to be alone. She reached the furthest trolley shelter from the building, as far as she could go without leaving the premises. She wanted fresh air more than anything, and, inevitably, the further away she got from the supermarket, the better she felt.
The cold was bitter. Snow and ice had turned to slush, churned up by tyres in the car park so that little ridges of dirt ran neatly the length of each road. Lucy perched on the ledge near the bottom of the shelter, drawing her hands back inside her sleeves again. It was hardly the comfiest seat, but it was a relative sanctuary compared to the supermarket staff room.
She’d been there for five minutes when she had the strangest feeling of being watched. Just a prickling on the back of her neck – she turned, but couldn’t see a thing; the shelter’s thick plastic windows were opaque with scratches and graffiti. Perhaps she was getting too paranoid around muggles these days. She was just too afraid of being found out.
‘Hello,’ someone piped up. ‘I didn’t mean to stare.’
When she turned around again, it was like seeing a ghost. She jumped, clapped a hand over her heart, stared in disbelief – but the boy standing a little way from the shelter’s entrance just seemed to become more real the more she stared.
‘Sorry,’ he said, although he sounded far from it. ‘I know your sister.’
‘Molly,’ Lucy blurted out. ‘Er-’
‘And you’re Lucy.’
She wasn’t used to talking to strangers but, then again, she wasn’t really used to talking to anybody. Her face burned. ‘Sorry, who are you?’
‘I know your sister from school,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a really stupid name.’
‘I…Molly doesn’t talk about her school friends much,’ she said, although it was a complete lie: Molly talked about school all the time, it was just that Lucy never listened. ‘I don’t know you.’
‘Oh, no, she doesn’t like me,’ he said. ‘I’m Scorpius.’
‘Pardon?’ she said, and he repeated it.
He made her feel distinctly uncomfortable. ‘Yeah. Funny name,’ she said, and her face burned more than ever.
‘Yes, I know. I’ve wanted to talk to you ever since Molly said you were a squib.’
The word made her squirm, even though she knew it was just a simple fact. Non-magically able was considered more politically correct. But of course Molly would still say squib.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘What about it?’
He gave her a peculiar look, his head tilted to one side. ‘I think I might be too.’
Not just uncomfortable; she felt bitter now, too, as if the raw coldness of the day had somehow worked its way under her skin. Her lips twisted in a scowl. ‘You having a laugh?’
She was unnerved to see how unflinchingly serious he was. It creeped her out.
‘Anyway,’ he went on. ‘I wanted to talk to you about it.’
She checked her watch – another thing that set her apart from her colleagues, who thought she was archaic, anachronistic – and decided that she could do with a bit of a diversion from reality now and again.
‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I get off at eleven. I’ll meet you back here.’
They had unkind words for her sort of work in the school. Shelf stacker, trolley dolly – she hardly had the energy to point out that the latter was an idiomatic phrase reserved for air hostesses, because the name had stuck to her ever since she’d taken the supermarket job at the age of fifteen. In an abstract way, Lucy appreciated the nicknames for their alliterative properties; she analysed them much like she’d analyse any classic novel in a classroom. The awkward ck sound of stacker, she thought, was perfect. Shelf stacker was sibilant and awkward and suited her perfectly.
The best nickname they’d ever come up with was Loser Lucy. Nobody ever applied it too maliciously – it was a teasing nickname, something her friends would call her. Downtrodden was a word they often called her. Loser Lucy, who wouldn’t complain if you stepped on her feet or pulled her hair or took the mick out of her for spending her Saturdays pricing up cans of beans. Mostly, they called her quiet. It was only natural, she thought. The little town in Fife she inhabited was getting rather down-at-heel these days. Most of her friends were from over the Forth, where they were close to the quaint and largely middle-class capital.
And so it was very odd when she met Scorpius by the trolley shelter after work, and he just called her Lucy again. No label, no alliteration, no sibilant s’s and awkward consonants. Just Lucy. And that was when she realised he couldn’t have listened to a word Molly had said aside from the single most important thing about her: squib.
To say that Scorpius was a strange boy would be to state the bleeding obvious. Even his parents had given up on him, and he was passed between them like a parcel neither of them wanted to open; Christmases with his mother, summers with his father, Easters at school. Those too kind to pick on him habitually avoided him. There were those that were weird in a quirky way, even in a fun way, and there were those who were liked even though, academically, they were failures. Scorpius was the brand of weird that made people uncomfortable, and of the sort of academic mind that drew sniggers and snorts of derision from the back of the classroom. He was more likely to blow up a cauldron than brew a Potion in it, more likely to take a rat back to his dormitory and feed it snippets from the breakfast table than transfigure it into a teacup.
He looked a lot like his father, although the two had very little in common. He was a tall, thin boy, with a mess of hair so blonde it was almost white, pale skin which showed bruises easily, and a funny way of walking that was the cause of most of the taunting. It was almost as if he had his feet turned inwards, so there was a slight, stumbling motion every second step. Even when he was standing still, he looked so haphazardly off-balance that he had the permanent appearance of being on the edge of toppling over.
Scorpius didn’t exactly have friends. There were people whom he could count on to be nice to him, to let him borrow notes for lessons he’d missed or allow him to sit on the fringes of their groups at breaktimes, but nobody he considered close. He couldn’t talk about Quidditch and Charms theory and Exploding snap. He didn’t understand a lot of it. Most people were already riding broomsticks when he was still wondering how exactly a broomstick stayed up. Somehow, the standard answer of ‘it’s magic’ didn’t quite satisfy him.
His marks had been at an all-time low in fifth year. He’d apparently set a record for the longest streak of ‘T’s in Potions essays ever obtained by a single student. Of his O.W.L exams, he passed Muggle Studies, History of Magic, and Astronomy. He didn’t get a single Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding. He knew something was wrong when he had to see his head of house on the first day of N.E.W.T lessons. They wanted him to have another go at the O.W.L year. He couldn’t quite find the energy to tell them that it was probably useless and he’d be better off outside of Hogwarts than in.
He’d repeated his O.W.Ls and hadn’t improved a single grade. With some reluctance, they let him into sixth year to study the three subjects he’d managed to scrape an Acceptable in. Most people had learnt to ignore him. By the time his sixth-year – which was, in fact, his seventh year – Christmas holidays arrived, he’d already decided he wouldn’t be going back.