Chapter 1 : Crescendo
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Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Lily is glowing.
The red flows beneath her skin, spreading out and filling up her cheeks, her forehead. The new blood seems to give her lifeless, ugly brown eyes breath. She sparkles like the moon even in the brightly lit kitchen, and the way she lights on the edge of the counter like a butterfly makes my stomach twist. I loathe this magic.
“Rose? Can you keep a secret?”
Her delicate fingertips, dotted with pale pink, reach across the small expanse and touch mine. My nails are broken by worry, a mark of my intensive studying for my Healer exam. I knew it would happen; I thought about it more than I should have in the empty space of the hospital library, my books spread out before me and my parchment rumpled by my arm. I feel overcome by a sense of not being prepared.
There are places at the edge of magic that even the most learned philosopher has not uncovered. They remind me of my mother’s tales of the Seven Wonders of the Muggle world, except that those do not look so awe-inspiring compared to the feats of love and hatred. Against these even the mythical Four Horsemen could not stand.
Hatred. I wonder how it looks on me. Can my almost-sister see the ocean draining from my blue irises, sinking into my bloodstream and turning the fluid there to ice? Perhaps my skin has faded to an elderly white, looking dead and ugly next to hers.
“Of course,” I reply, summoning my Gryffindor courage. “What is it, Lily?”
Two flowers, we are, or at least that is what they intended. When we played as children, though, Lily was always the one holding the bouquet and wearing the crown. She is the pretty girl in the frail dress. I am merely an accessory in her game.
“I think I’m going to go back to Scorpius, if he'll have me. I don't want Mum and Dad to know about last night.”
My blood alternately freezes and boils. Go back. We could never go back.
My father said never to let him get the best of me.
As I replicated potions and practiced spells, I studied him, too. It was a difficult pastime, given that our paths seemed destined never to cross, not in a natural way. He never visited the library where I had set up a near permanent station, preferring to complete his assignments sprawled out in the grass of the Pitch, even in cool weather. When the freeze of winter finally drove him inside, he took to the Slytherin Common Room. He holed up in his bed or upon a couch, keeping the fire company late into the night. That was why his eyes were always enshrouded in black caverns.
This was what I imagined. It could have been untrue. I could not watch him in the common room. There was nothing to be learned for N.E.W.T.s there, anyway.
By day, I smiled and entertained comments from professors that I was surely my mother’s daughter. By night, I did not smile, so possessed was I with learning him. When his minutia became too much for me to hold in my mind, I dumped the details onto the margins of my books, filling up the empty spaces in work returned to me. Good with potions. Skips class to practice flying in the morning. Talks during Charms.
At the beginning of my seventh year, my notes changed, my script becoming curvier. Wigtown Wanderers enthusiast, like his father. Never eats much. Light gray eyes.
After Christmas, the professors began reminding us daily about our upcoming exams. I began to spend less time painting Lily’s nails and gossiping with her in the common room, trying to find a way to keep my eye on the competition, but I could not work in the noise of the Great Hall. I could not stand the cold of the Pitch. I was forced back to my home in the library, stealing glances out into the main corridor. In the midst of my distracted haze, Lily forgot her O.W.L.s and chose a new discipline.
I passed my exams; better than passed. The tests were grueling, draining me day after day as all of my hard work flowed out into rivers of ink on piles of parchment. In the dead spaces between them, I sat in the Great Hall and watched my cousin as she studied his intricacies tirelessly. I stumbled upon her as she followed him around the corridors between classes, and once I saw her try to sneak over to the Slytherin side during a Quidditch game so as to try to catch him on his way back to the castle. I watched her eyes light up victoriously as she began to understand him.
My ride home on the train was spent with a repetitive thought. I know nothing.
It was not merely a benefit for Hogwarts. It was the first time he noticed her.
They were dancing in the middle of the floor, laughing at their awkward footwork as they swept past his parents, nearly bowling into mine when they both felt dizzy. Hugo was watching me squeeze my champagne glass. It could have broken. I did not care.
I absently smoothed my dress and watched Rita Skeeter creep around the perimeter of the room, wearing a dated magenta pantsuit and making notes on a cocktail napkin. I tried to imagine the caption, picturing Lily and Scorpius waltzing on the front page. 2nd May 2026 – Lily Potter, 18, dances with Scorpius Malfoy, 20, at the 28th Annual Benefit and Memorial for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The two are expected to make an appearance later this year at Mr. Malfoy’s twenty-first birthday…
Lily spun, and he dipped her, stealing a kiss. I stared, but no one else saw. Out of all the people in the Great Hall, no one heard the sound of my heart falling, not with the loud music and the alcohol and the polite chuckling of former students reminiscing.
Crescendo, I thought, and felt weak.
When the flow of drink and the late hour became too much, the guests of Hogwarts School sat and picked at appetizers with little concern for House divisions. Across the room from me, Scorpius caught my eye. A smile flitted across his face.
I would later reflect on this as the first of his betrayals – but to her, or to me?
Then, without warning, the music ground to a halt.
He said it; he made the fatal mistake and said it to her, and she was surprised.
Mudblood. She was composed of second-rate flesh and the disease of progression, and in the heat of an argument that began with a question of where to go for dinner, all her beauty was lost on him. She stood like a frightened doe, silent, unable to comprehend him, let alone reply.
It means dirty blood, Rose, my mother would say. It’s a nasty word for nasty people. There was nothing delicate about the way tears gushed down her cheeks, her hair rumpled by the wind and the careful creases in her dress hastily moved out of place. With disdain, I noticed that one of the two shoes I let her borrow had gone missing.
Lily sobbed in my living room, that awful word continually bubbling up from her lips like vomit, and finally I had to close my eyes against it and stop her mid-sentence.
“He’s the only boy you’ve been interested in since you were sixteen,” I said. “It’s been four years, Lily. People change. Perhaps he’s not the person you thought he was…”
“But I worked so hard.” The words were punctuated like bullets, unyielding, closed.
“I know,” I said. I’d have said anything to make it so that she didn’t say the word again.
“I thought he was going to marry me,” Lily added weakly, slumping over. She began to babble about how they’d been together for two whole years. I put the kettle on.
My hand shook as I poured her tea. Stupid girl, I thought, so consumed with white dresses and promises. No one keeps promises anymore. I wanted to think about how I’d spent the past four years at St. Mungo’s and how in just a few weeks I’d be a real Healer, someone that other people will look to for help. Inconceivably, I wanted a ring, too.
She still looked like a flower, but she had been crumpled beneath his shoes, and for a moment I thought of the horrible things I could do, should do. I contemplated going upstairs and putting on my best dress just to show her – I was here first, before you. I thought about telling her all the things I knew about him before she spoke his name. Instead, though, I offered her my tiny guest room, cluttered with medical textbooks.
My mother would be proud. What would my father think?
After twenty-two years, I have learned that the world would split open for Lily.
My first lesson was the night he snuck into her window when I slept over at her flat. I had gone to use the restroom and returned as an invader, an unwanted presence left to watch them kiss feverishly into the darkness. As I peered through the cracked door, following his unsteady feet as he pushed her up against the window and laid siege to her collarbone, I felt at once thrilled and horrified. They danced in the glaring moonlight and I was silently privy to their clandestine scene.
Crescendo, and the act ceased, its conclusion heralded by terse whispers about privacy and dignity and keeping the noise down. I should have interrupted; I should have betrayed my sex and saved my dear cousin. I could have wiped away that terrible word, just as I carefully wiped away my fingerprints on the door handle, the residue of which meant someone else had been watching them that night.
The fingerprints and I – we were mere sacrifices on the altar of Lily’s perfection.
When she emerges in my kitchen just past breakfast time, she is already put back together. Her hair falls like an auburn curtain, unlike my tangled, unruly red mess. Her brown eyes bore into my blue ones, and her smile is so pure that it hurts.
“Do I look okay?” She twirls just as she did at that fundraiser, almost two years and a blood slur ago. It occurs to me that the awful word he chose was incorrect, used only to make it clear to her that any amount of Muggle blood is too much. She is unclear. I have studied him, though, and this is how I know that he will accept her all the same.
“You look beautiful,” I say, “like a flower.” Then, from the inside out, I burn.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the story! This one-shot was inspired by Atonement and Pretty Little Liars, and it was also submitted to WhisperThroughTheWind’s PLL Quote Challenge. The quote “which meant someone else had been watching them that night” is from Wanted, which is part of the Pretty Little Liars book series by Sara Shepard. The Four Horsemen are an allusion to Revelation, a book of the Christian Bible. The Seven Wonders of the World are a collection of ancient structures created by old civilizations, all of which are revered for their awe-inspiring beauty (but most of which are no longer in existence). Anything that you recognize from canon belongs to J.K. Rowling (including the Wigtown Wanderers, who are an actual Quidditch team).
Won’t you pretty please consider leaving me a review? :)