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Counting Daisy Roots by peppersweet
Chapter 3 : Three
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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I get home and there is a wallet lying on the kitchen table, beside a face-down Ministry Identification card and a bunch of keys with a bottle opener attached. Next to this there is a penknife. The cushions on the sofa are crumpled, as if they’ve given up trying to stay upright and have sunk into the seat to rest. I turn the Identification card over and Albus’ unsmiling face flashes up at me. The wireless radio is teetering at an odd angle on the shelf, as if someone’s knocked it.


I go upstairs and have an early night. The flat is silent as the grave.


*



Lucy is teaching me Herbology, a subject I always liked at school, but never excelled much in. As a supplier for Diagon Alley’s main apothecary, everything she grows must be perfect, and I don’t think she’s ever once failed.


She sets me simple tasks, like picking daisies from the garden and chopping them, or pruning shrivelfigs, or grinding up dittany. She gets on with the tougher jobs. I rarely see her without her dragonhide gloves on.


She says I am a good colleague because I don’t talk much, and that’s good for her concentration. Sometimes we sit and work in silence, and I think it isn’t because I don’t talk much, it’s only that I have so much to say that I can’t work out what to say first. Besides, I am paranoid of death breath.


The weather this July is surprisingly good. I’m too used to rainy summers to enjoy it all that much; I know there’ll be a rainstorm along in a day or two. I stay a little later than usual one evening to help her make an urgent order, and we go outside and sit in the garden to catch the light in the west. I am tearing off daisy petals into a cloth bag, and Lucy is plaiting Hellebore roots together.


‘You hear some interesting stuff about daisies,’ Lucy says, casually, as she ties off another strand. ‘Despite them being a very common flower.’


‘Oh?’ I say, thinking of the game children play, when they tear off a petal at a time to find out whether they are loved or not.


‘Cows don’t eat it, for starters,’ she says, with a grin. ‘Tastes rubbish. Not that I’ve tried. Very good in Shrinking Solutions – one of the primary ingredients, actually, so you’re damned if you want to brew it in winter. Apparently it isn’t summer until you’ve stepped on seven daisies.’


‘Seven?’ I say, looking out at her garden, which is littered with daisies, dandelions, and small, brown mushrooms growing in clusters about the grass.


‘Yeah, I know,’ she says. ‘Summer got here a while ago.’


I give a noncommittal hum by way of reply. I have started to count each petal in my head with my own chant of I am alive, I am dead, I am alive, I am dead. The first daisy finishes on alive and the second on dead, and I stop bothering after that. It makes no difference. I am still both.


Lucy likes my company because I don’t talk much. I like her company because of the way she looks at me. It’s not the sort of look I usually get. There’s no fear there, no repulsion, no horror. It isn’t like the way Flora might look at me, the way her eyes narrow slightly, as if she’s trying to work out what my thoughts are. It’s not the way Albus looks at me, which chills me to the bone from time to time. There is nothing in the way Lucy looks at me. It’s as if I never died.


‘What are these daisies for?’ I ask, out of interest.


She wrinkles her nose, threading a root over-and-under. ‘Oh, I dunno what people will buy them for. I mean, they’re best in Shrinking Solutions, like I said, but they’ve got minor healing properties. First aid kit essential, you know? I’ve always got a few preserved in a jar just in case.’


‘You have a lot of things preserved in jars just in case.’


She snorts with laughter. ‘I like things in jars. Things in jars keep for ages.’


I deposit the last pinch of daisy petals in the bag. ‘I had a dream once about being kept in a jar. It was the Ministry – they wanted to keep me as a specimen, to do tests on. So they preserved me in a jar.’


‘Bit morbid,’ Lucy frowns.


‘A lot of my dreams are.’


We fall silent. The Honking Daffodils start up at the bottom of the garden. I feel like this should be a cue to laugh, but neither of us do.


‘Aren’t morbid dreams known as nightmares?’ Lucy says, quite calmly.


‘Not necessarily,’ I shrug.


She’s looking at me funny. ‘I mean, my dreams were always a bit morbid,’ I say. ‘It’s nothing new.’


She raises an eyebrow at me. ‘Looking at you, you’d never know you were morbid. What sort of dreams did you have, then?’


I squirm uncomfortably; I wish I had a daisy to tear up.


‘You’ll never believe this,’ I say. ‘But I used to dream about zombie apocalypses.’


A little too late, we start to laugh.


*



The identification card is on the table again, face-up this time. I am tired, and try to sneak into my room without being seen, but I pass Albus on his way out of the bathroom. His hair is damp and he’s holding a towel; he explains to me that he’s exhausted and Flora is letting him stay over. I offer to unfold the sofa bed, but he insists he’ll do it himself.


The two of us have never been easy friends, and this is where I want to finish the conversation. I want to get into bed and read the final two chapters of my book. I want to ignore the way his identification card on the kitchen table stakes a claim to space, our space. The penknife is there again, and I don’t feel comfortable meeting his stare. His nose is slightly crooked from where it was broken in Auror training. He almost looks like a threat.


He catches me by the elbow when I try to walk on. ‘Hey,’ he says. ‘We need to talk.’


‘About what?’ I say, feigning innocence. We can both hear Flora humming in the sitting room. Albus shoots me an accusatory look.


‘Never mind,’ he says, and lets me go.


*



I was never aware of dying. I was only ever aware of being tired, and being cold, and of wanting to be at home. I didn’t know I had died until someone explained it to me when I woke up in isolation at St Mungo’s. Until then, I knew I didn’t have a total grasp of what had happened, but I’d just assumed I had been knocked out by a curse. It explained the sparking fingertips.


And the weeks that followed were no less vague. I remember the questions and the tests, and being shifted from department to department, as they weren’t aware whether my condition constituted spell damage, or a mental health issue, or even a magical bug, as if dying was a contagious disease I had caught. As if it was all in my head. As if it could be explained with a spell.


I remember being brought books I had already read. I remember requesting tea, but not being allowed sugar on the grounds it might make me jittery, and I remember this feeling like something of a devastating blow at the time. Let the zombie have his sugar; he’s not getting any livelier.


I remember an impromptu meeting in the ward, with my father and the two Potters. I barely spoke. I was told to keep what had happened a secret, and I still do.


I remember never agreeing to this verbally, only nodding my head, and knowing the power of that simple gesture.


*



I was not aware of being dead, as such, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t right about me. I lay in the dark ward, trying to sleep, listening to the quiet thudding of my heart. The longer I lay still, the slower that thudding would get, until it would crawl, and then creep, until it was a whisper, until I couldn’t hear it anymore and I convinced myself I was dreaming.


I have been lying in bed for two hours, watching the clock. For some reason, I cannot sleep. I stay still as I can and listen to my creeping heart until it stops. And I keep still. I watch the orange streetlight leak a pattern on the floor through the blinds. I watch the wall as it’s washed in the beams of a car’s headlights. My heart isn’t beating.


It cranks back into life as I raise a fist to thump on my chest. The moment the fist comes down, it’s going at a regular pace again, thud, thud, thudding again. I wonder, if I lay longer, how long would I have to lie for my heart never to start again?



a/n: So! A few mysterious Albus-related developments for you there. I’d like to use this author’s note to instruct you all to go and watch the recent BBC3 series In The Flesh, if you can. It’s an absolutely brilliant three-part drama about zombies (No! Wait! Come back!!) that ended up heavily inspiring this fic. I hope you like it, despite it being a bit odd and morbid. There’s a lot to come, including a shocking revelation or two about Albus. I’d really love to hear from you, so please pass on your thoughts in the review box below! ♥


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