Chapter 4 : Four
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I’m not allowed to like him. The occasional newspaper feature and the History of Magic books tell me so. Dad backs them up. I’m not allowed to like him, because people like me have never liked people like him. I’m aware that his family suffered injustice because of my family at some point in the past, and I’m atoning for that by not intruding on his life. I’m atoning for that by being everything he isn’t. Being shy, and quiet, and being bullied at school, and being dead – it’s compassionate. He deserves happiness, and fame, and fortune, and I don’t, by sheer virtue of my surname, so I fail to understand why he insists on intruding in my life.
I keep meaning to say something to Flora about it – it’s as much my flat is it is hers, and it’s her that keeps bringing him here – but the opportunity never really arises. There’s always some trivial inconvenience in the way. That or my mouth gets stoppered up and I physically cannot speak. Usually it’s the latter.
I hate him for intruding on my life. And I hate him even more for intruding on my death.
Time goes on and the days get shorter again; it is the end of August and I am standing in Lucy’s kitchen. I am not sure where we stand anymore. Of course, in a physical sense, the two of us are standing in the kitchen, facing one another, and I am leaning on the worktop as she knots roots opposite me. But I do not know where we stand mentally, because we were initially schoolfriends, and then we were colleagues, and now I believed we’ve surpassed that too. It’s like we’ve come to the end of a marathon, broken the tape, and then found out that there are more miles to run – and there will always be more miles to run, because friendship is quite fluid.
She has given me lager instead of tea this time, claiming it’s too hot for the latter. I distinctly remember last August being hotter. It has been a year and four months since I died. The colour in my eyes has gone completely, and what’s left of the irises is fading fast. Soon all I’ll have is pupils that dilate and shrink, but I won’t think about that now. It is August and I am drinking lager in Lucy’s kitchen.
When we’re done, Lucy hands over another, and I decide to take this one slowly, because I’ll have to apparate home at some point. Our fingers clash as I take it, and the heavy ring on her left hand strikes a deep, sonorous note against the glass. She feels the need to point out how cold I am. I don’t bother to correct her.
Perhaps this is regressing back into the schoolfriend state – running the marathon backwards, if you will. She studies me a lot, really stares, although her face remains quite neutral. I can’t help but look too. She has a smear of dirt on her jaw that looks like a shadow; it changes the shape of her face. Now she is daring to make eye contact. The tired muscle in my chest gets its second wind and begins to beat again. This is the first time I have been concerned about the sweat on my palms conducting electricity.
She puts down her glass and wedges her feet between mine. Places a palm again my cheek. I can feel the condensation on her fingers.
‘You’re really very cold,’ she says.
‘Room temperature,’ I remind her, this time only.
‘And your eyes!’
‘They’re like-‘ she struggles for the words. ‘Pins. The heads of pins, when you get the ones that have little beads on the top. Like black bead-heads on pins.’
Where do we stand? I want to throw her away from me. I have never been terribly good in situations like this, and it’s no different since I died. I pray she isn’t squeamish about kissing a corpse, and then curse myself for assuming that’s what she means.
‘They’re strangely…’ she struggles for words again. ‘Nice.’
Nice is better than nothing.
I am correct. She kisses me. I’m too inexperienced for her, and I wonder if she’s bothered by how motionless I am. I can’t do much with the counter at my back and the glass still in my hand. My heart beats faster. I know for sure I should throw her away from me. But there’s something so sweet about this kiss, something that feels like it’s a secret she’s kept for years, something that feels like she hasn’t overthought it.
I have tried not to think about her too much before, but I realise how I feel, and it’s like being peppered with cold water. I realise that this kiss means little, because somehow what is more appealing is the thought of being able to talk to her, laconic as we both are, to know things about her and try to understand them. I wonder why I never thought this before. I wonder if I’d ever have thought it if it weren’t for this kiss, happening now, and I think I have to react somehow instead of just standing stock-still and letting myself be kissed.
I don’t know what’s appropriate. I know I am meant to feel my heartbeat like this, but I don’t know what to do. I try being malleable, being a bit less like stone, but only to the effect that my spine creaks backwards like a hinge and the counter digs even more painfully into my back. Lucy’s eager. I try to respond in kind. I let myself be pliant but I try not to be so passive; I set the glass aside without looking and grip her by the wrists. She gasps into my mouth. I don’t let go. I don’t realise.
My heart is making up for all the times it has stopped, catching up on the distance it never ran. I am trying to be good, I am trying to be responsive, and I let go of her wrist to thread the fingers of my right hand through her hair. It’s surprisingly coarse and tangled, and I don’t get too far, but for a fleeting moment my fingertips press against the nape of her neck, and this is when she pushes me away.
This is when the next revelation comes, but this one is less like being peppered with cold water, and a little more like a stream slowly diverting down my spine; I have forgotten about the lightning-bolt hands. It’s absurd. Her hair is standing on end. She shudders. I do the cliché thing and clap a hand over my mouth, only for my palm to rest against a cushion of static. Blue sparks cling to my fingertips.
She shudders again, twitches a shoulder. ‘Ow, that hurt,’ she says. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.
I am thinking about apologising to her. In actuality, I am far too embarrassed, far too nervous for that. My mouth is stoppered again. I feel like I’ve swallowed grave-dirt. She keeps looking at me. She won’t stop looking at me.
I take the best course of action, which is to turn on the spot and flee.
He keeps intruding on my death. I saw the identify card on the table, as per usual, and when I turned around the man himself was behind me; now he has me by the elbow and won’t let me go.
‘How are things with Lucy?’ he says.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Maybe he knows. I shrug, trying to keep my head. ‘The work’s pretty easy.’
‘You know what I mean,’ his lips twitch up at the corners. ‘You’ve got a type. You go for girls like her.’
‘Girls like her. Like Flora. Lucy’s similar. You know. You’ve got a type.’
This is swiftly becoming the strangest evening of my life, bar the one where I woke up in hospital to discover that I had passed away. ‘What?’ I say, feeling the imaginary burn of a blush on my face. I am as grey as ever. ‘What? No I don’t!’
‘It isn’t alright! What are you trying to say?’
‘Just admire your self control,’ Albus smirks. ‘I couldn’t do it.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I tell him, and I try to walk off, but he grips harder. And I won’t dare to fight back, because I’m a little scared of him.
I ask him, politely as I can, what he thinks he’s doing.
‘I’ve been meaning to ask you about Flora,’ he says.
I clench my fists. ‘I’m not in love with her if that’s what you’re trying to-’
‘No. Should we tell her?’
‘Tell her about what?’
‘You know. I think we owe it to her.’
I’ve been avoiding this for months. I attempt to break loose of his grip, shrug him off, but he holds on, tugs me back, and for a moment we stand in deathly silence, him at my side. Further down the corridor, I can hear the shower going, and Flora singing an old Weird Sisters hit.
‘We can talk about it now,’ Albus says.
‘No we can’t-’
But then Albus puts his free hand into his pocket. Palm side up, he shows me what he’s taken out. A black stone, sitting pretty on the cursed wound across the skin. I never wanted to see it again.
‘You were meant to put it back!’
‘I can’t,’ he says. ‘Dad wanted me to find a new place and I couldn’t think of anywhere-’
‘For god’s sake, just – throw it down a drain or something!’
‘But, Scorpius,’ he says, releasing me. ‘Think of the things we could do…’
‘If people know they’ll take it away – they’ll take me away – and put it in the Ministry and they’ll never leave us alone-’
I am thinking about the dream I had of being a specimen in a glass jar. I am trying not to think about the black stone Albus still holds in his outstretched hand.
‘But…think of what we could do…’
‘We can’t even tell her,’ I murmur. My heart’s going faster; I can already feel the static smothering me. ‘I mean…more than anything, It’s just too easy, isn’t it? I mean…people think I’m some sort of miracle – can’t we all let them believe I’m a miracle? Some divine anomaly? If they knew it was just you and that stupid stone-’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know,’ Albus shuts his eyes tight. ‘I just…having it is killing me, you know? Thinking of what I could do. I mean, I’ve got the cloak, and the wand’s destroyed, I know that much, but…I’ve got the stone and the cloak. Think of all the people…think of all the people who could be brought back like you…’
‘It’s cursed,’ I say. That feeling from earlier has returned, the feeling of a cold stream of water being diverted along my spine. Cleaving me in two. There is a part of me, I will not deny, that agrees with him. But I will never admit that.
‘It’s stupid, you know? I remember reading the story when I was little, though. And Dad gave me the cloak without even saying what it was. But I knew. And I’d read about the stone, I knew he’d chucked it, and I worked it out. I just thought…you and me, mate, masters of death. We’ve beat it once already. Who’s to say we can’t do it again?’
‘Mate, you survived death. What if you’re…immune?’
My eyes are burning and I can barely look at him. ‘Nobody’s immune to death.’
‘You’ve got bloody lightning bolts coming out of your hands! You came back from the dead! You’re not even asthmatic anymore! And I’ve got the cloak – what if we could pitch in, fight a bit? You know, the way things are going…’
He hands me the stone. Dumb, not quite registering what’s happening, I take it. I hold it between two fingers and look at it through blurred eyes, slack-jawed, momentarily incapable of understanding. There’s nothing special about holding it, none of the chill or weight I expected. It’s no different from holding a pebble plucked from the soil.
The grim stoicism is back. ‘Your problem now,’ Albus says.
‘I’m not taking this,’ I say.
‘Find a new place for it. Your problem.’
Along the corridor, the pipes shut off, and we hear the doors of the shower cubicle banging open.
Albus gives me a cautious look.
‘Let me know when it’s done,’ he says.
a/n: so…there’s your revelation! ‘But the resurrection stone doesn’t bring people back like that!’ you may cry – I’ll explain it all in later chapters. Thank you for reading! ♥
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