Chapter 1 : Now.
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The phone rings in three shrill bursts. I consider not picking up, but eventually the annoying noise outweighs my desire to be undisturbed. The voice on the other end is almost unrecognisable thanks to static.
“Hi, it’s me. I’m coming over. I’ll bring food.”
“Don’t come, Lysander. I’m fine.”
“Biggest piece of bullcrap I’ve heard in my life. Don’t even argue, Lissa. Prepare for my glorious entrance in under five minutes.” I don’t laugh, and he hangs up.
I resume the position I’d previously been in; lying face down on the sofa in nothing but a t-shirt and underwear. The sofa smells strange; a mixture of cat and air freshener. And yet, there have not been cats – or air freshener – in my Aunt’s flat for at least five years.
I look at the fabric through crossed eyes. An off-green, faded vomit colour. I roll onto my back so that I can see out of the window and I stare at trees that don’t seem real. I want to cry, my heart feels bruised, and I don’t know what to do. I know that if I cry I will never ever be able to stop, so I focus on the trees in front of me and think treestreestreestreestrees and then, after an awful lot of trees, I fall asleep.
Some time later that is definitely more than five minutes, I am woken up by knocking on the door. I walk over on unsteady feet and open it to a grinning Lysander Scamander. He sweeps me up into a hug that is so bone-crushing I can feel my ribs bend. I hope they tear through my heart I find myself thinking, and gasp into Lysander’s warm, broad chest.
“What? Are you admiring my fine pectoral muscles, Lissa-Li?”
I shake my head mutely. Lysander walks in, wrinkling his nose.
“How old is your Aunt, again?”
“60,” I reply with a pathetic attempt at a half-smile. Aunt Margo is one of the most boring people that I have ever had the misfortune to know. And I never imagined, not in my wildest dreams, that I would end up living with her. But here I am.
“Well I think she could use a good spring clean.”
Proof of a long past in Professional Cat Ladyism clutters the walls – photographs, paintings and poems about cats. Certificates from cat grooming pageants. Birth and death dates of each pet. Above the kitchen table, Margo has displayed the many blankets that she lovingly knitted for each animal. They drip with dust.
The names of every single cat adorn the mantelpieces in 3D wooden letters, painted sickly pastels. An enormous tapestry of them hangs in Margo’s room, enhanced with magic so that the cats move and meow to her while she sleeps.
But worst of all are the cats themselves. Stuffed, all of them. Some lined up on a large table in the living room. A large tabby is curled up on top of the bookcase. A black cat at the foot of my bed. A ginger one under the table. Their blank, beady eyes have been following me since I got here.
Sometimes, I am convinced that they move about when no-one looks at them.
I shiver and sit down. Lysander has a breadstick in his mouth as he unpacks his plastic bag of goodies. Crisps, olives, chocolate fingers, a bottle of cheap wine. Breadsticks. He arranges them on the table and hunts around for two glasses. Once he has located them, he pours a generous amount of wine into each. I reach for one.
“I miss you Lissa,” Lysander suddenly says sadly.
“I’m right here,” I reply. He reaches out for my hand and I give it. We are joined across the table.
I cling to him.
“You haven’t been out in days. I hate to think of you stuck in this creepy flat all day. What do you do?”
“I’ve been reading.” Reading means I can escape. Reading means I can forget. “Muggle stuff, mostly. Dickens, Tolkien, Austen. All the famous writers.”
Lysander looks doubtful.
“It’s true!” I insist, gesturing towards the bookcase. A large stack of novels stand beside it. “Anyway,” I continue. “I have to go to the Ministry later.”
“Why do you… oh.” Comprehension dawns a little too late for Lysander; I have already flinched. My hand falls from his almost involuntarily. His eyes search my face. “Nervous?”
“Yes,” I admit.
“I’ll come with you,” he says.
“Of course. You should have told me earlier. No-one should have to deal with this alone.”
“I’m hardly the only one who has to deal with this,” I snap.
“No. But you are the first one who had to.”
I shiver. I take a large gulp of wine to stem the flow of memories, because otherwise they will drag me under.
“Lissa,” Lysander says. Again, he sounds so serious, so unlike himself. He is no longer the boy I knew at Hogwarts. I am no longer the same girl who knew him. “We’ve already lost her... Please. Please, I can’t lose you too.”
And then I try to hold everything together but the tears are flowing, thick and fast, down my cheeks. They bloom like flowers on the table top, splashing into the wine, as I shake and sob, arms wrapped around myself in an attempt to hold my heart in. Lysander rushes to my side and gathers me up against him, stroking my hair and my back, strong arms around me. But this kind of grief has an ocean of tears to fill.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I gasp, my eyes blurry with water. “I’m so… pathetic I know-“
Lysander just holds me and I am grateful. It does not diminish the pain, but it helps me to stay grounded. To not lose myself in it. He begins stroking my tears away gently with both thumbs, and then kisses both of my cheeks. His lips are so soft, like feathers, and I feel my breathing slow.
“You. Are. One. Of. The. Strongest. People. I. Know,” Lysander whispers into my ear, right up close. “You are not pathetic,” he says more roughly. And then I just know that he’s going to kiss me. And he’s leaned in really close so that our foreheads are touching and he’s just reaching out to cup my face, when I turn my head. He pulls his hands away slowly, and when I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I see that his expression is pained.
I feel terrible. And the worst thing is that before, I would have done anything for even the chance to kiss Lysander.
I’ve been in love with him for years.
But it feels so detached now, that idea. So much more like a fact. A fact about Melissa Pembroke. Date of birth, hobbies, eye colour, crush.
And so childish! That such things as kissing can still take place, when everything I once thought important has crumbled to dust in my mind.
“I’m sorry,” I sob aloud again. “I’m sorry Lysander but I can’t. Not anymore. I- I think you should go.”
We both glance at the uneaten food scattered across the kitchen table.
“Will you be alright?” he asks, his voice full of concern.
“I’ll take a shower. I’ll be fine.”
Lysander raises an eyebrow, and I give him a feeble thumbs up. “Honestly. I am OK.”
“I’ll call you later then,” he pecks me on the top of my head. “Good luck. And you’d better answer the phone, by the way, or I’ll have to just move in with you and Aunt Creepy. I’m not having you shut yourself away.”
“Okay. Bye, Lysander,” I say quietly.
He gathers up the food, but leaves me the chocolate fingers. “Chocolate,” he winks. “A bar a day keeps the Dementors away.”
“Get out,” I force a grin.
I’m sweltering in trousers that are too tight and a shirt made of thick cotton. My hair needs a wash. There are sweat patches under my arms. I am, in short, a total wreck. I stand in the corner of the lift as it heads down to Courtroom 8.
The Ministry of Magic sucks. It really does.
This is the second time I’ve been here. The first was right after she died. Right after I watched her die. My best friend.
The lift rattles to a halt as I try to stop myself from crying in front of total strangers. I step out on shaky legs and find my way to the courtroom. It’s so cold down here that my breath fogs in front of me. A sensation of terrible foreboding begins to steal through me as I walk further and further down an endless corridor.
I know that I am not the guilty one.
So why does it feel like I am?
I walk past courtrooms 11, 10, 9. It’s completely silent until I push open the door of 8 and a low murmur of voices fills my ears. The assembled Wizengamot line the benches here, a flock of bespectacled birds in black feathers.
“You’re five minutes early,” a tall, thin woman with grey hair says. “Please sit down.” I sit in the chair at the front of the courtroom. The entire Wizengamot seems to be here. Questioning the sole witness to the murder of Lily Luna Potter is obviously a very important occasion. They’re all wearing their best robes for it.
The door opens again and I hear a sharp intake of breath as Harry and Ginny Potter walk in, followed by Hermione and Ron Weasley. I lose the feeling in my fingers. My legs begin to shake.
Harry and Ginny have been like second parents to me growing up. My real parents have been in America for the last five years, excavating a site in the mountains. They are archaeologists, but they excavate places of Wizarding history. Places hidden by extensive warding spells and enchantments. Places that the muggles have no idea exist. Harry and Ginny have let me stay with them summer after summer, until Hogwarts finished and Lily and I moved into our own place.
But now. Now, they barely even look at me. I’m sure that they hold me responsible. I’m sure they’re thinking why didn’t you save her. If we saved the entire world, why couldn’t you save our daughter.
And I have no answer for them.
Harry speaks now. His hair is greying, and the bags under his eyes are enormous. He looks defeated. Harry Potter, the chosen one, is defeated. “We want to hear everything. We need to know exactly what happened.”
The Wizengamot can hardly argue with the saviours of the world now can they. The four adults sit down in an empty bench and turn to face me. The yawning chasm that now separates us expands as I see their steely gazes.
I am completely and utterly alone in this.
I stare blankly at my inquisitors as they put on their glasses.
They don’t care about Lily the person, they care about Lily the Potter. They care about bad public image and employee morale and all kinds of shit that you could think up. They care about finding someone to blame, so that the people’s outrage that Harry Potter’s Only Daughter is dead can be focused on one individual.
But they don’t care that a beautiful, amazing girl who had a life and dreams for the future and a huge, crazy family and a best friend is dead. A whole existence, gone. Extinguished like a candle. Right in front of me.
The same woman who told me to sit down now hands me a glass of pumpkin juice. “It contains a legal dose of Veritaserum,” she tells me.
“But-“ I begin to protest, but the lady interrupts me.
“Unfortunately, once you are witness to a murder, you are no longer entitled to any secrets.”
I drink the juice in three fast gulps. I don’t feel any different afterwards. A little warmer, perhaps.
The Wizengamot pick up their pens and begin now to pick over the bones of the carcass.
The most important-looking one peers at me, looking unimpressed. “You are Melissa Alice Pembroke?”
“Yes,” I say quietly. I try and detach myself from this body, just for a few hours. I try to feel nothing.
“You are 19 years old, currently living with your Aunt Margo Janet Evans at number 6, Harlington Street. Is this correct?”
I sigh slightly. They know that this is indeed correct. They were the ones that told my Aunt to let me stay for a while. “That is correct,” I tell them.
“And would you describe yourself as being a close friend of the late Lily Luna Potter?” I wince as I hear her pretty name echoing around this cold and empty room. I see Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron pale even further. I gather some courage into myself before answering.
“I am – was - her best friend.”
Scratching noises as everything I say is written down.
“Melissa,” a warmer voice speaks now. I cling to this tiny flame. “Would you mind telling the Wizengamot what happened on the night of the 16th June. Try to recall as much detail as possible.”
Would I mind? Yes. Yes I would mind very much because I loathe the idea of reliving that terrible night, the absolute worst night of my life. I see it in my nightmares, slow-motion, every movement as clear and sharp as crystal. Every crystal, a dagger in my heart.
But I have no choice. Because I am the only one who knows.
I am the only one who knows who killed her.
And so I begin, like I began a week before, by uttering his name. A name that used to be so familiar and comfortable on my tongue, but now tastes like ashes and broken things.
Important information: This chapter takes place a week after Lily’s death. Lissa went to the Ministry the day it happened to tell them who that she’d witnessed the whole thing, and that it had been Scorpius. This time she has been summoned for a formal, recorded questioning.
I’m not sure whether this is how proceedings would have gone as I am fairly clueless about law enforcement – especially Wizarding law – however hopefully you can imagine this as plausible!
Thank you for reading :)