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Chapter 6 : Six
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I am sitting at the kitchen table opposite her, and she won’t make eye contact with me. I am trying not to mind. I am trying to cut off any emotion and feel as dead as I look.
She stirs her tea. I cough, and pretend to admire the potted geranium between us.
‘I’m okay with it,’ she says.
Lucy is stirring her tea again. She has been stirring her tea for five minutes straight. I have not touched mine yet.
‘No, really,’ she says. ‘I’m fine. You don’t have to apologise.’
I have not attempted an apology yet – the words malfunctioned on my tongue – but now I take my cue. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘Nah, it’s fine. It’s not something you can help.’
‘I didn’t want to hurt you!’
‘I know that. It’s my fault, I should have remembered about the….uh….lightning hands.’
‘No, it’s my fault,’ I rush to say. ‘I should have remembered. They’re my hands.’
‘Yeah, but I didn’t give you time to remember, I just went for it-’
‘I don’t mind you going for it. I wouldn’t have gone for it.’
She shrugs and finally sips her tea.
The words come up like bile; unwanted, too fast, and leaving a sour taste in their wake. ‘I like you. But you don’t want me. I’m dead and I’ll only hurt you-’
‘At the worst, you’ll only make my hair stand on end, you just have to steer clear of the hands, and I really don’t care about…the way you are.’
I put my hands flat on the table, marvelling at how fingers so pale and thin can be so dangerous. ‘I want to be able to touch you,’ I say.
She raises an eyebrow.
‘God, no, that makes me sound like a pervert,’ I correct.
‘I’m okay with that,’ she says. ‘I’ve been thinking about it. Solutions, I mean,’ she adds quickly.
‘Dragonhide gloves,’ she says.
I take a few seconds to process what she has said. And then I realise.
I conjure a bunch of sunflowers for the kitchen windowsill in the flat. Flora is working harder than ever, and the place is getting drabber and drabber in her absence. I think it needs colour. Lucy has gifted us with an orchid, and I put that in the hallway, right by the door. It feels like there are small traces of her here now, small signs of life. I make a mental note to get something for Flora’s room when I go back, to brighten such a small and dingy space.
I agreed, with Albus, that we tell her tonight.
I’m too early for Lucy, who’s gone to London to deliver the week’s crop, so I go for a walk in the woods by her house. She lives in a terrace at the tapering end of a small town, with the railway to the front and, to the back, woodland where local children play and build their dens. The trees have all shrugged off their leaves and now look stark and starved; the place has a forgotten look. I go and walk there for that reason.
I am still trying to process where we stand. I can’t make my mind up about it. I think it’d do us better if there were no labels to choose, if we didn’t have to define our standing. All I know is that I could spend the rest of my death in conversation with her, knowing things about her life, and that would be enough to sate me. This is reason enough to think of myself more as alive than dead.
I have been following the path for ten minutes when I see the first Thestral through the trees. It’s been so long since I’ve seen one that it takes my mind a few more minutes to process exactly what I am seeing. I keep walking for a bit. I am aware that it is watching me.
After a while, the others appear – adults, like the first one, and three or four foals, an entire herd. I go off the path and walk up to them as carefully as I dare. I’ve only ever been close to one in Care of Magical Creatures, but I don’t think they’ll attack. I spent hours reading up on them in the Library trying to convince myself I wasn’t insane, and the facts I learned about them then have stuck with me over the years.
I wonder if the town knows they’re here. Thestrals are a bad luck symbol. And invisible to most of the population. I reason that there must be people who know they exist, the older generations at least, but then decide that the children wouldn’t play in these woods if their parents knew. Perhaps it was wrong of me to come here; I’m another omen of death.
So I don’t go any further. I stand and watch for a few minutes, hands in pockets. The Thestrals are skeletal; velvety black skin clings to their bones like damp sheets, and you can see the outline of every organ, the trace of every bone. If I got close enough, I think I’d be able to see their hearts beating.
I hurry back to Lucy’s in something of a frenzy. She’s just got in, and spies me from the kitchen, pacing circles in her garden.
She opens the window and calls out to me. ‘You alright there?’
I’m too excited to stand still. ‘Did you know you’ve got Thestrals in the woods?’
She frowns. ‘No, I didn’t.’
I wring my hands together, creating a small storm of sparks.
‘Are you okay?’ she asks.
‘Dead brilliant!’ I say.
She shakes her head. ‘Come in.’
I let myself in by the back door. She’s in the kitchen, smoothing a thick, translucent salve into her hands from a pot on the table.
‘I got this in Diagon Alley today,’ she says. ‘It’s Gardener’s Balm. It works like a barrier – protects from most poisons, thorns, effective against fifteen species of biting shrubs. Not as practical as a pair of Dragonhide gloves, of course, but I thought I’d give it a shot.’
She takes my wrist and holds my sparking right hand up to the light. Then she holds up her left hand, shiny with salve, and brings the two together. There’s a crackle of static, but her palm presses against mine and she doesn’t flinch.
‘I thought so,’ she says.
‘Do you feel anything?’ I ask her.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘But it doesn’t hurt.’
Her fingers slip into the gaps between mine, and grip like vines.
The best thing we can do is brew a pot of tea. It’s the only conciliatory gesture we can think to make and our only means of softening the blow. Albus finds the remains of a packet of digestives in the cupboard and duplicates them with magic, but neither of us can find a clean side plate to put them on and so they’re offered to Flora straight from the crinkled plastic packaging.
Shortly afterwards it’s discovered that we’ve run out of sugar. Flora prefers her tea with, so our conciliatory gesture takes a knock when she’s forced to take it with just milk instead. Albus’ shaking hands turn a dot of milk into a flood, and the resulting effect is that Flora has to sit with a mug of tea roughly the shade of her own skin in one hand and a crumb-crusted digestive in the other.
‘What’s all this about?’ she says, smiling. She looks nervous, and nibbles politely on a corner of the digestive. Coughs once.
‘These are a bit stale,’ she murmurs. ‘It’s alright, I’ll dunk it.’
She proceeds to dip the biscuit in her tea. Both myself and Albus must be unnerving her, sitting opposite on the sofa as gormless as we are. Neither of us quite know how to break the news. This is the first time I have felt any true solidarity with him. Our knees knock together every now and again as we shift forwards to pick up mugs, drink, and set them down again.
‘Well,’ Albus starts, smoothing out each of the fingernails on his left hand with the thumb of his right, as if polishing them. ‘Well, we had something we wanted to talk to you about.’
‘Yes?’ she says, and she looks serious again, although a half of her face still smiles.
‘It’s a bit, uh,’ Albus twists his ring finger again and again, as if trying to unscrew it from his hand. ‘It’s…’
‘It’s about me,’ I cut in, trying to help him, although I’ve insisted that he should do all the talking.
‘What about you?’ Flora says.
‘Have a biscuit,’ Albus says.
‘I’m alright,’ she frowns. ‘Did something happen with Lucy?’
‘How do you know about that?’ I start, but Flora waves me away.
‘Seriously, what is it?’
Albus stops twisting his fingers and spreads out his palms. ‘I’ll start at the start.’
‘Please do,’ Flora says.
‘So, as you probably know, Scorpius is dead.’
‘Half-dead,’ I correct him.
‘Scorpius is slightly dead.’
‘I was there,’ Flora says, sounding a little offended.
‘Unconscious,’ Albus reminds her, and she shrugs, not realising that this is the key, this is why she does not know.
‘So you’ve probably heard the theories.’
‘Well,’ she starts to smile again. ‘Yeah. But I don’t believe all the weird ones, I’ll say that now – it was the spell, totally reasonable, it happens in the muggle world too, but they use electricity – still, bit of a miracle, wasn’t it?’
It’s at mention of the world miracle that the two of us noticeably slump. Her smile drops from the right side of her face again.
‘What?’ she says.
‘It – well, it might…’ Albus falters. ‘It might not be much of a miracle after all.’
‘I don’t get it,’ she says.
‘I don’t know how much you’ve read about the second war-’
‘Lots,’ she cuts in, impatient. ‘You know me, Al, I love History of Magic.’
‘Did you ever come across the Peverell Quest?’
‘Of course I did – instrumental in the downfall of the dark forces.’
‘And you’ll know about my father,’ Albus says, talking quickly now, no longer withdrawn. ‘How he mastered death – I mean, not for very long – but how he had the cloak of invisibility, and then gathered the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone-’
‘Has something happened to your cloak?’ she says.
‘No. I…’ Albus falters again.
‘It’s nothing to do with the cloak,’ I say.
‘The wand was destroyed and the stone was lost,’ she says. ‘That’s acknowledged as the end of the era.’
There’s a silence so pronounced that it feels like a fourth guest.
‘I found the stone,’ Albus says. ‘And I used it to bring him back.’
‘It was lost,’ Flora says.
‘Well, I went looking for it. I wanted to-’
‘Albus – that’s the stupidest…’
She’s obviously still processing the news, face a little slack, not quite at the stage of realising the horror. She picks up another digestive and breaks it in two, dunking the larger half into her tea.
‘When we were in the Ministry, and everything that happened had happened – well, when the Aurors arrived, I remembered I had it…just as they delivered the spell, I…’
The sodden biscuit hangs in midair, Flora’s mouth slightly agape to receive it; a frozen tableau.
‘So they brought back the body and I…brought back the rest.’
Half of a disintegrated biscuit drops into Flora’s tea.
‘That’s why he is the way he is,’ Albus says.
‘A zombie,’ I say.
‘That’s the stupidest…’ she repeats, but doesn’t finish. I turn to look at the ground, realising, a moment too late, that I’m showing her the side of my face with the black cuts and bruises.
‘No miracle,’ Albus says.
The silence returns. The mugs of tea, barely drunk, sit and steam on the table. I decide to take my leave.
I just catch their last exchange from the corridor when I’m fumbling for my bedroom door in the dark.
‘You saved his life.’
‘Half of it. And of course. You can’t just let someone die.’
‘But he was already dead!’
‘But he matters.’
It is probably the first time since my mother died that anybody’s ever said that I mattered. I let out the breath I’ve been holding and go into my room, to block out whatever words might follow, to keep that final phrase in my mind for as long as possible.
a/n: whew! The secret’s out. Hope you liked this chapter! There’s a lot more to come, but I’d estimate that I’m between halfway and three quarters of the way through the story right now (it’s hard to estimate when you’re writing as you go). Fauna reappears in the next chapter, and Scorpius might find it in his zombie heart to accept Albus into his life. Maybe. Please review, I’d love to get some feedback on this! ♥
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