Chapter 7 : Seven
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I drag my feet on the carpet. ‘Hello, Fauna,’ I say, and she says hello in return with something that’s in between a smile and a frown.
‘I was just filling her in,’ Flora says.
‘On what?’ I ask, mouth going dry. I can’t stomach the thought of the truth getting out. As far as everyone is concerned, I’m still a miracle, still a sort of divine intervention. I don’t think they’d take kindly to knowing that I’m just a botched zombie.
‘On how we’re going to redecorate the flat,’ Flora says, quite innocently. ‘I’ve got the weekend off and I was thinking of going to a DIY shop – we could get some paint for the hall.’
‘Oh,’ I try to keep a straight face, although I bet neither of them are fooled. ‘Right. Yeah, I can ask Lucy for some time off in the week…’
Flora turns back to Fauna. ‘Oh, yeah, they’re going out.’
I have to stare at my own shoes to stop myself reacting. This is another thing I don’t want said in the presence of Fauna who is, regretfully, a semi ex-girlfriend – or, to tell the truth, an ex-girlfriend – and perhaps the sort of person that might think a little sour of me.
‘You have to get time off from your relationship?’ Fauna says.
‘No, she works for him,’ Flora explains.
‘Is this the same Lucy from school?’
‘Yeah – she supplies one of the big apothecaries. Scorpius helps out in the garden.’
‘I thought you wanted to work in a kitchen,’ Fauna says, and I decide it’s only polite to look at her when I answer. I still have to avoid her eyes, though, and end up fixing on a tiny smudge of red lipstick at the corner of her mouth instead.
‘I did,’ I say. ‘But, uh, couldn’t get the work.’
‘Hygiene issue,’ Flora cuts in.
‘Because I’m dead,’ I say quickly. ‘Not because I’m…’
And I trail off, too embarrassed to finish.
‘That’s a shame,’ Fauna says.
I suppose, although all three of us have grown up, and although Flora’s got a face full of scars and I’ve got the look of the freshly dead, Fauna’s changed the most. Flora’s still Flora, even if her face is cut into a permanent lopsided smile and she’s only got half an eyebrow – and I’m still me, even if my skin’s grey and my eyes are little black dots. Fauna’s still got her health, but she’s gone and got her hair cut into a smart bob to suit her new role working the Horoscopes column in the ‘Prophet. She’s gone and learned how to dress well, and wear nice makeup, how to walk without falling over – the art of looking successful, I guess. She comes in and out of our lives now and again to catch up, and then it’s back to the other life, the one with the nice boyfriend and the nice flat in London and the comfortable job. Alright, I’m making assumptions – maybe her boyfriend never does the laundry, maybe the flat’s draughty, maybe she’s got to put up with a sexist boss at work –but I can’t look at her without feeling a little jealous and a little annoyed. Maybe it’s on account of me being dead in a world of the living, maybe it’s what’s passed between us. I don’t want to evaluate it particularly.
I suppose it was mostly my fault – if not all my fault – that we got to the point where it was easier to just ignore each other. What’s the point in trying to rebuild if the foundations are ruined?
‘I’ll go and get some more biscuits,’ Flora says.
This leaves me alone with Fauna for the first time in ages.
I’ve had time to think about what I did, then – I’ve had time to realise that, adolescent or not, I was particularly unpleasant in the time we were close friends. It took me a lot of thinking (which I do a lot regardless) to realise that I’d confused different types of love, and that it had probably been the undoing of our friendship. There had been an absence in my life for so long of people who openly claimed to care about me – Mum was gone by the time I was thirteen, and Dad had never been good with emotion – that from the day I met Flora and Fauna on the train to school, I was a little in love with them both. It’s just a little unfortunate that I conflated friendship and romance.
Fauna coughs and checks her mug for the last dregs of tea. There are none, so she takes to staring at the window instead.
‘So,’ I say. ‘How is life?’
‘Oh, fine,’ she says, in an offhand way. ‘How’s yours?’
‘It’s really more of a death,’ I say.
‘Death, then,’ she says, sounding a little impatient – I don’t blame her; she had to put up with a lot of zombie jokes in seventh year. ‘How’s your death?’
‘Oh, morbid, as per usual.’
‘Okay. How’s Albus?’
I seethe inwardly. ‘You’d be better asking Flora that.’
‘No, I mean – is there something going on between them?’
It’s a painful possibility to consider. ‘Don’t know. He stops over here a lot.’
Fauna raises her eyebrows. ‘Is that so?’
‘Sleeps on the sofa bed, though,’ I add.
‘Is that so,’ she repeats, although this time it’s more of a statement.
‘I think he’s very stressed about work.’
‘He’s a mess. I think he needs help,’ I say.
I don’t know why on earth I’m defending the man. Fauna seems to notice my discomfort and gives me a look that’s somewhere between pitying and mocking me – but then Flora returns with a plate of custard creams and we have to act normal.
There are different kinds of love, as I’ve learned recently. There’s one thing that never quite leaves the back of my mind, and that’s wondering which type of love it is that brings Albus back here night after night, and whether it’s something he shares, or something he keeps to himself. And sometimes, I wonder if it’s pain.
There’s a slight delay in getting myself to St Mungo’s one Wednesday morning in November. There’s been an explosion on Diagon Alley, I learn from the wireless, which explains why the Floo network is inexplicably shut off, and any attempt to apparate to the central London area ends up with me lying on the kitchen floor. I stand by the kerb and wave my wand arm about for a solid five minutes before I realise that the Knight Bus isn’t running.
The news changes every fifteen minutes – first, they estimate that there are ten dead, and then that number shrinks to four by the one o’clock news. The initial report is that Gringott’s has been raided, but a goblin spokesperson drops into the studio to reassure listeners that the money is safe. It’s only an apothecary and a Quidditch supplies shop that have been damaged, only four people have been killed. The vaults are safe. This is hardly reassuring.
If an apothecary has been damaged, it might be Lucy’s apothecary. I think about her neatly packaging daisy roots into boxes, and how those boxes are probably pulp by now. I can’t imagine she would be at the apothecary, but I worry nonetheless. I worry about Flora, too, who’ll probably be dragged out of training to administer first aid, and I even worry about Albus, because this is the first major incident since his Auror training began. I find it within me to worry about Fauna, who is probably nowhere near Diagon Alley, because despite all assurances from the wireless that this is a backfiring wand, I’m convinced it’s the sort of anti-muggle protest that signals the unravelling, at last, of our lives.
I also worry about my missed appointment at St Mungo’s. I was due to find out how much time I have left on the clock. Spells have a lifespan, and so do I.
The first person back to the flat is Albus. Ordinarily, I would be irritated that he has the gall to Floo right into our fireplace, but today I can make an exception. He’s clearly exhausted, covered in suit and dust, his hands all scraped and bruised.
‘There are still people trapped in the wreckage’ is the first thing he says.
‘Wreckage?’ I say.
‘It’s carnage,’ he pulls himself up from the hearth. ‘An entire building went down.’
‘On the wireless they said it was just damage…’
Albus’ face darkens. ‘There always has to be an official line, doesn’t there?’
I end up offering him tea. I think I should leave his wounds to Flora, and, besides, I’m at my best when I’m pottering about in a kitchen. Albus collapses on the sofa, scattering dirt onto the cushions.
‘Where do you keep your wireless anyhow?’ he asks. I point it out on the windowsill before heading into the kitchen.
When I return with two mugs, Albus is fiddling about with the wireless, which is throwing out a solid stream of static.
‘You okay there?’ I ask.
‘The bloody thing’s tuned to the WWN,’ he says. ‘I’m trying to find MV.’
‘Magic Voice?’ I say. ‘I’m not sure we can pick up their signal-’
I’m interrupted by a voice that breaks through the static, informing us that we are listening to the six o’clock Magic Voice news.
‘Sometimes I tune it to W7 Music,’ I say helplessly.
‘Today’s top story: an explosion in Diagon Alley late this morning has killed six people and injured a further hundred. Ministry staff and Healers are working to free those trapped in an apothecary, but the building is highly unstable and so far rescue attempts have proved largely futile. A spokesperson for the Ministry called the explosion a tragic accident, however, sources suggest that the radical anti-mugglisation group the Blood Defence League are behind it.’
‘Bugger the official line,’ Albus says.
Just then, there’s the sound of Flora tumbling in the front door. I haven’t seen her since the previous evening. Albus jumps to his feet, but she barely registers him when she drags her feet into the room.
‘I’ve been up for forty-eight hours,’ she says. ‘I’m going to run a hot bath, and then go straight to bed.’
‘Hang on,’ I chip in. ‘Albus’ hands need fixing up.’
She sighs, and it’s as if she deflates. ‘Can’t it wait?’
Albus looks down at his hands. ‘Er, not while I’m bleeding.’
‘Fine,’ she says. She’s evidently too tired to argue. ‘Scorpius, can you fetch the first aid kit? And a cuppa, while you’re at it?’
So I find myself back in the kitchen, watching the kettle.
I write a couple of letters whilst the tea brews, tying them to the leg of Dad’s Scops Owl, which has been flitting round our kitchen for two days since he last wrote to me. The first one is for Lucy, asking her to reply as soon as possible to let me know she’s alright, but the bird is a bit bad-tempered and I doubt the letter will ever reach her. I write it in as neutral terms as I can, knowing it will probably end up in my dad’s lap with the letter I’ve written to him.
I bring Flora’s tea through to the sitting room.
‘Can you get me the Essence of Murtlap? It’s in the cupboard with the ketchup. I’ll need a bowl and some towels too,’ Flora says, by way of thanks.
I stay in the kitchen this time. After a while, I start making dinner, presuming both of them will be wanting fed, and I’ve just whipped the saucepan off the heat to make the roux for macaroni cheese when the Scops Owl flits back in through the window again.
Lucy’s letter is still tied to its leg; a note in my father’s handwriting says return to sender.
a/n: W7 Music is a thinly-veiled reference to BBC 6music, my station of choice, and the Blood Defence League is an even thinner thinly-veiled reference to the English Defence League, who are most definitely not my protest group of choice (I'm your typical lefty Guardian-reading 6music listener). Hope you enjoyed this chapter! I’m looking forward to posting the next two chapters, which I hope are exciting and anxiety-inducing in equal measures ♥
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