Chapter 5 : The Picnic
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22 April 1969
Petunia peeked out through the branches of a scraggly bush. When she’d seen Lily sneak out through the back garden – quite clearly without Mum’s permission – she’d immediately chosen to follow. It wasn’t hard to guess who Lily planned to meet, though why she’d want to spend even a moment with that loathsome boy was well beyond Petunia’s understanding.
On the other side of the bush, Lily laid out a chequered blanket and smoothed it over the brown grass. From a sack at her side, she retrieved a bottle of apple juice, a bag of crisps, and two tin lunch pails—Yellow Submarine and Pink Panther, respectively. Annoyance sparked at the sight of the Beatles lunch box; it was Petunia’s, and Lily had taken it without asking.
Leaves rustled on the other side of the clearing, causing both girls to jump and look toward the noise.
Severus Snape. Even his name sounded slimy, like something peeled from the underside of a rock. He looked as ragged and filthy as ever, nearly drowned in his worn and hideous shirt.
“Hi, Sev!” Lily smiled, and bent over the lunch pails, continuing to unpack the picnic she’d brought. Her long, red hair fell in a curtain over one shoulder, obscuring her view of the boy, who took advantage of the moment of privacy to take in the sight of her, his eyes running greedily over her form.
Despite the warm spring breeze in the air, Petunia felt suddenly chilly. The way the boy looked at Lily, like something delicious, was positively creepy. Petunia willed herself to stay hidden, forcing down the impulse to jump out and send him packing with a few well-chosen words.
Lily looked up again, the whole picnic now arranged neatly: two roast beef sandwiches, a bunch of grapes, carrot sticks, crisps, juice, and a large, half-eaten chocolate bar.
“I brought us lunch,” Lily said, unnecessarily. “I thought you might not have eaten.”
At this Petunia stifled a laugh. The boy was so stretched and scraggly, he looked nearly half starved.
His expression darkened, almost as if he heard her thoughts. “There’s nothing to eat most days, is there?” He mumbled.
Petunia tried to prevent her brain from unpuzzling his words, which were sure to reveal a reality she did not care to face, and watched as Lily’s eyes went from casual to concerned.
“Is it bad again?” Lily asked, passing him a sandwich.
Snape shrugged. “At least he’s going after me instead of her, now.”
“That’s not an improvement!” She snapped. Don’t think. Don’t understand.
“Easy for you to say! You don’t have to live with it. I’d rather it was me.”
Lily eyed him shrewdly. “Are you hurt? You had better not lie to me, Sev.”
“I’m fine!” Snape answered, but he gave himself away with a reflexive cradling of his left arm.
Lily grabbed him by the elbow and pushed up his sleeve, entirely missing the look of happiness that washed over him at her touch.
At the sight of his forearm, Petunia very nearly revealed herself with a gasp. Between his wrist and elbow, where the skin ought to have been pale and smooth, were three jagged welts, burnt deeply into raw, scalded flesh. It was a gruesome injury, and Petunia felt an alarming stab of pity. It was not an emotion she welcomed – too much pain, too much burden – and she squirmed uneasily as the strange sensation needled her. It was only Snape, only this skivey, cloaked boy with that inexplicably odd air about him.
Lily’s expression had stretched into a grimace paired with shaking hands, but she was not repulsed enough to move away. “If you come back to the house, my mum could fix you up. She’s a nurse; she’ll know what to do.”
The boy shook his head stubbornly. “It’s a cursed wound, Lily. She can’t fix it.”
“How do you know?”
He shifted uncomfortably on the blanket, his back unnaturally straight. “It just doesn’t work that way. Only magic can fix it.”
The air hung heavy between them for a moment, and Petunia wondered for the thousandth time why her sister bothered with him at all.
“I learnt a new one,” Lily eventually said, in a falsely cheery voice that cut through Petunia’s thoughts like a honeyed knife.
Snape’s body relaxed, his face softening at the change of subject. “Yeah? Can I see?”
Lily grinned and plucked a dandelion from the grass beside her. She stared at it with an intensity Petunia could not fathom, her expression mirrored by the boy as he watched her, each gaze full of desire. Then Lily breathed softly over the yellow petals, and they warmed like a sunset, spreading gracefully until the green stem supported not a weed, but a proper flower with blush coloured petals and a sunny centre.
A soft exhale of awe escaped Petunia’s mouth. How in the world…?
The boy was equally entranced. “How does it work?” He asked eagerly, taking the flower with surprisingly delicate fingers.
“I don’t know, really,” Lily shrugged. “I just sort of command it, and breathe the colour on like a wish…. Does that sound crazy?”
Snape was looking at her hazily, but he snapped to attention at her words. “What? No! It’s brilliant!”
Lily flushed darkly at his words, and hurriedly took a bite of her sandwich in an effort to mask her red cheeks. It seemed to work, if only because he had plucked another flower from the earth and was examining it with great attention. The petals flickered from yellow to blue for a moment, but the change didn’t last. Snape’s mouth twisted impatiently.
“Severus?” He looked up at Lily’s voice. “You said there was a school, a school for people like… like us, didn’t you?”
“Hogwarts,” he nodded. “That’s what it’s called. It’s a castle, a big, magnificent one, and around it there’s a forest, and a lake, and mountains.”
“You’ve been there?”
“No, but everyone knows about Hogwarts,” he said, as if it were obvious, and the sting of his remark was visible on Lily’s face.
“Oh, everyone knows, do they?” She crossed her arms in front of her chest with a glare.
“No, Lily, I didn’t mean it like that! I just meant… my mum told me about it, that’s all.”
“Fine,” Lily huffed, and Petunia could nearly see the gears turning in her sister’s mind as she weighed her irritation against her curiosity. As usual, curiosity won out. “So, what’s it like, anyway?”
Snape smiled his relief. “There are four house – everyone says Slytherin is the best one – and on the first day they decide which one you’re in. And of course, they teach all sorts of magic, spells and potions and everything.
Petunia pressed her eyes shut and tried to imagine it: a big, white-walled castle in a glimmering forest, with elegant people walking here and there, and Petunia cast as the prettiest, most popular witch in the whole school—
“Do you know any spells?” Lily’s question interrupted her daydream.
“I can’t do them yet, because you need a wand for proper magic, but I’ve heard of some.” The boy’s voice took on an impressive air.
“Yeah?” Lily moved toward him on the blanket, eager for more.
“There’s a spell, Imperio, that lets you make people do whatever you want,” he said, matching her eagerness.
Magic like that would be helpful at school, Petunia thought. She could keep her friends from bossing her around for a change.
Lily shuddered. “That’s creepy!”
Petunia was taken aback, but didn’t have time to think about it before Snape – who now seemed anxious to change the subject - said, “Really, you can use magic for all kinds of things. When my dad isn’t home, my mum uses magic to wash the dishes. And grown up wizards can apparate.”
“They just disappear and show up wherever they want.”
“Wow! That sounds groovy!” It was better that groovy. It was… Petunia didn’t even have words for how amazing it all sounded.
Lily bounced around in excitement, knocking over the now empty juice bottle in her excitement. “And they’ll teach us to do all that stuff?”
Snape nodded. “Most of it, yeah.”
“Oh, Hogwarts sounds like the best place in the world!” Petunia nodded in silent agreement.
“The best part of all,” Snape went on, “is that Muggles aren’t allowed there, it’s only witches and wizards, so you can do magic whenever you want and not have to keep it secret.”
Petunia’s heart dropped, but Lily sighed and it seemed she wasn’t happy with the idea, either. The thought that her sister wanted her at Hogwarts made Petunia feel suddenly much more relaxed.
“Yes, it does get old having to keep it to myself.” Lily nodded to Snape, and Petunia’s feeling of calm vanished instantly.
The traitor! Lily would leave Petunia behind, would leave her whole family behind, just for some stupid magic tricks? Well, what did it matter? Petunia didn’t even like Lily. Really, she didn’t. Driving these thoughts forcefully into her heart, Petunia snuck out of the brambles and sprinted home, ignoring with all her might the tears that trickled down her cheeks.
Who wanted to go to a stupid castle full of magic, anyway?
A/N: The Pink Panther belongs to MGM. Yellow Submarine belongs the The Beatles.
Thank you so much for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts. And, a just for fun question: did you have any memorable lunchboxes as a child?
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