Chapter 1 : Introduction
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“I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.” ― Sylvia Plath
The kitchen window was left open last night. Probably Mum, in one of her midnight ambles. Shivering, I pulled the windows in and tightened the latch. There was a dusting of snow on the windowsill and I pressed my fingers into it absently. Through the glass and criss-crossing iron I could see the river, a mile away, already freezing along its banks. Past that, the church steeple punctured the bellies of fat granite clouds. It was the tallest building in the village, but that wasn’t saying much. Only several people could be spotted walking, small black dots like crows.
I glanced down to my watch. Eight o’clock. Mum and Dad would be up soon. With bare feet padding over the chilly stone, I set to making their breakfast. A quiet prayer that she remembered things today escaped me. Things were easier when she remembered. It made Dad happier.
My wand pointed to the ancient gas stove. “Incendio.” With the teakettle brewing I heated Mum’s cast iron skillet. Their hens’ eggs were scattered in odd places around the refrigerator, not where they should be. I at last found the butter in with the silverware. My jaw tightened; it wasn’t a good sign.
While the pan grew hot my eyes traveled back out the window. It would snow today, surely. Maybe I would Apparate to Godric’s Hollow rather than deal with the late trains.
My fingers gripped the counter. I hadn’t been back to Godric’s Hollow since Lily and James’s murders. I’d left dozens of vials of priceless herbs during her pregnancy, but couldn’t bring myself to take them back. I couldn’t be there. Maybe I was mad for staying in London during such times, but despite the danger I could stay hidden in plain sight. Lost in a crowd. In Godric’s Hollow there was nowhere to hide. And if the protective spells and remoteness didn’t save Lily and James Potter—two of the most talented wizards of our age—then I wouldn’t stand a chance.
I cracked an egg in the pan, but the iron had grown too hot over the flame. The egg seared with a horrible loud sound like molten flesh. I cried out and saw the scene I’d imagined over and over for weeks: James’s glasses cracked on the floor, Lily’s hair twisted around her face, almost suffocating her, their bodies hard and pale.
And Harry. Poor baby Harry…
I snatched the pan from the flame and opened the window again; the Muggle fire detector would alarm Mum and Dad. While the cold air rushed over my feverish skin I examined my shaking hands, realizing that one of the eggs had splattered onto the stone floor.
“Mum.” I pocketed my wand before she noticed and crossed the room to kiss her cheek. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
She hugged a wooly cardigan tightly around her nightgown. “It’s freezing, darling. Did you forget to turn on the heat?”
I flushed because in truth I had only thought to perform a Heating Charm for myself. Old habits die hard. Before I could answer she said, “You’ve gone all pink. Sit down and let me finish this.”
“All right.” Normally I would have protested, but it meant she was feeling herself today.
“Your father is still lazing in bed, that man. But I’m sure as soon as he smells bacon…”
Reaching past her, I once more closed the window while she poured the tea. We stepped around one another with the familiarity of having spent decades in the same kitchen together, doing just this.
Before she could set out three pieces of toast I said, “Just enough for you and Dad. I’ve got to head back to London.”
It took me less than five minutes to tell the first lie.
Mum gave me the familiar glance-over and managed to control her insistence that I eat more. In truth I hadn’t been eating, but I couldn’t even begin to explain why. “Leaving so soon?” Her disappointment was audible.
I pulled the sleeves of my jumper over my knuckles, clutching tightly. “Lots of early Christmas orders to manage. I’m up to my eyeballs in poinsettia deliveries.”
“But I can come and visit you over the weekend,” I added upon her silent nod. “I heard Dad say the sheep fence needs rebuilding. It’d be better to finish before the next big snow.”
“Chloe, I hardly think you’re the man for the job,” she tutted, waving her spatula at my slight frame.
“Well, Mum, I do have one advantage…” At her silence I continued gently, “Only a few levitating spells, I promise. It wouldn’t take five minutes and it would save Dad a lot of back pain, and you wouldn’t have to hire one of the neighbors.”
The room was silent other than the crackling of eggs and bacon. The smell would normally have me foaming at the mouth, but I could barely manage to swallow my tea these days. I tried another sip but it tasted like iron.
She would barely meet my eyes. “Speaking of… that… One of your owls came by very late last night. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Oh.” I tried to even my voice, but my throat was already filling with bile.
Not only was my mother awake all night, the paranoia and insomnia eating away at her, but the Order knew not to send owls here. I’d taught them to use a Muggle payphone, which proved to be a laborious task. If someone only had time to scribble on a parchment, the message could not have been a good one.
I swallowed thickly. “Where is it?”
“On the little table near the sofa. I didn’t read it, you know.”
Despite the feeling of having a bird trapped in my chest, I stood behind her and squeezed her arms. “I know you didn’t, Mum.” I pressed my trembling lips to her grey hair.
The arched doorway to the den looked like a mouth waiting to swallow me whole. The room was pitch black, the curtains drawn as usual. More than anything I wanted to use a Lumos spell. I knew better. When I flicked on the lamp I spotted the parchment envelope on the pile of unopened post. It contrasted with the the colorful grocery coupons and the newspapers where the pictures didn’t move. There was no writing on the envelope and the seal bore no emblem. Quickly I tore it open. The scribbled cursive was Sirius's―I would recognize it anywhere. It contained only two sentences.
Come here as soon as you read this.
It wasn’t how it was with the news of Lily and James. The room wasn’t spinning; I didn’t have to run and be sick in the bin. It felt like the walls were expanding around me, or like I was growing smaller. The silence was becoming a sound itself, a kind of pressure in my eardrums.
Marlene McKinnon, my best friend of six years, was dead. She had more than likely been murdered by supporters of You-Know-Who. And we hadn’t been speaking to each other for over a month.
Mum peered into the dimness from the kitchen as if afraid to go in. She might as well have been staring into the portal to another world: mine. No matter what I told her, she could never possibly understand the contents of the letter. And she wouldn’t want to.
“Just my flatmate.” My voice was surprisingly strong.
“I’ve got to head back. There’s been some kind of problem with our heating. Reckon she didn’t remember to leave the faucet running and our pipes have frozen and burst.” I was speaking faster and faster, trying to remember where I’d left my bloody coat and suitcase and wishing I could just use a Summoning Spell. My Mum watched helplessly, unconvinced, but unwilling to ask more.
With my coat and scarf thrown on haphazardly, I pressed another kiss to her cheek. “Tell Dad that I’m sorry I missed him, and that I’ll be back on Friday. Call you tomorrow!”
Her uneasily murmured “Alright, dear,” barely reached my ears before I was out the door. My feet were suddenly stinging with cold; I had forgotten to put on my boots. But there was no time to go back inside. My heaving breath billowed before me and I pulled my body from the steadfastness of the door, walking only quickly enough to not raise suspicion. She was certainly watching from behind closed curtains.
The dirt drive to our house was long and winding, and as soon as I passed the first bend beside the pasture I fell into the snow. The sheep watched me with their black watery eyes, uninterested, and in my wildness I envied them. I couldn’t breathe. My lungs had collapsed and wouldn’t open again; the sobs were too heavy, and only when I thought I would pass out did the first rattling breath come sweeping into the vacuum of my lungs. With my cheek pressed into the snow I cried and thought of Marlene, and the last time I saw her: the way her white-blonde hair whipped through space as she Apparated, with a thunderous CRACK!, away from Sirius’s Cruciatus Curse.
Author's Note: Thank you to a.leksy at TDA for the stunning chapter image (and story banner)! ♥
I struggled a lot with the concept of this story, and whether or not to pursue a canonical retelling of the Marauders' time from Hogwarts til their death. But after looking through the archives I've decided that this has been done--and done well--and that I wanted to explore the idea of cause-and-effect, and how something as insignificant as forgetting a book in a classroom, or a train being late, could change history. So a lot of this fic will be AU. The first instance is here in the introduction: Marlene dies after Lily and James.
Please let me know what you think! An AU fic is a new concept for me; typically I write timelines or areas of JKR's world that haven't yet been explored. This story will loosely follow the timeline as per canon. I won't blabber on for too long, but any feedback is greatly appreciated!
Also I do not own the Sylvia Plath quotes, though they will be rampant within this story.
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