Chapter 1 : I
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Lily wasn’t sure where she was. Her cheek was pressed against something soft and furry and she slowly lifted her hand to stroke it. Nothing moved. It wasn’t an animal. Her fingers were cold and her movements were clumsy. She kept her eyes closed and let her head roll back in a lazy circle. She wished her mind didn’t feel so foggy. She had a feeling there was somewhere she was meant to be.
“Lils. Are you awake?”
Paige’s voice was uncomfortably close. Without opening her eyes, Lily stuck up her middle finger, waving her hand generally in the direction the sound was coming from. Paige giggled and small, warm fingers twined themselves around Lily’s hand.
“Get up,” Paige said, prodding Lily’s ribs with her other hand. “We’ve got forty minutes to get to the station.”
Lily opened one eye and narrowed it into a frown directed at her friend. She’d finally worked out where they were: Paige’s country house, in Oxfordshire. It definitely wasn’t possible to get from Abingdon to King’s Cross in forty minutes. She groaned and buried her face more deeply into Paige’s fur throw. It smelt like tobacco and she breathed it in, trying to ignore the headache creeping into her skull.
Paige poked her again. “I mean it. Get up. Robin said he’d apparate us to the station but that’s no good unless we sort your face out. Your parents will be there to see us off and you currently look like you’ve swallowed a bottle of wine and two dizziness draughts.”
“Think it was more like two bottles of wine and three or four dizziness draughts,” Lily sighed. “Eurgh. That’s why I feel like this.”
“Yep.” Paige sounded irritatingly cheerful. “But we haven’t got time for you to feel sorry for yourself. Up you get.”
Lily opened her eyes again so that she could properly glare at Paige. Paige beamed back at her. Her smile was blissful, almost serene, and Lily rolled her eyes as she forced herself to sit up. Once she was up it was easier to see Paige’s expression. Her blonde hair fell into its usual impeccable curls down her back and she’d applied her make up the same way she always did for school, with rosy cheeks and sweeping silver eyeliner, but her eyes looked glazed and her hand trembled when she reached out to help Lily stand up.
“You’ve already taken something,” Lily said.
“Of course she has,” another voice sounded from the door. “You didn’t think she just woke up like this?”
“Have you been raiding my supplies again, Iz?”
Isidore’s mouth curved into a smile and she slightly inclined her head. Half her face was obscured by wiry curls, so far untouched by her daily hair-relaxing charm, and she was wearing one of Robin’s crumpled dress shirts over bare, brown legs, but she still looked awake and fresh faced. She was holding a large red mug in one hand and a small glass vial of blue liquid in the other. With one swift movement, she emptied the vial into the mug and offered it to Lily.
“Energy inducer?” Lily asked as she accepted the mug.
“You tell me. You brewed it,” Iz shrugged.
“Think I added a bit of murtlap to this batch. Thank Salazar. I can’t hold off this headache much longer.” Lily held the mug up to her nose to breathe in the warmth from her drink. The scent of coffee was strongest, but she thought she could make out the freshness of murtlap underneath it. She blew on the drink and then held her breath so she could finish it as quickly as possible.
“That’s my girl,” Iz grinned.
“We’ve got thirty three minutes,” Paige said. “Go and get dressed, Izzy. I’ll do Lily’s make up.”
“My hero,” Lily sighed. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
Robin’s eyes were red and glazed and he looked like he was still half asleep when he took Lily’s hand to apparate her to King’s Cross. He shared Paige’s blonde curls and, like his sister, his skin was tanned and golden, but he still managed to look ill.
“You look like you might throw up,” Lily told him, wrinkling her nose.
“Feel like it too,” Robin said darkly. “Last night was a bit much.”
He spun, pulling her hand with him, and the world dissolved around them. When their surroundings reappeared, now placing them in the middle of Platform 9 ¾, Lily immediately let go.
“I should go back for Izzy and my sister,” Robin said. “You alright here?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Of course I am. I’m late to meet my family anyway.”
Her words were colder than she’d meant them to be and Robin took a step back. He was gentle, kinder than most of her friends, and sometimes Lily wasn’t sure how to be around him.
“Try not to throw up on Iz. She won’t appreciate it,” Lily smirked.
“I think she’d break up with me,” Robin agreed.
“Or just break you. She’s vicious.”
Robin laughed and disapparated.
Lily breathed in the air around her. It tingled with magic and she let herself sigh in anticipation. She’d enjoyed the summer but she couldn’t wait to get back to school. Hogwarts was like her kingdom and it didn’t feel right to have been away for so long.
“There she is. You missed breakfast,” a voice shouted across the crowd.
Lily followed the sound of the shout and then ran, flinging herself into her brother’s arms. Al laughed and swung her round in a circle.
“We overslept. Stayed up too late gossiping and painting our nails,” Lily told him.
Al put her down but kept her trapped in a hug while he looked at her, smiling eyes tinted with suspicion. Lily gave him her trademark innocent smile and he let go.
“Where are the girls?” Her mother said, peering around Lily. “It’s always nice to wave you three off at the beginning of the year.”
“Robin apparated me here. He just went back to get them,” Lily explained. “Is that my trunk?”
“Yep,” Ginny nodded. “I was all for leaving it at home in revenge for you missing breakfast but your father thought that would be cruel.”
“Thanks Daddy.” Lily stood on tiptoes to kiss her father’s cheek.
Harry grinned. “I’ve never fully embraced your mother’s passion for vengeance.”
Ginny smiled an evil smile and linked her arm through her husband’s. “I’m still working on him. One day he’ll understand the pure joy that can only come from taking petty revenge on your children.”
“We’ll try to come and visit for your first Quidditch Match,” Harry said. “Let us know when you have the date.”
“I’m not playing this year. I told you that,” Lily said, reaching for her trunk. “It’s too awkward having Lysander as captain.”
Al prodded her arm. “That’s so stupid. Loads of people have relationships with people on their teams. Liv and I were playing against each other and we still made that work.”
“Yeah, well, we’re not the same as you and Liv,” Lily said. “It was hard enough being on the team together last year and now he’s captain it’ll only be harder. I’m taking some time off playing.”
Ginny frowned. “Okay. Well, let us know if you change your mind.”
There was a moment of tense silence. This wasn’t the first time the Quidditch discussion had come up since Lily had announced her plan to leave the team.
“Speaking of Liv,” Al said, rummaging in his pocket. “She gave me this for you. She’s looking after Cadence today so couldn’t make it here.”
He withdrew a silver envelope and passed it to Lily. Her name was scrawled across the front, underlined with intricately drawn vines. Lily put it in her own pocket, saving it to read on the train.
“I thought you were going to bring Cadence to the station?”
Cadence was her brother James’s one-year-old daughter and stayed with her grandparents when her father was away with his Quidditch team.
“We wanted to,” Ginny said. “But she had other ideas and chose today to come down with mumblemumps. Olivia kindly offered to stay home with her so we could all see you before you leave. Who knows when you’ll deign to gift us with your charming company again. Especially after you abandoned us this morning.”
Harry glanced at his watch. “You should get going, Lils. Train leaves in three minutes.”
The platform around them was starting to empty as students pulled their trunks onto the train. Lily reached out to hug her parents. Harry whispered a ‘have fun’ into her ear, and Ginny held onto her for what felt like longer than usual. Lily gave them each a last kiss on the cheek and a little wave before Al helped her heave her trunk onto the train and into a luggage rack.
“It’ll be different, being there without you,” she told him.
Al ran a hand through his messy hair and grinned. “I know. I expect you’ll have a horrid time.”
Lily poked him. “Ssh. I mean it. It feels strange going back without you.”
“I know. It was strange for me last year when James left. But you’ll be alright. You always are.”
“Try not to miss me too much,” Lily smiled.
“I think I’ll manage.”
“Whatever. And don’t you dare go ring shopping without me. Wait until I’m home.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Try to stay out of trouble.”
Al ruffled her hair and jumped off the train as it started to pull away. Lily waved at her family, standing together on the platform, and then sighed and combed her fingers through her hair to smooth it back down. Anyone other than Al wouldn’t have got away with messing up the waves Paige had so carefully charmed.
Younger students were scrambling around the aisles of the train, scrabbling to find empty compartments and catch up with their friends. Lily walked straight past them, not even looking through the windows of the compartments and ignoring people that waved at her. She headed straight for the very back of the train and opened the back door, stepping out onto the little platform that opened out onto the world behind them.
She pulled her wand out of her sleeve and cast some quick protection spells to stop the roaring wind from reaching her, and then leaned on the rails and looked down at the train tracks beneath her. She always liked spending the journey out here. It made her feel free.
Hugo would probably join her soon but for now she had some time for herself. She took out the envelope Al had given her and carefully slid out the card.
It was a watercolour painting of Hogwarts, highlighted in pastel pinks and yellows to show the castle at dawn. The paint was layered in translucent smudges to build up the picture and hints of figures were almost visible in the windows. It was so obviously Olivia’s style and Lily smiled at the idea of Al’s girlfriend thinking to paint it for her.
She turned over the card to read Olivia’s message.
I’m super disappointed not to be able to come see you off for sixth year. Your niece thought it would be hilarious to throw her breakfast up all over everyone (mostly me) and now I’m stuck with her. I regret agreeing to be godmother. Children are disgusting.
I wanted to be there to give you lots of special advice for surviving bitchy Slytherins and sixth year gossip! You probably think you don’t need my wisdom but I wanted to impart it anyway. Especially since you ignored all my invaluable advice about the importance of staying on the Quidditch team and beating Gryffindor.
Have an absolutely wonderful term. Do things and think things because they make you feel happy and safe, not because they’re what your friends expect. Try not to get involved in too much drama. And please let me know if you ever need anything. I know you’ve got the snakes under control but sixth year can be tricky, especially in Slytherin, and I want to know you’re okay.
Always here if you need to talk. I won’t even tell your brother. Have fun!
Lots of love, Liv xx
Lily grinned and put the card back into its envelope. She found Liv easier to talk to than either of her brothers and it was nice having another Slytherin around. It would be different not having the older girl in the Common Room to chat to when everyone else was annoying her.
“Alright?” Hugo stepped out onto the platform, taking his usual spot beside Lily.
“Yeah. Sorry I missed family breakfast.” Lily tipped her head against her cousin’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar scent of his leather jacket. He was tall and angular and not remotely comfortable to lean against, but she liked being close to him.
“You were at Paige’s,” Hugo shrugged. “I didn’t expect you to make it.”
“Was it okay?”
“Not really. Dad made waffles.”
Lily bit her lip. “He should know better.”
“Yeah. Rosie cried.”
“She just finds it hard seeing you hurting.”
“I know.” Hugo took a packet of muggle cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and passed one to Lily. “I wish she’d leave it, though. Seeing her get upset doesn’t make anything easier.”
“Ready to get away from it all?”
“Yeah. Definitely happy it’s the end of the summer.”
Hugo lit his own cigarette and then held it out so Lily could use it to light hers. They both put their elbows up on the rail in front of them and took a moment to breathe in the smoke and watch their urban surroundings melt into countryside.
“Have you seen Lyra Goldstein yet?” Hugo said through the smoke.
“From Ravenclaw? Why? Should I have seen her?” Lily didn’t usually pay much attention to anyone outside her immediate circle and Robin and Hugo were the only Ravenclaws she regularly spent time with.
“She’s got a new haircut,” Hugo said. Something in his voice told Lily that he wasn’t giving her the whole story.
“And why should I care about Lyra Goldstein’s new haircut?” She blew a careful ring of smoke and watched it float up and away from her.
“She’s dyed it red,” Hugo smirked. “And it used to be all weird and curly, remember? She’s done something to it so it’s wavy and smooth-looking.”
“You’re very talented in some areas, Hugo, but I don’t think hairdressing would be one of them. ‘Weird and curly’ to ‘wavy and smooth-looking’. Honestly.”
Hugo shrugged. “Gets the point across, though, doesn’t it?”
Lily narrowed her eyes. “Yes. It does.”
She tucked her own thick red hair behind her ears, keeping one hand against her face to twirl a strand of hair around her little finger while she thought.
“Why is Lyra Goldstein trying to look like me?” She asked Hugo.
“Fucked if I know,” Hugo shrugged again. “Maybe you should invite her along tonight, see if you can find out?”
“Maybe,” Lily repeated. “I missed you last night at Paige’s.”
Hugo screwed up his face. “Didn’t feel like it. Always get left making inane conversation with Paige when you disappear off with Lysander. And she knows I’m not into sex but she consistently forgets as soon as she’s had any kind of potion.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that,” Lily said, wrinkling her nose. “I’ll speak to her about it again. You’ll come tonight, though?”
“Would you care if I didn’t?” He flicked ash from the end of his cigarette. His voice was nonchalant but he didn’t make eye contact with Lily, meaning his words potentially reflected genuine worry.
“Because you want my company? Or because you want me to make a trip to the greenhouses and bring things to smoke?”
Lily laughed. “Both. Obviously.”
Hugo raised an eyebrow. “Obviously?”
“Obviously,” Lily repeated. “We’re Lily and Hugo. I always want your company. And you also happen to be particularly good at sneaking around the greenhouses.”
The corners of Hugo’s lips curled up. “Sure. I’ll be there.”
“Fab. I have a good feeling about this year,” Lily said. She smiled at her cousin and squeezed his elbow. The bone was sharp and felt fragile in her hand.
Hugo nodded slowly. “Yeah. Me too.”
He gave Lily a bright smile, showing off the straight white teeth that his muggle grandparents had spent so long perfecting despite his ongoing effort to stain them with coffee and cigarettes.
Lily glanced away, admiring the sweeping fields that now surrounded them, but looked back at Hugo in time to see the way his smile had dropped as soon as he thought she wasn’t looking.
“Smile, Hugo,” she instructed, keeping her voice light. “We’re going home.”
This time, she thought his smile was probably genuine.
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