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Chapter 6 : Mark Our Place
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The morning light was pink over the city where Phil had grown up. Already the town was buzzing and Phil smiled as he stepped out to fetch the milk. He had missed this terribly. He had never had very strong feelings about Manchester until he had left, and now he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to leave again. Or maybe he just didn't want to go back to France. Perhaps both were true.
"Phillip! Hurry with the milk!" his mother cried from inside. He grabbed the case of milk from the doorstep and hurried back inside.
He entered their small home and made the short trip back into the kitchen, where his mother was preparing breakfast. Proper breakfast. There was food at the front, solid food, if a bit bland, and there was always enough of it, but it wasn't food like this. Eggs the way is mother made them, and sausage, even! Even the smell was wonderful.
"Is it almost done?" he asked. "I'm starving."
"Just a bit more, dear," she said. "Go in and read the paper. I'll bring it to you."
"You don't have to do that," he said.
"Aren't you here to get some rest?"
"Alright," he said.
He brought the paper with him to the table where he had shared so many meals with his mother. He wondered if she still ate here now, now that she was alone. He hoped she didn't. It seemed rather sad.
He sat in the same seat he always had, and opened his paper. He scanned through, not really reading anything. It was all news of the war. He knew enough of that first hand. He looked instead for literally anything else. There was very little. He gave up, and put the paper aside. No sooner than that did his mother come, bringing him a tray of food and a cup of tea.
"Thank you, Mum," he said.
"You're very welcome," she said, still smiling at him.
She returned to the kitchen to bring her own plate, and sat down beside him. He waited for her to arrive and sit before he began to tuck in. She didn't touch anything. "Do you have any plans while you're here?" she asked.
"Not particularly," he said. "I think I'll head out to tend the garden in a day or two. Do you have any thing else that needs to be done while I'm here?"
"No," she said. "Don't put any thoughts of working into your head. You're here to rest."
"But Mum," he said.
"Don't push it, Phil."
"I'll do it before I leave," he told her. "When I'm definitely healed."
"How long are you here for?" she asked.
"Two weeks," he responded. "That's plenty of time for rest and also for fixing the shutter."
"I didn't think you'd notice," she admitted. "But you always do."
"I'll get to it before I leave, I promise."
"You really don't have to."
"No, I do," he said. "Of course I do."
His mother argued no more about it.
"Do you have any plans for today?" she asked.
"Not particularly. I think I might read a bit, a friend recommended a book..."
"Very well then," she said. "I have quite a bit of work to get done, unfortunately."
"It's not a problem, Mum."
"I wish I could spend more time with you," she said.
"I'll probably just end up reading and sleeping," he said. "It's no trouble at all, really."
“As long as you’re sure,” she said.
“It’s no trouble at all, Mum. Though if you’re headed into town, I wonder if you’d mind posting a letter for me?”
“Mail’s here!” someone called, as the first owls began to sweep through the windows.
Lily prepared to catch her copy of The Prophet, as she wasn’t expecting anything else. Her letter from Dorcas had been answered a while ago, and she had been a bit overwhelmed with O.W.L.s to respond to it yet. It was much to her surprise then when she caught the paper and a letter addressed to her in familiar hand writing fell with it.
She put the paper aside, and opened the letter.
I assume you’re rather busy right now, preparing for your exams. I certainly remember those days, though not with much fondness. Good luck with them, they are very important, but I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully. You’re a very intelligent young woman, Lily.
I suppose it might be a bit early to ask, but do you think you’ll be in London after school lets out? I wonder if you’d like to meet with me again? There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to very much. Let me know if this is a possibility, and we can make some further plans.
P.S. If I remember correctly, the Gryffindor vs Ravenclaw match is rapidly approaching! I do hope you and your house are ready to lose tragically. Will you write me to me and tell me the outcome? I was a beater for the team back in my day, you know. I’m always interested in it.
Lily smiled broadly as she set the letter down. Mary hadn't invited her to stay in London again, but perhaps her parents would allow her to go off to Diagon Alley while they shopped or something. They wouldn't mind terribly, she was sure. Her mother loved London, and her father could probably find a pub or something to sit in if he got too tired of it. Yes, she was sure she could make it work. She would write to her parents as soon as she got the chance.
She put the letter into her school bag, and picked up the copy of The Daily Prophet. Opening the paper generally came with a sense of dread these days, but she couldn't quite bring herself to feel down as she began to scan the front page. The headline, for once, did not make her breath hitch, and none of the stories listed on the side of the page seemed to be bad news, either. She smiled. There hadn't been good news in ages. The paper didn't exactly spew good news, but it wasn't bad news, and that was something at least. No news was good news, they said. For the most part, Lily thought that was rubbish, but today she thought she might begin to believe it.
After scanning the front page, she turned a few pages to where she knew Dorcas's article would be. It was Tuesday and her column would be printed in the politics section. That page was always a dangerous location, but it was worth the risk to see what Dorcas had to say. Amidst the anti-Muggle-born propaganda and the various political cartoons was a small section dedicated to Dorcas Meadowes.
"Teaching the Young," the title read. Lily smiled again, and continued to read. "I've been writing for The Prophet for a few years now, and I am so very grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. I am able to do what I love and get paid for it, for one. It allows me to travel and research and stay informed on the events in our community, and share that information with hundreds of others. It also allows me the opportunity to meet people whose paths I would never have crossed otherwise. This happens in a surprisingly large number of ways. There are interviews, of course, and the people I meet in my travels for the paper, and those I meet while covering various events and attending functions for the event. Then there are those who contact me because of my connection to the paper. The reactions of these people are as varied as they are; many are indifferent, some are rather nasty, and occasionally people are happy to meet me. The majority fall into the former categories-- most people are either indifferent toward me, or else dislike me vehemently. I've become rather used to it, actually. So it really comes as a shock that occasionally I receive letters from people who actually like me.
“These types of letters are rather few and far between, and almost always come from younger people. Almost, but not exclusively, young women. I feel extraordinarily honored by this. These young people write to me, telling me how much my articles mean to them, how interesting they find them, how they've had perspectives changed because of my writing. It's an unbelievable feeling.
“It is so very important for the young people today to learn about what's going on. The young people of our community are quite sheltered at Hogwarts, and while, to an extent, this is a good thing, it does nobody any favors to completely hide the truth of the world from them. Especially as the students age and prepare themselves to enter the world. It's important for students to be informed of the happenings of our world, and it's important for students to learn the attitudes and behaviors that are important. If one comes from a prejudiced family, or if his or her family has never discussed differences, how can we expect him or her to behave any differently? Prejudice is learned, and it is important for us to help students unlearn it. This has been a goal of mine since I left Hogwarts, and it remains one to this day. I'm proud to say that I have letters from several students that announce I have changed their perspective on things, that they've realized their privilege and are going to work harder try to combat it. I hold these letters dear, almost as dear as the letters I receive thanking me for providing these perspectives to others. Both are beautiful.
“Our young people are the future of our world. They are the ones who will continue to fight for the justices we fail to provide them, and we must take the quest to provide a generation of tolerance seriously.”
Lily sighed. She had begun the article thinking Dorcas may have written about her, but of course, if that was the case, she would have mentioned it in the letter. Lily had no doubt that she was one of the young women Dorcas had received letters from, but she certainly fell into the thanking category, rather than the changing perspectives one. Her own beliefs had always aligned with Dorcas's. How could they not? Dorcas wrote in favor of her rights, and Lily had always believed that the sentiment against her rights were wrong. She had to believe that in order to make it anywhere in this world she was living in. That belief-- that it didn't matter she was Muggle-born-- is what held her afloat in the ocean of hatred that surrounded her. She'd drown if she didn't have it.
She wondered who Dorcas was referring to, then. Lily didn't know anyone else who even read Dorcas's articles, let alone devoted enough attention to them to write Dorcas a letter. Well, she knew that Severus read the articles, but he was fairly indifferent to them, and read them mostly because he knew that Lily would invariably bring it up later.
"Interesting article, Lily?" Mary asked in between bites of toast.
"Yes," she said. "It's about teaching us young ones what is happening in the world and tolerance and stuff."
"What are they supposed to be teaching us?"
"I think about the prejudices we're going to face in the real world or something."
"Does she think we don't know about those?" Mary asked. "It seems a bit silly. Like kids who have awful parents don't turn out awful themselves."
"She talks a bit about that, but you're right, she does go on like we don't know what we're facing."
"Pity," she said. "But Dorcas isn't Muggle-born, is she?" Lily shook her head. "So not surprising, really."
"I suppose not. She sent me a letter today. Maybe I'll give her some thoughts when I respond."
"Did she ask to meet you again?" Mary said.
"Will you come stay with me in London again, then?" Mary asked. "We had such fun last time."
Lily smiled. "I'll ask my parents, but I'd love to. Your mother doesn't mind, does she?"
"Nah, she likes having people in the house," she said. "She always wanted lots of children, but she got stuck with just me."
"Lucky woman," Lily responded. "To have a daughter such as yourself."
"She might count herself more so if I brought friends round more often."
"Why don't you?"
"Who wants to stay with Muggles? Just you, really."
"And she probably doesn't like you off staying with other people, does she?"
"She just misses me, is all."
"How sweet of you to stay at home with your doting mother while you could be off with friends all summer."
"I know. I'm such a martyr."
"It's almost like you're really suffering and that you don't get spoiled rotten when you're home."
"Well, how am I supposed to help it if my mother misses me so much she decides to spend outrageous sums of money on me when I come home? I have nothing to do with that."
Lily chuckled. "I suppose it could be worse."
"I could be as bad as Potter, you mean?"
"I said no such thing."
"You thought it, though. Fortunately, my parents are not that rich."
"It's kind of disgusting how much money he has, isn't it?"
"Really stomach churning."
"What kind of house do you think they live in?"
"Some kind of ridiculous manor, probably."
"Gods, I'll bet they have an army of house elves too, and about twelve bedrooms that never get used."
"Christ, they are filthy rich."
"But, you know, Lily, I think you could get in on that fortune if you wanted."
"What?" Lily said.
"I'm just saying, James is a very generous friend, and I'm sure he'd be even more generous as a boyfriend."
A blush began to creep into Lily's cheeks. "Well too bad he's not my boyfriend, isn't it?"
"Well yeah, but he could be."
"You mean you don't know?"
"Am I in a relationship I don't know about?"
"What are you on about?"
"Well isn't it obvious?"
"He totally fancies you."
"He does not."
"No, he definitely does."
"What would possibly give you that idea? The general disdain he shows my best friend? That's not a very good way to tell a bird you fancy her."
Mary laughed. "You're really that oblivious, aren't you?"
"I don't think I am," Lily said. "I think you're being ridiculous."
"Nah," Mary said. "I'm right, and you know I'm right, you just don't want to admit it."
"What're you right about?" James himself asked as he approached the girls. "Do you mind if I sit with you? My mates have all ditched me it seems."
"Not at all," Mary said. "I was just leaving, but Lily's still eating."
"Mary!" She called after her friend, who had bolted faster than Lily could respond.
"Gosh, Evans, it's almost like you don't want me to sit here with you," James said as he took the seat next to her.
"No, not at all," Lily said. "Just, Mary's acting a bit odd today."
"Oh," James said. "So you really don't mind?"
"No," Lily said. "Not at all. How are you?"
"Fine," he said, taking a piece of toast and digging into the eggs and bacon. "You?"
"I'm very well," she said. "It's been a good day."
"That pleased to see me, are you?"
Lily chuckled, "Not so much."
"Care to elaborate then?"
"Got a nice letter from a friend, and the news was fairly uplifting today."
"And that makes it a good day?"
"Well that's a bit rubbish."
"It is, is it?"
"Yes. A bit of correspondence and news which I'm guessing was just not bad, does not a good day make."
"Alright then, what do good days entail, oh wise one?"
"Adventure. Laughing. Some sort of prank, probably. Alcohol. And a good story to tell at the end of it."
"That sounds more like a great day," she said.
"Nah, a great day involves way more than that."
"Funnily enough, I don't think I want to know then."
"Your default day must be set very high, then, if it takes that much for you to have a good one."
"That doesn't make every other day bad," he said. "Just neutral."
"Right, well, my neutral days involve no correspondence and rather bad news, so I'd have to say that this was a great upturn in events."
"Very well. Who's the letter from, may I ask?"
He smiled. "She's just now responding? Bit slow isn't she?"
"No, she's written another, separate letter."
"Must be important."
"Not particularly, though I am rather eager to respond."
"Do you need to borrow Hercules again?"
"I'm sure I can do without."
"Nonsense. He lives to help. I insist."
"Well if you insist."
"I'll let you know when I'm ready to send it off."
"You know where to find me."
"I know where to find you, so it'll work out eventually."
"That's a bit creepy, Potter."
"Maybe you're just predictable, and I'm a very observant person."
"Just a tad."
"I suppose there are worst things I could be."
"Oi, Prongs!" Sirius called from the end of the Entrance Hall. "Got a bit of an early start this morning, did you?"
The group of boys walked down the hall and took seats around James, chattering a bit on their way.
Lily took this as her cue to leave.
"You don't have to go," James said. "They're not pushing you out. They could really do with the company of someone new."
"Just saying, you're welcome to stay."
"I've really got to be off, anyway," she said. "I do have letters to write, you'll remember."
"Right. I'll find you, eh?"
"I'm sure you will."
Lily turned and made her way out of the Great Hall, feeling a single set of eyes on her as she retreated. She could see it now. Mary had been right. Well, probably. He certainly acted differently around her than most other people, and she couldn't think of another reason why he would. So he fancied her. Oh.
Lily leaned up against the wall, and sighed.
Jack didn't think he could stand if not for the wall holding him up.
He wasn't sure he could breathe, except that his lungs stubbornly kept refilling themselves.
He didn't know if he could blink. He didn't think he had since he had been on the beach here.
How did he get to the beach? He remembered running and shooting and screaming and fear like he had never known. And really, if he thought of it, he could see it with complete and utter clarity, only he didn't want to see it. Never again.
He needed a fucking drink. He hadn't understood when adults had said that to him before. Needed a drink. Drinking was fun, was a great way to pass time, but he had never felt like he needed it until now. He could not face another minute of his life while sober.
And the drive allowed him to stand without support, and allowed him to walk through the mass of butchered men. They all looked as haggard as he felt. They wandered around and Jack wondered if they knew where they were going or if they were just walking to have something to do.
There were stores and shops and bars in the town, and they all looked worse for wear. The town had suffered just as the men had. Had Dunkirk once thrived? He thought maybe he had heard of it, had had a friend of a friend who vacationed here once upon a time. Now it looked just like a vacation home for the devil. Certainly no one else would ever choose to come here. The worst of it was he wasn't sure that any of the shops had anything in them. They had been looted already, surely. He entered one, and found the windows broken and the shelves empty. Shit.
The next one was the same.
He found a bar on the corner and found that men had occupied it and were sitting and talking. How could they still talk? Some of them laughed. Some were singing. He wasn't sure how any of those things were still possible. He fought through the crowd of men, and peered over the bar. No one stood there, so he pushed behind it himself and searched for whiskey or rum or beer or literally anything that could possibly contain alcohol. A bottle of wine hid in a dusty corner, and while he had never much cared for wine of any kind, he pulled it from the shelf and tried to uncork it. He had no corkscrew, and he couldn't reach the cork with his fingers, so he pulled out his pocket knife and dug it into the cork. He tried to pull it out, but instead only managed to push the cork further into the bottle. It fell with a plop into the wine. He hadn't intended this, but he couldn't say he minded much. The purpose had been served. He brought the bottle to his lips and took a hesitant sip. It was bitter and dry and he didn't know a liquid could be dry until that moment, but it was.
He recoiled at the taste, bringing his mouth off the bottle, taking a deep breath to clear the taste out of his mouth, then put the bottle back to his lips and took another drink. Several of the men laughed at him, but he ignored them. Somewhere in the crowd a series of yells rose up and then Jack saw a waving motion in the crowd which he recognized as several men pushing each other. There were several more yells and a punch was thrown and Jack took this as a cue to leave. He pushed his way through the crowd and out the door. He took a deep breath of the air. Wasn't the beach supposed to smell like the sea? It didn't. He smelled sulfur and smoke and rotting flesh. There were ships of some sort lodged into the sand, and he wasn't sure why. There were other ships coming, he knew. They were supposed to be coming. Coming to take them away, take them back home. They hadn't made it yet. Gunshots were sounding somewhere and he saw horses hit the ground in time with them.
"Evans!" a voice called. He turned around in a circle, hoping that it was a call for him. He hadn't seen anyone he knew since he arrived at the beach. He didn't know if his troop was killed or if he had just missed them. The spin made him dizzy, and he noticed then the warm tingling sensation that meant the wine was finally starting to work. He didn’t see anyone, so he took another swig of the wine and began walking.
He turned a corner. He felt his pocket for fags, but found none. His lighter had gone, too.
"Evans!" He heard the same voice call, and he wished that whoever was shouting would find who they were looking for already. "Jack! Jack Evans!"
He followed the voice and began to scan the horizon for potential perpetrators. He found a rather ragged looking soldier coming toward him, but he couldn't see his face. His helmet was still on, and shadowed over his face. He couldn't tell his voice based on the shouts.
"That's me," Jack said. "In the flesh."
The soldier continued walking and as he got closer, made to remove his helmet. Jack thought for a moment it might be a ghost. That the man would remove his helmet, and Jack would see the bloody brains of one of his comrades, blown to bits by a shell. He held his breath. The helmet came off, but instead of the wretched remains of a corpse, he saw the haggard, but familiar, face. "Rivers! I thought you were dead!"
"Aye, so did I," Rivers said. "But it'll take more than a couple Krauts to kill me, I reckon."
Jack forgot for a moment that he did not like Rivers, and instead welcomed the familiar sight of his white blond hair and blue eyes. "What happened?" Jack asked. "We were getting shot at one second and then we were marching to Dunkirk and no one knew where you were."
"I got stuck a bit behind is all. Made it to the battle and everything."
"Quite a battle, wasn't it?"
"I'd say so," Rivers said. "It's a bloody miracle we aren't all dead."
"Seems like it."
"Was it everything you hoped for, your first real battle?" Paddy asked.
Jack didn't answer.
"Did you kill a lot of Krauts?"
Jack didn't answer.
"Yeah," Rivers said. "Me too."
"I think everyone in our platoon is dead," Jack said in response. "I've not seen anyone since we started the fighting."
"They're not dead," River said. "They’re over this way. You just got lost."
"And they sent you looking for me?"
"They didn't send nobody. They just assumed the worst."
“Come on then,” Rivers gestured to him. “Let’s go.”
Lily smiled broadly as she stepped into the warm, fresh air. She lifted her arms to the sky, giggling, and spun in a few circles very quickly.
The group of girls giggled at their friend.
“Excited, Lily?” Mary called.
“Yes!” Lily called back. The girls giggled again.
“It is nice to be out in the fresh air after sitting in that stuffy exam,” Blanche Carlisle said, loosening the tie around her neck.
“Not that it helps any,” Rita Green said. “It’s sweltering!”
“Well that’s why we’re going to the lake, of course,” Muffy Phelps said.
“Such a pity we can’t go swimming,” Lily said, finally letting the girls catch up to them.
“I don’t think the Giant Squid would like it much,” Blanche laughed.
“You don’t? I think he’s a bit lonely,” Rita said.
“He won’t be lonely,” Muffy corrected. “He’s got all sorts of creatures there to keep him company!”
“Oh, they can’t be very friendly, though,” Lily said. “All the merpeople and grindylows and what not. They’re not very nice.”
“How do you know they’re not nice to the squid though?” Mary asked.
“I suppose I don’t,” Lily conceded.
“Poor old squid,” Rita said. “All alone in the lake.”
“Would you like to keep him company, Rita?” Blanche asked. “I sure don’t fancy it.”
“Nor I,” Muffy said.
“I suppose he needs company too, though,” Mary added.
“I’ll bet he hasn’t had a shag in ages.”
The girls burst into loud laughter, and proceeded to make their way to the lake, discussing how awful it would be to endure such a thing. The arrived at the lake and found a spot along its shore to sit for a while. They all removed their socks and shoes, and hesitantly began to dip their feet in the water.
Lily’s big toe was submerged, and then immediately drawn out of the icy water.
“What were you expecting?” Muffy asked.
“Well it’s so bloody hot outside,” Lily said. “I thought it might have affected the water just a little.”
“Oh it’s better this way, though!” Blanche said. “I like the chill.”
“It does feel nice,” Lily said, finally sinking her feet all the way into the water.
The girls fell silent for a few moments, comfortable with each other, and enjoying the relief of the cool water.
“So, how do you think the exam went?” Rita finally asked.
“Oh I suppose I did decent enough,” Lily said.
“What are you talking about, Lily?” Mary reprimanded. “You’re fantastic at Defense, surely you did spectacularly.”
“Really, you know more spells than all of us,” Blanche said. “You probably got an Outstanding.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “I ran out of time on the last few questions, and I’m not sure if I answered them well enough.”
“How much did you write?”
“Not terribly much, I just got a bit distracted.”
“Happens to the best of us.”
“Like Muffy there?” Lily asked, drawing her friend’s attention. “What’s so interesting?”
Muffy snapped back to Lily, “N-nothing, really, just a bit of a ruckus over there,” she said.
Mary had looked over in the direction of Muffy’s attention, and before she could help herself, whispered, “Oh, no.”
“What is it?” Lily said, turning in that direction as well.
“Oh,” she said. “For God’s sake.”
“I’m supposed to be resting, Mum. Shouldn’t I be able to sleep in at least a little?”
“Not on Sunday. Now get up!”
He rolled over again and yawned. “Alright, alright I’m getting up.”
“Good. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“I hope it’s food.”
“It’s not,” she said.
“What is it, then?”
“Clothes,” she said. “I’ve made you a new suit.”
He rose from the bed and rubbed his eyes. “Thanks, Mum.”
“Your uniform’s clean, but it still needs a bit of mending.”
“Are you calling my sewing subpar?”
“It’s fine for temporary use,” she said. “But why wouldn’t I mend it completely if I can?”
“It’ll just get mucked up again anyway.”
“But it might take a little longer for it to muck this way.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now get dressed. I’ll have some breakfast on the table for you in twenty minutes.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll see you in a few.”
She left the room and shut the door soundly behind her. Phil rose completely from the bed and walked over to his nightstand, where his mother had brought him a pitcher and a basin to wash in. He was grateful that the water was still warm as he splashed a bit of it on his face. He scrubbed his face gently, examined his chin and decided that he really should shave before church. His good shaving kit was on the table next to the basin, and he took great care to remove the hair from his face.
When he had finished he leaned in close to the mirror and lifted the hair that had fallen onto his forehead. There was a small cut there that he was glad to see was mostly healed now. There had been a stitch or two when he had awoken in the field hospital, but they were removed before he left. There had been far more in the back of his head. Those had been removed as well, but that spot was far sorer. He took care to avoid it as he combed his hair in the mirror.
The new suit his mother had made was folded on a chair in the corner. It was a dark brown tweed, and there was a new shirt and tie as well. The tie was green, of course, as his mother was quite fond of him in green. It brought out the color in his eyes, she said. Everyone said that.
He dressed himself carefully, trying to avoid looking at the red marks that lined his body from the lice, and the scratches and scars and bruises that came from life in the trenches. He didn’t need reminding of it. He was grateful when the skin was covered.
“Phillip!” his mother hollered from the kitchen. “Hurry and come eat or we’ll be late!”
“I’m coming!” Jack yelled as he ran through the crowd of soldiers. He stayed as close as he could to Jeremiah, but he was a quick one, and Jack was tired. He stayed close enough to fit through the gaps between soldiers that Johns had created before they moved back, but not quite fast enough to miss the looks and shouts of anger thrown at them. After the second shout of “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he ran a little bit faster.
When they had finally cleared the crowd of men and reached the ocean, Jeremiah stopped short, and Jack crashed into his back. Neither of them seemed to care, because there on the horizon they saw exactly what they had been waiting for. What all of the men they had run through were waiting for.
“There they are Jack,” Johns said. “They’re gonna take us home.”
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