by Molly Raesly
The young, sallow-faced boy turned his head away reluctantly, as though he did not want to ignore her but knew he should. He pulled his knees to his chest, and his already short pants rose to nearly mid-calf. They were frayed at the bottom and looked like they could do with a good washing.
She frowned when she saw him cross his arms over his chest. Though there were still so many things she did not know about the boy from Spinner's End, she knew what that scowl on his face meant.
Regrettably, his clothes looked even shabbier than the last time she had seen him; muddy trousers with holes in the already patched knees and a tired, teal shirt that still looked more like a blouse her mum would wear than a top an eleven-year-old boy would have, regardless of what appeared to be several attempts to modify it. Despite the stifling August heat, he was still wearing his usual, long overcoat. She could see his hair was matted with sweat. The back looked jagged and there was a chunk missing from the left side.
She guessed that he had attempted to cut it himself. Her mum had once cut Petunia's hair, but that had only been because Lily had accidentally gotten gum stuck in it.
In her new trainers – her old ones had worn out from overuse – and freshly laundered outfit, she felt a bit guilty. Then she remembered that she was still angry with the boy so she lifted her hand self-importantly and continued striding towards him.
Lily stopped calling his name and sat down beside him. She reached out and plucked a few twigs off of the bush behind him and fiddled with the waxy, green leaves as she waited for him to say something. Her foot tapped the ground impatiently. Determined not to look him in the eye until he acknowledged her presence, she kept her gaze trained on the lone, distant chimney in the skyline. She knew that she could quell his stubbornness with her own.
His mouth twitched uncertainly.
With each passing second of hesitation and self-conscious silence, she wondered why she had even come at all. The past week had been horrendous. Last Tuesday, Lily had had to help her sister, who had been crying hysterically, hobble back to their house from the park. Her mum had thrown a fit and demanded to know what they had been doing in the park. Had they been playing with that boy again? Lily's mother always called him that boy.
Petunia, of course, had not helped the situation. Heaving from the fat tears falling down her face, Petunia had recounted the whole ordeal to their mum, who had promptly become extremely affronted and fretted the whole way to the doctor's office as she gave Lily a lecture on how she should have known better – seemingly forgetting that Lily was the younger of the two sisters. Then, her mother had explained the ordeal to her father at dinner; nothing was worse than the disappointment of a girl's father.
To be honest, Lily had been just as worried about Petunia as her mother had been. She, too, had wanted to slap that boy across the face for hurting her sister. Yet, after she had cooled down and Petunia's shoulder had been cared for, Lily found that she inexplicably still wanted to sit with the strange boy who whispered secrets to her about the unimaginable, the unattainable. She was certain that he could not be all bad. Beneath the awful clothes and unfortunate haircut, perhaps he had the potential to be someone important to her.
"I don't know what you're doing here," that boy muttered finally, refusing to look directly at her and her green eyes. "I already told you I was sorry. I don't want to listen to you yell at me again."
"I wasn't going to yell." Of course, the last time she had seen him, that was all she had done.
"Then why did you even bother coming? Why aren't you at home with your sister?" The last word he spat like it was a foul curse word.
Her jaw flexed, and she brushed a piece of unruly hair out of her eyes. She did not need to be lectured by this boy who barely knew anything about her. Perhaps she had been wrong in thinking that he deserved to be given a second chance. "Fine. I'll go," she said coolly.
As soon as she braced her hands against the sidewalk to rise to her feet, the boy turned to face her. His face was repentant; his eyes were beseeching. He flapped his arms wildly, looking comically like a bat in his overlarge coat.
She almost smiled.
"Wait! Lily, I didn't mean it. Please…don't. I'm sorry."
Lily picked her twig back up to avoid looking at the sullen face and greasy hair of the boy. She decided to test his sincerity.
"Tuney's shoulder is okay."
"Oh, that's good. I mean, I'm glad she's all right." He seemed to be choosing his words carefully as not to upset her.
"Well, her shoulder is okay. I didn't say Tuney is. She's really angry with me."
It was true. Petunia had partly blamed Lily for what had happened. Lily hoped she could fix it, though. She had hidden a brand new box of crayons, tied up with purple string, under her bed and had plans to give it to Petunia later that day as a peace offering. Petunia was fantastic at coloring. Her pictures were always done so meticulously while Lily could never seem to stay exactly in the lines. Lily hoped that by giving Petunia something she was good at, Petunia would stop resenting Lily for her newfound abilities.
Lily wished everything could be simpler. She wished she had never seen that boy emerge out of the bushes, and he had never told her the truth about what she was. Was she still human? Was she still Lily?
Of course she was. She had been born this way. No one could be born against nature, could they? It would all have been easier to stomach if Petunia was a witch, too.
Meanwhile, the boy's face colored indignantly as his hands balled up into fists at his side. "But, Lily, you didn't do anything wrong! I was the one – "
"Who attacked her with a tree branch?" Lily finished for him crossly. She rose to her feet and towered over him with her hands placed defiantly on her narrow hips. His face fell in remorse, but she refused to let that affect her. "Well, isn't that what you did, Severus?"
The girl scoffed and rolled her eyes. "I'm not dense."
Severus clambered to his feet and tried to adjust his coat to hide his clothes. "Of course you're not. Look, I said I was sorry. Sometimes magic is very hard to control for wizards our age. I shouldn't have let it get the best of me. I really am sorry. You can tell her."
Lily sighed and dropped her hands to her sides. "I would, but she's shut herself up in her room since Tuesday. She won't talk to me." She frowned as she remembered the sounds of slamming doors and harried ranting, the sight of tears in her older sister's eyes while the doctor examined her bruised right shoulder, and the threat from her mother that she should not see that boy again if this was how he was going to treat his friends.
Severus raised his arm, and for a brief moment, Lily thought he might pat her on the shoulder or take her hand. While she contemplated what it would be like for a boy – even one who dressed so horribly and reacted so badly – to do that, he seemed to rethink his actions and stuffed his hand deep into the pocket of his coat. "So does that mean you're not talking to me?"
His head, which had sagged heavy with anxiety, appeared to buoy with the news. "So you are, then?"
"Look, Sev, I know you didn't mean it, but Tuney's my sister, okay? I need you to promise that you won't ever do anything bad or be mean to her again."
"But, Lily!" Severus exclaimed in bewilderment. "She's always the one who's mean to you. I don't understand why you put up with her."
"She's my sister."
"But == "
"Are you going to promise or not, Severus? Because if you don't, we can't be friends anymore."
Lily's commanding demeanor softened, and she smiled genially. The tips of Severus's mouth curled up in automatic response.
"Good," she remarked matter-of-factly, "because I was really hoping we could still be friends. You're the only other wizard I know."
Laughing a bit at her own frankness, Lily saw him nod stiffly. She rolled her eyes and asked herself again why he was always behaving so strangely. She walked between the chalk hopscotch court, the thin aluminum slide that always made a wondrous roaring sound when someone slid down it quickly enough, and reached the swingset.
Severus followed her.
Gracefully, she slid onto the swing and began propelling herself through the air. She ignored the way Severus stared at her and closed her eyes as she felt the rush of the air beneath her each time she swooped up and down.
"I love the swings," she declared as the wind played with the length of her long, auburn hair. "They're my favorite part of the playground." When they were younger, Lily and Petunia would go on the swings for hours. Petunia liked to swing close to the ground, but Lily loved to go as high as she could go. Then, when she couldn't go any higher, she would jump. Petunia hated that because she said it made her too nervous. Lily thought it was fun.
Her nose crinkled in confusion. "How?"
"It just seems like you would," he stammered quickly as he looked away and fell into the swing beside hers. "I like the swings too," Severus added.
"I have this dream where I swing so high that I reach another world – a fantasy world where only the most amazing things happen. That's what I would wish for."
Severus watched the passion in her green eyes greedily. "You know, you don't have to wish. Hogwarts is going to be like that. Everything magical will happen for you and me, Lily."
He nodded vigorously. "Yeah, you just wait and see."
"What do you think it will be like? Magic? Do you think the professors will be mean? Do you think I'll fall behind and never catch up?" asked Lily, voicing fears that had been plaguing her mind with an ever-increasing frequency as the red lines crossing off days on her calendar inched closer to the box for September 1st.
Severus shrugged as his feet trudged along the dirt. "I'm sure you'll be fine."
Lily nodded and told him about the textbooks she had already read through. They were nothing like the standard, printed ones she had about arithmetic or science. Her new textbooks were practically medieval, but she read them eagerly. She wanted to be prepared for class and found every new facet of wizarding life intriguing from standard cauldron sizes to cauldron cakes. "And when I was flipping through this one book," she added as she proceeded to tell him about her findings, "I saw something about ghosts. Are ghosts actually real? Have you seen one before?"
"But I'm sure we will," Severus added with more enthusiasm when Lily's face fell.
She nodded. "Yes, I'm sure too." She paused and then remembered a detail from an earlier conversation. "What about your mum? Has she seen one?" Lily looked over to see that Severus had frozen on his swing. She cleared her throat, and he blanched.
"Oh, er, I dunno. I don't really talk about that with her."
Lily stopped swinging and allowed her trainers to drag against the warm grass. The sun was still beating down, and she had thoughts of walking home and sipping a long, refreshing glass of lemonade outside on her porch in the shade while waiting for her father to come home for work at the office. Sometimes, on warm evenings after dinner, he would sit out on the porch with her and sing her grandfather's old war songs and tell her his childhood stories; she liked the one about him stealing a bunch of pears from his neighbor's house the best.
But these indulgences only seemed possible in the summer, and soon, summer would be the only time left. It was so odd to think that from now on she would be away from her family for the vast majority of the year. What would happen during the rest of term? Who would sneak into Petunia's bed and sing "Happy Birthday" to her exactly at midnight? Who would dry the dishes after her mum washed them while Petunia swept the floor? Who would go fetch the morning paper for her father and then steal the comics before he got the chance to read them?
Suddenly, the summer air felt stifling.
"Aren't you warm?" she asked Severus, eyeing his long coat. "You must be boiling."
"I'm fine," he answered tersely.
"Are you sure? Wouldn't you want to take your coat off?"
"I said I was fine."
Lily sighed. "All right then. Hey, we're allowed to have holidays at Hogwarts, right? They still celebrate Christmas? We can go home?"
Severus paused momentarily at the question. "Yes. Why?"
Feigning indifference, Lily shrugged with a casual smile. "I just wanted to make sure that I could go home for Christmas. Tuney and I always decorate the tree together. Every year, Dad puts each of us on his shoulders, and we put the angel on top while Mum takes our picture. I'd just hate to miss it. Not that I can really think about winter in this heat. Goodness, it's warm today." She paused and fanned herself with her fingers before pressing the issue. "Don't you want to come home?"
Lily pivoted in her swing to look at Severus with sympathy. "Are your parents still fighting? You can tell me."
Severus looked at his shoes and then at her. "Don't worry about it, Lily."
"Well, I do." She felt pity for the boy, who seemed so lonely, so she added, "you're my friend. It's my job to worry about you."
Severus grinned. "So I guess I'll be seeing you a lot over the school year then."
"Please. You're going to be sick of me!" Lily replied with a laugh. "I'll probably be a huge pest and annoy you with all my silly questions. I won't have a clue what anything is." Lily did not notice the leer touch Severus's lips because she frantically sprang off her swing as she noticed the slight shadows beginning to form around the playground. "Bugger! What time is it?"
"A quarter to six."
"I promised Mum I'd be home fifteen minutes ago! She told me I had to clean my room before dinner because I've been letting it get really messy. I've been too busy trying to get Tuney's attention. I better go."
"Oh, okay. I guess I'll see you later then."
Lily tucked her hair behind her ear. She knew she had to leave, but she also wanted to continue to discuss her future life. "What are you doing Thursday? I can meet you here."
"Nothing. I'm not doing anything," he stammered quickly.
"Great!" Lily replied with a bright smile. "We can play then. I'll see if Tuney wants to come too."
Lily did not see the way Severus scowled at the latter part of her offer because she was scampering away from the playground and down the street. Her yellow trainers smacked against the pavement as she turned to wave goodbye. "Bye, Sev!"
Severus returned her wave. "Good bye, Lily."