When the owls came swooping into the Great Hall, Lily did not think much of the fact that one was carrying a letter from her parents. They often wrote her, so it was not out of the unusual. However, when she opened the letter, the contents were far from the usual missives they sent, telling her of neighborhood events and family happenings.
She dropped the letter as though it was a Howler and a sob escaped her. Two tables over, the ears of a Slytherin boy picked up at the sound.
"Lily?" He jumped up and ran to the other table, despite the stares he got from the members of his own house.
He saw her crying and lightly touched her back. He knew her parents had been feeling ill of late, but he had thought it was only a slight flue, nothing serious, and certainly nothing unexpected given that it was the winter season. He felt a sudden stab of worry that something had happened to them, as they were some of the few adults back home who treated him with any kindness.
"Lily, what's the matter?"
"Yeah, Lily, what is it?" Mary asked, the Gryffindor girls around her pressing close.
"It's my sister Petunia. She… she's…" She lifted up the letter to Severus. "She's gone."
"Gone?" He frowned. "What do you mean, gone?"
Her weeping had started in earnest, however, so he read the letter instead while Mary wrapped her arms around her.
I am not sure how to tell you this, but you must know. Last night, Petunia left her bed and never came home. We do not know where she is, if she ran away or was kidnapped. The police have come and are looking into it. So far they tracked her footsteps, and potentially those of another person, to that old playground you used to go to, but the steps suddenly vanished. There are no other leads for now but we will let you know the very moment we hear something. Stay safe. And if you think of anything that might help find her, please let us know.
Mum and Dad
Severus looked up at Lily, red eyed and sobbing.
"I did this to her," she whispered. "I drove her away."
"Lily, don't think that!" He admonished.
"You're the kindest witch I know!" Remus Lupin added from across the table.
"He's right!" Mary agreed.
Lily stood. "I… I need to be alone."
She ran from the Great Hall, leaving the other students to stare after her. McGonagall swept over.
"What has happened to Ms. Evans?" She looked at them sharply.
"It's her sister." Severus held out the letter and McGonagall's breath drew in sharply when she read it.
"I see." Her eyes pierced Severus. "Do you know where in the castle our Ms. Evans may have gone?"
He thought for a moment. "Probably the library. Nobody would be there this time of morning. If she wants to be alone, it would provide solitude."
"Very well then."
She swept out of the hall, leaving the Gryffindor table to fall into hushed, rapid discussion about what had just happened. Severus retreated to his own table, though he had little taste for breakfast left. He was unenthusiastically scraping the leftover bits of oatmeal out of the bowl when McGonagall returned and approached him.
"She is asking for you."
He stood and followed without question to the office of the headmaster. Lily was curled up in a chair in front of Dumbledore's desk. She turned her eyes to see Severus entering and he saw at once that her cheeks were streaked with tears.
"Mister Snape." Dumbledore inclined his head towards him. "Thank you for responding. After some discussion, we have concluded that Ms. Evans should leave for the winter break early this semester, in order to be with her family at this trying time. She has requested that you accompany her, as a friend of the family."
"Of course!" Severus blurted, blushing at the thought that she had chosen him.
"Thanks Sev," she whispered.
"Thank you. A coach will be provided that will take you to her home this evening." Dumbledore stepped out from behind the desk and put his hand on Lily's shoulder in an attempt to comfort her. "You have my sympathy Ms. Evans. And have heart. The matter may turn out well yet."
She didn't say anything and silence filled the spaces between them until Severus coughed.
"If we are leaving tonight, we should pack."
"Yes," McGonagall agreed. "I will go and speak to Professor Slughorn. You will both be excused for your final exams of course."
"Come on, Lil," he whispered.
She said nothing the rest of that day, save for brief bouts of crying. When they were in the thestral-pulled coach, however, she finally broke the silence.
"Do you think she's dead?" She hesitated on the last word.
He frowned. "I don't know."
"I won't forgive myself if she is. Never."
"Oh Lily," he murmured. "Don't say that. This is not your fault."
"That's what everybody keeps saying."
But he knew from the look on her fact that she did not believe it. She stared out the window, looking at the slow snowfall, anguish written on her features.
"Perhaps she simply needed to get away for a while. When I was under stress… I mean, I think everybody has thought about running away at some point, but many of them do not go very far. Maybe that's all this is. Maybe she'll come home, safe and sound."
"Maybe." She gripped the edge of the cushioned seat. "I hope so."
"I do too," he said and meant it, even if there was no love lost between him and Petunia and he only hoped she was safe for the sake of her sister.
Six months earlier
Petunia drew her breath and focused. Slowly the petals of the flower folded in then unfolded, just as her sister had done several years ago. Pausing to refocus, she thought harder and the stem lengthened and leaves sprouted. Feeling a rush, she ran back to the house. Perhaps now she could finally convince her family she was as special as Lily, be allowed to go to the school Lily got to go to.
Her sister was out with that freak boy and Petunia felt no hesitation in going into her room, sure that Lily had done the same to learn of her letter to Dumbledore. The wand was sitting on top of her school trunk and Petunia grasped it, waved, hoping something would happen. But it did not. There were no sparks, no juts of flame. Nothing transformed around her. Whatever she could do, it was not as much as Lily. And she would not be made a fool, begging to Dumbledore a second time.
Bitterly disappointed, she fled back to the park, ignoring her mother's voice scolding her not to slam the door. She sat morosely on the swings, looking at a patch of clover and making it bloom, but realizing she was unable to do much more than that.
"Wonderful," she hissed. "Not only am I a freak, I'm not even a complete one."
"You're not a freak!" A voice came from high up in a tree and she gasp, tumbling off the swing and standing up angrily.
A boy poked his head out of the leaves. "I'm sorry. I just… I saw what you did."
She stepped back. "I didn't do anything!"
"No, it's okay!" There was a rustle as he climbed down branches until she could see him. "I know what it's like."
She gasped. His body was contorted into weird angles and his grin was a notch too wide to seem normal.
"I… I'm Morty." He gave her a wave, but she stepped back again. He was unkempt, with his hair falling into his eyes and his skin smudged, he smelled foul, and his clothes looked frayed. When she stepped back, he looked panicked. "You don't have to worry! I won't say anything!" When she remained distant, he dropped a few branches lower. "Look at what I can do!"
His tongue lolled out of his mouth, longer than any human's should, then snapped up and wrapped around a branch, pulling him up.
"That's disgusting!" Petunia screamed and ran away. As soon as she got home, she locked herself in her room and cried. And outside, the vines below her window crept up their trellis.