September drifted almost unnoticeably into a moody October, leaving nothing but crisp, dead leaves in golden shades of orange behind. In the extravagant house now known as the Potter Mansion by its neighbours, things were unnaturally calm and quiet. None of the Potters' three children were left to scream, yell, run up and down the staircase or play exploding snap in the emerald garden surrounding the handsome manor.
Harry and Ginny appeared to revel the silence, but, though they wouldn't admit it openly, they missed the sound of children laughing and the muddy footprints so often tainting the parquet. It was perhaps for this nostalgic reason that Ginny opened her eyes against the bright sunlight one morning at the first sound of something other than Harry's slow, heavy breathing.
She was laying with her back against Harry's, and for a moment she wondered if the sharp noise had been in her dream, rather than in real life. But before she managed to clear her thought she heard it again, more insistent this time, soon to be accompanied by the horrible sonance of scratching on glass. She blinked against the sun, once, twice, and a silhouette soon appeared against the brilliant light in the window.
"Harry," Ginny whispered, turning over in her bed and stirring her husband awake. "Harry, Minerva's here!" Her voice was laced in excitement.
Harry, who had first responded by pulling the covers more closely around his muscular body and otherwise ignoring his wife, sat up suddenly with his eyes wide and his face livid. "McGonagall! Where?" he said, his voice hoarse from sleep.
The slowness earned him a swat to his messy head. "Lily's owl," Ginny said in short explanation, pointing towards the windowsill on which the snowy owl was sitting, looking in indignantly at the sleepy couple.
"Oh," Harry said, falling back into the pillows and looking as though he wanted very much to be able to fall back asleep, as well. "Can you read it aloud to me?"
Ginny smiled crookedly before she walked over to the window, unhinged it and let in the impatient bird, who ruffled her feathers and held out one foot. "There's three letters here." Ginny said as she freed the owl of its baggage. "One for us, one for Tom and one for..."
The third envelope carried the name 'Marcus', written in a childishly loopy handwriting in red ink. Ginny brought the three letters over to the bed with her and tore the envelope of the one adressed to 'Mum and Daddy'.
"Dear Mum and Daddy," she read aloud for her husband, who looked as though he might be asleep again had he not been breathing subtly. "As you might have already heard I was sorted into Gryffindor, like you."
Harry whooped weakly and punched the air.
"Harry," Ginny said reprovingly. "We need to support the whole house-unity now. Remember Albus is still very sensitive about being sorted into Slytherin-"
"I'm supportive." Harry countered groggily. "It's just, I mean, I-"
"I love Hogwarts." Ginny interrupted him, returning to the letter in her hands. "The classes are really interesting and this other day, when I was over at Hagrid's for tea, he showed me some unicorn babies and he let me pet them. I'm sorry I haven't been able to write you earlier, I've just been busy with homework. My favorite teacher is Professor Longbottom..."
Ginny read through the rest of the letter rather mechanically, her eyes keenly dancing over the parchment and the spark within seemingly dimming for each letter she came across. "I really miss Marcus and Tom, though. I wish they could be here, too. James doesn't talk to me much, he's busy with his friends, and since both Albus and Rose are in Slytherin I don't really have anyone to talk to. I can't wait for Hugo to get here next year. I hope he'll be sorted into Gryffindor, although with brains like that I bet he'll be a Ravenclaw! P.S. James says hi.
Lots of love, Lily."
There wasn't a single word of any new friendships, other than those rekindled with her parents' former friends, now her teachers. Ginny's mouth was a fine line as she paused, folded up the letter and put it back in its original container. "Tom will probably come over for tea later this week. We can give him his letter then." she said, looking over at the two other envelopes beside her on the bed.
"You said there were a third letter?" Harry questioned groggily from beside her.
Marcus' letter looked a lot thicker and heavier than the one Ginny and Harry had received, and Ginny eyed it with apparent interest. Like she had done Lily's diary she wanted to read it, delving deeper into the imaginative mind of her only daughter.
Harry finally opened his eyes, two specks of green in a handsome face delicately preserved from age. "For Marcus?"
"Don't read it." Harry said, and it sounded like an order.
Ginny became suddenly defensive, the roses in her cheeks matching the color of her hair as she stared down at her husband. "Why not?" she demanded, holding forth the letter. "Aren't you concerned for your daughter?"
"Yes." Harry admitted calmly. "But opening that letter won't help her any more than reading that diary did. It will just get you more worried."
What he was saying made sense, but it did not make Ginny drop the letter. "What do you suggest we do with it, then?" she asked. "Burn it?"
"How about we just leave it in Lily's room?" Harry suggested. "We can leave it in Lily's room, and when she gets back she'll see that it hasn't been opened, and maybe she'll finally accept that Marcus isn't real.
The idea seemed fairly reasonable, and Harry and Ginny snuck into Lily's beautifully adorned lilac bedroom to put the letter on the bedside table.
When the pair closed the door and left the room in a glum silence a silvery shadow of a person stepped out of nowhere, walking towards his usual spot by the window from which he had a panorama view of the wildflower field and the abominated little cottage outside which a little boy with wheaten hair ran around with his mutt.
On his way to the window, however, Marcus stopped and made a sharp turn towards where the letter lay upon the night-stand, bearing Lily's juvenile handwriting in bloody ink, a single name scrabbled across the yellowing parchment.
Marcus bit his lip and for the first time in a hundred years he felt a stab of estranged emotion.
He approached the letter and reached out a hopeful hand, only to find his fingers glide right through both the letter and the surface underneath, as though they were mere illusions.
He turned from the letter, trying hard not to wonder what was inside it, because after all, it did not bear his name.
Lily's first Christmas home came and went, much too fast for everyone's liking it seemed. The flowery field had frozen over by the time Lily came home, and the small creek running next to it had frozen, too, covered by a layer of thick ice.
Lily hadn't changed much during the almost four months she had been gone. She was still the same little girl, eleven years of age, a radiant girl whose pale face was framed by vibrant locks of red hair. The freckles she had gotten as a gift from the sun during those relentless summer months were gone now, replaced only by smooth, milky white skin above a mouth that seemed to be constantly inclined upwards.
She had a tear-dripping reunion with her parents, and she met Tom once more as the frosted grass and flowers cracked underneath their shoes.
"How was boarding school?" Tom asked her. He, too, looked less freckly, but otherwise he looked just the same.
"Fine." Lily replied dully as the two sat down by the icy creek, Max, the dog, running around them in circles.
It still hurt her to lie to Tom, and she wished she could tell him the truth and show him the wand she had hidden in her room, even if she wasn't allowed to use it. She felt like she didn't have much to talk to Tom about after having spent the longest time apart from him since they met. She couldn't really tell him much from her experiences from Hogwarts, except for that she had missed him all the while.
"How was Hogwarts?" Marcus asked her when he appeared that same night, and Lily was so thrilled to see him she ran straight through him in an attempted hug.
Lily shivered. "Cold."
"Cold?" Marcus repeated, knowing what she really meant, but he found it a tad amusing nevertheless. A tad amusing, and very sad. This girl had become his best friend, his only friend, and she couldn't hug him without goose-bumps erupting on her young skin.
"Didn't you get my letters?" Lily inquired, but before Marcus could answer she spotted a stack of them on her bedside table. She gasped. "You didn't open them?"
"I couldn't." Marcus replied in a benumbed voice, also glancing over at the letters he had been staring at for months on end. "I wanted to, Lily, I just... couldn't."
So Lily sat up all night, reading her own letters aloud to her spectral friend, unbeknown of the fact that her parents sat outside the door and listened to every word with teardrops in their eyes.