Lily turned just in time to see the football flying at her. She shrieked and put her hands up to cover her face.
“Jesus, Black,” Betty Howard said, jogging over to her. “We’re going to have to make you a Keeper if you can’t remember that you’re not supposed to use your hands.”
Lily grimaced. “Sorry,” she said a little desperately. “I’m trying, I am.”
It was her second practice, and she couldn’t seem to break herself of the habit of using her hands. It was just unnatural to do something without using your hands at all. She did not understand how everyone else seemed to do it without any difficulties, especially when the ball was lobbed up at their face.
Annie jogged over to them and put her arm around Lily’s shoulders. “Oh, no worries, Lily,” she said easily. “You’ll learn eventually. Just… stay out of the box until you do, yeah? You don’t want to give the other team a penalty.”
Lily had never thought that she would be grateful for Dominique’s unnatural obsession with football before, but she was thanking her lucky stars now. She was still a little lost, but she’d gathered that not knowing some of the basics would have made some of them doubt that she was English at all.
She caught herself just before she asked whether a penalty would be such a big deal. Penalties were much important in football than they were in Quidditch, because there wasn’t a snitch, and it was much harder to score.
In Quidditch, even rubbish teams could expect to score a handful of times. There were apparently football games sometimes where no one scored at all, which as a Quidditch player, she found fundamentally strange.
Annie grinned as she backed away from Lily and Betty. “Again!” she said, clapping her hands.
When practice was over, most of the other girls cleared out, but Lily lingered as Annie cleared off the pitch. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be so dumb. I just never played much football growing up.”
Annie, who was kneeling on the ground and stuffing her equipment into her bag emblazoned with the Liverpool crest, looked over her shoulder at Lily. “What?” After a moment she processed what Lily had said and laughed. “Oh, god, Lily, it’s fine. We all start like that at some point.”
Lily rubbed the back of her neck ruefully. “It’s just that my only experience with football growing up was through my cousin Dominique. She’s a big football fan.”
Annie straightened up and slung her duffle across her back. “Oh?”
That was one of the things that Lily was growing to really love about Annie. She had to be dying of curiosity about Lily’s family at this point, but on the rare occasion that Lily mentioned one of them, she never pressed to hear any more than Lily was willing to tell her.
“Yeah. She’s a Gunner.” Lily hoped that she was using that term right. She thought she’d heard Dominique describe herself as a Gunner before, but…
“Arsenal, huh?” Lily gathered that she’d been using the term correctly enough for Annie to at least understand what she was trying to say. “How long?”
There was a question that Lily did understand. How long you’d supported your team seemed to be something of a bragging right in football as well as Quidditch. The longer, the better, and you got double points for sticking with them through hard times.
She laughed. “God, for as long as I can remember. She never really tried to get me into it, though. I mean, I love all my cousins, but she’s five years older than me and we don’t have much in common.”
Age wasn’t really the sticking point with Dominique. Lily considered herself to be fairly close to Louis, and he was only a year younger than his sister. It was more about her demeanor. It wasn’t that Dominique was purposefully mean or that she wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she could be a bit callous, and she tended to push people.
Dominique was charismatic and devastatingly funny. Her siblings were both very close to her, and she’d never had a shortage of friends or girlfriends.
But she was also a hard person. She had an edge about her that made her difficult to take sometimes. Lily liked her – she liked all of her cousins – but Dominique tended not to be one of the family members she gravitated toward.
“How so?” Annie asked, and Lily shook herself back to the present as Annie stood and slung her bag over her back.
“She’s…” Lily sighed. “She’s just a bit… hard, you know?” Annie nodded, and Lily looked up at the darkening sky. “And she’s too wild,” she added. “She gets along better with my brothers and my cousin Rose than with me.”
“Mmm.” Lily glanced over at her, and Annie groaned and looked up at the sky. “I hope I’m not coming across as apathetic,” she said, looking a little worried. “I care! I just don’t want to push you to talk more than you want to.”
“It’s okay,” Lily said. It had been almost two months since she’d left home, and lately, she’d found herself wanting to talk about it. “You can ask. I’ll just tell you if I don’t feel like answering.”
Annie smiled as they set out down the path, and Lily zipped her sweatshirt up. The leaves on the trees were starting to turn orange, and once the sun started go down, it definitely got chilly. “So how many cousins do you have, anyway? I’ve wondering that for awhile, now.”
Lily screwed up her face in thought. “Nine,” she said after a minute. “My mum comes from a big family.”
“What about your dad?” Annie asked curiously.
Lily bit her lip as she considered the question. She wasn’t sure quite how much she wanted to tell.
“He’s an orphan,” she said after a moment. “His parents died when he was a baby.”
Annie clapped a hand to her mouth, looking horrified. “I’m so sorry,” she said quickly. “What happened?”
Lily shoved her hands deeper into her pockets. “They were killed,” she said after a moment, and immediately regretted it. There was absolutely no way to explain Voldemort to a muggle, especially one who didn’t know about magic. “It’s a long story.”
Annie didn’t press her, and Lily had to fight the impulse to hug her. Annie was just always so good at curbing her curiosity to put Lily at ease.
Which, as Edwin had reminded her more than once, meant that she needed to be more cautious about what she was saying, not less, especially since Annie wasn’t stupid, but Lily was finding following that advice to be quite difficult.
They walked in silence along the pond for a few minutes, and Annie said quietly, “So I feel like it’s not totally out of line for me to ask you this now. Why did you run away from home?”
Lily let out a humourless laugh. “Have you got five hours?”
“Do I look busy?” Lily glanced over at her. To her surprise, Annie’s face was serious.
“It’s also kind of boring,” Lily added. Part of her hoped that Annie would just drop it, because she had no idea what to say, but at the same time, she knew that she’d probably feel like rubbish if Annie decided that she didn’t care after all.
Annie studied Lily for a moment and then grabbed her wrist and pulled her over to one of the part benches. “Spill.”
Lily considered the question as Annie sat down next to her. “They… my family is great,” she said after a moment. “Really great. My mom comes from a big family, and all of my cousins are… great.”
“You’re using the word great a lot,” Annie commented, leaning back and gazing out across the pond. “Want to borrow my cell phone’s thesaurus?”
Lily let out a laugh. She supposed that she could see the use, but that was one muggle technology that she was never going to want. Having people be able to reach you whenever they wanted was just creepy. “No, it’s fine. I just…” She sighed, and Annie reached out to grab hold of her hand. “Thanks,” she murmured, and her friend smiled encouragingly.
“You just?” she prompted.
A breeze whistled through the branches above them, and a few leaves coursed to the ground. Lily felt a shiver that she could not really understand run through her.
She decided to take the plunge. “I’m used to having my dad in… in the hospital.” She remembered not to say ‘St. Mungo’s’ just in time. “He was a few times when I was little,” she said softly, trying to concentrate on not crying. Crying wouldn’t do her any good here. Since she’d left home, she’d really tried to push all of this as far from her mind as she possibly could, and if she broke out sobbing, Annie would probably think that she was crazy and weird and not want to spend time with her anymore.
Lily wasn’t stupid. She knew that being willing to sit through old Liverpool matches could only take her so far.
“Oh?” Annie asked when the silence had stretched to a few minutes. “Why?”
“He works for the government,” Lily said. “Law enforcement. Sometimes he gets hurt.”
Annie let out a hiss of sympathy and squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” Lily said quickly. “No, I mean, it’s really fine. Well—” Annie had given her a skeptical look “—all right, not fine, but I’m used to it.”
“So what changed?”
Lily stared out across the pond without really seeing it, repeating the words, “I will not cry, I will not cry,” over and over in her head.
“My generation grew up,” she said shortly. Despite her best efforts, she could hear the emotion in her voice, and she hated it. She tried to compose herself before opening her mouth to speak again. “My godbrother was first. He went off to be…” She tried to think of a muggle equivalent of a Cursebreaker and came up blank. “He went off to explore caves and dungeons and stuff,” she said after a minute, knowing that it sounded completely ridiculous, but to her credit, Annie didn’t challenge her. “And that was mostly okay. Teddy can take pretty good care of himself.”
And she’d had a lot longer to get adjusted to Teddy doing that sort of thing for a living.
“And then?” Annie asked gently.
Lily closed her eyes. She was starting to feel like the tears were going to come whether she wanted them to or not. “And then everyone else did, too.”
Victoire had gone into the D.C.B. Lily hadn’t really understood what that meant at the time, but she did now. Dominique had gone into Dragon Research. Louis was a Hit Wizard. James and Rose had followed Victoire into the D.C.B. Albus had joined the Aurors. Hugo was making noise about becoming a Cursebreaker like Teddy.
Even Fred blew things up on a regular basis making new products for the shop.
And nearly all of them had ended up in St. Mungo’s more than once.
The tears began to fall. “And for the last few years, it’s felt like I get an ow—I mean, I get a call about a different relative being seriously injured,” she choked out. “But it’s always top secret. It’s always, ‘Lily, we’d love to give you details, we just can’t.’” She snorted. “Yeah, right. Everyone else gets details. Even Hugo gets details, because his sister doesn’t mind telling him because he just thinks it’s a cool story.”
“Oh, Lily.” Annie edged closer to her and wrapped her free arm around Lily’s shoulders. “I’m sorry.”
Lily had no idea why Annie wasn’t running away as quickly as she could, but she decided not to question it right now.
She let out a sob, and Annie hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry,” Lily managed to choke out after a little while. “You probably think that I’m just really weird and crazy now.”
Lily opened her eyes a crack, and saw Annie shaking her head. “No, I don’t—but I think that you’re being too hard on yourself. Of course you don’t like your family ending up in the hospital! Who would?”
Lily sighed. “No one, but… it’s different.”
Annie snorted. “Lil, everyone always thinks that their situation is different. It’s not.”
Lily thought about that for a moment. “I guess,” she said after a moment.
After a few more minutes, she forced herself to get it together. Annie had done nothing to deserve this display of waterworks, and while she was being very sweet right now, Lily didn’t want to push it.
“Thanks,” she said, blowing her nose with the tissue that Annie offered her. “I needed that.”
Annie shook her head. “Anytime, Lily.” She squeezed her hand one more time before letting it go. “Really.”
A/N: You may have noticed that I changed the length from "short story" to "novella." It won't be a particularly long novella, but I think I'm only about half done, so it's definitely going to exceed the cut-off for a short story.
As always, thank you so much for reading, and I really hope you enjoyed it!
If you have a moment, I'd love to know what you thought of this chapter. All of the reviews and favourites my lovely readers give me really brighten up my day and make me feel fantastic as an author. :)