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Finding Lily by SkyEcho

Format: Short story
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 14,207
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Mystery, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Hugo, Lily (II), OC, OtherCanon
Pairings:

First Published: 01/26/2014
Last Chapter: 02/20/2014
Last Updated: 02/20/2014

Summary:




 Amazing Banner by .amaris@TDA!

 

I never gave much thought to the secrets I kept.
I now know how they can alter your path and leave you forever changed.
Five days.
That's all it took to turn my life completely upside down.


*For VioletBlade's Five Elements Challenge*


Chapter 1: The Secrets We Keep
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 “Would you care to tell me why you felt it necessary to launch yourself off your broom and tackle Miss McCormack?” The lines on Professor Finnegan Spore’s forehead deepened as he finished reading the letter explaining the situation that had brought me to his office.




I sat there in silence. While his words suggested he was asking a question, the edge in his voice told me that this was no request; it was a command. I opened my mouth to explain, but quickly shut it. Although Professor Spore had only been appointed as Head of Gryffindor House a month ago, I was becoming increasingly familiar with his style. If I told him that I didn’t ‘launch’ myself on Kenna, merely ‘lunged’ at her, that would result in a lecture on semantics. Did it matter that she was the one who grabbed on to me and threw us off our brooms? Did it matter that I didn’t intend to land on her? Of course it did. But I knew Spore well enough by now to know that he wouldn’t find my clarifications particularly relevant.


He would take my attempts at sharing my side of the story as an opportunity to ‘weave a tale’ and ‘pull the wool over his eyes’. When those phrases entered into the conversation, you had better just accept your fate. Spore will first clear his throat and then begin his most favourite lecture of them all - the state of young witches and wizards today. No, I would not be going down that road with him this time. I had already heard that lecture. Twice. Besides, there really wasn’t an easy way to explain why I did what I did unless I got into the series of events that had unfolded over the past five days: and I wasn’t going to do that. He wouldn’t believe me anyway. Six days ago, I wouldn’t have believed my explanation either.


His pale green eyes studied me and I looked away from the force of his gaze. Surely, he wouldn’t just let us sit here in silence for much longer. My file was open and I focused on the small square that appeared in the air above it. The image slowly dissolved from the still image of my school portrait to a moment from last year’s Quidditch Cup. I watched my dark red hair flying behind me as I soared through the sky with the Quaffle firmly in my hand and couldn’t hold back a smile as I watched the Quaffle fly right through Ravenclaw’s middle hoop.


“What happened, Miss Potter,” Professor Spore asked as he tapped his wand twice on my file. My deep brown eyes met his for a moment and I felt my stomach twist itself in a large knot. Gryffindor’s celebration at the Quidditch pitch dissolved into the Great Hall. I could see myself in the front row of the choir, cheeks flushed and brown eyes sparkling as we sang in front of the entire school. As that faded, the voices of my professors could be heard as my final class reports came into focus. The parchments from my assignments, essays and exams shuffled across the square and Spore’s wand pointed at one.

Lily Potter has wonderful potential.... while her focus could be improved, her effort is always solid....” He then pointed at another.
“…Potter should not sit next to Hugo Weasley - she is a source of distraction for him.” And another.
She is one of the top Potions students in her year...”


The knot in my stomach began to unfurl and I let out a small sigh. With a tiny wave of his wand, Professor Spore sent those images back into my file and two squares appeared in front of me. Gradually, they grew in size so that I had no trouble seeing what they held. The first square held an image of my scowling face as I pulled weeds from the Hogwarts vegetable garden on Monday. I watched myself wipe the sweat from my forehead, my hands leaving splotches of dirt on my face and clothes. I could see my mouth moving as I dug in the earth and sent a silent prayer of thanks to Merlin that there was no audio. As if he could read my thoughts, Professor Spore gave me a hard look before pointing his wand to the square. “The altercation between Lily Potter and Lefteris Paraskevas resulted in the early dismissal of my transfiguration class today. Wands were drawn and they were screaming at the top of their lungs. Both students had to be restrained after firing hexes at one another.”


A wave of heat washed over my face. Without saying a word, Professor Spore pointed to the second square. I looked down at my robes and grimaced when I heard the next professor’s voice: “Lily Potter is a good student. I was shocked to learn that she was the one who set fire to the stack of graded papers on my desk. We were lucky no one was hurt.” I wiped my palms on my robe and bit down on my bottom lip as I caught the note of disappointment in Professor Longbottom’s voice.


“You’re veering onto a dangerous path, Miss Potter,” Professor Spore said as he closed my file. “Wander too far and you may just find that you’re unable to find your way back.”


I contemplated whether finding the way back was the same for those who willingly wandered as it was for those of us who were thrown off the path without warning. “I’m sorry for my behaviour, sir,” I said softly. I looked up at him out of the corner of my eye. “It won’t happen again.” I was sorry. I didn’t want to be causing trouble and fighting. I just hoped that I could keep the promise that I was making.


“You had better learn to get that temper of yours under control, Miss Potter,” he said. He dipped his quill into the ink to his right and began writing. “Detention. For the rest of this month.”


“A month? But - ”


“Would you care to make it longer?”


Another question that wasn’t really a question. No, I didn’t want to make it longer. Obviously. I bit my tongue.


“Please try to remove the look of shock and outrage from your face, Lily Potter. This is the third time you’ve been sent to my office this week. You’re fortunate that it’s only detention.” He placed his quill down on his desk and placed the parchment into my file. “Consider it an early Christmas present.”


I swallowed the sarcastic comments that were were bubbling to the surface. “Thank you, Professor Spore,” I said and closed the door behind me. It slammed shut with a bang and I winced. Would he think I did that on purpose? I began to turn back to offer a quick apology when I noticed Hugo slouched against the stone wall directly in front of the office. His bright blue eyes were frantically searching for the source of the sudden wake up call until they landed on me. His face relaxed, but he made no move to get up off the floor.


“Well blimey, Lily, that was quick,” he whispered. "You didn’t kill him, did you?” Hugo raised his right eyebrow and gestured toward the closed door.


“No, but you may not be so lucky!” My hand landed with a thud on top of his head and I ruffled his perfectly styled red spikes. Ever since Aldonra Cabello had complimented him on his hair three months ago, Hugo had undertaken an intense hair styling regime every morning.


“Ok Ok,” Hugo said getting up. “Just watch the hair, Lily!” I stepped back and his hair bounced back perfectly in place. It was like I hadn’t even touched it.


“Ugh. Come on,” I said grabbing the sleeve of his robe. I quickened my pace as I led us to the staircase, only briefly glancing up at the high vaulted ceilings. I felt my grip on Hugo’s sleeve tighten as I tried to shake the image of the ceiling slowly lowering down on us.


“Where’s the fire, Lily?” Hugo said, wrenching his robe from my grasp. I stopped and turned around to face him, my eyes flashing at his question. How much did he know? I looked at Hugo, searching for any clue that his question held a deeper meaning. Standing in front of me with his permanently rosy cheeks, Hugo rearranged his robe before meeting my gaze. He looked up at me with concern.


“A normal pace feels like rushing to you, Hugo. Grandmas move faster than you do,” I said. My smile widened when I saw Hugo grin. I slowed down to match Hugo’s pace and we continued down the long corridor.


“Have you seen Nana Molly chase James?” Hugo asked. “That is - ” Laughter and loud voices surrounded us as we rounded the corner. Hugo let the end of the sentence fade into silence as we surveyed the crowd gathered around the top of the staircase.


I cursed silently at the line of slow moving first years. They were walking so timidly and carefully that you’d think they were walking across a tightrope rather than down a perfectly normal moving staircase. The loud hoots from the students milling around only seemed to slow the movement of the first years even more. I would have felt bad for them if they weren’t causing such a huge inconvenience. I tapped my fingers against the railing and took in the new Christmas decorations that had appeared this morning. Large pine trees were placed beside the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the grounds and wreaths with cranberries and gold ribbon were hung on the stone walls. I scanned the faces in the crowd and was surprised that not a single prefect was trying to put an end to this. This was the type of situation Rose lived for: righting wrongs and punishing the offenders. Well, it wouldn’t be long before they arrived, and I surely wasn’t going to get lumped into yet another punishment.


I tugged on Hugo’s sleeve gently and inclined my head for him to follow me. I weaved through the tiny first years, smiling and throwing quick waves to my classmates that I passed. When I reached the bottom, I glanced up at Hugo and saw him not even half way down the stairs, moving slowly as usual and murmuring quick apologies and words of encouragement to the first years that he passed. I contained my frustration at his ever-present politeness and decided that I’d just meet him in the courtyard.

*

I walked away from the building, my feet crunching the frozen grass underneath and looked up at the grey sky. I tilted my head up wondered if we would see the first snowfall today. I felt my shoulders relax. I took in a deep breath of icy air and welcomed the slight pain in my chest. When I heard the large wooden doors slam shut behind me, I knew Hugo had finally made it. “Detention for a month,” I yelled over my shoulder.

“That’s...it,” I heard Hugo’s voice ask between huge gasps for breath. I tore my eyes from the sky and focused on Hugo huffing and puffing in front of me.


“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?” I took Hugo’s arm and slowly guided him to the wooden bench in front of us. His eyes were watering and his face was bright red. I made a mental note not to rush Hugo anymore.


“Well... it’s just that... Kenna McCormack was sent to the infirmary...and there was that guy from Slytherin... not to mention everyone’s talking about the small fire you set - ”


“Hugo Weasley,” I said, cutting him off. “I was there, remember? There’s no need to rattle off a list... ” I knew exactly what the list of my transgressions looked like. And as my list of secrets grew by the day, so too did my list of offences. I sat down beside my cousin and exhaled loudly as I ran my hands over my face. In such a short amount of time my normal life had turned completely upside down. How was I ever going to get myself out of this mess? I could hear Hugo’s breathing start to slow and a surge of guilt rushed through me. I reached over and patted him twice on the shoulder. After a moment that felt longer than it actually was, Hugo tapped me back. I looked up and gave him a small smile. I was forgiven.


“What’s going on, Lil? If you tell me, I can help you.” He spoke so softly, yet I could easily detect the hurt behind those words. Hugo was easily my best friend. Throughout my life whenever I had a problem, or a bad day, Hugo had always been there to make everything right. And although I didn’t want to drag Hugo into my mess, I felt awful keeping things from him.


“It started five days ago,” I said slowly. “It gets complicated so I’ll start with the first secret.”


“The first?”


“Yeah. It’s complicated.” I tucked my leg up under me focused on the breathtaking scenery in front of me. From up here, I could see the rolling hills and the long dirt path that led to the forest. To the left, I could see the beginning of the line of ash trees that lined the lake: their bare branches curved up to the sky. A quick look up at Hugo confirmed that his gaze was fixed exactly where I knew it would be. To the right, just slightly behind the Owlery, was a small wooden gazebo. For reasons we never really discussed, Hugo loved that place more than any other on the Hogwarts grounds. Me? I’d rather be in an open space, with only the sky above me.


“It’s ok, Lily. Everything will seem much less scary once you get it out in the open.”


I doubted that very much, but it was too late to stop now. Besides, telling Hugo was the only thing that seemed right in this whole mad situation. “My first secret is that I’m in love with Lorcan.” I closed my eyes and waited for the reaction that I knew was coming.


“Scamander?”


“Yes.”


“Lorcan Scamander?”


“Yes.”


“In love?”


“Yes.”


“With Lorcan?”


Yes, Hugo,” I said, letting out a deep sigh.


“Well bloody hell, Lily, I can’t say that I saw one coming, but that’s not so bad.” Hugo let out a relieved laugh, but let it dissolve into silence when he saw the look on my face. “Does he know?”


“No.” I felt the pit in my stomach tighten just a little. Although I had never spoken about my feelings for Lorcan before, fancying him wasn’t something new. For as long as I could remember, Lorcan had been in my heart; my feelings for him had always just been there. But it wasn’t until five days ago that I learned the extent of those feelings. It could be that realizing I was in love with Lorcan was what started off this series of mad events in the first place…or maybe it was the mysteries and misunderstandings that led me to realize my feelings. It wasn’t exactly clear.

 

“So is that what all this fighting is about? Kenna knows?” Hugo’s questions pulled me from the swirling thoughts in my head.


“Not exactly.” I tapped my fingers against the cool wood beside me. It was now or never.


“Oh come on, Lily. What do you mean not exactly?”


Just as I was formulating the words, something hard smashed into the back of my head and knocked the words clear out of my mind.


“What the - ” I turned around and saw Kenna, with her left arm in a dark blue sling, standing on top of the small hill directly behind us. Tiny snowflakes began floating down from the sky leaving traces of white dust in her golden blonde hair. She let out her high pitched giggle and I cringed. If there was one sound that got under my skin, it was that laugh.


I ran my fingers over the spot where the object had struck and let out a small sigh of relief when I didn’t feel any blood. I then searched the ground for what she had thrown at me. I knew exactly how I’d be sending that back to her.


“Seems you’re not as hurt as you’d like everyone to believe,” Hugo shouted at Kenna.


“You keep out of this, Huge-o,” Kenna said as she slowly walked down the hill. “Lily nearly cost us the Quidditch Cup with her savage attack on me this morning.”


My heart stopped when I saw a clear cube out of the corner of my eye. That evil witch! I scrambled over to the large evergreen tree and picked up the box just peaking out from under the thick branches. Keeping my back to Hugo and Kenna, I gently tucked it into the inside pocket of my robe.


“You’re lucky it will be healed in time for our next game, Potter,” Kenna hissed, “or should I say my next game? In case you haven’t guessed, you’re off the team!” Kenna smirked and waved a letter above my head.


The pit burrowed deeper into my stomach. “What? I barely touched you,” I said as I reached for the letter. “You pulled me off my broom!” Kenna ignored my words, and laughed louder as she held the letter higher above my head. Losing Quidditch was like losing the air I breathed. Her dark blue eyes sparkled when she saw the pain written all over my face. I stumbled back into Hugo when she pushed passed me.


“There’s a good boy, Huge-O,” Kenna said in a baby voice. “Always Lily’s protector. It really is too bad that Lily has replaced you.” Kenna looked from my pale face to Hugo’s confused expression and let out another cackle.


“Well, well, seems like Lily hasn’t told you about her new best friend, huh, Hugo? That’s ok. Pretty soon everyone will be talking about it.” Kenna moved to pat Hugo on the head and let out a tiny giggle when he dodged her hand.


We stood there in silence, the tiny snowflakes clinging to my eyelashes and blurring my vision. I felt the pit in my stomach warm with the anger swirling inside of me. My fists were clenched at my sides and I didn’t even feel Hugo’s hand on my shoulder, pulling me back towards the bench.


I turned around to see Kenna race down the rest of the hill, eager to catch up with a group of girls at the bottom. She threw the letter down behind her and I watched it slowly float to the ground.


Hugo and I sat on the bench in silence until we could no longer hear her laugh on the wind. I stared at the unopened envelope that Hugo handed to me. I dreaded reading the words that would prove Kenna right.


Incendio,” I whispered as I pointed my wand at the corner of the white envelope. I watched as tiny flames licked the edge, leaving a small black edge in its wake.


“You know,” Hugo said breaking the silence. “She’s lovely. I can’t imagine why you have such a problem with her.”


I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah. I guess it’ll remain a mystery.” I let Hugo take the envelope from my hand and blow out the flames. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to burn a letter you haven’t read. A read letter is fair game though.


I slowly took out the clear cube from my pocket and held it up at eye-level so I could make sure no damage was done. Once I was happy that everything was as it should be, I turned to Hugo.


“I lunged at Kenna during Quidditch practice because she was threatening to reveal my secret.”


“About you being in love with Lorcan?”


“No. If only that was the secret...” I raised the hood on my robe to block out the wind whistling in my ears and placed the small clear cube onto the palm of my hand. I held it out to Hugo. “The secret Kenna knows about is right here,” I said lightly tapping the cube with my finger. “I keep an ant in a box under my bed.”

*


As I pulled the covers up under my chin and closed my eyes that night, I felt better than I had in days. I, Lily Potter, wasn’t going to let some silly misunderstandings get the best of me. All I had to do was go back the beginning - to the moment I veered off the path - and sort out the secrets that started this all in the first place. It was time for me to find a way out of this series of crazy events. It was time to find my way back.






A/N: Thank you so much for reading! A special thank you to Erised for her wonderful feedback on this chapter as well as Patronus_Charm, MissesWeasley123 and Book Dinosaur for their title help and suggestions. The story title is credited to Patronus_Charm. 

 

 


Chapter 2: Where There's Smoke...
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I wiped the tears from my eyes as I walked to breakfast and shoved the flashes of this morning’s verbal assault to the back of my mind. The minute Kenna began parading around the dorm in a white tank top, I knew that she was setting the stage for her latest performance. She didn’t even need to say a word; the blue and green bruises that covered her arms told the other girls all they needed to know. Not only was I ‘violent’, but my recent episodes of talking to myself proved that I needed ‘professional help’. I had stood there in silence, refusing to play Kenna’s game. She and I both knew that those bruises weren’t a result from the fall, but as her dark blue eyes filled with tears, I knew that anything I said in that moment would only have sealed my fate. The Sorting Hat must have been drunk the night he placed Kenna McCormack in Gryffindor.


Sharing a dorm with Kenna was like navigating a minefield of power struggles and mind games. Over the years, I had seen her finely tune her ability to orchestrate drama into the perfect weapon: while the indirect delivery softened the initial cut, her eventual revelation that she was the one plotting your demise pushed the dagger deeper. Her words burrowed deep, festering and reeking havoc on your mind. Since I had always managed to stay off of her radar in the past, I honestly hadn’t given it much thought; but if her performance today revealed anything, it was that I was the only target in her crosshairs now. Well, she could call my sanity into question all she wanted; I wasn’t going to give Kenna, or anyone else, the satisfaction of seeing me break. I inhaled deeply, plastered a neutral expression on my face, and took comfort in the scent of fresh waffles and sweet syrup that greeted me in front of the large wooden doors.


Overnight, the Great Hall had been transformed. Five large Evergreen trees were placed around the room and I caught the air of excitement as students made predictions about when the first tree would be decorated. I hurried over to Hugo, who was already sitting at our usual spot at the very end of the Gryffindor table. Unfortunately, Nikhil Shafiq and Isla Driessen, the best Quidditch beaters to play for our house in years, were also in their usual spot - right beside him. My heart sank as I registered their cool responses to my greeting. Clearly, news of my ‘attack’ on Kenna and my resulting suspension from the team had already made its rounds. I grabbed a lemon muffin from the basket and half-heartedly waved it at Hugo before sitting down across from him.


“Is it dead?” Hugo whispered. He glanced up over a stack of waffles and swirled his fork in a pool of golden syrup before taking a bite.


I had to give him credit; Hugo had waited longer than I thought he would to bring up my secret again. He had certainly waited longer than I would have if the situation had been reversed. His eyes darted around the Great Hall and he ran his left hand across the edge of the table in what I could only assume was his impression of an ant. It looked more like a spastic bunny to me, but I got the picture.


“No, of course not,” I sighed. “Why would I keep a dead ant?” I rested my head against my hand and pushed my scrambled eggs around on my plate. A shrill giggle caused my shoulders to tense and I kept my eyes on my plate as Kenna entered the room. My right hand instantly went to my robe pocket and I let out a small sigh of relief when I felt the familiar shape of the cube. Ever since Kenna revealed my secret, I had taken to carrying the cube around with me wherever I went. I wasn’t going to be caught with my guard down again.


He lowered his voice and leaned in over the table. “Why would you keep a live one?” Hugo might have been worried about being overheard, but I knew there was no chance of that happening. Anyone even remotely near us was entranced by whatever story Isla was telling. With their bodies leaning in closer to her, they watched her large grey eyes with an intensity you didn’t normally see over breakfast. They weren’t going to notice anything we did over here.


Hugo’s eyes followed Kenna as she joined the group sitting with Isla and Nikhil; I braced myself for another round with Kenna, but surprisingly her attention was drawn elsewhere. Kenna gracefully slipped into the seat next to Nikhil and while some eyes flicked over and gave her a quick nod of acknowledgement, the rest of the group remained focused on Isla. Kenna didn’t seem bothered by the lack of attention, her eyes were locked on Nikhil. His hair was completely buzzed, a stark contrast to his usual thick shaggy black hair, and he held a copy of The Daily Prophet in his hands. He threw an exasperated look at Isla and shook his head before returning his gaze to the paper. This very picture was pretty common during Quidditch meetings, though it was usually Isla stewing in silence while Nikhil voiced his opinions. The reminder of all that I had lost left a bitter taste in my mouth and I quickly turned my attention back to Hugo.


“Because I don’t think it’s an ant, actually,” I said, wringing my napkin in my hand.


“Fine!” Isla yelled, slamming her clenched fists down on the table. Hugo and I both jumped as our dishes rattled. She stormed off out of the room, raking her hands through her short black hair. Nikhil took a sip of his tea before grabbing the paper and following her. It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to follow suit.


I waited for Kenna to leave the room before continuing. “I’m going to sound mad for saying this, but I think it’s a person.”


“What?” Hugo asked. “Who?” His eyes were wide and his fork hovered in the air in front of his mouth.


“That is what your brilliant mind is going to help me figure out,” I said, pointing my fork at Hugo. While I had never fully understood this, the fact that Hugo was a genius always seemed to shock others. Nine times out of ten, when people first met Hugo, they usually left with the impression that he was rather dim. It only continued to be so hilarious because Hugo seemed oblivious to the trend. Perhaps it was the combination of his easy smile, gullible nature and slow-moving ways? In any case, watching others witness Hugo’s genius at work was fascinating on so many levels. There was always this awkward, red-faced, open-mouthed response when some of the brightest minds of our time realized that Hugo could easily solve the problems and puzzles that had left them stumped.


Before Hugo could articulate his next question, which I guessed was something along the lines of how I came to that conclusion in the first place, the sweet sound of bells chiming filled the room.


Two silver doves flew into the Great Hall, carrying tiny gold bells in their beaks. The room erupted into cheers. A rush of anticipation ran through me; it was going to happen now! All the eyes in the room were fixed on the small birds, tracking every move as they soared around the trees. We had been told of the new Christmas tradition last week and the excitement in the room was palpable. On the days leading up to Christmas, the silver doves would choose one of the trees in the Great Hall to decorate. Each decorated tree would have ornaments especially made for all Hogwarts students. There was no telling when the trees would be decorated or which tree would hold your ornament. Each ornament carried a special gift meant for that person.


The two birds began circling the tree next to the fireplace near the front of the room. They whirled from the top of the tree to the bottom, a trail of snowflakes winding around the tree behind them. Picking up speed, the birds were merely a blur as the bells continued to ring in a slow melody. In a matter of seconds, the entire tree was hidden behind a wall of swirling snow. My mouth hung open as the white blanket disappeared. The once bare Evergreen was now covered with twinkling forest green ribbons and wooden ornaments. Looking around, I could see that I wasn’t the only one in awe. A crowd had already formed around the tree as students checked to see whether their name was written on one of the wooden ornaments.


“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, tearing my eyes away from the tree. “It’s definitely my favourite.”


“It’s the first one!” Hugo laughed.


As I gazed at the tree, I wondered if my ornament would be one of the carved wooden globes that hung from its branches. I felt my face flush the moment I registered the thought. No, my ornament couldn’t be on this tree. Any gift I received now would likely be a lump of coal - if I was lucky. Besides, what I most wanted for Christmas wasn’t the kind of thing that came inside an ornament - even if that ornament was created in a magical school like Hogwarts.


“Lily!” Hugo’s fingers snapped in front of my face.


“What?” I looked down at my right hand, my finger tapping away on the table. I quickly put my hands in my lap.


“Sorry,” Hugo said, getting up from his seat. “You were a million miles away. We’d better hurry or we’re going to be late for Transfiguration.”


“Right.” Normally, the reminder of Transfiguration would bring about a mild groan; it was my worst class, by far. But today, the thought of sitting through Transfiguration made my stomach drop. Today I’d have to see Lefteris; an encounter I’d managed to avoid since our fight on Monday. I briefly considered Professor Spore’s suggestion of apologizing to Lefteris as a show of good faith. No way. I’d rather add another month of detention to my plate than apologize to him.


“Don’t worry so much. We’ll figure everything out,” Hugo said as we left the Great Hall. “Now, let’s start with the ant. Why are you under the impression that it’s a person?”


“It happened Saturday night…,” I began. As I grabbed hold of the clear cube in my robe pocket I vividly recalled the events that not only led me to find the ant, but left me with a feeling of certainty that this wasn’t really an ant at all…






*
Saturday, December 9th

I awoke with a start and a small gasp escaped from my lips into the heavy darkness around me. I reached out with my right hand and blindly felt around on my bedside table for my wand. A surge of relief ran through me the moment the tips of my fingers grazed across my wand. “Lumos,” I whispered. I grabbed the pocket watch that I kept beside my wand and dove under the covers.


My hands shook slightly as I fumbled with the small gold clasp. My heart raced, threatening to burst out of my chest. When the cover finally popped open, I wasn’t surprised to read that the time was 1:11. I had been waking up at the exact same for three nights in a row. I carefully pushed down the cover and ran my thumb over the gold ridges; the repetition worked to settle my nerves. As my thumb traced over the lines that swirled and crisscrossed on the cover, I thought back to the day Granddad had given me this pocket watch. I was amazed at how much the design had reminded me of what the world looked like when I was soaring high amongst the clouds. I smiled as I recalled his reaction to my question about Muggle techniques for creating such beautiful designs. His whole face had lit up. The watch had been a source of comfort for me ever since.


As I flopped my head back on to my pillow, I was only able to close my eyes again for a moment before they flew back open. I could sense the residual images from my reoccurring nightmare threatening to creep their way back into my mind: there was that suffocating darkness….the icy grips of terror….and the sense that I had lost Lorcan. I never fully remembered what the nightmares consisted of; I just knew that I felt the exact same way each time I awoke. I was paralyzed with fear and my heart was wrenched with sadness over Lorcan.


I heard Kenna’s soft snores from the bed beside me and envied her restful nights. I took a few deep breaths and reviewed Hugo’s take on my recent dreams. He insisted these were just manifestations of my anxiety about sitting for the O.W.L’s, coupled with the recent news that Lorcan’s brother was in critical condition at St. Mungo’s. Hugo did have a point. I was nervous about writing my O.W.L’s and the whole school was talking about Lysander’s Quidditch injury. With how close the Scamander twins were, no one was surprised when Lorcan had left Hogwarts early so he could spend time with his brother. It was almost unreal just how accurate Hugo’s dream interpretation was - and that was without him knowing that I fancied Lorcan. Yet, even though Hugo’s suggestion made complete sense, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to this.


The sheets rustled as I kicked them off me and rolled over onto my other side. The feeling in my dream was more than just about losing Lorcan, I thought, as I chewed on the corner of my bottom lip. It was more like I lost him because I had failed him in some way. The restless energy that accompanied these nightmares continued to course through my veins and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep tonight unless I found some way to release it. I doubted that Granddad’s pocket watch work this time. While it worked perfectly the first night, with each passing nightmare, it was becoming more and more difficult to calm down enough to sleep. I would need to try something different. Maybe by identifying the strongest upset in my dream, and performing an action to fix it while awake, I could offset the restless energy by ‘resolving’ the problem. Sure, it wasn’t entirely logical, but at least it was something.


Lorcan. The feeling of losing him because it was my fault far outweighed any of the other elements in my dream. With all the uncertainty around Lysander’s condition, it would make sense that Lorcan felt scared and alone. Maybe if I wrote him a letter, and let him know that I was here for him, that gesture would help. My heart started to beat a little faster and I rolled my eyes at myself. We were friends, a letter of support was practically mandatory during times like these; there was nothing to get all worked up about. I rolled over onto my back and tapped my hands against the mattress: I had to do it now. A sense of urgency quickened my pace and I practically leapt out of my bed. I took parchment and a quill from my desk and grabbed my soft terrycloth bathrobe off the floor.


I tightened the belt of my bright blue robe around my waist and quietly tiptoed out of the dormitory. Aldrona was a notorious light sleeper, and if I took a quill to parchment in the middle of the night, she would never let me hear the end of it. Without a destination in mind, I wandered down the stairs to the sixth floor and turned right, down a corridor that was filled with the moon’s glow. With each step, the energy inside me surged, desperate for an outlet. I sat down on the cold stone bench that was in front of a large frosted window and placed my quill and parchment down next to me. My palms broke out in a cold sweat; the silence was deafening and I felt like I was I was going to be sick. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I rummaged in my pockets, clinging to the desperate hope that I had left a travel vial of my new stomach soother in there by chance. The only thing in there was my wand. I gripped my wand in my hand and picked up the piece of blank parchment.


“Incendio,” I said, momentarily surprised at the words coming out my mouth. A feeling of peace instantly washed over me. I couldn’t help but let out a giggle at being free from the mounting anxiety that had consumed my body and mind mere moments ago. Tears streamed down my face, but I made no move to wipe them. I was mesmerized as I watched the flames devour the parchment and I took a deep breath of the comforting smell that surrounded me. As the flames neared the tips of my fingers, I blew them out, feeling a slight pang in my chest at their departure.


I tucked the tiny scrap of my parchment into my pocket and headed back towards the stairs. It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of me. Just as I laid my hand on the cool marble banister, I heard a male voice cry, “please, don’t do this.” I whirled around and faced the direction the male’s voice had come from. My eyes flicked back and forth across the dark corridor, searching for any sign of movement; my ears strained, waiting to catch any noise that would prove my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me. I took a step towards the pitch black corridor and heard what sounded like someone gasping for breath.


My heart was beating in my ears. “Lumos,” I said, thrusting my wand into the darkness. “Is anyone there?”


The dim light from my wand revealed a shadow at the end of the long corridor; the figure collapsed forward, hands sliding down the bare stone wall. My eyes immediately focused on the short curly blonde hair. I began to run. Lorcan! Though I was too far to see him clearly, I just knew it had to be him. I pushed myself faster, stumbling over my feet as I reached the middle of the hallway. I looked up and he was on the floor, curled into a ball on his side. A strained, “help me,” traveled down the hall to where I was. And then there was silence. It was as if all the sound in the corridor had vanished. I could no longer hear my footsteps, Lorcan’s gasps for breath, nor the rapid beating of my heart. Seconds later, a flash of bright green light surrounded me. It knocked me back off my feet and the back of my head slammed onto the hard floor. I raised my hand to shield my eyes, a dull ache filling my head, and stood on shaky legs. I continued forward and blinked rapidly as my eyes slowly re-adjusted to the darkness. Having reached the end of the hallway, my head jerked to the left, registering the rapidly diminishing sound of footsteps. I then focused on the spot where Lorcan had just been. He was gone! I spun around in a circle. The corridor was deserted.


“No….no” I said, my voice cracking. My legs gave out and I tumbled to the floor, tears falling down my face. I pressed my cheek against the cold stone and closed my eyes. I don’t know how long I remained there, but when I opened my eyes, I saw that my wand had rolled away from me, producing a line of light across the hallway floor. Focusing on the light, my eyes were drawn to a dark spot on the ground. It was moving. I grabbed my wand and sat up, holding the light over the spot. It was an ant: an ant running in circles. That’s odd, I thought. I bent down and leaned in closer. It stopped moving. I slid back. It moved towards me. I raised myself up on my knees and rested the tip of my wand on the floor. It climbed up on my wand and stopped. This was the exact spot where I had seen Lorcan. I sat there staring at the ant for a few minutes. It didn’t move.


It couldn’t be Lorcan…. could it?


“No way,” I said shaking my head. I was obviously delirious from sleep deprivation. I tilted the wand down, shaking it gently to coax the ant off. The ant remained where it was.


I replayed the events in my head a few times. It appeared as though I had interrupted an altercation between two people. There was the one who had pleaded for help, who I felt strongly was Lorcan; a shudder ran through me as I recalled the fear and pain within that last whisper. I hadn’t even seen the other person, though I was sure that the person who attacked Lorcan was also the one who knocked me back with that jinx. There was no body, I thought, unsure whether that fact should be comforting or terrifying. I returned my gaze to the ant.


I ran my hands over my face and let out a deep groan. I shifted backwards so that I was resting against the stone wall and gently picked up the ant. I set it down in front of me. The ant didn’t move.


“Ok I kind of feel stupid talking like this,” I said softly. “But on the chance that I’m not having a mental breakdown and this is really happening…. I’m going to ask you to give me a sign.”


I put my wand down to the left of the ant and placed my right hand down on the other side. I turned my hand over so that my palm was facing up. “If you need my help,” I said, exhaling deeply, “climb onto my hand.” The ant remained still. After about ten seconds, it began to move. I held my breath, scared to make a single sound. I watched in wonder as the ant crawled onto my hand and stopped in the centre of my palm.

*


Chapter 3: Up In Flames
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 Late, as usual, I darted into the library and quickly scanned the room for Hugo. I was anxious to hear what he thought about my ant story. Since we hadn’t had a moment alone all day, we’d agreed to meet here after my evening detention. It didn’t take long to spot him at a small mahogany table near the entrance: the library was deserted. Hugo was bent over a piece of parchment and he raised his hand in a wave as I approached the table.


“Do you think it could be an Animagus,” Hugo asked quietly. His tongue was slightly peeking out of the corner of his mouth and his quill flew across the page as if he couldn’t get the words out of his head fast enough. I took the seat beside Hugo and refrained from answering his question for as long as I could. The last thing I wanted was to disrupt his latest problem solving train of thought; and from the look of the rather complicated chart he was constructing, it appeared that his mind had been busy formulating ant-related theories all day. Watching Hugo quickly fill the parchment with his ideas renewed my faith that everything would get sorted; if anyone was going to figure out the ant situation, it would be him.


“Of course,” I replied when Hugo lifted his quill from the page. “That’s why I’ve been talking to him, reassuring him that it’s ok to transform back.” I looked over at Hugo’s tiny scrawl and shook my head. The symbols, boxes and lines that filled the parchment were like another language.


“Or her,” Hugo corrected. “Lils, you can’t get blinded by the fact that you think it’s Lorcan. Besides, we all know that Lorcan left last week to stay with Lysander, right?” I let out a sigh. Hugo was right. Lysander had fallen into a coma quickly after Ravenclaw’s last Quidditch match. Ever since the decision had been made to move him to St. Mungo’s, Lorcan and his family had been practically living at the hospital. We had all watched Lorcan leave. When I thought about it rationally, I knew it didn’t make sense to believe Lorcan was the same person I saw on Saturday night. I had seen him leave days before that happened. It was dark. I was scared and sleep deprived. But there was that tiny inexplainable part of me that just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was him.


“Right, whatever, or her,” I said. “I talk to… it… all the time. So far nothing.” Well, by ‘nothing’ I meant that the ant had not transformed back. Something did happen as a result of all my talking to the ant, though: when Kenna overheard me talking to the ant, that pretty much solidified the rumour that I had lost my mind.


“There’s a spell we can try,” Hugo said, flipping through Rose’s seventh year Transfiguration text book. “I’ve never tried it, obviously, but it seems pretty straightforward.” Hugo paused and waved his quill between his thumb and index finger. “If the ant is an Animagus, there’s a chance we can force it back into its human form.”


“Let’s do it,” I said, carefully taking the cube out of my pocket and gently placing it down on the dark wooden table. While part of me was eager for the spell to work and accomplish my first step in setting things right, the other part was listening to the nagging questions at the back of my mind. For the spell to work, the ant had to be an Animagus. Since an Animagus could change back at will, and he knew I wasn’t going to hurt him, why wouldn’t he just change back? I shook my head. With the amount of secrets I had been keeping, and the crazy turn my life had taken, I knew all too well that sometimes things weren’t always as clear cut as they appeared to be.


“Now?” Hugo asked, raising his eyebrows. I shrugged my shoulders and gestured at the empty room. Once he saw that we were the only ones in the library, he let out a deep sigh and picked up the cube. I smiled wide and patted him on the back before gathering up our things.


I followed Hugo through the narrow aisles, ducking every once in a while when a high speed book flew dangerously close to my head. His pace suggested he had a destination in mind and although I was getting impatient, I held my tongue. Hugo stopped in front of the Muggles Studies section. It was the perfect choice. When we stepped out of the aisle, we found ourselves standing in a small carpeted circle. The book shelves curved around us and there was a deep purple couch to our left. Granddad would be horrified to hear this, but I was fairly certain that even when the library was packed, no one ever ventured into this section. It was actually kind of sad.


Hugo placed the cube in the centre of the carpet and took three large steps back. He pointed his light brown wand directly at the box, his face the picture of concentration. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I saw the blue and white light flash from his wand. Hugo had already mastered nonverbal spells; at this rate I’d never catch up to him.


The box remained exactly where he had left it. Hugo frowned and lowered his wand.


“Try again,” I urged. Hugo took a deep breath and pointed his wand at the box once again. A loud thud sounded from the front of the room. Hugo’s eyes went wide and he froze. “It’s ok,” I said, tapping his hand that held his wand before jogging over to the cube. I inspected it quickly and then placed it back into my pocket. As I turned to Hugo, we heard a thump followed by a loud curse.


I pulled Hugo in front of me and guided him back to the narrow aisle. As Hugo navigated our path back to our table, I tried to ignore the swirling feelings of frustration that were beginning to take root. When we reached the open space of the study area, I let out a sigh of relief. I shot Hugo a knowing look as we passed Aldrona kneeling in front a number of heavy books. Hugo turned a deeper shade of red and hurried to his seat.


“Go help her, you ninny,” I whispered as I handed him his parchment and books. Hugo shuffled through the pages and began sorting them into piles on the table. He stopped momentarily as if he was considering my suggestion and turned his head towards Aldrona. She ran her hand through her light brown hair and let out a little sigh before beginning to stack the books that were on the floor. His leg began to bounce under the table and I knew that he was about to get up. The grin slowly faded from my face as I noticed Nikhil. Wearing a dark grey t-shirt, he walked right up to Aldrona, and without saying a word, he picked up her pile of books as if they didn’t weigh a thing. I saw Hugo’s face fall as he watched them exchange a few words and then wince when Aldrona laughed and rested her hand on Nikhil’s arm.


“Don’t - ” I started, but stopped when Hugo raised his hand. His jaw was clenched and he returned his attention to the piles of parchment in front of him. I opened my mouth to try and lighten the mood, but chose to shoot daggers at Nikhil and Aldrona as they left the library instead.


“Right,” Hugo said. He slid a piece of parchment towards him and made a few scratches with his quill. “I’m sorry, Lily. I really thought that was going to work.” I understood his need to change the topic right now and held back all of the things that I was dying to say. Hugo always needed a bit of time to process things before he was ready to talk. According to my mom, I could do well to adopt Hugo’s practice of self-reflection. Yet, watching him sit there, clenching and unclenching his jaw, I couldn’t imagine self-reflection feeling all that great. I’d rather just let it all out and be done with it.


“Me too,” I said. “But with each elimination, we come closer to the true answer.” Hugo gave me a small smile as I recited his words back to him. I tapped my index finger on the table and glanced at the sheet in front of me. He had already ruled out Transfiguration spells as a potential cause. I made a mental note to ask him to explain that to me in simple English. There wasn’t anyone better at solving puzzles than Hugo. However, as I looked at him working so diligently, I realized something. Hugo could be the smartest man in the entire world, but he wouldn’t be able to solve anything if he didn’t have all the information. I felt my right hand twitch, unable to keep still with the restless energy rushing through me.


“No worries, Hugo,” I said. I cleared my throat. “Plan A will be ready tomorrow night.”


“Plan A?” Hugo asked. He looked up, his quill poised above the parchment. I placed my palms on the cool surface of the desk and wished I had thought to bring some water with me.


“Yes,” I said, seeing the confusion in his blue eyes. “Remember when I told you it was complicated?”


“Yes,” Hugo said slowly.


“Well, there’s something else I haven’t told you yet. The night after I found the ant, I started working on a potion that might help counter the effects of the ant spell.” I looked at Hugo and felt relief when I saw hope flash across his face. Leave it to Hugo to focus more on a possible solution than the fact that I had kept another secret from him.


“That’s great, Lily,” Hugo said with genuine excitement. He scribbled something on the paper in front of him. “The day after would have been Sunday…the day we went to Hogsmeade.”


“Yes,” I said, swallowing the lump in my throat. As much as I wanted to tell Hugo the entire story about what happened in Hogsmeade, I had pledged my silence and could not go back on my word.


“You know, I wondered where you had run off to. Now it all makes sense.” Hugo leaned back in his chair. “So let’s hear about this potion.”


Recognizing the familiar combination of clammy palms and the rush of the icy hot swirling mix that made my heart skip a beat, I knew I only had a little bit of time before I was completely consumed with the need for release. I ignored the clarification that begged to be revealed to Hugo; that the idea for the potion wasn’t entirely my idea, and quickly formulated a plan for escape. I spoke in what I hoped was a genuine tone. “Oh sorry, Hugo, but I just feel awful all of a sudden.”


“Oh no, want me to come with you to the infirmary?” Hugo asked, concern written all over his face. He began to gather up the sheets of parchment that were spread out all over the table.


“No,” I shouted a little too loudly. “I mean, no, please stay and continue with the research. You always gets tons more accomplished when I’m not with you.” I grabbed my things and turned to him before leaving, “I think my stomach is just upset. Maybe prawns for dinner was a bad idea.
I’ll be fine,” I said. “Really. See you at breakfast?”


I heard Hugo respond as I sped out of the library, though I’m not sure I could recall the exact words he said. I crunched up two pieces of parchment as I raced around the corner, eyes focused on the narrow corridor that I knew would be empty. Ever since the incident with Professor Longbottom’s graded papers, I had promised not to do this again. But the call to set one more fire was too powerful to resist. Besides, it was only a small fire; and if my goal was to fix the chain of events that had derailed my life, then I needed to be focused and well-rested. One more tiny fire and then I’d stop. I felt a huge smile spread across my face as I reached the corridor I desired. I quickly unfolded the parchment and pointed my wand. I licked my lips. “Incendio,” I said, my eyes transfixed on the dancing flames.

*






 
Sunday, December 10th


I pulled my dark blue wooly hat down over my ears and smiled as we walked down the main street in Hogsmeade. Green wreaths hung on every shop door and the fluffy snowflakes that drifted down around us just added to the enchantment of being in the picturesque village. I looked over at Hugo, who was wrapped up in a thick brown scarf, and pondered how I could sneak away. Finding the perfect Christmas present for Hugo had been at the top of my list since the sweater fiasco of last year. This Christmas, even if everyone else got him the same gift, my present would make up for it. A new custom quill. Although it sounded like a rubbish gift to me, I knew that Hugo would practically burst with excitement when he saw it.


“Honeydukes?” Hugo asked. He inclined his head to the bustling shop to our right and I nodded in agreement. With how packed the store always was, and the ages it took Hugo to decide what to get, it would be the perfect opportunity for me to slip away unnoticed.


“I need to get a bunch of sugar quills,” I said as we pushed our way into the crowded shop. Those were definitely the only kind of quills I would want to receive as a gift. “You take a look at the chocolates and nougats and I’ll meet you over by the Every Flavour Beans when you’re done,” I said. “Take your time,” I called over my shoulder. I saw his face instantly relax before he turned around and began his slow progression through the sea of people.


When I could no longer see Hugo through the crowd, I stuck out my elbows and murmured apologies as I cleared my path to the door.
*

As I walked out of Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop, I tucked the sparkling silver wrapped box into my bag and felt a blast of icy air hit my face. The small black sign above the doorway creaked as a large gust of wind swung it back and I dug my hands deeper into my coat pockets. This side of the main street was a stark contrast to the more popular area that housed shops like Honeydukes, Zonko’s and The Three Broomsticks; while that area was packed with people shopping and laughing, this part of the street was relatively empty. I set off back to the candy shop and heard light footsteps fall in line behind me. I turned around, only mildly surprised that no one was there. The wind had a way of carrying sounds, I thought, before continuing on my way. After a few steps I heard the footsteps again, this time at a much quicker pace. I broke out into a run, but was thrown to the ground before I could get very far.


“I’ve got him,” a deep voice yelled from on top of me. The weight crushed my face onto the cold stone road and I moved my head to the side, gasping for breath. I screamed.


“Shut it,” the man said. He picked me up and clamped a large gloved hand over my mouth. He carried me into an alley, strengthening his grip on me the more I struggled. My legs swung wildly in the air and I could feel the tears that slid down my cheeks start to freeze. He tapped the side of a red brick wall and a faded black door appeared. He opened the door with one hand and threw me down into the darkness before stepping into the room himself. The door slammed shut with a loud bang.


I felt the burn in my hands as my palms skidded along the floor. A match was struck and as the heavy footsteps echoed around the room, small candles shed a warm glow on my surroundings. I quickly scrambled to my feet, opening and closing my fists in an attempt to sooth the stinging pain in my hands. The room had a dark grey concrete floor and black walls. It was completely bare except for a few candles that were placed around the perimeter of the room. Directly across from the door we had entered through was a light brown door.


“It’s been a while, Matthieu,” a raspy voice said behind me. I whirled around. The man who had grabbed me was still making his rounds, lighting candles. I hadn’t even heard anyone else enter the room.


“What?” My mouth was so dry, the word barely squeaked out of me. I looked at the man who stood before me. He had a youthful face, though pieces of silver glistened throughout his dark brown hair. His eyes were icy blue and held the satisfied look that people got when they had just won a coveted prize.


“Did you think your latest stunts would escape my notice?” He paced back and forth in front of me, rubbing his hands together. “And after everything I’ve taught you, is this how you pay me back?” He turned to me, the blaze in his blue eyes dulling, waiting for me to respond.


“I…I…I,” I stammered. My mind was a complete blank. It was as if I could not get a firm hold on the words I wanted to say. Confusion winning over my fear, I opened my mouth to try again.


His eyes narrowed and I flinched as he raised his hand to my head. “Who the bloody hell is this,” he screamed. He threw my blue hat to the floor and my red hair tumbled down around my shoulders. “Thomas!”


My abductor raced over and let out a loud gasp when he looked at me. “But sir, I was certain it was Matthieu. The resemblance is uncanny.” He fumbled in his pocket and unfolded a flimsy piece of paper, his hands shaking.


“Indeed.” He looked at me closely and I saw the sadness in his eyes. “I apologize for my assistant’s grave error, my dear. My name is Benjamin Guerin and I want to assure you that you will not come to any harm.” He extended his hand, and against the voice of reason in my head, I shook it. It was completely unexplainable, and probably insane, but I felt as though I could trust him. And the moment my hand met his, I felt certain of it.


“Lily Potter.” I looked over at Thomas, who was shaking his head at the paper in his hands. I recognized the photo from The Daily Prophet. Matthieu Lyon was recently identified as the boy leaving the Museum of Magic shortly after a number of priceless artifacts had gone missing. It had been a top story all week. He was still at large and there was a pretty hefty reward for anyone who had information about his whereabouts. I took another look at the image. I guess we did kind of look alike…well, aside from the fact that he was a boy and I was clearly a girl.


“Ah another member of the famous Potter clan. I am so sorry our meeting was not under better circumstances. The wizarding world owes a great debt to your family,” Benjamin said, placing his right hand across his heart.


I nodded. I had learned from experience that when adults brought up The Great War, the best thing to do was just remain silent. I let out a deep sigh and watched my breath leave a cloud of fog in front of me. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and rubbed my hands together to warm them up. I winced at the pain and inspected the damage.


“And speaking of debts,” Benjamin continued. “We owe you one as well for the unfortunate mistake today.” He threw a look over my shoulder and I heard Thomas mumble something under his breath. Benjamin unbuttoned the top buttons of his black pea coat and reached in to one of the inside pockets. He placed a small bottle in his hand and slowly opened the lid. The scent of blackberries seemed to fill the room. Benjamin took my hands gently in his and smoothed the light purple cream all over the jagged scratches on my palms.


“Thank you,” I said softly. I watched as the colour faded from my skin and healed my wounds.


“Let’s take a walk,” Benjamin said, as his pale blue eyes followed my gaze to the door. Stepping into the bright daylight, I blinked quickly and inhaled the fresh winter air. I stood silently and watched the door we had just stepped through, disappear. “In addition to having a strong resemblance to Matthieu, you also carry his mark on you. That is why it took me longer than usual to determine that you were not the person I had requested to see today. A mark as strong as the one you have can only be the result of physical contact or a direct spell hit.”


My face paled. Lorcan’s attacker! But what could an infamous criminal want with Lorcan? I felt a pulsing pressure in my head and exhaled slowly to clear my thoughts.


Benjamin clicked his tongue and placed his hands on my shoulders. “You have a problem, yes? Something in your possession has been altered and you are unsure how to get it back.”


I felt my stomach tighten and nodded my head.


“Spells won’t work. You need a potion,” he said. “Now, if I have your word that you won’t breathe a word of our meeting - or of Matthieu, to anyone, then I can give you the recipe.”


“I promise,” I said, a small balloon of hope swelling inside my chest. I watched Benjamin scribble furiously on a piece of parchment.


“Get started on this straight away,” he said. “It will take a few days until it’s ready to be administered. This is a one-time use recipe,” he said waving the paper in the air, “the ink will fade with each passing day until it is completely invisible. If you, or anyone else, attempts to write out the recipe elsewhere, this piece of parchment will immediately dissolve into nothing. Follow my instructions and all will be well.”


I looked down at the paper, immediately planning my shopping route so that I could pick up everything I needed before we had to return to Hogwarts. “Thank you, Mr. - ”, I said, looking up. He was gone. I spun in a circle and wasn’t surprised when I saw no trace of him.


With the small bud of hope blossoming in my chest, I reminded myself that there was still a pretty big chance that this wouldn’t work. While I trusted that Benjamin wasn’t going to hurt me, I didn’t know that I felt so strongly about his ability to produce a solution to my problem without even knowing what it was. Still, it was something. And that was a start.


“Let’s do this,” I said, eyeing the herbology shop, Dogweed and Deathcap across the street.
*






A/N: Within the chapters, the page breaks with the dates in italics are flashbacks. I had considered doing the whole flashback scene in italics, but thought that might be a bit hard to read. Thanks so much for reading! Please let me know what you think :)

 


Chapter 4: The Finish Line
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Hugo and I inhaled our dinners in record time and bolted to the third floor. We had fifteen minutes to add the final, and most important, ingredient. We ran down the dead-end narrow hallway and slipped inside the old abandoned classroom. I had found this room last year when I was scouting locations for a space where I could secretly experiment with my potion making. Since no one ever came down this way, it was the perfect spot to brew the ant potion. Requiring almost an entire week to brew, it was the most challenging potion I had worked with to date.

 
“Did….you…bring…it?” Hugo was bent over with his hands on his knees, wheezing and coughing between each word. 

 
“Yes. Did you bring yours?” Hugo tossed a small yellow bracelet at me and gave me a shaky thumbs up. The final ingredient was a personal artifact of the one we wished to transform back. I brought Lorcan’s little blue book of poetry. As much as it pained me to send it into a boiling cauldron of bubbling bright purple liquid, it was the most personal object of his that I had. A blush rose to my cheeks as I remembered the afternoon he had shyly asked if I’d like to read his poems. Hugo, who was certain the ant wasn’t Lorcan, had brought an item that belonged to his choice candidate. He had pursued his investigation with vigour, using every spare moment he had to determine which Hogwarts students could be counted as viable options. We only had one chance to brew this potion and a wrong choice could mean that the person trapped as an ant could remain that way forever. Time was ticking and the weight of this decision weighed heavily on my chest. 

 
Hugo sat down on the floor and I kneeled down beside him, lifting up the thick white sheet that covered a rickety chair. I pulled out my small portable cauldron and adjusted the temperature knob. While I waited for the potion to reach a boil, I carefully unfolded the recipe. The parchment had been folded and refolded so many times that the creases were on the verge of splitting apart. The ink was almost completely faded and I had to squint to read the writing. You’d think that by now the recipe would be permanently etched into my brain, but no matter how many times I read it, the information just wouldn’t stick. I guessed that this was another safeguard against using the potion more than once. 

 
“Have you decided?” Hugo leaned back against the wall and flipped open my gold pocket watch. “We have twelve minutes,” he said. I felt my stomach tighten and then drop. I took the pocket watch from Hugo, pressed the cover down until I heard it click, and rubbed my thumb across the top.

 
“No. Let’s hear what you came up with,” I said. “In detail this time.” Time wasn’t a luxury we had, but Hugo was thorough and I needed to know the exact reasons why he chose to eliminate some of the names on his list. I pushed myself back to the wall so that our shoulders were touching. Hugo stared straight ahead at the shiny black cauldron. 


“I started at the beginning, with the physical description of the figure you saw in the corridor on Saturday. All we really had to go on was the blonde hair and the similar physical build to Lorcan, so I compiled a list of all the students at Hogwarts with short blonde hair. I then cross-listed those results with students around the same height as Lorcan. After that, I eliminated any students that, as of this morning, were still present in the school. That left me with four people.” Hugo turned to look at me. “Lysander Scamander, Lorcan Scamander, Wilfried Muller, and Moyra McCormack.”

 
“Kenna’s sister,” I said, more to solidify the information in my mind than to seek clarification from Hugo. Every time I tried to place Moyra McCormack in my mind, I just kept seeing Kenna. With the same golden blonde hair and deep blue eyes, it was easy to get them confused. Though, that’s where the similarities ended. Kenna and Moyra were actually complete opposites. 

 
“Right. I had Professor Longbottom check with St. Mungo’s, and as of last night, Lysander was still in a coma in his hospital room. It couldn’t have been him.”

 
“And Lorcan,” I prompted. My voice wavered and my eyes were wide, anxious for Hugo’s response. 

 
“My letters to Lorcan weren’t answered. Not sure if the owl got detoured or if Lorcan just hasn’t had time to respond.” 

 
“Well that’s - ” 

 
“But,” Hugo said, his tone quashing my interruption, “ when you consider the circumstances, his lack of response isn’t surprising. I did receive word from the head nurse this morning and she said that Lysander’s parents had been at his bedside all week and that his brother pops in and out about every other day or so.” My palms began to sweat. Lorcan wouldn’t visit his brother every other day. That was utterly ridiculous. 

 
“There’s no way,” I said shaking my head. “She must be mistaken. That doesn’t sound like Lorcan at all. Every other day…. no… I don’t buy that.” 

 
“There could be numerous reasons for that, Lily.” Hugo placed his hand on my arm. “He could be running errands for his parents, he could be doing research for treatments that could help Lysander…he could be doing any number of things. It’s hard to say how anyone would react in that situation, right?” I let out a breath I wasn’t aware I was holding. He did have a point. If his parents were constantly at Lysander’s bedside, then I could definitely see Lorcan offering to take care of things for them. 

 
“Fine. And the other two?” 

 
“Wilfried. Although he was more than a little shocked to receive my owl on his family vacation, he says that he’s doing well and that I should send you his warmest regards.” Hugo raised an eyebrow at me and I knocked his shoulder hard with my fist. 

 
“Ok moving on…so that leaves Moyra,” I said. Moyra was a year ahead of us, in Hufflepuff, and although I don’t think I had spoken more than two words to her over the years, she was known as extremely kind, generous and loyal. As those qualities weren’t even on the same spectrum as Kenna’s, I always found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that they were siblings. 

 
“I haven’t heard back from her either. But, Bianca Brown, who shares a dorm with Moyra, told me that she’d be off for a few days for the annual Ministry summer internship interviews.” Hugo paused and pointed his index finger at the bubbles that were now forming in the cauldron. “But since those interviews don’t happen in December - they start in February, I decided to dig a little deeper. Moyra’s file had a note from her parents stating that the rigorous interview process would keep Moyra away for a few days. But here’s the thing - the letter was written in Kenna’s handwriting.” I chewed on the corner of my bottom lip and processed what Hugo was saying. Moyra wasn’t on school grounds, yet she clearly couldn’t be where everyone thought she was. What was Kenna playing at?

 
“And how exactly did you get access to her file?” I consulted the recipe and stirred the purple liquid clockwise three times. Swirls of orange appeared and then disappeared. I added in three moonstones and stirred the mixture once, counter-clockwise. The potion began to glow and was now a pastel yellow with a pearl glaze on top. I exhaled loudly. So far, everything was perfect. 

 
“That’s a story better saved for later,” Hugo said. “The question you should be asking is how I can be so sure that the note was written by Kenna?” I rolled my eyes; Hugo always got a bit theatric when he played at being a detective. 

 
“Ok how can you be so sure?” Theatric or not, Hugo took his investigations seriously. Hearing him retell the lengths he went to narrow down the list made me slightly embarrassed that my investigation consisted of asking the ant over and over to give me a sign as to his, or her, identity. The results were inconclusive. 

 
“Love letters. Can you believe it? Last week Kai found a stash of Kenna’s love letters to Nikhil. Before Nik could put a stop to it, Kai had thrown them all over the dorm - reading parts of them aloud. I felt so bad for Nik, but the good news was that since Kai was laughing so hard, no one really understood what he was saying. I helped Nik gather up the pieces of parchment before anyone else could get their hands on them. Kenna’s writing is unique. There’s absolutely no chance that the note in Moyra’s file wasn’t written by her.” I wasn’t surprised that Kenna was into Nikhil. He was the kind of guy who always had loads of girls fawning all over him. What did surprise me, was that Kenna’s shrivelled black heart was capable of writing a love letter at all. 

 
I flipped open my pocket watch to see the time. We had nine minutes to add in the final ingredient. “So you feel confident that the ant is Moyra, then?”

 
“Yes. I don’t know why Kenna would write that note, but Moyra’s absence is the only story that doesn’t add up. And think about it, Kenna has been acting weird lately. She’s been sneaking off and having those intense meetings with the Quidditch crew. And then there’s her new found obsession with The Daily Prophet. Prior to a few days ago, I had never even seen Kenna glance at the paper, and now she’s constantly reading it.” I tilted my head up to the ceiling and closed my eyes. Kenna’s behaviour had been rather strange…and if she knew Moyra was missing, then reading the Prophet for clues did make sense. I could almost picture the look on Kenna’s face when I returned her sister to her. She wouldn’t dare make another strike against me. But could the figure I saw that night really be Moyra? My stomach did that queasy lurch thing that always happened right before I was about to take a Bludger to the head. Hugo’s research was beyond thorough. Everything he said made complete sense. So why did I feel so off? 

 
“What if I make the wrong choice?” I took the clear cube out of my pocket and glanced up at Hugo. He put his arm around me. 

 
“Go with what you think,” he said. “When it comes down to it, this is your choice. You have the information…you’ve heard what I think. But I wasn’t there that night - you were. And if the choice you make today doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. Don’t worry.” I tilted my head against him, unsure what I had done to deserve such a brilliant best friend.

 
“That could win for speech of the year, Weasley,” I said, crying and laughing at the same time. “Now let’s do this.” I wiped my face and placed the ant, Lorcan’s poetry book, and Moyra’s bracelet on the floor in front of me. “Time check?”

 
“Four minutes, Lily.” A shiver rolled through me. 

 
As I unfolded the potion recipe, I noticed something on the bottom corner of the parchment. I held it up close to my eyes. It was small and very faint, but there was a symbol there. It looked like a tiny flame. My face flushed and although I didn’t feel the familiar rise of restless energy, I wondered if my fire problem was now causing me to see things. 


“What do you see here?” I thrust the parchment in Hugo’s face. 

 
“A spade,” Hugo suggested, “a leaf? I dunno, Lils, it’s hard to make out.” I took the paper back and ran my finger over the spot where the symbol was. It could definitely be a flame…or a petal. It seemed odd that after all the time I spent pouring over this parchment, I’d only notice it now. 
 

Sometimes it was easy to miss what had been staring you in the face the entire time. I thought back to Benjamin’s words, follow my instructions and all will be well. I scanned the recipe and looked at the line at the bottom of the page. It wasn’t so much a final step in the recipe as it was a final thought. 

 
Oftentimes the balance is righted through trust that our inner guide knows the way.


“One minute left,” Hugo said, a panicky edge to his voice. 


There was no more time left to think; it was time to act. I grabbed Lorcan’s book, threw it into the cauldron and stirred counter clockwise. The yellow potion turned bright green and glimmered with tiny flecks of silver. It was done. I turned off the cauldron and opened the ant’s clear cube. 

 
“This is the way back, Lorcan,” I said to the ant. “Drink.” I placed two drops on the floor in front of the ant and handed an empty glass to Hugo so he could fill it with the rest of the potion. Once you were transformed back, you had to drink the remainder of the potion in order to make the change permanent. Failure to do so would mean a life of spontaneous shifts between the two forms. 


“Let’s give him some room,” Hugo said, steam rising from the glass in his hand. We got up and took a few steps away from the ant. We stood in silence and watched the ant move toward the green spots. 

 
“Oh Merlin!” Everything went dark. I felt Hugo grab my sleeve. “What’s happening,” I whispered. Hugo didn’t respond. We stood there for what felt like an eternity, neither of us daring to move. I blinked and everything was back to the way it was. Except now, I saw Lorcan. He stood in front of us, swaying slightly as he swept his sunlit blonde hair back from his eyes. His hazel eyes locked on to me and I released everything I had been holding back. 

 
I ran to him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and burrowed my face into his chest. I couldn’t believe that it had actually worked. He took a step back to steady us and squeezed me tight. 

 
“Lily Potter, you never cease to amaze me.” My heart swelled as I heard the deep voice that I feared I would never hear again. Lorcan set me down gently, his strong hands resting on my shoulders and the butterflies in my stomach soared as he gently wiped the tears that were streaming down my face. I stood there staring into his eyes, unable to look away. I could spend forever staring at the golden brown flecks in his dark green eyes. 

 
“Welcome back,” Hugo said, stepping forward and extending his hand to Lorcan. Lorcan clapped his hand into Hugo’s and pulled him into a hug. Hugo awkwardly hugged him with one hand, keeping the arm that held the glass straight out to the side. Hugo laughed as he emerged from the embrace and glanced at the glass. He then quickly offered the green liquid to Lorcan -  the final step to his cure.  


“You have no idea how good it feels to be back.” Lorcan laughed and raised his glass to us before drinking it all. “You never gave up,” he said looking from me to Hugo. “I owe you both more than words can say. I want to hear everything.” Lorcan put his arm around Hugo and looked back at me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Lorcan’s hand, palm up, in front of me. I beamed, my cheeks reddening as I slipped my hand into his.


As Hugo told the story of the most bizarre week of my life, Lorcan nodded his head as he pieced together the information he was given. Hugo and I traded off updating Lorcan, and all the while, I couldn’t help but wonder about the unanswered questions and unexplained elements left behind in the aftermath of this insane week. Where was Moyra? What was Kenna up to? And what about Lorcan’s story? I thought I saw something flash behind Lorcan’s eyes when Hugo mentioned Kenna’s, ‘Lily and the ant’ rumours, but it was gone almost as fast as it appeared. I pushed my thoughts to the back of my mind and focused on celebrating with Hugo and Lorcan. There was plenty of time to sort everything out. I mean, we had crossed the finish line by returning Lorcan back to his true form, but that didn’t mean the race was over. In the grand scheme of things, this marked my first few steps towards finding my way out of this mad series of events. There was still a lot to do; and slowly, but surely, I was finding my way. 

*

 

A/N: Thank you so much for reading! Please let me know what you thought :)


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