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Once, a very long time ago when she didn’t know about pain and sacrifice and loss (nor, whispered the crinkly-eyed, fond, optimist part of her, of magic, love and belonging), when the lullabies were sung to instead of by her, Lily had gone with her family to a little, rusty old fair out of way of absolutely everything. It was one of those poorly thought-out decisions (they ended up arriving home from their vacation, their original purpose, at roughly three in the morning) that make, in the end, for the best memories in anyone’s childhood. It was also the kind of decisions that parents make when their children unite to produce the exactly right amount of whining and begging and no one’s too terribly foul-mooded or tired.

This, as it was back when Petunia still giggled and laughed and had fun with her, instead of at her expense, meant that their drive took an awfully loopy detour that was as much fun as any impromptu activity always is.

And Lily had fun. She jumped and ran and increased her energy when she was supposed to be depleting it. She was loud as only a kid her age knows how to be, and she tried every ride, which, admittedly, wasn’t saying much. And, by the time the sun was setting and her mother was half amused, half horrified at the vague idea of the time they’d get home, she was determined to leave nothing unexplored, which meant visiting the ‘tarot reader’, more out of principle than interest, really.

She called herself Seer Cassandra, even though at least two people stopped by who called her Biddy and Kiki respectively, which confused Lily at the time. Later, when she learned about real Seers, or as real as Lily was ready to believe (back before a little green-eyed baby boy who made beliefs not matter when faced with her limitless need to protect him from all manner of dangers, even if they were announced by dubious prophecies), Lily immediately and vividly remembered this woman whom she’d met once at a tender age and snorted. She did not stop to wonder why she’d been so present in her memory – she was as fleeting a thought then as she’d been a presence in her life when Lily had gone to a fair that one time.

Seer Cassandra dressed very weirdly, all bracelets and rings and smelly hair products. She had a wart which Lily, for some reason, interestedly noted was fake. Petunia had shrilly wanted to know if all those chewed-through old shawls she’d worn didn’t make her hot in the summer. The place smelled stuffy, like it wasn’t aired often, and it was dark, though the candles did let Lily know that one wrong move of her arm could knock down all sorts of breakable-looking things. And then Seer Cassandra wouldn’t be able to reassure her that the flowers at her wedding with a faceless knight who rode a white horse wouldn’t be lilies, because her parents would want to leave.

But she didn’t talk about flowers. Lily had not had extensive conversations with many tarot readers, but she had met one or two before, and, although they’d dressed just like Seer Cassandra, she found that they had been a good deal louder and also a good deal less creepy. Seer Cassandra just didn’t seem to be flamboyant enough to be an Occultist. She singled Lily out the moment they were within her sight – Lily had a strange feeling of nervousness, and she didn’t know why – and, though reluctant and frowning, her parents warily watched as their youngest sat directly in front of her.

She smiled, all blackened teeth (from shadows or not), and she produced a dirty, dusty pack of unlabeled cards that looked and felt, at least to Lily, rather more real and more fascinating than anything else she’d seen in that tent thus far. No one spoke, and even so, it was too quiet – no invisible thumpings, impossible wind rushes, nothing like she’d experienced before. Seer Cassandra just took out the cards and began.

In the end, the cards that Lily ended up picking were no more interesting than the rest – she chose them based on the positions of the nicks and cuts on the wood table. First, Seer Cassandra turned a card which, with a smile, she called The Lovers. Lily eagerly mentioned the flowers – but Seer Cassandra shook her head.

“I think, sweetheart, that this is more of a setting. Young love, early marriage, unsoiled, innocent and rather naïve ideals. You’ll get there, don’t you worry. But I don’t really know about the flowers.”

The next card had the biggest nick beneath it. Cassandra turned it and seemed interested by the result – she said this card was The Magician. Lily grinned back and asked if it meant she was a fairy with magic powers.

“Perhaps.” Seer Cassandra conceded in all seriousness. “I have never really met a fairy, so I could not tell you. But look here, little girl, and pay attention.” Lily disliked being perceived as a little anything, but she obeyed and followed Seer Cassandra’s finger to a little symbol – like an eight that had been pushed to the ground like Petunia sometimes did – over the wizard-person’s head. “Infinity.” She murmured, a faraway and uncannily focused expression on her face.

Lily asked if it meant she’d live forever. Seer Cassandra seemed amused by the idea.

“A corporeal existence can’t be infinite. People who try to live forever generally do so because they know they’ve hardly done enough with the smaller piece of a smaller infinity they usually don’t work to be gifted. No,” She continued, and Lily listened with a rapt attention she tended to reserve to the little math she was allowed to learn at her age. “I don’t believe you will stand out for your unusually long life. As a matter of fact, I’m rather certain you’ll stand out for the opposite.” Now Lily’s parents looked ready to interrupt, but Lily was still looking unfazed and fascinated, and, almost like there was a bubble around the table and its occupants, the idea of quieting Seer Cassandra died in their minds.

Petunia’s frown flickered from Lily to her parents. She was quite sure this wasn’t how a tarot reading happened, but, then again, Seer Cassandra didn’t quite act like a tarot reader anyway.

“But I wouldn’t worry.” Seer Cassandra smiled her blackish smile again, and the crinkles around her eyes weren’t laughing. “It stands to reason that if the man who lives forever doesn’t do much worth mentioning, the woman who lives twenty-odd years leaves her mark. Makes it” Seer Cassandra tapped the card again. “infinite. You’ll live forever, dear; just not by actually living.”

Lily hadn’t worried, although she wasn’t quite sure why. She just figured that if she were going to die early, she’d probably have a good reason for it.

By now, they were all (but Lily) regretting the last stop. But, as if the magic Seer Cassandra called hers was real, they stood still, watching and listening and doing nothing to stop it, like people do when they suffer but prefer the pain to the discomfort of fixing what was wrong.

The next card Seer Cassandra called Ten of Batons. “I can’t tell you much about this one.” She admitted. “Although I think it’s more linked to those that surround you rather than to you, exactly.” She stared at it some more. “Betrayal, disguise, shady choices, wavering paths – I think those are not quite certain. Still,” She said, turning the card to face down. “It’s never a nice card to see.”

“This is- fairly centered in a specific time of your life. All the cards. Of course, not everything about them is – but most, at least.” She elaborated. “Almost as if your destination had been decided upon for a while now, even if the road you take hasn’t.”

She seemed amused at what came next. “The Hanged Man. Prophecy. Sometimes I think I surprise myself as a Seer.” Then she focused with too much intensity on Lily. “Sacrifice.” She said no more about it.

Seer Cassandra paused before turning the last card. “You know, these are not very nice cards.” She murmured. “Of course, it would depend on my reading prowess – but it seems unfair to such a lovely young girl.” She tilted her head. “The cards you’ve chosen – they’re each linked to a different season. That’s rather strange.Summer.” She pulled at The Lovers, quite a sunny card. “Autumn.” She declared The Magician. “The Ten of Batons is a Winterish, cold card, of course. Which leaves The Hanged Man,Spring. Surprising, isn’t it?” She smiled. “Spring is the season of birth. I would expect that – well, what these cards spell should go rather in the same manner.”

Lily didn’t really understand. But her parents were starting to clear their throats, fighting through the numbing smells and air and words that made fog of their minds, and they were becoming agitated even as Seer Cassandra serenely turned the last card.

Lily stood up quietly, waiting for her last words. “The Tower.” Seer Cassandra wavered. She turned the card firmly downwards. “I think there is no fifth season.” She said softly. “Need we see this card, Lily?”

And in that moment, when Lily met her eyes and didn’t look away, she realized that maybe Seer Cassandra’s flamboyant-less-ness was expressed differently, like in her knowledge, her probably real Seer-ness and her wiser persona she didn’t seem willing to show to anyone but Lily. She also realized that maybe that last card mattered a little bit, and Seer Cassandra, who had been positively stoic the whole time she was speaking and interesting everyone else in not doing the same, had cracked and decided Lily didn’t need to know.

That was okay. Lily, instinctively, didn’t want to know either.

She walked out with her parents and didn’t think about it anymore. Not consciously anyway. Even if she never particularly forgot.

All the same, she never saw Seer Cassandra again, and the fair, when Lily revisited it once, an adult with a powerful urge to get back what she had had then and gradually lost, was nothing but a memory. Literally – the place where she remembered it being was total wild, the kind of place that surely hasn’t seen people in centuries, if ever.

But she remembered. Every word. That was part of the problem. The map that, early, she had been drawn of her life never really appeared to her as any kind of guideline. Frankly, it didn’t even figure much in her thoughts (though when it did, it was obsessive). That was mostly why she only started paying attention to it when most of the cards had been used and done with, been matched with their moments in her life.

But she didn’t know. She wished she had, later, as she tried to avoid the inevitable, as she held up an umbrella to try and stop a tsunami, but by then it was too late anyway. Still, she didn’t regret most of the choices she made. Knowing, understanding, there was little she’d change, she was fairly sure. Granted, the little could have proven useful, but she didn’t make a habit of crying over spilt milk, even if, in the end, spilt milk was something she’d rather have gotten instead. That was another story, though, and it was stupid to start with the ending anyway.

It wasn’t the end she was stuck on, anyway. She was mostly thinking about the beginning, about that sunny card that spelt summer and warmth. It’d probably been the nicest one, really. No one could really blame her for thinking about it.

She wished it had stayed that way, now, even if, back then, things looked the bleakest she’d ever thought she’d see. Even if she’d cried a couple of times, she wished she could cry as much as she had then, but later. It would probably reduce drastically the amount of tears he had to see.

But she couldn’t really go back. She could only remember.

It was better than nothing.

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