It was cold everywhere. She couldnt get away from it. Her heartbeat only functioned to spread the chill around her body.
And that was another thing. She was more aware of her body than usual. She could feel the pulse tingling in her finger-tips; she could feel every muscle tensed against the cold. Except in her feet. She couldnt feel her feet at all.
With the thought that surely surely her situation couldnt have got any worse, Lily opened her eyes. She was steeped up to her ankles in sea-water. That was the first surprise. And it was day well, there was no sun, just a blank, white horizon somehow dazzling and dull at the same time. She must have been back on the beach that shed first seen through the window in her library book, but it was difficult to be sure, because the world was so empty. There were no clouds, no cliffs, no rose-grey sand, no Severus.
He had left. He had lied to her. Hed said he would always be here. He had rubbed the stinging sand against her raw pink cheeks and promised.
And there was Guillotine Valance, in a little rowing boat, looking just like she had in her portrait in the Valance House. She was wearing that dress made from scraps of silk, lace and taffeta, in variegated shades of white ice-white, pearl-white, cream-white, porridge-white she looked like a pale, precious stone with loops and swirls of icing draped across her.
In fact, with the baby-blonde curls, she would have looked like some Victorian doll, had it not been for the sharp, pointed teeth the ones that must have given rise to the nickname Guillotine. And those dark, narrow eyes, with their Venus fly-trap lashes. She was sitting back in the rowing boat, fanning herself with a palm leaf. Lily stared at it, and then remembered that this beach had been lined with palm trees, the first time shed ever seen it, before the tide had submerged everything. She wondered where Guillotine Valance had found a dry tree, because everything was underwater now. Even the cliffs behind the beach were nowhere to be seen. Lily had the feeling that she might be standing on the highest peak of them.
Wheres Severus? she asked immediately, and received an innocent shrug from the Victorian doll with the pointed teeth.
Its your mind, dearie, she said. Not mine. If it was mine, I daresay thered be a lot more to do. She gave the blank horizon a disdainful look, and then smiled. Still, I expect youre just re-decorating. Youll have all the years of your life to get it right. May I suggest some trees? The foliage would bring out your eyes.
Lily tried to think of something to say to this, but her brain had ground to a halt. Hadnt she been on Azkaban, running away from Voldemort? Hadnt there been Foe Fire and Death Eaters and goblins?
Whats happening? she asked.
I need to borrow your body for a while, said Guillotine Valance.
What are you going to do with it?
More exciting things than youve ever done with it.
Lily couldnt think of anything to say to this. She wasnt quite sure whether Guillotine Valance was a threat. She had that forthright Valance way of talking as though other peoples feelings were just a myth but Meg had that, and she was alright. And, after all, this was the woman that Bruiser had married. This was the woman whod had her children stolen from her. She deserved to be treated with patience.
Youre going to possess me? Lily asked slowly.
Oh, everyone possesses you, Guillotine Valance sneered. Youre a psychic whore.
Lily blinked. Meg wouldnt have said that.
A wonderful place, this, Guillotine Valance continued. I never discovered this spell when I was at Hogwarts. I was too busy playing Quidditch and fighting Slytherins. Far be it from me to judge, Lily, but it seems to be on the self-indulgent side of magic, to me. But, youve thought of everything, dearie; this place cant be self-indulgent, because youve excluded yourself from it. She leaned closer, and Lily could see every one of those incisor-like teeth.
Did that ever seem strange to you? she went on. This was a vision of your true nature, and it was all about other people. It was just a gallery of all the people youd ever loved in your life. The conditions were nice, certainly all that warm sand, those gentle palm trees but you didnt get to enjoy it. You made paradise in your own head, and then you kicked yourself out of it. Now, to me, Lily Evans, that seems weird.
Lily couldnt think of anything to say, so she kept silent. She recognized pure-blood self-importance. The more you appeared to want them to get to the point, the more dilatory they would be. It was best to just wait it out. You got a better idea of what you were dealing with if you let them talk, anyway.
Of course, you live your life through other people, dont you? Thats how you make sense of yourself. You lose yourself in things like Marys doomed crush on James Potter, or Megs trouble with her father, so that you dont have to think about your own problems.
Lily just stared back at her, stony-faced. It wasnt so easy to stop her mind from pursuing this train of thought, though. It was true. She understood herself through her feelings for others. She was a tapestry woven out of tenderness and concern, support and good-wishes. And when, quite recently, shed been obliged to hate Severus, she didnt know who she was anymore. So she decided shed love him as she remembered him, before he went gallivanting off into the darkness that way she could save her idea of herself: that way she was still Lily still tender-hearted, loyal Lily.
When did it first happen? Guillotine Valance whispered, her face glowing with ghoulish enjoyment. When did you start living through other people? When did you begin to feel that your joy was indecent and needed to be hidden away? Was it when Severus first told you not to behave like a squealing Hufflepuff? Or was it further back, when Petunia scolded you every time you performed magic?
Still trying to ignore Guillotine Valances words, Lily felt the cold intensifying. Her breath was starting to steam in front of her, as though she were in the presence of Dementors. Perhaps she had internalized them. Her teeth were chattering, and the cold water lapping around her ankles was getting higher; the tide must have been coming in. She felt as though warmth and confidence and certainty were draining out through her feet, and getting lost in the wide, grey expanse of water.
Magic was your self-expression, Guillotine crooned, your creativity. A source of constant joy and release to you. And Petunia taught you to be ashamed of it. She told you that it wasnt right wasnt normal. You listened to your sister. Youd always been a good listener. You had a god-given talent for putting yourself in other peoples shoes, often crediting them with more intelligence and kindness than they really possessed. Anyway, you admired her: Youd always admired people who could keep a lid on their emotions: people who could be restrained, clear-headed and, as you termed it, useful.
Guillotine Valance toyed playfully with the oars in the rowing boat, as though marshalling her insults. And Lily wanted to interrupt her. She wanted so much for the talking to stop, but she was frozen with the spreading cold. And there were no counter-arguments. There was nothing she could say, now, to make this speech any less horrible.
You saw that your joy had made you betray your family, Guillotine continued. It had broken Petunias heart; year by year, you saw her getting colder and more bitter. Then you learned that your family were in danger from Death Eater attacks all because you went to that school to learn magic. Worse still, you were expected to leave them when you graduated. Magical graduates went to live in the magical world. And, because they have to live in secrecy, they sever their ties to the muggle world. You couldnt make new muggle friends without lying to them. You could never be completely open with anyone from the muggle world; all of your friends assumed that no muggle would ever be able to understand you and, to your horror, you found, as the years went by, that they were right.
You learned to believe that your joy was indecent: everything confirmed it. In your first years at Hogwarts, you saw all those pure-blood Slytherins sneering whenever you performed magic, as though it was disgusting. They werent right, of course. Your intelligence revolted at that thought. You knew they werent better than you because of their blood. That was moronic. You were ashamed, but you knew, rationally, that you had no reason to be. So you hid from yourself. You hid in the only other thing, besides magic, that had ever made you happy: love. You immersed yourself in other peoples problems: you listened, to drive out the deep unhappiness in your own head. You were patient and tender; you understood. Everybody fell in love with you, without ever realizing that there was something missing: you took no joy in anything else but them. Even magic has become a chore to you, hasnt it? Except, of course, the only magic that demands you immerse yourself in other peoples concerns: healing magic.
Face up to it, Lily. Youre a Gryffindor and Gryffindors never run away. Youre ashamed. You hate yourself. You were born with an unbridled capacity to feel joy but all it ever does is hurt the people you love.
Lily pursed her lips to try and get some feeling back into them. She knew now that Guillotine Valance didnt just want revenge. She wasnt going to let Lily have her body back when shed finished with it.
She remembered seeing this horrible woman for the first time, in the portrait gallery at Meg's house, where Silversmith had insisted - with what now seemed like ill-chosen words - that she was innocent.
She half-expected Silversmith to be lurking in the shadows here. Hed been there at the beginning. How right it would be how perfect that he should be there at the end too; guiding her through, like a marker. A steady-eyed footmen, bowing you into the world, and then bowing you out of it. This is where you came in. Youve seen the whole place now. Here we are back at the beginning, and now its time for something else.
Its a surprise. You dont know what the darkness contains until you stumble into it. Could be a bottomless pit or a surprise party. They both look the same from a distance.
One thing was for sure; it would not be anything like the room youd just left; the one the placid footman had just bowed you out of.
But there was no Silversmith, smiling greasily up at her, with his sweaty palms and creamy blue eyes. There was nothing but Guillotine Valance and the rising tide. Even Severus had abandoned her. She was utterly alone.
Lily felt the colour drain from her face; that was fleeing her body, too, and getting diluted by the waves. Her shoulders sagged. The water was sapping her strength. It was almost diluting her easing her molecules apart, until they couldnt be called a coherent self anymore. She was drifting apart, like the Archivist. She could feel her school robes getting fuzzy around the edges, as though theyd been ruined in the wash. Even her voice seemed to come from a long way away. A whisper took almost all the strength she had.
Thats why, said Guillotine Valance, history chose you to be a martyr. Other people are her only source of joy? Well, then, shes a perfect candidate to die for others. It does less harm, that way. You have less to lose than the average human being.
What do you mean? Lily breathed.
Your death is the only thing that matters about your life, Lily Evans. Your death is the only thing that will make a difference. Youre destined to die for your son, who will grow up with the chance to kill Voldemort.
Guillotine Valance gave her a lazy smile. Strange as it may seem, yes. Your life is not exactly going to be a feminist parable, Lily Potter: first a wife, then a mother, then a corpse and all in the space of five years. Its amazing how quickly some women can degrade themselves.
It was funny and she would have laughed, if shed had the strength but all she could think about, as the hope drained out of her, was how mad Severus was going to be.
Its this fate that Caladrius has been trying to save you from. Guillotine rolled her eyes. Though, with that mans bad luck, hed have a better chance of success if he locked you and Potter together in a cupboard, minus your clothes, and shouted through the door that Gryffindor would forfeit the House Cup unless there was a baby.
Guillotine Valance stood up in the boat, and dusted down her elaborate gown.
Well, everybody elses attempts to save you have been laughable at best, she muttered. Youve given your lifes energy for these people, and all they can do is make demented attempts to stopping you from marrying James Potter. Well, not me, little girl. Valances get things done. Ill deliver from your terrible fate, and you can deliver me from mine. Youre alive, but you dont know how to live; Im dead, and Im going to show you. Ill take your life and do wonderful things with it. Youll be more than just a martyr, Lily Evans. When they put up statues to you, it will be as more than a kind-faced mother holding a baby in her arms. Youll have a wand in one hand and a sword in the other. And youll be crushing the skulls of your enemies beneath your feet.
Lily saw, as though watching herself from a great distance, that the water was now up to the level of her knees.
Guillotine Valance started to row away. Goodbye, Sweetie, she called. Ill give your emaciated half-blood a kiss from you. Who knows? Hell probably like you better this way. It was for your joy in magic that he first fell in love with you. And thats coming back with a vengeance now. It didnt bother him that you were ashamed of your joy: hes ashamed of his. He thinks thats normal. But hell enjoy seeing you as the shameless, powerful, fearless witch he fell in love with. Valances, as you may or may not know, dont know the meaning of the word shame.
In the silence that succeeded the swishing of the water around Guillotine Valances oars, Lily could hear Avery jeering:
How does it feel to be a freak in both worlds?
A shudder passed through her, from her scalp to where she could only imagine her toes to be, lost under the murky water. She looked down, but the water was too dark to see through. She wasnt sure her feet were under there at all. Perhaps they had already been dissolved.
She suddenly remembered all the taunting shed endured at school. She saw Slytherins passing her notes in class that showed crude drawings of her family in a cage, with a sign outside that read Muggle scum. Last living specimens. Fed on Troll dung.
Every week in the Daily Prophet there were more reports of muggle-killings mostly the parents of students at Hogwarts Esther Johnson from Ravenclaw had been pulled out of class only last week, to be told that her parents had become the latest victims of Voldemorts onslaught. She hadnt been back to school since.
And she remembered something else; a memory that was so hazy Lily wasnt completely sure she hadnt dreamt it. Tuney in the playground, taking deep, shuddering breaths, as she tried to suppress her tears. A group of muggle children had formed around her, buzzing with anger.
Your sisters weird, one of them screeched. She made Deans nose bleed, the other day, just by looking at him. And I reckon shes the reason my mums in hospital.
Tuney stuck her nose up in the air, and tried to walk away, but the children had formed a circle around her, and they shoved her back into the middle.
We aint going to stand for it anymore. You tell her, well put you in hospital, if she doesnt knock it off!
Tuneys bottom lip was quivering. It was too soon for her customary disdain to kick in. It was too soon for the words: That freak is not my sister! to be the first on her lips. She just stared at them and quivered.
Lily wasnt even sure it had been real. There had been teasing, certainly, but it had never bothered her; she had never cared what people said about her. But Tuney cared. She wanted to be accepted. She thought the approval of her peers was indispensible to happiness.
She could understand it now; she saw everything. Petunia had been abandoned. While Lily had gone off to live in a castle, Tuney had been forced to live on her own in the dreary muggle world, getting teased because of her sisters good fortune.
Oh, how could she have been so cruel? How could she have forgotten about Tuney? How could she ever have smiled or laughed with Meg and Mary, while her sister was at home, being persecuted because of her?
Lily was so filled with shame that it was a relief to lean back against the rising water, and get lost in the cold. Her feet wherever they were must have lost their footing on the rocks, because she was sinking down now, through the depths. She shut her eyes and folded her arms over her chest; her hair was floating upwards above her, winding itself into a red spiral, like a Helter-skelter, as she twisted downwards.
Oh Tuney, Im sorry.
Watery glimmers made diamond-patterns on her blue-white skin. There was even seaweed, binding itself around her ankles, dragging her further down. Even the burning sensation of her lungs screaming for air was lost in the cold.
Her loved ones had been made to suffer, and for what? Was she top of the class, in anything? Margot Holloway always beat her in Charms; Severus always helped her in Potions. Potter and Sirius were top in everything else. She couldnt even play Quidditch. What had she gone for?
She had gone because she loved magic.
But magic didnt love her back.