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Stories from the Vault
The Exchange - Act One, Scene Three
The Exchange – Act One – Scene Three
Previously in this story:
“Where are we, and when?” Lily asked.
“Wigan, near Manchester, and given the blooming of the cotton sedge, I’d say mid-to-late June,” Luna replied. “Miss Lycoris Black lives in a cottage near here – it was gifted to Lycoris by the groom’s father when both families signed the betrothal contract.”
“Is she going to have to give it back?” Lily asked practically.
“No, as she was ready and able to enter into marriage, it was the groom’s suicide that thwarted consummation of the marriage,” Luna explained. “Mister Arben Dolohov had a snit with Sirius, Lycoris’ father, not our Sirius but great grandfather Sirius, who explained to him that it was the Dolohov family that was in default after the handfasting and that Lycoris would keep the cottage.”
“Did he accept that?” Lily asked.
“Not in the least, he was enraged; mad that his son committed suicide, angry that his son admitted to homosexuality in his suicide note, and furious that Lycoris did not return the bridewealth gift; it’s what led him to kill her,” Luna said.
“When will that happen?” Lily asked with concern.
“Hopefully in a few minutes if my timing is correct,” Luna replied.
They crested a low rise and both saw the cottage. A light was on and the front door was open.
“Oh, pooh,” Luna exclaimed. “We might be a bit late.”
The cottage front door opened into a kitchen, which was a mess.
A small fire flicked on the hob – an iron skillet lay in pieces on the floor beside the hob. The body of a large man blocked the doorway, the point of what was probably a chef’s knife protruding from his back. A small table was overturned, and the wreckage of shattered chairs littered the floor. Next to the small stone hearth lay the twisted body of a woman, a pool of blood ebbing out around her skirts.
Luna stood at the open doorway, flicked her wand at the kitchen. There was a brief flicker from the room.
“They’re both dead,” Luna announced.
“We’re too late?” Lily asked.
“Dear me, no,” Luna replied, “Death’s handmaiden is never too late.”
While focusing on some detail in the room, Luna pushed the man’s body delicately with her toe, moving his head enough that she could shut the door.
Luna stood facing the door, tapping her foot for seven beats before reopening the door.
The room was now completely changed. The kitchen table and chairs were sitting upright, there were no bodies, there was no blood.
“When are we right now?” Lily asked.
Luna twisted her lips as if doing a particularly troublesome maths problem.
“Very good question, Lily Potter. We’re not exactly in Lycoris’ time stream right now – it’s difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain.”
“To be precise, we’re adjacent to the recent past when Lycoris was living here in the cottage and slightly before Arben Dolohov went ‘round the bend.”
“Oh-kay” Lily responded. “Why are we here?”
“I figured you could use a cuppa while I explained a bit more.”
Lily walked into the kitchen and pulled out a chair.
“Explain away, Mistress of Death,” Lily said.
“Oh, we needn’t be formal, Luna will suffice.”
“Are you Mistress of Death or Death’s handmaiden?” Lily asked.
“Both,” Luna replied while opening cupboard doors, looking for tea as she put a kettle on the hob.
“I am a daughter of the Peverel family; while I hold the three Hallows, I cannot die – not permanently,” Luna explained. “As I am, for the moment, deathless, I may be called Mistress of Death, but that title is a bit misleading, as Death truly has no master or mistress. With this role, I have a duty to balance certain things, which makes me Death’s handmaiden.”
“But you’re a mum,” Lily objected.
“Okay, Death’s hand- matron ,” Luna quipped “if you want to split hairs.”
The kettle began to whistle.
“Oh, goody,” Luna exclaimed. She filled the teapot with boiling water and gave the pot an affectionate pat as she placed the lid on top. Luna leaned back against the counter, which caught her in the middle of her back.
“You know, just once, I’d like to have a kitchen counter where I can rest my backside,” Luna complained. “My husband could do that; Rolf would look so cool , but if I try to do it, I look like a toddler on a precipice.”
“If you’re Death’s hand-matron, what was Harry’s other title?” Lily asked, ignoring Luna’s grumble about the plight of being short.
“He collected them by the bag,” Luna replied. “Boy-who-lived, Man-who-conquered, Master of Death…I think he also called himself ‘Fate’s chew-toy’ once or twice, which was droll.”
“He never spoke the title, but he could have been called ‘Death’s steward,’ entrusted to take care of Death’s household.”
Luna looked out the window and then turned back to face Lily.
“What do you take in your tea?” Luna asked.
“Dab of honey if you have it,” Lily replied.
“I’m certain there’s some here,” Luna said, opening another cupboard door.
“And here we are” she exclaimed.
Luna poured tea, pushing a small jar of honey towards Lily along with a steaming cup, saucer and spoon. She picked up her own cup, cradling it in her hands.
“How well do you know the Black family?” Luna asked.
“I knew Sirius, of course, as he was part of the package of being with James for better or worse; I knew of Bellatrix, and I knew Narcissa and Andromeda, well enough to recognize them in the streets, but we weren’t close,” Lily said.
“So, three generations back from our Sirius was great-grandfather Sirius, who was Phineas Nigellus’ son. Great-grand Sirius had three children, at least three children that the family admits to having,” Luna explained. “Arcturus was the heir, Regulus was the spare, and then there was Lycoris, who managed to make it to adulthood, notwithstanding the urgings of her great-aunt Elladora.”
“Oh, what was her objection?” Lily asked.
“In the Black family squibs and less than physically perfect children were often euthanized,” Luna explained. “Lycoris was no squib, but she was sickly as a child and had a less-than-perfect gait, I’m not sure exactly what the cause might have been.”
“She flourished at Hogwarts, Slytherin of course, and afterwards was apprenticed to a Potions Mistress, although like many sickly children, she grew up wanting to be a Healer. She had a modest debut in society after Hogwarts but was not exactly overrun with suitors.”
“Her aunt Belvina called in some debts owed to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black and a betrothal was negotiated with a third son from the Dolohov family. The contract was signed, the handfasting ceremony was performed, and the groom-to-be killed himself that evening after the handfasting.”
“How awful,” Lily exclaimed. “Did she have feelings for the gentleman?”
Luna looked off into the distance. “Unknown,” she answered after a moment of silence.
“That brings us to the day that we will soon visit. Arben Dolohov gave this cottage to Lycoris, and after his son’s death, he wanted the cottage back. He demanded it from Sirius, who refused him. He then came to the cottage.”
“Wait, how do you know all of this?” Lily asked.
“Some of this was piecing together history, but as Death’s hand matron I came back to watch this scene, over and over again – each time it was slightly different.”
Luna walked to the door, opening it and then turning around, framing her body in the doorway, trying to look as large as possible.
“I want this cottage” she said in a husky, threatening voice.
“Lycoris refused, of course, this cottage was independence to her, something she dearly wanted in her life. Arben wheedled and argued, blamed Lycoris for his son’s suicide and cursed her, physically, but she still refused to surrender the cottage. He attempted the Killing Curse, which Lycoris intercepted with a skillet, of all things. Then the spells began flying in earnest.”
“Lycoris was not a fan of the dueling arts, but she was a daughter of the House of Black and was dangerous enough with a wand. In one version of the melee, Arben tries to beat her, but she stabs him with a kitchen knife. No matter how many times I watched the scene play out, both are mortally wounded.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Lily asked.
“Pretty much what I did with you just before you were going to die; I appear when she’s moments from Death and ask if she’s ready to die, and if she’s willing to leave you her body,” Luna explained.
“It sounds simple when you put it that way,” Lily commented.
“Most things are,” Luna replied, giving Lily a slow wink.
After Lily finished her tea, Luna turned to the sink and rinsed the crockery. Lily rose and helped by drying the cups and saucers, putting it all away in the cupboards.
“It’s time,” Luna said, opening the front door, stepping out into the sunshine.
“Any last-minute advice?” Lily asked.
“I think you’ll figure it out. Once you’re sheathed in Lycoris’ body, you’ll need to call a Black house-elf for help. I recommend that you that you call for Maggy,” Luna answered.
“Will I see you again after this?” Lily asked.
“Oh, from time to time, I have a number of things I must be doing, but few more important than your project,” Luna said, stopping as she looked about, beaming at the sky and surrounding countryside. “Why do wretched things happen on such nice days?”
Luna pulled her shoulders back and stood very straight. She extended her hand to Lily and then pulled the hood of her cloak forward.
The bright sunlight took on silvery cast and the colors shifted before disappearing entirely, leaving everything in shades of gray. Luna snapped her fingers and all light disappeared. She snapped her fingers again and they were back inside the cottage again, but everything looked distorted. Luna led Lily by the hand to the far side of the kitchen. A woman Lily assumed to be Lycoris was puttering about in the kitchen, doing something at the hob.
“We are not quite in the here and now for Lycoris,” Luna whispered, keeping a firm grip on Lily’s hand. She can neither hear nor see us, but she may have some sense that we are here.”
Sound in the cottage was distorted, like being underwater. Lycoris turned to the door, but never had the chance to open it, as Arben Dolohov burst in uninvited.
Lily couldn’t hear the words as the sound was garbled, but she could make sense of the conversation, given the preview provided by Luna.
The shouting and gesticulations ended when Arben drew his wand. There was a flash of green light as he pointed to Lycoris, who had grabbed a skillet from the hob, swinging it backhand like a tennis racquet. The skillet stopped the spell for an instant before it shattered.
Then more spell fire exchanged, most of it parried but Arben managed to land a spell that splashed on Lycoris’ face. Arben laughed and then began to throw spells at a furious pace. Lycoris began to retreat, using the table and chairs as shields. When she was finally cornered by the hearth Arben began to hit her with his massive fists.
Lycoris wandlessly summoned a knife from the counter and thrust the blade into his chest. Arben backhanded her one final time before he began to stagger towards the door. He collapsed before he made it across the threshold.
Luna snapped her fingers again and the sound distortion ended, but the room was still visible only in shades of gray.
“Lycoris,” Luna called. “It’s time.”
Lycoris tried to sit up but was unable to do so.
She did manage to turn her head towards Luna.
“You’re so pretty,” Lycoris said. “Both of you.”
“Why thank you,” Luna replied politely.
“Are you Death? Lycoris asked, her voice sounding confused. “Why are there two of you?”
“Death sent me,” Luna said. “My friend here is a soul out of time.”
“Is Dolohov dead?”
“Yes, Lycoris,” Luna answered. “Your time is almost here.”
“I outlived him?”
“Yes, you certainly did,” Luna said reassuringly.
“You have a question for me,” Lycoris asserted.
“Yes, I do,” Luna said. “If you go with me, this soul out of time would take your place on earth.”
“Who cursed her that she’d want to live my life?” Lycoris asked. She tried to laugh but ended up coughing instead. “Damn, that hurts.”
Lycoris blinked and then tried to focus on Lily.
“I’m ready to go, will she even fit in here?”
“I think so, you’re bigger on the inside,” Luna said with a wink.
“Let’s do it,” Lycoris said.
“Lily, help her to sit up,” Luna said. Lily did so, propping Lycoris up against the hearth.
“Sit beside her and take her hand – don’t let go until you can see colors again” Luna directed.
Luna took a series of deep breaths and then placed her foot between Lycoris’ breasts and grabbed the woman’s free hand with both of her own. With a sudden, savage jerk Luna pulled Lycoris’ soul from her body. Lily, still holding Lycoris’ other hand felt herself pulled and compressed, almost, but not quite like Apparation.
Physically it felt like running into a wall or falling into water from a great height. With the impact, Lily let go of Lycoris and then felt pain -- all over her body.
There was a roaring sound in her ears that made her squeeze her eyes shut. When she opened her eyes the light hurt, terribly, but she saw in color again. The edges of her vision were fuzzy, which prior experience with childbirth had taught Lily was a sign of blood loss usually followed by loss of consciousness.
There was something she had to remember – what was it?
“Maggy? Maggy, I need your help, I want to live,” Lily whispered.
“Did you just yank my soul out of my body?” Lycoris asked.
“Pretty much,” Luna answered. “I didn’t have time for the candles, chanting and a pentagram drawn with salt. Maybe next time, but I don’t think so, simple is better.”
“Where to now?” Lycoris asked.
“I need to go settle my tab, how do you feel about a pint?”
Unbetaed, so if you flag any errors, do let me know.
JK Rowling owns Harry Potter, but against the rest of the Universe (and multi-verse) this story is mine. Copyright 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org all rights reserved.
To the readers that want more Lily - this was a "moving the pieces into place" chapter - we'll see more of Lily in the next chapter.