In a small, dusty shop tucked away in a quiet corner of Cardiff, they say you can find all sorts of odd used books. Not just your classics, those ten texts every used book shop seems to offer (same editions, even, like the owners of the shops get them in a starter kit when they decide to open a used book shop, along with blotchy ink pens and the dust — free with purchase!), no.
You can also get weird things from places you’re pretty sure aren’t anywhere real in Britain or Ireland or even Scotland, books that talk about magic like it’s real, books that you feel like you can’t quite see if you look straight at them, but that show up when you turn your head. Books that almost seem to be whispering, although you know they’re not and you’re just daft and a little spooked by the woman behind the desk. You tell yourself that she would be drop-dead beautiful if it weren’t for them, but you’re lying, and you know it. She’s beautiful anyway, despite them.
See, Lavender Brown won’t get rid of her scars. Because the thing is, they’re there and they’re never going away. Well, in reality, they could — not all the way, not so they’d seem to never have happened, but they could be faded, softer, look less like what they are. Lavender knows that, and her mum keeps bringing it up, every week at Sunday supper, big round eyes peering balefully over some hideous pudding concoction like Lavender’s a walking talking reminder of every bad thing that ever happened. And maybe she is, with these scars over her face and neck and tits, scars like patchwork on her shoulders.
But she won’t go to Saint Mungo’s and have them magicked into something less than what they are, something more “aesthetically pleasing” (as her mum like to simper, as if Lavender is being ever so unreasonable for assaulting the world with them, as if Lavender is being difficult on purpose) than their ragged, raw appearance. Because, after all, they are always red, always looking close to reopening, because werewolf wounds take years to heal and even then stay fierce and fresh.
She won’t hide them, either. She won’t wear high-necked blouses or a collared cloak, won’t keep her hair long and artfully arranged so no one can see, won’t even wear thick foundation anymore like she used to back when all she wanted was for Ron Weasley to look at her for two seconds. She won’t do it, wears low-cut tops and pins her hair into a messy twist and just the barest hint of eyeliner and red lipstick, and she dares them all to look at her, makes them do it.
Parvati never looks at her anymore. They meet once a month for lunch, and Parvati prattles on about her husband and her daughters and the manor, because of course she’d married some obscenely wealthy halfblood from up North and they lived in a house twice the size of any Lavender had ever been in. “Sibyll, the youngest, she wants to be a Healer, she thinks, isn’t that nice? Of course, she’s only in her first year, so it could be nothing. Remember our first year? You wanted to sing in the theater, and I wanted to be a Quidditch player’s wife and tour the country.” Parvati laughs, the same high trill she’s had since they met, and still doesn’t look Lavender in the eye.
They part with brief nods and half-baked ideas about meeting for Parvati’s birthday. But it won’t happen, and Lavender crosses Parvati off the list of “people who give two shits about me.” It should make her sad, really, this slow shedding of friends and family, but it doesn’t. She barely sees anyone from school anymore (Sibyll Trelawney doesn’t count, because the old witch just barely remembers her anyway), and the family is still peeved at her for the scars.
Instead, Lavender focuses on her work. She sells books now, Muggle and magic alike, her own little bookshop in a tucked-away corner of Cardiff (and if sometimes she sells a Muggle a magic book or vice versa, who’s to know?). She needed to get away, after the war and the hospital and everyone being so bloody shocked she survived, like she was too weak to live through something like that. Cardiff’s big enough to be anonymous but it feels small — the wizarding community is minor here, for whatever reason, and she’s fairly certain the only non-Muggles in her neighborhood are the nice lesbian couple who buy the Prophet every day and always bring her sweets. Most of her magical books get shipped out of town, to country witches and wizards trying to grow gardens or keep bees or train a ghoul without blowing something up.
Her regulars all seem to be Muggles, if a bit odd in the way she’s decided everyone in Cardiff is. They have wonderful ways of not really ever noticing anything out of the ordinary, even when a Monster Book of Monsters gets out of its binding and snaps and roars for nearly an hour until she catches it. She’s picked up enough Welsh to swear (at the pretty American bloke in the long coat who thinks he doesn’t have to wipe his feet) and flirt (with the gorgeous Welshman in suits who brings her coffee whenever he stops by), and her regulars don’t stare at the scars anymore.
Lavender Brown is not ever going to be rich, of course, but then she’s a witch and doesn’t really need much to get by (well, not once she learned how electricity worked and didn’t have to keep buying replacement hot plates and toasters). Her flat is small and cramped, stuffed with boxes of books and a pair of bad-tempered cats, but it’s hers, and no one stares there. No one asks questions, no one tells her to have “them” taken care of, and no one calls her “werewolf” behind her back.
One day, in the shop, a tall red-haired man saunters in, and she sits up like a shock. He’s a Weasley, obviously, she’s not so daft as to have forgotten what they look like, but that’s not what strikes her. It’s the scars: raked from ear to collarbone, older than hers but not by much. He catches her eye.
“You must be Lavender Brown, then.”
“Yes, yes, hello, and you’re a Weasley. I dunno which one, you all look alike,” she laughs high and a little manic because he knows, he knows, those are werewolf scars, he knows.
He chuckles. “Oh, ouch, that hurts. I’m Bill, the oldest,” and he holds out a hand to shake, “and somewhere behind me are my wife Fleur and our kids.”
“You…you’re married?” She tucks a piece of hair back into her bun, and in so doing half-consciously strokes a swirl of scar tissue behind her ear. It’s a habit she’s picked up, poring over books in the dim shop and her dimmer apartment.
“Yeah, some years now. Since before the Battle of Hogwarts.” He runs a hand through long red hair and clears his throat. “I’m actually here to talk to you, Lavender. My brother, Ron, he’s worried about you. Heard all sorts of mad stories, like you’re hiding from everyone, not going out, like no one’s seen you in a year.”
“Hardly a year, I just had lunch with Parvati—” she counts in her head, checks the calendar. “Oh. I suppose it has been a few months. I’ve just been busy with the shop, you know, lost track of time, I suppose.” She fiddles with her pen. “How is Ron, and Hermione? And everyone?”
Bill smiles. “That’s the other reason I’m here. We were in Wales anyway, picking up a few small things for the bank, so I told Ron I’d stop by and see you.” He cleared his throat, half-mockingly. “You are cordially invited to a reunion gathering, next month. That’s July, in case you can’t remember,” he grins, “and it’s going to be at Hogwarts.” He produces a stiff piece of parchment, edged in green and red and blue and yellow, emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest and sparkling softly. “It’s ten years since the Battle, and we’re all getting together to see everyone, catch up. It’ll be lovely. Do say you’ll come.” Holds the invitation out to her — its ribbon, streaked with the four Houses’ colors, unfurling gently towards her like a hand reaching out.
“I can’t. They’ll all—”
“What, stare? Maybe.” He shrugs. “At first, for a bit. But it’s like anything else: they’ll forget about it after a while.”
“Parvati hasn’t.” She shakes her head. “No, I can’t handle people staring at me all night, telling me to pop on down to Saint Mungo’s and get it fixed just so I look normal.”
“You look normal now, Lav, as normal as me.” And if there’s something wolfish in that grin, she only knows it because hers matches. “Just give them a chance, eh? Most of ‘em aren’t like Parvati, or like your mum. They’re not trying to pretend the war never happened, you know?”
She takes the piece of parchment and smiles as the ribbon wraps itself around her thumb, like it’s shaking hands.
She buys a new dress, crimson with a deep v that plunges between her tits, because dammit, she is going to stand out anyway, might as well look smashing doing so. She uses a slick of pomade and a few small spells, gets her hair looking fabulous, and Apparates to Hogsmeade. It’s been so long since she’s Apparated she half thinks she might splinch, and wouldn’t that be a laugh, another scar to add to her collection.
Makes it in one piece, but she stumbles, catches a spike heel in a cobblestone, and a pair of strong arms are the only reason she doesn’t crumple to the stone. “Here, Lav, careful.” The soft voice is familiar in the pain-tinged way all the voices from Hogwarts, from that night, are. She looks up into the smiling, open face of Dean Thomas. “Easy, here, watch your step.” He helps her off the cobblestones, calls over one shoulder, “Seamus, get a move on already, we’ll miss the coach.”
“Some of us are wounded war heroes, you great bloody git, give us a feckin’ moment to catch up!” Seamus’s grinning face bobs up beside Lavender, fully a head shorter than her heels make her. “Lav! Hello, hello, didn’t expect to see you here.” He’s limping, leaning on a cane — the kind of limp that’s clearly worlds better than it used to be, but makes onlookers’ legs ache in sympathy. “Dean, we won’t miss the coaches, they’re runnin’ all day.”
“Well, I’d like to have time to walk around a bit before the feast, if that’s all right with you, Mister War Hero.”
“More walking? Trying to off me, is that it, want that Finnigan fortune all for yourself, then?”
She looks back and forth between them as they bicker good-naturedly, sweeping her along, and understands. Breaks in, “Now, Dean, don’t torture poor Seamus, he’s a veteran.”
Both boys — men, now, she reminds herself — turn to her in shock. A few long seconds of silence.
Seamus grins (and there’s no wolf in it, just the fox that’s always been there), “Aye, listen to the lady, she’s a reasonable person, understands me, don’t you, Lav?”
Dean rolls his eyes, hiding a grin. “I’m a veteran too, all right, and the oldest here, so you don’t get to play that card.” They all laugh at that, and soon enough they reach the coaches. The thestrals are trumpeting in their odd high voices, announcing departure, and they lunge into the last one just before it lifts off. Seamus barely makes it in, clutching Lavender’s free arm as she clings to Dean’s leaping form. They land laughing in the coach and bump into someone already sitting inside. “Sorry, mate, we’re just a bit giddy,” Seamus apologizes.
“No worries, Seamus. Dean. Lavender.” The young man nods at each of them in turn, looking like he knows them, looking almost familiar.
“Sorry, mate, I’ve gone a bit dotty in my old age, ‘s your name?” Shameless Seamus doesn’t even hold up the pretense of remembering him. Lavender feels heat creep up her neck and face, feels it flush the scars even redder.
“Finch-Fletchley, Justin Finch-Fletchley, sorry, know you all by reputation, I suppose.” They shake hands all around.
“I remember you,” Dean says as the coach climbs higher in the sky. “You got petrified second year, yeah?”
“And I was in the DA fifth year, though I didn’t distinguish myself, I’m afraid,” he smiles bashfully.
“Dreadful sorry, mate,” Seamus says, “just been a while, aye?”
“Yes, of course. Quite looking forward to seeing everyone. I live in Kent now, not that many old classmates around. Afraid I’ve no idea what happened to most of you that last year — Muggle-born, you know. My parents fled, we went into hiding in the States, in Salem.”
“With the Witches’ Association?” Lavender asks, surprising herself. “I buy loads of books off them, great old instruction manuals for household magic, fantastic stuff.”
“Yes, yes, they were wonderful. My wife, Jennifer, she’s American and Muggle-born. Won’t be joining me,” he puffed up a bit, gleaming with pride, “can’t Apparate or fly in her last trimester, you know how it is.”
They all smile and congratulate him, even if Lavender feels a bit strained. Kids, of course people will have kids, Parvati’s not the only one. She hadn’t even thought of it. Bugger.
The rest of the ride passes in quiet chatter, Dean pulling Justin’s sisters’ names out of his hat somehow and asking after them (all Muggles, all incredibly boring in their upper-class posh houses with their fancy suit-and-tie husbands, Lavender can barely breathe). When the thestral trills to announce landing, Lavender exhales forcefully, like she’d been holding that breath all trip.
“We’ll catch you at the feast, Lav, all right? Dean wants to snog in the corridor just like old—” Seamus is interrupted by Dean’s hand over his mouth, and Lavender laughs helplessly at how red Dean’s face is.
“Save us a seat if you beat us there, and we’ll do the same, all right?” He doesn’t look her in the eye, but it’s not like Parvati at all, and she’s still giggling as Dean pulls Seamus away, his ears bright red even from behind. She watches them leave, and her heart feels light for the first time in years, truly and honestly light, like she’s nothing to worry about.
Wandering the halls of Hogwarts after so many years away is a surreal experience. The torches still flicker in time with her steps, the staircases still move, the portraits chatter amongst themselves, and — yes, the password for the Gryffindor common room is still carved surreptitiously behind an innocuous painting of a bowl of fruit. She runs her hand over the magically engraved letters, remembering the last time Neville’d locked himself out and she’d taken pity on him, showed him where a seventh-year always left the old password for the younger students. “Bumblebee,” and the Fat Lady bows as she enters.
The room looks just the same and completely different. Same fat armchairs arranged around the fire. Same detritus of Exploding Snap and wizard chess and crumpled snack wrappers, like she just walked out for a moment in the middle of free hour, like the boys are just upstairs finding another deck for Snap. It’s an odd and disorienting feeling, and she turns to leave. Bumps square into a gangly red-haired man. Bumps into Ron, of course, just her bloody luck. Perfect.
“Lavender!” He looks sheepish, like he’s been caught doing something stupid. “Um, hello, sorry, hi.”
“Hello, Ron.” She smiles — not the wolf smile, he’s done nothing to earn it — and shakes his hand, greets the two-year-old girl he’s holding. “She’s got your hair, eh?”
He beams, a proud papa to the core. “Aye, ‘s Rose, our first. Hermione’s big as a whale with number two,” he looks mortified, begs, “Shh, don’t tell her I said that.”
They laugh, then, all the shit from before forgotten. Hermione (who truly is big as a whale, but as pretty as ever) pops her head in, scowling. “Did you call me a whale again, Ron?”
“No, no,” Lavender says with a smile, “no, he was telling me how you never knew about the carved password outside.”
“The what?!” Hermione looks shocked, and the crisis is averted. They chat a bit, awkwardly but with no malice, and Hermione quizzes Lavender about her inventory before promising to stop in the shop soon for a few rare volumes of wizarding folklore. A bell tolls far away.
“Time for the feast, I suppose.” Ron jiggles the baby in his arms, and they head out. “You want to sit with us, Lav?”
“Oh, thank you, I don’t know. Seamus and Dean said they’d save me a seat, I don’t know where.”
“Well, you’re always welcome.” Hermione says with a soft smile, a sincere one.
“Lav! Lav! Over here — Seamus, get off me!” Dean waves her over with one hand and pushes Seamus away with the other.
She slips in between Dean and a brunette girl she doesn’t recognize. “Excuse me, sorry,” she says, and the brunette smiles graciously but doesn’t speak.
Minerva McGonagall hasn’t aged a day — still sparkling with wit and humor and barely sublimated rage at the Magpies’s terrible showing for yet another year. She stands behind the wide owl-fronted podium and seems to glow. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, her voice unamplified by magic still booming over their chatter. “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention.” Hundreds of faces turn to her, transported ten years into the past through the sound of Minerva McGonagall telling them to shut up (telling them obliquely, nicely, but telling them all the same).
“Welcome back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I haven’t seen many of your faces in ten years, and I am so pleased to see you today.” She gives the staring faces a pinched grin, takes a deep breath, and continues. “If Headmaster Dumbledore were here, he would no doubt shout some nonsense words and tell you to eat up.” The room laughs. “I will not. Ten years has changed us all, and has changed Hogwarts. None of us are the people we were ten years ago. I hope you can share this food and this time without holding on to petty childhood rivalries, without judging the people around you on merits they may no longer have — for good or for bad. Take this evening to remember, to relax, and to reacquaint yourselves with each other. And now,” she takes a deep breath, “nitwit, oddment, blubber, tweak. Eat, all of you!” She nods and grins as the room bursts into applause.
The food is divine as always; Lavender uncovers a dish of very rare steak and nearly cries, because of course the house-elves knew what she’d like, of course. She thinks of Lupin for the first time in ages, thinking about him eating mostly-rare steak all those years ago. Dean and Seamus spend the evening making her laugh and, when they think she’s not looking, touching shoulders and hands in a soft, kind way.
Luna Lovegood drifts by the table — stops, says hello in her dreamy voice, hugs all three of them — and drifts on. Hermione and Ron ended up sitting three seats down, and occasionally lean forward or back to holler down to Lavender and Dean and Seamus about this or that. When Harry Potter enters, late and disheveled, with Ginny in tow, the room applauds and cheers. He slips into a seat near Neville Longbottom and a blond girl Lavender doesn’t recognize, and the room soon turns back to its buzzing chatter.
As the night drags on, Lavender grows more and more tired. Soon enough, the plates disappear and small carry-away bags of biscuits appear in their place, with nametags and the same curling, friendly ribbons from the invitations. Dean and Seamus walk her back to the coach, and they have it to themselves on the way back to Hogsmeade.
“Well, it was lovely to see you, Dean, Seamus. If you’re ever in Cardiff, don’t hesitate to stop by, or send an owl or something.” They hug, and she assures them she doesn’t need to stay with them on the lie-low, she’s perfectly capable of Apparating safely. As she casts the spell, Dean and Seamus wave merrily, and she cannot help but smile.
In a small, dusty bookshop in Cardiff, a woman with scars sits smiling in the back, reading a letter on parchment. A small gray owl perches on a high shelf, dozing in the summer warmth. Two bad-tempered cats wander the aisles, hunting out the few mice who make it through the shop’s barrier spells. Lavender Brown sells books. Lavender Brown meets Dean and Seamus somewhere — sometimes in Hogsmeade, sometimes in Cardiff — for lunch twice a month. Lavender Brown sends Hermione a box of books every few weeks, and receives Hermione’s next order the following day. Lavender Brown’s scars are as red and fierce as ever, as is her wolfish grin.