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Sitting in the Orange Tree by marinahill
Chapter 1: In Between
One of my favourite places in the world was Africa. The wide open spaces, and the great expanse of the sky stretching on forever… the people, too, seemed generally nicer than those here in England. Not that I had anything against the English, but those that I met never appeared to warm to me.
I had been an oddball all my life; I kept to myself and rarely sought the company of others. That suited me very well. I would grab my notebook, sit in the library and think of various experiments I could try out. Experimenting with magic was frowned upon when I went to Hogwarts, so I used an out-of-order bathroom to do my experiments in. When I said experiment, I meant with spells, charms, jinxes, you name it. Even from my very first year at Hogwarts I liked to try and test new ideas for spells. During my fifth year I started to experiment with potions, too. I never created anything successful, of course; otherwise I’d have been far richer than I was. The most success I ever got was blowing up the bathroom in which I happened to be practicing my growth spell. It didn’t really have the desired effect, and it was one explosion too many. I’m sad to say I was expelled.
Really, that should have been my cue to give up experimenting and go and find a nice, rich husband. That didn’t really go to plan, either, and I found myself married to a nature enthusiast who published a peculiar magazine called The Quibbler. He liked to publish articles that made no sense, really, but because I was a dutiful wife I told him that they were original and inspiring. That’s when my parents disowned me. In reality, Xenophilius wasn’t half as bad as my mother made him out to be.
My name was Aurelia Lovegood; even my name was odd, though I didn’t dislike it. I had a beautiful daughter, Luna, who was the most amazing child. She was nine years old, and I couldn’t be more proud of her if I tried. She and I were so alike, although she seemed to have inherited her father’s passion for strange creatures. We both had the same dirty blonde hair and face shape, although she had her father’s eyes; mine were chocolate brown whereas hers were pale blue. Like the sky on a cloudy day, I suppose. Magical eyes, I told her. She loved to watch me work on my ideas in our cellar, which always seemed so much brighter when she was there. And often, she’d suggest something, a potion ingredient or a wand movement, that changed the course of my experiments dramatically.
Unfortunately, I wouldn't be seeing her again anytime soon. The thing was, I was dead. At least that's what I thought. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to tell you that I died during a particularly explosive experiment. And unfortunately my poor Luna came into the cellar at just the wrong moment.
Anyway, that was how I find myself here. Where here was, I didn’t really know! I just remember a blue flash of light and complete silence, and when I opened my eyes I found myself all alone. Except for this orange tree, which I was sitting in now. There was nothing else here, not even day or night. Just white. That was what led me to the conclusion that I was dead. Don’t look into the light, that’s what they told you. Well, there was a lot of it here. But that was all there was; bright, white light.
When I had gathered my wits after my so-called death, I found that there was a dark spot in the distance. I’d say horizon, but there’s no difference between the ground and the sky as everything’s all white. It’s quite boring, really. Not nearly as exciting as I thought death would be. I walked for an amount of time that wasn’t really measurable; time doesn’t seem to exist in this place. Eventually and suddenly I came across the orange tree that is my only companion. With nothing else to do, I climbed it, like I had climbed countless trees during my trip to Africa. And as I climbed further up the tree, it grew with me, the branches twisting and turning in a rhythmic dance beside me. Once I stopped climbing, I saw that a branch was twisting itself into the shape of something so familiar, but something it seemed I had forgotten…
I soon realised that it was a wand, and it fit beautifully in my hand. It was true to say that the wand truly had chosen the witch, but I had never heard of a wand made out of orange tree bark… this revelation excited me; maybe I was in heaven, where I was free to discover new things for all eternity…
But, deep down, I knew I wasn’t dead. Not in the true sense. What I was, I had no idea. There seemed to be something that was holding me back from going on, and something that was stopping me from returning.
Then a horrible thought occurred to me: was I in a coma? Was my family crouching at my side in St. Mungo’s, crying? The thought sent shivers down my spine. And my Luna! Would she know I was thinking of her, sending my love to her from wherever I was? I dearly hoped so, for Luna was my world, my whole world.
As my thoughts turned to Luna’s childhood, I felt a peculiar feeling in my left arm, and I could feel the wand in my hand humming slightly. I grasped it tighter, and colour seemed to spill from the tip, the picture beyond the branches growing slightly less bright, and a picture was forming ever so slowly. Was I imagining it? Probably, for who knew what was real in this place?
I pushed aside the branches with my free right hand, and I saw that the picture beyond the tree was filling the white space that had once been there. It was gradually coming into focus, and I saw that it was raining beyond the tree. It was Africa, I knew, because I recognised the types of trees that I could see through the rain. They were the types of trees that I had climbed on that one trip there, the trip where I had picked fruit and ate it whilst I sat in it’s branches. I smiled as I remembered the sweet taste of the fruit on my tongue, and I felt a small tear roll down my cheek as I reflected upon my life.
I then decided that the orange tree was a living thing, so that must mean that I am not completely dead. You see, as I remembered the taste of fruit, a small, plump orange formed on the branch in front of me. I waved the wand and the peel slid off the orange. At the same time, the African scenery faded into whiteness again. Sighing, I tore a segment off the orange and popped it in my mouth, savouring the juices as they swirled around my mouth. Oranges were my all-time favourite fruit, I decided at that moment, and slowly ate the orange, segment by segment, until there was none left.
What an unexpected delight, I reflected. The familiar taste of the fruit made me feel terribly homesick. Was I being missed back home? I’d never really thought about my life, not properly. I’d been happy with an anonymous existence, not being anybody worth noting. What had I contributed to the world? All I had was my family and my work. And now I had nothing; all I had cared about was gone and I was alone, my only company an orange tree.
I felt more tears fall, and my vision went blurry, dimming some of the eternal whiteness that was my surroundings. It was eerily quiet, with only my thoughts to comfort me. The whiteness was growing dimmer still and had I not wiped my eyes on the back of my hand, I would not have noticed another picture forming there. I tentatively drew back the branches again, and watched as the scene unfolded before me.
It was raining again, but this was not a downpour like the rains of Africa had been. It was a drizzle, a half-arsed attempt at precipitation; I knew that rain well enough to know it was English. I frowned, trying to see further through the curtain of rain. I could see now that it was a graveyard, and I was sure I had seen it before. I willed my memories to help me, to tell me where it was.
As the picture grew more focused I could make out individual headstones, and even some carnations that a loved one had left on an unseeing grave. Carnations; I hated them, above all flowers. They were so frilly and fussy, and not me at all. I preferred the simple things in life. As I leaned forward, the view of the graveyard tilted slightly, and I could see a gaggle of people dressed in black standing around a new headstone. It was funny how it always rained at funerals, wasn't it? It was as though all the sorrows of the world were combined and emptied from above. I used to tell Luna that when it rained it meant that God was crying; what for, I could never tell her, for I didn’t know. I didn’t ever believe in God. Now I didn’t know what I believed.
As the rain relented, I saw that there were two people in the crowd of mourners who were not wearing black; they were wearing purple. And the short one of the two had dirty blonde hair. I gasped as I recognised the hair that was so similar to my own; it was Luna, and it was my funeral.
I’d never been to a funeral in my whole life; nobody close to me has died, and I turned down invitations to the funerals of acquaintances, merely because I felt it disrespectful to attend the funeral of somebody I hardly knew. So I found it strangely ironic that the first funeral I attended was my own.
It seemed that the orange tree didn’t limit me to just sitting and watching; when the desire to be near my family grew too great I found myself among the crowd surrounding my grave. I felt inappropriately dressed, wearing just a sun dress. It didn’t matter, however, because no one knew I was there, and the rain passed straight through me. I was therefore not a ghost. That was some relief; at least I wasn’t stuck this way forever.
I’d never actually thought about what happens after you die, and it seems like I still don’t know! The afterlife can’t be eternal loneliness with only an orange tree for company – I know this isn’t it. Am I destined to be an onlooker for the rest of my... death? Suddenly the prospect of solitude looked very daunting.
I watched as my coffin was lowered into the ground, and people started to walk away. A surprising number of people had turned up, and I felt touched that these people were thinking of me and my family. My heart softened when I saw that my parents were laying irises on my grave, and I wished I could have talked to them one more time. Xenophilius and Luna were the last ones to lay flowers, and Luna stayed after Xeno had left.
I stood next to her, and felt tears fall as I saw how vulnerable she looked. She had no umbrella, and her hair hung limply around her face, her purple robes clinging to her fragile frame.
“You’ll catch a cold if you’re not careful,” I said automatically, and then felt another rush of sadness when I remembered she couldn’t hear me.
I watched as Luna smiled sadly and laid a wreath made of the blue flowers I used to plait into her hair down on the muddy ground. She was so strong, my Luna, and it made my heart ache to think that I wouldn’t be a part of her life anymore.
Luna had always believed in the unbelievable, and I wondered if she’d believe that I was with her now. I placed my hand on her shoulder, though I felt nothing. It was like trying to grab thin air, or think of a memory I’d long forgotten. Although we were so close, we couldn’t have been further apart, and it broke my heart.
As she turned to leave, I heard her say “I miss you, Mummy,” in a voice that was quite unlike her usual one. She seemed so much younger than nine years old.
I whispered back, "I miss you too," with every fibre of my being, but I found myself talking to the branches of the orange tree. The orange tree I was forever sitting in.