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Chapter 2: The Lady Who Was Not Death
I suppose you could say there were seasons in the white world. There were no days, no months, no years, but the weather was always changing. Where I sat in the orange tree, the weather never changed, but all around me I could see the effects of seasons. When it was ‘summer’, the white became glaring, and burned my eyes so I was forced to shield myself with the branches and leaves of the orange tree. When it was ‘autumn’ the leaves on the tree turned gold, brown, red, and yellow, and the glare of the white diminished. When it was ‘winter’ there were no leaves on the tree at all, and rain fell. It fell in torrents and lightning would flash across the ground. And when ‘spring’ came, the leaves on the orange tree grew green and lush. Unfortunately, there was no way of predicting when the seasons changed, as they changed when I had glimpses of the living world. The moment of my funeral, the rain had poured all around the orange tree.
One not very special moment, I decided to drop in on my husband. When I say drop in, I mean literally, for after having such a thought when eating my orange I fell from the orange tree and into our house. Our peculiar little house on the hill.
It wasn’t until I saw Xenophilius writing at his desk that it hit me; I missed him much more than I had imagined, and I found myself gasping for air I did not need.
His back was hunched over, his brow furrowed in concentration, and his quill darting across the page like a pygmy puff in love. The circular living room had always been cluttered; I was not a tidy person by nature, and neither was Xeno. However, it was particularly cluttered at this moment because there were screwed-up pieces of parchment littering every available surface. From experience, I knew this meant he was working on an important piece.
I sat down on the worn sofa, though I could not feel it, and I might as well have been hovering. I breathed in the scent of home. It seemed to calm my pulse, although I knew my heart would never beat again. I spotted the finished sheets of the article pinned up on the ‘finishing wall’ as Luna called it. I can still remember when she named it…
“Mum, what are all the sheets on the wall for?” Luna pointed at the parchment tacked to the circular wall.
“It’s Daddy’s work. That’s the work he’s finished.” I hushed her, for Xeno was still working at his desk.
“So when he’s finished a piece, they go on the finishing wall?”
It seemed he was working as hard as ever, for there were at least fifty finished sheets. I moved closer to the wall, and read the editor’s letter.
… 12 November one year ago, my wife died after one of her experiments backfired. I’d like to dedicate this issue to Aurelia, my soul mate. Without her loving support over the last ten years, I wouldn’t be here. I hope that wherever she is now, she’s happy…
I stopped reading there to stop the tears. It had been a year since I’d died… how time flies. Xeno’s words meant more to me than I could say. He had always found it hard to express his feelings, and so those words were very dear to me. He was right; we were soul mates. We had had a relationship that was a perfect balance, our personalities compromising each other. How could I be happy when I was apart from my family? No, I was very far from happy.
I left my house, knowing I would not return.
I yearned for the company of another. I was terribly lonely, and it didn’t look like anything was going to change anytime soon. It was almost cruel how I could walk among my family, but they did not know that I was there and I couldn’t be part of their world.
When I felt my anger becoming unbearable, I found myself yet again staring at the branches of the orange tree. Why was I here? Why hadn’t I gone on to wherever it is that dead people go? Was there something I had done wrong? It seemed so unjust that I could see my loved ones moving on with their lives, whilst I was stuck in a halfway state between life and death. What more could I do?
Again, the rain poured down. Had I been anywhere else, I would have mercifully drowned in the ridiculous amount of water that seemed to come from nowhere. And that’s where I was: nowhere.
I took the wand that the tree had made me and I waved it. I spoke the incantations of any spell I could think of, and nothing worked. I shouted them, and I prayed with all my faith that I could do something, I could do something, anything. Nothing. No reaction, no impact, no magic. No noise, except for the whispering, the whispering of little voices in my head. Great, I thought. Now I’m going crazy.
“Not crazy,” an old voice said behind me, causing me to promptly fall out of my perch. “Just lonely.”
After picking myself up, I searched for the source of the voice. I had thought it an easy job, as the only things around me were the orange tree and the whiteness. I turned on the balls on my feet until I felt a sensation I vaguely recalled as dizziness. Once I stopped spinning, I saw the source of the voice.
She was an old lady, and she was standing boldly next to me. How had I not seen her? It was like one of those… what do you call them? Wrack spurt … were they the ones Luna talked about that sneak up on you? Sadly, I couldn’t remember.
The lady smiled, bearing very white, crooked teeth. She took my hand and we walked into the whiteness. She was about a foot shorter than me. I’ve always been very tall, but I could tell she was short by anybody’s standards.
“Are you death?” I whispered, hoping this kind lady would assist me.
The lady laughed, and her voice tinkled softly in my ears. “Heavens, no!”
I frowned. Not only was she not death, but she was able to walk as fast as I could.
“Then are you dead?” Well, it’s not everyday that I ask that question.
“Yes. And so are you.” The lady slowed her pace, and smiled up at me.
“I know that. Where are we going?” Whoever she was, she didn’t seem to be in any rush to tell me what was going on.
“Home?” I repeated unbelievingly. “I thought you said I was dead.”
“Oh, you are; no one can return to the living. We’re going to the Orchard.” As soon as she uttered the word ‘Orchard’, a horizon ran its way through the middle of the white. And the white faded into trees which grew from the ground, up, twisting their branches into beautiful, natural shapes.
I stopped in my tracks, gaping at the lady. “Who are you?”
The lady’s laughter tinkled again. “That’s not the first question people usually ask me.”
I sighed, understanding that I wasn’t going to find out. “This is the Orchard?”
“Yes, it is. It’s where we come to wait.”
“Wait? Wait for what?”
She grinned broadly at me, and set off walking again. “Until we’re ready!” she called over her shoulder. Before I could stop her to ask more, she had faded into the background and was gone.
I looked around me and panic struck. Could I see my family again when I wasn’t in the orange tree? I didn’t know what else to do, so I walked on until I found a grubby path that led into the trees.
They were the tallest trees I had ever seen. There was no doubt that they were fruit trees, but the trees on either side of the path were giants. They reached up into the sky, and their branches spread out as far as the eye could see. The canopy above my head was dark green, and it created a never-ending tunnel.
I walked on, wondering if there were others that I would meet. I walked on and on, with the trees still stretching out before me and behind me.
Just when I thought I had given up, I heard footsteps to my right. Peering through the trees, I saw the outline of a group of people, about four or five of them. As they came into view, I was shocked to see a child standing with them.
“Hello!” the eldest of the group, an old man, said kindly to me. I said nothing and just smiled weakly. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what was happening to me. I just looked from the elderly man with the walking stick to the child with rosy cheeks.
“Who are you?” I said incredulously.
“We’re from the orange trees!” a young lady with red hair said eagerly. “Do you come from an orange tree?”
I nodded slowly. “What is this place?”
“It’s the Orchard,” a young man with black hair said, who was leaning against a tree trunk. “It’s where we come to wait until we go on.”
“Who was that lady… the one who wasn’t death?” I asked, rubbing my temples. There’s only so much one can take at once.
“That’s Ariana. She’s been here most of her death. She’s the only one who ages,” the old man said, leaning on his stick. “It’s her job to bring people here when they’re ready.”
“What’s your name?” the little girl asked shyly.
“Aurelia Lovegood. Who are you?”
“I’m Beth Noble,” Beth said, her blond curls swaying slightly. She gestured to the old man. “This is Benjamin Noble, my grandson.”
“Jam, if you please,” Jam said, and he pretended to hit Beth in the shins with his walking stick when she laughed.
“And these two are married!” Beth explained with delight, gesturing to the man leaning on the tree and the pretty lady next to him. I knew before she said the words who they were. I doubted there was anyone in the wizarding world who didn’t know their names. “James and Lily Potter."