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Sitting in the Orange Tree by marinahill
Chapter 9: Segmented
Cool air blew my hair into knots as we slowly descended through the white world. I couldn’t really describe in what direction we were going; it was neither down nor forward, up nor backward. When you crossed between the barriers of life and death there were no laws of gravity. It was true that my body felt weightless, loose and it flowed from finger to toe. I was more aware of my body’s movements; how my legs stretched out beneath me, how my arms were held at a certain angle to my ribs.
Although I could not see anything distinctive, I just let myself enjoy the journey. The six of us, hand in hand, must have looked quite a sight had anyone been able to see us. However, that no longer concerned me. Vanity was not for the dead.
I bathed in the comfortable silence that Dumbledore had brought with him; fears were pointless and anger was fruitless. Our only endeavour was to find that peace within ourselves that we had seen in the souls. It was what we all wanted deep down, what we had each wanted since the moment we died and arrived in the in-between. It wasn’t about what was fair or unjust; we were merely pawns in the greater chessboard of life. I did not pretend or wish to believe that we had any significance in the balance of life and death. We knew what was at stake and the part that Lily and James’ son was to play in this game; even Beth and Jam could understand our anxiety. I still had not worked out how the two of them had found their way into my death, but I didn’t seek the answer. I had confidence that the answers awaited for me across the other side. Death, for me, was life changing.
I was itching to reach our destination; it wasn’t excitement as such, because I did not know what awaited us there. Something niggled deep down and a sense of awe filled me. Where we were going possibly held more answers and prompted more questions and this was what begged for my attention. I looked across at Lily, who stood adjacent to me; her hair was gently fluttering in the strange breeze and she too looked peaceful. We exchanged contented smiles, an understanding that we had nothing to fear anymore.
I supposed it was wrong of me to make such rash presumptions; it was not true to say that we had nothing to fear from death. How could you not fear the unknown, the unexpected. It was this that filled my heart with dread as I felt my hand slipping through Lily’s, her grip slackening. I scrabbled at her fingers, desperately clinging on to her. Eyes wide, I fell behind. I watched helplessly as they faded into the mist.
No longer moving, I had become rooted in the middle of a swirling fog; the kind traditionally associated with the supernatural. Something damp curled around my foot and as I looked down, horrified, at my toes I saw the fog licking its way up my ankle. It felt heavy, as though I was gaining wait ounce by ounce as I stood frozen in the atmosphere. Then, gently, I sank through it. I shivered and shut my eyes tightly, thinking of the solitude and safety of my orange tree. How far away it seemed from me now; it was almost hard to imagine that it was just another part of me. Maybe if I wished for it hard enough, I would find myself back in my tree, back home. Anything was possible there.
I opened my eyes briefly to check if my wish had worked. I was met with a dark room, the light so dim that I could not make out anything further than my nose. The smell of human fear clung to my skin and the atmosphere around me was chilling; each particle was charged with the grief and nightmares known to adult and child alike. My body was captured by shivers as I tried to find my bearings. I held out a clammy hand and reached out in front of me, my palm meeting for a second with a curved, damp wall before it passed through it.
“Lily?” I whispered, my voice catching in my throat at the low tone. I did not dare call any louder; it wasn’t for fear of being heard, for that was impossible. It was the fear that I would not receive a reply. The idea that I was now alone in this room of terror set the hairs on the back of my neck alight. If I made as little sound as possible, I could always find solace in the notion that they simply hadn’t heard me. “James?"
I bit my lip, withdrawing my hand from the wall. The damp ghosted over my hand, my shivers unfaltering as I dried my fingers on my clothes. I took a deep breath, standing up straight as I turned away from the wall to face the darkness. I was not afraid of the dark. It was not something that had ever given me cause to fear. My experiments regularly took me into the realm of the unknown and unpredictable and night was just another thing rife with mystery. I did not find this darkness nearly so intriguing. It was hard not to let the fear seep into my bones as I stood against the black room, frozen with anxiety. Every cell in my body was alert, waiting for the pin to drop and the danger to reveal itself. I heard nothing except for the gentle dripping of water as it slid off the walls.
I walked slowly backwards, my back pressed against the damp of the wall. I didn’t want anyone to sneak up behind me; I did not like surprises of that kind. I think that was true of all humans; they did not welcome bad surprises. Again, it was the fear of the unknown. The reality is never as bad as the imagination paints it to be and worrying is rarely fruitful. Worrying, however, was more preferable to those who had no morals or conscience and chose not to worry about anything. Often, we worried about things that were not under our control.
I remember taking Luna to my parents’ for the first time since her christening; she was about six years old and refused to leave the house. I myself was dreading the visit but I had the wisdom gained with age and I knew that the sooner the visit was over with the better. My daughter cried and cried and hated me for all of two hours. Evil Mummy forcing her to meet these strangers. No consoling words of an adult could calm the fear of a child. Of course, the visit went much better than she or I could have predicted, her tears evaporating when she spotted the freshly backed cake on the kitchen table. My mother never baked for me. Entering that all too familiar kitchen for the first time in years, I appreciated the effort; at least my mother could set our differences aside for the sake of Luna. I only saw my parents twice after that; once by accident and once at my funeral.
Remembering my parents’ efforts that day made me smile ruefully; although I had forgiven myself for not keeping in touch, a small knut of guilt still was saved in my heart. Likewise, I did not blame them for acting the way they did for I was not an easy child to bring up. I was no easier to manage as an adult and it was for this reason that I did not consider the time wasted. It was all very well regretting my choices in life, but there was no doubt a reason for why I made those choices. I wasn’t going to choose a different path without a severe change in my personality. I expected that was why we should never regret the choices we made; that was the way things were and that was how they always would be.
I shivered as I stared into the darkness; it was very hard not to think melancholy thoughts when there was little light. I rested my head on the wall and shut my eyes. If I thought hard enough about her, I could almost hear Luna’s voice, forever lost in the wastelands of time.
“What do you think the weather is like?”
Her voice caught and she coughed. How often it was that she asked me this question as she went to sleep, wondering what the rest of the world would be doing as she drifted into the abyss of sleep. She would ask me to describe strange climates and tell stories of people living in them; the old hag stuck in the sandstorms of the Sahara, the warlock skiing in the Alps, the goblin snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. Such thoughts amused me, but they captured the attention of my dreamy little girl. Once upon a time, I used to dream.
I opened my eyes to the sound of another voice, one much deeper and more hoarse.
“It’s snowing,” he said briefly, his voice weak with fatigue. “It always snows at Christmas.”
“I did at Hogwarts,” she said thoughtfully. “But never at home. I preferred Christmases at home.”
A silence passed between them, during which I crept forward, trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed their quiet voices. Worry began to eat away at me, scared of where I and my daughter were.
“I hate Christmas,” the man said ruefully. “I never had anyone to share it with.”
“You can share this one with me, Mr Ollivander,” she said with a smile. Her voice seemed so full of innocent joy when she smiled; I recognised the tone well enough. This time, however, the tone was marred by thirst and exhaustion. “Christmases are fun to share.”
“That they are,” he conceded. He sighed, then drew a deep breath. “Thank you, my dear.”
I took another step forward, wondering how far they were from me, how close I was. If I reached out my hand, could I touch her? Would I feel her own hand under mine? I doubted such a gesture could bring her any comfort, but it was the least I could do. Mothers were supposed to protect their daughters, but here I had failed. There was no physical thing I could do and no words I could impart. I didn’t even understand where we were.
“Aurelia, you are not supposed to be here.”
Startled, I drew my hand back from mid-air. I would remember that voice for the rest of my consciousness; Ariana’s voice was far too light and airy for the words she spoke.
“Where am I?”
“Somewhere you are not supposed to be.”
I groaned in frustration. “Then where am I supposed to be?”
“What is it with all the questions,” she asked nonchalantly. “It’s all the dead ever say to me. Have they not considered that I cannot tell you the answers?”
I paused, wondering if I would get the chance to hear my daughter’s voice again. “I don’t understand what’s happening to her. Why is she in this horrible room?”
“There will be a time when you have no more questions. This is not that time.” As I awaited a further explanation, I heard the man cough. The indifferent tone in her voice softened and warmed. “Take my hand.”
I could not tell where her hand was, but it seemed that I would not need to ask that question. I flexed my fingers, the tips coming into contact with the old woman’s smooth, soft skin. The dripping of the damp stopped, the smell of fear fading into nothing. Although my eyes were shut, the white light began to seep through my eyelids, forcing me to open them.
I began to shiver, though I did not let go of the woman’s hand. I was not going to let her get away. It was strange, really, because I was not directly holding her hand; it sort of lay through it, our skin not really contacting. My skin remembered the feel of other skin, the weight of another hand and the lines on a palm. I did not have to have any grip on her to ensure she didn’t leave me. I doubted it was my own willpower; no, I had never been that strong willed. Even now, when I desperately wanted to return to that dark room where my daughter was, I could not find the strength to overpower Ariana.
The white light began to fade as we stopped, my bare feet pressing on the surface beneath me. It occurred to me that I could not find a word to describe it; it was like a blank canvas, waiting to be transformed. Looking ahead, I noticed a strange mist was beginning to form shapes. It was not unlike the mist that had surround me earlier, as Dumbledore led us through the lands between life and death.
I turned to face the old woman, whose eyes were fixed on something in the distance, through the mist.
“What’s happening to my Luna?” I demanded, raising my voice in order to attract her attention. “Take me back there, let me go back!”
“No,” she said, her eyes still focused on the blemish on the horizon. “I cant allow that.”
“I want to know what’s happening to my daughter!” I drew my arms around my chest and hugged myself tightly. If I uncrossed my arms, I feared I would try to strike out even though I knew it was impossible to hurt her. “Please.”
“You will see your daughter again,” Ariana said in a soothing tone. “But not yet. Follow me.”
I was loathe do to anything she told me to do after her refusal to cooperate. Part of me understood that going with her meant abandoning my daughter. I couldn’t leave her again, I had already failed to be there too many times. Why couldn’t this lady understand that it was my duty to protect my daughter? It was impossible for me to just step back and let the world go round; my daughter was my world.
The eerie mist swirled at our feast, shapes becoming denser on the horizon ahead. I squinted, trying to work out what they were forming. It wasn’t until the mist had almost become stone that I recognised my surroundings; we were in a train station, one of the most magnificent I had ever had the chance to lay eyes on. The ceiling above me arched and lay beautifully in mid air. The clock on the wall opposite me showed the time to be quarter to eleven. I stared at it a moment too long, watching the second hand tick-tocking, not being able to recall the last time I watched time go by. There was something almost ethereal about the way time passed, how with each passing second another moment was lost forever.
Even as I thought about it, moments were discarded for ever. How many moments like this did humans waste in a lifetime? They had no idea of the value of such a thing, no idea that as they stared their past in the face that they would mourn those passing moments. They would mourn, but never regret. That prospect seemed far too inseparable, but I had learned that subtle difference. To mourn was to acknowledge that that moment was lost for ever, but not to wish the time had been spent any different. The regret lay in the wishing that you had spent the time differently. I would not have spent my time on Earth any differently; I cherished the lingering memories, reminisced on moments spent reminiscing. Remembering who you were was never time wasted.
Still watching the clock, I did not notice the forming of new people; I had assumed the mist had finished its work of creating new figures. I was alerted to their presence by the gasp of Ariana beside me.
“So this is your plan, Albus?” Ariana mumbled. “This is your greater good?”
Turning around, I observed the tall, striking figure of Albus Dumbledore, stood awkwardly in the middle of the platform, mist curling around his ankles. Behind him there were ghostly shadows, each taller than they were wide but yet seeming part of one another.
Dumbledore smiled sadly. “I lost faith in the greater good many years ago.”
My eyes briefly flicked behind the old wizard to the four shadows behind him; they were beginning to become more defined, their hair taking colour and their eyes alighting. Their hands were still joined.
Alone, I stood, between the two wizened adults whose eyes locked and searched inside for the answers to unvoiced questions. One step at a time, they drew closer to each other, gazes never wavering. When they were about an inch away from each other, they stopped, apparently frozen. The shadows became people, who became my companions. Transfixed, they watched the pair isolated in the middle of the platform; I doubted they even noticed our presence.
The intense gaze was broken momentarily by an embrace so desperate that it brought tears to my eyes; years of pain, guilt and grief were released as each gripped the other. It felt strangely indecent for me to be watching this scene of powerful emotion; I was intruding on something painfully private. A dull aching filled my heart, causing the tears to become uncontrollable. They spilled down my cheeks and I did not bother to wipe them away. Raw emotion was a precious thing. I saw it on the faces of my companions, in the long-awaited embrace of the lady who was not death and the old wizard who saved our souls. I longed for such a reunion with my family, for the chance to relieve my grief; to tell them for one last time that I loved them and that I was sorry, sorry for leaving them behind in the abyss of loss. I wanted them to find that small gem of closure.
“I’m sorry,” Dumbledore mumbled clumsily, stepping back from Ariana. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t blame you, Albus,” she whispered, the musical note in her voice fading. “It was never your fault.”
“I’ve made so many mistakes,” he said bashfully, he sentence trailing off into the mist.
“You still have the chance to set it right,” she said, her eyes resuming their contact with his. “You know what you have to do.”
He wiped a stray tear from the corner of his eye and smiled apologetically at us all. “I believe the eleven o’clock is due at any moment.”
He turned towards the clock, the others following suit. I too, found myself refocusing on the clock, the second hand moments away from zero. Those few moments were not ones I wasted or regretted. I terrible and strange thought filled my mind, one that refused to let go or desist. I don’t blame you, Ariana’s voice echoed inside my head. I don’t blame you. It seemed almost impossible that their was guilt without the blame, but clearly forgiveness had wound its way into her old heart. In all her years traversing through the white world, Ariana had found the strength to forgive. I understood forgiveness, I understood letting go, but as I watched the last seconds go by, I realised that I had been trying to forgive the wrong people.
I forgave my parents for their neglect, I forgave Xeno for his spare time in the living, for his contact with our daughter. I forgave Luna for growing up without me. But I had never forgiven myself for leaving her; it was that which I had not realised nor understood. Luna had grown up without blaming me for my untimely death.
I don’t blame you.
If she could forgive me, then I could find that part of my heart that forgave me too.