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The Tree and the Bird and the Fish and the Bell by peppersweet
Chapter 1: The Tree and the Bird and the Fish and the Bell
a/n: I debated posting this but decided to just go for it. I never used to like Cho as a character, but recently I've come to understand her a lot more and thought I'd attempt writing her. It was a little difficult getting the balance between melodrama and genuine emotion right, but...well...this is what I came up with. The title and quote at the beginning are from the motto of the city of Glasgow (I'm being the annoying girl who draws from movie canon and, therefore, imagines Cho as Scottish). I listened to 'Slow Life' by Grizzly Bear almost continuously whilst writing this. It's a little rough around the edges and a wee bit weird and I wonder if I'm making a massive mistake by posting it but...erm, I hope you enjoy it ♥
this is the tree that never grew, this is the bird that never flew,
this is the fish that never swam, this is the bell that never rang.
All in all, I was kind of relieved when I met him, because I was certain by that point that nobody would understand. By all accounts it should have been a normal day, and it was, but some quirk of memory has left me with the most trivial and inconsequential of things burned indelibly into my mind. Like how the sky was a sort of weak off-white, sodden, saturated and tearstained, with blank reflections of itself pooling in the gutters and cracks of the courtyard’s stone floor.
After Cedric was murdered they were convinced we all needed help somehow, but I think they misunderstood how resilient most people would turn out to be. There’s a special sort of invincibility you have when you’re young. You’d think a death like Cedric’s would shatter that invincibility but most people proved surprisingly immune. I felt it for a bit, and I know they went on feeling it even after the funeral and the memorial service in the Great Hall – an illusionary sort of immortality, the safety of knowing death is something that happens far away, that you’ve got a lifetime to do and see everything, you’ve always got a second chance. Death had never really put them off holding the Triwizard tournament anyway, only postponed it. And death didn’t stop anybody entering.
But it’s stupid, stupid in a really tragic way: we all knew Cedric and then, of course, we all knew that girl in the year above whose sister had dropped dead of a heart attack one day. And there was a boy in that year who was quietly ill for months before he slipped out of life one day – just like that. Gone. The speeches had all sorts of vague platitudes about how Cedric’s death was like ‘a candle being snuffed out’, but that suggests smoke in the air, the smell of wax, a hush of breath. It was less than that. It was too sudden to be like anything much at all.
They were there for us, apparently, the Professors and the Matron and even Madam Pince, the librarian. They wanted us to know that they understood what we were going through even if we didn’t. And they asked us to be there for each other. All of Cedric’s friends from sixth year and then me from fifth.
I met him there. His hair needed a trim and kept getting in his eyes. There were old scabs on the knuckles of his right hand. Once introduced, he hugged me in that awkward, impersonal way that was the custom then, and I recall that his clothes smelled nice. The weird things you remember about people...he made some pathetic joke about me being short and I didn’t think much of him until a few hours later.
We went to the memorial service that afternoon in a black, sullen mass. The air was muggy and felt heavy on my skin, although my tears cut it to let all the cold rush in. The Great Hall was like that sometimes. A fire burned the year round but, once in a while, you’d get a tiny, shivering chill along your spine – someone walking over your grave, like everyone used to say. Someone must have been standing guard on my grave that day because I couldn’t stop shivering all the way through Dumbledore’s speech.
It was after the speeches and silence was over that I saw Him again (Him, because I couldn’t help but capitalise his name in my teenage diaries as if it carried some sort of divine significance). Cedric’s friends were shepherding me out of the hall, maybe thinking I was one of them now even though I had no reason to be part of their group. He offered me his Hufflepuff cardigan because he’d seen me shaking in my seat. Yes, he said, it was cold in there. Cold for summer anyway. Did I want to join them in the Hufflepuff common room? Professor Sprout was holding her own memorial there, too, as if going round in circles with anecdotes and protracted silences would do anything to bring Cedric back.
I told him I’d be there. And that was the day his fingers began to work at the knots that bound me.
It was a pretty big group that Cedric had moved in and I was flattered that they took me under their wing after he died, because my own friends had been avoiding me like the plague as if convinced death was contagious and I’d be the next reason for them to flock to the Great Hall in mourning robes. And because Cedric was a decent person, his friends were too. Mostly I spent time with Him and Andrew, who I suppose had been Cedric’s closest friend. Possibly the nicest of the lot as well. If I’d had the chance to do things differently, I might have asked him to be my boyfriend or even suggested we cut ourselves out of the group earlier – I don’t know. He was always fair to me and I feel a bit sad whenever I see him because I can’t help but think I missed my chance.
If I remember the most inconsequential things about the day I met Him then I remember the most inconsequential things about the start of that summer too. Important things, too, like how mourning was a stopper to my friends’ voices and how, that summer, I felt so alone and so invisible that I might as well just have stepped right off the planet. It rained a lot. He had the house to himself and had invited a lot of us over. I remember it was the day the rain was so relentless that the kitchen flooded at home and I had an argument with my dad before I left – he wanted me to stay and bail out the water and I’m ashamed to say I cried, played the grief card, lied my way out of every chore under the sun on the grounds that I was in shock. At the same time it only felt like a half-lie; grief couldn’t touch me in the daylight hours and the utter banality of bailing out kitchens or washing the dishes, but it crept up on me in the dark and the night-time when the house was silent.
But, like I said, it was the rainiest summer I’d known in all my life – hot, too, muggy and close, a smothering feeling in the air. I wanted to impress him, knowing what I missed most about Cedric was the feeling of being loved: I was pale, malleable, pretty, perched on his desk with my eyes still bitten red from crying. I didn’t consider it an insult to Cedric’s memory because, all that time, a shrine burned for him behind my eyes: I swore I saw pieces of him everywhere in the boys around me.
The clouds covered the sun earlier than usual. Half past nine, sky the colour of the bruise. I sat, elevated, perspiring, mute.
'And then there were two,' he said.
He had his hands on my knees like he was pinning me to the desk so I couldn’t shy away. His breath was hot and rankled me – it dug its way under my skin and tore holes in my muscles, unravelling bone from sinew until I felt like a collection of separate parts and spares that he had laid out before him with the thought of building a new girl in his own image.
My heart doubled its pace to keep up. He knew more than I did and lifted my face up to his, pulled me towards him as if I were on strings. I was thinking about Cedric and how the only place I’d known love was in the curve of his smile. It was the clumsiest kiss I could have managed; flushed face, dry mouth, shaking hands.
‘I love you,’ he said.
Those words had been too sincere even for Cedric Diggory, but this boy was a born liar. My reply trembled and expired on my faltering breath, the stagnant air. ‘Right back at you.’
He let me go. The benefit of distance was seeing the cruel mouth he’d kissed me with. But nothing could stop the rush those three words brought.
These are the excuses for the way people say I am.
I remember inconsequential things like the way the sky looked on the day of Cedric’s memorial, the exact wording of the argument I had with my father about bailing a flood out of the garage, the exact softness of a school cardigan offered to a shivering girl in a cold hall. I remember how a boy will wear scabs on his knuckles like jewellery but will never get around to explaining their existence. I remember the way people smiled because it became my only way of reading them, comparing them to Cedric’s smile in my mind. I remember comparing everyone to Cedric then. I remember how perfect and untouched Cedric’s body looked the night Harry Potter brought it back from the centre of the maze. And I remember it took a while for the horror to set in, how I didn’t even cry until Marietta had me back in the dormitory and the room was full of draughts and hushed voices.
When people hear my name in the future, it’s likely they will only remember two things about me. My boyfriend died and I chucked The-Boy-Who-lived in the middle of Hogsmeade. So it goes. So it will always go. There is nothing else worth knowing about me.
I suppose I was drawn to Harry like I was drawn to Him: I wanted someone to understand. I thought Harry might get it better than anyone, because he’d been there and seen it and you could still sometimes catch the shock of it on his face when he thought nobody was looking. I wondered if I could confide in him, or even if he could confide in me. Poor Harry, the way he looked like an abandoned child wandering around the corridors; someone had evidently taken scissors to his hair in the summer and it made his face look so much paler behind his glasses. A child’s face wearing a hangman’s hood. It was like the plan of the castle had been wiped from his mind. He looked perpetually lost. I worried about him.
On one hand there was Harry and on the other there was Him. He – that is to say Him - had a girlfriend. He had me too. I’d never really been his – all we had was a series of kisses that hadn’t meant a thing – but I thought myself something more. I thought he cared. But he had her. He had her and he had me. Nobody was to know about the latter. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you – if He did not acknowledge that he had me, he didn’t have to care. I was void.
What was my problem? It meant nothing and it never had. I should have been happy he’d found someone, just as I had apparently found Harry. Found Harry, because he’d looked lost but – what had I changed? Nothing could find that boy. He was drifting, I was drifting, and we never truly collided. I hurt, though. Going out with Harry had just been salt in my imaginary wounds after all.
The day I healed was the day he’d – Him - know he’d lost me. So he kept on cutting.
I cried into my pillow, at my diary, at Marietta. I blamed it on my mum and the time of the month and the position of the stars in the sky when, really, it was him. Him and him. The one who couldn’t fix me and the one I couldn’t fix.
I ended up crying at Harry. I made a bit of a scene. He got lost again. The whispering wasn’t especially kind, because the general consensus was that – apparently – I had used him, I had been selfish, I had been melodramatic, I had only cared for myself.
I cared for him too, and it was sad that nobody realised that. I cared. But we didn’t love each other. Can you actually love someone when you’re so young – or feel that sort of chilling sadness? No, I realise it now – but what is important is that I didn’t realise it then, because I was still under that same incantation that gave me a mental shield charm and elevated my feelings above all others. I’m sure Harry thought about Cedric as often as I did.
So after all was said and done – I retreated to the cruellest, coldest smile of them all. The only liar that ever told me I was loved.
For a time I was a prefect, a ‘golden girl’, and the younger students would sometimes come to me for advice. Mostly the girls, mostly the third years – fragile little darlings wearing borrowed confidence, flashing borrowed smiles across the common room to their daydreams. Sometimes I had to bite my lip and dig my nails into the palm of my hand to stop myself snapping – come to me for relationship advice? Come to me to talk about the boy you fancy? Come to the girl with the dead boyfriend – come to the girl who has a boy, but not a boyfriend – you know what?
It’s too complicated.
The third years want to know what love is? It’s complicated. Don’t bother. I realised full well that that confidence and those smiles had been borrowed from me, although I’d long given them up in favour of introspection and secrecy. In favour of the sympathetic looks that said – Poor Cho, no wonder: she never really got over Cedric.
Perhaps there was a bit of ‘golden girl’ in me, because it used to tear me apart that I was such a successful liar. How can you lie to people so trusting and not feel bad about it? Let alone lying to a boy’s girlfriend. Lucky she was a Gryffindor. Lucky she was in the year above. Lucky I didn’t have to see her in the common room and think about what I’d done.
The evidence was still there for me to see in the corridors, even if only in passing. He was a bruise on her neck, she was the print of lipstick or gloss behind his ear. I never wore make-up and kissed him like I was painting on paper with water; it was her job to stain it with colour later.
So it goes and so it will always go: my weakness was a three-word lie.
It only occurred to me not to succumb – for what sort of golden girl lets herself be manipulated and moulded to another’s vision? – when it was far too late. My hands had formed a knot around him and I wondered – in some part of me that wasn’t raw and open – how much force it’d take to bend that spine. All the strength I could muster, perhaps. The best I could do was scratch lines that marked the minutes I spent in his grasp.
It was only once, I swear. Willpower wasn’t my thing, but I found it in me to give him up.
Picture the scenes like bookends, stood on a shelf, with the chapters of our lives between them. Each is a mirror, and where the glass is not hidden by those chapters, you can catch a glimpse of two different versions of myself, first at age fifteen and then at seventeen. He is obscured by paper and only appears in shards and shrapnel of limb, and then as a vague, dark blur of face as he moves to kiss me in both. At fifteen, the sky darkens to the colour of a bruise and, at seventeen, his lips do not reach mine and a beam of sunlight from the window breaks us in two. The glare hides his final expression from my conscience forever, because the last time he tried to kiss me was the last time. Last time I ever saw him, I mean, although that sounds far too dramatic for the truth of the moment. When I shied away from his kiss and said my goodbyes, I honestly thought we’d see each other again. But we fell out of contact, as all of Cedric’s group did, and so I’ll always have that ghost of breath on my lips: what sort of kiss might it have been?
Even if I gave him my all, I swear I never loved him. His face became a shifting image of my dead, once love that was restless and wouldn’t even let me sleep comfortably in my own bed, let alone his. It had to end there.
I’m sure anyone would understand or, at least, at age eighteen, I was beginning to realise that more people got it than I’d thought - I had to get away. See, I could no longer breathe the air in the house; it sounds implausible, but the threshold had become a chokehold. I’ll be honest: I was old and over-used and had outgrown my childhood home. I was worn right down to my bones and needed room to regrow. As far as my parents were concerned, I’d got a job – not that I told them this until I was on the other side of the country.
It was a cold night, and I only realised I’d forgotten my house keys once the door had slammed and locked itself. No going back, unless I wanted to freeze to death on the doorstep. It was four in the morning. My next door neighbour, back from her night shift, was leaning out of her sitting room window, cigarette between her fingers, mixing the air with her smoke signals.
I tightened my grip on the suitcase, nodded to her, and made for the gate.
‘Moonlight flitting?’ she said.
‘Something like that,’ I said.
I walked a few streets until I thought about hailing the Knight Bus, and then, by the park, I stuck my wand arm out into the road, braced myself for the rush of absent air and cough of exhaust. The conductor let me on and showed me to a bed; the bus was almost deserted.
‘Where to?’ he said.
‘Where are you stopping next?’
‘St Andrews,’ he said.
I nodded. ‘Yes, fine. I’ll go there.’
He didn’t question it; I wondered if they got this a lot. Boarding just before dawn, going anywhere the bus does. As my neighbour had put it – a moonlight flitting.
I was exhausted. The sun began to rise. So tired – I realised I didn’t care anymore. The low mists on the fields outside were only clouds, and the lights of passing cars that streaked across the windows were only falling stars, and I left them all behind as I ascended to heaven.
And things eventually came full circle a year after the battle. It had been a clumsy memorial ceremony. Sweet. Dragging. But afterwards, when it was all over and we were free to wander the grounds – I saw Andrew, the dependable friend. A faint tug somewhere in my chest reminded me of how I thought I’d missed my chance, but…there was no point dwelling on that. None at all. He saw me and smiled.
‘Long time, no see,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I smiled back.
He motioned to my hair. ‘Since when…when did this happen?’
The sharp, new-cut bob brushed past my ears as I dipped my shy, blushing face to the ground. ‘Just fancied a change.’
He laughed. ‘Did you do it yourself?’
‘No,’ I met his eye again, and was relieved not to feel anything. ‘Nah, I went to the hairdresser – god, I would have butchered it myself.’
‘It suits you.’
‘A lot easier to manage, too,’ I said.
There was a slight pause that was, strangely, neither awkward nor unnecessary, although his smile had traces of pity. I did my best to smile back.
‘Should be getting on,’ he said. ‘I promised the guys I’d meet them inside in a bit. It’s funny, you know, how few people are here…’
He hadn’t turned up. I’d had half a mind not to. ‘Well, after the battle…’
He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter – at least the people who counted turned up.’
He was already walking away. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Good to see you.’
‘Good to see you too,’ he said, and we haven’t spoken since.
I wandered on and found myself at the edge of the lake. Birdsong in the trees. Somewhere – perhaps Hogsmeade – a church bell was ringing. And the air buzzed and hummed and cracked with life, and the water in the lake rippled, and I could feel a breeze on the back of my neck. The smell of wildflowers. I felt the old fatigue slip away from me and the world clarified.
Like Andrew had said, the people who counted turned up. The survivors had been there. By default, as He hadn’t turned up, He had not endured as I had. The ceremony had been clumsy, but those of us still living had mixed with our own memories of the dead – of Fred Weasley, of Albus Dumbledore, of Cedric. I was alive. In a sick way, I knew I had won, and that I'd no longer have to fumble excuses or explanations for myself anymore.
Like being doused in cold water. My fingertips drifted in the lake. Love wasn’t just in the curve of a smile – now I was smiling. Properly. Perhaps for the first time in months.
Cold water. The world became sharp and clear again, and I knew, in an instant, where and who I was.