Chapter 10 : Eleven O'clock
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Close to me, the old lady held her breath, her soft hands slowly caressing each other. The woman with red hair fixed her gaze on a dark spot in the distance, her partner’s hand so close to her own that they were almost touching, though they would not have felt it if they had moved any closer. The young girl with the bouncing ringlets slowly walked away, the old man following closely behind.
Who were we? How had we united in this life when our paths had never crossed during our lifetime? Our fates had intertwined for no reason that I could determine and I wondered if we were destined to wait together. Watching as the dot in the distance grew into a bench and as the silhouette of Dumbledore gradually appeared, I asked why now was the right time. The laws of the white world were not bound by time and it seemed strange that this place should find necessity in it. It was the first place I had seen time in the world in between life and death; was it possible we were in another half place? A place not quite in death but not in life either. The white stretched on into eternity and I was doubtful that I’d ever escape it. Features masked it, colour disguised it, but I knew that the white was always there underneath it somewhere, it’s presence felt if not known.
As I saw that the clock had dissolved into a cloud of vapour, I noticed that neither Beth or Jam were there. Had they left of their own accord, or was it the white world playing tricks again? I did not trust that they had made this decision for themselves. We did not always have control over our decisions, I knew that much to be true. It was arrogant of me to claim that I had had the final say in all of my choices in life. No, often it was the pressure from others that influenced what I did. My parents tried, and I bucked against their will. Had they not tried to change me, I would not have become the person I was today, the reliably odd woman with strange beliefs. That was why I had always loved Xenophilius; he never tried to change who I was.
As I smiled at the thought of Xenophilius, I couldn’t help worry about the well-being of my daughter. How much time had passed since I was by her side in that dark room? The smiled dropped from my face and I turned to face Ariana, who was watching the bench with her eyebrows slightly raised. I followed her gaze, seeing a new figure forming beside the shadow that was Dumbledore. I held my breath, trying to catch a whisper of the conversation. Things that happened in the white world had an impact on all of us, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome of this strange sight would be. I squinted, trying to work out who Dumbledore was conversing with. As I watched, the new figure’s hair grew, locks pointing in all directions. Colour gradually darkened his skin as clothes formed. All the while, the old wizard did not divert his attention.
I threw a glance in the direction of Lily and James, but they were too busy edging forwards to return it. There was something in the way they held themselves that left me transfixed. Hope, possibly, shrouded their faces, raw disbelief causing their feet to spring and stumble closer to the bench. They were gaining distance quickly, and as they reached the pair I understood. I saw what James and Lily saw as they gazed down at their son; their grown-up son who had seen and lost so much, who had found the grace to become the man he was. He faced death without fear, not for a minute was he scared of what awaited him after the white faded. To a certain extent, neither did I. What was there to fear from the unphysical nature of this world; it had no influence over the living and its only power was in death. The worst was over.
It was remarkable the changes that young man had seen, the external forces that warped and distorted his innocence without destroying his good will. An example to us all, I couldn’t help but feel proud of him, just as I knew his parents were. They would have been proud of him no matter what path he chose to follow. Observing the scene, the old man and the boy, the parents and death itself breathing beside them, I knew hope. One boy could save them all and whilst doing so he could save his parents. They deserved the eternity he afforded them. As a smile crept onto my lips, Ariana left my side. I knew what she was about to do but I made no move to stop her. It was neither my place or right to intervene in such matters and the time was right for them.
She reached them, placing a silky hand on each of their shoulders. They turned to her, bittersweet smiles lining their mouths, then to each other in a last gesture. They began to slowly fade into the background, heads turning towards their son for the last time as their hair greyed and whitened, as their midriffs became the bench in front of them and as their feet dropped like invisible grains of sand. The last of Lily and James I saw were their outstretched arms, attempting for the last minute contact with their own flesh and blood. Harry never saw them.
I could not mourn for my companions; there was no sadness to lament, no tragedy to grieve. No part of me saddened as they met their maker. I closed my eyes, breathing in the thick scent of oranges as it exploded from the point of their eternity. There was no fresher scent, no sweeter indulgence than that of citrus fruit. It cleansed my pores, my mind and my soul as I stood with my eyes closed.
Eventually, the smell subsided and I felt the whiteness leave my surroundings. I opened my eyes and observed an empty room, one I recognised instantly from the sheets of paper pinned to the wall to the tapping of the old typewriter in the corner. The curtains closed, the circular room seemed to shrink in the semi-darkness. One lamp was casting a dim glow across the contours of the furniture, their shadows just avoiding my feet. I had not expected to find myself home again, but now I was here I felt loathe to ever leave it again. Turning to face the finishing wall, my hand passed through the pages that were yet to make it to print. I could almost remember the feel of paper and my imagining it was good enough to remind me of how much I missed it.
I spun slowly on my feet until I was facing the room again, my eyes noticing for the first time the form of a woman draped across the sofa. At a half-glance, I almost saw myself before recognising my daughter. Oh, how uncanny our resemblance was. Though the peaceful look that adorned her face was not one that I had worn often as a young woman. She seemed thinner than the last time I saw her. Of course, the dark room where we had last crossed paths had not revealed anything about her appearance. I shivered, remembering the fear the place gave me. I paused in my observation for a moment to wonder what had happened in there. If it was enough to make my skin itch and prick then I didn’t dare imagine how it had been for Luna. But she was safe; her presence in this very room was proof enough for that and my muscles relaxed, my frown ceasing. She had survived without my help or intervention. Eyeing her long legs and fine features, I could see she was a woman now; perhaps her experiences had helped her on that path a little sooner.
The door behind me opened, a beam of light creeping in before being expelled as the door was snapped shut. Xenophilius approached the sofa, casting a wary glance towards our daughter. He had not changed in all the time I had known him; it was comforting that something in my life had resisted the effects of time. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he shook her briefly.
“Luna?” His whisper carried far enough for me to hear it before the whirring of the typewriter engulfed it.
She stirred, shaking her dirty blonde hair out of her eye before propping herself upright. I was almost tempted to straighten out the creases in her nightdress, but I resisted before my hand could rise higher than my elbow. Some motherly instincts were hard to lose.
“I meant to give you this earlier,” he said quietly, sitting beside her on the worn sofa. In his hand he held a small leather box, no larger than the size of his palm. I moved a step closer, leaning in to see what he was giving her. A rueful smile lifted his lips. “It was your mother’s.”
An innocent curiosity enchanted her features, her pale hands gently lifting the box out of his hands. I watched as she opened the lid of the same box I’d kept close ever since my eighteenth birthday, the box that held my most prized possession. Sure enough, her nimble fingers lifted the gold locket from out of its dusty case, the chain slipping between them, the heart trapped in her palm.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, her voice catching. I hoped she wouldn’t cry; if a tear escaped her then I was sure to cry too, it was not something I could control. Undoing the catch, she froze, examining the chain closely. “Oh look,” she said dreamily. “It’s her hair.”
Eyes wide, I stared at the greying strand of hair that she lifted into the light. I felt my own fingers run through my hair, as if checking it was still there. Though the curl in my daughters hand was fragile and grey, my own remained resolutely young and thick. Though I didn’t feel like I had changed at all, like any time had passed, here was the proof. Briefly, I thought of the rest of my body and how time might have affected it. The thought sent shivers down my spine, and I longed for Luna to put down my hair. My eyes welled up as she stared at the strand, unsure as to what to do with it. I understood her dilemma; should she keep the strand on the locket, a dead piece of me, or should she discard the last physical link she had to me? There was nothing else of me I could give her, neither mentally or physically. From ashes I came and to dust I had returned. That strand of hair would soon turn to dust, unattainable by the living. Slowly, she opened the heart and curled the hair into it, shutting it tightly. Then she fixed the locket around her neck, the last piece of my resting just above her heart.
“Thank you,” she said, planting a kiss across her father’s cheek, words thereafter failing them. Neither were wailing in despair, though I felt the sadness that emanated from ever mention of me. There was no regret, no blame, no irreparable grieving. I was an accepted part of their lives that, although long dead, would live on in their remembrance and love. It was surreal how I could feel my own presence in the room; I didn’t know if it was in their words, in my name or by my standing there in front of them. They felt it too, I could tell, by the way they smiled to themselves. Their part of me would never be subject to the laws of nature or time. The laws of love worked in entirely different ways, and that was the true meaning of eternity.
A clock struck somewhere in the distance, though I attempted to ignore it in the hope that I could remain forever with my family. There were some things I would give up the world for.
The room started to glow, each individual feature become whiter and whiter, each line blurring into one as the white world crept out from every crevice. Luna’s hair shone, her features becoming less and less defined as the room faded away. White mist curled around the table legs, clung to the walls and shrouded the last human contact I had.
Closing my eyes, I let the white world carry me back. I felt light-hearted, content, as I left the living world for the last time. There was no longing to return or any fear of returning to a world I couldn’t understand. The wonder of mystery was that sometimes you could never find the answer.
“It’s time, Aurelia,” the old woman whispered. My eyes remained closed. I was focusing my attention on the delicious fruity smell that never seemed to leave me. It was a very part of me, something that was my substance.
There was possibly a little hint of spice there, too. It reminded me of Christmas, of snow and warm winter fires. It was the smell of the candles I lit on the windowsills at home, of the perfume I wore as a girl. It was cinnamon, cinnamon mixed with the sweet scent of oranges.
That was another mystery I had never solved; why on Earth had my orange tree picked me? Was it my love for the fruit, or the properties of my heart and soul? Either way, I couldn’t help myself inhaling the scent has hard as I could, my nostrils flared.
Opening my eyes briefly, I saw the antique clock that I had grown up with staring at me. How many times had I seen it in the same position, the long hand standing tall and the short hand leaning to the left? Being late was not an option with this particular one.
I closed my eyes once again; I did not feel particularly comfortable with the way Ariana was watching me; her eyes never leaving mine, her arms gently by her side. I didn’t question what she was waiting for, I didn’t need to ask. I inhaled one last time, though the feeling of breathing in air was long since lost. I felt the citrus scent fill my lungs, my chest rising greatly as I breathed in all of nature’s goodness. It calmed any nerves I had about what awaited me next. I felt her hand rest upon my shoulder, a warm trickle spreading over my body. I exhaled, the oranges leaving my body and mind as the warmth wrapped around my body. Almost lulling into sleep, I relaxed.
As the clock struck again, I welcomed the overwhelming need to cry. The small droplets of liquid that traced my cheeks held no sadness, for my body was swelling with joy. Light dripped from my every pore and every thought that I had ever formed came together in a meeting of peace and love. There was nothing more pleasurable than understanding all that which I had questioned.
The fear of death obliterated, the acceptance of circumstance blossoming. There was nothing to regret, nothing to mourn and I would not be forgotten. My dreams of yesterday and thoughts of tomorrow became one until all that I was drew together, a ball of emotions shining brightly. I knew them all and understood; I was ready. My journey had come full circle and I had travelled with it. There was a reason why I had been waiting in the land of forever; I just had to realise I had the power to move on within me all the while. As the clock struck for the final time, I drifted away, lightness and darkness filling me until all that remained were my universal truths.
My peace was tinged with cinnamon and my forgiveness smelled of oranges.
A/N: Thank you to everyone who as read all the way to the end. I'm truly flattered. I'd like to thank all my readers and reviewers for their fantastic support throughout the posting of this story. I couldnt have done it without you, Ilia especially. Over the course of two years this story has been nominated for quite a few awards, a finalist in the Dobbys last year and a winner of three awards this year at The Golden Snitches (Best Ending, Best Plot and Best Original Character). Thank you all for your kind thoughts! If you're interested, I'm posting a sequel told from Ariana's point of view called Strawberry Hill. Please check it out. Lastly, my aim with this fic was to make you think twice about things you take for granted in life. Death can touch anyone, never forget to live your life to the full.