Chapter 1 : I
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The road was long and narrow, and it cut through the hardpan of the desert like a scar on dry, cracked skin. Under the watchful glare of a full moon the desert became a sea of white, and every sound was booming in the open silence. I walked along with care, stepping around the occasional pothole and listening and looking. I’d spent days on that old highway with nothing but my old leather book bag and a wand I couldn’t use: days under that unforgiving sun, which blistered my skin and clawed at my vision, and nights of fighting the urge to sleep to gain the extra few steps. At one point I may have been chasing something… what that could be, I would never remember. All that mattered was the single bottle of water I’d saved (which would last me only a day and a half) and the strip of beef jerky beside it (which might fend off hunger until morning) and the light on the horizon I now retreated from (which glowed brighter with each passing night.)
Yes, at one point I may have been chasing something, I thought. Eight days ago, when I set out onto the open road, I may have had a destination in mind – a long-lost friend, a safe haven in the heat of this inescapable war, or even a weapon of some kind. Answers, maybe. I had known nothing anymore except what I learned in the letter I found in my bag, and even that was cryptic. My memory only extended as far as my sight, and it disappeared with the road behind me. Three days ago I sat to rest at dusk, and unloaded the contents of my bag with a resigned curiosity. Resigned, because all I knew was the walking, and that I couldn’t afford to lose time. But I needed to know.
I had pulled out three books, a letter, and a notebook. My hands shook in the surprising chill of the desert’s nightfall, though I could still see plenty well. Each of the books had been leather-bound and large, and heavy. Hogwarts, A History had been one of them, and the only title I could remember, but it wasn’t the title that was important. Hermione Granger, inscribed in flawless yet nondescript penmanship, marked these books as mine – possibly. This would have been a safe assumption, if it weren’t for the bloody letter.
The notebook also belonged to a Hermione Granger. Three books and a notebook, and then this letter. This letter that began with “Jocelyn –” and ended with “Love, George.” The words in between meant nothing to me… if I didn’t even know which of these three I was, how could I understand the gibberish two of them seemed to know all about?
I’d narrowed it down to Hermione or Jocelyn. Yes, it was possible that I was a George, though my fingers were stubbornly crossed in hope of the opposite. George was no name for a lady.
There was also the trouble with the wand. I was a witch, and this I knew to be true despite my utter lack of evidence, yet my wand would only emit dull sparks at any attempt I made at magic. Some witch I must be, I thought. I tried again each night anyway.
The notebook was also filled with gibberish. Well, gibberish only to a starving witch, especially a slow-baked one, who spent hours with little rest and her feet dying in their boots. At that point I’d had no interest in whatever the notebook contained, because this Hermione had yet to make herself helpful and probably would not through scribbles and doodles. A glance through its pages revealed that only the first three were even used, and it looked to be notes on cacti and desert animals; it was a log, perhaps. Of what purpose it once served I didn’t really care or wonder. Now all I knew were the tally marks in the front cover, where each morning I would wake and add another line. It was the only way to know anything in my delirious state: at the time there were three tally marks. Three days.
It had taken a while to convince myself there were no answers in the notebook’s pages. A long while. I sat with it open in my lap, eyes straining in the near-dark to read when the words didn’t make sense in the daytime either. I refused to light a fire, any of the nights (not that there had been a choice: there was no foliage to be seen, and I didn’t want my location to be so painfully obvious) and so I gave up after the dark truly set in. Instead I curled up on the ground, placed my bag under my head, and tried to sleep. I didn’t look at the light that followed me, and so I didn’t see its progress. I didn’t want to care that night, and I guess I didn’t need to.
After all my reminiscing, I pulled out the wand and decided to pass the time as I walked. Anything to take my mind off the walking was good, whether it prevailed or failed miserably as it tended to. I’d become so used to the failure that it no longer plagued me. If nothing is expected, nothing is lost. A wise mantra to carry in the wasteland that was this open road.
None of my old incantations would come to mind – perhaps I’d forgotten them all for good. Mentally, I kicked myself for leaving behind the books, but it had been necessary, hadn’t it? Hadn’t their combined weight been slowing me down? That had been the excuse, but here, where they might have made the difference between a full stomach and starvation or meant an escape from the heat, I discovered very slowly and very painfully that I would rather have been caught than be without the books.
Curse it all, I thought blearily. And, as an afterthought: If only I knew any curses.
That was it. A giggle crept up my throat. I stopped walking, realizing instead that I would never reach salvation in time to save myself from dehydration. Nope, not I. Not Hermione Granger, owner of three books, a notebook, and a book bag that had seen better days. Not Jocelyn either, who may have at one point known exactly what her lover George was talking about. Or, hell, not the anonymous carrier of a wand she couldn’t control and a book bag she hated and a letter she would never understand. Another giggle escaped my mouth, and I clapped a hand over my lips to silence myself. It wasn’t funny, couldn’t be funny, except it was and always would be.
Death could be mightily funny, if one were insane.
It was true, I must have gone insane. At that point there were eight little marks in that notebook, which meant eight days in this baking heat, with no food and no water left and surely, I must have realized even before I’d left that first day that I would never return. Or arrive anywhere, except maybe a heaven. I was dying. I giggled again.
Funny, funny, funny, I sang in my head. Oh, what I would do to be dead already. Isn’t that funny? Yes. Yes it is. It’s funny because it ends with me being dead.
I laughed even harder at this, and let my hand fall from my mouth. No one would hear me, anyway.
“Yes, funny,” I said. Or maybe I was still thinking. Or maybe I’d been talking aloud all along. “I want to be dead. I want to find death. I want to just accio it right to me. Or him. Is death a him?”
Oh, this was even funnier, and I laughed harder. Harder still. I clutched my sides.
I’m going crazy.
“No, no, no,” I cried back. “No, ma’am, you have just been crazy.”
And then, in a fit of either insanity or pure, instinctual genius: “Accio! Accio, death! Come to me!” I waved the wand wildly, falling to my knees. My head spun, and my vision went blank for a moment. “Accio! Accio!”
To my understanding, a few things then happened at once. The wand, recognizing a real spell, bucked in my hand, summoning a stone from metres away. I was struck by this stone almost instantly in the side of my head, just above my right ear, and all traces of insanity fled my being – I was now only too aware of the presence of magic and the good and the bad that came with it. For a fleeting moment, I could remember… I could remember lacing my fingers through red hair, the smell of clean cold nothing, and of being afraid always. I remembered everything, like how I wasn’t supposed to use magic, and then nothing at all, because suddenly there were people all around me in their long black cloaks and their white masks and I could not tell if I was remembering or seeing or dreaming because it all went away, just like I’d asked.
More characters will be introduced in the next chapter, so it won't be as dry. That, and you'll get a feel for the main character.
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