Chapter 1 : part one
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EDIT: This story won Best Angst at the Golden Snitches 2014 & Best Character Development at the Golden Paw Award 2014. Thank you so much to everyone who voted! This means the world to me.
we die to each other daily. what we know of other people is only our memory of the moment during which we knew them. – ts. elliot
She has taken to drinking. In pubs that are scruffy and dirty with sticky floors and appalling drunk men with long beards who smell like sour onions and chicken tikka masala mixed together. And before you ask, yes it is possible to smell that bad. And yes, she sees the irony. The smell fills her up, whisking her off to a day, nine years old with her mother standing by the stove. That’s the only image she has of her mother. But the image sticks. You know, the Indian bird drinking hard-core liquor and still not escaping her mother’s reproachful gasp, Parvati.
Really, she had figured she would be better at this.
When she was younger she used to keep a fancy black dress, this drapey thing with long laced sleeves and a slit in the side. It was in case of a funeral, she told herself. This was the only reason she ever kept it: so that she would have something appropriately (fashionably) sad to wear. In case.
In case -
It survived five years of discarded clothes. It’s strange now. Thinking about then and now, of how she had pictured it all, dreams pink and hazy. She had dreamt of this before. Now, she feels like she’s starring in her own play, but the scenes are all off, distorted into shapes and forms she’s no longer able to recognize.
She had imagined herself the stoic beauty with a serene look upon her flawless face as she threw a lone red rose into the grave with a gloved hand. Violins would be playing, as they looked one final time at the dead person before lowering him in the ground. She would even shed a tear, caught by the moment, stopped short by a finger before ending its trail. It would be a beautiful sunny day. She would wear black Jimmy Choos. The shoes had seemed very important to her at the time.
But in real life, the coffin had been sealed shut with nails. It had been sealed shut because half of Lavender had been missing. In real life, it was all heaving sobs and dull hair. She couldn’t find the old dress and her face had been splotchy red. There had been so many funerals that she had lost count. In real life, it was all silent hours. Vacant stares.
No silver lining or moving speech had been made, because nothing, absolutely nothing is beautiful or poetic about shredded people. Young people. War heroes. If you take away the hero in the word, it is just war and without the war there would have been no heroes and thus no funerals. (Shut up, her logic works.)
In real life, it had been raining nonstop, the rain soaking everything, burying it all underneath a deep layer of sticky mud. Her shoes had been smeared in it, the mud lodged underneath the heels so that she would carry the soil of the dead with her everywhere. Days after she had sat in her living room with a knife, scraping the dirt off in flakes of black. They had littered the floor, spreading in a circle away from her. It had taken hours of scraping to get it all out from the rims on her shoes. They had been ruined anyways.
Afterwards, she had swept the floor, sweeping it all underneath her Indian red rug with trembling hands. Months after she would still find small flakes of dirt sticking underneath the door or pressed against her skirt. It didn’t matter how many times she’d clean the house, there would always be some pieces of evidence left. Evidence of sadness in her life. Evidence that her life had not been perfect, even if she wanted to pretend so.
She found a picture of Lavender today. (Hence the drinking.) The two of them wrapped around each other, smiling secretly with a dandelion braided into each their hair. Futures unmarred by any shade.
Parvati orders another whiskey and cola and thinks to herself that this is getting old. She kind of expected more of life. I’m going to tell people’s future, she had told Lavender in fifth year, back when Lavender was all Ron Weasley and that. He had hugged her at the funeral, did he. Been nice. And all. You know.
Nah, I’ll become a psychologist and marry some rich bloke, Lavender had smiled. We’ll have a boy and a girl and live in Hampstead. Lavender didn’t get married or have kids, instead she got buried six feet underground.
She chugs down the drink, thinking to herself that no good will ever come of fifteen year olds’ childish dreams. She has dreams now, too, you know. But they are grounded, free of whimsical dreams and hope. She wants to have a dog and find a man. It’s simple. Happiness. Nothing more.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough now?”
Standing by her side is Seamus Finnegan, so tall she almost doesn’t believe it’s him. But he’s frowning down on her and she figures he’s quite real.
“I’ma drink as much as I want –“ she slurs/nods at him. He takes a seat beside her.
“What are we drinking to?” he asks finally.
“Dead people,” she tells him, “and mortgages.”
“Mortgages?” he smiles, sipping slowly at his drink. “Is that some sort of drink?”
“No, silly –“ she giggles, gripping his arm to steady herself, because, okay she may have been tipping off her chair.
She peeks at him through her glass, “It’s to do with money. Muggle stuff.”
“Muggle stuff?” Seamus raises an eyebrow, “Didn’t have you pinned down as a snob, miss Parvati.”
She waves him off, “I’m a university student now, can’t afford to be a snob.”
“Ah. I see,” Seamus says but she doesn’t, she totally does not see, in fact the edges are already blurring and she kind of has trouble focussing on his face. His eyes are very blue. Blue like the blue in the mists she placed on Lavender’s grave.
“I’m drunk,” she tells him forcefully, spilling half of the club soda across the bar table. Seamus nods, “I gathered as much.”
“And Lavender’s dead,” she blurts, her brain not quite catching up with her.
Seamus is silent for a while, staring at her with Sad Eyes. It almost gets too unbearable, but then he lowers his gaze, “I know,” he says gently, “and I’m sorry.”
Lavender once told her that Seamus had the longest eyelashes she had ever seen and she would love to touch them one time. She keeps on remembering moments like these. The two of them, planning ahead. She’ll marry an Indian man and be nice and normal.
Her brain displaying its disfunction again: “Can I touch your eyelashes?”
Seamus stares at her.
She shifts, “I mean. Um, it’s just that they’re long?”
His mouth wrinkles, “Is that so?”
She nods vigorously, “and pretty,” she adds for effect.
He stares at her again so intensely that she can feel it all down into her toes, “You may,” Seamus smiles.
His skin is very soft and she holds her breath as she brings an unsteady hand up to touch him. They flutter against her fingertips and Seamus laughs softly, his breath hitting her skin, before drawing back.
“No,” it escapes her, the word punctuated by a slow sigh. Seamus rights himself. Stares a bit more as if he’s seeing her for the first time.
They had sex, the two of them. Seventh year at the Christmas party Lavender and Seamus had reconnected over a cup of Eggnog. Lavender had told her all about it in the girls’ toilet on fifth floor the Monday after, giggling secretly. He’s got great hands, she’d smiled.
The war ended and nothing changed and she was left standing in an empty bar with Elvis singing in the background of her surrender like a bad punch line. She enrolled in college. Embracing the Muggle illusion her mother had always wished she would fulfil, she began working and studying. Took sewing classes. Wore saris. Colourful splashes of colour draped across her chest. Took Philosophy. Because there is no way she’ll ever make a career out of that.
“You’re not okay, are you?” Seamus asks quietly and her throat feels kind of funny, heavy and tight. There’s a memory too; Lavender staring at her by the lake with a smirk playing on her lips, you need to stop worrying so much, Parvati.
She opts for the simple truth:
“I’m not the same,”
She looks away from him so that he can’t see the rapid way she blinks her eyes, covering her mouth to stop the tremor. The barmaid is laughing loudly at a joke, leaning across the bar to look a man in the eyes. It’s really simple, and then it isn’t.
A hand touches her shoulder gently, “No one’s the same.”
This is the world they live in now. It is a world of shades of grey, less dangerous and insecure, but free of a purpose. In another world she wouldn’t have spoken a word to him, had they met. In another world, Lavender would be sitting beside her, telling her about love.
“That’s supposed to make me feel better, yeah? You’ll start saying something crappy bit about purpose and change, right? And then – and then we’ll hug and the scene’ll fade right out - ” She’s dry. And bitter.
“No,” Seamus takes her hand, the feeling is foreign and she weighs her options for a minute. She lets him, the warmth of his hand a comfort – it’s very stabile. He rolls his thumb against the back of her hand. It’s not a grand gesture, but it’s something.
“Chin up, now,” Lavender had said, puffing against Parvati’s chin. “They’ll never see the beauty if you don’t let them.” And Parvati would strut out her chin, her eyes fluttering in large, deliberate movements.
“We’re all fucked up, really,” Seamus wraps the words around a sip of his beer, his eyes not quite meeting hers, not quite looking away. It’s still sincerity and she wonders who he lost.
The bottle hits her teeth, there’s a sigh and the unmistakable patter of resentment.
We’re equally dead, she thinks.
The pub is empty now. Seamus stands.
A smile filters across his mouth, “why not?”
“Because,” she says, heart galloping in her chest, “Lavender – Lavender’s dead, Seamus. And – and we were supposed to live together in London, and she’d teach me how to be brave and – and how to make Shepherd’s Pie – Merlin, I don’t even know how to make a simple English dish – and – and now I’m living alone with Indian stuff everywhere – and I just wanted to have her with me and she’s slipping away, Seamus, she’s not here anymore.”
A silence passes in which she tries not to stare at his face.
“I know how to make Shepherd’s Pie,” Seamus says finally.
“You do?” the words come out in a soft breath.
“The best one south of London.”
It seems impossible, but a small smile filters across her lips, she pushes her chair backwards and stands, jarring the table in the process. “Hm. That sounds promising.”
Lavender used to tell her life was a matter of will and grabbing the moment. Parvati reaches for Seamus’s outstretched hand and it’s like a rope of saviour in a dark bottomless sea. She once stood by her side in every moment, taunting and happy in every aspect. As she slumps against his shoulder, inhaling deeply, Parvati knows, knows that life is a lot more than just a matter of grabbing the moment.
Seamus presses his lips against her forehead briefly. His lips are warm and the breath washes across her face and she thinks that maybe that’s enough.
nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave - cormac mccarthy, the road
It’s nighttime when he does it. The moon is shimmering palely down at his form as he soundlessly apparates into his former home. He walks through the brick lidded grounds. Steps across rubbles and scorched suits of armour. He spots half a painting by the entrance-door and rights the gilded frame tenderly as he tries to ignore the stained wall in front of him. (It’s blood, Neville, blood.)
The small path between the rubbles is barely visible, but he steps along it, determined. He quivers, the workings of reality hauling at him again. This place, these walls older than the unfathomable bellows of time, hold all that he ever thought necessary. Now, it is crumbling underneath his feet, an echo of days lived.
His steps echo in the deserted hallways, each step seems nearer to his conclusion, the flayed illusions of a little boy giving way to glory. The disenchantment of his childhood home feels like a kick to his gut and he runs a finger across dusty frames of grand notions in a soothing manner. A battered edition of Hogwarts: A History is lying open against the soiled ground, stained pages wrinkled by the mix of blood and mud. It sends an ache through him and he suddenly starts thinking about the hiss of the snake and how he had felt it all the way up through his fingertips tingling into his heart as he had parted it with determination.
The lesson at eighteen: killing it doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t leave you either way. (The nightmares will be his constant companion.)
It’s the little things that set him off. The cluster of Chocolate Frog Cards littered about the ground as if someone has spilled his entire collection in a gasp of horror. The pork roasts are still waiting on the tables, now half eaten by ravens. Even so, he feels a fleeting urge to sit down on the long table and toast to this – to Hogwarts, to the starry sky stretching far above his head. On the damp walls the scorched colourful banners are fluttering in a gush of wind that doesn’t quite reach him. The half-eroded lion still roars its ugly head. This is the rhythm of his life in patterned beats of sorrow.
He climbs the stairs. Slowly, as he wills the realization of the situation to begin hauling on him. He steps across the false step, which is still playing pretend, playing pretend for no one to see.
He reaches the Fat Lady after a while of contemplating. He can feel the whispers of time reeling, hauling as he trails the outlines of the empty black frame. The entrance is unlocked. The irony strikes him when he is able to recall the password for the first time in his life.
He cherishes this. He had forgotten this feeling of thundering loss and he can feel it all, now. How the years play through his mind, the sound is oddly muted, but the images are clear. The path is clear once more as he steps through the portrait, making sorrow the liquid of beauty as it drops off his chin and onto the wooden floor.
Inside it’s a completely different world. Dust has collected upon surfaces, etched about a corner, and the curtain flutters on a breeze that doesn’t quite reach him. He can hear the trickling of laughter and the ruffling of parchment as the fire burns. He can hear it all.
When he meets her, she has already been eyeing him for a while from a battered armchair. That had been the best one in the room, people always battling for it.
“Thought we’d agreed to stop meeting like this, Neville?”
He tries not to move his lips as he forms the word, “Sorry –“
“Come on, now,” She smiles.
He will remember this. And sacrifice many things. Lie about others. And dream of all of this once more. It’s a modicum of quiet descending as they stare across the room.
“Hannah, I –“ he begins, but stops as he is unsure where or what to look at.
Hannah sighs. A speckle of light is playing in her hair and he is haunted by the image of Cormac lying on his stomach with his face in the mud, camera still hanging from around his neck.
It’s hard to think. It’s hard not to.
She steps closer, resting a warm hand on his shoulder. “Neville,” she says, then again, and once more – for effort, “Neville -”
“It needs to get easier,” the words come out in a slow breath as his fingers curl in close for a fist.
“It will,” Hannah curls her fingers in his shirt and sags against him. It’s comforting. This warm body of tender desire. (He’s not empty).
He murmurs something about sadness and numbness but the words are lost to the whisper of a breath against his cheek and he can feel life skimming back at him. Terror grips him once more, the exhalation leaving him in a shuddering gasp of air.
Hannah’s lips graze his ear, “Don’t worry, I’m still here.”
The unlike others goes unsaid and he can appreciate this; the grace and tenderness she treats him with.
It’s what war does to you. Shaking your grounds and the peals of pasts become the future. Neville bends down to stare her into the eyes, the tips of his fingers pressing into the pulse of her neck, checking, feeling, to see – to know –
They are breathing.
It will be about choices and will, the motivation nearly ending him as he reaches for her hand. It is all very complicated.
And then it isn’t.
before and after.
it was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the rosenbergs, and i didn’t know what i was doing in new york. (the bell jar; sylvia plath)
It’s like forgetting the words to your favourite song. You can’t believe it, feeling like the words have merely slipped underneath the surface, scribbled across the night-sky. Time rewrites itself over and over again, and now it’s at the beginning.
Several odd years later, she’s dividing it all into before and after. Happiness and sadness. Guilt and power. Granger and Wilkins.
See, war doesn’t leave you. Not even after the years stand on a row.
It ends like this:
Adrenaline pumping hard, echoing loud and fast in her ears, matched beat by beat by the pounding of her footsteps. The crumbling of buildings, walls falling to pieces in her wake and images seared into the back of her head for all eternity. The mass splitting and the silhouette of him standing in the doorway. She feels herself reeling at the moment, awed for the first time by this alien creature. Then, the roaring triumph builds in her throat, ignited along her spine, I knew you could -
He stands there in the middle, crumbled form barely taking another step. It’s the momentum that does her in, the hushed murmur that sifts through the crowd, one thing he has never had any trouble causing. She can feel the world breaking, past and present forever divided between that flash of light, split open like the scar on his forehead.
Harry collapses in her arms, her hands are flat against the planes of his back and Harry’s shuddering breath is curling in the space behind her ear, heaving, gasping, and she presses her mouth against his chin, murmuring You did it, did it – And Harry whimpers, lithe body sagging against her form – and suddenly, he doesn’t seem so grand and foreign, and she can recognize him in the heaving sobs.
War makes boys men. War tears men apart and spits them out again, half-eaten.
Harry walks away.
Now that really does her in.
Ron has a scar on his kneecap. It spreads wide from the crook of his leg, slowly widening as it spreads upwards. She traces the outline of the raw skin tenderly on those days at the porch, curled around him like melted butter. It’s the simple things that do her in. She hasn’t thought of them in a long while now.
That’s a lie.
It’s not abandoning, she tells herself fiercely. It’s sparing –
There’s no difference, really.
“Can I sit?”
She doesn’t sleep at night, but sit up gazing at the moon. He joins her on most nights. There are silences agreed to. Intimacies put away.
Harry's face is older. She doesn't know what it is, maybe it's the half-beard embracing his chin, or the dark shadows underneath his eyes. If she's honest (which hardly happens anymore), she's quite sure it's the look in his eyes and the hunch of his back.
She doesn't know when lies became much easier than her truths. Maybe it's part of growing up, learning to lie to yourself when reality will swallow you whole.
"I hear Australia's nice this time of the year." Harry's eyes are wilderness green, all wrapped up in softer-than-soft softness, just for her.
"I wouldn't know."
She dreams of the sea, of Hogwarts crumbling and the curve of her mother's smile.
She doesn’t ask Harry about the dreams that wake him up screaming in the middle of the night (she hears them, though). And he doesn’t ask her why she doesn’t sleep at night.
It’s the yearly tribute to their generation with paper-thin smiles.
Finding herself is like finding a lost necklace. It is familiar, yet she never realized it was missing until she can feel it between her fingers, stirring in her gut. War does this to people, Ron will murmur, but what he doesn’t realize is that she has been lost for a lot longer than this war.
She has dreams now, horror dripping off every one; she still wakes up in the middle of the night crying out the name of dead people. It isn’t sorrow, but it’s a fear that seems to have been merged underneath her skin, seeping into her bones. It isn’t rational, nor is it proper, but admittedly, rationality has never been appropriate in times of war. (Times of peace, Hermione, peace. )
This is why she still won’t return to Hogwarts.
“You could go back, you know,” Harry’s eyes are dull and his mouth barely moves. She stares at him, wonders if he’ll ever be okay. They sit side by side at breakfast, her head is higher, eyes to the front as her fingers smooth over the back of his hand.
“It’s not – it’s not that simple,” she breathes.
“It could be.”
The first few steps are hard. Dragging along the pavement as life starts up again. It’s the broken sound of her breath hiccupping in her throat, signalling the beginning once more. (It’s only she who’s too old for this town).
It’s a spur of the moment thing.
“I’m leaving,” she tells Ron one afternoon.
“Huh?” he’s half asleep, half-not listening. She dreams of the sea, of Hogwarts crumbling into the ground, of the screams of terror, tearing into the night.
Australia is like the movies. All hot, with a whirl of red dusty sand, whirring against the slope of her chin.
“Nice to meet you,” Her mother has dimples now.
She has spent half her life moving purposely in accordance to popular beliefs. The rest, she’s spent trying to make amends. It’s time for her to start living. She gave life all she had. Now, she’s wondering when she’ll get it all back.
“Nice to meet you,” Her mother says again and brushes a hand against hers.
She still has warm hands and she comes to think, despite herself. It’s quite the spell, Obliviate, erasing moments and leaving gaps.
She wonders if this life is better, if she’s being selfish now.
It’s quite the spell and she’s quite the witch. (and bitch – your own parents, betraying them –)
See, life is difficult and moreover, it’s unfair and hard.
A line crosses her mother’s mouth, she can hear the thoughts churning in her head as were they words painted across brick walls in rainbow colours.
It’s rude not to introduce yourself –
“I’m Hermione,” she tells her, teeth smiling.
Monica Wilkins smiles, “That’s my dog’s name.”
A dog -
See you around, she tells her through gritted teeth, marching right into the scorching sun. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
The Minister held a speech, telling them of greatness and sadness. It had been static, twisted words that had sounded wrong to the ears.
You don’t understand.
There is nothing more than this. He had eyed the room, beady eyes touching faces with the sorry painted across every acre of skin.
Life shall move on, he had said.
And so it shall. She wills the world to spin from this.
She had been the one to pick up Harry in the bar, hosing him down in her small shower with his clothes still on. She had been the one spooning him night after night for a week, her body curling around his square form with bones jutting out everywhere.
He had cried and she had pressed her lips against his cheek, murmuring nonsense to his ears. Nonsense because nothing can make amends for all of these things. He had cried.
Everybody cries. Ron cried when they all left to fight – he even cries when he thinks she’s sleeping, folded against his chest. Ginny had cried when Hermione ran up the broken stairs of Hogwarts screaming, sobbing, it’s over, it’s over –
It’s not over.
She finds a photograph behind their green velvet couch. It’s her own freckled face with two large front teeth and braces everywhere. Every detail is still there, right in the faded picture. Her parents gazing down at her, arms thrown around her. Their British house in the background and her small black shoes with the laces untied. Her mother’s red petunias. She had half expected she would have been missing there, too.
She frowns at the nostalgia and tugs it away again, covered by a flayed pillow once more. It’s like she wants it to be there. In case – In case they one day decide to clean the house out and they’ll find it, wondering how she got there between the two, wondering how she could fit so neatly into the crook of their arms. (She does, though, fit perfectly in there –)
There are no otters in Australia.
That’s when the irony strikes her.
She decides to get out of Australia. She gets as far as to Sydney before stalling.
(See, it’s a long road running away.)
It’s surviving that matters, Ginny once told her, but Hermione is quite sure they’re all corpses playing make-believe after a war that destroyed everything. She can’t explain the nightmares, the ones of perished houses and bodies decaying on a battlefield of children.
She even contemplates that. The easiness of death, of slipping away quietly to have all the noise and static replaced by complete silence.
She lies on the beach of Sydney, letting each ray of light blind her, burning her eyelids red with the golden hue. It all slips away then, the light blinding her with white, people becoming pale filmy silhouettes of nothing. It all becomes easier. But then she can feel him, on top of her, his breath in her ear and the sharp jut of his hip. Life skimming back at her through the burn of his lips. And it’s not easy. It’s never been easy. Everything hurts. It hurts to even breathe out of loss, regret – love. Dammit.
As for the beginning of them, she should probably know:
This ends with a letter she never wrote.