Chapter 1 : not quite her name
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lithe & limber
My mother said to me when I was younger, “Lavender Brown, there’s something big and heavy sitting on your shoulders.”
I turned my head as far as it would go. “I don’t see anything there.”
She stood me in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom and I saw myself, dough-coloured cheeks pushing out to my ears, hair streaked like dirty honey.
“Some people,” she said, “look like they’re carrying the world on their shoulders. You might be one of them.”
My mother is lovely, lovely! She never sings, and when she speaks, the ends of her syllables sweep into each other so there are no silent openings wedging her words apart, just her voice flattened down into a deep hum. My mother is light, my mother says “You will be well, Lavender”, I am not my mother’s daughter.
She set flowers into my hair; she named me after one. She bought me scrapbooks and taught me how to cut long stems of flowers from the garden and press them between the pages. Weeks later the flowers would be crisp and splintery to the touch. I could never do them on my own. My clumsy fingers would crush the brittle things. But my mother would only say, “Never mind. For you, we can always use a simple Charm to dry them out instantly.”
“You have such a beautiful mother,” my cousin Viola said to me.
Viola spent a lot of time at our place. My mother would bring the two of us out to the hills near our home. We’d sit on the grass and my mother peeled apples for us without magic, though it didn’t look that way – round and round the apple her little penknife would glide, unstitching the skin of the fruit into a rosy spiral. I remember one time when we were eating mandarin oranges. I felt the indentation at the top or the fruit and pressed my thumb down until it broke through the rind, and a little of the white pith was scooped up by the crescent of my fingernail. Some of the juice spurted out and ran down my palm.
“Look,” Viola said to me holding up her mandarin. She’d made a small hole at the top and through that she’d somehow managed to wriggle the whole thing out of its skin intact.
“Lovely, Viola,” Mother said smiling. Then she looked at me, thumb plunged into the scalp of the fruit, the edge of my sleeve stained orange. “Well never mind that, Lavender.”
"Viola is so delicate," my mother said to me once. "Don’t break her into two!"
Viola is not delicate at all. She is fast and tough and she would always walk ahead of me, her twig legs scaling the slopes like an insect. Viola is incredibly strong.
We were lounging around in my bedroom one afternoon when she said to me, “You think we could be sisters?”
"No," I replied. "We're nothing like each other."
"You are nothing like your mother. I think I'm more like her."
"Who cares. She’ll never be yours.”
It was the wrong thing to say. The next moment something large shifted at the corner of my eye. It was my bookshelf, full of my books and frilled dolls and fingernail-sized porcelain tea-sets. Viola had shoved it with all her unreal strength – and now it was toppling over, books popping out one by one, and I was too slow, too stunned and later she’d tell me what a stupid expression I had on my face as it came down on me.
The shelf knocked me flat on my stomach, its heavy frame holding my spine down to the ground. A dull pain swam across my back. I folded my lip inwards between my teeth and bit down. I was pinned.
“Move it off me now, Viola,” I said.
She crouched down beside me. “You’re going to have to beg me to.”
“Please help me.” I scowled at her.
“You don’t look like you mean it.”
I thought tears might convince her. I squeezed shut my eyes. There was nothing. I cried all the time, but never at the right moments. My eyeballs were arid; I felt them rotate heavily in their sockets.
“We’re sisters, aren’t we?” Viola said again, grinning.
“No,” I said, “But close enough.”
She leapt up and put a foot over the frame of the shelf and started pressing down slowly. The shelf wedged deeper into the cup of my spine. A thick crushing pain, blunting the fringes of my vision.
“Yes we are,” I yelled. “Sisters.”
The door opened and Viola sprang away from me and my mother came in. She blinked at us and at the mess, and as I was looking up at her it seemed like there was something reflective in her stare, something that made me think of light in the windows that couldn’t be caught, shrugged off by glass.
“The shelf came down,” Viola cried to my mother, her forehead carefully crumpled with worry, her mouth in the shape of a gasp, “We were just playing and it toppled over. It was an accident.”
She turned to me. “It was an accident, wasn’t it Lav?”
I looked into my mother’s eyes – they were pale blue and there was a limpness to the colour that I didn’t like. “Yes,” I said, forcing a smile.
“Nothing to worry about, Lavender,” my mother said.
She flicked her wand and slowly, the shelf hoisted itself off me and moved back into its old spot by the window. The books darted up from the floor and shook out all the creases in their covers, the porcelain tea-sets intact again.
Viola extended a hand out to me and I took it and she pulled me up. Her mouth was smeared across her face in a large smile. As my mother turned to leave she squeezed my fingers hard. My knucklebones snapped and I cried out and dug my elbow into her ribs. My mother looked back at us and she dropped my hand.
“Oh, you girls,” my mother said laughing, and Viola laughed along and looking at the two of them, I started laughing as well. We could have been sisters, the three of us.
Viola and I trailed after my mother, down to the living room with all its shades of pastel, with its cream-coloured curtains and sprays of dried flowers releasing their fragrances into the air. I felt it then. The whole weight of the room, of the house pushing me down so hard that I could sink to the ground. The flowers thrust their cloying scents down my throat. Behind me, I felt Viola’s smile, her lips cracking apart and stretching and stretching like a rubber band until they touched the tips of her ears. It made such a deep curve. I could have worn it round my neck, like a collar.
When I turned eleven I went to Hogwarts and found Parvati. We met during our first night, at the Gryffindor table. I was too busy marvelling at the Great Hall to pay attention to the rest of the Sorting (Viola was in Ravenclaw) – the four endless tables jammed with students, the ceiling enchanted to resemble a clear night cluttered with constellations. I didn’t see Parvati until she walked down from the front, newly-Sorted, and squeezed in between me and Seamus Finnigan.
“I’m Parvati,” she said, sounding excited, the upper register of her voice shredding into something like a giggle. She had a long loose plait coming down the front of one shoulder and ending in a large gold butterfly clip.
“Hello,” I said and gestured at her hairclip. “Can I look at that?”
She nodded, looking surprised but pleased. I reached out and took her long plait and laid it across my palm. The butterfly flapped its wings slowly.
“It’s my grandmother’s,” she explained. “My sister’s got one, too.”
“It’s so pretty.”
Parvati pointed at my wrist, circled by a bracelet of cornflowers, handpicked, threaded and Charmed by my mother so they wouldn’t wilt. “That is pretty.”
But I thought it rather plain compared to her shiny butterfly. When dinner was done, Parvati and I walked from the Great Hall, closed-off to everybody else, in a chain-link of arms. She elbowed me when Neville Longbottom tripped over his own robes and when Hermione Granger’s bushy hair came into view.
“It’s like she’s got a head full of fluff,” Parvati had whispered and we giggled harder than ever until Percy Weasley, the prefect leading the first-years, glanced behind and gave us quite a cold glare. We were in a dorm together with Hermione and two others. Parvati and I chose beds next to each other, right at the back of the room. We were already friends, unlike the other three who talked among themselves, haltingly sharing stories about when they’d got their letters and their parents’ reactions and what a big strange place this was.
It was easy to like Parvati. She was full of fun, and once she started laughing I couldn’t help but fall into the trap of her mirth. Too often we’d be swaying down the corridors, bumping into people, in a corkscrew of laughter.
We had a way of greeting each other: whenever we met in the hallways or in the Great Hall, we’d shriek and hug, stopping up the flow of people behind us.
“Lavvy!” Parvati would exclaim.
“Parvvy!” I’d reply.
People around us sniggered but we turned our noses up at them. Seamus used to say, when we climbed into the common room, “Here come Vati and Vender. Joined at the hip as usual, you two?”
Once, I was walking down to the Great Hall for breakfast and I saw Parvati coming from the opposite direction. I ran up to her as I always did and threw my arms round her.
There was no response, and when I pulled away with some surprise, I saw that the girl I’d just hugged so furiously wasn’t Parvati at all. She had Parvati’s face and features. But what she didn’t have was the unbuttoned collar, the latticework of ivory pins Parvati usually tucked into her hair, the loose-lipped laughter. This other girl was severe. Every strand of her hair had been pulled away from her face so her forehead bulged slightly, egg-bare.
“I’m not Parvati.” She adjusted her satchel strap at her shoulder. “I’m her sister, Padma.”
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you apart!” I said. “I’m sorry for – ”
“Never mind, it’s fine,” Padma waved me off. I saw the tatty rims of her chewed-up fingernails before she walked away.
“I saw your sister Padma,” I told Parvati when I got to the Great Hall. “I thought she was you.”
She looked irritated. “Yes, well, we’re really different. We’re not even in the same House.”
There was a burst of laughter from further down the table. A pair of orange-haired boys slapped each other’s shoulders, pumpkin juice dripping down the robes of one of them. “The Weasley twins are really alike.”
Parvati leaned closer to me. There was a guilty expression on her face. “You know the Sorting Hat?” she whispered. “Well, it sorted Padma first and put her in Ravenclaw. Then when it was my turn and the Hat was all deliberating about whether it should put me with my sister, I just shut my eyes and thought, anywhere but where she’s at. And it heard me and I got landed in Gryffindor instead.”
I thought of Viola. I didn’t see her so much now because she had her own little clique of Ravenclaw girls. We would continue to grow apart, away from the trifling arguments and the barbed embraces and all the other things which had once strung us together.
I said, “Sisters can be annoying.”
In our third year at Hogwarts we signed up for Divination as one of our elective subjects. The classroom was in the North Tower, up a silver ladder, through a trapdoor, and into a smoky, heavily perfumed circle of a room filled with velvety armchairs and small round tables. Parvati and I were hooked.
Professor Trelawney wore the largest pair of spectacles I’d ever seen. They amplified the limpid blues of her eyes and the rest of her sunken face seemed to drain away into those eyes. She wore her frizz of hair in a headscarf. Bangles clinked at her wrists.
"Welcome to your first Divination class," she said, and her voice was a whisper, "I can point you down the path to unveiling the mysteries of the future. It waits before us, shrouded. Sometimes it calls. Sometimes we feel it. I wonder – has any one of you here felt it, felt the weight of its mystery, the compact, dense terror of the unknown?”
She looked around at us, expectantly. I thought about many things: my mother (is that the world sitting on your shoulders, Lavender Brown? What is it doing there?) and Viola's small, twiggy frame leaping up the hills and of laughing, laughing with Parvati. I had to keep laughing because at the edges of my thoughts, just out of grasp, out of comprehension was something large and heavy, something moving, like a shelf – bigger than a shelf. I had to laugh louder; I had to split my throat wide open and pull the laughter out of my belly; I had to draw it out, draw it over the silences, the lulls between thoughts - I had to let that thing, that unknown weight, whatever it was, know that I was present, I was watching it watch me, I knew it was there.
I raised my hand. Parvati looked at me, awed, and then she lifted hers, too.
"My dears," Professor Trelawney said, bending before us so her peaked skull stuck out from her jutting shoulders. She took my palm almost gingerly, and traced the grooves of my lifelines with the nib of her fingernail. And when she looked up at me, her eyes wavered. "The Sight stirs within the both of you. The unknown calls, asking to be deciphered. Answer it."
Parvati and I looked at each other, slightly apprehensive but pleased.
Professor Trelawney spoke again. “The sixteenth of October. What you’re dreading, my dear, I’m afraid it will happen then.”
Parvati clasped my hand.
And on the sixteenth I got my mother’s note. We seldom wrote to each other, but time to time my mother would send little packets containing brooches or more handmade bracelets. Her note that day was short; it had an unsentimental apology attached, and the handwriting was dainty and pitching to the left. Binky was dead. I spent an hour and a half in tears. Binky was my pet bunny.
Seamus and Dean came and clapped my shoulder and ruffled my hair. "Cheer up, Lav," Seamus said. Only Hermione Granger insisted that Trelawney had got lucky and that this simply couldn't have been what I'd been dreading because Binky was still a healthy bunny and anyway it must've occurred the day before or something and not right on the sixteenth...Parvati glared at her and told her to knock it off. I smiled my thanks at her.
Parvati and I would learn many things in Divination classes. We learnt to look into crystal balls and pick out shapes, little patches of darkness that blipped through the thick white swirls before fading. We would drink cups of tea and sift through the dregs for clues. We would be filling in astrology charts, trekking the movements of the planets; their angles would be read, their star-hot gazes decoded, their trails burnt into my thoughts all day. At night I dreamed of streaking comets and moons and my mother without her long lemon-coloured hair but bald and with huge glasses and her body trussed up with chains of daisies which began to droop, freckled with rot and then Viola came bursting in, brushing a kiss on my cheek, throwing her arms round my neck, "Sisters, aren't we?"
In the mornings I'd wake early, thrumming, and the first thing I'd do would be to fill my dream journal with all the odd images I'd seen (Seen?) in my sleep. What were they? I saw sense in their brokenness.
In our fifth year at Hogwarts Parvati and I became bolder, more reckless. We rolled up the waistbands of our school skirts so they perched a couple of inches above our knees. We left the top buttons of our blouses undone. We laughed louder and more than ever. Seamus continued teasing at us. Vati and Vender joined at the hip. Sometimes he merged us into a single entity and called us ‘Parvender’. Here come Parvender. Parvati seemed to like his teasing, and in return would pass him the occasional compliment on the way he did his tie (the knot was perpetually lopsided) or how neat his handwriting was (it was illegible).
We joined the Dumbledore's Army. We were going to fight back. We were excited about it. Padma turned up at the meetings, too, and she sat beside us and practiced with us. She didn’t speak much; she seemed cold and always solemn. When I tried to talk to her, her responses would be curt and vague and Parvati would tell me to leave it.
I was happy. In the margins of my dreams, I thought I could see things moving. I wasn’t afraid. I told myself, I’m going to fight back.
I’d known Ron Weasley all my years at school. After all he is the sidekick of the famous Harry Potter. But that wasn’t why I was drawn to him. I liked him. He’s different. Whenever Harry and Hermione appeared to be having a serious conversation, Ron would be just an inch too far from them, his responses a little slower than theirs. And sometimes he shuffled along behind the two as they whirled anxiously through the hallways, hands plumbing the depths of his pockets, shoulders humped a little too tautly, mouth knitted into a sulk.
His feet were too large, his hair – too red and overgrown. He was overgrown. His wrists and ankles tasselled out of frayed sleeves and pants; his school jumper slunk up his stomach each time he threw his arms into the air. He shuffled past me: self-aware and sullen at his gracelessness.
“Hello, Ron!” I called to him, and my voice came out at a higher than normal pitch.
He started and stared back at me. Harry and Hermione walked on, unaware. But for a moment he forgot about them, about that minute of space between him and them, and he gave me a brief nod, mouthed a “Hi”, and then it was over – he was back to catching up with the other two. Except now his walk had changed; his chest was thrust out, a rather stupid-looking grin dulled his face and he moved in a kind of crooked sweeping strut. I cringed, but at the same time, something inflated in me, pushing my heart out against my ribcage, so I could feel my pulse banging at every bone in my body.
Just before the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, I found Ron sitting at the breakfast table with his head in his hands, propped up by his elbows. He was wearing his red and gold quidditch robes along with a rather dismal expression.
“Good luck, Ron.” I tried to sound as encouraging as possible.
He snapped out of his thoughts and looked up at me. Perhaps I was imagining it – but was there something pink about his cheeks, little spots growing out? There was a look of gratitude in his eyes. “Er…thanks, Lavender.”
Opposite him, Hermione Granger raised a brow and scowled before going back to reading the Daily Prophet. I heard a soft snort over the rustling of paper.
Ron played. He was brilliant. I think I was more excited than anyone at the post-match party in the common room. Parvati and Seamus were sniggering.
“Oh, go on.” Parvati waved her hand in a broad dismissive arc.
“What’re you planning to do, Lav – sweep Weasley off his feet?” Seamus laughed, taking a swig of his drink. His head was on Parvati’s shoulder.
“Yes, actually.” I was feeling bold. The Butterbeer pooled warmly in my stomach. In the centre of the Common Room, Ron and Dean were shaking unopened bottles of Butterbeer before popping the corks and spraying each other with long streams of foam. Everyone else hooted and cheered. I waited a few minutes for the excitement to settle down, and then when Ron tossed aside an empty bottle and turned to have a quieter conversation with Demelza Robins, I went up behind him and put my hands over his eyes.
“Congratulations, Ron,” I said. Demelza grinned and left us.
Ron spluttered. “What the –?”
I took my hands away. “It’s me.”
“Oh, hi, Lavender.”
“Want to go somewhere quieter to talk?”
“Yeah, sure. After you.”
He drew up his shoulders and I giggled. I caught his large bony wrist and led him to a quiet corner. He looked vaguely uncomfortable. “Well…” he said.
He wasn’t going to be able to talk much. So I leaned forward, a slip of space between us – (“I thought you played brilliantly today”) – and kissed him.
We moved fairly quickly after that night. The speed of it all, the flutters in my chest. Empty classrooms became our haunt, though we weren’t particularly selective about where we made out. We kissed through the corridors, and at lunch and before class and after class, and I made sure we were together as much as possible.
Ron was clumsy – god he was clumsy! His knuckly hands stuttered on my body, under my blouse, and the way he kissed – his kisses were big and wet. Untidy. But they made me laugh, and when I did he would stop and mumble, “What’s so funny?” And I laughed even more.
As a result, I spent less time with Parvati and she wasn’t pleased.
“I’m sorry – I know we were supposed to walk together after Divination but I was with Ron – ”
“Actually I was right beside you,” she said. We were on our way back to the common room. “You just didn’t notice because Ron was all over your eyeballs.”
“Sorry,” I said again. I was smiling so hard I didn’t see where I was headed and walked straight into a gargoyle, and the books in my arms clattered onto the floor.
“For goodness sakes, Lav – is he affecting your ability to walk properly now? You’re a bit obsessed with this whole thing. It’s going too far. And you’re acting like a giant child.”
She was right. This ridiculous happiness I was feeling, it was the happiness of an eight-year-old. “So?”
“Oh, you child.” There was a touch of scorn in Parvati’s voice. “Lavender you giant child, you and your Won Weasley…” she broke off.
I stopped short, incredulous. “Say that again!”
“Won Weasley,” she cried.
We looked at each other and shrieked with glee. Parvati helped me gather up my spilled books and parchment rolls, and I slipped my arm through hers and we walked together the rest of that evening.
The following day, I caught up with Ron while he was walking with Harry and Hermione from Potions. Flinging myself at him, I said loudly, “Won-won!”
He looked aghast. Harry and Hermione smirked and people around choked with laughter. But I couldn’t care less. I locked my arm around his and said, “Come on, Won-won, we’re late for Charms.”
Sixth-year Divination was different. Our class had shrunk since the third year, and the remainder had been split into two separate streams, taught respectively by Professors Trelawney and Firenze. Parvati and I were with Professor Trelawney. She didn’t look well, Trelawney. She had got even thinner, and her face was on the verge of collapsing in on itself. Behind her spectacles, her eyeballs were huger than ever, bloated and blue. When she passed, I detected the cloying smell of cooking sherry.
We were learning to observe and interpret the patterns of fire, which burned in small pottery bowls on our tables. It was fascinating, the way the flames sputtered and shifted, their points flicking up into the air. I thought I could sense shadows burning through the vivid orange, just behind the colour – just – if only I could peel back that glittering film of colour – I might be able to see! To understand! I read their movements, the way the flames crouched down to embers before springing up, again and again. The textbook offered no possible explanation.
When I tried to tell Ron about the fire auguries, he shrugged and said, “Maybe someone left a door open and there was a draught.”
He would never be more than Mundane. And I thought I loved that, too.
Only Parvati and I seemed to take sixth-year Divination seriously. But even then we were different; she saw good omens in everything. I saw little slips in colour, blackened errors at the peripheries of things. Professor Trelawney was unhelpful; she appeared to have lost interest in her class. She’d come in at the start of class, ask us to get our own crystals, teacups, fire-bowls, bark out a list of page numbers and then flounce off into her study for the rest of the period.
We went to visit her one day in her room. She was sitting at her desk, beetled over a crystal ball so large that it almost touched the tip of her nose. Her table was cluttered with more crystal balls of all sizes and stacks of heavily-annotated star charts. There were also empty sherry bottles on the shelves, rows and rows of them. “Ignore those,” she told us. “I’ve been doing some – advanced Readings into the Signs.”
“Can you teach us?” Parvati asked.
“In time, my dears, in time. But right now there are other pressing matters. Like that of impending calamity, for instance. I have Seen. The crystal does not lie. Nor do the tea-leaves, or the planets. We are all in mortal danger.” She tilted her gaze up to the ceiling. We looked up but there was nothing but the beams of the roof. There was an unsteadiness about her. “The lightning-struck tower, the dark flight. And Albus Dumbledore refuses – refuses! – to listen!”
We left feeling rather gloomy. “You think something bad’s going to happen?” I asked Parvati. “After all, You-Know-Who is back and people are dying and all.”
“If anything happens my parents will be taking me and Padma out of school,” she replied. “At this rate it doesn’t look like we’ll be around for our N.E.W.T.s.”
On his seventeenth birthday, Ron was unconscious. I was going to give him his present (a small gold locket I’d got from Trinkles & Baublery in Hogsmeade with a photograph of myself tucked inside), but he brushed me aside on that day, mumbling something about Romilda Vane. Beside him, Harry shrugged an apology, but I could see his face purpling with held-back laughter. When I next heard of Ron, he was already in the hospital wing. Nobody told me anything. (Later I raged about this to Parvati, and it infuriated me further to see her distantly listening, unsurprised.)
Things went downhill between me and Ron. They had been going that way for some time. After he was discharged I tried to get him to have one of those “long meaningful conversations” but it didn’t go well. We sat facing each other and he kept looking past my shoulder, scratching his head, tearing off bits of parchment, and rolling them into balls before flicking them into the fireplace.
“Look, Lavender,” he began. “Maybe we should – ”
“But – ”
“I said no.” Without meaning to, I pouted. “This is just a rough patch you’re going through, Won-won. It will pass.”
“Will you please stop calling me that? It’s so – silly.”
I shrugged. I have been silly all my life. I act like a child. Viola said so. As did Parvati. And now, Ron.
He threw his hands up in defeat.
I said, “Is it Hermione Granger?”
“D’you like her, is that why?”
“No!” he coughed. “This is stupid!”
It was going nowhere. He made as if he were going to stand up and walk off but I stopped him. I climbed onto his lap and rested my hands to the back of his head, the furze of his hair chafing my palms, – someone had given him a bad haircut in the hospital wing – and put a kiss on his protesting mouth. It was a difficult sort of kiss. There was something like panic flowering in my throat, spreading to the rest of my body and I hated that I had to close my eyes because anything could catch me unprepared like that. But I felt his slightly sour breath, choppy with relief that the talk was over, that I could shut up and give him something to do. I tried to hold on to his relief – to borrow it, just the smallest particle of it.
It was Hermione Granger after all. I saw them with my own eyes, didn’t I? Coming out of the boys’ dorm together. I threw a fit and everybody saw. Parvati hung back in the corner. I think she might have been embarrassed for me. Later she came to console me but I didn’t let her, not until the following day. I was torn up for a while, and then not anymore.
a lively sense
To cheer me up, Parvati insisted we have tea at Madam Puddifoot’s Tea House after Hogsmeade weekends were reinstated. It was one of our favourite places to go. Padma came along. Padma had been hanging out with us a lot lately.
“I’m sorry to hear about you and Ron,” she had said to me one day.
“It’s fine,” I said, surprised. Padma never initiated conversations. “It was going that way for some time.”
“It’s probably for the better.”
In normal situations, those words would have made me angry. But Padma didn’t say them dismissively. I could hear the carefulness in her voice, the measured spaces between her syllables, the way her sentence inflected upward. She held my gaze for a minute before flicking her eyes away.
Madam Puddifoot’s wasn’t very crowded. Couples were breaking up everywhere, or so Parvati informed me. There was a war going on, after all. Padma, Parvati and I were sipping pineberry tea from porcelain cups and nibbling on heart-shaped honeydew tarts.
“I’m glad you’re both still here,” I said to the two.
“Well, we’re glad you’re back with us, Lav,” Parvati said. “And anyway, I don’t think you and Won-won made the most compatible couple.”
I giggled. “Is it his hair? You never did like redheads, Parvati.”
“Ron Weasley only has eyes for one girl – and that’s Hermione Granger,” Padma said, lightly. She had tugged out the snowflake doily from under the squat, strawberry-patterned teapot, and was now pushing a finger through the tiny holes in the lace. “I went with him to the Yule Ball and all he did was sulk because she wasn’t dancing with him.”
“Yes, he does sulk a lot,” I said.
“It was the worst date.”
We laughed loudly, and a few tables away, a couple were torn asunder mid-snog by the harsh burst of sound. I brought out a bundle of neatly folded parchment, bound with yellow ribbon.
“Cards,” I explained to the other two. During Ron’s stint in the hospital wing I’d written letters and made him cards each day, and inside I’d stuck pressed flowers and done simple sketches of unicorns and other stuff. They weren’t generally things Ron liked. But whenever I visited he always appeared to be asleep. “I didn’t want to leave them at his bedside. He might get embarrassed.”
Padma shook her head. “Git.”
Parvati and I looked at her. She shrugged. “What? He is, isn’t he? I hope Granger gives him a hard time.”
I sighed. “Well, I’m going to get rid of all these things. Send them up in flame. I’d do it right now but I might burn a hole in the tablecloth.”
“Can I look at them?” Padma was looking at me. There was no hint of amusement in her voice. Her face wore a strange expression of neutrality; all the frown lines and creases in her forehead had been ironed out. She’d shredded the doily.
I pushed the bundle of parchment toward her and she pulled off the ribbon, without taking her eyes off me. A quick flurry in my stomach. (Why?) All the unicorns and Pygmy Puffs and teddy bears and other cutesy things I’d drawn, which Parvati liked and Ron hated, now seemed so stupid, so puerile. Not to mention the letters and their syrup-sodden words. Padma is such a sensible girl. She’s in Ravenclaw. She’s different, different from Parvati. They’re identical but I can pick them apart anytime.
A smile broke the blandness of her features. It was quite a relief to see all the planes of her cheeks warp and the straight lines of her face go wonky. “I think they’re very pretty,” she said. “Can I keep them?”
“If you want to.” They had Ron’s name all over them. I couldn’t imagine why she would want them.
But Padma tapped her wand over the paper, and every instance of Ron’s name vanished (including the Won-wons). The letters were cratered with dashes of empty parchment. Dear –
“There. Now anybody can write their names in and it’ll be like you’ve written to them.”
“More tea?” Parvati picked up the pot and sloshed some liquid into our cups even though they weren’t empty yet. She sounded bored. She didn’t like being forgotten.
Parvati wasn’t forgotten after all. She got together with Seamus (at last!) a few days later. I saw her less toward the end of our sixth year at Hogwarts. She could be found in all the places Ron and I had vacated – the disused classrooms, the quiet ends of corridors, the broom cupboards, on benches under trees in the courtyard. Sometimes she didn’t even turn up for Divination. But Trelawney didn’t care that her class was cracking into pieces, drifting student by student away. There were exams coming, but there was something else in the air, a buzzing, insects, something else. When I closed my eyes I would be swamped by the sense that things were moving just right beside my ears, in front of me even, and I was separated from them only by the thickness of my eyelids.
Without Parvati, there wasn’t much to do in the common room so I stayed out. Most of my time between classes was spent with Padma. Her company was quieter, as was expected, but it had a calming effect. Days were spent walking through the grounds, by the lake – sometimes we even made it to the brink of the deserted Quidditch pitch, though neither of us really cared about the sport. Other times we lounged on the grass and I fell asleep next to her.
One afternoon we were out on the grounds as usual. It was warm and we’d peeled off our robes and shoes and the tips of the soft grass interspersed with the hairs on my legs, a thrill on uncovered skin. Sunlight slanted down; the air was grainy with pollen, dandelion seedlings and spring. Padma looked serene, her legs laid straight like a pair of matchsticks, rolling her ankles. We were munching on crackers and fruit. I was peeling a mandarin. I could do it perfectly now, like Viola did all those years ago – make a hole at the top, slowly press the fruit out and leave the skin unbroken and hollow. I split the fruit into its segments. Each piece was a plump orange purse. I held one up to the light and its colour became translucent, two dark seeds suspended just beneath the pithy ridge.
I turned to Padma – she was looking up into the sky (I don’t know how she could stand the glare). In between her teeth was a ring of pineapple, and she turned it slowly, like a wheel, sucking out the juice until it became dry and she bit down, broke the circle into two, and ate the pieces. She saw me watching and she smiled. Air thickened in my throat. Some of her hair had come loose. A couple of strands plastered across her cheeks, their ends snagged by her gluey lip gloss (lip gloss? She never wore lip gloss – her lips were always thin and worn as crumpled parchment). I reached forward and pulled out those stuck hairs and put them behind her ear. She didn’t say anything when I rested my knuckles in that scoop beneath her jawbone. She didn’t flinch when I came nearer. She kissed me back when I kissed her.
I never expected that! Padma Patil of all people! Parvati’s sister – why not Parvati? Hadn’t we been friends all along? But no – no, it was Padma. Kissing, talking, knotting fingers.
“How on earth did this happen?” I giggled into the sweep of her neck.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve always liked you, Lavender. You never seem to hold yourself back.”
My fingers on her face, in her hair, scraping on that rough patch of skin pulled over her knee. We lay in the grass, a tangle of legs. I thought I might leave my prints all over her. The way she spoke, slow, quiet. I whirled through classes. Fluctuated. I breathed brightness. I spoke laughter. I wouldn’t change a thing.
By the last two weeks of the term, I was the only student to turn up for Divination. Parvati wasn’t there. Neither was Professor Trelawney. I sat alone in the empty classroom. The fire had burnt itself down to a pile of embers. Draughts whispered through the cracks in the floor; the velvet drapes and upholstery trapped unreadable shadows in the trenches of their fabric.
I sighed, got out a teapot, put in pinch of powdery tea leaves and filled it with cold water. The water bubbled when I tapped my wand to the pot. I drank. The tea seared my tongue. For the next few hours I would taste nothing but my blistered tongue. Swirled the cup round and poured out the rest of the tea. Splotches of leaves stuck to the sides.
From Tasseomancy, Telepathy and Tarot-reading for the Trainee Diviner, page 467:
Brilliance. Light. A tall dark man. Beware of blue. A fall. Scalding (oh, thank you very much, now you tell me). Something in a bathroom. Ascent. Water. Sharpness. Blurs of blue.
I shut the book. Closed my eyes reluctantly. In that small private darkness I thought I could sense waves coming toward me, breaking at the thin membranes pulled over my eyes. I opened them and it was all curtains and empty room, but the sides of my vision frayed like a breeze through tatters in cloth. I picked up my things.
Professor Trelawney’s study was shut as usual but I thought I heard sounds inside, a rustle, a clinking. I pushed open the door and went in. The smell of liquor was overwhelming. She was half slumped over her table, which was now completely smothered by teacups, crystal balls and sherry bottles. There were more bottles lying on the floor.
She looked up and lifted her hand as if to greet me, knocking glass and china off the table. “Oh hello, Lavender.”
“Professor!” I started forward.
“Stay where you are!”
I froze. Dread made my hands cold. Her glasses were askew, and the top of one eye peered over the black plastic frame, shrunken, losing colour without its magnifier. The other eye bulged against the lens. She was trembling, one hand held up, palm turned towards me. Her spindle fingers scratched the gap between us.
She said again, “Lost. Too late. This is the end of Hogwarts. It’s too – he wouldn’t listen! I did warn him!” Pause. She seemed to collect herself and saw me, perhaps clearly. Coldly, she said, “Miss Brown. Out. Now.”
In front of her, all the crystal balls roiled with their trapped smog. They should be broken to pieces, every one of them! I turned and fled.
Next morning, Padma and Parvati were gone. Dumbledore was dead. I sat at breakfast alone. I wrapped my arms round my ribs, holding the halves of my body together. The Great Hall was a black cloud of muttering.
So I went to the funeral. Most of us did. It was a clear beautiful day to be out in the grounds. There was a round of speeches, though nobody seemed to be listening. They were slack-faced in the sun. Professor Hagrid walked through the ranks with the body in his arms. There was a great white marble tomb. The first time I’d seen Dumbledore, heard him speak, was at the Great Hall, during my first night in Hogwarts. I’d met Parvati that night. I remembered it clearly. Then there was Padma. I thought about this morning, and how, before she went into the Entrance Hall she’d pulled me into such a fierce kiss that I’d been stunned. She’d always been quite so languid, distant almost, but there she was, right in my arms, I could feel her against me, and there was no space, no chance of space, between us. Her eyes were wet but I didn’t cry. I hardly ever cried, except over silly things like Binky dying. Instead I laughed down into her lungs and we held each other, her chest rippling with my disjointed breaths, a moment.
I felt myself smiling. It was a funeral and all. But it was a beautiful day. It was an absolutely beautiful day for a funeral. For being out there in the grounds. Sun on white stone – the image splintered through my thoughts, turning them to pieces of light floating inside my head.
Later, I went back into the castle to get my things and leave. One of the classroom doors was open. It was Professor Firenze’s room. Something tugged at me and I stepped in, into the green shadows of trees and wet boulders. In the glade at the centre of the classroom, the night sky shone down with its endless combinations of stars and angles. There was a large stone brazier in the middle, and sweet thick fumes of burning sage and mallowsweet were swelling up into the treetops.
It was Firenze. He emerged from the clusters of tree shadows slowly, and his shoulders were bowed, and there was an air of melancholy about him. Once, Parvati and I had blushed and giggled each time his deep-set blue eyes and thick blonde hair came into view. We’d not-so-secretly admire the deep cleft that cut his chest muscles into two, the grille of his abdominals. Parvati had even commented on how sexy his clip clop walk sounded and I’d choked a bit. That was a long time ago.
“You are Sybill Trelawney’s favourite student, I remember.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know about that anymore.”
“Yes, even now.” He paused. “There is a reason why you’re here, isn’t it, Miss Brown?”
“There is always a reason when it comes to this subject, isn’t it?”
“You are perceptive, even if you were taught by Sybill, but –,” he sighed and broke off. “The stars are darkening for you, Lavender Brown. And you know it.”
I was already turning to leave. There was nothing in here after all. “I’m sorry, Professor, but I don’t understand. I suppose I’ve always been – ”
“Human,” Firenze finished for me. I shrugged. I’d been going for stupid, or silly, or childish.
I stepped out of the gloomy forest into the daylight. It sparkled and scorched in my eyes. I thought of one of those snowglobes with pretty worlds caught in them, and when you turned them over, snow would sprinkle down. Except now there was no snow, only the feeling of being spun around, turned inside out, scoured clean by the brightness, the clarity of everything, and for a little while I stood there, pinned to the spot, completely breathless.
My mother did not want me to return to Hogwarts for my final year.
“I’m going back,” I told her.
“It isn’t a safe place anymore,” she insisted.
But I was stubborn.
She sighed. “You and me,” she said. “You’re so different from me when I was your age.”
I looked at my mother. I had no idea how she was like when she was a teenager. But she must have been beautiful. Now, however, she’d got old. The corners of her eyes had slackened and skin had folded over itself.
“Maybe Viola is more like you,” I said. “She said so once.”
“Viola?” my mother laughed. “No, I don’t think so, Lavender.”
Viola was not returning to Hogwarts. Her mother, my Aunt Annabel, was Muggle-born. Both of them along with Viola’s father had decided to leave the country rather than have Annabel report to the newly-instituted Muggle-born Registration Commission. Before they’d left, they came to visit us. My mother and my aunt, and Viola and I had hugged each other. Viola was crying. I’d never seen her cry before. I hope we’ll see each other again, were the words that strung us together. Funny, our families had never been that close before. Viola’s father stood, rather anxiously by a small grey flask, their unauthorised Portkey, which would take them away.
The Hogwarts I returned to was different. Death Eaters and Dementors were stationed all around the grounds. Hogsmeade trips were no longer allowed, and Quidditch matches were put on hold indefinitely. Many students hadn’t returned – Dean was one of them, as were Harry, Ron and Hermione.
On the third day of the new term, the Dumbledore’s Army was reassembled in the Room of Requirement. Parvati and Padma and I were in it, along with all the old members who were still around – Seamus, Neville, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley and others.
Padma and I rarely had a moment together anymore. Students were prohibited from loitering about in corridors or on the grounds. Mealtimes in the Great Hall were forced into silence. And then of course, there were the punishments. Unforgivables were used everywhere. During one Dark Arts lesson we saw Seamus thrash and pitch around on the floor, screaming, his head banging against table legs, the side of his forehead splitting into a trickle of blood. Parvati was screaming as well and so was I. Stop it stop it stop it. Amycus Carrow, howling – Crucio.
One by one, students started to go into hiding. First, Neville, then Seamus, followed by Parvati, all disappearing into the Room of Requirement, enfolded into the walls of the castle. On the night Padma and I decided to move into the Room permanently for the rest of the term, I used a Concealment Charm and stole through the dark corridors. I met her behind a gargoyle in an alcove near the entrance of the Great Hall. She looked nervous, ill. I held her hand in silence and we went through the Hall. She paused a moment and looked up toward the enchanted ceiling. A clear, cloudless night sprawled over our heads splattered with stars.
“You were always good in Divination,” Padma whispered to me. “Can you read them?”
I studied the shapeless clutches of constellations, giving out a dull plaster-white glow. In the middle, a red star glistened. I shook my head. “No, I don’t know any longer what they’re saying.” Then I giggled, and said to her, “But they do remind me of how Eloise Midgen’s acne used to look like. You know – spotty.”
Padma stared at me. Her gaze was disbelieving. “You are so mean.”
Parvati would have laughed with me. But Padma only shook her head over and over again, but she seemed less anxious. Then we went up to the seventh floor and into the Room.
At last, it came. The final stand. Neville came back through the tunnel from the Hog’s Head one day, not with food but with people. Harry, Ron and Hermione tumbled into the Room looking dazed. Suddenly, everything leapt up in excitement and came into sharp focus. Suddenly, decisions were made. Plans. More and more people poured in through the tunnel – former students from everywhere. We were going to fight. Hogwarts was going to fight. I looked at Padma and Parvati on either side of me. Parvati was tense, but her eyes glowed. Padma seemed uncertain.
I leaned over to her and whispered, “Go to the loo?”
We headed off to the bathroom, leaving behind the seething horde of people preparing for a war, which had at last, materialised at our feet.
“Hey, now’s hardly the time to fix your hair, ladies!” Seamus called after us but for once I ignored him.
“You alright?” I asked Padma when we were in the bathroom. She looked worse than ever. Her dark eyes had taken on a dreamy fuzzy look and she seemed more listless than before in the way her arms flagged at her sides, the weight of her body standing on one knee, and the other knee – bent and useless, the foot askew. She swayed as she spoke.
“We’re really going to fight, then?”
“It does look that way.”
“Aren’t you – afraid at all?”
Afraid? A strange sensation blitzed through me. A lively sense. It was as though my nerve endings had sprouted through the skin to taste the air like lizard tongues. Everything glittered with a sort of marvellous simplicity, even in the dim stone of the bathroom, mirrors shone, drops of water flashed, the air flicked and twitched with tiny movements. Excitement pulsed through the walls. Could Padma not feel any of it?
But she hung back, drawn inwards. There was only dread in the way her body curled over itself.
I was becoming impatient. “Look, you stay close with Parvati and me, OK? I know I’m not the best, but Parvati is great. Remember how she blasted Seamus into the wall during a DA session?”
Padma didn’t say anything. I pressed her hand into mine and gently pulled her close, but my heart wasn’t in it, not at that moment. It was beating a little too fast, a little out of focus. I mumbled words into her collarbone, it’ll be fine, I’ll be with you. All I wanted was to get out of this bathroom. But she went loose against me and even kissed me a bit.
“Just in case we – ”
The door opened and we broke apart too slowly. Parvati stood at the entrance, the look of shock on her face tightening into one of anger. Padma cried out.
We’d never told her. We hadn’t even considered it. Not when sometimes she shoved her way between us when we were walking along, teasingly but with a trace of annoyance. Or the discomfort she radiated when she was with us, as though she felt she were intruding. She spun round and walked off.
“Come on.” I took Padma’s hand and pulled her along.
The Room of Requirement was emptying out. The door was open and people were pouring into the corridors joyously, shouting, and slapping each other’s backs. We were swept by the flow towards the Great Hall. Everything was alive. The portraits were cheering. Staircases shifted with increasing frequency, creaking stone, people laughing as they leapt back and forth, ending up on wrong passageways and levels. The Weasley twins were rallying people into groups. I saw Parvati join George Weasley’s group and they turned off into a different hallway.
Hands landed on mine and Padma’s shoulders. “Ah, excellent! More DA members? You two can join me,” Fred Weasley said.
But all that exhilaration quickly turned to chaos as the fight began, as waves of Death Eaters breached the defences, worming their way out of tunnels, breaking down the gates and dissolving all the protective enchantments. Hallways filled with people duelling, the air razored with curses, stone coming off the walls, suits of armour clanking. People losing their wands. Fistfights in some places. Nobody was thinking or feeling anymore. We were caught up in it, in the reflex of the present. Padma and I stayed close to each other. We couldn’t find Parvati. A sneering unmasked Death Eater hurled a jinx at Padma and she was thrown back. Two stupid schoolgirls, he must be thinking. Anger shot through me.
“Stupefy!” A perfect Stun. Blood dribbled down the side of Padma’s head.
“I’m fine.” But she wasn’t. She didn’t look like she could get up.
“OK,” I said. “OK, OK. Let’s get you somewhere else. The Great Hall. That’s where the injured are. Come on.”
We picked our way through the debris. Reducto! Impedimenta! Stupefy! I was nearly singing as we went along. And there were bodies splayed on the ground that I didn’t look at. Refused to. (Their distorted angles, dead looks, they wouldn’t be able to feel they wouldn’t - )
Down some staircases. (Impedimenta!) “Ladies!” a knight in a portrait roared. Weaving through people. Padma stumbling beside me. She was so heavy. That was all I was aware of suddenly. Weight. It pressed down on me. I saw Parvati. She was duelling Travers. Travers crashing to the ground. Pass them by, pass them by.
We reached a balcony. A couple of floors more, I might have been muttering to Padma. A massive roar blew through the castle. I turned to see what happened, air streaming past my face, – and then it was there, I saw it, I saw him, that man on the floor below with the dishevelled hair, the shards of eyes, the snarl and the large blunt teeth clinging to grey gums, the tattered nails, everything was clear, and he looked – looked up at me. I remembered all the fraying and fluttering at the edges of sight, the shapes in the fog, the arrangements of tea leaves, the dreams and thoughts that lost colour and became solid dark clumps. Everything was clear.
“Lavender!” Padma screamed and I turned back and there was a Death Eater pointing his wand at me. I was never very fast or graceful. She pulled me aside and his curse slammed against the bannister we were leaning on and it tore off the balcony and we fell and Padma’s wrist slipped from my hands.
And that was it for me. The impact slamming my body was nothing. I already knew who it was who rushed up at me, breathed his rancid breath over me, carved open my face, and closed his jaws down the side of my neck. I felt the notches of his nails. I felt the bluntness of his teeth. Red welts slashed through my brain.
* * *
I was lying on the ground, somewhere else. Things were vague. Sounds were dreamy. It was almost pleasant. I tried to see where I was, but my limbs were heavy. I recognised the ceiling. It was grey and churning. The Great Hall.
Someone was kneeling over me, talking to herself. “Hurt – cursed – wounds.” It sounded like Madam Pomfrey. She didn’t seem to be making sense. She dabbed something on my face. There was pain, but it was faraway.
“You rest now, Lavender.” And she was gone.
I heard Parvati’s voice. She was speaking a strange language. I heard Padma talking. I don’t think either of them saw me.
I thought of my mother. Lovely, lovely mother! Humming long ago, smiling. “Lavender Brown, why so grave? Is that the whole world sitting on your shoulders?”
But if it really was the world’s weight then it was nothing. I couldn’t feel it. Breath was flaking from my lips, each stutter of air rising like a balloon. There was a wonderful emptiness lightness frothiness in my bones. And the ceiling! Was I seeing right? There, – in just a tiny corner, the thick grey swirls had peeled back, and looking through like an eye, was a scrap of the brightest, clearest blue.
A/N: I know this was very long so thanks so much for reading to the end :)
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