Chapter 1 : soul of the city.
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He’s not heading in any particular direction, only wanting to see what the various kiosks and tables have to offer. They are all eager to show him, his bright ginger hair catching the hawkers’ attention amongst the sea of black and brunette heads. His pale skin, sprinkled but not tanned, draws the eyes amongst the Filipino natives. He’s noticed that his above average height acts as a curiosity to some of the people.
Ron smiles inwardly, not wanting to offend them. He’s found the people of this country to be friendly and hospitable. It’s strange for him to be outside with so many people and in such warm temperatures, used to the January snow and winds of Britain.
The city of Cebu’s opening ceremony of the Sinulog celebration is due to start in a few hours. Having never been a particularly religious type of person, he can still appreciate the tradition and reverence that others pay to their own gods and deities. He finds it odd that his journey starts here and with this particular festival, but trusts that there must be some relevance to his life.
It isn’t until nine days later during the Grand Parade, surrounded by flowers and people in brightly colored costumes does he realize why this was the start. The acceptance of Roman Catholicism by the people of the Philippines and their subsequent faith in the healing powers of the Santa Niño parallels his own life.
He met the first religious wizards he’d ever come across. It’s admittedly a smaller group than that he’s used to: their wands are made from bamboo and heavy robes are impossible to wear in their climate, but they use some of the same spells and a lot of ones unfamiliar to him in their own native language. They revere their God but also the elements of nature. It’s a marriage of natural magic and a higher power that he hadn’t honestly thought of at all but understands the draw of it, his mind’s horizon expanding just a little more.
He walks with his Filipino friends, sees them lift their arms up in celebration to the merging of pagan and Roman Catholicism and he feels something. It’s a sensation he hasn’t experienced in awhile: this rush of bodies, the realization that the world teems with life.
He’s laughing at himself as he puts on a light jacket. After the small stint ocean heat of the Philippines, the cold (that doesn’t even have snow) of Beijing shouldn’t be so affecting to his English temperament. Yet, it is and despite the fact that no one really cares, he finds himself practicing his American accent so that the locals can think he’s a Yank from a sunny land like California and unused to things like “winter” or “early spring.”
He has a hard time thinking of how she knew when the Chinese New Year would be happening in this year, the fact that it changes with the lunar month and stars aligning (or whatever) annually kind of makes his head hurt. Why not just make it on the first of the year? January 1. It sounds good. But he’s starting to see, even if it’s a little slow, that there’s a lot more to this world than the English standard and Wizard traditions. Even if that sounds slightly blasphemous in his head, he thinks that it isn’t a bad thing.
The Spring Festival draws the Chinese together all over the nation. Even those who have moved away to other countries try to make it home to start the new year as it should be started: surround by family. It’s a sentiment and custom that Ron can wholly agree with, family always having been most important to him.
Cho refuses to have him help clean her house on the Eve of the New Year, insisting that as a guest he shouldn’t be dragged into something so menial. She’d moved back to China with her muggle husband, Kang, and settled into teaching at the Beijing Academy. Ron’s glad that her husband didn’t oppose her magical heritage, though he knows Cho wouldn’t have married him if he had.
The atmosphere in the city is one of joyous festivities. He can hear the music and happy sounds from outside the window and knows that if he were to look down, he’d probably see a larger version of the small red and gold dragon (good Gryffindor colors, there) that he animates, small puffs of smoke coming out of its nostrils. Cho’s little toddler, Yi-Ru, laughs, clapping her pudgy hands in delight, almond eyes crinkling as her gap toothed mouth stretches in a smile.
He can smell whatever Cho is cooking in her kitchen. He’d expressed some doubts about eating traditional Chinese foods and Cho had only laughed at him, reminding him she’d known him as a boy and seen him eat at Opening Feast.
Out of the corner of his eye, he catches sight of Cho with her husband, a private moment where Kang’s hand is at the small of his wife’s back, her face upturned to his with a gentle and contented look. Ron’s heart clenches, remembering.
But only for a moment as Yi-Ru launches the small dragon across the room, distracting all three adults as its small fire catches on one of the paper lanterns strung up.
Thrissur Pooram is the largest festival held in the Indian state Kerala. It’s known for the grand scale celebration of their temples’ gods, the history surrounding the unification of the temple ceremonies, and the celebratory atmosphere. Ron knows this from the carefully written words of the scroll in his hand, and he knows he should appreciate the way that this event has affected Indian culture, but he just can’t stop staring at the elephants.
They’re the largest living things he’s seen (if he isn’t counting the troll from first year, the dragon or the giants in the War, which he is, but that’s not the point of his thinking this). The large gray mammals are all decorated with jewels and brightly woven clothes, the priests mounting them holding silk parasols of all deep, rich colors. He feels like a little boy again with this feeling of awe and wonder that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing in his life. He smiles as one elephant with a golden covering with sparkling ruby and amethyst jewels around its forehead and ears attempts to reach the thin man perched on its back with his flexible trunk. The priest gives the elephant a good-natured brush with the white whisk in his hand.
He watches as the elephants parade through the crowds, the people of Kerala and the many visitors shouting and singing along with the music that flows over them, the percussion of the drums causing most to stamp and move with the beat. The humidity presses against his chest and causes his hair to cling and curl to his head. Even with the lack of personal space in the mass of people here for the festival, and given the fact that he doesn’t know anyone here, he finds himself in the spirit of things, earning good natured grins and stares as he attempts to mimic the words of songs around him.
He tries not to think of the Thai weather as punishment, but, really, the term Hot as Hades does have a certain ring of truth right now. He’s sitting on a balcony overlooking the teeming crowds of Ubon Ratchathani who await the Candle Festival parade to reach this part of the city. According to the scroll, it’s a traditional time for the people to provide various provisions and candles to the monks before they enter the Lenten period for the next three months. It had grown in its elaborance as the years had passed and now featured a full-blown parade.
The noise from the mass below suddenly rises and he can hear the faint strands of music coming from around the corner of the street. He’d gotten into contact with the city’s local wizarding group (preferably called the Nak Mayakl) and is now holed up in their special viewing balcony, one sheltered from sight from the people below. They had their own special purpose in this parade, one forged through cooperation with the local monks of the Thai temples. Of course, the Nak Mayakl hadn’t thought of protecting their balcony from the weather.
As the procession comes into sight, Ron’s previous grumbling fades and he can’t help but grin at the colorful dancers and the elegant, intricate figures atop the floats. From here, he can see the knowing-gaze of one of the gods, a half-smile delicately carved from wood and waxed over. Another figure is wrapped in robes cut to show the folds as they falls around it, hands brought together in prayer. The floats and their artistic works make their way past the windows and Ron marvels at the work muggles could do without magic.
And then he marvels at what can happen when the two arts are combined.
Lap, one of the Nak Mayakl, moves to stand beside the taller Brit, his dark hands moving over the worn teak wood of his wand. Ron’s observed the talent that the Thai have in carving from these tools alone, but hadn’t expected that brilliance to translate to the larger canvases passing below. Lap says a few rapid words in his native tongue and with a flourish of his wand, the extra candles surrounding the street and the ones on the floats light up, bringing an almost daylight brilliance to the darkening street. The crowds gasp as one in awe and Ron is carried away on the overall feeling of magic in the air. Some part of him is finding it a little funny that even now he can feel this way, but mostly, he doesn’t care.
Life wasn’t meant to be known but just appreciated in its uncertain wonder.
After months of traveling in Asia, it’s strange to find his feet on solid English soil. Strange, but not unpleasant. The cool wind hits his cheeks; there’s a hint of winter in its caress. Shell Cottage shouldn’t be a place that he feels connected to in any positive way, and yet, he is. The strong painful memories associated with Tinworth only serve to underscore the happy times he and Hermione had.
He settles on a rock that’s situated near the ocean and pulls out the well-worn and much-read scroll. He rests the small white urn between his feet, keeping it close to him, as he’s done for the past year.
We’ve reached the end of our journey together. I hope that you understand—no, I know you’ll understand by now why I laid out this last trip in this way. We both knew that this illness wasn’t something that I was going to be able to fight off, with magic or science. I wanted you to find peace and learn to live again. I wanted you to celebrate life, even if I can’t always be there with you, in material form. You must know that I will live on in you and what you make of your life now. Do it for us.
I love you.
He doesn’t fight the tears that come in reading these final words. Though he’s cried enough to last him a lifetime, these aren’t just because of the loss he’s suffered but because of the beauty she’s reintroduced into his life, even if she wasn’t here to execute it. She’d always been wonderfully organized that way.
Standing, he tucks the scroll away, and picks up the urn, walking to the edge of the small outlook of rock. He pulls out his wand and levitates the urn over the water, moving his wand in a complicated turn, whispering the words he’d forced himself to learn. The urn disappeared and his wife’s ashes spread and caught in the wind, dispersing over the calm sea.
She may not be standing by his side now, but he will take this last lesson she’s taught him.
Life is always worth living.
Author’s Note: Title from “The House that Heaven Built” by Japandroids. Slightly different style for me. Hope you enjoyed, despite the angst that I just have to have in there!