Chapter 1 : Anywhere but Here
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I never used to be like this. You know? I used to be different. So different. That person I was before, I can barely recognize her like she was a different life. Heck, I don’t even look like her anymore. She’s more like a ghost floating in the back of my mind really. Sometimes I think she was merely an apparition in time, a false thought, a wishful desire. Nothing more. Was never more.
But things change. That’s the way of the world. Here I am now in my one bedroom flat with a neighbour who sings too loud, and a view that is better left ignored. My place smells stale, like no one has lived here for years. My best mate only comes about occasionally, and even then she has this look in her eye that I can barely stand.
The look that says ‘what are you?’
I had big dreams. I flung them far and wide. I would dream of being anywhere but where I was. I’d imagine Cairo in summer and Sicily in winter. Sipping iced tea under umbrellas and looking at locals from behind large sunglasses with one of those floppy hats on my head.
That’s what I was.
There were so many places in the world, and I had to see them all. It would be a bit of a waste if I didn’t, honestly. It’s not like it was that unheard of for a person to want to travel after school. Sure, I left everyone behind. Left their tears, their pain, and went out alone. I had to though. I couldn’t look at Hogwarts anymore with its crumbled walls and haunted presence. I couldn’t be in St Mungo’s for a second longer either to hear the cries of the patients who’d been cursed in the Final Battle.
So I left. I don’t think I could really be blamed for it. The tantalizing need to see something new couldn’t be ignored. The brightness of what I could see or smell next would light up in my eyes like a star burning for a million years. I had to indulge it, to take on the scent of a place like it was an extra layer of clothes. For a moment, everything felt good again. Beautiful even.
I had to be a part of the place. Fitting into each new area as if I had been there my whole life. That was the way to go where I would drift through crowds and not really be noticed but rather be another person going through life. I didn’t want to be different from everyone. I had to be the same. Maybe to prove that I still could be, I don’t know.
I’ve been to so many places. Spain. Lebanon. Denmark. Estonia. I’ve seen them all. Felt the breath of each place. Ran down the musky cobbled alleys of Barcelona, smelt its sewers, and drank in the dark beauty of its cathedrals. I’d met people there that made the journey worth it. The girl whose parents were murdered and yet she came out of it still being strong or the baker who helped that same girl get off the street.
I tucked my feet underneath myself and I closed my eyes. I could still smell the wares from Lebanon, the heaviness of the perfumes, the musky warmth, and see the hazy horizon that seemed to shimmer in the summer heat. It was dusty, some parts dirty, but there was a feeling of opportunity, an underlying energy that pulsated from the people there.
How could I not travel to these places? How could I not adorn my own pathetic flat with relics to remind me of the feelings that coursed through me as I was introduced to the new spaces? They were bigger and better than England. The eyes of the people there never seemed as hard or as hollow. Their cries never as severe.
Sure, I hadn’t always been the one with dreams to see the world. I had been happy with my lipstick and my friends. Happy with the fluttering of my heart and buying new robes. The girl who had perfect skin and such a perfect body. I had been that girl. But she was a ghost now. She didn’t exist. No, I needed those new worlds. Those places that few dared to dream of. The world was big out there and I was destined to see just how big it was because anywhere had to be better than here.
Who else could say they could still feel the sweat and sand of Egypt. The dankness of it. The sweet taste of Kushari on their lips. It was tantalizing, and there was something about it that filled me up with unending longing. How the sand stuck to my sweaty, red skin and stung my eyes as I walked through the markets. I know I will never forget the endless sand dunes and the reaching pyramids. They will stick in my mind like glass.
It was magical. A woman I met, whose olive skin was flawless and beautiful, was riding on this camel, her silks were flowing out behind her and the charcoal around her eyes, piercing. She was off to the cursed pyramids to find some sort of gem that was meant to have healing powers. She wanted to use it for her grandmother but this woman said there were others after it. Others who would use the power for evil.
It had been a chilling race and I had been privy to it. It was things like that that make me wonder why people tell me I have to stop. How can I ever say no to the never ending desert or to the sweet smell of curried lamb? There was always another place to go, to see, to experience. I had to be there. Had to let the wind blow me from one place to the other.
I had become a woman of big dreams. Who saw the world with bigger strokes than others, was I really to blame?
I shook my head hard as if that solved everything. As if it relieved me of the tad bit of guilt I felt when I saw Parvati’s face fill with disappointment and unimaginable sadness when she came about. It wasn’t my fault. I had to go. Had to see all I could. It was a pull that I couldn’t ignore. She of all should have understood my need to see something different.
It was China today. The mystical place with apple orchards, rice fields, and cities that stretched on for miles. I needed the heavy scents and the loudness of the markets. There was apparently great magic connected to the Great Wall. But time will only tell.
“Lavender,” someone said my name and their strong hands took the book from my own. I looked up at Parvati with wide eyes and thought of yanking the book back. But she was stronger than I was. She would always be stronger now. Instead, I gazed at the book with longing; the cover had the image the Great Wall snaking up a mountainside. Its gray black bricks gleamed in the sun. I could almost feel that sun on my skin. I wondered if the air there would taste different and I supposed it probably would.
“You do know this isn’t real?” she said. She placed the book on the couch beside me and waited for an answer. I didn’t say anything. Couldn’t because if I closed my eyes I could see that girl from Barcelona so clearly, I could feel the sand blow against my skin from Egypt. I remembered that. It seemed more real than the ghost in the back of my head who had clear skin and a happy smile.
“Lavender, you have a job interview in a couple hours,” she said when the silence stretched on between us. I didn’t meet her eyes. I wanted to be in China. Needed to be anywhere but here. There was something about going to a new world that made me feel like I could be anything. Anyone.
“I can’t,” I whispered back. She didn’t understand. Her skin was still flawless. She still had full use of both of her arms. She would never understand.
“Why not?” She asked. She sounded cross but I couldn’t find it in me to care about that. “Lav, I’ve found you this job interview. I’ll look like a right idiot if you don’t show up for it. It’s perfect for you darling, trust me.”
“I can’t,” I repeated. She sat down next to me but I pushed myself away. I almost tripped over my own feet as I did so and stumbled away from her and closer to the door. I don’t know why it made me feel safer, but it did.
“Lav, I care for you. You know that, but it’s been months since you’ve moved out and months more since the Battle. You always said you would never rely on your parent’s money and this is how you can prove to them that you’re independent.”
I shook my head slowly and let my eyes wander around the flat. It was filled with books. I had every sort of book. Some were filled with maps, others with pictures, but most were filled with words bleeding out into the page and into my existence.
I hadn’t always been like this. I had been different, but not anymore. That girl, she was a ghost to me. A haunting really because I knew I couldn’t ever be her again. I wondered sometimes if she ever existed. How could I have been that girl? How? This was the only thing that made sense. To see these worlds and to be part of them. I had to be allowed that.
They were kind to me. I could meet people in them and I could be whatever I wanted to be. They took me everywhere and no one would stare at me. That seemed more real than going down Diagon Alley and having parents turn their kids away or shop owners shake their heads and offer me a free meal as if I needed their pity.
“Please,” she said. Pleading. I heard her voice wobble and her lips shake like she was about to start to cry but didn’t know why. I just wanted my endless desert. Where I could watch the woman with olive skin or meet the girl from Barcelona.
“I can’t!” I said. My voice was high and shaky. I couldn’t. “I just- you don’t understand Parvati- you’re perfect.” It was all I could get out and I collapsed onto the ground. Visions clouded my memory, of the dark gothic cathedrals, the gleaming sun as it hit the windows. I could see it all in my head as if it were real. Maybe it was. It’s all I knew.
I felt her hands on me but I pushed them away violently and looked into her dark eyes. They were full of worry and pity. She had always been stronger than me it seemed. She had a job, she had a boyfriend, and she had everything. Perfect skin. So beautiful. She had everything and all I had were the places I’d been. Those were my big dreams.
“Look at me,” I screamed at her. I pulled my hair back so that it was no longer draping across my face like a curtain. I watched as she flinched, only briefly, but it was there before she covered it up again. “Exactly.” I walked away from her.
There were those who said I should be proud. Proud that I fought for something bigger than me and I should wear my scars proudly. Or that I should be lucky that it wasn’t a full moon. I was proud, don’t get me wrong. Glad that I fought alongside Harry and the others. I wouldn’t have it any other way. That doesn’t mean that I’m proud of the scars that mar my face and body. Proud that I had something to show my place in the war.
How utterly droll. As if pride could chase away the nightmares. The fears. The feelings of being eaten alive, dying.
I had scars deeper than that that show I was a war child. I don’t need it on my body as well as a gory reminder that I would never be that girl again. I couldn’t be, I’m just the girl with the marred body, the imperfection that not even magic could fix.
“Do you want to go on a trip for real? Is that what you want? I’ll come, I will,” she said. She knelt down beside me and touched my limp hair and tucked it behind my ears. I was shaking my head, my whole body was shaking. Those were real I wanted to say. They were real to me. I was safe too because no matter what each night I would be wrapped up in my own blankets in my own bed behind my twice locked door.
She hugged me to her body when I started to cry. The saltiness of my tears reminded me of a beach in Italy. With the clear blue green ocean and the heated sand beneath my bare feet. I spun in circles there with my cotton summer dress fluttering out in the breeze and my hands reaching to the sky.
The ghost of what I was before was gone. I was so different now. Could I be blamed for this? For tying my memories with the places and events that sometimes I swear were real? I needed them. Call it escapism. Call it cowardice or even madness. I don’t care. It reminded me that there was a world out there that was bigger than me. Bigger than all this.
So I let Parvati hold my shaking body as I closed my eyes. Suddenly I wasn’t here, I was there on the windy mountains of China staring up at the wall that towered above me, so strong, so magnificent and it was all okay again.
I was going to be fine.