Chapter 1 : Find Yourself
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It was hard to pretend like nothing was wrong.
Even though she’d spent months pretending, it was a blow she hadn’t expected and it took her a moment to catch her breath.
No one noticed her lapse; the sudden broken look on her face caught no one’s attention and life went on.
Life went on.
She continued with her classes, she laughed with her friends, battled with her homework and everything was normal. For everyone else.
No one suspected anything, because she wore the perfect mask.
But she couldn’t pretend to herself. She could refuse to release any tears but she couldn’t stop feeling empty. She couldn’t deny that she felt broken. She’d never understood how people could be so dramatic - how can you feel broken? But she thought she knew now. When you’re crying yourself into hoarseness, relentless and ruthless sobs that seem to steal every single breath in your body there is a moment when you feel like you won’t get the next one out – you feel like you’ll be caught in that breathless existence, and then the sob rips from your throat. And in that moment you feel like your heart is bursting, you feel almost animalistic as the brutal sound escapes your lips.
It was like she was silently caught in that exact moment. Except there was no release, no end; just a constant pressure against her heart and throat.
Her best friend never realised how much each day hurt. Her brother never noticed the pain in her eyes. Her teachers saw no difference in her work. She went through life exactly as she had done before.
After all this was her fault. She had done this to herself and in a twisted way, she felt that to suffer without comfort should be her punishment.
She had been too afraid to open her mouth. Too hesitant to upset what they already shared, too sure that he had never thought about her like that, too hopeful that everything would work out without any action from her.
He was her friend, not her best friend, just a friend. Or at least he had been. She couldn’t remember when she started to feel differently about him. Suddenly it made her happy when he was near, suddenly she found herself making up excuses to spend more time in his presence, suddenly it made her heart stutter when he brushed against her.
She learned more about him, and each fact she devoured made her stumble just a little deeper.
But she never fell in love with him.
It never got that far.
She had been so good at concealing how she felt from everyone that she never thought about the fact that she was concealing it from him too. Until the day she saw him walk into the Great Hall holding another girl’s hand. He joined them at the table and introduced his girlfriend.
And she dropped her mask for just one moment. It was like a blow to her stomach. She regained control almost instantly and a cheerful smile was on her face as they were introduced. And that’s how life continued for her few remaining months at Hogwarts, a false smile hiding her heartbreak and no one ever knew any better.
She had never thought that she would become someone defined by a boy. No matter how many times she told herself that she hadn’t loved him, that there was no reason for this pain she couldn’t shake the sinking feeling, not only in her stomach but through her whole body. Eventually she realised that it was not her heartbreak that was tearing her apart.
It was her fear.
Fear had prevented her from ever saying a thing to him and suddenly she saw just how much her whole life was controlled by her terror of the unknown, the uncontrollable. It was like a veil had slipped from her consciousness and she became aware for the first time of her own limitations.
All of a sudden her plan for life after Hogwarts seemed like a way of pandering to her fear, she may be well suited for a post in the Improper Use of Magic office where was the excitement, the danger! A whirlwind of confused frustration and panic swept over her and as she stood amongst her friends at graduation she knew she had do something before she sank into a stagnant and still life from which she may never emerge.
Her father was adorably confused when she told her parents that she had decided to take a grand tour after all. He kept shaking his head and saying “but darling is that sensible?” Her mother on the other hand smiled knowingly at her only daughter before shushing her husband and asking what they could do to help.
The memory of that smile lent courage to her bones the morning she stood outside the portkey office. The only bit of organisation she had allowed herself was to pack a jumbled mix of clothes for all weathers into a suitcase that was then shrunk to a manageable size. Clasping that same case in her hand she felt how sweaty her palms had become and wondered for the umpteenth time if she was being crazy; it wasn’t too late to change her mind, she could return to the safe and stifling life she had planned for years. The fear swirled up within her and she knew without a doubt if she didn’t take this leap right now, she never would. So she clasped her case tighter and told the clerk she wanted the next available international portkey. He started listing out destinations as diverse as Dubai, Toronto and Chennai but she stopped him before he got too far and said that she just wanted the very next portkey, she didn’t care where it went.
He looked at her in askance, but she just smiled calmly at him, belying the storm sweeping within her and with a shrug he directed her to a torn newspaper in the far corner of the room. Her fellow travellers included an elderly man in a traditional English white summer suit, a couple only slightly older than her parents with backpacks and weary eyes and a young man a few years older than her who grinned at her as she reached out to touch the paper. She was only just in time too as the world around her began to swirl and suddenly the swooping feeling in her stomach wasn’t entirely due to nerves.
That first journey landed her in the corner of a busy market in Marrakesh and as she was helped to her feet by the grinning boy, she inhaled the sounds and smells around her with a sudden fierce sense of hope. She explored Marrakesh, cautiously at first, then with a slowly growing sense of familiarity. Or at least as familiar as she could get with the labyrinthine alleyways of the city and markets. Every day she drank in the vibrancy and colour of her surroundings almost desperately, feeling like she was trespassing on the city – that the excitement and exoticness it offered could possibly be allowed to one as nondescript as her. She wandered the stalls, tasting and touching all that she could see, although she couldn’t quite bring herself to taste the steaming snail soup she saw throughout the city. She spent a week in Marrakesh before waking up one morning and just knowing that it was time for her to move on. Similar to the feeling she had had in the portkey before she left, if she didn’t leave right then she might never have the courage to go on.
And so her journey continued in much the same vein. From Marrakesh a mug missing its handle brought her to Addis Ababa where she nearly died from the heat, or at least that’s how it felt. So when the next portkey brought her to the snowy-capped mountains of Switzerland she felt extreme relief. She was adopted by a St Bernard puppy that some muggles were attempting to train to rescue people trapped in the snow. She volunteered to be the body he had to locate a few times but each time he came across her he just jumped on her and tried to lick her face off – not something she felt would be helpful in a crisis. From Switzerland she landed in Milan and immediately felt out of place with all the fashionable and high-class people and shops. She never quite relaxed in that city and spent only 3 days there before returning to the Italian portkey office. There whilst waiting beside a gleaming silver urn – another example of the difference between Milan and Marrakesh, she was startled to be joined by someone she knew. Or rather recognised. The grinning boy from that first journey sat down beside her with his own eyes alight with recognition. He introduced himself as Ronan and after she quietly told him her name he launched into a flurry of questions and stories. In the 4 and half minutes before their portkey was due to leave she learned that he had been 2 years ahead of her in Hogwarts and had managed to complete about halfway through his Healer training before deciding it wasn’t what he wanted and taking off on this trip around the world. He seemed so sure of himself and his decision and she couldn’t help but stare at him, hungry for his confidence. As a result she was taken by surprise by the portkey and once again found herself on the other side being helped up by this boy smiling down at her.
Warsaw was this destination and for the first time it was one she had picked. She spent a few days in the city with Ronan, he bought her her first shot of vodka ever and as she spluttered and coughed she swore to never forgive him for it. Although he had never been to Poland before Ronan seemed to know a lot about the history and culture of the place and so when she told him that her reason behind visiting Poland was to go to Auschwitz he just nodded and offered her his company. When they stepped up to the entrance of the camp she found it hard to catch her breath and during the entire tour she couldn’t stop the slight trembling of her hands. Her parents were both wizards but her father’s grandparents had come from Poland originally and had witnessed much of the atrocities that had occurred in the dark years of World War II. She couldn’t help but compare it to Voldemort’s vitriolic campaign to eradicate muggleborns, the horrors of which she had witnessed herself during her second year of Hogwarts. When Ronan offered her his hand she allowed herself a moment of weakness and took it.
They went their separate ways after the visit to Auschwitz but a connection had been forged in that dark place and while she explored Norway and Iceland on her own she was unsurprised to see him when she arrived in Egypt. They discovered the pyramids and dangers of spitting camels together in that place and when she stumbled down the stairs of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings she found herself trusting to him to catch her. And he did. They separated again while she traversed the countries of old Persia and Israel. When she arrived in Mumbai she was hot, sweaty, tired and cursing her foolish decision to spend the last few nights sleeping under the stars outside Jerusalem. So when at last she looked up to see his familiar shape standing in the door of the portkey room she didn’t question the sudden and exhilarating rush of joy that swept through her. The noise and bustle of India should have terrified her, would have terrified her had she not spent the past few months recognising the reserve of strength that existed in her backbone. She had overcome so much of her old fear and found that she had learned to trust herself at last. Maybe it had been the haggling in Marrakesh, or the many sweltering nights she had spent on her own, or the cold days in swirling snowstorms. Whatever the reason she had come to depend on herself and feel no fear because of it.
India passed in haze of colour and noise. She had never felt so alive as she did in the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and the hundreds of villages they passed through. She couldn’t help that feel that Ronan’s inexhaustible enthusiasm might have had something to do with that but she found herself having so much fun that she stopped thinking about things so much. When they eventually came to the portkey destined to finally take them from India, Ronan turned to her with an unusually serious look in his eyes and asked if she would come with him. She didn’t understand the tension in the air at such a question and when she asked where he was intending to go next she experienced a sudden sinking feeling that she had said the wrong thing. The shuttered look on a face that was more suited to smiling and laughing told her that her instincts had been right. Before she could try to fix this situation that she didn’t understand, he said a quick goodbye and grabbed the portkey leaving behind him. She stood there in confusion, knowing that she had done something terrible but not understanding what. Eventually the shouts from her portkey companions alerted her to its imminent departure and she reached out desperate fingers.
She spent the next few weeks travelling across the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan trying hard to regain her hard-fought for equilibrium but never quite succeeding. Especially the times when she was thrown from the portkey in a heap and there was no helping hand accompanied by a smiling face. But it wasn’t until she was sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the quiet courtyard of a Japanese park that she suddenly realised exactly what Ronan had been asking and why she had not allowed herself to understand. She may have finally learned to trust herself but her heart had not forgotten the pain that had started this whole thing in the beginning. She replayed every moment they had spent together in her mind and cursed herself for a blind fool. How she had missed the first stirrings of love within her she did not know and she desperately hoped that her realisation had come too late.
She couldn’t think reasonably about how to find him, all her mind retained was the knowledge that both of them had a deep fascination with the landscape of New Zealand, most especially Wairere Falls. She swept up her belongings in a rush, refusing to think about the fact that it had been weeks since he had left her in India and clinging to the hope that he might be there. When the portkey spat her out some hopeful part of her half-expected him to be there to pick her up but there was no one. Still she refused to give up and began the long journey to Wairere Falls.
When she eventually reached the track it was night and she reluctantly accepted that she couldn’t make the climb in the dark. She apparated to a small hostel a few miles from the trail, it existed especially to house those intending to climb the falls and there was a merry bunch of muggle travellers exchanging stories and experiences. She was exhausted and sat in the corner, half asleep listening to the tales of exotic lands and peoples.
Suddenly there was a tug on her consciousness and she came fully awake. Nothing had changed apart from a lessening of the amount of people in the common room but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was happening. She heard a scattering of voices from the reception and with a slowly growing hope she stepped cautiously towards the doorway. The old man who had checked her in was smiling at a man standing in front of him as he told him the same rules she had heard a few hours earlier. Her heart had risen to her mouth and she stumbled forwards, not noticing the bags strewn across the floor in front of her. She tripped and sprawled in a heap beside the counter already blushing and began to haul herself up. Before she could though a hand appeared in front of her and she looked up into Ronan’s smiling face. He helped her off the ground and didn’t let go of her hands.
“I didn’t get the chance to answer you before.” She calmly said, looking into his eyes.
“I’ll go with you wherever you want to go, as long as you’ll come with me too”
Ronan’s smile grew wider if possible and as he leant to kiss her, she felt the last of her old fear leave her. She had found strength, peace and love in every place she had travelled to and now they would forever rest within her.
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