Chapter 1 : Between Here And Somewhere
| ||Rating: 15+||Chapter Reviews: 7|
Background: Font color:
Light flows into the bedroom through the gap in between the curtains, illuminating the peach walls with a lone pink streak from the rising sun. In the single bed in the corner of the room, beneath a stripy blue duvet and a pile of clothing at the foot of the bed, a young woman sleeps. Her long brunette hair is sprawled over the pillow, while her arm has escaped the mattress’ comfort and dangles from her body down the side, her fingertips barely brushing the thin, old grey carpet. In the distance, there is a loud shrill and the young woman’s eyes open wide immediately. Her body freezes, poised to attack any intruder - or flee - but after a few seconds pass, she takes a deep breath and visibly relaxes.
“Damn rooster,” she mutters under her breath, pushing the duvet off of her slender body and sitting upright before rubbing her tired eyes. “Remind me to talk to Dad about rehoming him; we won’t have any customers left if he keeps waking them up at unholy…”
She trails off when her gaze scans the room and falls upon the door that adjoins her bedroom to the bathroom, and the other door that adjoins the bathroom to the next bedroom. Both are standing ajar to reveal the neighbouring occupant’s absence: the bed has been stripped of its bedding and the room is bare of personal possessions. Her brother’s departure was two days ago, and yet Nina is still not used to his absence.
Quietly, she stands up and begins to prepare herself for the forthcoming day, careful not to allow herself to dwell on the fact that Amos is currently gallivanting around the world, while she is the one left behind. She knows that it is not her brother’s fault; that she cannot blame her own sense of duty and loyalty on him, but it hurts to think of him seeing all the places that she never will - not unless her future husband decides to take her around the world on their honeymoon, but that is unlikely. Even if she succeeded in meeting someone new and falling in love with him, she has always imagined Mr Right to possess worthy employment, which conflicts with the concept of travelling.
The sound of a beak tapping at the window distracts her, and she turns to see a tawny owl scowling in the rain. With a gasp, Nina rushes to the window and opens it, standing back to allow the feathered creature to fly in. She quickly regrets it, however, when he perches on her bedframe and beats his wings in the air to dry his feathers, scattering her bedding with droplets of water. Tutting quietly, she closes the window before turning to the owl and retrieving the parchment attached to one of his legs.
While the Marenina Diggory scrawled across the outside appears to be unfamiliar handwriting, Nina unrolls it to see Amos’ unmistakable scrawl, and quickly deduces that while her brother wrote the letter, it was someone else who addressed and posted it — possibly because Amos has left his owl behind, unwilling to take his pet to climates she is unused to, and is most likely borrowing other people's owls to communicate with his family. Turning to the tawny owl, she points at a large cage taking up the entirety of her dressing table, where Amos’ light golden-brown owl is sleeping.
“You’ll find some food and water in there; Feathers doesn’t mind sharing her cage with other owls,” she says. When the stranger's owl scowls, she motions towards the window and the water trickling down the glass pane. “I can always open the window and let you out, if you’d rather?”
The owl gives her a look of annoyance - if such a thing is possible coming from a bird - but concedes and flies into the cage. Nina lets out a sigh and checks her appearance in the mirror before putting down the roll of parchment and leaving the room.
There will be plenty of time later to read Amos’ letter; for now, she has more important duties to attend to.
Downstairs, her father is standing in the middle of the dining room, inspecting his handiwork. Nina nods at the pristine tableclothes and perfectly arranged cutlery as she walks through the room, an appreciative smile on her face.
“Well done, Dad,” she smiles. “You’re getting better every day.”
Her father sighs. “It’s still not as good as how your mother did it. Sometimes I wonder if I should just do things the Muggle way; there’d be more chance of success then.”
“That would take hours,” Nina protests. “I’m sure she’d understand; she ran this business for years, had plenty of practice to perfect the spells she used. You only started working here when she became ill and to be honest, your domestic charms are far better than they were two years ago.”
“True,” her father nods, continuing to gaze upon his handiwork.
“If you want something to do, I need some more eggs from the henhouse. The guests will be awake soon, and I doubt they’ll all order porridge and toast when there’s a full Welsh breakfast on offer.”
"I've got to get on with repairing the garden fence," her father answers. "We won't have any eggs left to collect if the chickens get out through the hole. It's a job that can't be done with magic - I don't know the correct spells, and even if I looked them up I can't guarantee first-time success."
"It'll take just a moment, Dad," Nina answers. "I've got food to prepare; a guest could walk in at any moment expecting a hot breakfast within minutes.
He sighs, shaking his head with a small smile. "The things I do for you, Marenina. All right, I'll fetch your eggs. Just this once, mind."
Nina smiles and verbalizes her appreciation to her father before entering the kitchen. With several waves of her wand, her ingredients are summoned and prepared. Unlike her father, she has had practice: even before her mother's illness and subsequent passing, Nina helped with the cooking during her summers home in return for additional pocket money. Those well-honed skills are clear to see, as the mushrooms are quickly washed and sliced, the tomatoes and sausages are inserted into the stove to cook, the bread waiting to be toasted, the bacon sitting by the stovetop ready to fry once a customer places an order. All of the ingredients are sourced locally, which is why her mother named the meal a full Welsh breakfast instead of a full English when she first opened the little bed-and-breakfast in her home village. It is here where Nina and Amos grew up, and while she loves her home, she cannot help but wish that she had joined her brother and his best friend on their travels.
"Here are your eggs," her father announces as he enters the kitchen. "The honeymooning couple in room eight would like two full breakfasts please; no tomatoes on one of them."
"No problem, Dad," Nina smiles, placing the eggs next to the bacon and turning to the stove.
For the next three hours or so, she is inundated with orders but proceeds to cook with a sense of familiarity. This is her routine, her organized chaos, and despite all of the upheaval that has occurred so far in her nineteen years of life, this is something that will always remain constant. More than once, however, she finds herself wishing that the Diggorys own a house-elf who could play the role of kitchen assistant, particularly when she mistakes a rasher of bacon for a slice of toast and attempts to spread marmalade upon it. Nevertheless, once the clock chimes ten o'clock, she breathes a sigh of relief: the allocated time for breakfast has ended, and any people who overslept will simply have to make do with leftover toast or barely-warm porridge. After placing two slices of toast on a small plate and brewing a cup of tea, subsequently placed into a cup charmed to keep warm and repel water, Nina ventures towards the back door and opens it.
"Dad," she calls out. "Here's some tea and toast."
Her father is working near a summerhouse, and upon seeing her, drops his tools and takes shelter.
"Bring them over, would you?" he calls out.
Nina closes her eyes immediately to steady her sudden lack of balance, before opening them to look at her father.
"I'll get soaked through," she protests. "I haven't got my coat; it's upstairs in my bedroom, remember?"
It is a poor excuse, exploiting her parents' rule that none of the Diggorys' belongings ought to be left unsupervised in the public areas of their bed-and-breakfast, and yet it is an excuse that Nina knows her father will accept without question. Even now, he is approaching her to retrieve his breakfast without complaint; in fact, as he stands on the back step, he is smiling.
"Amos kept his promise and sent you a letter, didn't he? That's why you don't want to go running off to the summerhouse. Go on, girl; leave the washing-up for the cleaning woman to do and read the letter."
"Thanks, Dad," Nina beams, kissing him on the cheek before hurrying out of the kitchen.
While her father's deduction was incorrect, she will not turn down the opportunity to hear all about Bandon, Ireland, Amos' first stop on his Grand Tour of the wizarding world. As she is reading his barely legible handwriting, there is a second tapping at her window, and when she looks up she sees two large owls carrying a parcel together.
"The map!" Nina squeals, allowing the parchment in her hand to fall on her bed as she opens the window.
With difficultly, but expertly - the owls have clearly endured a high standard of training - first the black owl and then the brown enter her room. Nina quickly unties the parcel from their legs and without pausing for food or water, they fly out to return to their owner. She does not notice their departure at first; her gaze is firmly fixed on the long paper roll, and hastily, she rips the paper off to reveal a scroll of thick parchment. When she unrolls the parchment, she grins at the sight of a large world map and stands back, whispering several charms under her breath which levitates the map and attaches it to her bedroom wall, illuminated by the sun shining through the window. Quickly, Nina scrambles for a spare quill and some ink, before approaching the map and marking the approximate location of Bandon, before drawing a line from it to the Celtic Sea, where there is sufficient space to write. Careful to keep her handwriting as small and cramped as possible, Nina scrawls a handful of words.
Where Gilderoy Lockhart defeated the banshee that plagued the village for decades.
Although she cannot travel with her brother, she still has the next best thing; following him around the world on her map, researching all his destinations and pretending that she is right there, next to Amos and Edgar, witnessing all of the things that they see.
It is the only shred of hope she has left to cling to.
Three weeks later, Amos’ thick letter arrives, brought by a tiny sparrow. Nina is unsure of what she should do with the bird; he perches in Feathers’ cage and has drunk some water, although he keeps spitting out the seeds available. The possibility that the sparrow requires a different diet remains at the forefront of her mind, but she isn’t sure where she can get it from. After sending Feathers to Eeylop’s Owl Emporium, she has learnt that they do not supply sparrow food, and her response from the Magical Menagerie is still pending. Nina knows that if the sparrow does not eat any time soon, he will quickly starve to death, and yet despite keeping the window permanently open and instructing the bird to leave many times, he refuses to go. Even when she gave the bird a letter addressed to his owner, thinking that perhaps he was trained to wait for a response, he stayed. The matter is puzzling indeed, and as she sweeps the lounge floor, she keeps a careful eye on the horizon waiting for Feathers to return with seed supplies.
“Nina,” her father says as he enters the room, “what news do we have from Amos today?”
With a wistful smile, Nina reaches into her pocket and hands the sheaf of parchment to him. “He sent me a fake scarab too; I always said I wanted some of those when I was little. It’s over there on that table, it won’t fit into my pocket.”
Her father takes several moments to read Amos’ letter before looking up at her.
“It’s not too late, you know. There’s still time for you to book a Portkey and join him and Edgar; I think they’re on their way to Delhi now — in fact, I’m sure I’ve got the details of their hotel somewhere in case of emergency, so you could meet them there.”
Nina shakes her head. “I appreciate the thought, Dad, but it just wouldn’t be possible. The B&B doesn’t make enough to support both me and Amos while we’re travelling and hire someone to replace me — and even that would be hard to do at short notice.”
“I’d find a way,” her father insists.
“No,” she answers firmly. “I’d feel guilty about it, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the holiday if I felt guilty, would I? Thank you, Dad, but no thank you.”
He sighs. “If you’re absolutely sure, Nina…”
She is nodding vehemently in response when a knock at the back door interrupts their conversation, and Nina glances at the clock to realize that it is time for the grocery delivery. Quickly, she murmurs an apology, sidesteps her father to exit the room, walk across the hallway, through the dining room and into the kitchen where there is a dark silhouette standing on the other side of the back door. When she opens the door, she recognizes the greengrocer’s son and greets him with a cordial smile.
“Hey, Nina,” he grins, walking into the kitchen and dropping a crate on the worktop. “I haven’t seen you in village in forever; you never seem to come in the shop any more.”
“I’m quite busy here, Luke,” she answers. “Especially now that Amos is travelling; our workload’s increased because we don’t have him around to do the heavy lifting.” It is a minor lie, since she is perfectly capable of levitating heavy objects, but the nearby village’s population is composed of Muggles and the odd wizard or two — certainly nowhere near enough to form a magical community — and she can hardly levitate her shopping home. “It’s much more convenient these days to have our groceries delivered, so that Dad doesn’t have to carry everything on his own. I would help if I could, but I have more than enough to do as it is.”
“I understand,” Luke smiles. “You still need to have fun, though, Nina. Remember that funfair we went to last year?”
Nina does remember; the tune of the funfair’s music is catchy enough that whenever she recalls it, she can almost hear the music punctuated by the sound of dodgems colliding, the bell of the high striker ringing, laughter and shrieks in the background. Was it just a year ago that she was laughing among the crowd, stealing popcorn and candyfloss out of her Muggle best friend’s hands and giggling at how mortifyingly lovey-dovey Amos and his girlfriend were?
So much has changed since then, and Nina hates it.
“Yes,” she nods. “I remember.”
“There are posters in the village announcing its return next week. I was thinking that maybe you and I could go together? Just me and you this time?”
He is asking her on a date.
Nina takes a deep breath to try to compose herself. The thought of leaving her safe haven, the four walls that have protected her throughout her childhood, is frightening to say the least. She can still remember the last time she visited the local village; still feel the panic that seized her out of nowhere in the middle of the queue at the butcher’s that scared her so much, she’d run home as fast as she could, as if a serial mass-murderer or a dragon or an entire army had been chasing her. Only upon arriving home did she finally feel as if she was safe, and since then, her home has become her prison and yet her only safe haven.
“I’m sorry, Luke,” she says, busying herself with removing the vegetables from the crate so that she does not have to look into his eyes. “I’m too busy, I’m afraid.”
“At night? What about Monday? You told me before that was the quietest night of the week; surely your dad can cope on his own for a couple of hours?”
Shaking her head, Nina turns to look at her friend as she pushes his empty crate towards him. “The answer is no, Luke; can’t you take the hint? Even you asked me as friends, I’d still be too busy to go.”
Luke grumbles something indecipherable and barges out of the kitchen, clearly upset at Nina’s rejection. She sighs and slumps into the chair kept in the corner normally used as a makeshift stool. She isn't sure when exactly she ended up in this position, lost and alone and afraid of the outside world that she so desperately wants to explore. It isn’t just her inability to walk half an hour down the lane to a funfair that frustrates her, but her fear of fulfilling the dream that she’s had ever since she was a little girl. She wants to see the pyramids with Amos, while feeling her lungs constrict with the heat and humidity of Egypt. There are so many sights to see: the tombs of famous sorcerers in the Valley of the Kings; the hyglerophics that ancient Egyptian wizards used to communicate with each other before Muggle-repelling spells had been invented; the final resting place of Mohammed Gamal, a pioneering wizard who played a major role in the establishment of the International Statute of Secrecy. It is easy to dream of visiting those places, but whenever she tries to make it a reality, the fear that plagues her becomes all-consuming.
Nina misses being normal.
She misses the lifestyle of an average nineteen-year-old, working in some poorly-paid job where her most important assignment is making her boss' coffee just the way they like it - or even travelling on her own Grand Tour, seeing the sights of the world while learning new languages and experiencing other cultures. Her father is still unwittingly unaware of the truth, while Amos knows of her overwhelming desire to stay at home although he does not understand why. And how can Nina explain to her brother the truth of her feelings? How, whenever she leaves the house she's always grown up in, she's overcome by an overwhelming sense of panic that leaves her struggling for breath? There is no rational, sensible reason for her condition, and she wishes that one existed so that her family could understand.
"'Scuse me, love," one of the guests calls out, and Nina turns to the door to see an elderly woman speaking. "You’ve got an owl waiting outside by the hallway; I’m not sure what it wants, but I thought you should know since there’s a sign out there that says “no magic between eleven and one on a weekday” — what’s that all about, anyway?"
"Oh, that’s because we have Muggle suppliers who deliver our food," Nina answers with a smile. "The sign’s there to discourage people from casting spells that the Muggles might see, but when they’re not here it’s fine because we’re too far away from the village for people to notice."
"I see," the woman replies. "By the way, I had a chat with the lovely gentleman earlier — your father, is he? — and he said that your brother was in Egypt. That sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Has he seen any pyramids, do you know?"
Nina nods. "Yes, but not all of them. I read in Sites of Historical Sorcery that Cairo was the scene of a battle between two of Egypt's Pharoahs, and there's a wizarding museum entirely devoted to the battle, and I tried to persuade him to go there, but he's not the type to wander around museums, sadly. I'd love to know what the history books don't tell."
"You could always visit there yourself," the elderly woman suggests. "Go on your Grand Tour - you're clearly old enough to."
"I know,” she smiles politely. “That's the plan... One day. I'm just not sure when that day will be."
Nina takes a step backwards, surveying her map carefully. Ever since she first marked Bandon, Ireland, she has dug out her old schoolgirl journals, each of them filled with dreams of where she planned to visit one day. All of those locations have been carefully marked on the map — even the remote island of Moutohora, located in the Bay of Plenty just a short distance away from New Zealand, a wildlife reservation for many rare and almost-extinct creatures in the Oceanic wizarding world. Behind her, the sparrow that Amos sent her from Cairo is tweeting loudly, clearly pleased at the scribbles in every corner of the map that cover it so thoroughly that just the other day, her father commented that her handwriting on the blue seas gave the appearance of waves.
There is a small smudge where she has accidentally rubbed her hand against the parchment while labelling Delhi, and as soon as Nina notices it, she swears under her breath before Summoning a damp cloth to clean the smudge before it dries. Moments after the task is completed, there is a loud shriek followed by her father bellowing her name.
Nina gulps, knowing that aside from addressing letters, no-one but her grandparents ever calls her Marenina unless she is in trouble. Tentatively, she opens her bedroom door to see her father halfway up the stairs.
“Your grandmother was in the kitchen when you Summoned that cloth! It slapped her in the face!” her father exclaims.
Her immediate instinct is to giggle, although she is forced to stifle it quickly, reducing her mirth to a small smirk. “Sorry, Dad. I’ll apologize to Grandma too.”
“Now, please,” her father instructs. “Have you heard from Amos yet, by the way?”
Shaking her head, Nina follows him down the stairs. She is disappointed in a way; Delhi is one of the places she is looking forward to hearing about most. Amos’ descriptions of his destinations have been surprisingly intricate, and she cannot wait to read about the famous marketplace, which is the largest wizarding market in all of Asia. In her books, there are mentions of several perfumers all next to each other in the same row, and wonderful compliments about the bright, festive colours of the produce being sold. Nina wonders if the multitude of perfumes conglomerating are sensational or suffocating, and whether the colours are truly as vivid as the books say.
“Ah! Marenina!” her grandmother says in a chirpy tone when Nina and her father enter the dining room. “I hope you’ll remember not to Summon cloths and suchlike next time — what if it had collided with one of the guests?”
“I knew we didn’t have any guests booked this weekend,” she answers warily, concerned at her grandmother’s unusually good mood. “In fact, I —”
“—Marenina, I was thinking. Why don’t the four of us go out for dinner in Cardiff? Wasn’t there a Muggle restaurant that you used to go to with your mother all the time?”
The sensation that Nina feels is similar to a Disillusionment Charm; a cold feeling runs down her spine and she shivers involuntarily.
“Nina doesn’t like Muggle Cardiff these days, remember?” her grandfather says. “Have you forgotten about that time she walked into the road and nearly got run over by a bus?”
Prompted by her grandfather’s words, the memory surfaces from the depths of her brain, reminding her of that terrifying day. The sound of the wheels squealing as the driver slammed his foot on the brakes; the large, green metal oblong that for a handful of moments appeared to consume everything around her; the expression of terror on the driver’s face as their eyes met; the conductor’s angry voice as he shouted expletives at her in front of the entire public on St Mary’s Street, while her cheeks burned with embarrassment and her heart raced with fear.
“Can we please not discuss that subject?” she asks quietly.
Her grandmother frowns and opens her mouth, most likely to complain, when an overly large hawk swoops inside the window and the leather holder around its leg knocks over her grandmother’s bowl of porridge. Nina reaches out to retrieve the letter — she vaguely recalls that hawks are a popular bird in India, so clearly the letter must be from Amos — but the hawk leans down and nips at her hand.
“Ow!” she yelps, holding her injured hand close to her body while the bird flaps its wings around the dining room, almost crashing into one of the chandeliers. While her father reaches out to try to catch the bird and her grandparents exclaim in horror, Nina stands up and pulls out her wand.
“Immobulus,” she calls out.
The spell is successful, freezing the hawk mid-flight. With ease, her father catches the creature before it hits the ground and harms itself and quickly removes the letter it carries before taking the bird outside and performing the counter-curse. From the window, Nina can see the hawk fly into the distance and breathes a sigh of relief.
Ignoring her grandmother’s complaint about how irresponsible Amos must be to send such a vicious bird to his family, Nina opens the letter and begins to read her brother’s words expectantly.
and you wouldn’t believe it, sis — all of the herbs and spices made the marketplace smell heavenly; like a outdoor kitchen where the chef’s only cooking beautiful food. Oh — Edgar and I tried some curries, and they were hot to the point where Edgar’s ears were giving off steam; it was such a funny thing to see
“Any interesting news?” her grandfather asks.
Nina smiles. “Not quite, but he makes me feel as if I’m there with them. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
The clock is ticking, the sound abnormally loud in the silence of the lounge. Nina’s breathing is ragged, yet even. She has plotted her brother’s journey home carefully; knows that once the last of his nine Portkeys around the world arrives at the Ministry of Magic, Amos will accompany Edgar to the Bones house before returning home.
“Why don’t you go and wait for him at the gate?” her father suggests. “No-one would think your brother was coming home today, from that long face you’ve got.”
The reason for Nina’s moroseness is quite simple, although she understands why her father would not think of it. For the past few months, she has pored over books and maps about the wonders of the world while Amos has seen them with his own eyes, and even his eloquent words are not enough to sate Nina’s curiosity.
What if, when she sees her brother, she is overcome with jealousy because he went gallivanting around the world while she was the girl left behind?
“Okay,” she answers, standing up and walking to the front door.
She does not intend to continue any further, too afraid to contemplate the quivering wreck that she will potentially end up being if she does. Yet, in her mind’s eye, she sees herself running into Amos’ arms as he approaches the front gate and the gleeful expressions on both of their faces. She knows that it is preposterous; that it’ll never happen. And yet there is a small part of her demanding that she ought to take a step outside, because if she’ll ever fulfil her dream of travelling, she’ll have to take a first step outside her home sooner or later.
And so she does.
The dread is starting to sink in, to consume Nina. She doesn’t want it to, and yet she cannot quell the doubts that there are guests looking out of the windows behind her, laughing and sneering at her cowardice and foolishness.
A tear rolls down her cheek. She wants to go back; she doesn’t want to continue. And yet, if she fails now, how will she ever make it to the village down the road, let alone far-flung places like Australia, where Amos is returning from?
She cannot go any further.
Her body is starting to shake with the fear of loneliness and vulnerability. She can still remember how, the first time she visited Muggle Cardiff after her near-miss with the bus, she saw one approaching and froze. Her lungs refused to work, her body shook, her brain screamed nothing but get out get as far away as possible. She never returned to Cardiff after that, choosing to stay close to home in the nearby village — but even there, she was consumed by the fear of becoming paralyzed by fear again.
Nina isn’t sure how she ended up so afraid; she just knows that she is.
“I’ve missed you, cariad!” Amos grins, and Nina looks up to see her brother approaching her. Instinctively, without being fully conscious of the action, she puts another foot forward.
“I’m not a child any more,” Nina complains with a smile, laughing at the familiar term of endearment.
Amos pulls her into a hug, squeezing her closely.
“You’ll always be my little sister,” he mumbles into her shoulder.
Nina laughs, pushing her long brunette hair behind her ear before taking her brother’s hand. “I missed you too, Amos.”
As their fingers intertwine, she makes herself a silent promise. Tomorrow, with her brother by her side, she’ll try to walk the garden path again.
And this time, she’ll aim for seven steps.
Author's Note: This was written for the Hufflepuff Writer's Duo, and is a companion piece to Wanderlust by Siriusly89, who wrote from Amos' POV. :) Also, credit goes to Lululuna for the fabulous summary! ^.^
Cariad is Welsh for child.
I'd love to hear your feedback on this one-shot! ♥
Other Similar Stories
Signs of Life
Song of the ...