Chapter 2 : II.
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Parvati is managing to keep pace with me, thank goodness. Her dark hair flies about her face as we hurtle through corridor after corridor, slowing only slightly when we reach the stairs which take us upwards, closer to our destination, our only hope for safety.
“You scum!” The wheezing voice follows us, and I know that the second Carrow has joined the chase. They know all of the secret passageways and have no scruples about pushing people out of the way to get to their goal. My lungs are burning but I have only one thought: get to the Room of Requirement. When the Carrows have decided that they don’t want you in the school anymore, the safest thing to do is disappear.
We are nearly there. I can see the door in front of us. Neville knows the room well enough to ensure that it will admit any of us who are in desperate need of shelter. Ten yards. Five.
Thundering footsteps behind us mean that the Carrows have caught up. They are yelling, and a light whizzes past my ear. I accelerate, gasping. Then there is another flash of light, a thud, and I turn to see my best friend crumple to the floor.
“At school today we did painting and I liked it and I painted a picture of a fire engine. Look Lavender!” Charlie thrusts a piece of paper under my nose and I nod and smile at the big red blob that he has painted. “Then at playtime I wanted to play with the car but another boy got it and then he said I should go and play with a skipping rope because I was a girl and I hit him because I’m not a girl and I don’t like girls.”
My mum shakes her head. She has already heard this story on the way home from school and has no doubt told him off for hitting another boy already. I am his sister, and it is not for me to reprimand him, thank goodness. I am making an effort now to be downstairs when Charlie comes home from school, ready to help him with his homework and play whichever games occur to him. He smiles every time he sees me, and it is this which encourages me to slowly restore a routine to my life.
“But I’m a girl, Charlie.”
He pauses in his story and looks at me seriously as if this is something he has not considered. “You’re not a proper girl though,” he responds eventually. “You’re my sister so you don’t count.”
I am sure that I should somehow be offended at this comment, but I still cannot bring myself to care. Besides, with my hair scraped back in a ponytail and my current uniform of jeans and a baggy hoody, I do not appear very girly.
“Okay then. So what else did you do today?” I ask. And he is off again, launching into a tale about their circle time and their drinks of milk. Listening to him makes me wish for those days again, when I was still able to be a child and not forced to grow up because of war. I have forgotten what it is like to have no cares on your shoulders.
My mum is watching me, and I give her a warning glance. Since I agreed to play outside with Charlie, she has tried to push me into talking to someone or going out and doing something. Each time this happens, I retreat for a few days, like a tortoise shrinking back into its shell. I am not ready for any of this. The gloom still clings to my mind, and I find myself slipping into a trance-like state on a frequent basis. My nights are still punctuated by the terrible dreams, the memories that haunt me. And constantly I feel heavy, and I know it is because I am weighed down by a guilt that I can never escape.
People are talking in hushed voices around my head. Someone is pressing down on my neck. I panic, remembering what happened just before I passed out. I sit bolt upright, opening my eyes, and instantly there are hands gripping my arms and forcing me down again, telling me not to worry, that everything will be alright.
But I have seen enough. The enchantment from the ceiling has disappeared, and burned in my memory are the images of the bodies. Row upon row of the fallen, laid out in the centre of the hall. I raise my arm tentatively to the wound on my neck. I have been branded a thief.
I am nineteen years old and my little brother is the only person I talk to regularly. He is an easy person to be with; he asks no questions about what has happened to me, or why I am behaving so strangely. Perhaps my parents have warned him not to – if so, they would do well to listen to their own advice. But it is more likely that Charlie does not care about these things as long as I agree to play with him in the garden, listen to his stories and read him books at bedtime.
When I am writing letters to Parvati, I realise that I sound like a proud mother, filling the parchment with news of my younger brother. The thought is almost laughable – I have always said that I do not want to have children until at least thirty – and I even manage to crack a smile.
Then, one day, Parvati appears at the house after a shift at work. She’s not fully qualified yet, according to her letters, but she has started to go out on field work and seems to be loving it. She arrives dressed in the charcoal grey robes of trainee Aurors and wraps me up tightly in a hug. I return it perfunctorily, the action feeling strange but oddly comforting.
“Lavender,” she smiles, stepping back from me. I know her well enough to know that her happiness to see me is genuine. I find myself smiling back as well, glad that this action has occurred more and more since I started spending my days with Charlie.
“Hi, Parvati,” I reply. It is then that I realise it is almost six months since I last spoke to her face-to-face.
My dad has arrived back from work and joined my mum in the kitchen; neither of them can hide their grins at the fact I have a friend here. I am sure this is not normal, but then, I reflect, my behaviour has not fallen into that category either. I don’t really know what to say, and I can see Parvati studying my appearance – pale skin, dark circles beneath my eyes, lifeless hair – so I suggest that we go out to the garden. Charlie instantly wants to join us but my parents stop him, distracting him with a new board game that they have bought.
In the cold November air, I pull my coat tighter around me and sit on the bench in the corner of the garden. Now that I am eating again most days, I have started to regain weight, but I am still much thinner than I used to be. I sit, staring at the dying grass, and wait for my best friend to say something. I know there is plenty I should be saying to her, but I cannot find the words, I am not ready.
“You look loads better than last time I saw you, Lavender.” Parvati has always been frank and honest with me, and it is nice to know that she is not going to tread on eggshells because of my recent behaviour. “Last time I came, you hadn’t washed in ages. I’m not going to lie, you stank.”
I glance sideways at her to witness her rolling her eyes. “I’m not going to apologise either, it’s true. You’ve been gone for so long and I’ve missed you. I was so happy when you first replied to my letters that I screamed and Seamus thought that something had gone wrong.”
“I’m glad you were pleased.”
Our childhood is over, both of us know that. The girlish talk about boys and make-up is long gone, and it feels impossible to revert to it now. But sitting beside Parvati, I know that we are still best friends, in spite of all that has happened. Perhaps, one day, we can laugh and giggle over men again.
She elbows me lightly in the side. “When was the last time that you went out, Lavender?”
I cannot avoid such a direct question and I find myself blushing when I realise the answer. “It was in June, I think. A couple of days after the memorial service.”
Parvati is silent for a moment, thinking. Instead of asking the next natural question – why? – she asks something else, instinctively knowing that I am not ready to talk about it all.
“When are you going out again?”
Her blunt tone is so different to my parents’ concerned and softened voices that it takes me by surprise for a moment. This, I remember, is why she is my best friend.
“I… I haven’t thought about it yet.”
This is a lie, and she knows it. Her raised eyebrow tells me that she does not, even for a second, believe that I have not considered the option of leaving the house and this little patch of garden again.
“Okay… I have thought about it,” I admit. “But it’s been so long, and I’m scared.”
This is more than I have confided in anyone else. The words feel like they have escaped from my throat without permission and they hang in the air, echoing in my ears.
“That’s okay, you know, Lavender. To be scared, I mean. Everyone is sometimes.”
“I’m scared all the time.”
I reach my hand up and clasp it over my mouth; I cannot believe that I have confessed this. I never intended to tell anyone. Parvati has always been an easy person to trust with secrets, but for the first time I find myself wondering if she will be able to keep this one, now that she has a new life with Seamus and she does not need me in it.
In response, she reaches her arm out and squeezes my shoulders, and with just that one gesture lets me know that nothing has changed between us, and we are still a team, no matter what.
“After we got chased by the Carrows,” she starts, her voice low. “When we ran away from them to get to the Room of Requirement, I was terrified. It wasn’t the running away that scared me, it wasn’t even the Carrows – but when they got me with that spell and I left you fighting alone, I couldn’t bear it. I put a Silencing Charm on myself at night so that nobody would hear me screaming in my sleep. The fact that they’d managed to catch me and curse me left me feeling so vulnerable that I was nervous every time somebody started a conversation with me. Even if it was just you or Padma, I still got scared. I thought it meant that I was weak, because I had allowed someone to attack me, and I hadn’t defended myself quickly enough. Each time we left the Room of Requirement, I was petrified, thinking that it would happen again. I know what it’s like to be scared, Lavender.”
For minutes I cannot speak as I process this revelation. We are best friends, and I had thought that we told each other everything. But there was not much time to talk and think back then, and it seems that we both have demons of our own to fight. Maybe, I think, it is possible that I am not alone in this.
“What happened?” I ask, eventually. “You fought in the battle – you fought better than most people. How did you do that?”
It is a minute before she answers, and I realise that she is choosing her words carefully. It is not easy for her to talk about this either.
“I decided that I was going to let it beat me. I was afraid, but then I thought about Harry – he was on the run, fighting, leading a whole resistance movement. But he’d been hit before, he’d had injuries. So had all the others who were there with us in the Room of Requirement. Neville had been beaten up, Seamus, Michael – all of them had. I realised that just because I was vulnerable and scared, it didn’t mean that I had to stop fighting and stop living. There was no choice – it was fight or die.”
Silently, I acknowledge the truth of her words. She was forced out of her fear because conquering it was the only way that she could live. My admiration for her grows as I ponder this. She is so much stronger and braver than I can ever be.
“You have a choice, Lavender. That’s why it’s easier for you to hide away, that’s why you’ve felt like this for so long. There’s nothing to stop you; it’s all down to you. But you can choose. You can choose to live.”
For a second I feel sick, sensing a double meaning to her words and I suppress a gasp at the fact that she has known, all along, without any admission on my behalf, the extent of what I have been feeling.
“I shouldn’t have left you for so long, I can see that. You needed me to come and kick your arse into gear. But your mum and dad kept telling me that you didn’t want to see me, that you were better left alone and stuff. I should have known better and come in anyway.”
“It’s my fault, though. You wouldn’t have been able to do anything, Parvati. I’m not like you. I can’t be as strong.”
“You can, Lavender. You fought as well.”
“And look where it got me.” I gesture to the long scar running down the side of my neck. It is something I have not brought up with my family, and after bursting into tears on the early occasions when Charlie pointed at it, nobody else has mentioned it either. Parvati does not blink, looking at it. She seems completely unfazed. “I should be dead. Loads of people died – why not me?”
The last three words I utter at a whisper, and they swirl on the wind around us. I did not expect this today when I agreed for Parvati to visit. I was not ready for this. But my best friend has always known how to get me to speak about things, she has always known when it is time for me to do something, she has always known what to say.
“I don’t know why you didn’t die, Lavender. Nobody can answer that.” She shrugs her shoulders. “Don’t you think that all of us have wondered the same? What about Harry? People went to that battle to fight in his name. They died because he was there – that’s what he thinks. I can see it in his eyes sometimes. And of course he’s wrong – people were fighting to stop Voldemort. But all of us feel guilty about it. We just can’t let it take over our lives.”
The mention of other people – of Harry, in particular – startles me. I have been wrapped up in my own world, my own mind, for so long that I have forgotten that others could be feeling the same way.
I am torn. The darkness clings to my thoughts, almost as familiar as an old friend, almost comfortable. I have never considered this as a choice, and for a second I want to shout out, because it isn’t. But a second more and I start to understand what Parvati is saying. I turn to her with tears glistening in my eyes.
“I don’t know what to do.”
She smiles at me, a row of pearly white teeth showing. “You fought to save me once, Lavender. Now it’s my turn.”
“No!” I yell, spinning and dashing towards Parvati. I have already cast a Shield Charm and for a second I bend down to check that she is still breathing, before straightening up to face the Carrows who are thundering towards us like a pair of raging rhinoceroses. They have hurt my best friend and I will not stand by and let them hurt me too. It is two against one – a pair of Death Eaters against an unqualified student – but I am not going down without a fight.
My wand acts almost instinctively in my hand; there is little thought behind my actions. We have practised fighting constantly over this last year, knowing that the time would come when our preparation could save our lives.
The pair of them are slowing now, panting – they do not think I am a danger and this is what gives me the chance. Before they have chance to raise their wands again, I slash mine through the air and the red light hits one of them in the chest. As the Carrow realises that her brother has been stunned, she pauses, confused, and all it takes is another strike with the same spell.
I have saved my best friend.
I look at her silently. Parvati does not have to do this, there is no obligation. It would be much easier for her to leave me, forget me like the others have, and move on with her life. I cannot understand until somewhere, from the back of my mind, the memory of our flight from the Carrows resurfaces, and it makes sense.
No matter what happens, we are best friends. We will save each other.
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