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Sitting in the Orange Tree by marinahill

Format: Novella
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 25,465
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Angst
Characters: Sirius, Lily, James, Neville, Luna, Ginny, Ariana, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, James/Lily

First Published: 04/15/2008
Last Chapter: 09/25/2009
Last Updated: 02/25/2011

Summary:


Aurelia Lovegood is dead. She finds herself alone in the afterlife except for an orange tree and from it she can watch her daughter Luna. But if she isn't a ghost then where is she? And what's keeping her here?

2008 Dobby finalist for Most Original Story, 2012 Finalist for Best Novella
2009 Golden Snitches winner for Best Ending, Best Plot, Best Original Character

sequels: Strawberry Hill, Duet |  banner by Jeanie @ TDA | Beta'd by Ilia


Chapter 1: In Between
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One of my favourite places in the world was Africa. The wide open spaces, and the great expanse of the sky stretching on forever… the people, too, seemed generally nicer than those here in England. Not that I had anything against the English, but those that I met never appeared to warm to me.

I had been an oddball all my life; I kept to myself and rarely sought the company of others. That suited me very well. I would grab my notebook, sit in the library and think of various experiments I could try out. Experimenting with magic was frowned upon when I went to Hogwarts, so I used an out-of-order bathroom to do my experiments in. When I said experiment, I meant with spells, charms, jinxes, you name it. Even from my very first year at Hogwarts I liked to try and test new ideas for spells. During my fifth year I started to experiment with potions, too. I never created anything successful, of course; otherwise I’d have been far richer than I was. The most success I ever got was blowing up the bathroom in which I happened to be practicing my growth spell. It didn’t really have the desired effect, and it was one explosion too many. I’m sad to say I was expelled.

Really, that should have been my cue to give up experimenting and go and find a nice, rich husband. That didn’t really go to plan, either, and I found myself married to a nature enthusiast who published a peculiar magazine called The Quibbler. He liked to publish articles that made no sense, really, but because I was a dutiful wife I told him that they were original and inspiring. That’s when my parents disowned me. In reality, Xenophilius wasn’t half as bad as my mother made him out to be.

My name was Aurelia Lovegood; even my name was odd, though I didn’t dislike it. I had a beautiful daughter, Luna, who was the most amazing child.  She was nine years old, and I couldn’t be more proud of her if I tried. She and I were so alike, although she seemed to have inherited her father’s passion for strange creatures. We both had the same dirty blonde hair and face shape, although she had her father’s eyes; mine were chocolate brown whereas hers were pale blue. Like the sky on a cloudy day, I suppose. Magical eyes, I told her. She loved to watch me work on my ideas in our cellar, which always seemed so much brighter when she was there. And often, she’d suggest something, a potion ingredient or a wand movement, that changed the course of my experiments dramatically.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't be seeing her again anytime soon. The thing was, I was dead. At least that's what I thought. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to tell you that I died during a particularly explosive experiment. And unfortunately my poor Luna came into the cellar at just the wrong moment.

Anyway, that was how I find myself here. Where here was, I didn’t really know! I just remember a blue flash of light and complete silence, and when I opened my eyes I found myself all alone. Except for this orange tree, which I was sitting in now. There was nothing else here, not even day or night. Just white. That was what led me to the conclusion that I was dead. Don’t look into the light, that’s what they told you. Well, there was a lot of it here. But that was all there was; bright, white light.

When I had gathered my wits after my so-called death, I found that there was a dark spot in the distance. I’d say horizon, but there’s no difference between the ground and the sky as everything’s all white. It’s quite boring, really. Not nearly as exciting as I thought death would be. I walked for an amount of time that wasn’t really measurable; time doesn’t seem to exist in this place. Eventually and suddenly I came across the orange tree that is my only companion. With nothing else to do, I climbed it, like I had climbed countless trees during my trip to Africa. And as I climbed further up the tree, it grew with me, the branches twisting and turning in a rhythmic dance beside me. Once I stopped climbing, I saw that a branch was twisting itself into the shape of something so familiar, but something it seemed I had forgotten…

I soon realised that it was a wand, and it fit beautifully in my hand. It was true to say that the wand truly had chosen the witch, but I had never heard of a wand made out of orange tree bark… this revelation excited me; maybe I was in heaven, where I was free to discover new things for all eternity…

But, deep down, I knew I wasn’t dead. Not in the true sense. What I was, I had no idea. There seemed to be something that was holding me back from going on, and something that was stopping me from returning.

Then a horrible thought occurred to me: was I in a coma? Was my family crouching at my side in St. Mungo’s, crying? The thought sent shivers down my spine. And my Luna! Would she know I was thinking of her, sending my love to her from wherever I was? I dearly hoped so, for Luna was my world, my whole world.

As my thoughts turned to Luna’s childhood, I felt a peculiar feeling in my left arm, and I could feel the wand in my hand humming slightly. I grasped it tighter, and colour seemed to spill from the tip, the picture beyond the branches growing slightly less bright, and a picture was forming ever so slowly. Was I imagining it? Probably, for who knew what was real in this place?

I pushed aside the branches with my free right hand, and I saw that the picture beyond the tree was filling the white space that had once been there. It was gradually coming into focus, and I saw that it was raining beyond the tree. It was Africa, I knew, because I recognised the types of trees that I could see through the rain. They were the types of trees that I had climbed on that one trip there, the trip where I had picked fruit and ate it whilst I sat in it’s branches. I smiled as I remembered the sweet taste of the fruit on my tongue, and I felt a small tear roll down my cheek as I reflected upon my life.

I then decided that the orange tree was a living thing, so that must mean that I am not completely dead. You see, as I remembered the taste of fruit, a small, plump orange formed on the branch in front of me. I waved the wand and the peel slid off the orange. At the same time, the African scenery faded into whiteness again. Sighing, I tore a segment off the orange and popped it in my mouth, savouring the juices as they swirled around my mouth. Oranges were my all-time favourite fruit, I decided at that moment, and slowly ate the orange, segment by segment, until there was none left.

What an unexpected delight, I reflected. The familiar taste of the fruit made me feel terribly homesick. Was I being missed back home? I’d never really thought about my life, not properly. I’d been happy with an anonymous existence, not being anybody worth noting. What had I contributed to the world? All I had was my family and my work. And now I had nothing; all I had cared about was gone and I was alone, my only company an orange tree.

I felt more tears fall, and my vision went blurry, dimming some of the eternal whiteness that was my surroundings. It was eerily quiet, with only my thoughts to comfort me. The whiteness was growing dimmer still and had I not wiped my eyes on the back of my hand, I would not have noticed another picture forming there. I tentatively drew back the branches again, and watched as the scene unfolded before me.

It was raining again, but this was not a downpour like the rains of Africa had been. It was a drizzle, a half-arsed attempt at precipitation; I knew that rain well enough to know it was English. I frowned, trying to see further through the curtain of rain. I could see now that it was a graveyard, and I was sure I had seen it before. I willed my memories to help me, to tell me where it was.

As the picture grew more focused I could make out individual headstones, and even some carnations that a loved one had left on an unseeing grave. Carnations; I hated them, above all flowers. They were so frilly and fussy, and not me at all. I preferred the simple things in life. As I leaned forward, the view of the graveyard tilted slightly, and I could see a gaggle of people dressed in black standing around a new headstone. It was funny how it always rained at funerals, wasn't it? It was as though all the sorrows of the world were combined and emptied from above. I used to tell Luna that when it rained it meant that God was crying; what for, I could never tell her, for I didn’t know. I didn’t ever believe in God. Now I didn’t know what I believed.

As the rain relented, I saw that there were two people in the crowd of mourners who were not wearing black; they were wearing purple. And the short one of the two had dirty blonde hair. I gasped as I recognised the hair that was so similar to my own; it was Luna, and it was my funeral.

*

I’d never been to a funeral in my whole life; nobody close to me has died, and I turned down invitations to the funerals of acquaintances, merely because I felt it disrespectful to attend the funeral of somebody I hardly knew. So I found it strangely ironic that the first funeral I attended was my own.

It seemed that the orange tree didn’t limit me to just sitting and watching; when the desire to be near my family grew too great I found myself among the crowd surrounding my grave. I felt inappropriately dressed, wearing just a sun dress. It didn’t matter, however, because no one knew I was there, and the rain passed straight through me. I was therefore not a ghost. That was some relief; at least I wasn’t stuck this way forever.

I’d never actually thought about what happens after you die, and it seems like I still don’t know! The afterlife can’t be eternal loneliness with only an orange tree for company – I know this isn’t it. Am I destined to be an onlooker for the rest of my... death? Suddenly the prospect of solitude looked very daunting.

I watched as my coffin was lowered into the ground, and people started to walk away. A surprising number of people had turned up, and I felt touched that these people were thinking of me and my family. My heart softened when I saw that my parents were laying irises on my grave, and I wished I could have talked to them one more time. Xenophilius and Luna were the last ones to lay flowers, and Luna stayed after Xeno had left.

I stood next to her, and felt tears fall as I saw how vulnerable she looked. She had no umbrella, and her hair hung limply around her face, her purple robes clinging to her fragile frame.

“You’ll catch a cold if you’re not careful,” I said automatically, and then felt another rush of sadness when I remembered she couldn’t hear me.

I watched as Luna smiled sadly and laid a wreath made of the blue flowers I used to plait into her hair down on the muddy ground. She was so strong, my Luna, and it made my heart ache to think that I wouldn’t be a part of her life anymore.

Luna had always believed in the unbelievable, and I wondered if she’d believe that I was with her now. I placed my hand on her shoulder, though I felt nothing. It was like trying to grab thin air, or think of a memory I’d long forgotten. Although we were so close, we couldn’t have been further apart, and it broke my heart.

As she turned to leave, I heard her say “I miss you, Mummy,” in a voice that was quite unlike her usual one. She seemed so much younger than nine years old.

I whispered back, "I miss you too," with every fibre of my being, but I found myself talking to the branches of the orange tree. The orange tree I was forever sitting in.


Chapter 2: The Lady Who Was Not Death
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I suppose you could say there were seasons in the white world. There were no days, no months, no years, but the weather was always changing. Where I sat in the orange tree, the weather never changed, but all around me I could see the effects of seasons. When it was ‘summer’, the white became glaring, and burned my eyes so I was forced to shield myself with the branches and leaves of the orange tree. When it was ‘autumn’ the leaves on the tree turned gold, brown, red, and yellow, and the glare of the white diminished. When it was ‘winter’ there were no leaves on the tree at all, and rain fell. It fell in torrents and lightning would flash across the ground. And when ‘spring’ came, the leaves on the orange tree grew green and lush. Unfortunately, there was no way of predicting when the seasons changed, as they changed when I had glimpses of the living world. The moment of my funeral, the rain had poured all around the orange tree.

One not very special moment, I decided to drop in on my husband. When I say drop in, I mean literally, for after having such a thought when eating my orange I fell from the orange tree and into our house. Our peculiar little house on the hill.

It wasn’t until I saw Xenophilius writing at his desk that it hit me; I missed him much more than I had imagined, and  I found myself gasping for air I did not need.

His back was hunched over, his brow furrowed in concentration, and his quill darting across the page like a pygmy puff in love. The circular living room had always been cluttered; I was not a tidy person by nature, and neither was Xeno. However, it was particularly cluttered at this moment because there were screwed-up pieces of parchment littering every available surface. From experience, I knew this meant he was working on an important piece.

I sat down on the worn sofa, though I could not feel it, and I might as well have been hovering. I breathed in the scent of home. It seemed to calm my pulse, although I knew my heart would never beat again. I spotted the finished sheets of the article pinned up on the ‘finishing wall’ as Luna called it. I can still remember when she named it…

“Mum, what are all the sheets on the wall for?” Luna pointed at the parchment tacked to the circular wall.

“It’s Daddy’s work. That’s the work he’s finished.” I hushed her, for Xeno was still working at his desk.

“So when he’s finished a piece, they go on the finishing wall?”

“That’s right.”

It seemed he was working as hard as ever, for there were at least fifty finished sheets. I moved closer to the wall, and read the editor’s letter.




… 12 November one year ago, my wife died after one of her experiments backfired. I’d like to dedicate this issue to Aurelia, my soul mate. Without her loving support over the last ten years, I wouldn’t be here. I hope that wherever she is now, she’s happy…


I stopped reading there to stop the tears. It had been a year since I’d died… how time flies. Xeno’s words meant more to me than I could say. He had always found it hard to express his feelings, and so those words were very dear to me. He was right; we were soul mates. We had had a relationship that was a perfect balance, our personalities compromising each other. How could I be happy when I was apart from my family? No, I was very far from happy.

I left my house, knowing I would not return.

I yearned for the company of another. I was terribly lonely, and it didn’t look like anything was going to change anytime soon. It was almost cruel how I could walk among my family, but they did not know that I was there and I couldn’t be part of their world.

When I felt my anger becoming unbearable, I found myself yet again staring at the branches of the orange tree. Why was I here? Why hadn’t I gone on to wherever it is that dead people go? Was there something I had done wrong? It seemed so unjust that I could see my loved ones moving on with their lives, whilst I was stuck in a halfway state between life and death. What more could I do?

Again, the rain poured down. Had I been anywhere else, I would have mercifully drowned in the ridiculous amount of water that seemed to come from nowhere. And that’s where I was: nowhere.

I took the wand that the tree had made me and I waved it. I spoke the incantations of any spell I could think of, and nothing worked. I shouted them, and I prayed with all my faith that I could do something, I could do something, anything. Nothing. No reaction, no impact, no magic. No noise, except for the whispering, the whispering of little voices in my head. Great, I thought. Now I’m going crazy.

“Not crazy,” an old voice said behind me, causing me to promptly fall out of my perch. “Just lonely.”

After picking myself up, I searched for the source of the voice. I had thought it an easy job, as the only things around me were the orange tree and the whiteness. I turned on the balls on my feet until I felt a sensation I vaguely recalled as dizziness. Once I stopped spinning, I saw the source of the voice.

She was an old lady, and she was standing boldly next to me. How had I not seen her? It was like one of those… what do you call them? Wrack spurt … were they the ones Luna talked about that sneak up on you? Sadly, I couldn’t remember.

The lady smiled, bearing very white, crooked teeth. She took my hand and we walked into the whiteness. She was about a foot shorter than me. I’ve always been very tall, but I could tell she was short by anybody’s standards.


“Are you death?” I whispered, hoping this kind lady would assist me.

The lady laughed, and her voice tinkled softly in my ears. “Heavens, no!”
I frowned. Not only was she not death, but she was able to walk as fast as I could.

“Then are you dead?” Well, it’s not everyday that I ask that question.

“Yes. And so are you.” The lady slowed her pace, and smiled up at me.

“I know that. Where are we going?” Whoever she was, she didn’t seem to be in any rush to tell me what was going on.

“Home.”

“Home?” I repeated unbelievingly. “I thought you said I was dead.”

“Oh, you are; no one can return to the living. We’re going to the Orchard.” As soon as she uttered the word ‘Orchard’, a horizon ran its way through the middle of the white. And the white faded into trees which grew from the ground, up, twisting their branches into beautiful, natural shapes.

I stopped in my tracks, gaping at the lady. “Who are you?”

The lady’s laughter tinkled again. “That’s not the first question people usually ask me.”

I sighed, understanding that I wasn’t going to find out. “This is the Orchard?”

“Yes, it is. It’s where we come to wait.”

“Wait? Wait for what?”

She grinned broadly at me, and set off walking again. “Until we’re ready!” she called over her shoulder. Before I could stop her to ask more, she had faded into the background and was gone.

I looked around me and panic struck. Could I see my family again when I wasn’t in the orange tree? I didn’t know what else to do, so I walked on until I found a grubby path that led into the trees.

They were the tallest trees I had ever seen. There was no doubt that they were fruit trees, but the trees on either side of the path were giants. They reached up into the sky, and their branches spread out as far as the eye could see. The canopy above my head was dark green, and it created a never-ending tunnel.

I walked on, wondering if there were others that I would meet. I walked on and on, with the trees still stretching out before me and behind me.

Just when I thought I had given up, I heard footsteps to my right. Peering through the trees, I saw the outline of a group of people, about four or five of them. As they came into view, I was shocked to see a child standing with them.

“Hello!” the eldest of the group, an old man, said kindly to me. I said nothing and just smiled weakly. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what was happening to me. I just looked from the elderly man with the walking stick to the child with rosy cheeks.

“Who are you?” I said incredulously.

“We’re from the orange trees!” a young lady with red hair said eagerly. “Do you come from an orange tree?”

I nodded slowly. “What is this place?”

“It’s the Orchard,” a young man with black hair said, who was leaning against a tree trunk. “It’s where we come to wait until we go on.”

“Who was that lady… the one who wasn’t death?” I asked, rubbing my temples. There’s only so much one can take at once.

“That’s Ariana. She’s been here most of her death. She’s the only one who ages,” the old man said, leaning on his stick. “It’s her job to bring people here when they’re ready.”

“What’s your name?” the little girl asked shyly.

“Aurelia Lovegood. Who are you?”

“I’m Beth Noble,” Beth said, her blond curls swaying slightly. She gestured to the old man. “This is Benjamin Noble, my grandson.”

“Jam, if you please,” Jam said, and he pretended to hit Beth in the shins with his walking stick when she laughed.

“And these two are married!” Beth explained with delight, gesturing to the man leaning on the tree  and the pretty lady next to him. I knew before she said the words who they were. I doubted there was anyone in the wizarding world who didn’t know their names. “James and Lily Potter."

Chapter 3: Skeleton Wood
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The white world was no longer white. No, that’s not true. It was stormy weather reflected in the white. Clouds formed shapes behind the misty barrier that was the white world. I saw glimpses of lightning through the branches of the orange trees in the Orchard.

“How long will spring last?” I asked Beth, who was sitting cross-legged on the ground next to me.

She smiled serenely and shook her head, as if she knew some secret that I didn’t. Her blonde curls bounced as she spoke. “It’s not spring for me. I’m enjoying autumn.”

There was something so honest about the girl in front of me that I had no choice but to trust her. It had never occurred to me that what I saw wasn’t what was visible to everyone else. I wondered how a girl so young could be so full of wisdom. It seemed to exude from her very skin.

I stood up, leaving Beth to her thoughts. My eyes found the Potters, who were sitting under a small orange tree. Well, I say small, but this tree was bigger than any other orange tree I’d ever seen. It was just small for the Orchard, and it was not nearly as large as the orange tree in which I had made my home. I joined them where they sat.

'How did Beth die?” I asked quietly, checking that she was out of earshot. James looked slightly abashed by my question. Obviously, newcomers didn’t often ask for details of others’ deaths. Lily’s green eyes flickered over to Beth, who was now being joined by her grandson, Jam. I followed her gaze, and I had to think twice; how could an eight-year-old have a grandson?


“She had cancer,” Lily murmured. I briefly envisioned a lot of crabs swarming the young girl’s body; Luna had been fascinated by astrology a couple of years before I died. Then I remembered that cancer was a Muggle disease, and my heart filled with sorrow. That still didn’t solve the mystery of how she had a grandson at eight years old…

“She was diagnosed shortly after her eighth birthday,” James elaborated, shaking his dark hair out of his blue eyes. “But she lived until her late twenties… it kept recurring. The Muggles haven’t found a cure yet.”

My eyes widened. The poor girl… There were some things in life that would always be there, but the concept still seemed awful. “I take it you’ve had a long time to get to know each other?” I asked cautiously, wondering if they felt the same way about killing time in this miserable place as I did.

 “Beth was here when we died,” Lily said in a hushed voice. “Jam didn’t arrive until recently.” I understood that there was no way of describing time; it was as if time in the white world was at the mercy of time in the living world.

 “Have you seen Skeleton Wood?” James interrupted our conversation.

 My eyes flickered between the pair.  I wondered what kind of place had such a name; what horrors lay in store for me there? Even the name gave me the creeps. I had a terrible fear of skeletons ever since I came across one during my trip to Africa. The thought of the yellowed, brittle bones haunted me in my darkest nightmares. “Where is it?”

 “It’s not far on from the Orchard,” James said, his dark hair falling across his eyes.

 “Ask Beth to take you,” Lily said softly. Beth seemed to be the one we all turned to with questions about the white world; she had been here long enough to know many of the answers that we craved.

 “What is it?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

 James sighed and looked pensive. “It’s hard to describe. You need to see it to understand it.”

 I frowned, and thanked them. Although I didn’t understand, I knew that they were only trying to help me. I needed all the help I could get if I was to adapt to this strange way of being. I looked over to where Beth had been sitting moments before, but she had left the clearing and was walking down the path into the trees.

 “Beth!” I called, barely needing to raise my voice because there was no other sound.

 She turned slowly on the spot and waited for me to join her. “Hello, Aurelia.”

 I paused, then asked, “Can you take me to Skeleton Wood?”

 “Follow me,” she said with one of her smiles and set off along the path again. I studied the orange trees around me as we walked. They made me feel terribly small and insignificant; a feeling I was used to from my school days.

 After about one-hundred steps I noticed that the trees were changing; their trunks were slimming and their bark was getting darker in colour. I looked up and saw that the beautifully green leaves appeared to be shooting back into the branched. The sight was alarmingly eerie.

 “Is it winter?” I whispered. It seemed forbidden to speak loudly.

 Beth looked at me, all the smiles gone from her face and voice. “This is Skeleton Wood.”

 I peered into the wood, wondering what was so different or special about it. It was just a bunch of dead-looking trees; admittedly the white world was now grey, but other than that I saw no change. Beth had stopped walking and I stood by her side; we were waiting. The white world was one big waiting room as if at some point I could just hop on a train and ‘move on’. From what I had seen so far I guessed it wasn’t nearly as simple as that. 

 The whole wood seemed restless; although I couldn’t hear anything I felt like I was being watched. My skin felt prickly and I had goose-bumps up and down my arms. There was definitely something wrong here and it agitate me. I needed to get away; standing here didn’t feel natural.

  “Why are we here?” I asked Beth irritably.

 Beth made no movement but I could see in her eyes that she understood my discomfort.  “There are some things in the world that you can’t avoid,” she said softly. “It helps you accept who you are.”

 My eyes drifted sideways, searching for what was hiding in the trees. “I know who I am; I’m Aurelia. Can I go now?”

 Before Beth could answer I saw them. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end when I looked at them, but I found that I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

 “What are they?” I asked, feeling repulsed.

 “They are souls.”

  I eyed the deformed figures. They could almost be human shaped, except that they were lost and rotten. Grey in colour, they looked like they were made of smoke; they were definitely not solid. “Souls?” My voice caught in my throat and my eyes stung. I still couldn’t tear my eyes away from the sight before me; I felt that if I didn’t watch them they’d simply disappear.

 “They still have living bodies,” Beth said to her feet. She, for some reason, was able to break eye contact with the twisted creatures. “They are neither dead nor alive.”

 “But,” I said in a choked voice,” I thought we are all dead here?”

 Beth shook her head and smiled sadly. “No.”

 “Can’t we help them?” I said desperately.

 “No,” Beth shook her head again, making her golden curls bounce around. They looked so out of place here. “They stay like this until they die.”

  My eyes pricked. “What could do such I thing to a person?”

  “Usually a coma. But there are magical creatures, so I’ve heard, that can render a person soulless. You’d have to talk to Lily and James about that. My knowledge is rather patchy.”

 I shuddered and turned away. Dizziness enveloped me, leaving me feeling sick and ashamed. How could I complain about my own predicament when these things were in a much worse state than I was? At least I was still of sound mind and body.

I returned to the orange trees. The tree trunks stretched up into the sky, seemingly endless. I closed my eyes on this horrible place, this place of death and decay, until the white light crept under my eyelids. When I reopened them, I found myself facing my orange tree. The leaves were delightfully green, as if they were the only living things for miles. Were they even alive? Or was this orange tree condemned to death, just as I was? Did its leaves breathe, did its heart beat? I had no need to breathe, and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. The most simple of reflexes, and it was no longer in my control. I no longer had long, deep breaths to soothe my mind.

I mentally drew a breath and tenderly placed my bare foot on the trunk of the tree. It seemed to distort around my foot, creating a perfect step. I climbed further into the tree, the branches twisting around my body, until I reached the oranges. I hungrily plucked one from its branch and peeled it. After one bite, the sweet juices filled my mouth, and I felt at home. I felt safe.

The leaves rustled and stirred, as if a faint breeze was passing through them; I knew better, of course. No wind had ever passed through this blank world. The only things that passed through it were the dead. The dead and the decayed.
The leaves and branches slowly faded away, leaving a scene to form behind them. As I peered closer, the scene became less blurred, and people-shaped objects began to define themselves against a large scarlet object. Grasping my new wand tightly in my hand, I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again, I found myself standing in the middle of the crowd. Voices danced around me as if they were echoing off some barrier between us, and they seemed strangely distant in my ears; almost as if I were underwater. I looked passed the many heads on my right and saw the Hogwarts Express, its scarlet engine gleaming like a beacon against the dark stone walls behind it. I knew instinctively that this was Luna’s first day of school. I walked through the people around me in my search for my daughter, but I couldn’t see her beautiful blonde hair anywhere on the platform. I eyed the old clock on the wall and I relaxed; it was only ten to eleven, so my family would be sure to arrive soon.

Then I saw her; she was skipping through the barrier between Platform Nine and Platform Ten. My husband followed her, a wistful look framing his face. How much older he looked, I thought sadly. I had forgotten that although my age is at a standstill, life goes on. It has been nearly two years since my death, for Xenophilius, anyway. For me it has seemed like no time at all.

The clock struck eleven and Luna was itching to get on board the train. Excitement shone from her every pore, and she bounced on her heels in excitement. I watched Xeno’s face with longing as he bent down to give our daughter a kiss on her cheek. I almost made to hug her, but I had to remind myself at the last moment that I was dead. No matter how much I wanted to hug Luna so tightly and never let go, her life was moving on, and it was something I could no longer control. Then again, Luna had always been independent, and I’m not sure even if I hadn’t died that I would be able to control her. I didn’t think I wanted to.

I watched her hair sway across her back as she hopped onto the train. I wanted to help her with her trunk when she struggled with it, but she no longer needed me. She was now strong enough to do the tasks she had always depended on me for. This wasn’t supposed to happen now! I thought miserably. She was supposed to be a woman before she no longer needed me; I was supposed to be alive. This premature notion struck me dumb. I had taken for granted things which I no longer had. I wanted my daughter to need me; I wanted to be able to share those moments every mother and daughter has a right to; I wanted to help mould her. How had she grown up so quickly?

I forgot who I was for the time being, and joined Xenophilius where he stood on the platform amongst the other proud parents who were sending their precious children off to Hogwarts for the first time. We waved goodbye to our daughter together as if no time had passed and nothing had changed, even though neither father nor daughter would ever know I was there. A tiny piece of me left on the train with Luna that day; it was a part of me that would always belong to my daughter, and I was happy to see it go.

I can easily say that sending Luna to Hogwarts had made me very proud. I suppose it’s rather unorthodox that one of my happiest memories happened when I was dead. I’ve certainly never heard anyone say that before. Unusual things have always happened to me, and so there should be no reason why unusual things would stop happening to me after I died.

I turned around to find Xenophilius again, just to see his face one more time before I left, but instead saw Lily and James Potter waving their son off. They saw me, and the looks on their faces mirrored my feelings; seeing that it wasn’t hard for just me cheered me up slightly. It was almost as if we were friends.

Friends. Now there’s something I didn’t have many of. I had the select few who saw past my oddness and stuck by me. However, I found it hard to believe that any of them would have understood my situation. Seeing Lily and James standing there on the platform possibly feeling as alone as I was made the world seem brighter. The only difference was that they weren’t alone; they had each other.

The world was indeed brighter, for I was returning to the white world. I closed my eyes so that I could adjust to the whiteness, and soothe my mind. When I opened them again, I saw the orange tree staring back at me as if it were alive. Which was an absurd notion, because nothing in the white world was alive. I studied the leaves, wondering if they had ever been alive; they drooped under my gaze, turning golden and red. Autumn was here.

I plucked another orange off the tree and stepped down. I walked a few paces and when I looked over my shoulder, the orange tree had faded. In its place were roots, and the roots twisted and shot upward, solidifying into tree trunks and sprouting leaves. How could that not be alive? I thought to myself as I crushed a juicy segment in my mouth. I was in no rush, so I ambled amongst the trees as a colourful canopy covered the blank space above them. As far as I remembered, it had been spring before I had visited Platform Nine and Three Quarters. What had happened to summer?

I had always enjoyed summer, and I felt nostalgic that I had missed summer here. I had no idea when the next summer would be; the seasons in the white world were unpredictable and random. They didn’t follow normal rules, and the season differed for each dead person. How could I ever make sense of that? It frustrated me that I couldn’t understand where I was or how it worked. I had spent most of my life working out problems, and now I didn’t have the facilities to discover more. I hated the unknown.

I looked around at the expanse of trees; how big was the Orchard? I had heard Beth talking about the people from the Orange Trees… so I decided that there must be other types of trees. How many people waited here? There were so many questions buzzing around my head, and I knew that some of the questions would never be answered, if indeed there were answers. Some things had no solution. I had to learn to accept that.

The tree trunks thinned, and I came to the clearing where I had first met Beth and her grandson. I saw that Lily and James were already there and I joined them where they sat. None of us mentioned where we had just been; it seemed too private to discuss out loud. Instead I finished my orange whilst I waited for someone to break the silence. It was only in our companionable silence that it occurred to me: Lily and James had been here for a very long time. I had never thought that I’d be in the white world for very long, but what if I never left? Ariana, the lady who was not death, had said we waited in the Orchard until we were ready to move on; what if I was never ready? I had no idea what I was waiting for.

The silence seemed to grow, and I examined a yellow leaf that was on the ground next to me. Although there was no defined time in this world, I knew I couldn’t stand to be alone for much longer. I had contact with the dead here, but it was no match for the bond which that two living people shared. I would never have that again, and as far as I was concerned, I would always be alone.

Chapter 4: Lessons In Forgiveness
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Fate; I had never believe in it. I was always quite content to believe that I was completely in control of my life. Now I wasn’t so sure. If I was in control of my life then how come I was trapped in a prison, trapped with no idea as to how long I’d be here.  Every moment I was forced to face my memories and my dreams of what could have been.
 
  I had always told Luna that you only get out of life what you put into it. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had put into to life to deserve this. I was wasting away my days in this empty holding cell. Having always been an all or nothing kind of person I found it hard to accept I was somewhere in between. How could I accept that I was neither dead nor alive? There was no doubt in my mind that I was dead, but I wanted it to be quick; why avoid the inevitable? The few glimpses I had of the living world were tortuous. I would never dwell amongst them again, and I was left with the resounding fear that I would be here forever.
 
 I tried to return to the living. I walked until I could no longer see the orange tree spread out behind me and I didn’t stop until I found the whitest place in the white world. As I was dying, I looked into the light, as we were all told not to. It was an unspoken rule; don’t look into the light. It stood to reason, then, that the point of death occurred there in the light.  

 My eyes stung as the white glowed around me, illuminating my skin and my hair. I felt blinded but I could still see. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark shape.  

However, when I turned to look at it it disappeared. I looked away and continued to watch it as it came closer. Only when it was a few feet away did I recognised her; it was Ariana, the lady who wasn’t death.  

 I was about to ask her my question, but she beat me to it.  

“No,” she barked, and I caught a glimpse of her pearly white teeth. Why is it that white gives the impression of perfection? All I saw was a lack of colour. The exact thing the white world personified; a lack of life. “You cannot return.” 

 I stared at her face, feeling slightly numb. “Then please,” I begged. “Let me go on.”

 The harshness that I had seen in Ariana’s body softened. “I cannot decide when you will move on. It is out of my hands.” 

 “Who does?” My eyes pleaded for some relief, for any indication of hope. “Where can I find them?” 

 Ariana gave me a small smile. “I understand your pain,” she said softly. “How many others do you think have asked me the same question? My answer is always the same.”
 
 I scanned the old lady’s face; her oddly smooth skin and striking features gave nothing away. It looked as though it was used to guarding secrets. I sighed in frustration. Why did she talk in riddles all the time? “What is the answer?”

   Ariana lifted a spindly hand and pointed at me. “Only you have that power.” She reached out for my shoulder but her elegant hand passed straight through me.
 
 I stepped back, horrified. I wasn’t sure whether it was me or her that wasn’t solid but I knew I needed to get away. I was feeling very uneasy about her presence and goose bumps rose on my arms.
 
 “I want to move on,” I whispered to where the old lady had begun to fade into nothing. “But I can’t.”
 
 “The time will come.” Ariana’s voice echoed around me as if the old lady had simply diffused into the white world.
 
 I frantically searched for the source of the voice, as if it could still answer my questions. I became frustrated when I could see nothing but white, again. 

 “What am I doing here?” I cried, my voice becoming louder. “What should I do?”

 Inwardly I cursed Ariana; I cursed the white world and it’s lack of colour; I cursed all those who were content in this entrapment. Every moment I was forced to face the fact that I was dead and I was alone.
 
 I never sought solitude; solitude usually found me.  Admittedly it had never bothered me whilst I was alive, but now that I had no choice in the matter I could no longer stand my own company. I wasn’t strong enough to cope with the burden of being anymore. I missed skin on skin contact. I longed to feel the cool breeze or the warmth of the sun on my cheeks. I’d even welcome the cold drops of wet rain. Not a light drizzle that tickles your face, but the big drops that leave you soaking to the skin. It used to make me feel alive.

   Closing my eyes, I could imagine the sound of heavy rain. Big, round drops hurtled themselves at the ground, exploding into smaller droplets. Rain symbolised to me a fresh star, as if it washed away any previous mistakes. Washing the slate clean. The heavy scent of after-the-rain was glorious; definitely the best smell in the world.

 Of course I’d never been naïve enough to believe that mistakes could be washed away completely. There are some things one can never forget even if they have been forgiven. I wish my fears could be washed away as easily as the rain washes away. I’d never had any real fears during my life and I was proud that I was not afraid of many things. The white world had instilled a constant nagging terror; was I here forever?

 Fear in itself scared me. Where was my strong inner self who had no fears and only relied on herself? I could trust no one if I couldn’t trust myself. I didn’t know the white world could twist my fears as easily as it twisted common sense.
 
 Luna would have helped me overcome my fears as easily as I had banished hers. She would hold my hand, just as I had held hers, and let the fear just float away. That approach would work now; I could hold no more hands and my fears had nowhere to float to. They were trapped inside my head just as I was trapped in between of life and death.
 
 Xenophilius had always been hopeless at comforting anybody. He meant well and had a compassionate heart but he often struggled to find the right things to stay. Tactfulness wasn’t his strong point; sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth.
 
I realised that I had no hopes for me. I had once hoped to become a successful inventor; I was never given the chance to fulfil my dream. I had hoped to be a successful wife and mother; I failed that when I gave my life up. Why had it not occurred to me to struggle against the white light that had swallowed me up? I could have chosen to look away from the light. I had hoped to make amends with my parents; I had no chance to say sorry for disobeying them now. All I had left was my hope that Luna would grow into a well-rounded and happy woman.
 
 It was as I was thinking such thoughts that I stumbled across a part of the Orchard I had never been to before. I barely noticed the change until the twisted branches of the orange trees, which had sneakily risen from the ground, had been replace with the soft pink of cherry blossom. It seemed obvious to me that these trees blossomed all year round through all the seasons. The trees emitted a pink glow which radiated down from the high canopy above me. Although nothing would ever be able to reach the sky-scraping blossom, it was glowing enough to light the area around me. I had no doubt the trees were ancient and had limitless wisdom. It lifted my spirits to be around such awe-inspiring beauty. I closed my eyes and drank in the pink aura. There was no fruity smell here; it was light and floral as if the scents were dancing on tip-toes around the trees, just waiting for the next chord to play. The scent in itself seemed to please me more than the citrus smell of oranges; my fears seemed calmed. 

 When I opened my eyes again I found myself at Hogwarts. The grounds looked so beautiful, so silent, that it brought tears to my eyes; at the same time it made me want to yell as loud as I could in order to create noise. I needed sound to fill my neglected ears.
 
 As I became accustomed to my surroundings I noticed the birdsong; something I hadn’t heard since before I died. The presence of living organisms nearby made me feel alive again. I could almost feel my blood pulsating around my body, almost feel my lungs inflate as I took a breath. However the thought was tainted by the fact that I knew my heart would never beat again and I would never breather again.
 
 I wondered if any of this was real; I didn’t think I was imagining my visions of the present in the living world but even I, who believed in many obscure thing, like love, couldn’t deny that life after death just wasn’t possible. Anything is possible with magic, I suppose, but we never touched upon the subject of the afterlife when I was at school.
 
Snapping twigs attracted my attention towards the Forbidden Forest. The late morning sunshine would never see every part of the forest floor, making it mysterious even to forces of nature which seemed unstoppable. The slim figure of a young girl was illuminated by the rays of light. No further inspection was needed for I recognised Luna from the way she stood. She couldn’t have been anyone else. I wouldn’t say her posture was perfect, but she stood in such a way that seemed to warn off any threat. In fact, I identified that stature as my own and I shifted uneasily on my feet. My steely expression and closed body language scared people away; most of all, I wanted my daughter to have the friends I never had. She deserves that at least.
 
 I would always feel guilty for leaving her in the living world. She was at the mercy of those who took pity on her. If it was one thing I hated it was pity. I had always been perfectly happy in solitude; until now, that is.
 
 As I watched Luna she seemed to sense that she was being watched. She nervously tucked her hair behind her ears and stood up straight, alert like a rabbit caught in headlights. She looked behind herself, then looked right at where I was standing watching her. My heart rose to my throat; had she seen me? Cautiously, I waved a couple of fingers at her to see if she would react. Luna’s blue eyes narrowed. She raised a delicate hand and for one insane moment I was completely sure that she was going to wave back; then she tucked the hair that had fallen forward back behind her ear.
 
 Disappointment raged inside me. How could I ever have thought that she would see me? I had already acknowledged the fact I was never going to walk amongst the living again, so why was I putting up my hopes every time when I knew they were going to be dashed? It had to stop. There was no point in causing myself anymore misery; being dead was enough. I should take advantage of the position I was in.

 I watched as Luna strolled back up to the castle by herself. Independence should be admired, but I was worried that she was too alone. We all need friends by our sides for the good times and the bad.
 





 
I sat idly in the orange tree, not expecting to see anything at all. I let the smell of oranges swirl around me like gusts of wind, not really bothering to eat the orange in my hand. The dimpled skin tickled my palm and I felt more light-hearted than I had in a long time. If it was inevitable that I was going to stay here until the time came for me to move on then I could at least make myself useful. Two people formed in my mind, and the white world began to swirl and blur. They were two people I had no intention of ever seeing again.
 
 I stepped down from the orange tree into my home. It wasn’t the home I had made with Xenophilius, but the home I had been born into. I knew every nook and cranny, and knew the stories that the walls hid. It lived and breathed my parents.

   They weren’t in, luckily, so I didn’t feel that I was intruding. I hadn’t spoken to them since the day Luna was born. When I married Xeno they disowned me and after I told them I’d had a daughter, their grandchild, they refused to see her. I don’t even know why they objected to Xenophilius so much. He was a pure-blood, so that wasn’t the problem. No doubt my parents had someone else lined up for me. But I only ever loved Xenophilius and I didn’t listen to them. How glad I was of that.
 
 So now I was in their house, tracing the wallpaper with my wraithlike fingers. I couldn’t feel it beneath them, but I knew it so well. I could imagine the feel of the bump where accidentally blasted the wall with my wand. So many unhappy memories. My parents and I had never really gelled. They were posh and uptight, whereas I was free and indifferent. They couldn’t wait to get rid of me. Maybe that was the problem they had with Xeno; he wasn’t taking me away fast enough.
 
 I had forgiven them a long time ago for their behaviour; they were my family and I loved them.
 
 I paused my wall-tracing. I had forgiven them…I loved them. That was something I never acknowledged. I had never thought about them in a fond way. But I had forgiven them and I did still love them… why had it taken me this long to realise that?

 I shivered and climbed the staircase, my feet gliding over the threadbare carpet. I entered my bedroom for the first time in twenty years. To my shock I saw it was exactly the way I had left it; my mother had obviously cleaned it since then, but in essence it was the same. I was so touched that I could only stare at my full bookshelf. All my favourite books were still there, all my notepads. Even my old cauldron was still sat on the desk.
 
 I closed my eyes and waited until I could feel the safe branches of the orange tree beneath me, holding me secure in its stiff embrace. Did this mean my parents had forgiven me after all this time? One good thing had come out of my death, then; we had forgiven each other. 
   

Chapter 5: The Pool Of Reflection
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The rain fell. My eyes grew accustomed to the grey world that had replaced the white, the dull mist covering all that I had previously been able to see. I sat comfortably in the orange tree once more, enjoying the support that the branches gave me. The scent of the oranges was muted, the citrus smell fading into the grey. Besides the negative atmosphere, I felt content. Another season had passed, another collection of feelings. It passed quickly, as though sensing my new found comfort with my surroundings. In fact, it felt like no time at all, and for that I was grateful. I no longer wanted to be miserable, I did not wish to wallow in my misfortune. I accepted that this was it, and I wanted to make the most of what I had.

Through the mist I saw a dark shape, a small, slender figure walking towards me. My heart raced as my eyes assessed the figure; my Luna was gliding towards me, the shadow making no impression on the world around me. She seemed not to be much denser than the grey mist around her, almost like an echo.

Why was she here? I quickly dropped from the orange tree, my bare feet flinching as they hit the cool ground. I approached my young daughter, fear holding me in its cruel palms. I had felt something unsettling in the White world recently, and I had been unsure of what could have caused such a disturbance. This, I thought, was the answer. My daughter was dead.

As I came closer to the shadow, colour ran its way across the shape, defining the young face and dirty blonde hair. This could be no one else but my daughter. It was the way she held herself, how her jaw was slightly defiant. I shivered as the reality of the situation hit me; something was terribly wrong. Just before her face came into view, she turned, allowing me to see only the back of her head. She glided away from me, and I felt inclined to follow. Most dead people here did not glide, or so I had seen. She had a strangely ethereal quality, earning her place in this world.

I looked behind me, seeing the orange tree standing out against the grey horizon. Its old and twisted branches were stiffened at an odd angle, almost as if they were waving goodbye to me. I shuddered and trained my eyes on the shadow of my daughter. Every so often, the dark shadow would show a patch of colour, as parts of her hair were close enough to me to allow me to see her. I tried to catch up with the strange apparition, but she seemed to go as fast as I did; it was like trying to reach the end of the rainbow. I wondered if I'd ever get close to her.

The grey mist gradually faded, the stark white nothingness replacing it. The shadow too became lighter, looking as through the light were passing right through it. She shimmered, as though made of water and my eyes couldn’t leave her figure; I was captivated.

She stopped, and I was able to close the distance between us. As I reached her, her body slowly sank into the ground as she melted. At first I was truly horrified. However, as I watched on, my hand over my mouth, I saw that she was creating a silver puddle. It was similar to unicorn blood, the way it shimmered and glinted as my eyes drank it in. I looked around, but all I saw was white. There was nowhere and nothing else to look at except the strange pool in front of me.

I knew then that the figure had not really been my daughter, my Luna. If it had been, then I knew some sort of horror, panic, or sadness would have overcome me. My time in the White world had taught me to trust my instincts and feelings in a way I had never been able to before. If I did not feel as though my daughter had just melted in front of me, then it had not happened. It was a strange concept; nothing in this world made sense, yet I could trust what I experienced much more than I could in the living world where everything added up. I didn’t feel the need to understand everything, and it was much easier to accept. It was a welcome relief.

I looked into the pool of silvery fluid at my feet and saw my reflection looking back up at me. I had to look twice, for the reflection I saw was not what I remembered looking like. No, I seemed much younger, and I could almost have mistaken myself for my daughter. Realisation struck me, and I knew at once that it wasn’t my daughter who I had been following; it was me. And I looked down fondly on my former self, unable to tear my eyes away. My eyes were the same; dark brown and wide, as though ready to see what life brought me. My eyebrows were the same shade as my hair, a dirty blonde colour that I had always loved. My face, however, was much younger and less weathered. I still had that innocent glow that age removes. And how innocent I had been. In my younger years, I had craved attention and love, always wanting to please those whom I loved. My parents, yes, but also teachers and friends of my parents. I wanted them to dote on me, to praise me, to recognise me for the unique person I was. They greeted me with cries of “how extraordinary!” and “how peculiar!”. I did not know then quite what they had meant by these terms; I thought being different was a blessing. Life had taught me otherwise.

I was always destined to be different, and although while I was alive I hated it, now I knew that it was indeed a good thing. Being normal wasn’t being me, and now when I was being faced with a lonely eternity, I was ever glad that I was me. If I had to spend a hundred years alone, I needed to be comfortable with myself, happy with my own company. And that I always had been.

My younger counterpart gave a shy smile and faded into the silvery pool. I reached out with my left hand and touched the liquid; it was not like water or blood, as I had imagined. It was almost a gas and as I touched it, it flowed over my fingers. A thought ran through my mind and I nearly laughed at how I had not seen it before.

Memories. These were my own, my treasured memories. What else would lead me here in such a manner? It could almost be a metaphorical dream had I been anywhere else. But, I observed, I was in a place full of extraordinary things where anything was possible. Why couldn’t my memory have led me here?

I smiled as I thought about what I had discovered. I had always loved memories, and I had been fortunate enough to have a rather good one, if I did say so myself. It was nice to reflect on things past, and see how they had shaped me as a person. I had always loved to discuss with Xenophilius about how our pasts had made us who we were… he seemed to think it was a load of nonsense (which was slightly hypocritical coming from someone who believed in Nargles). What would I have been like now if I had not been expelled from Hogwarts? I could have been a rich witch, maybe, with the extra tuition I would have had. There were many ‘what if’s, and I took the time as I stared at the silver pool to think about them. What if there weren’t any ‘what if’s? To me it seemed like the most likely solution. Life had to have happened the way it did or else I wouldn’t even be thinking about the same ‘what if’s as I was now, instead thinking about the ‘what if’s of a different me. Was it better not to think at all what could have been, seeing as nothing was going to change the past and there was no point in thinking about it? That, to me, seemed plausible. This was how my ‘life’ was, and that was how it was going to stay. Had it happened any other way I wouldn’t be me.

Sighing, I retreated from the strange pool of reflections, keeping my eye on it as I walked away. Once I had gotten far enough away, the pool gathered together on the ground and rose up, forming my young self once more. I did not follow myself, instead just stood there, watching.

I walked until I reached my orange tree, though I didn’t climb it. I admired its beauty for once, appreciating all that it did for me. Without this tree, I would have no contact with the real world; I would have nothing to hang around for. I assumed, of course, that that was what I was waiting for. Something. And, for now, I was happy to wait for it.

I held out the wand that the tree had made me, and felt the warmth in my body grow as I held it out. My old wand hadn’t fit as perfectly as this one did, and it wasn’t even made of wand wood. With my orange tree wand, the magic seemed to come from within me rather from the wood, and I liked it. It was me who was in control for once, me who was empowering the tool. It wasn’t a means of doing magic, but an aid. And magic was something I missed dearly. Even seeing glimpses of Luna at Hogwarts made me long for my home. I closed my eyes, wanting more than anything to see my lovely daughter. I wanted it to be me who decided to return to the living world, not the orange tree. I was in control.

It worked. It worked. I was delirious with joy as I opened my eyes and saw the gloriousness of my surroundings. Standing in the middle of the Great Hall, I could see all the young witches and wizards around me as they filed in for lunch. On closer inspection, I could see that this was not just any lunch; no, it was Christmas lunch. My mouth nearly watered at the sight of the delicious meal the house elves had prepared. Eating was something I hadn’t done in six years, if my maths was correct. And, yes, I saw, Luna was sitting at the Ravenclaw table with other third years, her little face lit up with Christmas spirit. Oh, how I loved Christmas. And, I saw, Luna loved it too.

She had always loved Christmas day, and I had loved sharing it with her and Xenophilius. It was a time for family and those few close friends we had. A yearly ritual was decorating the Christmas tree to Celestina Warbeck, Xenophilius’s favourite singer. I didn’t really have much time for her myself, but I understood that listening to her at Christmas was tradition. Luna had to decorate the tree herself, or she would make me take all the decorations down so she could start again… I wondered if she got to decorate a tree herself this year. I could imagine her asking Hagrid if she could help decorate. I smiled to myself, fond of these precious memories. Looking at my daughter now, I could almost forget how small and dainty she was as a baby.

A small wave of longing crept up on me as I watched her, and I wished more than anything I could be sharing the joy and happiness with. I wondered if she ever missed me at all, whether she would have wanted with the same feelings as I did that we could be together again. I knew my love for her would never fade, and I’d never forget how special she was. Part of me was scared that she would forget me, forget the moments we shared before I died. Right now, she looked as though she had no cares in the world. I suppose that was what I wanted; I would never want her to be miserable. But the barrier between us made me feel helpless. I so wished to be part of her life once more, and I knew it was hard to accept that that could never happen.

I looked around, searching for Harry so I could tell James and Lily how he was doing. There he was, at the Gryffindor table, surrounded by all his friends. Their excited chatter filled the hall, and it was infectious. I didn’t bother fighting the urge to laugh long and hard, an unadulterated laugh that was rarely heard coming from my lips. There was no one here who could see me, and I felt free. As I laughed, Hogwarts faded until it became white. Still I laughed, and tears fell from my eyes and down my cheeks. I had not felt so happy in a long time. It boosted my energy, making me want to skip as far as I could and cry out in joy. Such feelings were not ones I expected in death. Where my tears fell on the white ground the orange tree grew, twisting and stretching until it reached its full height. The fresh smell of oranges and cinnamon filled the air around me, reminding me of the scent of Christmas. It blossomed all around me, reborn and more beautiful than I had ever seen it.






“Why did you laugh, Aurelia?” Beth asked me much later as I relayed my experience with her.

I thought for a moment before answering her. “Life is such a wonderful thing. And I had only just realised it!”

I saw Beth grin in response to my epiphany. Then she too began to laugh along with me, as though the joy of life had filled her once again.

Chapter 6: Dead Or Alive
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Chapter 6 - Dead Or Alive

The ground shook.

It was not something I could see, but I could feel it shaking under the soles of my feet. A deep rumbling sound filled the world around me, like an earthquake. Of course, it wasn’t an earthquake; this wasn’t Earth. Nevertheless, the world quaked.

I was sitting at the base of an orange tree in the Orchard, my back pressed against the smooth trunk. Above me, the golden leaves and twisted branches swayed as the world vibrated. My eyes found my companions, who all looked equally bemused. James and Lily had been deep in murmured conversation, but now they looked around, their eyes searching the world around them for the source of the commotion. To my left, Beth and Jam stood hand in hand, and I wondered how we all knew that something was drastically wrong. An ‘earthquake’ shouldn’t have been something unusual, not in a world where nothing made sense and no rules were obeyed. Even so, a sense of dread filled the pit of my stomach and goose pimples rose on my arms.

“What’s happening?” Lily asked, her voice almost lost in the sound of the world shaking. Her green eyes were wide, her expression anxious. The five of us huddled closer, our fears mingling.

“Something is very wrong,” Beth said, her small voice sounding fragile.

I leant on the trunk of the nearest tree for support. When my hand touched it, the smell of oranges filled the air around me, the sweet scents making me feel nauseous. Visions of my latest encounters with the living world filled my mind, haunting me.

It was how I knew my Luna was in danger; I had seen her with my own eyes, fighting the establishment. Part of me felt proud that my daughter was actively fighting the system. It was something I had thought should happen, yet I had never had the courage to do it. An oddball couldn’t fight a battle on her own. Yet my daughter, my extraordinary Luna, was fighting the oppressors like a true hero. James, Lily and I had discussed at length the return of Voldemort. It was something that plagued our minds, and it seemed that recently more so than ever we were connected with the living world. We were drawn to it as though being pulled through quicksand. I often didn’t have the choice to resist, the orange tree controlling more than it ever had. I had been watching helplessly as my Luna and James and Lily’s Harry built up their defences. I knew that eventually the time would come; I had never thought it would be so soon.

As the rumbling sound increased, I covered my ears with my hands and shut my eyes, blocking out the sound and the noise. Around me, leaves started to fall to the ground. When I opened my eyes again, the white world was covered in orange, red, and yellow leaves. The trees around us became bare, and when I looked up I could see the white sky far, far above us.

“It’s You-Know-Who!” I cried above the rumbling. “He’s changing us!”

James laid a comforting hand on my arm. “It’s not him, Aurelia. It can’t be. With his fractured soul, he can never touch us here. This world is too pure.”

I nodded shakily, but I still didn’t understand. What if he came to Skeleton Wood? That place was certainly not pure. I shuddered at the thought and looked around me. I could see the trees visibly shaking, their branches swaying jerkily. Fear filled me, bringing tears to my eyes. There was so much about this world that I did not understand; how could I possibly be placated? Although James was sure that he couldn’t strike the white world, I could never be sure we were safe. I already knew that my afterlife differed from those who waited with me; what if only I was vulnerable? And what of my Luna? She was in much worse danger than I was… I could never move on until I knew she was safe. And for that, He Who Must Not Be Named would have to be banished from all worlds.

As quick as a bolt of lightening, white noise filled my ears, causing me to double over. My ears throbbed, my eyes watered. Momentarily, I was blinded as the noise echoed around the world outside me, too. It pierced me, my skin becoming red hot. It seemed to be pulsing, coming in waves of high-pitched noise. I gritted my teeth, unable to bear the noise for much longer. White light burned the insides of my eyelids, making me stagger. I tripped and fell through something cool and soft, like silk.

As soon as I lost contact with the veil of silk, the noise ceased, my ears now ringing from the lack of noise. I opened my eyes and stood up. We were standing by a stone archway that was raised on a small platform in the middle of dark room. It seemed as though it would fall down at any moment, and I was amazed through my fear that it was still upright. From the archway, a black veil was hung, and as I reached out for it, I realised it was silky. There was no breeze in the room, much like the white world, but the veil fluttered slightly. It was clear that I had just fallen through it.

I couldn’t see the roof, and it was almost as if the room opened out onto the night sky, except there were no stars. Steep stone steps rose up all around me, reminding me of an amphitheatre though it was rectangular in shape. I looked behind me and saw Lily and James standing together, hand in hand. They both had the same expression on their faces: one of fear. I had never been anywhere like this place before, and that immediately worried me. Although I had coveted the unknown and mysterious when I was alive, this place had an overwhelming atmosphere of death. It was like no living place I had ever been, yet it did not seem as though it was part of the white world.

“Where-” Lily began, but James hushed her, putting his fingers to his lips. I knew immediately why he had shushed her; I heard a door open somewhere nearby.

I spun around, searching for the source of the noise. My eyes looked up, seeing light spilling out of door-shaped hole at the top of the stone steps. Voices carried down to the bottom of the pit where the three of us stood. The voices approached us slowly, cautiously, until they reached the platform where we stood. It was then that I saw her.
My Luna, my beloved daughter. She was hanging to the back of a group of about five or six, her eyes trained on the archway. My heart thudded, panic settling in my stomach. None of us, dead or alive, should be in this room, I knew that for sure. It was not natural. My eyes drank in all of my daughter, her appearance scaring me even more. She looked dishevelled, hurt, fearful.

I looked away briefly, my eyes falling on Harry, who was looking at the archway with an enraptured look on his face.

“What’s happening?” I murmured, my voice carrying across the platform easily to where Lily and James were standing, entranced as their son moved closer, only an arm’s breadth away. We were standing on opposite sides of the veil, our worlds separated by that silky curtain. I reached out for it, my hand connecting with the material, making it flutter slightly.

Those who accompanied Luna and Harry did not have the same looks on their faces as their friends did. Their eyes darted about, panicked, not fully understanding the veil’s effect.

“Luna?” I called, and I saw her stare at the veil with such longing that it nearly broke my heart. When Lily and James saw how Luna reacted to my voice, they, too, called for their child.

“Who’s talking?” Harry said loudly, a frown forming on his face. “Someone’s whispering behind there.”

My heart raced. He could hear us. Lily and James called again, louder. The veil fluttered again as we breathed into it. I called for my daughter, praying that she would hear me, that she would know I was there. I had longed for so long for any kind of contact with my daughter, just watching her never being enough. To think she might be able to hear my voice again, to have that contact brought tears to my eyes. “Luna!”
Harry’s friends exchanged worried and confused glances, as though he had gone mad.

“I can hear them too,” I heard Luna murmur, as she moved closer to the veil, her eyes fixed on it. She was so close, close enough to touch through the veil. “There are people in there.”

The tears fell from my eyes, flowing down my cheeks and dripping onto the stone by my feet. I cried her name again and again as she gazed into the veil with such longing.
I wept bitterly as they dragged themselves away, sure that they were going somewhere far more dangerous than where life and death met.

“They’re gone,” I whispered into the veil, feeling Lily and James’s mutual devastation as our children left the room. “They’re gone.”

With all my heart I wanted to run after them, to join them, to drag them back. But my feet were rooted to the ground, rendering me unable to move at all. I was helpless, just a witness to the world around me, passing through but never leaving an impression.

The darkness around us began to fade as white filled the space.

“No!” I cried, not wanting to leave the veil in case they came back, wanting to spend the rest of my death waiting for Luna there. I didn’t ever want to return to the white world, the lifeless world.

We didn’t, however, return to the white world. The white became brighter and brighter, blinding my eyes once again. I shut my eyes as tight as they would go, but the white still seeped through my eyelids. White noise filled my ears, and I screamed, the pain overcoming me. What was I doing here? This death was worse than any sorrow in the living world. Why was I being tortured so?

My eyes snapped open, the blinding light fading as I did so. James and Lily stood before me in the white world, looking at a stone archway identical to the one in that dark amphitheatre. This one, however, could have been built that moment it was so new. The stone was smooth and clean, the veil hanging straight. As my eyes fixed on it, it began to flutter violently, swinging backwards and forwards. The whiteness around the archway began to glow, the light pulsing as a body fell through the veil from nothing.

A man lay on the ground, as cold and still as the archway which he had fallen through. His eyes were shut, his mouth fixed a smile. Lily screamed beside me, and my eyes widened in horror as the truth slowly dawned on me. This man was dead. Stone cold dead. It shouldn’t have terrified me, not when I was also dead; at least I was still conscious. His unruly hair framed his face, making him look almost holy.

“Sirius?” I heard James say from beside me, his voice breaking. He knelt beside him, laying a hand on his rigid arm. “Can you hear me?”

My hand covered my mouth, trying to stifle the horror that came from deep within me. As I saw Lily’s ashen face beside me, I realised that she was about to fall. My shaking arm gripped her shoulders, allowing her to lean against me as she sobbed.

I tore my eyes from the body, looking instead for the pristine archway. I saw with disbelief that it was gone. I nearly screamed at the disordered way in which the white world worked. Nothing made sense, nothing obeyed any rules. When I looked back again, I saw the old lady standing beside the body, her serene face smiling. She reached down, her smooth hands touching Sirius’s chest. James stood back, his face perplexed. I watched as Ariana held her hands over the place where the man’s heart was, and to my horror I saw him fading. It was almost as if he was a Patronus, made of silvery light. He slowly floated apart, his silvery essence spreading into the white world around us. It was the first time I had felt a breeze of any kind in this afterlife, and I knew it was the particles of the man that was creating it. Ariana bowed her head, her smile still fixed upon her face, and she herself disappeared.

I shuddered, my heart resuming its calm pace. I had never been so close to death as I had in that moment, and it scared me more than anything. Time did not pass in the real sense of the word, but my death was slowly spiralling towards the end, my moments numbered. I could not wait around forever, sitting in my orange tree.






Disclaimer: the dialogue spoken by Harry and Luna in this chapter is taken from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 34, page 683, British Edition. Property of the awesome JK Rowling


Chapter 7: Sense Deception
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An eerie silence descended across the white world. Of course, it had never been a noisy place to start with, but nonetheless I felt the presence of hush like dew clung to grass. Something odd was certainly happening in the aftermath of the events at the Ministry of Magic. Strangely enough, I could see Death crawling closer. I knew I was already dead, in a sense, but something ethereal and ominous was coming ever closer and it scared me. I heard it in the non-wind, I could taste it in the oranges. I was starting to die, very much alone and still the question of what I was doing in the white world remained omnipresent. Nothing pointed me in the direction of a purpose, no spell told me of the path I was to follow. I drifted past the life I could have had and floated in the nothingness I belonged to now. This existence had lost all meaning and there was no way I could see of giving it any.

What I just couldn’t fathom was where I was. It made no logical sense, and whilst that had never bothered me during my lifetime, it was something that nagged at the back of my mind. Was I above or below the horizon? When the sun rose, was I part of the daylight or the darkness that preceded it? Nowhere on Earth was as white as this place. Even the Orchard was white; although the fruit trees tried to mask it, the whiteness remained in my heart, in my eyes. The trees almost glowed, their leaves almost blurry.

I lived my life through experiments, for searching for the unknown. Never in all my plans and dreams had I thought I’d find the place where it all came from. But I doubted I’d ever find the answers to my questions here. There was this overwhelming feeling that the white world was hiding something, guarding a secret I was never destined to find out. I’d found the end of the rainbow, only to discover that there was no pot of gold. It was all still as much of a mystery as it had ever been. Was there even an answer to my questions? Was I just never meant to know?

I stared through the whiteness, looking past my orange tree. It’s branches framed my view, the gnarled and twisted fingers caressing the corners of my eyes. There was nothing beyond it, even though I could feel that there was something there. The unanswered questions weighed down heavily in my mind; why was I still here? It all seemed so pointless, so completely devoid of common sense. The white world held its breath, sucking in any possible chance of discovery and I waited for it to come bursting out, for the truth to tumble out; but nothing happened.

I felt a warm hand squeeze my own and I looked around to greet my companion. As her auburn hair came into my line of sight, the white world filled with orange trees, the trunks shot up from the ground as though someone had cast a Growth Charm on their roots. The Orchard swelled, seeming as if once again it was inhaling deeply; I could almost hear how the trees took in breaths, the non-existent air being drawn in. I wanted to forget my common sense and believe we’d breathe again. A reflex action was all I had left, normal everyday habits redundant. It was the little things like that which bothered me. So many things that I had taken for granted. It was one thing I wished I could pass on to the living. Every day on Earth could be their last day, young or old. There were no rules for Death, it could take you with a swipe of its cold hand or slowly drag you towards its grasp; either way, you couldn’t do a thing until it was much too late.

I could smell the scent of oranges on Lily’s hair, the soft citrus smell wafting slowly through my senses; I couldn’t just smell it, I could feel it too. It tingled against my skin, making it slightly damp. I shivered. Lily drew an arm around me, though it felt closer than any hand I had felt before. It drifted under my skin and into me. Her closeness startled me.

“How can you touch me?” I whispered, not moving an inch. It was the first human contact I had had, she did not pass straight through me like others had done before. She almost became part of me, joined to me. She chuckled softly.

“Don’t you ever get tired of asking questions?” She shook her head, sending spirals of citrus sent towards me. “Maybe there are some questions that don’t have an answer.”

“There’s an answer for everything out there somewhere.” I closed my eyes, blocking out the Orchard; its endless torment of unanswered questions staining the insides of my eyelids. “What would I have to live for if I could never find the answers?”

“Whatever the rest of us are living for. Or dying for.” Lily shrugged. “I expected to find the meaning of life in death. But I’m none the wiser now than I was before. I just don’t think we’re meant to know.”

“Sounds like my worst nightmare,” I said sadly, feeling almost sorry for the woman without hope. Without the quest for knowledge, I was nothing. I understood, though, that not everyone felt the thirst that I did, that drive which compelled me to solve mysteries.

We stood quietly for a moment, reflecting on our differences. I felt, though, that we had a connection, that we were akin in some manner. I couldn’t explain it, but she made me feel at peace, feel complete.

“Soulmates,” Lily said under her breath, her grip under my skin tightening. “That’s what we are.”

“I thought James was your soulmate?” I said quizzically, my eyebrows knitting.

“Nobody said we had to find our soulmates on Earth, Aurelia. Open your mind a little.”

I opened my mind to her. It took no effort, it took no energy. As soon as she said it, I felt my thoughts drain from my head; my thoughts became her thoughts, her thoughts became mine. Our dreams were shared, our hopes conjoined. A cool breeze rattled around the inside of my head, a free space ready to be filled with more thought. I had opened my mind; she had helped me.

I opened my eyes when I felt the feeling fade, finding that she had left me alone again. My back felt cool where her arm had left me and the world was quiet. I looked up at the Orchard’s canopy, the leaves turning from gold to green before my eyes, the colour slowly leaking into each leaf one by one. I watched the leaf closest to me as it grazed the top of my arm. The colour continued to leak, spilling onto my arm and spreading across my skin like green cream. It was silky to the touch, cool and smooth and it licked its way across my body as I slowly turned green.

It reached my neck, my body now covered in goose bumps, and burst from my skin, the colour falling to the ground onto the whiteness beneath my bare feet. Colour quickly drained from my body, covering the ground like waves and dyeing it green. Grass shot up from where the colour touched the white. Above me, the trees were bare and skeletal, the colour and life drawn from them.

Something was wrong; I couldn’t place the feeling I had, but I knew that leafs did not lose their colour in such a way. It was an inherent feeling, the knowledge that whatever had just happened was bad. It was almost like a disease, sweeping through the Orchard and destroying the trees which everyone of us clung to. Without them, our memories would fall apart; our past, present and future dissolved into the whiteness around us.

One foot in front of the other, I carefully made my way down the grassy path, the lush greenery tickling the soles of me feet. I felt strangely calm and, as always, curious. I had gone all my life without making the discovery I dreamt of, without taking one step further than anyone else. But now… I knew I could solve this. I knew we, the people from the orange trees, could solve it. I looked up through the naked branches of the trees, staring into the white sky. It was so empty, yet it gave me the feeling that there really was something out there watching, something that knew the answers. I quickened my steps, heading into the heart of the Orchard where the light was less bright.

The green followed my footsteps, never reaching ahead or lagging behind. Wherever my feet touched turned green, the whiteness behind me fading completely. I approached James, his back rigid against a tree trunk which stretched up far into the sky.

“What’s happening to you?” He quickly got to his feet, shaking his hair out of his eyes. I could almost call the look on his face concern; it touched me.

“I don’t know,” I said softly, looking down at my green feet, the colour of fresh spring leaves. “It follows my footsteps. I don’t know how to stop it.”

“Have you noticed the trees have lost all their leaves, already?” He gestured to the bare canopy above us, how the branches and twigs tangled into each other like a wooden bridge.

“It’s like that for you too?” I looked around, looking for anything else out of place. Apart from the green beneath my feet and the dead-looking trees, nothing seemed out of the ordinary; not for this world, anyway. “I wonder what-”

James and I both looked up at the same time, our heads jolting around to look in the same direction. My eyes widened in horror as I realised what I was seeing. I had not just been followed by the growth of grass; James and I were no longer alone.

Slowly, very slowly, drifting along the green path were some oddly deformed shapes. There were hundreds of them, all forming a dark mass as they gradually floated closer. Not more than twenty feet away, I could make out the ashen and twisted faces of the souls of Skeleton Wood. Their smoky consistency meant that I could see through each one into the rotten, lost face of the others. A jumbled mass of despair and distress. And they were reaching our their wasted hands for me.

“How did they leave Skeleton Wood?” I murmured to James, who stood close enough for me to touch, had it been possible. I could feel his agitation grow stronger as we stood watching them.

“How should I know,” he said edgily, his eyes transfixed. “Let’s just get out of here.”

I did not ask how he planned to escape from the afterlife. I asked nothing. I just wondered as they steadily drifted closer if we should help them, stop them. There was something not right and I yearned to understand. I couldn’t walk away from an unsolved mystery.

“Come on,” James said through gritted teeth. He tried to grab my hand and drag me away, but he passed straight through me like sand through fingers. It was enough to break the spell that engulfed me and I finally saw what was in front of me, just over ten feet away.

“Let’s go,” I said decisively and I turned swiftly in the other direction, James walking beside me. I looked down, watching as the green path formed under my toes, watching as I created a path that lead the souls directly to me.

An eerie silence hung in the air moments before a shrill piercing sound shattered it.

“Run!” James yelled. I didn’t need telling twice. I lifted my dress up a little and ran as fast as I could away from the shadowy souls, trying desperately to outrun the pathway I created under my feet. It was hopeless, it was pointed. I couldn’t outrun myself.

Above me, the branches started to fall. They crumbled and disintegrated on their way to the ground, leaving an ashy residue on the grass. I held my hands over my head, protecting my eyes from the dusty rain. Drops of water fell with the ash, falling onto my skin and onto the grass. I tried to breathe deeper, quicker, but it did me little good. I could smell the ash, smell the woody scent from the trees. On top of that, there was a pungent smell of oranges that burst from the water droplets. They had come from inside the trees themselves, from their roots. The juice was their elixir, was my hope.

I looked behind me to see an astonishing sight; the trees were growing back. I slowed my steps, calling to James to stop. We stared in amazement as stems shot up from where the orange rain collided with the ash. Slowly they grew, little forms of life that shot up from death and those orange droplets. They swelled, turning darker as their trunks changed from green to brown. They aged before our eyes, in a timescale that did not correspond with our own. I felt as though I was frozen in time, that we were all just waiting for the trees to grow. They shot towards the sky as one, branches and leaves developing as they were lifted higher and higher.

The souls could not pass through the regenerated trees. They tried, their wispy forms surging forward only to be thrown back again. A wailing sound came from them; pain and suffering were contained in their lost voices.

Pity rose within me; I couldn’t understand now why we had run away from them. They were people just as James and I were. It was not their fault they had ended up trapped in the cruel form of a demented soul. I had run away from these people in need, I had turned my back on them. I took a step into the freshly formed orchard in front of me. James, who lingered on the clean, white ground behind me, coughed.

“Come on,” he said softly. “There’s nothing we can do for them.”

I shook my head, trying to stop tears forming in my eyes. Each of those helpless souls on the other side of the trees had a face, they had memories. They had families, just like I did. What was I stuck here for if it wasn’t to help creatures like these.

The trees creaked, as though the strain of all the souls trying to get through was too much. I swallowed my concern, fear once again overwhelming me.

“We should go and warn the others,” I said sadly, turning my back on the souls once again.

I hated myself for it. I hated how I could just walk away from all the terrors of this world, all the despair and hurt and be unchanged. I struggled to find any purpose in this world. How was I expected to remain here if there was no reason?

James smiled sadly at me and I knew he felt it too. There was such a sadness in the white world. After a while, it became a part of you as much as you were a part of it.

Chapter 8: A Silent Salvation
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A dry mist descended on the Orchard, a low cloud that obscured the ground beneath us. The five of us sat close together at the base of an orange tree. Our bodies were hidden below the waist by the cool shroud of mist. I did not shiver at all; I was accustomed to the cloud.

We had not talked for a while now, each of us lost in our own thoughts. We sat in a circle, cross-legged and hands hidden by the mist. Occasionally, we would make eye contact with each other only to look away. I felt like we were all waiting for something we couldn’t name, the calm before the storm. I wondered idly if the others could hear them; the souls that unrelentingly tried to break through the barrier of the Orchard’s trees. A prickling feeling on the back of my exposed neck reminded me of their presence, as if I could forget. The silence of the Orchard was eerie at the best of times, but the faint wailing of demented souls chilled me all the more. I didn’t know how long they would continue to drift into the invisible force that kept us safe, but I wasn’t entirely sure it would last forever. After all, nothing else did. Not even the white world was unchanging. The trees grew, they died. The leaves fell from their branches in autumn and flowers burst from their buds in the springtime. A constant cycle of life and death surrounded me, yet I seemed completely separate from it. I had not aged in all the immeasurable years I had been in the white world.

How old would I have been had I lived? It was a strange concept to me now to think of the future. All those plans I had made, all those things I had wanted to do… they were meaningless now. I was a million miles away from home yet I was still there. I’d not yet lost myself in this curious world. Quite remarkable, really. I was often known to lose myself in my questions, in my mind. I used to spend days at a time working on some theory or another, following up a thought that had crossed my mind. It used to drive Xenophilius mad. During those days, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk. Another of my oddities. If I counted my time here in years, I had not slept for nearly a decade. But then again, I did not really know if anything counted here. Another unanswered question.

Lily, sat opposite me, drew her knees up to her chest. This slow yet sudden movement shook me from my thoughts. She seemed slightly grey, white even. Looking around at the others, I saw that they two had taken on a faded appearance. Was is the mist that hung between us? Or was it that the Orchard was slowly sucking the life out of us? There was no way of knowing the answer to that. I smiled briefly at Lily before yawning breathlessly. The silence was beginning to irritate me. Wanting to break it, shatter it, I considered shouting, screaming or even singing; that would have shattered most things.

“I’m tired of waiting,” Beth sighed when my gaze met hers. Her normally shiny, bouncy hair seemed lacklustre to my eyes.

“We’ve all been waiting a long time,” Jam said without looking up. His gravely voice broke the silence for a moment. It broke the deceptive calm around us, and the illusion of safety that had descended upon us. We all looked up, our eyes meeting and thoughts exchanged in mere glances. We had all indeed been waiting a long time, but my complaints seemed minimal compared to how long Beth had been here. Even Lily and James had been here the equivalent of ten years longer than I.

From what I could gather, none of us had found anyone else here. Our confinement was our orange trees, and although we saw glimpses of other trees we never saw their inhabitants. It was puzzling why the five of us had been placed together. There was no common denominator that linked us, nothing I could put my finger on that indicated similarities. The others came in pairs, it seemed. I was alone. I had not brought or found anyone here. I didn’t even know if I was supposed to.

James stood up, towering above our peaceful circle, his feet obscured by the mist. His features paled as he reached his full height, a thin sheet of mist crawling up his body and wrapping around him. He tried to brush it off with jerky hand movements, but the mist rose up again nevertheless. Stepping around the circle, he peered into the distance in the direction of the souls.

I noticed, then that the sound had stopped. A tinny silence remained in the absence of the scratchy voices. Had I been able to breathe, I was sure the sound would have echoed loudly in the Orchard; it seemed like even the slightest of noises could have shattered our eardrums.

I hated silence. I never used to, not when I was a child. Back then I would have appreciated the peace and quiet. No noise meant no company, and that suited me just fine. But now it drove me to the edge of insanity. It was an empty noise; I needed to fill it. The lack of sound meant lack of life and that was something that was beginning to haunt me. I cursed myself for not appreciating what I had had in life that was missing in death. Human nature was a wonderful and terrible thing. Why was it my own was so easily changed? I felt like I was nothing like who I was during my lifetime; I no longer craved solitude and I appreciated the company of those in a similar situation. Maybe it was that I could relate to them. I’d never really found another person quite as strange as me at home, other than Luna, of course. She and I were quite alike, even in her younger years. There was something so gratifying in seeing some of my own traits in my daughter. I felt like I wasn’t completely gone from the living world. Her curiosity was proof that I once existed. I would not be completely forgotten, at least.

I watched James warily as he slowly walked closer to the edge of the Orchard. Looking around at my companions, I could see they were watching him with apprehension too. We seemed to be holding our non-existent breath as step after step James edged closer to the souls. The silence remained, filling the air in the claustrophobic way it was prone to. I could feel it settle on my skin, in my hair, in my heart.

“There’s something coming!” James whispered, but the silence was so great that his voice carried easily. “Come and see.”

I shifted nervously. Going to see what was coming out of the cluster of souls did not seem very appealing at all. The white world had become so horribly unpredictable that I just wanted to run. Trying to fathom the mystery of the unknown did not hold any importance with me compared to the peril of the demented souls. Every noise they made felt like I’d swallowed a rusty nail, like I’d stepped into a bath of ice.

Reluctantly, the rest of us joined him. We stood beneath the lush canopy of the Orchard, which was only slightly obscured by mist, and stared at the sight before us. The souls, ever persistent, drifted into the invisible barrier about a foot away from where we were standing. Their dark shadows blocked out a lot of the whiteness that came from outside of the Orchard, except for a tall, white shape in the middle.

Glowing, its light reached us even though it came from the other side of the crowd of souls. They did not notice the source of the energy even though it seemed to be among them. They just continued slowly drift into the invisible; bouncing off and determinedly trying again, like waves bobbing on a shore. The glowing shape grew brighter still, the shape becoming slightly larger and more defined as it ghosted through the twisted shadows. I squinted and tried to focus on the shape, but my eyes just couldn’t make out what it was.

I took a few steps forward, my bare feet tickled by the icy mist. Holding my hand above my eyes to prevent the glare, I could determine a faint outline. There was a much darker shape at the top of the shape, a sort of cone that reached a glowing peak some feet above the bottom of the shape. This cone was reached above the gaggle of souls as they doggedly, desperately attempted their breakthrough. They became almost transparent as the shape drifted through them, the glowing turning their disfigured bones papery.

I looked sideways at James, who was staring with a look of wonder on his face, his mouth ever so slightly agape. That’s when I saw it; the tiny glimmer of hope as it slowly spread across his features, as it reached his eyes. A smile broke out, the grin reaching his eyes. It was an infectious expression and as I watched him I felt the hope diffusing through me too. I turned my head back towards the white shape as it came closer still, my heart dancing, my hope shooting into the canopy above.

Oh, how fitting it was that the shape should form a figure, that this figure would not only glide towards us but stride. The souls cowered in its wake, they shrank away as it hit the invisible barrier. The white light expanded and cut through the trees around us, a quick searing sound following closely behind. Even before my eyes readjusted to the light, I knew who stood before us. The five of us stood abreast, standing so close to each other that we were touching, we were one. The hope soared through us, it enchanted us as we beamed at the man before us.

“I hope I’m not too late,” Dumbledore said apologetically.

His voice, soft and melodic, drew the hope from us and into the atmosphere, where it hung like clouds. There was something about the post-death Dumbledore that endeared him to our world; his skin was smooth and unblemished, his beard had the texture of cloud, the colour of snow. This man was pure and I knew that he had come to save us all. It was a moment of complete closure; this was what we had been waiting for, this was our salvation. If you asked me to put my finger on how I knew this, I couldn’t possibly explain it; words failed me. But I had never placed my belief in something foolproof. Where was faith in that which we knew? No, I had always praised the mysterious and unlikely; the unknown. Here stood the answer to our prayers, the heart of our hopes; here he stood with a shy smile and a cotton wool beard.

“Now, gather round,” he said serenely, beckoning us to him. “I do not have long. I do not belong with you, I have one task left for you. Stay silent and watch me.”

The hope surged inside me once more as Dumbledore turned his back on us. There were so many questions that were banging against the inside of my skull, yet they refused to break free. Why didn’t he have long? What was this one task? More importantly, how had he died? How had the greatest wizard in the history of magic died? Though his arrival meant hope for the dead, I couldn’t help but wonder about the hopes of the living. Without Dumbledore, who was the great protector? Surely the wizarding world would now descend into chaos. Was my daughter safe?

I shivered as I returned my attention to Dumbledore’s bony back. His robes were thin and a deep purple colour; they could have been bought new that day. The wizard himself did not appear to be wizened and old at all, more fresh and ready. He raised one bold arm up above his head, his palm relaxing into a stop position. I held my breath as I watched the souls stop their actions, as they slowed to less than a whisper. Though their faces were twisted and unreadable, I got the impression that they were either watching him, or waiting for his next move.

He did not move for a moment, making sure he held their complete attention. Then, he raised his other arm and took a step forward. I wondered if he was surrendering, but that did not fit his actions at all. Dumbledore was sending waves of silent offers to those less fortunate; he was giving them an escape. He lowered his right arm, reaching forward to the crowd on the other side of the barrier.

“My right hand offers you the chance of redemption. You may return to your previous lives, unharmed.”

He then offered his left hand to the silent crowed.

“My left hand offers you eternal peace. Leave this place forever, embrace what waits for you on the other side.”

A pause followed his statements, silence still aching in my ears and my eyes watering with anticipation. I did not want to blink, I didn’t want to miss the moment of salvation. I waited another second before Dumbledore’s hands started to glow, the same kind of light that he had arrived with. Another pause as the souls took in the sight of the wizard with glowing hands; then, in the space of three seconds exactly, they split in two and were sucked into Dumbledore’s hands. The silence was the only thing that remained.

That silence remained in the air around us. I could hear my companions let out their breaths, blinking as though they had just emerged from a dark room. Relief washed over me; not only had those poor figures found their salvation, but we had found ours too. The fear left me, the relief so great that I nearly staggered, leaning into a tree to support myself. I felt the need to thank the wizard, thank him for saving us and the souls, for freeing us of the responsibility of the orange trees. It was not written, it was not spoken, but it was undeniably true that we had to protect the Orchard, to preserve the white world. I did not understand it in the slightest, but neither did I ever hope to.

Dumbledore’s hands stopped glowing and he turned towards us with a bashful smile.

“Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a train to intercept.”

He offered us his hands. Together, we trusted him with our deaths and in return he took us to Kings Cross.

Chapter 9: Segmented
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Cool air blew my hair into knots as we slowly descended through the white world. I couldn’t really describe in what direction we were going; it was neither down nor forward, up nor backward. When you crossed between the barriers of life and death there were no laws of gravity. It was true that my body felt weightless, loose and it flowed from finger to toe. I was more aware of my body’s movements; how my legs stretched out beneath me, how my arms were held at a certain angle to my ribs.

Although I could not see anything distinctive, I just let myself enjoy the journey. The six of us, hand in hand, must have looked quite a sight had anyone been able to see us. However, that no longer concerned me. Vanity was not for the dead.

I bathed in the comfortable silence that Dumbledore had brought with him; fears were pointless and anger was fruitless. Our only endeavour was to find that peace within ourselves that we had seen in the souls. It was what we all wanted deep down, what we had each wanted since the moment we died and arrived in the in-between. It wasn’t about what was fair or unjust; we were merely pawns in the greater chessboard of life. I did not pretend or wish to believe that we had any significance in the balance of life and death. We knew what was at stake and the part that Lily and James’ son was to play in this game; even Beth and Jam could understand our anxiety. I still had not worked out how the two of them had found their way into my death, but I didn’t seek the answer. I had confidence that the answers awaited for me across the other side. Death, for me, was life changing.

I was itching to reach our destination; it wasn’t excitement as such, because I did not know what awaited us there. Something niggled deep down and a sense of awe filled me. Where we were going possibly held more answers and prompted more questions and this was what begged for my attention. I looked across at Lily, who stood adjacent to me; her hair was gently fluttering in the strange breeze and she too looked peaceful. We exchanged contented smiles, an understanding that we had nothing to fear anymore.

I supposed it was wrong of me to make such rash presumptions; it was not true to say that we had nothing to fear from death. How could you not fear the unknown, the unexpected. It was this that filled my heart with dread as I felt my hand slipping through Lily’s, her grip slackening. I scrabbled at her fingers, desperately clinging on to her. Eyes wide, I fell behind. I watched helplessly as they faded into the mist.

No longer moving, I had become rooted in the middle of a swirling fog; the kind traditionally associated with the supernatural. Something damp curled around my foot and as I looked down, horrified, at my toes I saw the fog licking its way up my ankle. It felt heavy, as though I was gaining wait ounce by ounce as I stood frozen in the atmosphere. Then, gently, I sank through it. I shivered and shut my eyes tightly, thinking of the solitude and safety of my orange tree. How far away it seemed from me now; it was almost hard to imagine that it was just another part of me. Maybe if I wished for it hard enough, I would find myself back in my tree, back home. Anything was possible there.

I opened my eyes briefly to check if my wish had worked. I was met with a dark room, the light so dim that I could not make out anything further than my nose. The smell of human fear clung to my skin and the atmosphere around me was chilling; each particle was charged with the grief and nightmares known to adult and child alike. My body was captured by shivers as I tried to find my bearings. I held out a clammy hand and reached out in front of me, my palm meeting for a second with a curved, damp wall before it passed through it.

“Lily?” I whispered, my voice catching in my throat at the low tone. I did not dare call any louder; it wasn’t for fear of being heard, for that was impossible. It was the fear that I would not receive a reply. The idea that I was now alone in this room of terror set the hairs on the back of my neck alight. If I made as little sound as possible, I could always find solace in the notion that they simply hadn’t heard me. “James?"

I bit my lip, withdrawing my hand from the wall. The damp ghosted over my hand, my shivers unfaltering as I dried my fingers on my clothes. I took a deep breath, standing up straight as I turned away from the wall to face the darkness. I was not afraid of the dark. It was not something that had ever given me cause to fear. My experiments regularly took me into the realm of the unknown and unpredictable and night was just another thing rife with mystery. I did not find this darkness nearly so intriguing. It was hard not to let the fear seep into my bones as I stood against the black room, frozen with anxiety. Every cell in my body was alert, waiting for the pin to drop and the danger to reveal itself. I heard nothing except for the gentle dripping of water as it slid off the walls.

I walked slowly backwards, my back pressed against the damp of the wall. I didn’t want anyone to sneak up behind me; I did not like surprises of that kind. I think that was true of all humans; they did not welcome bad surprises. Again, it was the fear of the unknown. The reality is never as bad as the imagination paints it to be and worrying is rarely fruitful. Worrying, however, was more preferable to those who had no morals or conscience and chose not to worry about anything. Often, we worried about things that were not under our control.

I remember taking Luna to my parents’ for the first time since her christening; she was about six years old and refused to leave the house. I myself was dreading the visit but I had the wisdom gained with age and I knew that the sooner the visit was over with the better. My daughter cried and cried and hated me for all of two hours. Evil Mummy forcing her to meet these strangers. No consoling words of an adult could calm the fear of a child. Of course, the visit went much better than she or I could have predicted, her tears evaporating when she spotted the freshly backed cake on the kitchen table. My mother never baked for me. Entering that all too familiar kitchen for the first time in years, I appreciated the effort; at least my mother could set our differences aside for the sake of Luna. I only saw my parents twice after that; once by accident and once at my funeral.

Remembering my parents’ efforts that day made me smile ruefully; although I had forgiven myself for not keeping in touch, a small knut of guilt still was saved in my heart. Likewise, I did not blame them for acting the way they did for I was not an easy child to bring up. I was no easier to manage as an adult and it was for this reason that I did not consider the time wasted. It was all very well regretting my choices in life, but there was no doubt a reason for why I made those choices. I wasn’t going to choose a different path without a severe change in my personality. I expected that was why we should never regret the choices we made; that was the way things were and that was how they always would be.

I shivered as I stared into the darkness; it was very hard not to think melancholy thoughts when there was little light. I rested my head on the wall and shut my eyes. If I thought hard enough about her, I could almost hear Luna’s voice, forever lost in the wastelands of time.

“What do you think the weather is like?”

Her voice caught and she coughed. How often it was that she asked me this question as she went to sleep, wondering what the rest of the world would be doing as she drifted into the abyss of sleep. She would ask me to describe strange climates and tell stories of people living in them; the old hag stuck in the sandstorms of the Sahara, the warlock skiing in the Alps, the goblin snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. Such thoughts amused me, but they captured the attention of my dreamy little girl. Once upon a time, I used to dream.

I opened my eyes to the sound of another voice, one much deeper and more hoarse.

“It’s snowing,” he said briefly, his voice weak with fatigue. “It always snows at Christmas.”

“I did at Hogwarts,” she said thoughtfully. “But never at home. I preferred Christmases at home.”

A silence passed between them, during which I crept forward, trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed their quiet voices. Worry began to eat away at me, scared of where I and my daughter were.

“I hate Christmas,” the man said ruefully. “I never had anyone to share it with.”

“You can share this one with me, Mr Ollivander,” she said with a smile. Her voice seemed so full of innocent joy when she smiled; I recognised the tone well enough. This time, however, the tone was marred by thirst and exhaustion. “Christmases are fun to share.”

“That they are,” he conceded. He sighed, then drew a deep breath. “Thank you, my dear.”

I took another step forward, wondering how far they were from me, how close I was. If I reached out my hand, could I touch her? Would I feel her own hand under mine? I doubted such a gesture could bring her any comfort, but it was the least I could do. Mothers were supposed to protect their daughters, but here I had failed. There was no physical thing I could do and no words I could impart. I didn’t even understand where we were.

“Aurelia, you are not supposed to be here.”

Startled, I drew my hand back from mid-air. I would remember that voice for the rest of my consciousness; Ariana’s voice was far too light and airy for the words she spoke.

“Where am I?”

“Somewhere you are not supposed to be.”

I groaned in frustration. “Then where am I supposed to be?”

“What is it with all the questions,” she asked nonchalantly. “It’s all the dead ever say to me. Have they not considered that I cannot tell you the answers?”

I paused, wondering if I would get the chance to hear my daughter’s voice again. “I don’t understand what’s happening to her. Why is she in this horrible room?”

“There will be a time when you have no more questions. This is not that time.” As I awaited a further explanation, I heard the man cough. The indifferent tone in her voice softened and warmed. “Take my hand.”

I could not tell where her hand was, but it seemed that I would not need to ask that question. I flexed my fingers, the tips coming into contact with the old woman’s smooth, soft skin. The dripping of the damp stopped, the smell of fear fading into nothing. Although my eyes were shut, the white light began to seep through my eyelids, forcing me to open them.

I began to shiver, though I did not let go of the woman’s hand. I was not going to let her get away. It was strange, really, because I was not directly holding her hand; it sort of lay through it, our skin not really contacting. My skin remembered the feel of other skin, the weight of another hand and the lines on a palm. I did not have to have any grip on her to ensure she didn’t leave me. I doubted it was my own willpower; no, I had never been that strong willed. Even now, when I desperately wanted to return to that dark room where my daughter was, I could not find the strength to overpower Ariana.

The white light began to fade as we stopped, my bare feet pressing on the surface beneath me. It occurred to me that I could not find a word to describe it; it was like a blank canvas, waiting to be transformed. Looking ahead, I noticed a strange mist was beginning to form shapes. It was not unlike the mist that had surround me earlier, as Dumbledore led us through the lands between life and death.

I turned to face the old woman, whose eyes were fixed on something in the distance, through the mist.

“What’s happening to my Luna?” I demanded, raising my voice in order to attract her attention. “Take me back there, let me go back!”

“No,” she said, her eyes still focused on the blemish on the horizon. “I cant allow that.”

“I want to know what’s happening to my daughter!” I drew my arms around my chest and hugged myself tightly. If I uncrossed my arms, I feared I would try to strike out even though I knew it was impossible to hurt her. “Please.”

“You will see your daughter again,” Ariana said in a soothing tone. “But not yet. Follow me.”

I was loathe do to anything she told me to do after her refusal to cooperate. Part of me understood that going with her meant abandoning my daughter. I couldn’t leave her again, I had already failed to be there too many times. Why couldn’t this lady understand that it was my duty to protect my daughter? It was impossible for me to just step back and let the world go round; my daughter was my world.

The eerie mist swirled at our feast, shapes becoming denser on the horizon ahead. I squinted, trying to work out what they were forming. It wasn’t until the mist had almost become stone that I recognised my surroundings; we were in a train station, one of the most magnificent I had ever had the chance to lay eyes on. The ceiling above me arched and lay beautifully in mid air. The clock on the wall opposite me showed the time to be quarter to eleven. I stared at it a moment too long, watching the second hand tick-tocking, not being able to recall the last time I watched time go by. There was something almost ethereal about the way time passed, how with each passing second another moment was lost forever.

Even as I thought about it, moments were discarded for ever. How many moments like this did humans waste in a lifetime? They had no idea of the value of such a thing, no idea that as they stared their past in the face that they would mourn those passing moments. They would mourn, but never regret. That prospect seemed far too inseparable, but I had learned that subtle difference. To mourn was to acknowledge that that moment was lost for ever, but not to wish the time had been spent any different. The regret lay in the wishing that you had spent the time differently. I would not have spent my time on Earth any differently; I cherished the lingering memories, reminisced on moments spent reminiscing. Remembering who you were was never time wasted.

Still watching the clock, I did not notice the forming of new people; I had assumed the mist had finished its work of creating new figures. I was alerted to their presence by the gasp of Ariana beside me.

“So this is your plan, Albus?” Ariana mumbled. “This is your greater good?”

Turning around, I observed the tall, striking figure of Albus Dumbledore, stood awkwardly in the middle of the platform, mist curling around his ankles. Behind him there were ghostly shadows, each taller than they were wide but yet seeming part of one another.

Dumbledore smiled sadly. “I lost faith in the greater good many years ago.”
My eyes briefly flicked behind the old wizard to the four shadows behind him; they were beginning to become more defined, their hair taking colour and their eyes alighting. Their hands were still joined.

Alone, I stood, between the two wizened adults whose eyes locked and searched inside for the answers to unvoiced questions. One step at a time, they drew closer to each other, gazes never wavering. When they were about an inch away from each other, they stopped, apparently frozen. The shadows became people, who became my companions. Transfixed, they watched the pair isolated in the middle of the platform; I doubted they even noticed our presence.

The intense gaze was broken momentarily by an embrace so desperate that it brought tears to my eyes; years of pain, guilt and grief were released as each gripped the other. It felt strangely indecent for me to be watching this scene of powerful emotion; I was intruding on something painfully private. A dull aching filled my heart, causing the tears to become uncontrollable. They spilled down my cheeks and I did not bother to wipe them away. Raw emotion was a precious thing. I saw it on the faces of my companions, in the long-awaited embrace of the lady who was not death and the old wizard who saved our souls. I longed for such a reunion with my family, for the chance to relieve my grief; to tell them for one last time that I loved them and that I was sorry, sorry for leaving them behind in the abyss of loss. I wanted them to find that small gem of closure.

“I’m sorry,” Dumbledore mumbled clumsily, stepping back from Ariana. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t blame you, Albus,” she whispered, the musical note in her voice fading. “It was never your fault.”

“I’ve made so many mistakes,” he said bashfully, he sentence trailing off into the mist.

“You still have the chance to set it right,” she said, her eyes resuming their contact with his. “You know what you have to do.”

“I know.”

He wiped a stray tear from the corner of his eye and smiled apologetically at us all. “I believe the eleven o’clock is due at any moment.”

He turned towards the clock, the others following suit. I too, found myself refocusing on the clock, the second hand moments away from zero. Those few moments were not ones I wasted or regretted. I terrible and strange thought filled my mind, one that refused to let go or desist. I don’t blame you, Ariana’s voice echoed inside my head. I don’t blame you. It seemed almost impossible that their was guilt without the blame, but clearly forgiveness had wound its way into her old heart. In all her years traversing through the white world, Ariana had found the strength to forgive. I understood forgiveness, I understood letting go, but as I watched the last seconds go by, I realised that I had been trying to forgive the wrong people.

I forgave my parents for their neglect, I forgave Xeno for his spare time in the living, for his contact with our daughter. I forgave Luna for growing up without me. But I had never forgiven myself for leaving her; it was that which I had not realised nor understood. Luna had grown up without blaming me for my untimely death.

I don’t blame you.

If she could forgive me, then I could find that part of my heart that forgave me too.

Chapter 10: Eleven O'clock
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I waited for the chiming of the clock as eleven o’clock came and went, but my ears were met with silence. It was the silence rich with baited breath, the air electric with anticipation. The mist became more dense, the particles slowly sinking to the white platform beneath my feet. Turning my head slightly to my left, I saw that Dumbledore was not among our group.

Close to me, the old lady held her breath, her soft hands slowly caressing each other. The woman with red hair fixed her gaze on a dark spot in the distance, her partner’s hand so close to her own that they were almost touching, though they would not have felt it if they had moved any closer. The young girl with the bouncing ringlets slowly walked away, the old man following closely behind.

Who were we? How had we united in this life when our paths had never crossed during our lifetime? Our fates had intertwined for no reason that I could determine and I wondered if we were destined to wait together. Watching as the dot in the distance grew into a bench and as the silhouette of Dumbledore gradually appeared, I asked why now was the right time. The laws of the white world were not bound by time and it seemed strange that this place should find necessity in it. It was the first place I had seen time in the world in between life and death; was it possible we were in another half place? A place not quite in death but not in life either. The white stretched on into eternity and I was doubtful that I’d ever escape it. Features masked it, colour disguised it, but I knew that the white was always there underneath it somewhere, it’s presence felt if not known.

As I saw that the clock had dissolved into a cloud of vapour, I noticed that neither Beth or Jam were there. Had they left of their own accord, or was it the white world playing tricks again? I did not trust that they had made this decision for themselves. We did not always have control over our decisions, I knew that much to be true. It was arrogant of me to claim that I had had the final say in all of my choices in life. No, often it was the pressure from others that influenced what I did. My parents tried, and I bucked against their will. Had they not tried to change me, I would not have become the person I was today, the reliably odd woman with strange beliefs. That was why I had always loved Xenophilius; he never tried to change who I was.

As I smiled at the thought of Xenophilius, I couldn’t help worry about the well-being of my daughter. How much time had passed since I was by her side in that dark room? The smiled dropped from my face and I turned to face Ariana, who was watching the bench with her eyebrows slightly raised. I followed her gaze, seeing a new figure forming beside the shadow that was Dumbledore. I held my breath, trying to catch a whisper of the conversation. Things that happened in the white world had an impact on all of us, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome of this strange sight would be. I squinted, trying to work out who Dumbledore was conversing with. As I watched, the new figure’s hair grew, locks pointing in all directions. Colour gradually darkened his skin as clothes formed. All the while, the old wizard did not divert his attention.

I threw a glance in the direction of Lily and James, but they were too busy edging forwards to return it. There was something in the way they held themselves that left me transfixed. Hope, possibly, shrouded their faces, raw disbelief causing their feet to spring and stumble closer to the bench. They were gaining distance quickly, and as they reached the pair I understood. I saw what James and Lily saw as they gazed down at their son; their grown-up son who had seen and lost so much, who had found the grace to become the man he was. He faced death without fear, not for a minute was he scared of what awaited him after the white faded. To a certain extent, neither did I. What was there to fear from the unphysical nature of this world; it had no influence over the living and its only power was in death. The worst was over.

It was remarkable the changes that young man had seen, the external forces that warped and distorted his innocence without destroying his good will. An example to us all, I couldn’t help but feel proud of him, just as I knew his parents were. They would have been proud of him no matter what path he chose to follow. Observing the scene, the old man and the boy, the parents and death itself breathing beside them, I knew hope. One boy could save them all and whilst doing so he could save his parents. They deserved the eternity he afforded them. As a smile crept onto my lips, Ariana left my side. I knew what she was about to do but I made no move to stop her. It was neither my place or right to intervene in such matters and the time was right for them.

She reached them, placing a silky hand on each of their shoulders. They turned to her, bittersweet smiles lining their mouths, then to each other in a last gesture. They began to slowly fade into the background, heads turning towards their son for the last time as their hair greyed and whitened, as their midriffs became the bench in front of them and as their feet dropped like invisible grains of sand. The last of Lily and James I saw were their outstretched arms, attempting for the last minute contact with their own flesh and blood. Harry never saw them.

I could not mourn for my companions; there was no sadness to lament, no tragedy to grieve. No part of me saddened as they met their maker. I closed my eyes, breathing in the thick scent of oranges as it exploded from the point of their eternity. There was no fresher scent, no sweeter indulgence than that of citrus fruit. It cleansed my pores, my mind and my soul as I stood with my eyes closed.

Eventually, the smell subsided and I felt the whiteness leave my surroundings. I opened my eyes and observed an empty room, one I recognised instantly from the sheets of paper pinned to the wall to the tapping of the old typewriter in the corner. The curtains closed, the circular room seemed to shrink in the semi-darkness. One lamp was casting a dim glow across the contours of the furniture, their shadows just avoiding my feet. I had not expected to find myself home again, but now I was here I felt loathe to ever leave it again. Turning to face the finishing wall, my hand passed through the pages that were yet to make it to print. I could almost remember the feel of paper and my imagining it was good enough to remind me of how much I missed it.

I spun slowly on my feet until I was facing the room again, my eyes noticing for the first time the form of a woman draped across the sofa. At a half-glance, I almost saw myself before recognising my daughter. Oh, how uncanny our resemblance was. Though the peaceful look that adorned her face was not one that I had worn often as a young woman. She seemed thinner than the last time I saw her. Of course, the dark room where we had last crossed paths had not revealed anything about her appearance. I shivered, remembering the fear the place gave me. I paused in my observation for a moment to wonder what had happened in there. If it was enough to make my skin itch and prick then I didn’t dare imagine how it had been for Luna. But she was safe; her presence in this very room was proof enough for that and my muscles relaxed, my frown ceasing. She had survived without my help or intervention. Eyeing her long legs and fine features, I could see she was a woman now; perhaps her experiences had helped her on that path a little sooner.

The door behind me opened, a beam of light creeping in before being expelled as the door was snapped shut. Xenophilius approached the sofa, casting a wary glance towards our daughter. He had not changed in all the time I had known him; it was comforting that something in my life had resisted the effects of time. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he shook her briefly.

“Luna?” His whisper carried far enough for me to hear it before the whirring of the typewriter engulfed it.

She stirred, shaking her dirty blonde hair out of her eye before propping herself upright. I was almost tempted to straighten out the creases in her nightdress, but I resisted before my hand could rise higher than my elbow. Some motherly instincts were hard to lose.

“I meant to give you this earlier,” he said quietly, sitting beside her on the worn sofa. In his hand he held a small leather box, no larger than the size of his palm. I moved a step closer, leaning in to see what he was giving her. A rueful smile lifted his lips. “It was your mother’s.”

An innocent curiosity enchanted her features, her pale hands gently lifting the box out of his hands. I watched as she opened the lid of the same box I’d kept close ever since my eighteenth birthday, the box that held my most prized possession. Sure enough, her nimble fingers lifted the gold locket from out of its dusty case, the chain slipping between them, the heart trapped in her palm.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, her voice catching. I hoped she wouldn’t cry; if a tear escaped her then I was sure to cry too, it was not something I could control. Undoing the catch, she froze, examining the chain closely. “Oh look,” she said dreamily. “It’s her hair.”

Eyes wide, I stared at the greying strand of hair that she lifted into the light. I felt my own fingers run through my hair, as if checking it was still there. Though the curl in my daughters hand was fragile and grey, my own remained resolutely young and thick. Though I didn’t feel like I had changed at all, like any time had passed, here was the proof. Briefly, I thought of the rest of my body and how time might have affected it. The thought sent shivers down my spine, and I longed for Luna to put down my hair. My eyes welled up as she stared at the strand, unsure as to what to do with it. I understood her dilemma; should she keep the strand on the locket, a dead piece of me, or should she discard the last physical link she had to me? There was nothing else of me I could give her, neither mentally or physically. From ashes I came and to dust I had returned. That strand of hair would soon turn to dust, unattainable by the living. Slowly, she opened the heart and curled the hair into it, shutting it tightly. Then she fixed the locket around her neck, the last piece of my resting just above her heart.

“Thank you,” she said, planting a kiss across her father’s cheek, words thereafter failing them. Neither were wailing in despair, though I felt the sadness that emanated from ever mention of me. There was no regret, no blame, no irreparable grieving. I was an accepted part of their lives that, although long dead, would live on in their remembrance and love. It was surreal how I could feel my own presence in the room; I didn’t know if it was in their words, in my name or by my standing there in front of them. They felt it too, I could tell, by the way they smiled to themselves. Their part of me would never be subject to the laws of nature or time. The laws of love worked in entirely different ways, and that was the true meaning of eternity.

One.

A clock struck somewhere in the distance, though I attempted to ignore it in the hope that I could remain forever with my family. There were some things I would give up the world for.

Two.


The room started to glow, each individual feature become whiter and whiter, each line blurring into one as the white world crept out from every crevice. Luna’s hair shone, her features becoming less and less defined as the room faded away. White mist curled around the table legs, clung to the walls and shrouded the last human contact I had.

Three.

Closing my eyes, I let the white world carry me back. I felt light-hearted, content, as I left the living world for the last time. There was no longing to return or any fear of returning to a world I couldn’t understand. The wonder of mystery was that sometimes you could never find the answer.

Four.

“It’s time, Aurelia,” the old woman whispered. My eyes remained closed. I was focusing my attention on the delicious fruity smell that never seemed to leave me. It was a very part of me, something that was my substance.

Five.

There was possibly a little hint of spice there, too. It reminded me of Christmas, of snow and warm winter fires. It was the smell of the candles I lit on the windowsills at home, of the perfume I wore as a girl. It was cinnamon, cinnamon mixed with the sweet scent of oranges.

Six.

That was another mystery I had never solved; why on Earth had my orange tree picked me? Was it my love for the fruit, or the properties of my heart and soul? Either way, I couldn’t help myself inhaling the scent has hard as I could, my nostrils flared.

Seven.

Opening my eyes briefly, I saw the antique clock that I had grown up with staring at me. How many times had I seen it in the same position, the long hand standing tall and the short hand leaning to the left? Being late was not an option with this particular one.

Eight.


I closed my eyes once again; I did not feel particularly comfortable with the way Ariana was watching me; her eyes never leaving mine, her arms gently by her side. I didn’t question what she was waiting for, I didn’t need to ask. I inhaled one last time, though the feeling of breathing in air was long since lost. I felt the citrus scent fill my lungs, my chest rising greatly as I breathed in all of nature’s goodness. It calmed any nerves I had about what awaited me next. I felt her hand rest upon my shoulder, a warm trickle spreading over my body. I exhaled, the oranges leaving my body and mind as the warmth wrapped around my body. Almost lulling into sleep, I relaxed.

Nine.

As the clock struck again, I welcomed the overwhelming need to cry. The small droplets of liquid that traced my cheeks held no sadness, for my body was swelling with joy. Light dripped from my every pore and every thought that I had ever formed came together in a meeting of peace and love. There was nothing more pleasurable than understanding all that which I had questioned.

Ten.

The fear of death obliterated, the acceptance of circumstance blossoming. There was nothing to regret, nothing to mourn and I would not be forgotten. My dreams of yesterday and thoughts of tomorrow became one until all that I was drew together, a ball of emotions shining brightly. I knew them all and understood; I was ready. My journey had come full circle and I had travelled with it. There was a reason why I had been waiting in the land of forever; I just had to realise I had the power to move on within me all the while. As the clock struck for the final time, I drifted away, lightness and darkness filling me until all that remained were my universal truths.

Eleven.

My peace was tinged with cinnamon and my forgiveness smelled of oranges.

The End.





A/N: Thank you to everyone who as read all the way to the end. I'm truly flattered. I'd like to thank all my readers and reviewers for their fantastic support throughout the posting of this story. I couldnt have done it without you, Ilia especially. Over the course of two years this story has been nominated for quite a few awards, a finalist in the Dobbys last year and a winner of three awards this year at The Golden Snitches (Best Ending, Best Plot and Best Original Character). Thank you all for your kind thoughts! If you're interested, I'm posting a sequel told from Ariana's point of view called Strawberry Hill. Please check it out. Lastly, my aim with this fic was to make you think twice about things you take for granted in life. Death can touch anyone, never forget to live your life to the full.



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