Just As Sane (Harry/Luna Fanfic Oneshot)

*Character and Quote Credits- J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll.* *No attempt at copyright infringement. More like fan love.*

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“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

“I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end.” she smiled as she turned towards the Great Hall.

Harry watched her skip along till the end of the corridor before he realised he was smiling too.

“Hey, Luna!”

“Yes?” she peeked back around the corner.

“Do you, I dunno, want to go get some dessert and eat it by the Lake?” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even know where the random thought had come from. But Luna’s face lit up, almost as if she’d suddenly spotted a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. She waved at him to hurry up as she continued to skip along the passageway, and Harry broke into a half-run to catch up with her, his heart light for the first time since Sirius’ death.

“Meet me near the Birch tree. And bring your cloak.” She murmured before going ahead into the Great Hall towards the Ravenclaw table. Harry followed more slowly, thankful for the fact that Ron, Hermione and the rest of his year-mates seemed to have finished and left already. He sat down next to Natalie McDonald at the Gryffindor table, half-expecting a glance of fear and disgust. Instead she gave him a respectful nod as she cleared some space for him, and then continued her conversation with her friends.

In between courses, Harry snuck a glance at Luna who looked as serene as ever as she held a conversation with two tiny first years who seemed to be worried about something. She must have felt his gaze because she flashed a half-smile in his general direction before patting the first-year girl’s shoulder and rising from the table with her plate of pudding. Harry gave her five minutes before he followed, summoning his Cloak from the dormitory just outside the Great Hall, idly wondering why the spell hadn’t worked when Hermione had tried it.

There was no one under the birch tree when he reached. He was wondering if Luna had gone back to her dormitory when he heard a giggle. “Well, hello there.” Harry looked up at the slim pair of legs dangling from a branch. He laughed again, wondering why it was suddenly so easy. “You remind me of the Cheshire Cat.” He exclaimed, before remembering that Luna was a Pureblood. “Well the Cheshire Cat is -”

“…a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’ll take that as a compliment. After all, we are all mad here.” She answered as she jumped down from the branch, landing nimbly without her pudding so much as wobbling.

“Wait, you read Muggle literature?” Harry was surprised.

“Yes. Alice was one of my favourite stories as a child- I made Mummy read the book every night. And after she died, I’d read it myself.” Luna stated matter-of-factly. Harry gazed out at the Black Lake, still unsure of how to behave around the concept of death.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh yes, it does. Some days, when the sun shines really brightly, or the first day of snow, or on days when I get a spell right on the first try, or on days when they hide all my stuff at the same time and I have nothing left to wear. I miss her.” She said simply, as she sat down under the tree with her legs crossed, her bluish grey eyes vacantly staring for a moment before they turned to him, twinkling. “But I still have so much left. Daddy, and this pudding, and Alice, and you, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville. I have friends now, don’t I, Harry ?” she looked up at him beaming.

Harry looked at her through his glasses, this being that was Luna Lovegood, not trusting his ability to speak in that moment. Instead he hung up the Cloak from a low-hanging branch like a canopy, making them invisible to everyone except each other, and sat down next to Luna. And they stayed there, for a very long time, staring at the stars shining on the surface of the Lake as they finished their pudding. And for the space of a few hours, at least, all was well.

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Memories of My Grandfather

My grandfather was an eccentric man. On Sundays, when he had the day off from work, he would get up quietly after finishing his morning newspaper, surreptitiously slipping a nail clipper into his pocket, and declare, “I’ll be back in a while.” My grandmother, long weary after years of marriage, would say nothing, only watch from the balcony as he strode out towards the lane that would lead him to the main road.

He had a fixed route; much like the newspaper boy or the milkman does, covering four to five houses. Each of those houses was owned by a particularly close friend of his, some considerably younger in age. Despite being direct to the point of bluntness, my grandfather had endeared himself to all sorts of people- shopkeepers, the local meat-seller, the affluent neighbourhood doctor and all the little children. It was for this last category of people that he took his long-winded route every Sunday. Upon reaching their houses, he would demand that the children line up in front of him, and one by one, he would carefully clip off their uneven, dirt-stained nails that had strayed to many a prohibited place in course of the week; the muddy school field and the fertilized pumpkin patch in the backyard, were, by far, the most civilized of those places. He would gently chide the ones who’d been exceptionally careless- his favourite epithet for them, and indeed, for careless people in general, was “Holder!” Three decades after his death, the closest explanation I have managed to find for this seemingly random phrase, is that sloppy people reminded him of the flickering tube-lights in our house, rendered vulnerable by their faulty holders.

After completing this ritual, Grandfather would on occasion, stop for a cup of tea and a long chat, most often at the home of his favourite friend, the Doctor. He would hold forth on diverse issues- the rising vegetable prices, the latest policy of the government, the war, the heat in Delhi, the children. Then, suddenly, he would rise from his chair, and in one sweeping motion, rip off the calendar page still displaying the previous month’s dates on the wall and mutter under his breath again, “Holder!” Whether he was referring to the caretaker’s inattention or man’s futile attempt to calibrate time in general, no one knew.

None of Grandfather’s friends and acquaintances minded this periodic imposition on their homes and families. Indeed, they had begun to look forward to the routine, and sometimes, when the sweetshop owner Kalika Babu’s wife forcibly chased her child down on a Friday to trim his nails, her husband would stop her and say, “Oho. Leave the child alone till Sunday. It’s the tradition after all.”

When he retired from his government job at the age of sixty, Grandfather made a few changes to his schedule, and his friends learnt to expect him on both Wednesdays and Sundays. He didn’t linger long on the weekday, but he always made sure to speak to every member of every family. He would listen with great attention even to the youngest child, all of two, who proudly showed off her latest attempt at learning a Bengali nursery rhyme. The lady of the house would say, with an exasperated sigh, “Dada, you must not spoil the children by bringing them something every week.” He would nod seriously, and then sneakily slip a few sweets into the children’s pockets once she’d turned her back. Children loved him as the adult who never ignored them in favour of seemingly important “adult business”.

On what was to be the last Wednesday of his life, Grandfather got up as usual at 5.30 a.m., ignoring the niggling feeling of a heavy stone tied to his chest. He put on his shoes slowly, taking a little more time to tie his laces. “I’m going”, he called out to my grandmother. He’d already stepped out by the time she noticed that he’d not said, “I’ll be back in a while.” He never came back. I think his last thought would have been a gentle regret as he touched the nail clippers in his pocket. For all the little fingers with dirty little nails as they rested on the gates- waiting.

Unfinished

You are the futility of my words

And the laboured breath of my

Ragged silence; you are half

A paragraph of a

Letter I wrote,

But never

Sent

She rocks back and forth in a stationary wooden chair, teetering on the brink of a fall. Her pen is poised on a bleached piece of thick paper, an ink drop quivering, ready to blot out the word she’s just written on it: Sorry.

What does one write after an apology? An explanation, perhaps, but explanations are the most futile bits of literature that ever existed. To those that need it, an explanation will never be enough; to those that don’t, it is superfluous.

She hates using that word, the one she has just traced out on that overly white sheet. It’s been said too many times, and means too little. She has said it to people who’ve lost a parent, those she bumped accidentally in a queue, even a flower vase she once knocked over. Somehow it seems too puny to say to a man she loves as much as it is possible to love another person. Because she is about to do something she hates even more than saying sorry- she is going to lie. She is going to look him in the eye. Well, as much as one can look through a letter, and she is going to tell him, Sorry, I was wrong. Sorry, I can’t love you anymore. Sorry, I need to go. And sorry, I’ll never come back.

She gets up from the chair, turns up the speakers. Strands of music emanate, settling into a familiar rhythm, like the bus conductor on your daily commute, who knows exactly where you want to go. The song, it takes her places she doesn’t really want to go. The places that have been left hastily, before the mess could be tidied up. There’s a lot of dirty laundry. Not all of it is hers. His voice resonates in her mind, you don’t always have to do everything alone.

Somehow she’s never really believed him; in this moment, she desperately wants to. She picks up the pen again, after shaking off the drop of ink elsewhere.
Sorry, she writes, let’s give this another shot.

The forty-second draft lands up in the bin along with its predecessors.

280 days

The first night, XX meets XY in a burst of music. The lilting refrains of an old song, and suddenly it comes to them, the answer- or perhaps, it is a new set of questions. They meet again that night, their cracks resonating within each other, their lips touching with the hesitant feel of having waited for a long time. But love, you know, is like learning to ride a bicycle. You’re going to fall a few times, but once you know how, you always remember it. It doesn’t matter which bike you ride.

The sun rises the next morning, illuminating them with a wintry pallor. Beauty is often fleeting, and it leaves behind in its wake, the burden of actions- actions that determine if it will be rekindled. No creation is without consequences, and the greater the masterpiece, the longer it is one has to pay.

Everything is tinged with a new light in the first trimester, even the darkness. They feel it growing- expectation, anticipation, happiness, fear, inexplicable bouts of sadness, of excitement. That terrifying realisation that there is always someone else in the picture now, that amazing feeling of joy, that there is always someone else. They’re still wary, sceptical of their fates, afraid of admitting that there is a tangible thread of something that connects them. Yet they’re silently hopeful, of everything working out.

The next three months find them quieter, yet more confident in their skin. They have accepted that they will never be entirely ready for what is to happen. They’ve felt the kicks of reality, of challenges, of stressful schedules and self-doubt, even when they’re trying their best. They’ve also felt the beauty again, fleeting but true, in the oddest of situations. Sometimes, they voice what they’ve been wishing for, for time to freeze in that moment of bliss, the morning light on sleepy faces, the warmth of each other’s arms, the comforting presence nestled within. Then they shake their heads in amusement at their frivolous fantasies as they leave for work.

One day, with only three more months to go, she cries, as he holds her, whispering that it will be alright. “That it will be over, you mean”, she says. Like all manners of routine, a dangerous inertia has crept in, its warmth cushioning them, giving them something to care for, yet holding them back. They know things will be different soon, better, for a new life waits. It’s still a scary prospect- “What if I don’t know how to deal with it?” she asks. But he is wiser, and has seen farther, “You will know, because Time teaches us all.” he says.

The final night is one much like the first in some ways, and yet not in others. There is music, there is love, but there is a sad kind of understanding that is alien to first meetings.  His touch sends shivers of a different kind across her body, the chill of a dying hand. He cries a little tonight; she tries to but she can’t. There is an odd calm within her, the kind that comes not with the absence of fear, but an absence of feeling altogether- she knows there will be no respite from emotions once the next day arrives. There is only light surrounding them- a dim, hazy light that unites their shadows as one.

Then the water breaks.

*Published on The Scribbled Stories*

 

Technicolour maiden goes solo

The first thing I can tell you about myself is – I’m scared. Shit scared. Don’t ask me why. Or about what. Of course I realise it seems funny that I should start a narrative about a holiday in this fashion. But that is why I’ve left home all alone to come to a town where I know no one. Because I’m afraid. And I do not want to be afraid anymore. I think it’s time to stop hiding. Behind people, and masks, and stories. Stories are beautiful, but it’s time to paint my reality with my own shades, whatever they might be. Even if they’re darker and uglier, oozing venom- those bleeding cuts are as much a part of me as anything else.

Little things scare me. The men on the train with me. The way they look, and the way they don’t. The glare of the corridor light, mildly blurred through the chink in the curtain. The velcro strip is half torn, much like my thoughts. Wary of missing my stop, I try to focus on the rhythm of the wheels, the blinking headlights of cars on the distant highway. After waking up thrice in three hours, I give up on sleep. It’s still pitch dark outside as I plug in my headphones and listen to songs. Old ones that I’ve had ever since my school days. They calm me, reminding me of the seventeen year old girl who had an unabashed bravado. In the flashes of blackish green countryside I occasionally hear her laugh in tandem with the beats of a folk song. She is the first fragment I need.

The cool air slaps my cheeks, oddly soothing. I look around the tiny station, the first part of my journey over. The rest of it will be by road. As I successfully locate and board the bus, there is an odd sense of accomplishment even though it isn’t the first time I am traveling on my own. As the bus slowly winds up the hill roads and the lush valleys emerge, I realise why. This is the first time I am traveling for myself. I am sick of existing for someone, with someone. This is the best pilgrimage on earth. The search for lost pieces of my own soul.

I  indulge in my favourite activity, walking, as I set out to get a feel of the place. It is, sadly, much more of a town now than it was years ago, and concrete has obscured many a field from view. The tiny art museum in Kotwali Bazaar gives a fine glimpse of history, and is vastly under appreciated by the mobile toting families who are eager to photograph every exhibit.

Someone in need of tranquility would feel more at home in the Civil Lines area, past the hospital and government offices. The Martyrs’ Memorial here has an oddly resonant silence that befits the solemnity of the place. Here is a place that has receded into itself despite the intrusions of man. My blood hums in approval. It is a fine place for seekers.

I walk past the pillar of a thousand names, carved into stone, scratched away by years of rain and the more recent initials of young lovers. It irritated me once, this perverse habit of humans of leaving a mark,however trivial on every shred of nature they enter. Now it amuses me, because I know the futility, and I appreciate the attempts at preserving a fragile existence. After all, every one of us wants to leave a mark. Some do it on pillars, and some do it on souls.

Sakha

* Draupadi’s thoughts after collapsing on the final journey. *

 

It’s cold here. Yet I feel warmth as you call my name. Perhaps this is what death is like. One no longer feels cold, pain, discomfort. Just blankness with you as a light.

I can see you beckoning me, the same way as you would when I was a young, shy girl, unaware of where life would take me.  We would sit under the frangipani, as you narrated some obscure mystery of the scriptures or a fact of everyday life, and then watched, in amusement, as my face changed shades in thought.

There was so much noise, and now finally there is quiet. It is perhaps true what they spoke of me- Draupadi is immoral, unchaste, with five husbands, how can she not be?-yes, it is. I say so because in the face of death, I do not remember any of my five lords, not even Arjuna, to gain whose affections I struggled a lifetime. In truth I had expected this- each of them was a warrior, king, husband, father, but not my love. I had almost definitely thought that I would remember the only other man I ever loved-Karna. What could not happen on Earth might perhaps be fulfilled in another realm. Yet it is curious, for it is not him I remember.

It is you.

Perhaps it is foolish of me to say I remember. I have never forgotten you. How can one forget that which is in everything? You were my earliest memory, a flash of brilliant blue as I stepped through the fire, holding my brother’s hand. You are my last prayer as I seek an answer to the eternal question. I wish for you and you alone.

I can see you walking towards me, gliding almost; you assume your most human form for me once again. My Sakha, the first man I loved, my friend, my guide, my best support and worst critic. Distantly my human mind remembers the news of your death, the poise I maintained in court, while my husbands collapsed in distress. A cry of raw pain was all I permitted myself in private.  A part of me knew that it would soon be time for me. And all the grief would end.

You stroke my head gently as I kneel before you, feeling like a child. I have not felt so pure in a long time.

“You’ve done your part, Krishnaa. Now rest” You say.

My smile can bedazzle the heavens.

Letters to no one

Ms./Mrs. Random Old Lady

 The footpath near St. James School

Calcutta 

Kolkata

I don’t know if you still live at this address. I don’t know your name. I think you might have died. You were quite old then, and it’s been almost eight years since that day I met you. I remember being sad. Before I met you. After I met you. There are flavours to sadness just like there are in coffee- there’s latte sadness, for the time when,say, you lose one of your favourite pair of earrings, and then there is a double ristretto,  a dark,brooding mess, when you feel everything that you have is slipping away. My sadness that day was somewhere in between, when I casually walked out of the house, hoping no one would see that, in reality, I was storming out.

I remember walking aimlessly, the only direction in my mind: Away. Away from death, away from morbidity, away from the endless discussions centred around a few lines of a medical diagnosis. Now, I can’t even remember who it is that was ill. So many have passed, they’re all blurred in my head. I only know that they loved me, and I must have loved them as well.

So I walked. Past giggling school students, teashop owners, women with vegetable-laden shopping bags- their damp blouses letting the light brown of their skin peek out in places. I moved as if in a dream, contemplating life and death until that great equalizer, hunger, played its drums in my stomach. Descending from plane infinity to ground zero, I stopped at a tea stall, gazing at people who seemed far too happy, especially through the mist in my eyes.

Perhaps, I noticed you because you were staring at me. Rather, not at me, but at the biscuit in my hand. I’m writing to you today because I don’t want you to keep thinking I bought you the biscuits because I cared, or anything like that. I was just a self-obsessed teenager wanting something to come and set her world right again. Even when I sat down next to you, I was jealous of you. Jealous of how cheaply your happiness could be bought. Ten rupees. Why couldn’t I have it too?

Well, I did get some of it. When you patted my head and smiled, still lost in your own little world where dinner would be biscuits. But I was greedy, I wanted all of it. I wanted to push away all the sadness. Even for a little while. I went home soon after that and told them all about it. Told them how happy it made you ,and how happy it made me. The thing about happiness, I think, is that when you see people happy,you desperately want to be a part of it, at least for a while. Just for a while, no one spoke of death and darkness and doctors. They spoke of biscuits, and kindness, and gifts.

Now I’m older, and when I look back, I’m not so sure. Of you, your happiness, my happiness. I only hope you’ve moved to a better address. Because I do care, a little bit.

*Published on The Scribbled Stories*