The Sugar Quill
Author: ReaderRavenclaw (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Immortality  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Author's Notes: Special thanks to madelah for the beta. Please be aware that the opening and closing verses are by Wordsworth, and are being used entirely out of context, so if any of you are familiar with Wordsworth’s “Immortality Ode,” please keep that in mind. As always, feedback is greatly appreciated.


Immortality

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;--
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


*

“Why don’t you take Luna out to play, dear?” Mum said distractedly, waving her wand at the stack of dirty dishes. “I can manage here on my own.” Her eyes darted over to where Dad and Mr. Lovegood sat together at the cluttered wooden table, drinking firewhiskey in heavy silence. Luna sat on the floor at her father’s feet, half under the table, her hands wrapped around her drawn-up knees. Her head was bowed, and her long, dirty hair hid her face.

“Poor child,” Mum said in a hushed voice. “It’ll do her good to get some fresh air, and the rain’s stopped at last.” She flapped her apron at Ginny. “Go on, take her outside with you.”

Ginny glanced over at Luna apprehensively; the kitchen was so small that even hushed voices carried easily from one end to the other. Luna seemed entirely unaware of their conversation – but then, Luna hadn’t spoken a single word since she and her father had arrived for an early dinner.

“I tried to talk to her before, Mum,” Ginny whispered. “She wouldn’t even look at me.”

Mum tutted and turned around. “Mr. Lovegood,” she said loudly, “can Luna go outside with Ginny for a little while?”

Mr. Lovegood didn’t look up from his glass, but he gave a jerky nod.

“Wonderful!” Mum said in an overly-cheery voice. “Luna dear, why don’t you run along outside with Ginny? You’re becoming far too pale. It’ll do you good to go outside for a bit, and it’s a beautiful day.”

Luna hunched over just the slightest bit further at these words, but Mum was undeterred. “Run along, dear,” Mum said briskly, and she pulled an empty chair away from the table to give her better access to Luna.

Luna edged away, pressing against her father, and Mr. Lovegood reached down to stroke her hair. “You haven’t been outdoors in days, Luna,” he said, his eyes tired and his voice unsteady. “Mum – Mum would hate to see you shutting yourself up indoors like this – especially now that the weather is so warm.”

Luna remained hunched over, unmoving, but her father drew back his chair and bent over to kiss her on the top of her head. “Sing to the flowers for me, Luna,” he said softly. “The rain has stopped and the sun is shining.”

Silently, stiffly, Luna crawled out from under the table, her head still bowed and her face still hidden. She rose to her feet and trudged across the kitchen towards the door, giving Mum and Ginny a wide berth.

Ginny watched her, feeling helpless. This dejected, plodding creature bore no resemblance to the old Luna, the always-laughing, always-radiant girl who spent most of her time outdoors and danced around barefoot all through the spring and summer. Luna was undeniably strange, and Ginny had given up trying to have any sort of real conversation with her long ago, but whenever Luna turned up unexpectedly in the backyard – never more than once or twice a month – Ginny knew that the day would be transformed into something far from ordinary.

“Go on,” Mum whispered to Ginny.

Ginny hesitated, watching as Luna slipped outside through the half-open door. What could she say to Luna? How should she act?

“Well?” Mum said sharply.

Reluctantly, Ginny followed Luna outside.

The sun shone brightly overhead, and Ginny breathed deeply, inhaling the smell of moist earth and fresh flowers. It was an unexpected relief to escape from the gloom of the house – even though it meant having to deal with Luna.

Up ahead on the flagstone path, Luna slowed to a standstill, and Ginny quickly drew even with her.

“Isn’t the garden gorgeous?” Ginny said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible. “Do you want to help me weed? Or go down to the pond?”

Luna stood with her head down, her dirty hair hanging like a curtain around her face. She gave no sign that she had heard Ginny.

“Do you want to go watch the new tadpoles?” Ginny tried again. “There are even more of them this year – hundreds! Remember last year, when decided to count them all? And me and Ron helped you? And Ron pushed me into the pond, and I knocked him into the mud?”

If not for the way Luna wrapped and re-wrapped a strand of hair around one of her fingers, she could have been a statue.

Ginny bit her lip. “Do you want to look for fairies?” she tried. “Or – or those Quoglings that you told me about once?”

“Quigblings,” Luna said without looking up, her voice muffled behind her tangled hair.

“Quigblings, then,” Ginny said quickly, eagerly. “Do you want to look for Quigblings?”

But Luna remained hunched over, silent.

Ginny’s hope deflated. “Do you want to go climb the trees?” she offered desperately. “And pick cherry blossoms to braid into our hair?”

Luna turned around sharply, stringy hair falling away to reveal a pale, gaunt face. She glared at Ginny, her large, pale eyes fierce. “No!” she said, violently, and Ginny took a startled step backwards.

“I – I – ” Ginny stammered, and Luna turned and broke into a half-run, stumbling down the path that wound among the flower-beds.

Ginny stared after her in shock and bewilderment, feeling worse than useless. What had she said to make Luna so upset?

Up ahead, Luna rounded a corner of the house, and Ginny quickly ran after her to keep her in sight. Who knew what Luna might do, left on her own?

Suddenly, Luna slowed and veered off the path, heading towards a cluster of cherry trees. When she reached the nearest tree, she sank down under its shade and hunched over, curling up against the shiny, purple-brown bark of its trunk.

Ginny skidded to a stop and then quietly inched closer until she was just a few feet away from Luna. To her surprise and horror, she realized Luna was sobbing.

Quickly, Ginny backed away. Luna never cried! According to Mum, she hadn’t even cried right after ….

Unsettled and anxious, Ginny gingerly sat down nearby and watched Luna in silence, waiting uncertainly. The heat of the sun and the drone of insects were a potent combination, and as the minutes slipped by and Luna made no sign of movement, Ginny leaned back against the warm, cracked stones of the house and eventually drifted off into a doze.

*

Ginny woke to a soft, melodious humming.

She opened her eyes and found herself looking up into a profusion of white, the blossom-covered branches of a cherry tree. Disoriented, her back and neck stiff from the hard, pebbly surface she’d slept against, Ginny tried to make sense of her location. Slowly, she pieced together the disjointed memories of what had brought her out here. Luna and her father, invited over for dinner…. Luna, wretched and silent…. Mum’s decision that that Luna and Ginny should go outdoors …. Luna’s sudden outburst….

But then – why was Luna humming? Ginny sat up, startled, and turned towards the sound.

Luna stood beneath a nearby tree with her neck craned upward, staring intently at the blossom-covered branches above her, only her lips moving. The tune was light-hearted, at times almost sprightly, and it contrasted starkly with the dirty tear-streaks still visible on her face.

Ginny rose to her feet and slowly edged closer toward Luna. She hesitated, unsure whether to make an attempt at conversation. Twice she opened her mouth to say something, but each time she lost her nerve, unsettled by Luna’s stillness and incomprehensible change of mood.

The melody broke off abruptly. “Nothing is ever dead,” Luna said, still staring up at the cherry blossoms.

For a moment, Ginny stared at her blankly. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“Nothing is ever dead,” Luna repeated, reaching up to break off a sprig of blossoms from the tree. She turned the sprig over in her hands, touching the delicate petals of a blossom carefully.

Ginny stared at Luna in dismay. Was she – was she thinking of her mother? Did she really think that her mother wasn’t – wasn’t dead?

Luna leaned her head back so that she was again staring up at the cherry blossoms and resumed her humming. Her face was still pale, and her hair and clothing were still dirty, but she no longer looked so dreadfully listless.

Ginny bit her lip. “When something seems dead, then, what is it really?”

“Alive, of course.” Luna turned to stare at Ginny as if she were particularly dense. “If something isn’t dead, it’s alive.”

Ginny stared at Luna, completely flummoxed. “But….” she tried, then broke off.

“There are very few people who can see the truth, Daddy always says,” Luna informed Ginny, bringing the blossoms up to her nose and sniffing them. “Of course,” she added, “it’s not all their fault. Things look dead, sometimes. Trees look like they’re dead in the winter, don’t they? And then, in the spring, they blossom.”

“But – but most trees really aren’t dead in the winter,” Ginny objected. “If a tree is cut down – if it really is dead – it won’t blossom in the spring.”

“You can plant its seeds, and a new tree will grow,” Luna rejoined.

“But that’s only plants!”

“Nothing ever dies,” Luna said firmly. “People don’t die, either. Haven’t you ever met a ghost? And the others – the ones who don’t become ghosts – are alive somewhere else….”

As Ginny fumbled for a reply, Luna turned away and sat down against the trunk of the tree, among a scattering of fallen white blossoms. With intent concentration, entirely ignoring Ginny, Luna began to weave the flowers together into a chain.

Ginny was still trying to come up with some sort of reply – but as she watched Luna, whose eyes had somehow, incredibly, regained some of their old spark, Ginny found that she couldn’t bring herself to continue the argument. Really, was Luna so terribly wrong? She understood that her mother wouldn’t be… wouldn’t be coming back. If she was only determined to avoid the word ‘dead’, what harm would that do?

“Mummy loved the springtime,” Luna said abruptly, looking up from her lap filled with flowers.

Startled, Ginny stared at Luna, but she quickly recovered and tried to school her expression into what she hoped was friendly interest.

But Luna didn’t seem to be looking at Ginny at all. Her eyes were unfocused, and she was staring off into the distance. “The week that the cherry blossoms opened, we would go outside together every day and make garlands for our hair, and dance and sing. Dad would beat the drums for us, and sometimes he would dance too, and we would dance and dance until we were too tired to dance any more. Sometimes we danced at night, in the moonlight….”

Luna looked back down at the chain of flowers in her lap, and deftly attached the two ends of the chain to form a wreath. She stood up, and carefully placed the wreath on her head. For several long moments she stood still, but then suddenly, unexpectedly, Luna swung out her arms and began twirling, humming an unfamiliar melody.

Ginny looked on in wonder. Luna danced around a cherry tree, eyes shining, and plucked another sprig of blossoms from a branch as she passed. She held the flowers up in the air, waving it as she twirled. It was incredible to think that this was the same girl who had arrived just a few hours earlier, pale and desolate.

Luna was breathless when she finally slowed to a stop beside Ginny. Ginny noticed with apprehension that some of the light had dimmed from her eyes – but her cheeks still had color to them, and she looked only pensive.

Quietly, Luna sat down beside Ginny. “It isn’t the same,” she said after a moment. She picked up a cherry blossom from the ground beside her and stared down at it. “But I – I like being outside here anyway.” She hesitated, then continued softly, “And somewhere, Mummy is alive.”

*

Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…
//
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