Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Prodigal Daughter

Chapter 1 Memories of a Departure

By Robert Whitton

The young women paused in the doorway, turned back around and took a last, long look at the apartment behind her. It was completely empty now and she allowed herself one more moment of nostalgia, soaking in the echoes of a thousand after-dinner conversations, a million peals of laughter, and the peace that washed over her every time she had stepped in the doorway of her Paris home. It wasn’t very big but it was charming and she had treasured every solitary inch of it. Whenever she thought about another tenant living here, putting different pictures on the white plaster walls, throwing different rugs down on the polished wood floors, and arranging new furniture in the sun filled rooms, when she had spent so long getting everything just right, her heart clenched.

She had by chance already met the new tenant two weeks ago. She’d been on her way out of the front door to meet some friends at the nightclub three blocks away. They were celebrating the end of their senior exams at the university they attended and she was running late beyond the agreed upon hook-up time. Her landlord had stopped her in the lobby of the old house where the woman owned four other apartments and introduced her to a petite girl with soft blond-hair and a hopeful look on her face. Her heart had gone out to the woman as she was reminded her of herself four years ago when she had first come to this city. Wide-eyed and searching but older than she looked. Nothing and everything had surprised her back then. When you’ve survived the imminent threat of mass destruction, you can pretty much put up with anything.

With a final sigh, the woman turned back around to face the hallway, picked up the canvas satchel at her feet and settled the long strap diagonally across her chest. She had already sent the rest of her things ahead and all that was left was for her to make her way to the Paris International Portkey office. She was glad she had chosen to leave this way. No big fanfare, just a final walk through the neighborhood that had been her home the past four years. She paused outside on the sidewalk, her waist length red hair swinging with the sudden halt, and took a final sniff of the familiar air. It was 7:30 a.m. and the local shops were just beginning to open. She could smell the bread baking at the bakery shop four doors down and the first whiffs of petrol as Mr. Zamir from across the street started his automobile–the only car on the block. She heard the familiar sounds of Jean Paul setting up his newsstand for the day and the tingling of the bicycle bells as young boys raced by her on their way to the local muggle school.

It was Paris in October–the air was crisp and the leaves were a mix of oranges, yellows and red. It was her favorite time of the year in France and now she wouldn’t be there to enjoy it. On the other hand, she reflected, her high heel boots making rhythmic clicking noises on the sidewalk as she walked to the portkey office, perhaps it was best that she was leaving at such a high point of the year. She would always have this last morning in Paris when everything seemed right in the world. The next few months were going to be difficult, she knew that, but this last morning of peace might sustain her.

"And,” she whispered to herself, “I could always come back if it gets too tough.” But she knew that was a lie. She wouldn’t come back.

She had run here four years ago, looking desperately for something she could sense she had lost and had indulged herself. For once she had chosen to think about herself. Instead of her family and friends, instead of those she loved, she had jumped at the chance to attend the 4-year Wizarding University that had offered her a scholarship to study transfiguration and charms. She had surprised everyone with her decision.

She was the youngest of seven children and six older brothers had overshadowed most her life’s attempts to stand out. Her mother had been almost hysterical when she had announced she was moving to France and her brothers had expressed confusion but her father had stood in the background waiting for the protests to quiet down before saying, “Is this what you want? You’ve thought this through?”

"Yes,” she had said, looking him in the eye and willing him to see the reasons in her own eyes. “I’ve thought about it. I really need to do this.”

"But why?” her mother had wailed. “Everything is just starting to come back together! Why would you leave now?” She had opened her mouth to reply but her oldest brother had stepped up behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder, silencing her.

"I think we all know why,” he had said to his mother. “It’s time for her to do things herself.”

Now, as she quickened her steps to cross the street busy with early morning traffic, she remembered the look of understanding in her brother’s eyes. It shouldn’t have surprised her that he understood--he had always understood. He was almost 10 years older than her and had been the only brother who had ever “got her.”

With a snap back to reality, she arrived at the office and took one last final check of her watch. Her portkey left in 10 minutes. She just had time to sign the paperwork before grabbing on to whatever piece of muggle junk the office had decided to use today.

Ten minutes later, after some furiously signed paperwork and two screaming children whose mother looked stressed beyond belief, the portkey activated. With a thump, the passengers landed in another office that looked remarkably similar to the one in Paris. She knew it was different though. She could tell by the pinched looks on the office worker’s faces, the ruthless efficiency with which her paperwork was processed and by the unfamiliar smells as she opened the door and stepped outside into the autumn air.

For better or worse, Ginny Weasley had returned to England.

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