The students of Dumbledore’s Army had many badges. A gold coin that called them first to lessons and then to war. Scar tissue that ran across the back of many of their hands. I must not tell lies.
Another: the sound of clacking footsteps on stone sent each and every one of them scattering, even years after. The only people bold enough to walk loudly were not safe.
Parvati went out on the anniversary of not the battle but the day she left Gryffindor Tower for the DA and the Room of Requirement. She bought a pair of heels, their red as loud as the sound they made on hard floors.
Dennis Creevey sent her Muggle sneakers for Christmas and she wore those when she needed to be stealthy (scuffed purple and white peeking out from beneath her robes) but she wore the heels on office days, interrogations, on nights out, because she wanted to be unafraid, because she wanted to be the scariest thing in the room.
Every member of the DA was offered a spot in the Aurors. They considered that last year of occupation to be a sufficient resume. After two weeks of living quietly at home, in peacetime, jumping at noises her parents didn’t even hear, Parvati Patil signed up for basic training with the Aurors.
They taught her charms and curses she had learned from the other end of crueler teachers' wands. After a seminar on resisting torture, Parvati went up to teacher (a jovial, jowly little man) and handed him the seminar handout she'd been given. She'd scrawled it over with notes and corrections, with advice and torture techniques they hadn't covered.
Parvati smiled at him, knowing his eyes were seizing over her fine cheekbones, her pretty eyes, her lovely cursive, and then she went and locked herself in a broomcloset and tried to decide if she wanted to laugh or cry. Either way, she wanted to do it so hard that she couldn't breathe.
"You're dwelling," said her father. "You have to get past this—experience. And you never will if you keep making your life about violence."
"Why, dear?" her mother asked her. "The war is over."
"This isn't about violence," said Parvati. "I'm not violent, I just..."
"You've volunteered to tussle and brawl for a living. We understand you two had few choices in the war, but it's over now."
"We won," Parvati agreed, and the words in her mouth felt like saying the sky was neon green, or that pigs couldn’t fly.
Every member of the DA had a spot for them in the Aurors, if they wanted it, but they also had their pick of tell-all book deals, which Parvati thought Lavender would have jumped at. Some nights Parvati wrote it out behind her eyelids while she tried to fall asleep. The bright, moving picture of Lav winking on the front page, attractively rumpled from heroic combat. The star-crossed love affair of Ron Weasley. Glowing confidentials and friendly insights into each of the children they'd fought beside.
Harry volunteered for the Aurors, too, months before Parvati did, and so did Ron, who was still learning how not to be his best friend's shadow. Ginny tried out for a Quiddich team. She'd already won her war.
Hannah Abbott started waiting tables at the Leaky Cauldron. Cho Chang, who had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, who had kept her little DA coin even after its maker had seared accusations into her best friend's face—she shelved books at Flourish and Blotts.
Dennis Creevey had moved back in with his parents, who were getting older, especially lately. He washed dishes and made repairs, charmed their tea with old tricks of Madame Pomfrey's. He went through all of Colin's photos with a steady, compassionate patience that terrified Parvati more than any day of Auror boot camp ever did. When he had looked through every shoebox, every file folder, every undeveloped film, he bundled up a selection and sent them off to a wizarding publisher.
Dennis chose the ones that mattered. Early, clumsy shots done by a boy who had not yet been told magic was real. Delighted, brightly lit shots of Hogwarts done by a boy who had not yet learned life was cruel.
A candid of a dodging Harry Potter, of Crabbe and Goyle thumb wrestling, of Cho Chang smiling like the world was hers for the taking, of Fred Weasley shooting milk out his nose at dinner (Lee Jordan, grinning nearby, was clearly at fault).
(Dennis mailed Parvati a shot of Lavender and Trelawney with their necks curved gently over a crystal ball, light dancing over their cheeks. Trelawney was serious but for her big soft eyes. Lav was sneaking a glance up at her teacher, eager and bright. She had wanted a future so badly.)
And then the shots after Umbridge, after the occupation. Another candid of Harry, gesturing in the Room of Requirement, no longer hiding, I must not tell lies casting shadows across the back of his hand.
Images captured by a boy who understood—who died understanding—that there were things worth dying for.
Some of the photos Colin had doctored to turn them into a wizard's moving images. Many, though, he had left still, silent, Muggle. Dennis left them as they were, when he printed Your Brother's War. Parvati, paging through the book, thought the wizard photos felt like a copy, a story, a repetition, but the Muggle images, crisp and still, felt like a theft.
Colin had captured a lost instant, that look on Luna's face when she conjured a Patronus, Angelica in flight, a band of older Hufflepuffs standing defensively around a first year Slytherin when a fight broke out in the Room of Requirement. Colin had stolen them, these vanished exhales, and here Dennis was offering them up.
Parvati sent a copy of Dennis's book home to her parents, who loved her, who didn't understand her nightmares of the war, who didn't understand how she could miss it.
To their parents’ flabbergasted disdain, Padma left home after a week of peace and rented a little one room flat close to Diagon Alley but closer to Knockturn. They had a politely raging row about it in the carpeted entrance hall of the Patil townhouse before Padma grabbed her blank canvases and took the Floo to her single room with its creaky floors and mildew. Parvati carried her bags.
“If you’d only be practical,” said her father.
“You have such potential,” said her mother.
Padma had smiled. “Thank you. Yes, I do.” She got a job at the little ice cream place on Diagon Alley and worked on her art late into the evenings and early mornings, seeking out commissions and agents.
Ravenclaw Tower had only been guarded by riddles, so during their school years Parvati had gone up to visit her sister. The Grey Lady had sniffed at her then, but the girls had sat cross-legged on Padma's bed, braided each other's hair and exchanged notes, compared care packages and traded when the parents had forgotten which sister liked which sweet.
Padma had kept her four poster closed almost always. She had started painting on her curtains her first year, to the House Elves' great distress (they eventually compromised). Padma had made starry skies that held every color, blazing fires and rising phoenixes, old moonlight cascading down through leaves. She had managed to keep it secret for almost a year, but when her colorful calling had come out she had just gotten commissions.
Padma had painted a herd of racing horses in high wind for Marietta Edgecombe, and a quieter, calmer, bluer night sky for Cho Chang. Padma had holed up in Flitwick's office, learning charms to sink colors into fabric, to enchant brushes and remove stains from robes and bedclothes.
That first night in Padma’s tiny flat, her sister’s bags barely unpacked, Parvati had shared Padma’s single mattress. The next morning she had gone home and sent an owl out to the Aurors, accepting their internship offer.
Parvati wanted to believe in futures again. She wanted to be a teenage girl, looking forward, looking upward and outward and out.
But here she was, braiding her hair tight because she was too tired to wash it.
When people asked her she told them she loved her job. Parvati thought she was telling the truth and that was what made her want to lock herself in the bathroom and bury her face in her knees. She had gone from one war and leapt into another. Her wand was as polished by use as Padma's but where her sister made light, Parvati threw curses. She loved it and what did that say?
"You be the smart one," Parvati had said, at ten, tucked into a rocking compartment of the Hogwarts Express.
"And you be brave," Padma agreed.
Somewhere else on the train, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley were starting a friendship that would last a lifetime, stuttered along the way—Ron would always come back. Somewhere, Neville had lost a toad. Hermione, who started being a hero before she even stepped onto the page, was helping him look for it. But Parvati and Padma Patil were sitting alone in an compartment, making plans.
"That should work out nicely, don't you think so?"
"I'm much better at being loud than you are." Parvati nodded.
Padma tilted her head, plaited dark hair falling over her t-shirt shoulders. Parvati had already changed into her robes. "I'm not sure that's the important part."
On what would have been Lavender's nineteenth birthday, Padma dragged Parvati out of bed and down to the not-yet-open ice cream shop. They sat on the counter in the prep room and ate big sticky cones until Padma had to open the store. Parvati scrubbed off her hands and waved off her sister's offer of unlimited coffee and ice cream, half her packed lunch, and a booth to sit in. Picking sprinkles off the front of her shirt, Parvati walked out into Diagon Alley, where she had bought school books at eleven.
She was mourning Lavender, but she was also remembering the war. Parvati was mourning herself.
And she felt selfish about it. But selfishly seemed like a good way to mourn Lavender.
Some nights Parvati buried her face in her pillow and tried to remember Lavender's jealousy—the bitter, sharp taste of it, the shrill way she went when she got angry, her temper and her little obsessions.
Lavender had not been sunshine—or if she had, she had been all of it: warm days and sticky, sweaty nights, sunburns and ugly peelings, skin cancer at thirty-five. She had not been sunlight. She had been herself: petty and selfishly giving, bold, brash, and protective.
That morning, Diagon Alley was crowded, bright, and loud. Parvati wasn't tensing at loud noises or jumping when things passed the corners of her eyes. It felt like giving up, not like progress.
She pulled away from the colorful street, back through the brick entrance and Apparated her way up to the Hogwarts gates.
Parvati climbed up to the Room of Requirement. She took old paths, twisty ones, through passages and dusty corridors, the sort of path you would take in hostile territory if you didn't want to be seen. Hogwarts was no longer hostile territory, but maybe Parvati still was.
The Room of Requirement becomes what you need it to be. Not what you want, but what you need. Parvati paced in front of the stretch of the wall, three times, like any good DA soldier. I need, she thought, I need, and she couldn't get any farther than that.
She pushed her forehead against the door that guttered into existence. Her hands wrapped around the cold metal handle, she took deep shaking breaths and didn't open the door. Parvati stood there outside her old classroom, old sanctuary, old home, for a long time. She did not open the door. The cold metal never warmed under her grasping fingers. She wondered if that was something the Room thought she needed.
What would the Room have shown Lavender? What had she needed?
Parvati didn't know, she finally decided, as she walked away from the unopened, unlocked door. That was the point. That was the tragedy of it all.
They would never know. Lavender Brown was gone. That spark of sunshine, those flashing patterns of neurons, of selfishness and joy and passion—there would never be another quite like her.
They could never capture her in stories or pictures, not completely, not ever. She was gone and they would never quite know what Lavender would have become, what she had been, what she had wanted.
But she had been. She had. There had been a girl named Lavender Brown and she had not been sunshine and she had been Parvati's friend.
She would never be again, but she had been, had been, had been.
Parvati found the base of the Divination tower and started climbing up the twisting steps. She had skipped them before, ran them, she and Lav so thrilled for extracurriculars with Professor Trelawney and her cobweb smiles.
At the top of the stairs, an old face peeked out. Trelawney's face softened. She knew what day it was.
"Hello, professor," said Parvati. "Do you have time for some tea?"
Lavender had done her make-up every morning of the Hogwarts occupation, even the last.
Lavender was not alone in waking up and washing her face, brushing her eyelashes up into dark curves. The Room of Requirement, which gave you what you needed, provided mirrors and blush and brushes. Parvati reminded herself of that, for years—they were not alone. A Hufflepuff who brushed her hair a hundred times each morning. A Slytherin with wings of eyeliner so sharp they could kill a man. A little Gryff boy who Lavender caught eyeing her foundation so shyly and greedily that she gave it to him for Christmas.
Some people called it battle armor, and for some of them it was. They were in a war.
But things don't have to be armor to be worth carrying over your skin.
The little Hufflepuff brushed her hair a hundred times each morning and one of Parvati's Housemates asked her why she didn't just chop it off. "We're at war."
"I always wanted to," said the Puff, her hands stroking the brush through in even motions. You could see the count still going in the back of her eyes. "But I won't do it for them."
There had been bodies laid out on the floor of Hogwart's Great Hall. The sky above it had been black, as it should be, as on some nights Parvati thought it always should be.
There had been Lavender's cascade of curls and Tonk's short hair, her nose small and normal and heartbreakingly human in death. Tiny Colin Creevey and Fred's ashy, unlaughing face. But the cloth pulled over Lavender's long tumbles of hair—Parvati woke from nightmares where she braided Lavender's hair until her fingers met cold scalp.
Parvati went home for the scant holidays an Auror’s job allowed. Padma came home for fewer—the Christmas crowd was fierce for some good hot fudge. Parvati had spent more nights in this plush double room than she ever had in the red and gold of Gryffindor Tower, or the close, murmuring quarters of the Room of Requirement in that last year. But she tossed and turned here, her limbs unfamiliar against the good sheets, shaking under the easy silence of the place, the way assumed safety stank up the air.
Parvati got up one night and cut off all her long, dark, plaited hair with a pair of their mother's pruning shears. When Padma woke up and came downstairs, she took the shears out of her sister's hands, got her crafting scissors, and made it look on purpose.
This is a story about finding out why you are brave. This is about finding bravery in silence, in shouts, in laughter. Why are you here? Why are you still standing here? For the woman with the cracked tea cups, hiding in her high tower? Are you here because your sister paints light into the very wood of her walls, scouring away the mold and lighting up decades of graffiti?
Whenever she had the time, Parvati climbed the steps to the old Divination classroom to have tea with Professor Trelawney. As she whittled her way through an Auror’s ranks, Parvati had less and less time. Trelawney was growing older though, vague and frail and as kind as she had ever been, so Parvati made time. She got up early to burn through paperwork and then took off for hours in the afternoon.
Trelawney still taught, though Firenze supplemented with field classes. Umbridge had been hard enough for her. A year of Amycus, Alecto, and Snape had been worse, and then the battle had come after. Trelawney, more than ever, looked out the window at things that were not there.
Her lemonade still tasted like sunshine. Parvati would have been happy to just sip cold tall glasses of that each time, but they always had tea.
Trelawney took her cup when Parvati had drained the hot liquid down to its dredges, lifted it this way and that to see how the leaves fell. She promised Parvati love, adventure, passion and stubbed toes.
Parvati, who was often nursing a full body bruise from training or just getting off a night at St. Mungo's healing bones or getting some petty criminal's curses scrubbed off of her, would take the professor's teacup gently in hand.
She was the brave one, the loud, and so Parvati would watch the clumps of wet leaves until she could see something good take shape.
Between the aisle for canned beans and the one for jarred newt's eyes, Parvati ran into the little Puff, no longer little, who had brushed her hair a hundred times every morning of the war.
When they caught sight of each other—Parvati's thick hair cut to an inch or two short and rumpled, the Hufflepuff's buzzed close to the base of her skull and spiky on top—they burst out laughing in the middle of the aisle, clutching each other's arms.
They had shared a mirror though all the long days of war. It made them, in some ways, family. Parvati went home on holidays to her parents, who had spent the war locked away in a country vacation home. Parvati did not know what it was like to wake up each morning fearing for your children and go to sleep each night fearing for them. She did not know what it felt like to have your heart freeze at every pop or crack of the fire that might be the beginning of a call to let you know that one of your daughters was an only child. She did not know what it felt like to keep that fire burning every day and night anyway.
But her parents had not walked through the occupied halls of Hogwarts, treated the wounds of eleven year old children who had been told that they were brave, wise, fair, loyal, and who had tried so hard to live up to an old hat's promises.
"How are you doing?” the Puff asked, because everyone knew Parvati and Lavender had walked through that hidden door together.
"I like your hair," said Parvati.
Parvati remembered many things about Lavender Brown. Here was one: in their third year at Hogwarts, Lavender had cried over her dead rabbit for a week.
It had been a punchline.
The Room of Requirement becomes whatever you need it to be. Sometimes the dead do that, too. A saint, a sinner, someone to scream at or someone to pray to.
Parvati would go through old photos, old class notes with Lavender's comments in the margins. She would go through the books of Colin's photography. They were eulogies of sorts, silent dirges, but they were also captured memories.
Parvati clung to the bits she didn't understand. Why this weird little doodle, Lav? Why had Colin thought this photo was worth keeping, in all its slightly blurred glory? Was she lacking some essential sense of artistry, or was there a story behind it?
She clung to the parts that were not for her. She clung to the reminders that they had once existed outside her imagination.
The pureblood families of the wizarding world had met up for dinner parties and charitable galas. It wasn’t a blood purism thing, no, of course not, they told each other. After all, not all purebloods were invited (the Weasleys worked as civil servants, can you imagine?), and after all Lucius Malfoy had sworn he’d been Imperiused throughout the (voices lowered) war with (voices lowered further) You-Know-Who.
This was just about legacy, about families with similar sense of history, of culture, of community.
They threw their children into a spare room with some nannies and went out to snack on lobster puffs in the name of donations to some cause or other.
Malfoys and Parkinsons, Boneses and Longbottoms, Patils, mingled on plush carpets, scrawling and then toddling and stumbling and laughing.
Pansy Parkinson had a threadbare unicorn toy she wouldn’t let go of despite her mother’s desperate promises to buy her eight new ones. This quite endeared her to Padma and Parvati, who shared a centaur toy that neighed if you said the magic word and trotted if you said another.
Even with the simplicity of shared equine interests, political maneuvering started early. Neville, who never accidentally moved trash cans or grew his hair the way real wizards did, and whose grandmother was antisocial and often absent, got shunned. Draco Malfoy’s first word was “my father.”
Yes, that’s one word.
Unicorns and centaurs had grand adventures on plush carpet fields, but then they grew up. They got on a train. They put on a Hat.
Parvati, the red on the trim of her robes so new she was afraid it would fall off, had stepped in when Slytherin had started bullying Neville in that first Quidditch lesson.
Pansy had sneered about crybabies and then hadn't talked to her for years. Parvati had wondered if Pansy, too, had been afraid of washing the color out of her robes.
Padma and Parvati watched, from a distance, as Pansy fell in and out of love with Draco Malfoy. The closest they ever came to her was when Professor Grubby-Plank talked about unicorns and they watched Pansy try to pretend her eyes didn't light up at the thought.
Padma and Parvati fell into their own loves, too. Parvati nursed a thing for Harry Potter until the Yule Ball. She'd kissed Lavender once, in one of those truth or dare games in the girls' dormitory where Hermione always chose truth and Ginny Weasley always chose dare.
Padma dated Eloise Midgen for a year, wrote sonnets to her off-center nose, but they eventually parted over artistic differences.
Years later, out for a beer after a particularly long day, Parvati started when someone stopped behind her shoulder. “Parvati?” said Pansy Parkinson.
Pansy rolled her eyes. “I can tell you apart, idiot.”
“What do you want, Parkinson? Why aren’t you out with your little Death Eater boyfriend?”
“Careful with those slurs, Par.”
“Nah, they picked that one themselves.”
Pansy grinned wider. “They did, didn’t they? Idiots.”
Parvati considered her for a moment, thought about unicorns, thought about how tired she was of being at war. “So where is he? Draco?”
"He dropped me," Pansy said, flopping elegantly into the seat next to her.
“I’d say 'condolences,' but he was a dweeb even at three.”
Pansy shrugged and ordered a glass of cranberry juice. She was working at the Daily Prophet, apprenticed to Rita Skeeter. Parvati snorted into her drink at the news. “Well, I suppose when you’re blessed with a tongue that sharp, it’s a waste not to put it to work.”
After a few weeks of weekly drinks, Parvati asked Pansy why she kept showing up, listening to stories, and making Parvati cackle into her basket of chips. “You made it very clear in school exactly how much you cared about people like me.”
“You mean I was a bully and a bigot,” said Pansy. She said it darkly, like the end of a conversation. Parvati had once been afraid of the dark, but not anymore.
“Yeah,” she said. “Why are you here?”
"Because I'm not fifteen anymore," said Pansy sharply. "God, do you know what precious Potter Sr. got up to at school, the bully? But boys get to grow up to be men, you see, and us girls just grow up to be bitches."
Parvati put on gold hoop earrings when she went out in the evenings, the kind they tell you not to wear because they give someone something to grab in a struggle. She painted her lips a dark red and put gold glitter at the edges of her eyes.
Fine. Call it a dare. Maybe it was.
The next time Pansy met Parvati for drinks, the Slytherin brought Ginny Weasley. Parvati used a neat charm she’d learned at work and checked for illusions. But they had met on the Prophet, it seemed, where Ginny was beginning to write for the sports section.
After that evening, Parvati stopped wondering about this unexpected friendship. They were both hard women, with sharp edges, who had learned not to bruise everyone in their way. Just the ones who deserved it.
It was why Parvati was here, too after all. She woke up at night with all her muscles clenched, ready to run. At work, in love, at home, her first response was sharp, and her second held her ground. It was a relief and a pleasure to lean back on nights off with women she knew she would not injure on accident.
Ginny started showing up to their weekly nights out. Parvati brought Padma along sometimes, and she often dragged them out of their nice little pubs and off to art shows and weird outdoor musical festivals.
Some days the conversation turned to the war, and especially the last battle. "Do you feel bad about it?" Parvati asked once.
"No," said Pansy. "Selling out Potter, to keep hundreds of kids alive?"
Parvati shot a glance at Ginny, who was calmly sipping her drink.
"That going to put a wrench in this lady friendship?" Pansy asked, edging on the lifted-chin defiance that would have done the best Gryffindor proud.
Ginny ate three peanuts, one by one, watching her, and then said, "So long as you don't mind that if you'd made a single twitch in Harry's direction that night, I would have hexed you something permanent."
"Fair," said Pansy. They shook and Parvati downed her drink.
"Y'all are crazy," Parvati said.
"Who wants to dance?" said Padma. "Maybe we can make your tabloid, Parkinson."
Dennis Creevey came to visit Parvati at the Ministry and Parvati could tell, as she walked him through offices and archives and elevators, that people were wondering if it was Bring Your Kid to Work Day.
Dennis had not grown more than a few inches even though by the end his brother Colin had started shooting upwards. Colin had died at almost their father's height. Dennis had drifted home, after the war, and felt small.
Parvati knew better than anyone what it was to have people see another person when they looked at you.
(She knew better than anyone but George Weasley) (but she tried not to think about that).
It didn’t get bad until they went down to the shooting range and Dennis shuddered to a stop. They got him out into the hall before he started hyperventilating. A big man who had been one of Parvati’s combat instructors helped them out, choking back a laugh. “Brought your little brother in?” He tousled Dennis’s hair while Parvati glared. “Unblooded, eh?”
Parvati's shoulders settled back as Dennis flinched. She snapped, "Dennis fought in the Second Wizarding War. He's a veteran, a soldier."
"What's he jumping at then?" said the man. "Looks like a kid to me."
“I shouldn’t have taken him in there, with curses flying,” Parvati said furiously. "It looked like a Defense Against the Dark Arts Class, from that last year, except our targets aren't—"
"Children," said Dennis, breathless. His hands were shaking, but he was trying to pull himself together.
"I thought you said you were soldiers," the Auror sniffed, trying to bluster.
"We were both," she said, pulling Dennis down the hall. Potter, being Harry Potter, had gotten an actual office, if a small one, so they ducked in there to let Dennis shake it out.
After Parvati had gotten some liquid in Dennis, a smile out of him, and gotten him into the Floo home, she took the elevator up to the office of the Auror instructor who had helped them out of the firing range. He made her cool her heels in the hallway.
When he finally put down his papers, he said, “I take it you have a problem?”
“That was disrespectful, sir, your conduct earlier,” said Parvati.
"Disrespectful? This is the Aurors, Patil. Respect doesn’t run the other direction. It doesn’t go from men like me to greenies like you, or civilians like your little friend.”
“He is not a civilian,” said Parvati.
The Auror shrugged. “So you hid for a year from some teachers who wanted to rap you across the back of the hand with a ruler."
"You ever had that hit?" said Parvati. "Wood and metal slammed across your phalanges and metacarpals—my sister is a painter. They didn't use a ruler. They used a vice hex."
She stepped inside the office, shutting the door behind her. "Have you ever been Crucioed?" she asked.
The Auror opened his mouth to speak, but Parvati kept going, calm, dismissive: "I don't mean in training, in a nice padded room with an instructor who will take you for beers after. I don't even mean by some criminal in a dark alley when you don't know if you're going to make it to the end of the day. I mean have you ever been Crucioed in a classroom, in front of your sister and a bunch of terrified children. Have you ever been Crucioed by someone who enjoyed it, when you were expendable? Have you ever gasped yourself back to life when they were done and known the next morning you were going to walk right back in and sit at your desk, and wait, and hope it happened to you and not some kid half your size?"
The Auror had gone silent.
Parvati looked him over slowly. "I have been an object lesson in disobedience from people I couldn't get away from. I have watched children scream, and done nothing, because I was in a war and it wasn't strategic and they were soldiers too. They would survive. And most of us did. But we are not the same as we were. You will respect our war."
Some nights, Parvati wondered how am I supposed to do this?
"I will be brave," she’d whisper. By the time she woke up in the morning, her pillow would have dried.
This is bravery. Sometimes just breathing is bravery. Remembering them. Never give up. Never give them up.
Parvati was so much more than brave, but this was where she started, this is where she would always start. She gave herself a place to stand: trampled, solid ground at the very center of her.
I will be brave.
So let's talk about bravery. Let's talk about the girl crying outside the closed door of the Room of Requirement because she is not sure she wants to know what she needs, because she is not sure she deserves to need things.
Let's talk about ownership. Lavender painting on her face in wartime, Padma painting every space she's ever lived in, every space but her own skin.
Let's talk about phoenixes, about fires you cannot put out: reborn, slain, reborn, but the same bird. Phoenix tears heal—their tears. Let's talk about how the thing that transforms death into something more is grief.
When Professor Sprout retired and Neville was made head Herbology professor, the DA flocked to Hogwarts to congratulate their old general. They met at the gates and shrieked, hugged, smirked and bumped shoulders.
Parvati watched her old schoolmates and old war buddies climb into the carriages that were not horseless. Luna fed the thestrals from a plastic bag of steaks. Ginny patted the one that had once carried her to the Department of Mysteries. Others watched tails flick, or shied away, or scratched outstretched noses. Zacharias Smith stared pointedly about their bony shoulders. But Parvati knew they all saw them. She blew into one of their noses, because Padma had once told her that that was how horses introduced themselves.
There was butterbeer overflowing and the House Elves outdid themselves with the food. Could they really have expected anything else in a party for a man married to a woman who was a Hufflepuff and also the owner of the Leaky Cauldron? Their general had grown no less humble and Parvati grinned to see him dodging compliments and trying to point praise and conversation at anyone but himself. After a few hours of small talk about jobs and families, and very little talk of old scars, Parvati slipped away from the back of the party.
She climbed stairs and went down little corridors. She crossed the castle, going from burn mark to repaired banister (the wood no longer shiny and new, not after years, but Parvati ran her fingers over it and remembered it splintering under the weight of a thrown third year who had shown too much bravery) to each unmarked stone where she knew a life had guttered out.
At first she couldn't find the little alcove where Fred Weasley had died in the middle of a laugh. She hiked up her dress robes and went from corridor to corridor until she finally found the one that made her shudder to a stop. She scrubbed her eyes and walked on.
In the main courtyard Parvati thought she heard a creeping Death Eater, a sneaking werewolf, a petty thief about to get the jump on a distracted Auror—when she whirled around, her hand on her wand but her wand not drawn, it was a third year girl with red on the trim of her robes.
The girl was staring, terrified, and Parvati bit back the promise I'm not going to hurt you. She said instead, "I won't get you in trouble," because that was what students worried about, wasn't it? Fourteen year old girls sneaking out on a dare. Losing Hogsmeade privileges. Writing lines.
The girl squinted at her. "Who are you?"
"A visitor," said Parvati. "I'm friends with Professor Longbottom." She put her hands in the pockets of her dress robes. "Do you do this a lot?"
"How else would you get to do anything?" the girl said cheekily, brash now that she knew she wasn't in for a detention.
"You were pretty obvious. Do you know the quiet foot charm?" Parvati asked. When the girl shook her head, Parvati pulled her wand out, not to slay or to defend, but to teach.
Parvati did it for so many reasons: because the girl might need it someday. Because maybe she wouldn't. Maybe this girl would never use this little spell for anything but sneaking past prefects and meeting cute Ravenclaws in empty classrooms. Maybe in this girl's hands this charm would not be a weapon of war.
And if it was? If war came again to these hallowed halls? She wanted her children armed.
After she sent the girl up to Gryffindor Tower, Parvati climbed back down the stairs. She had always known where she was going, just not what she would find.
The Room of Requirement gives you what you need. The door, cold under her fingers, opened easily. It was pitch black beyond it. Parvati eased her toes toward the door jam. What do I need?
Parvati stepped inside the Room and one by one floating candles flickered into life. It was not the burned room of lost things or Dumbledore's chamberpot collection. It was the DA headquarters from the very heart of the occupation.
Her stomach dropped to her knees. Was this what she needed? Some dark nights, this was what she wanted.
She wanted to go. She just wanted to go home.
The practice area and the cursed dummies, the first place she had swung a wand and felt like she could keep her own self safe. (She was wrong, wrong, but she wanted that feeling, she wanted it back).
There, too: the dark back room, with its rumpled blankets and hammocks swinging slightly. The heavy, insulated silence of the place, the one that whispered you're safe, you're held, you're here.
Her robes swished in the silence of the empty Room.
She ached for this. There, the camp stove where the Creevey boys made hot cocoa out of smuggled-in care packages.
The Room would provide hot cocoa, of course, if needed. But this was sweeter, the smuggled stuff. This was reminder to these stranded children that someone, somewhere, wanted them to have a mug of something warm and rich to cradle in their palms.
"Is that it?" she said to the Room. "This is what I need? An empty refuge in the middle of a war."
Here, she had beaten Fred and George at Exploding Snap. There, Marietta had gotten Cho to giggle so hard she cramped and gasped with it. Parvati had blasted targets and done homework and healed children and braided her sister's hair, braided Lavender's.
Parvati strode furiously across the room, throwing doors and drawers open, thumbing through books, kicking through discarded piles of blankets and ruined practice dummies, looking for something changed. This couldn't be all. This couldn't be the answer.
"We won this war," she said. "What do you want to tell me?" she demanded. "That in the end, it always comes back to this? That I will never outgrow my war?"
She found books on battle charms, a careful cabinet of healing potions, a one-eared teddy bear tucked behind a pile of blankets like the owner wanted to hide it.
At seventeen, trying to be brave, Parvati would have laughed. She would have been one of the ones this kid was hiding this from.
She put the bear gently on a worn blue blanket. When she rose, she was breathing softer. Walking through the darkened room, she felt like she was being followed by ghosts. She felt like one of them, like she'd gotten stuck in the cracks of this stone floor, trapped in its changing mirrors, her rapidly beating heart forever living in the terrified, stubborn echoes of this place.
"I don't need this," she said. "I can live in a world that's not at war," she said, and it felt like a lie.
"There will always be wars," she tried. "I'll survive."
Why did you think I needed this? Did you think I don't see this place behind my eyelids whenever I want? In the moment before I wake up I can hear Dean Thomas snoring in rhythm with Seamas.
Did you think I didn't already know that I can never escape?
I will always be here. I will always be the schoolgirl at war, quills discarded and wand raised, heart in my throat—
The long mirror of the girls' bathroom rose into view as her heels clicked down the stone steps to it.
Her footsteps were slow now. They shuddered to a stop in front of that wide counter, that chilled glass. A discarded eyeliner pencil. Blush, brushes, foundation and curlers. A bit of lipstick smeared on the mirror where Lavender had pressed a kiss, that flirty, overdramatic, impossible girl.
Then Parvati looked up. There was a woman in the mirror staring back at her, dark red lips just slightly parted. Short dark hair twisted atop a sensible outfit with a low neckline but dress robes cut so that you could chase down a criminal. She had a scar on one cheek. She hadn't gotten it in her first war.
Parvati had stood in front of this mirror every morning of that war. She had been desperate. It had written itself into her, that year, into the way she handled crowds, the way she slept, the way she dealt with obstacles and the way she saw the world.
But there was more writing on her now. She had an Auror's training, and she was slowly earning her parents' respect on top of their unearned love. She was building her own home, stringing protections up in its walls, learning Pansy's sharp tongue and Ginny's practicality, which was as ruthless in peacetime as in war, learning Padma's slow unwavering construction of her life, Dennis's bravest patience, his steady gaze.
She was the change. An unrecognizable woman looked back at her over the mirrored bench that had shaped her seventeen year old self. This had been her first war, but it was not her last.
Parvati walked out through the empty room and shut the door behind her.
"What did you find?" said Padma from where she had been waiting outside in the hallway, and Parvati didn't even jump.
"I grew," Parvati said. Her sister wrapped her arms around her and held her until she stopped crying.
Parvati scrubbed her face on her dress robe sleeves, took a step and a breath back, and asked her sister, "What would it show you, Pad?” Padma didn’t say anything and Parvati pressed harder, “What do you need?"
"Paintbrushes," Padma said. She put one stained hand on the door and Parvati heard the lock click open eagerly.
"That's not true," said Parvati.
Padma turned to her, eyes bright and full. "It's not," she agreed. She didn't open the door.
On one of their visits, in the middle of reading her tea cup, Trelawney looked at her, straight-on with those wide old eyes, and clasped Parvati's hands tight. "You will be alright," she said in a cracking voice and Parvati squeezed right back.
That, more than anything the old seer had ever said to her, felt like a prophecy.
Parvati squeezed back, those frail hands in hers, life lines and love lines pressing together, and made it a promise. "I will," she said.
"And beware milk on the next full moon," said Trelawney, pulling back. "It'll either spill or spoil."
When Parvati got home, Padma was sitting on her apartment floor. Well, she was levitating very slightly above it, mending one of Parvati's robes. Padma was having a dry spell, artistically speaking, and needed something to do with her hands. Parvati dropped down next to her. "Long day?" said Padma. "I'm partway through a painting at my place but everything kept looking grey."
"I want a tattoo," said Parvati. "And I want you to design it."
"Mother will be thrilled," said Padma but she put the robe to the side, met Parvati's eyes, and tried to pretend she wasn't inching her fingers toward the sketchpad in her bag.
"I want sunshine," said Parvati. "I want a scar."
"I trust you," said Parvati
"That's specific," said Padma, but she was already sketching.