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Hollow Bones by inkwell
Chapter 1: Mourner
A/N: For S., who inspired, but will never read this story.
Reviews are highly appreciated! :)
She was destined to mourn before she was born because her people died before her birth. And so her life is from the start filled with the pain of absence and missing people she never met. An uncle and an aunt who will never send her a birthday card and cousins who will never be her playmates.
She carries the pain with her everywhere, tucked away safely in a pocket of her heart. She carries it at breakfast table, at the muggle school she attends as a child, at long walks in the woods behind her home. Her sober sadness pleases her parents and it’s only much later that she will realize how abnormal this is. (By the time she will, they will be both dead and it won’t matter anymore; she will mourn them too anyway.)
She is nine when she tells her father that if she ever has a son, she will name him Edgar after his lost brother. He will never look more proud of her, or at least she will never be more certain of it. She is a good daughter.
She mourns her dead dutifully until the age of sixteen and then her aunt is murdered. This, she manages to think through the haze of pain, is different. This is real; the absence is real, because there really was a warm body, a benevolent smile, wrinkled eyes, an unladylike laughter, useful advice, that are not anymore.
Her aunt’s funeral is the first she attends, but there are more to come. She watches as the coffin is lowered in the gaping hole and as people form a line to throw some soil or flowers in the open grave, and she realizes that you can only miss the things you have known. She gets angry at her parents for teaching her otherwise.
She now wants to have a daughter and name her Amelia, but she doesn’t tell her parents because it will please them, and she’s not in that business anymore. She remains a good daughter though, because she keeps mourning all her dead.
She visits her aunt’s grave often. She spends hours at the cemetery, walking among the graves, reading the names and the dates, calculating how many years they spent in this world; calculating whether they spent more time above the ground or in it. Her heart sinks every time she comes across someone who died too young, or too recently and she wonders if it is wise to use up her pity and compassion on people she didn’t know. She can see the absurdity of the thing: she didn’t know her uncle and his family, but still she mourns for their deaths.
Tending Amelia’s grave makes her understand that the mourning is meant for the living, not the dead. It is the living who need comfort and support, it is them who feel pain and despair. The dead are dead. They don’t mind being six feet under because they can’t breathe, and they don’t regret or miss anything, because they can’t remember.
Susan doesn’t believe in any kind of supreme being or creator, so she finds it unlikely that her aunt is watching her from the sky. If she stops tending her grave, she won’t find out and she won’t get angry or sad. Deep down, most people know that the dead don’t care. And yet they bring them flowers and say that their John would have liked this and that. They say this, but are careful not to say that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, because their John is dead. They are careful not to say that it is actually them who care because they are the ones who are left behind, the ones left to feel guilty for being entitled to life.
Susan understands them; she knows of guilt. She knows that her aunt can’t see her or judge her, but she keeps showing her respect to her by tending her grave. She has made a promise and she wants to keep it, but she realizes soon enough that it was a promise made to herself and not her aunt. And somehow, this strikes her as healthy, and sane.
Susan Bones, level-headed, composed; sane.
By eighteen she has lost count of the people she has to mourn and the funerals she has to attend, but it’s much, much different now. These are people she had lived with and their deaths were not a piece of news in the paper, but something she saw with her own eyes. She now has to mourn not just an absence, a departure, but a real death, a real passage from being to non-being. Another difference: her friends mourn with her now, although she’s not sure this is comforting because in truth, everyone is alone in sorrow.
She knows that well by now, better than most of them.
And the passing thought, which fills her with guilt: that she ought to have known those people better than she did.
The war has shattered her. She is too young to look old, but she feels too old to act young. Sometimes she thinks she doesn’t have the right to feel as broken as others. She didn’t loose a mother, like Hannah; she didn’t loose a brother, like Dennis Creevey and the Weasleys. But why should that mean her pain is not as deep as theirs?
At nineteen she looses both her parents to the dragon pox. How silly. They survived a war, only to succumb to a common disease. It is infuriating that people often act as if their deaths are not tragic enough, just because they didn’t die in the war. Dying from dragon pox is not heroic enough, apparently. Susan suspects that if they had died from natural causes at wartime, they would be remembered as war heroes anyway, and then mourning them would be more than appropriate.
To Susan it is appropriate because they were the people who raised her, and that seems to her like reason enough. She mourns them along with the rest of her dead. Most people she knows are trying to forget, even if they know it’s impossible. She doesn’t try; she decides that she will remember, even if everyone else forgets. The dead are dead and they don’t care, but someone has to remember. She’s not sure why; she just feels it’s the moral thing to do.
She has the impulse to mourn herself when she turns twenty. The round number makes her feel more of an adult somehow, although she has officially been one for the past three years. She feels guilty that she hasn’t been doing much with her life, not nearly as much as she could. Days go by, the one identical with the other, and with every passing hour she feels like she has been wasting her youth. Well, she has. Two decades. Two decades, Merlin, she’s so old…
And yet she hasn’t aged at all in three years, because she has been dead for three years. They all died the night of the Final Battle, even the ones who survived. They had never been more alive than during the war, when they were the closest to death, but their souls left with those of the dead, and now they are left to walk on earth like ghosts who were allowed to keep their bodies.
And though she is dead too, she still mourns for her dead, and never wonders who will mourn for her.
She’s twenty and a half when she truly falls in love for the first time. With Terry Boot, who would have thought? Despite the D.A. and the common classes, she hardly remembers him now. She remembers the dead more clearly than the living.
He doesn’t remember her at all when he strikes up a conversation with her in one of the Ministry lifts, and she has to remind him. They comically shake hands as if this was the first time they met and she is surprised at how warm his hand is.
And so it begins.
He does nothing more special than being the right one. He ditches his friends to join her at lunch hour. He asks her questions and is genuinely interested in the answers she gives. She feels at ease with him; most men make her feel threatened, but not him. They talk and talk and talk, and they are never short of things to talk about. She has never met anyone who understands her so well; no one who understands her better than herself.
On their first official date, he tells her that people fall in love with the ones they feel they are like, or the ones they wish they were like. Or both. It is the most profound thing Susan has ever heard, and because she is like Terry and at the same time she wishes she were more like him, she falls for him.
She is his, and he is hers. It is the most natural thing in the world, him and her together, and she is surprised at how unsurprising this actually is.
The blood rushing through his veins makes her blood rush too, and she realizes that she has spent more time with the dead rather than the living, that she is not dead, only dormant. Like that fairy tale they had read at muggle school, his kiss wakes her from her sleep and she opens her eyes to see a life ready to be lived.
For the first time in her life she stops mourning the dead. They lay half-forgotten, pushed at the back of her mind, and the recent memories of Terry push them back further. The last flowers she brought them wilt and decay. Moss grows on the gravestones, half-covering the names and dates, making sure that those who lie there will be forgotten. Weeds grow on the cold earth of the graves, making it obvious that those who lie there are abandoned.
She is not there to see; if she goes there to see, she will feel compelled to clean the moss from the names, so as not to deprive them of chance encounters with people they might have known. If she goes there to see, it will take time, time from a life that needs to be lived. She takes the pain out of the pocket in her heart and locks it safely in her nightstand drawer. What is the use, anyway? Mourning? She’s the only one who took comfort in it – they won’t miss it, or her.
The day her friend Justin Finch-Fletchley marries Parvati Patil is one of the happiest in her life. The end is coming, but she doesn’t know it. She attends the ceremony with Terry, but they spend most of the reception apart, reuniting with old friends. She doesn’t mind. She thinks that it’s alright to be separate now, because there are a lot more weddings to attend together.
To think that they have time, is her first and last mistake.
When the end comes, she’s unprepared. He never promised her eternal love and a house by the sea and she was thankful that he gave her that much credit, that he never assumed she would fall for that. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, because she knew it could all end by tomorrow. And yet, when tomorrow comes, she wants to return to yesterday.
There are no fights, no hard feelings. Even the most epic of love stories can be defeated by a ruthless reality and two rabbit hearts. The break-up is ridiculously civilized, as they both try to make it as easy for each other as possible. None of them points out that trying so hard not to hurt each other most probably means they’re not supposed to split.
She doesn’t know how to put an end to things, but she is the first to leave, so that she learns.
And so it ends.
She returns to her dead and they take her back without questions. Or she retrieves them from the recesses of her mind and they obey her call. Either way she mourns for them, and Terry is among them too now.
A relationship always ends with death. The two parties are dead to each other when they finally part ways, and to announce the split to concerned friends and family is much like announcing a death, accepting condolences and trying to imagine life without the person who used to be your life.
The first step, Susan knows, is to accept that there is a chance to recover and heal. But it is harder when there have been no cruel words, no regrets. She can’t let go of him, because there is nothing she wishes she could forget. He gave her more than she thought she deserved – she asked for nothing and he gave her almost everything. And for that she can never hate him.
She starts avoiding the living, spending more time with her dead again. At least they don’t pity her, and she finds comfort in their indifference. She likes to think they keep her company; it is the first time she tries to fool herself like that. The dead don’t care; the dead don’t keep company, because the dead are gone.
She knows it. Yet she talks to them about Terry while she tends their graves; it takes a lot of her time (but what else would she be doing, anyway?), because there are so many of them now. All the dead friends that have no family to miss them, her mother and father, her uncle and his family, her aunt. She is the last of the Bones now. She doesn’t see the irony yet, that bones is all she is.
Terry is her first ghost, she realizes a few months later. None of her dead has returned in this form, and so she knows she will be able to forget them if she ever wishes to (she never will, though). They have left and she is the only thing holding them back. But Terry haunts her. He’s in the dog-eared pages of her books, in that loose thread of her scarf, in the empty seat next to her. She has a terrible memory, but his invisible ghost reminds her of every conversation they had had, every knowing looks they had shared. She sometimes spots Terry in a crowd at the Ministry; his ghost seems to her more real than him now.
At twenty-two she is exhausted. Her youth is slipping through her fingers and her beauty is fading locked in her childhood home. She still mourns the dead; not out of duty, but out of habit now. She forgets that she owes them nothing, that they never asked not to be gone. She lays her head on the black soil, next to where their heads should be and she lets her love pour out of her and sink into the ground, to reach them. Mourning is all there is left to her and she knows she can’t mourn if she is dead. And so in a way, the dead keep her to life.
She is empty, and she can’t blame the war, or Terry, or the dead. It is her fault that she chose to give everything she had to the ones who cannot accept it, cannot return it. Life stretches ahead of her, a road as dark and desolate as her. She carries her dead and her pain walking down that road, and it’s too late when she realizes that dead weight is always the heaviest to carry. She doesn’t have the strength to take them out of her pocket any more; if she stops mourning them, she’ll have to join them. She’s not ready yet, but she is close.
She is the last of the Bones. Bones is all she is now, but even her bones are hollow.