Chapter 1 : The Mermaids
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Author's Note It is ... a story that I felt had to be told. Please forgive me for its nature - it was not intended to turn out so dark, or so "romantic". Time goes backwards in this story: the first chronological event is the last one written. This piece is dedicated to GubraithianFire and Violet Gryfindor, for being simply amazing, the both of you! :) Enjoy.
Just so you're weeks and worlds away from home,
And among midsummer hills have set up camp
In the deep bronze glories of declining day.
(Anthony Hecht, "The Book of Yolek")
The two of them are changed yet again. Minerva wants a more poetic phrase. She lacks it. He has stepped towards the darkness, she away from it, into that wash of gray and soot and ash and she does not understand where she stands at the bend in the river. Her hair is once again tightly plaited, wrapped in a bun at the base of her head. Her eyes look up, find his.
"Did Dumbledore give you the position?"
He shakes his head no, and she can see the angry tears lining his black eyes. Dumbledore had not known what it had meant to Tom, her Tom, her Thomas, forever. He looks up, blinking them back, angry at weakness.
In her fist she clenches the sheet of paper that is proof of a secure living, of a life that she knows she is now granted. She wants to hide it, but he has already seen. The muscles in his jaw flex, and before she knows it, quick as a tiger, his arm flashes out to hit her face.
She cries out in alarm before falling to the floor, graceful as a dying butterfly. Rage twists in his face, his hair comes down atop his eyes, the man transformed, mutated, a monster. She reaches a shaking hand to touch his alabaster skin.
"Who has done this to you?" she whispers. "Tom?"
He doesn't answer. He doesn't wish to. Instead, he leaves a crumpled and water-stained paper boat on her table.
She turns at the sound of his voice. It calls to her, just as it always has. They are five years past the death, the moment that changed them both for the worse. Tom is no longer the passive dreamer, the wondering boy. He has become afire with destruction.
Minerva, for her part, is also changed. For want of ambition, she has become Head Girl, something she knows Tom aspires to for his last year at Hogwarts. Red curls drape over her shoulder, braided again, but not so tight as the plait of her childhood. She has let herself unwind, uncurl, fall. A book of dramatic monologues lies in her hand, lofty, desired. Tom cranes his neck to see.
"What's that?" he asks. His voice is edged with ready curiosity. Perhaps he does not want her to answer at all.
"Have you not heard of Robert Browning?" she responds scornfully. She baits him, and hands him the book, letting its leathery body slip from her palm into his hands. "A muggle poet."
The expression in his eyes does not change as he scans the pages, turning them gingerly, one by one. He pauses at a monologue and, sliding her eyes so that she might have a glimpse of his interest, notes that he is reading "Porphyria's Lover". The ready will to quote it jumps from her tongue, but she holds back. Instead, his voice comes out at her like a ghost.
"And yet God has not said a word!" Minerva's eyes drop. The last line. Of course. Tom sneers and snaps the book closed. "Religion."
She takes the book back from him, leafing through it before letting it fall back into her lap. Tom circles around her chair and takes a seat across from her. His knee props up his ankle. He watches her as slowly she slips the book of poetry back into her satchel, shamed that he has caught her with literature such as this. Her love for it has grown to immediate dislike. Instead, she takes up a parchment and quill and leans forward to write on the table.
She has not passed the words "Dear Louisa," when Tom takes the parchment from her hand and rolls it up. Minerva sighs.
"What now, Tom?"
He leans back again, rolling the edge of his own quill through his fingers, disregarding the inky smears he creates. The clouds roll against the window and curl at the fireplace. A small smile graces his hollow features.
"You look well."
I hear the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
(T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")
Thomas Marvolo's mind is in turmoil. The dead bird should have told him what was to come: its wings broken, smeared with old and human blood. It had carried a letter of apology to the school, but the school had never found it. The owl must have had died along the river, and by a strange and sickening twist of fate, been washed up on the rocky shores in the middle of the forest, beyond the castle walls. Tom goes back to where he'd found the snowy corpse, although he has no doubt some hungry beast from within has already devoured the body. He feels the pale edges of the envelope burn against his chest in the pocket of his coat.
Perhaps, he muses, he should return it to the school. He pulls it out, he wonders at the words:
"To Headmaster Dippet:
Sir, I offer my most sincere apologies. My family and I in Auxerre, Yonne, where we will be detained - I hope - for not longer than a few weeks. You are, of course, aware of the situation. My parents tell me that I should fly from this place of death and pain. I rob myself of that relief: I have not the skill to do as such, nor am I willing to give up my family. Please present my apologies to all my professors.
The words taste like salt on Tom's tongue. Fly from a place - a palace - of death and pain. A theft of that relief. His white arms stretch out as he reaches the rocky river. As predicted, the dead bird had been consumed by a beast or another, the only remnants left a few white feathers. A footstep sounds behind him, and he turns around, burying the small piece of parchment back into his breast pocket. The beating of his heart increases and he wants to snarl at the intruder.
But it is just a girl, young as he is, alone, passive, curious.
"I followed you," she says, and at her voice he recognizes her. Her braid is neatly plaited, not a hair out of place. She warily steps across a small brook that joins the river, but on the third stone across loses her balance and her foot splashes into the stream. She bites back a cry and shivers at the sudden cold. Tom does not move.
"Minerva," he says. His voice falls flat, like the stone she has just slipped from. She has regained her balance and is walking towards the river, ignoring the cold in her foot. Cautiously, she approaches him, noting with apprehension the downy feathers littered at his feet. They are speckled brown and gray and white. She bends to pick one up, toying with it in her hands. It feels soft.
"Tom." Her voice carries the same tone as his and as he turns away from her to stare at the river, she does the same. It froths and foams at the edge of their feet, turning the gray flat stones white. She cannot hear her words for roaring. Looking up, she brushes a leafy branch out of her face. The sun dapples the forest floor with light, but the river swallows it completely.
"I saw you had the letter, Tom." There is no reaction from his youthful, swanlike face, but she turns to look at him, a child to a child. Swiftly, because there is no hiding anything from her, he pulls it from the pocket above his breast and places it in her waiting hands. He watches as her dark eyes quickly scan the letter, delicate brow furrowing, a final rebellious curl loosed from her tight braid.
"You should have given it to someone," she says, and he acquiesces with a curt nod of the head. He knows this. But there is no truth in telling her that he had planned to give it to the school. He would have done so only, if ever, on a whim. But her next words surprise him.
"I don't suppose it matters now, does it?"
He stares at her. "No, I don't suppose it does." He looks at the river again, the deep hole of washing sorrow that swallows all light. His jaw tightens. His teeth gnaw at the inside of his cheek.
"D'you think he knew about Levi?"
Minerva's gaze is sharp. "Why?"
Tom gives an innocent shrug. "I'm just wondering. Think about it," he says, "you're the most powerful tyrant in the world. You kill hundreds of thousands of people. Lists of them. Pages and sheets. D'you think Levi was just a name for him? Or did he know?" Tom's gaze has become as stony as granite. "D'you think he knew Levi was a wizard?"
Minerva has now turned away.
"I don't care."
It is Minerva's turn to shrug. "It's the only way to keep sane."
He watches as slowly she folds the letter into a paper boat and kisses it. It floats off of her palm, as alight with magic as she is, and falls into the roiling river at their feet and in a moment of Tom's hesitation, is drowned.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild with a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
(William Butler Yeats, "The Stolen Child")
"Levi Vilenkin has died."
Deputy Headmistress Demetria Chatwin speaks with a somber voice. A silence still as death has washed over the crowd of of students assembled before her and she must again make amends for Armando Dippet's absence. Armando, she remarks, has never been one to master grief or deception. Most of all inflicted by himself. Chatwin gazes at the faces of young students before her: even the Slytherins have managed to look destroyed.
"I know a lot of you were his friends. The ... circumstances of his death are not yet disclosed, but as you are all aware of the situation, I am sure you will be able to draw your own conclusions. Levi was strong, idealistic, loyal, brave. A model representative of his house."
Yes, let her soothe them. The name of the dead student tastes bitter on her tongue. She has interrupted classes for news that will govern school gossip for the remainder of the school year. There are only fourteen days left, she remarks, but keeps the comment to herself. The sun washes through the windows. It makes soft patterns on the tiled floor. Solemnly, the students blink at her, expecting more words to come from her mouth. Chatwin's throat constricts itself. Her voice finds itself hoarse. Her lips push air through lips parched and dry. The words make no sound. No more.
Levi Vilenkin has died.
The students would not know the circumstances of his death, then. It is to be kept quiet, a secret, untouched by anyone but those privy to the terrible information surrounding the world at this moment. The curious, inquisitive gaze of a young, black-haired Slytherin stares back at her. She swallows the bile rising in her throat. Whatever the circumstances, she must not waver. The words press themselves against her lips once again.
"Professor Dippet makes his apologies. He was not able to present the information, having been called away to the Ministry on urgent business."
Levi Vilenkin has died.
She departs swiftly, her robes billowing out behind her, and as her step speeds up the mass of curls she had charmed to stay atop her head comes tumbling down. Like midnight, the walls of her demeanor collapse. A spell must be maintained by a cool composure. This she knows. But -- no, she cannot say it, she cannot think it. A student of hers has died, and she was unable to protect him from the earth that swallows.
The year is 1941. France has fallen to Hitler, and Levi Vilenkin has died.
"Venez, venez!" Levi Vilenkin calls from his perch above his father's makeshift circus ring. His broken French does not help him more than that, and he waves at passerby to stop and gaze at the acts there presented. He looks down: his father is a contortionist. His cap still atop his crown, he has managed to slip his head between his legs and to stand on his elbows. Levi fingers his wand in his pocket, sending a quiet spell towards his father, letting the passersby believe that there is truly more talent than real in his poor, broken family.
The sun beats down atop Levi's cap, and he hums the French Marseillaise to his father's tap-dancing now. But his humming catches and soon the entire crowd is staring at him, young British-Polish boy, from whose lips pour the lyrics of the fatherland.
Do they dare, they wonder. Do they dare so openly defy the German occupation? A man stands up and ignores Levi's father. His heavy, thick baritone fills the square:
"Entendez-vous dans les campagnes mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!"
And slowly, the rest of the crowd, their eyes frightened and feverish with want for defiance, join in. Levi's eyes go wide, his humming stops. But the throng cannot be suppressed, even after an officer calls over a Vichy soldier stationed a few blocks over to disperse them. Levi jumps down from the boxes on which he stood and pulls his cap down to cover his face. He knows his father is afraid. The thunderous roar of the song nearly begins to suffocate them.
"Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!"
A gunshot goes off into the air. The crowd flees, and all that is left is Levi and his father, cleaning up the remains of a poor circus. The Vichy soldier draws closer. Levi is muttering under his breath, quietly, fearfully, his arms shaking.
And he errs.
Levi has not even the time to avoid the butt of the soldier's rifle.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
(T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")
Crazy non-Jew (I have only Wikipedia to lend me this, if I am wrong, please forgive me)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!
Do you hear in the fields those fierce soldiers roar?
They're coming straight into your arms to kill your sons, your wives!
To arms, citizens, form your batallions,
Let's march, let's march! That an impure blood may quench our furrows!