Chapter 1 : inamorata
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It wasn’t the intimacy of these moments then rendered them a wonder to him, nor was it the rarity. It was what they offered him and him alone: that of ownership of the moment and the knowledge that he was and would be the only man entitled to savour it.
His quill hovered over the sheet of parchment, his essay half written, his mind skirting about but never quite entering the co-ordinates marking out the domain where he could, if but at a stretch, stake his claim to attentiveness. The sky was a mélange of lazuline and burnished pastel as afternoon segued into the crepuscular blush of dusk, the titian glow of the sun imprinting the silhouette of a window frame on the mahogany expanse of the much-abused desk on which her head rested, her face turned to him partly obscured by her cataract of dark locks. Her eyes were shut, the warmth of the vernal sun on her skin in tandem with the distinct library fug – mould and wood and parchment and ink and musty books – having induced a bout of drowsiness in her. It could have also been because she hadn’t slept the previous night. She’d told him that she’d ‘pulled an all-nighter yesterday’ to complete her Arithmancy essay, but he knew it hadn’t been so much completing an essay as it had been the attaining of her desired level of excellence.
He studied her like he did every day, or rather studied her contours – the curl of an eyelash, a strand of black hair against her skin, the gentle arch of her lip, the veins of her hand, a twitch of her eye – her eyes! – the curve of her elbow, the slender line of her spine in relief against the white fabric of her shirt, her shoulders, her waist, her knees, her legs, her feet. Never in her entirety. Never but during moments such as these, moments which, in his opinion, captured her quintessence. These precious few moments when exhaustion or sleep would claim her from her consciousness and cede her to him, and he would watch her seconds on end, alone. These moments when the sands of time would suspend themselves in an impasse, when his mind would writhe itself into an arabesque of febrile nympholepsy and ardour, of reverence and rapture.
Scorpius was looking at him, amused. Scorpius, their mutual friend, would never understand this captivation, this longing, this dependency. These were moments that contained the beauty of purity and the sheer purity of beauty itself, and the endlessly clever, endlessly rational, endlessly pragmatic Scorpius, the emotional philistine, would for ever be insensible to the shiver of delirium, to the paroxysm of ecstasy these moments could induce in a man.
Seven months was all he’d known her for, and what a time it had been. Seven months of wondrous rediscovery – rediscovery of himself in her, identification of the selfsame qualities in her which he prided himself on, or had failed to appreciate in himself. How soon had she come to be his exaltation, his pride, his undoing, his end. Watching her was watching himself, to take pride in her was to take pride in himself, and as often as not he wondered whether he was a dreadful narcissist. ‘Narcissist? You? Hell no. Aren’t you supposed to be the humblest, most modest bloke, Albus?’ Scorpius had said to him. He didn’t know if Scorpius had been sardonic and he didn’t care either way.
It was the sense of possession that thrilled him, amazed him, the knowledge that these moments – however fleeting they might be – were his and only his, were his in ways they weren’t and could never be others’, in ways they couldn’t be Scorpius’s. In the strictly binary domain his enticement there was no place for a third presence – physical or otherwise, not even for Scorpius their closest friend, especially not when he wasn’t sure anymore whether said domain was still binary. Yes, he and she were two distinct corporeal entities on the face of it, but when it was his sense of self-worth that was derived from her, when it was himself he saw in her, their individual selfhoods attenuated to an indistinguishable point.
There were times when, he had to admit, he'd wonder if she were only just a myth conjured by his subconscious, whether one day she would cease to exist, expunged from every memory but his. Scorpius had laughed when he’d heard of this fear. ‘Does seem so, doesn’t it? That face for a start, it’s improbable. Then again, it’s all countervailed by her eccentricities. I mean, people here do see her as something of an oddity. An anomaly that defies every stereotype,’ Scorpius had said. Scorpius was right of course, Scorpius was always right.
Perfection, as he knew, was a paradigm, a benchmark universally agreed upon. Aesthetic perfection was subjective, contestable; each person assessed it using different yardsticks. And yet there were those rare instances when these established benchmarks would have to be reconsidered in the face of a finer paradigm. She looked like an aesthetic chimera, beautiful in ways that made him suspect whether she was only ever a realisation of a wholly quixotic conception. Hers wasn’t a face which needed to be studied or analysed or got familiarised with to be deemed beautiful; it announced itself thus at first glance. Every element, every aspect of her face was, as Scorpius had put it, improbable in itself: the gentle arch of her upper lip, the slant of her small nose, her eyes – those eyes! – the tapering facial planes. Every last feature of hers possessed a nonpareil ideal. To him, at least.
Nowadays he didn’t very often think of the allure which her facial lineaments commanded; he considered himself – or rather, considered them, for he knew that they could no longer lay claim to any personal individuality – to be above such shallowness. But initially it had been exasperating, not to mention distracting. She’d been a tiresome, twitchy oddball; to him she’d seemed a grotesque caricature of himself. She was him in every respect, even their colouring was identical – both black haired and green eyed, except she was not him. Where he was Albus Potter, she was an achingly beautiful foreigner, a recherché mannequin crafted with Meissen painstakingness. He’d suspected, quite like everyone else had, that there was a parodical element of exaggeration in her actions. Generalisations went with every territory, that of pulchritude being no exception. Stereotypes and clichés did have a firm rooting in fact, at least for the most part, and to challenge this fixity of opinion a transcendental quality was called for.
Even now she was still the same, a contradiction in terms. Twitchy, at times tiresome, painfully opinionated, self-deprecatory, self-doubting, driven to her fingertips and undeniably clever – even if she maintained she wasn’t so much clever as merely perseverant. But something had changed in the past few months, for this ending was a non sequitur to their beginning, and he knew that the change had been wrought in him. It had been gradual, this change, so gradual that there were no defining moments, no turning points, no start point. When and how it had begun, he would never know. Nor did he care to know. It simply didn’t matter to him. Analysis would have wrecked the beauty, the sublimity of it. What was important was the present, the incredulity which these ephemeral moments afforded, these moments which, he was certain, in the days to come would be the memories he'd be drawing nostalgia from. These memories were chosen with care; select few memories made it to his mental repository. There was no fixed pattern and there was always a certain pleasure in the discovery, and it was the randomness that pleasantly surprised him.
There existed, of course, the doubts, the quotidian doubts that plagued every person, doubts that held him back. What if all of his certainties were only ever mythologised? He was not privy to her most intimate thoughts, the enigma that she was, in that he didn’t have the slightest clue whether their thoughts – their deepest, their most private thoughts – were in conformity or not. Nothing in her demeanour suggested that he was anything more than a friend to her. But then there were those moments which counterpoised his doubts, allayed his fears, offered him an unassailable vindication of his convictions, when her eyes – those eyes! – would bore into his own, searchingly, intently, unnervingly.
What she sought in him remained a mystery to him. He’d asked her once, ‘Why d’you look at me like that?’, and she’d blushed and said, ‘You’re different, that’s why.’ ‘Different from what,’ he’d prodded. She’d only said that he was different from Peter.
Who was Peter, he did not know. An old lover of hers perhaps? He’d asked her as much. She'd snorted with laughter. ‘S’nothing like that, you chucklehead. No, no. Peter was never my lover, never will be. He was...’ she’d trailed off, laughing. ‘God, Albus, it’s all so terribly funny.’
‘What’s terribly funny, Danielle?’ he’d asked.
‘You, asking me about Peter when really...’
‘When really ...?’
‘Never mind. It was all an illusion, every goddamned thing was an illusion, nothing was real. Peter’s history now. Where were we anyways? Yes, the cellular decomposition of spells. So I was reading about the Shield Charm the other day and...’
And then they'd been on familiar terrain of academics and he'd never picked up the threads of this conversation. He'd felt he didn't need to. Daemons, if they reared their heads from the miasma of her past, would be exorcised duly. Peter, whoever he was – or wasn’t, as the case might be – would not figure in their future, full stop.
‘I nodded off?’
And now she was awake and was looking at him, looking at him with those eyes he could never tire staring at, eyes crowned by her black brows, those eyes in her face, eyes which by dint of colour and shape and chatoyancy dominated her physiognomy... Those eyes which spanned out in long, lovely lines, the cut of which bestowed upon her a certain exotism, those eyes that lent an almost mesmeric singularity to her... Those eyes which were green like his... Those eyes the green of which assumed a distinctly olive tint during the auroral light of dawn... Those eyes the lambency of which was vivified by the bright light of the day... Those eyes the colour of which permuted mirroring every minutest gradation of her mood, he familiar with what every last nuance of hue connoted... Those eyes which always sought something in him, those eyes which tried to establish a lost connection, those eyes which, unbeknownst to him, searched for another man in him, searched for the man she was insanely in love with, the only man she'd ever be in love with...
He looked away, the suddenness of this action surprising him as much as it always did, the feeling of resentment beginning to take root within him. The moment had ended. She was yawning, awake, and he knew that now he could not look at her. Not anymore. Cursory glances were all he allowed himself now; it was a rule he’d set himself. Of his deepest, most intimate thoughts he wouldn’t speak of. Not to her. Not now. He was convinced in his view that it was a realisation she would have to come to of her own accord, as he’d on his own, without any assistance or prompting on his part. Of that he was certain. Only then was their retreat possible, a retreat into the impregnable umbra of kindred consciousness, emotional self-sufficiency and intellectual autonomy, or what was, in other words, called the homogeny of love.
Till then he would wait.
November 3, 2009: Meh! Certainly not my best what with the empurpled prose, the turgidity and the overall vagueness, but this was my first ever stab at writing romance. It was very strange writing this, getting into the mind of this boy so unhealthily obsessed with this girl and deluding himself about her... I only wanted to capture a moment, rather than write a fully fledged story.
PS:- Chapter summary quoted from the poem 'She Walks in Beauty' by Lord Byron.