Chapter 1 : Veil of Time
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Veil of Time
These moments were few and far between. The clear moments. After all these years in Azkaban they seemed unfamiliar to him. Normality – even a smidgen of it – seemed alien. The clear moments. Those moments when he’d feel as though he’d woken from a deep sleep. When he’d stare at the dark stone walls of the prison. When he’d stare at the filthy floor. When he’d stare out of the tiny window at the top. When he’d look at the mist enshrouding the moon. When he’d look at his arms and the shackles that bound him. His legs. When he’d run his fingers through his hair. The moments during which he could stake a claim to a semblance of consciousness. Excruciating consciousness. When he’d take stock of his life. The moments which would put into perspective the extent of his loss. When he’d find himself alone. Alive. Still alive. Wanting. Needing.
He’d then wish these moments be over. He’d then wish to once again descend into the chaos and anarchy that’d become the mainstay of his life. He’d then wish that he wouldn’t remember. He’d wish he'd succumb to the circumambient magic. He’d wish he’d lose his mind. He’d wish for this to end.
Only he wouldn’t lose. Not his mind. Not now. Not after all these years. He wouldn’t lose. He never did. Except that he had, in another sense. He’d lost too much. There was only pain in remembrance.
He tried not to remember.
Periodically, something slipped, some everyday principle of continuity, some humdrum element that told him where he was in his own story, abandoning him to a waking dream in which there were thoughts but no sense of who was having them, no memory of the hours before, no idea of what he was about, what his plan was, and no curiosity about these matters. 
It was inane to dwell on the past. Yet it was to his past he returned over and over again. It was his only safe haven. His one last hope. Not his past in its entirety, but certain moments, certain events, certain people. There were three people in particular, three of the most important people of his life. James. Remus. Lily.
And the boy. The boy who would never know them.
He thought about James the most.
Their early years. Those summers at James’s house. Their time at school. The gaiety. The laughter. Lily. The first time James kissed Lily. Their wedding. He thought about the day when James held Harry in his hands for the first time.
He thought about all of this. But not enough. These memories were only prologue.
There were many points in his memory to which he didn’t like to return, but yet did exactly so. It's always easier in retrospect to exactly mark the precise moment, that one defining moment of everybody’s life, that one point when one finds oneself at a crossroads, when one makes a choice by dint of asserting one’s prerogative, the choice which eventually ends up defining one’s life – and this case, also the lives of his closest friends – in its entirety. Invariably, when reflected upon in retrospect, it is this choice that one wishes to rectify. It was this choice – a rational and obvious choice at that time – his mistake which had shaped the course of his life, his life which eventually meandered into a hitherto uncharted wasteland. It was curious, really, how one thing leads to another.
Then again, why would he have chosen differently? Till then, all of the choices he’d made had been vindicated. His choice to befriend James, for a start. This particular choice – and ultimately the price he’d had to pay – had been justified. Ten years, or was it even less than that? The ten years he’d known James, those ten best years of his life. His choice to convince James to become an Animagus. Hadn’t they all been right about everything till then?
Why, then, did he have to be so terribly wrong this time?
He wished he wouldn’t think about James.
He liked not to blame anyone or anything, for he had nobody but him to blame. Nowadays he didn’t blame even himself, or to be more specific, he didn't blame his choices. When you’re young, you don’t really know yourself, you don’t know what you truly want, what you truly need, when the nebulous nascency of your life is yet to resolve itself into meaning and purpose, when the various lineaments of your character are yet to assume the multifaceted dimensions which will ultimately typify the person who you will grow up to be, it is but easy to go wrong. It’s natural that you’re decisions hinge upon your worm’s eye view of morality and on your limited understanding. Morality and understanding – those two perpetually transmuting conceptions. He was twenty three now. Still young. Only wiser, but not being able to put his newfound wisdom to any use. What did it matter, anyway? It was foolish to blame oneself for being young, for not knowing enough. Everyone is suspect to this frailty; everyone has been young sometime or other, everyone makes mistakes and mostly everyone grows up.
Only in his case, he was denied the opportunity to make amends, to say he was sorry.
He didn’t want to think about James.
With time, it had become impossible to think about James without thinking about Lily.
James used to tell him that the moments he spent with Lily were moments of disbelief, that even after all these months he, James, used to sometimes suspect if he were living a dream, whether one day all of this would cease to exist. Strange, considering that the months James had been speaking about had been anything but dreamlike, the harsh reality of war impressing itself upon them with unrelenting finality, unsnarling them from their innocence, delusion and their ignorance of the scope and power of evil. Two years ago there’d been no hope, and now James and Lily were man and wife expecting their first child. Who would have thought it. Then again, these things took their own course. He’d never believed in fate or in providence, but yet that James and Lily had been destined to be together seemed almost preordained.
The future had been bleak, and if he were to be brutally honest with himself, there had been no hope. Yet there had been a paradox. Even in those turbulent times, he'd been happy, happier than he’d thought he could be. He hadn’t been able give voice to this feeling of happiness without feeling embarrassed, for there had been nothing that caused happiness. Every new day had born them grisly tidings of deaths, torture and injuries.
Yet there had been happiness. It was the feeling of joy that freedom held. For the first time in his life, he’d felt free. Free from his family, free from a bigoted and society. When he’d told James about it feeling abashed, James had laughed, only to proceed to tell him that he, James, too felt the same way.
‘Do you now?’ he’d asked James, bemused.
'Well, for a start, I’m with her.’
‘Just like you to say that,’ he’d snorted in reply.
'You won't understand.'
'Too right, I don't. I find love and marriage and all that absurd.'
James had called it his countercultural eccentricity. James had said that there was a certain feeling of understated joy that accompanied the discoveries he’d made, discoveries of the little pleasures that rested in things he’d previously taken for granted, discoveries, he was sure, he wouldn’t have made had the times been different.
‘Like what?’ he’d asked James.
James’s reply had brought him up short. James had said that while the normality of a quiet evening would have once been the cause of inducing unbearable boredom in him, now it was something of a luxury. A year ago he, James, wouldn’t have known that there was an unappreciated beauty in the ephemeral, that there was reassurance to be found in the everyday, that exquisite pleasures truly were superfluous, that one could get by perfectly well without them. War had taught James to appreciate these things.
At that time he'd been unable to see what James meant. It’d been one of those rare instances when he and James hadn’t agreed upon something. While James’s happiness had stemmed from the appreciation of the quotidian, his own happiness had its basis rooted in chaos and in rebellion and in his counterculture, as James had put it.
Only now did he understand that somewhere along the track, James – perhaps it'd been because James had been in love – had matured far more than he had.
He wouldn’t think about James.
There'd been something intrinsically naive about James and Lily, or rather, something intrinsically naive about their love and their ideals and their optimism.
James and Lily had been two people in love, two people who’d been fighting for what they believed was right. Looking at them, one wouldn't have been able understand how evil existed in the same world in which they did. What was the need, really, to establish the primacy of a certain belief, to prove that a certain opinion had more merit than another one? Couldn’t diverse and contentious beliefs co-exist? When were people going to wake up to the utter futility of war? Whatever could be achieved, but pain and loss and bloodshed and death? He couldn’t understand.
James had told him he mustn’t try to understand. To understand would entail attempting to discover a rationale, and James had told him that there was no rationale. Behind acts of blind, uncompromising evil, there was no rationale. These were facts that could only be registered, be acknowledged; analysis was impossible, or rather, impossible for anyone who could stake a claim to even a vestige of humaneness. And that was precisely the point. The domain was evil was impregnable against even a sliver of rationality, against even a modicum of compassion, against even an iota of reason, and against every last tenet that formed the fabric of humanity. Acts of evil, an act such as murder, was delineative of a failure of conscience and the severance of the innate nexus that existed between man and morality. No, he wouldn’t ever understand.
It seemed easier now, to scorn at James. Stupid, idealistic James.
He wouldn't think about James.
I’m sorry. It was something he repeated time after time, over and over, again and again, over and over again. It was of no avail. Now it was too little, too late, and James wasn’t there to hear this.
I’m sorry. The words were unspoken. Only he could hear the words in his mind. He alone knew what he felt. Nobody had any recollection of him anymore. The magic around the place was infallible, ruthless and perfect. There was no room for the humane, for empathy, for compassion. I’m sorry. It wouldn’t matter. What he felt wouldn’t matter. It was too late in the day. Nobody would know. Nobody cared. I’m sorry.
He would not give up. He would not lose. Not his mind, not his self. He would stay the course. That’s what James would want him to do. I’m sorry. James would know. Wherever he was, he would know. Would that Remus knew this.
He knew it was preposterous. His certainty that he would see Harry was preposterous. He wouldn’t see James again. James was dead.
Would he ever get to meet Harry?
James was dead.
He was losing his mind.
He couldn't afford to lose his mind.
While he would’ve once scoffed at people who clung on to preposterous hopes, now he found himself clinging on to even more pious a hope: that this would be over, that he would see Harry.
Surely, it had to be over some day. Peace was but a distant mirage in the horizon, the tunnel too long, too winding and too dark for one to be able to see the light at the end.
He could only hope. To fight the asphyxiating darkness, he needed to be able to hope. He needed to sustain this flicker of hope as a talisman against the despondency and the helplessness which were the sign of the times. Maybe it’d all be over one day. Maybe he’d see Harry someday, maybe he’d be able to apologise for the death of Harry’s parents.
Perhaps all this could happen.
He tried not to think about James.
He tried not to remember.
Perhaps he would see James again.
After all, even here, even if he couldn't see it, the sun did rise.
March 31, 2010:  quoted from the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, Vintage paperback edition, page 246. Discovered yet another pieces of my old 'stream-of-consciousness, psychological style' writings when I was spring-cleaning my writing folder. Most of my older pieces were rubbish that had to be jettisoned to the recycle bin pronto, but this, after conflating with another deleted story of mine, I felt wasn’t as crappy as the others. Anyway, thanks so much for reading. :)
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