Chapter 2 : My Beacon.
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CI by Socal @ TDA
There is a spider with seven legs.
It scuttles across the floor of my grave and I count the legs; one, two, three, four. It emerges from the hole and glides over the rough slabs of stone. Five, six, seven and it spins silver between its fingertips. It weaves its own net and pulls itself towards heaven. One. Two. It rises from the darkness of my hell and up, up – three four five – to the sky of my world. My grave. This death. The spider blurs into nothing under the blurry sheen of my hot tears. Six. The spider is broken, like me, with its seven legged-limp. It is alive. It scurries, and weaves, and hides. It is not like the other twisted lumps of madness in that shadows... that scream just beyond the walls of my coffin. The voices are part of my death, my hell, but the spider is living, breathing and hope. Seven.
The spider came up from the hole in my fate. The spider is not trapped, like me, but it stays. And it keeps me company in a place where the only life is insanity.
“I don’t understand,” I said simply, stepping into the doorway of the office and staring around at the room. It felt like I was stepping into a gigantic dolls house – with each individual piece of furniture as precise and dainty as they would have been in miniature, delicate wallpaper in neutral tones and several tiny vases bursting with flowers. The epitome of a young girl’s dream... which was why I was surprised the only inhabitant was a suited-man. He was sat behind the mahogany desk but appeared to be doing absolutely nothing: clean shaven and wearing very rectangular glasses with dark frames. Despite being relatively small he seemed to fill up the whole room.
He looked at me for a long moment as if he were privately assessing me. I imagined him logging the details about my appearance: my prominent ears, empty blue eyes and hair that had darkened from sawdust to ash during my time in Azkaban. I irrationally thought all these things were giving far too much away, and that this man – whoever he was – was going to use these things against me.
“Yes?” He said, looking up at me expectantly.
His voice startled me. I’d expected something with more authority. I cleared my throat foolishly. “I... I just received this letter. Telling me to come here...” I took a tentative step towards his desk. There was a seat that appeared to be waiting for me.
“Alfred Cattermole,” The man said simply, holding out a hand for me to shake. His hands dwarfed his arms imposingly. I was unexplainably nervous. After a few seconds I took his hand and shook it, my own small wrinkled hands seemed inadequate and downright ridiculous. “Therapist.” He added.
“Euan Abercrombie,” I said, forcing a smile onto my face with a grimace. All my intentions to appear polite and confident had gone straight to hell. I was sure I looked like a quivering wreck of a man with no backbone. “Why am I here?”
“Therapy.” Alfred Cattermole said with a slight smile. I stared at him for a long moment. “This is... unorthodox. You said you received a letter?” I nodded dumbly. “So did I,” He said, opening a draw and holding the parchment up before returning it. The letter looked decidedly well thumbed. “Your treatment will be paid for, for as long as it takes.”
“As... as long as it takes?” I stammered my weakness obvious and embarrassing. “I don’t understand.”
“Sit down, Euan – may I call you Euan?” I nodded vaguely and sat down, suddenly beginning to feel spaced out and nervous and under pressure all over again. I locked my hands together and looked at the floor. “I am the best therapist in the business. You have a benefactor – the one who sent you that letter – who wishes to pay for your therapy until it is no longer necessary.”
“Who?” I asked, staring up at him. True, my transition back into normal life was not... going as smoothly as I would have liked. True, we had no money to pay for therapy... but I couldn’t think of anyone in the world who would have the money or the inclination to do such a thing. He ignored my question. His angular features examining me carefully. It was like being dissected. I was definitely uncomfortable.
“Do you think you need therapy, Euan?”
“I... I don’t know.” Yes. I needed something. Anything.
“Well,” Cattermole said, putting his legs up on his desk and staring at me over the edge of his glasses – there was something about his face that resembled a ferret, only with a resigned confidence and power that I could only dream of. “I don’t know either. I know nothing about you. I only found out your name when you entered this office ten minutes ago. Tell me about yourself.”
“Forty six,” I muttered, keeping my hands locked together and not looking directly at him – his gaze was piercing. “Married. One child, Toby. He’s six. I...” I paused finding it difficult to carry on talking. I was a forty six year old man, sat in a therapists office which someone else was funding – how much more of a failure could I get? It was degrading, insulting even, surely... surely I didn’t need this. I didn’t need to be here.
There had to be another way.
“I don’t think I can do this.” I finished, half standing up. “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
“Euan,” Cattermole said gently. I turned back for a moment and found that my hands were visibly shaking.
I could do it. I could do this. I didn’t need Alfred Cattermole to sort myself out. All I needed to was to forget, to move on, to let go of the grip the past had on my mind and just be happy that I was out, that I was free. I would be not let myself become insane.
“I’m not mad,” I said suddenly, now shaking even more. I needed to leave. The office was suddenly too small. The rush, rush of the Azkaban wind was roaring through my head and I could hear it again – the memories.
“There was nothing anyone could have done...”
“Miscarried. We... we’ve miscarried.”
“Stop it! Oh my god! Shit stop it! Stop you’ve got to... please! Stop. You...”
I shook my head, bringing my fingers to my temples and pressed them against my forehead. I closed my eyes for a second and fought to block out the voices from my past.
Alfred Cattermole was suddenly stood up at my side – and I was briefly startled by how short he seemed to be – before he forced me to look at him. “Look at me Euan,” I looked at him... my head swimming and distant. My cell in Azkaban; twelve palms by twelve palms by fourteen palms. The regular brickwork of cold dark stone and the nails that I had scratched them with a thousand times... “Take a deep breath,” I followed his instructions, breathing in the air of his office – thick with some strange smelling air freshener – and miles and miles away from the sea. There was no lapping of the ocean, no chorus of desperate screams, and no chilling wind that ripped through the walls. “Another breath,” He encouraged. I opened my eyes again and found myself steadying.
I hadn’t realised I’d been crying. The tears finally shook me out of it.
“I’m fine,” I said quickly. “Really,” I hastily wiped the tears off my face with the back of my hand and tried to pretend they had never been there. From Cattermole’s fixed expression I decided my acting left something to be desired.
“Sit down Euan,” Cattermole ordered, stepping back behind the desk with an expression of increased seriousness on his face. “Tell me about yourself.” I supposed he was used to that kind of thing: moments of such obvious sickening weakness. He probably had every nut job and every messed up psycho in here every other day... and now I’d joined their ranks. Only all the other crazy bastards had paid through the nose to be here.
I stared at him blankly.
“Did you go to Hogwarts?” I nodded. “What house?”
“Gryffindor.” I answered meekly.
“You’re brave then?” He questioned.
“Supposedly,” I said, looking back at my hands and still feeling decidedly shaky. “I don’t feel very brave here,” I volunteered.
“Getting help is a very brave thing to do.” Alfred Cattermole said seriously. “Job?”
“Unemployed.” I answered. I was a poor excuse for a man: unemployed and in therapy. Merlin I was a state. A mess. A walking joke.
“Why?” He asked, leaning forward with a quill twisted between his fingers, poised above a piece of parchment – waiting.
“I... I am not fit or able to return to work,” I said, repeating the exact words my old boss had said to me as I reapplied for my old post. The betrayal had been stifling. Come back when you’re ready, Euan, you’re not ready now...
“Return?” Cattermole questioned. “Why did you stop going to work?”
Now there was that moment of shame: that moment of anguish from my part and from his a mixture of disgust, horror and sympathy. I looked down at my hands for a long moment before I spoke. “Azkaban.” His face remained motionless and passive. I had expected more. For some reason this lack of reaction made me want to invoke some sort of response from him. “Eighteen months.”
“I attacked a ministry official.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He nodded, writing something else down on his piece of parchment and staring at me, expectantly. The silence made me uncomfortable. It made me want to fill it somehow.
It hung over the office like the hot humidity of summer: stifling, suffocating and begging for rain. “I thought once I was out everything would be okay,” I blurted, my voice shaking slightly with my unadulterated emotion. “Jessica promised to wait for me, my boss promised that my job would be waiting the moment I wanted it back and Toby... Toby said he’d pray for me everyday till I returned. But I can’t work, and Toby’s grown up and Jessica can’t stand to look at me. Sometimes I forget I’m not there anymore and I can feel the wind and the cold and hear... and hear everything.” I finished lamely, my speech suddenly loosing it’s divine momentum and falling flat back into the silence.
Cattermole paused, his quill hovering over his parchment as he looked at me intently. “Why did you tell me that?”
“What... I.... because you’re a therapist.”
“And what do you want me to do?” He asked.
“I want you to fix me.”
“Fix you?” He questioned, his face remaining impassive and hard. Blood out of a stone.
“Fix me from Azkaban.”
“So,” He said nodding and writing something else down on his piece of parchment. “You’re saying everything that went wrong started in Azkaban.” I nodded, looking down at my hands again. “I am sure you realise that the sheer cruelty of Azkaban does not lie within the brick walls and the surrounding sea,”
“Yes,” I said quietly. I did not like to talk about Azkaban. The topic was rarely mentioned in conversation. In fact, only twice had the word been uttered in the three months since I returned: both from Toby who was too young and naive to know any better.
“The cruelty of Azkaban is simply the constant reminder of the worst moments of your life. The fact that you are unable to escape the very worst of yourself and they very worst of people, until you believe that happiness cannot possibly exist.”
“I know,” I said, wanting to block out the words. The words made that sickening cold creep up from within me and sat in my stomach like putrid acid. It made me want to shiver and crawl in bed with my wife, a steaming cup of coffee and a thick duvet.
“So for Azkaban to be the root of all your problems there must have been something else – other things – in your past, which you were forced to remember.
“Of course there were!” I declared, my anger suddenly flaring up. I hated that my emotions were more volatile than a teenagers now: irrational and unpredictable. I hated it. “You think I lived over forty years of my life without anything bad happening? But I was fine. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t have all these memories floating round in my head, and I didn’t have nightmares or wake up screaming and crying and not being able to breathe. I was fine!”
“Then,” Cattermole said, again regarding me with a smug expression which made my skin crawl. “Why did you attack the ministry official?”
“I have underestimated you,” Cattermole said simply. “And I apologise.”
I looked downwards again, inspecting the deep wrinkles in my hands from the months I had spent with my fists clenched until my knuckles went white. I looked back up at Alfred Cattermole and nodded once.
“How have you been these past few days?”
“No better,” I replied – thinking of Jessica and Toby and my father. “No better at all. I slipped four times.” A ‘slip’ is what together we had named those moments when I lost track of the present and felt... felt with all the conviction in the world... that I was back in Azkaban.
“That is an improvement.” He said. I hated to admit that he was right when admitting he was right showed how truly weak I was. My mind was so weak that I could no longer remain in the present. So weak that I kept slipping, losing my grip on reality.
“I dreamt every night,” I said. I almost felt like I was purposefully disproving my improvement – as if any small progress or any positive thought had to be squashed out before the guards could come and do it for me. But there were no guards. “Jessica got mad at me, and then I was swamped again.”
Swamped meant having my head full of old memories and voices from the past: the voices I had spent every single day for eighteen months with. It was no wonder how they had free reign of my conscious thoughts, rather than being safely placed in the depths of my subconscious: they were out now, free to invade my mind whenever they saw their chances. “Toby lost control of his magic again,” I added. “They might be pulling him out of primary school,”
“And your wife?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Me,” I said, pulling my arms around myself and occasionally glancing up at him. His knack of looking right through me made me feel even worse about myself: as if he understood every nook and crevice of my personality and everything my heart was beating for was exposed – lying bare and open waiting for him to pass judgement. Judgement could never lead to something good, not for me...the condemned. “I’m not... I’m not right. I’m not being fair too her.”
“Don’t you think,” Alfred, as I had been since instructed to call him, began, “That considering you have spent eighteen months of your life locked up for unjust causes, it is understandable that you are having... difficulties.”
I looked up at him sharply. “Unjust?” He looked over his glasses at me again, leaning forwards and examining my features with that intense expression all over his features.
“I have visited Azkaban, Euan, and I fully believe your sentence was unjust.” I said nothing of how, after all these months of my guilt and shame, I believed that I deserved every second I spent in the hellhole: purely for what I had done to Jessica, and done to Toby, and my father – proving every god damn word true. “Okay,” Alfred said. “Let’s start at your beginning. Let’s start with your first day in Azkaban. Do you remember it?” I nodded, feeling the iciness flood through me all over again. “Now, Euan, this is going to feel uncomfortable but I’m going to ask you to talk me through everything you remember about that day. I’m not going to interrupt, or speak; it’ll be like I’m not there at all. Is that okay?”
“Yes,” I said, because I was prepared to do anything, relive everything, if only it meant that I could make Jessica smile at me again, and for Toby to want me when he woke up in the middle of the night like he used to. He nodded at me, leaning back in his office seat with his parchment and his quill and his glasses.
“I suppose it started with the sentence.” I said, feeling unquestionably foolish as I began to speak.
“It might help if you close your eyes,” Alfred added.
“I thought,” I joked weakly, “That you weren’t going to interrupt.” He smiled at me and mimed zipping his mouth like a classic three year old. Toby used to do that. I smiled weakly and closed my eyes, trying to find the strength within me to speak, to remember... to relive.
I continued with more confidence. “I remember the way my heart sank when the judge said it, but I’d known it was coming; I’d always known what was going to happen... it was just a matter of how long. Eighteen months. For some reason... I started thinking that was enough time to have a baby twice. That made it worse, somehow, because it made me think of Toby, and of life, and of how much could happen in eighteen months.”
I stopped for a long moment, locking my hands together and pressing my nails against my skin. The memory felt so real, so vivid, that it was almost like slipping... and already I wanted to jerk myself out those thoughts and anchor my mind back in the present. Alfred nodded at me encouragingly. I took another deep breath.
“But I was foolish. I thought that things couldn’t get any worse. I’d been separated from them before the trial, in a safe house. They were allowed supervised visits but they thought I might be deemed ‘unsafe’ and, well... I thought being in Azkaban couldn’t be much different to being locked in a house where I was unable to see my family. I was handcuffed. I didn’t struggle I just let them – I didn’t care anymore. I guess I thought that guilty meant defeated and that there weren’t any battles left to fight anymore.
They apparated me down to the dock. You can’t apparated straight to Azkaban – it’s one of the measures in place to stop escape – and so they took me to this beach. There was this tiny rowing boat and for a second I thought I was going to have to row myself and how I might just stop rowing and let myself die out there at sea but... one of the human guards were there waiting for me. My family were too. They’d been taken by a sympathetic ministry official. I was so happy that they were there that suddenly all my thoughts about being defeated were gone and it felt like I had won the battle. Toby, he was so young then, ran towards me and threw his arms around my neck. His hot tears fell down the back of my shirt and his fingers scrabbled with the material of my jacket so he could hold on.
‘I’ll pray for you, Daddy, every day until you’re home again’ he said when he’d finally been torn away from me and placed back in my father’s arms. He’d worn himself out with his sobbing and was nearly drifting off to sleep. I looked at him for a long time and tried to preserve the memory in my head forever: so now I remember the way his hair had been lighter then, the same sandy colour that mine used to be, and his eyes were watery and framed with red. He was wearing a stupid white shirt that he’d been forced into to attend the trial and smart black trousers that were too big and had mud trodden into them despite only the few hours of wear. His shoes were muddy too and dreadfully scuffed, and I remembered wondering if it had been worth the money Jessica had no doubt paid. ‘I won’t forget you’ Toby had said before Jessica had stepped forwards and he fell back into silence.
Jessica was different. Her blue eyes were burning with this fiery injustice and she looked so angry. Her eyes were watering too and her lip was quivering dangerously – but it was out of anger more than anything else. She gripped hold of my hand so tightly and spoke with such a fierce intensity that even I was almost scared of her. “I’m going to get you out of there,” She promised, digging her bitten fingernails into the skin of my hands until it broke. “We’ve been through far too much for this to separate us.” She was almost spitting with this blazing furry and I was filled with amazement about how much she loved me – even though this was all my fault, even though I turned our perfect world of domestic bliss into a great big fucking mess. “I’ll get an appeal,” She said, forcing me to look at right in the eye in a way that was almost manic. “Don’t give up, Euan, don’t you dare give up on me.
“We lost.” I told her, pulling my hands from her grip and holding them gently instead. “We lost, Jessica.” I said and then her eyes brimmed up with tears and she bit her lip furiously and shook her head. “It’s only eighteen months,” I added to which she threw her arms around my neck too and kissed me for a few long moments. “I’ll wait for you,” She promised – with that same maniacal gleam behind her smudge mascara, and then she stepped back and scooped Toby up into her arms. She pressed him close to her for comfort and cried into the back of his head for a long time.
Dad stepped forwards then. He hugged me tightly and I remember being struck by how strange it was that after all these ridiculous years of estrangement and his harsh words that through my inevitable failure we had managed to re-grow our father son bond. We now had something we hadn’t had for years: an understanding. “Sorry son” was all he said before stepping back into line. He gave me one last nod before I was shepherded onto the boat. I called back that I loved them and watched as their figures shrunk away into the distance. It was all very quiet and lacking in drama. The whole moment felt shockingly anti-climatic and I don’t think the enormity of the situation had really sunk in yet.
I only realised after about forty minutes – when the shore was no longer visible no matter how hard I squinted –that I wouldn’t see my family for over a year. I didn’t cry. Instead there was a deep wallowing feeling of despair and self pity. The human guard didn’t once say a word in my direction. Twice I accidently caught his eye and attempted a smile and both times all I received was a hardened expression of unaffected indifference to my plight. I remember thinking about how bloody rude it was and I was almost tempted to say ‘thank you very much’ when we finally reached Azkaban and I was expected to climb ashore. The first sight of Azkaban is the complete opposite to your first sight of Hogwarts: there’s still that sense of astonishment about how truly big and cruel the place is, but mixed with the bitter feeling of dread that gripped hold of me like winter frost. I suddenly understood the reason for the human guard’s expression and the reason why he seemed to hate his job so much – why would anyone, anyone, want to be here; a place so formidable and horrible that even the sea seemed to want to destroy it.
The place where the boat rowed itself to was the only calm patch of sea and even then we were tossed around quite violently and smacked in the face by the sea spray more than once. It was a calm day. Autumn, just like it is now, and there was hardly any wind. It struck me that it would be near impossible to leave if the weather was bad and then I realised that I wouldn’t be leaving, not for a very long time.
The guards are told to stay away from the main entrance where the human guards work and arrive, and where the visitors and the prisoners arrive and leave – well, those who were permitted to leave – but I still felt the beginning of that bitter chill spreading up my body. I was registered, assigned a cell number and take into a room. I was forced to strip off my suit, my shirt, my tie, my shoes and my trousers. Everything was searched for a wand. I was given overalls: dirty brown that looked as though someone had shat in them more than once. They smelt and felt like they’d been washed in the sea. Finally I was taken by an even more hateful-looking guard up to my cell. They have little system about where to place prisoners: I was sandwiched between a man who’d done five months of a six month sentence for committing fraud and a man who made me shake his hand through the gap between the bars before telling me he was a rapist.
Again, the guards were told to keep clear of our corridor until the human guards were out of the way and downstairs where they couldn’t be affected. Whilst the guards waited for the all clear the man to my left told me horrible things about... well, I was sickened. I actually threw up twice – half due to the story and half due to the painful realisation that this was my life now. Then the guards came – seven of them – to feast on the new memories, the new thoughts and the peace of mind the prisoners had found in the hour or so of their freedom. It made me delirious. I was nearly a teenager in the war and I’d encountered them before: but never in such numbers, or in such concentration – and for a few hours I completely lost my mind. I woke up covered in blood when the food rations came round. The rapist told me I’d had a nose bleed, but I didn’t remember anything, and I cried and he comforted me until the guards returned.
The man opposite me – who the rapist told me was in for the same as me, attacking a ministry official, was completely mad and screamed for three hours straight that night. I stuffed my fingers in my ears but then all I could hear were the memories. It was like I was drowning in them. I was drowning in noise: the yells that shattered the silence and the heart-wrenching screams of those who had completely lost their mind; the sea thrashing against the walls and the wind roaring around us; the muffled sound of sobs and the low hum of those who were talking to themselves for comfort; the sound of nails scratching against the brick and one man – who I could just see if I stretched far enough – who was repeatedly banging his head against the wall and swearing to himself. Then there were my memories – those distant voices of the past that were become clearer and clearer every second I was locked in here. I was suffocating with it all: unable to cope and unable to believe that anyone could survive in this hell hole for a night, let alone eighteen months. The rapist pushed his head through the bars and tried to make me feel better by pointing out he had thirty five years to go – having already served seventeen years of his sentence – but then he too fell into a frenzy and rattled his bars so loudly that I thought my head was going to explode.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture Toby and Jessica and my father, but the joy their memory invoked meant three of the guards swooped into my cell and devoured their picture until I was whimpering on the floor of my cell trying to rip holes in my overalls. Eventually my hysteria and delirium fell away into sleep and when I awoke there was no change. There was no more sunlight, no less noise, no less misery. Things never changed in Azkaban.”
My vision was clouding up with tears again and I dropped my head so that I was looking at my lap. I gripped my hands so tightly that my knuckles when white and took a shuddering breath. “And,” I said, “and that was my first day in Azkaban.”
“Euan,” Alfred said quietly – so quietly – and I forced myself to look back up at him, trembling, “well done, that must have been very hard to do.” I nodded wanting nothing more than to run from the office, and from Alfred Cattermole, and hideaway in my house from the whole world so I never had to face another human ever again.
“I just have a few questions.” I nodded. “What was the name of then me in the cell’s adjacent to yours?”
“We didn’t call each other by names, just by our crimes. I always knew them as rapist, fraud, ministry official attacker and grievous bodily harm. The man who used to hit his head against the wall was in for repetitive theft. He was released after four months because they thought he was going to give himself brain damage.”
“What about the others? We’re they let out? Do you know where they are?”
“One of the human guards said the repetitive thief had jumped under a train six weeks after release. The fraud left the country –I think he had family in Germany; at least sometimes he started talking German. The other ministry official attacker was due to be let out a month after me and he wrote to me actually – it was tradition to tell everyone our name the day you were being released – and he’d actually remembered.”
“What did he say?”
“Not much. It mostly asked how I was doing. I wrote a letter in reply saying I was fine and, well, he must have had the letter on him when he did it...”
“When he did what?”
“Overdosed on dreamless sleep potion. They called me into the hospital. He looked so different. He’s okay, I think. They’ve kept him in St Mungo’s for awhile. He’s due to be out in a few weeks. GBH and the rapist are still in Azkaban. They made me promised I’d visit.”
“Never.” He noted this down on his piece of parchment and nodded.
“Did your wife ever apply for an appeal?”
“She couldn’t,” I said, “because I pleaded guilty the justice system means that whatever sentence is given must be served.”
“Even considering the context of your crime?”
“That was all considered in the trial,” I said looking down at the floor again, “the other attacking ministry official man – Herman Blunt, as I found out later - got three years. My sentence was reduced. It was deemed adequate by the jury.”
“Do you think any of the members of the jury ever visited Azkaban?”
I laughed, hollowly, at that and said “Alfred, sir, nobody visits Azkaban.”
I trap Spider under my hand and stare through the gaps in my fingers as it fumbles to escape. It does – always – it braves stepping onto my skin and tickles-tickles its way across the rough surface of my hand and back onto the stone in a rush. Spiders always move quickly or else stay as statues on the stone. My Spider spins webs up near the ceiling – beyond my reach – and sometimes it stays there for hours and hours and never hovers to the floor.
Once I thought the Spider was trapped beneath my hand for almost a whole day, but then... when I finally pealed my hands from the floor I found that I had been deceived. I got angry. I punch the wall and stuffed a little of my stale bread in the hole so that now Spider was like me – trapped. He was stuck here too now... and I laughed and laughed.
I repented later when my stomach rumbled like my conscience. I pulled the bread from the hole and scoffed it. I lay down and watched Spider spin beauty into my world until night descended and the only silver in the world was the guards.
But Spider wasn’t trapped. This was not his prison.
Spider is Azkaban’s only visitor.
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