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Chapter 1 : Small Miracles
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It was a crisp autumn day, the middle of September, and he was walking free in the woods. It was the kind of day when the wind seeks out your weak spots and infiltrates, stabbing like tiny little toothpicks. The kind where the air feels so clean in your lungs that it hurts, each purifying breath deeper than the last. The kind where each step gives a satisfying crunch as buckled boot meets dead leaf, almost the exact sound a crisp makes when you chew it. He looked up at the canopy above and thought about the trees. They were dying he knew, but dying in a blaze of glory. It was then that he decided that he too would live long and die pretty. He took a deep breath, and his lungs filled with glory.
Some time later, he found himself remembering. It's always a dangerous thing, especially when he remembers her. The day they met was nine years ago, when he and she, two studious Ravenclaws, began to compare notes. That was also an autumn day, not unlike this one, and he remembers their slender shadows, bulked up with books and scarves, flickering on the ground like sputtering flames. He had known her name since the first day of course, when he saw her black pigtails quivering on the sorting stool and heard her name ring through the hall, Mcgonagall’s severe voice clipping the vowels, rolling the r's. He couldn’t have guessed how much she would mean to him. Not then. That afternoon in autumn, when they had held hands running through the halls, he learned that a person is so much more than a name. Her fingers wound through his, and his hand filled with warmth.
It was a day in early summer, school had let out for the last time and he needed a fairy tale. He needed something to keep him going, to make him believe. The shadow of war was moving closer and closer, shrouding England in darkness and she was gone, far gone to lands frozen and unsheltered. So he wrote and asked her for her fairy tales. Begged for her white knight and magic beast and happily ever afters. When the letter returned, he snatched it from the owl’s beak as if it contained life’s answers. Maybe, for him, it did. What she wrote was more than a fairy tale. It was all of her hopes, dreams, fears, love and it filled him up to the brim. She was perfect and far away, she was magnificent and flawed and she was his. He read her careful words and his head filled with stories.
It was a clear winter day and the ground was as blank as a white page. He wanted to write his memories on it. He wanted to make pictures with footprints and he wanted to make something lasting. He needed to leave some mark on the earth, to be remembered as more than just a pile of dust beneath a headstone. There she stood, and she watched him trudge, skip, jump and she joined him. Hand in hand, like children, they drew memories in the snow. Her fuzzy hat fell to the ground, he reached down and picked it up, anything to see the joy in her eyes. He started to shiver and her arm went around his shoulders. All of a sudden the childlike skipping stopped. They faced each other, her hands on his shoulders, his on her waist and stood, statue still, seeing, believing in the world around them. Believing in each other most of all. She clenched her hands, and he felt her faith on his shoulders.
It was a Saturday and she had gone. Disappeared to somewhere, some godforsaken “where” that was not here at his side. She could be anywhere, any place, and he could feel his orbit stretching, waiting for her to come back to him so her gravity could pull him in. These are the bad days, he tells himself, and he throws himself into the Order, into work, into anything that is here and now, not the vague there and then that sneaks up on him and steals his breath. Was she in France? Luxembourg? Where was that free spirit that he had once loved? Where had it taken her now? Just like that, his walls crumble, the thoughts come back and he is lost. Lost in the sound of his loneliness, the sound of incredible distance stretching, stretching to breaking point. Lost in the sound of his heart not beating, his lips not moving, his lungs not filling with air. The deafening sound of silence. She is on the other side of the world, and he is here, ears filled with nothing but silence.
It was a day of terror and he missed her. Another attack, defense, push and pull. And now the Bones were gone. Wiped out, as if they had never existed. Nobody wept but them, this small group, the few who remained. There was no use for their tears, but to comfort each other. Their whole world was paralyzed by fear, terrified of the dark. This was the power that they faced this ruthlessness and brutality. He saw the ranks diminish and wondered if he was next, if he would ever be able to say goodbye. That was the night that she showed up at his door, unharmed, though not unchanged - this war had changed them all. She told him that she'd heard about the Bones. Their eyes meet and they are entwined, clutching at each other, both guiltily grateful that they are still here, together. Two halves make a whole, you know, and together they formed a perfect circle. Slowly, carefully, he tried to feel again. He looked at her, and his heart filled with joy.
It was a nondescript, decrepit Wednesday and magic had just taken place. He might have noticed that it was autumn again, she might have noticed that his smile was more crisp and perfect than the air itself, but all that either of them saw was the girl. There she was, small, undefined, cherubic, in fact. Their daughter, who would grow to be tall and handsome, like her father, wise and witty like her mother, perfect to them in every way. Nobody mentioned the war. It raged behind them, out of sight, out of mind, because all that mattered was this moment, with all three of them together and safe. He took in the moment and his eyes filled with these small, vital miracles.
It was doomsday, and he was lost. She was gone; their daughter was gone, somewhere, someplace where he hoped against hope that they were safe, that they would outlive him. Here came his death, he heard the thud of its heavy shoes in the hall. He remembered his promise on that autumn day, so long ago, when his own feet had made the crunch of cracking crisps on the ground. He would live long and die pretty, he had said. Well, long is relative, but he would most certainly go out with a bang.
He did not pray, or weep. What he did was put up a fight. He knew he would die that day, but he fought to earn the tears of the living. So that people would tell his daughter that her father was brave. He saw his attackers, looked them in the eye, and faced them, swallowing his fear. This is the end, he thought. His life flashed before his eyes, every moment in the past tense. He would be infinite, he would live on, and he would die with a smile on his face and her name on his lips.
If his killer had bothered to look at his face when he died, he would have been shocked. This was a dead man grinning, a happy ghost murmuring stories to himself. If the murderer had bothered to look in his victims eyes, he would have seen a spark of fierce joy, an eradicable happiness that comes only from a life well lived.
His daughter has this same spark. I know her very well.
Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.
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