Chapter 9 : nine.
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There had been moments in Astoria Greengrass’s life when she wanted nothing more than, and she could not see beyond her desire to, curl up, lay somewhere, probably sideways, and dissolve into herself, disappear on the spot, disperse into some nobler element. Other things could stay: her worries or desperation, but her body would be gone, its atoms pushed apart and held apart. Everything about the human body wishes to hold itself together, how boring! What hasn’t come out of a small dense ball? The gold on her mother’s ears, at her mother’s throat, forged in a supernovae a billion years ago. That was true. Everything that was worth having happened had been the product of being pushed away from that small dark seed.
Where did that leave room for her individual timeline? Or, she supposed, where was there not room for it? Whatever had happened between her and Draco--and she looked up at his profile, his nose outlined in sunlight streaming through the window on the bus, the tip of it barely pointed up, and a puddle of light in the divot of his chin, shadows clinging to the edges of the small, white hairs there--had taught her two or maybe three things, perhaps more or less, and maybe it was all the same lesson.
Lifting her fingers before her eyes she ticked off these knowable things: one, that people are both the seed and the soil, that what comes out also goes in, in the same instant. Two, that boundaries exist only because that is how we feel most safe, but you can get beyond this conception that your body is only you, and you are nothing outside of it. Three, that you are everywhere and everything you have been and protecting the middle particle is at the detriment of appreciating the outside ones that change and grow and allow you things, like space, and air, and love.
“Are you thinking?” Draco asked, poking the back of her hand. She realigned her cheekbone with his shoulder.
“Am I ever not?” she asked lightly, and wondered if she wouldn’t collapse. She knew what she was doing, anchoring herself to him this way, he who had been in and out again--who had taken his body in and out again, that is, because she had been back, too, a hundred times, she had taken them up into her life, had taken their money, which she knew now was the same as loving them, and being loved, and had lived on the fruits of their nobility, of her nobility, because she thought, it was true that this is what it is, only everybody has it, and certain people refuse to see it in other people. That was true.
Draco laughed lightly and pushed some of her hair out of his face gently, patting it behind her ear. Her fingers fumbled through the pocket of her coat and wrapped around a floating cigarette. There were sheep outside on the green hills, the hills that were too green to be real, and somehow too real, too. She tried counting them, and tried to make herself very interested in them when she began to smell the sea.
Some things had hurt her. And she didn’t know how to say it, she didn’t know how one was supposed to choose what to keep, or if one could, if some things just stayed and others left, and if there was any interference to be done with whatever it was making that decision, to keep some things, to let others float off. And she supposed it must be in the body--as much as she knew, as much as she felt outside of it, something about the body was good, and she thought suddenly, sitting up, pushing her hand through the crook of Draco’s elbow and holding fast there, staring at the pucker of the grey twill under her fingers.
And if it was in the body then the body--no, it wasn’t that it followed. The body exists, she thought, to be a house to goodness, and to help it grow. She did not like that the obvious question next arose, and sighed deeply, drawing Draco’s silver eyes to her face where they roamed the expanse of her pale skin as a painter’s eyes roam a sculpture--with appreciation and a small bit of awe, almost as much concern--the question that asked, what of badness? What of fear and frailty and cowardice? What of self-righteousness? What was it that had banned her from the final battle, and where had it been?
If the body was good, and the house of goodness, and the form that good things chose to take--but she knew it was also the house of chaos and decision--then when someone became bad, or did bad things, were they putting on badness for a time, or were there different seeds and different winds? Or did the heart also pump this through the body?
She wished, not for the first time, she had made up her mind before this, that she had known how to feel. Hannah had told her so many things that night, and Astoria had asked many questions--why hadn’t she thought to ask of the place for badness in the soil of the heart?
“Some things hurt me,” Astoria confessed, poking her plastic umbrella around with a finger whose nail had been shorn too close to the quick.
“I know,” Hannah had said, nodding gently. There were many other people in the bar but she did not pay them attention. Astoria felt a rush of warmth spread through her fingers, through the lines on her scalp showing through the mountainous terrain of her hair. “Tell me your pain.”
It was a simple request and Astoria was quieted by her body’s own response, its immediate willingness and the desperation she felt pushing a bubble up her throat, compressing her chest, and she wanted to laugh, but felt tears on the back of her eyes instead. She breathed deeply for a moment, or no, more moments than one, and tried to find a voice for the things that she had carried--mistrust, blame, self-pity, betrayal, confusion--and found one story.
“There is a night I remember,” Astoria begins, and then thinks, stupid, stupid, it is a night we all remember! Why must you draw constant distinctions? But Hannah’s kind eyes were looking at Astoria with no sign of pity, only curiosity and some deep, pervasive calm. And something in her, in Astoria, was saying speak, her hands closing around a cup full of tea and milk, pushed towards her by Hannah’s hands.
“The last battle. We weren’t allowed to stay, we were ushered out of the castle. I learned--well, I thought, then, I knew myself, and how mislead I had been. But, I think, I have come to remember it as something good, and it made me want--other--things, and I have tried--it hasn’t been easy, people look at me and I know they know, and I tell myself, it wasn’t my fault--but wasn’t it? Whose, then? Was it really unkind, to make us leave? They were concerned--it was a large moment, and, oh, you know how things happen in large moments, little things are forgotten, and I think a matter of Slytherin pride was a little thing when considering the damage that had come out of us, considering--our parents--Draco--we were tearing down home, and I wondered if she ever thought about how it was also ours. It was our home, too, and many of our parents were tearing it down, the bricks, the stones. She is right--I mean, Slytherins are loyal, and I am one, I am, and I don’t think we would have fought our parents or siblings, I don’t think we would have gone face-to-face, but I think we might have started repairing the damage. We lived there, too. I can’t know for sure,” she had said, blinking rapidly. Hannah handed her a handkerchief and Astoria took it, feeling mildly self-conscious, and buried her face in it. “I think we would have started rebuilding.”
“I think,” Hannah said, and Astoria let her tears leak out of the sides of her eyes, into the warm, sweet-scented fabric of the handkerchief, “you would have, too. I think you did, and I think you are. Look at you!”
Astoria looked up from her hands, feeling her forehead gathering, her mouth trembling. “We left, we didn’t stay. We didn’t help. There are still holes--”
“A building--what is a building, what is a castle?” Hannah said, waving a mug at the ceiling. “It’s a place where people live. Astoria, it may seem simple to say, and it might not be what you want to hear, but you, and Draco, jobless and feeling alone, you are good people, and don’t think that others--” she gestured around at the people in the pub, a bit of remnant butterbeer floating out past the rim onto the shiny wood of the bar, and Astoria sat up straight and looked around her at all the faces and hair, the shoulders and elbows perched on tabletops, the shining glass of so many mugs full of ale, whiskey, butterbeer, and felt her body pulse out, a buzz began in her head, and her lips felt warm. “Don’t think that others don’t see you.”
“You’ve felt the cold, I think,” Hannah said, nodding at the windows. Snow had gathered in the wooden panes. “You mustn’t think too badly of them, those who haven’t gotten to know you, those who haven’t seen you. In some way I’m sure it’s a beautiful thing, that people’s minds can be made up. And memory--isn’t that what you feel made you good, that you can remember people’s doubts, and you can decide to leave it behind and make yourself all over? And isn’t that what has made Draco somebody you--yes--love?”
Astoria’s eyes flew open and she leaned back in her seat, her heart propelling her backwards. She realized yes, certainly, she was very drunk.
Astoria hadn’t told Draco what Hannah had said, only that she had said good things, and known them well, and that had been enough. Astoria thought that must have been because Draco himself already knew. She wondered then, though, if Hannah wasn’t really saying something else--it didn’t seem like such a stretch, because the woman knew things--if she wasn’t really saying--but it was too much to imagine, that she could have known that, perhaps, and Astoria wasn’t sure...she couldn’t have, but maybe she did--know--that Astoria’s family had given her goodness, too.
“What are you thinking?”
“Hm?” Astoria looked up. “Oh. Hm. Do you think--I’m not sure if I’ll say it right--do you think that something better than the first thing can come out of it?”
He was quiet for a moment. Astoria leaned her elbow on the padded armrest between them and felt some pressing pain in the skin, as if it were too dry to stretch that way, or as if there weren’t enough of it. She sat back in her seat.
“Would you trust me as much as Descartes?”
“More so,” she said, laughing with surprise. Of course, all Greengrass children had studied the great philosophers, most of whom were magical, despite Muggle belief otherwise. The Malfoys must too have studied them. They were moving into the past two-fold. And yet, the laughter issuing forth from an unexpected appreciation must be the best kind, Astoria thought, feeling, to the corners of her insides, gentle and full of light.
“Well,” Draco said, “then I say, yes, if the second thing has a brain and a heart.” And he turned to her and smiled. She watched his profile against the edge-light coming from the window.
They were quiet for some time. Astoria was surprised to find herself satisfied with Draco’s answer. She found herself, too, thinking about bones, and the holes that earthworms drill through soil, and the way that other things moved through these channels, and wondered idly, watching the pinprick clouds of sheep blurring to streaks against the countryside, whether or not open space was really open space or if it was something enclosed masquerading to the weakness and limited scope of the human imagination. They could be inside something. Astoria wondered: if they were inside a giant earthworm tunnel, was there any room for a seed in any person? Goodness still seemed apt fit into the metaphor of the seed, because it was clear that it grew, and stretched out the skin of the person containing it, made the person big enough to--. But badness--was it something put into soil at all? Or did it gather out of--she didn’t know--pockets of empty space, converging and acquiring mass and gravity? And so the same soil full of that blank-space badness could also have a seed in it, and that seed would still grow.
Hannah, then, she guessed, was sunlight, and perhaps their water had been those gallons of firewhiskey, untouched by the winter cold.
What seemed half an hour passed, and the countryside wavered between views of seaside cottages, and white-walled Manors. Astoria began to feel her heart pound: though that is not entirely accurate, she heard it pound more than she felt it, for all her feeling in all her body seemed to focus and concentrate, making her aware of a sick, slick heat pressing in on her forehead, the back of her neck, the drowse of a fever pressing down on her body. After a while Draco began to tap his fingers and he hummed a small song and then, turning only halfway to Astoria but touching her hair anyway, because it was wild and voluminous and filled space like roots,
“I know you want to do this, but you might not feel like it. And I just want you to know, you don’t have to.”
She was quiet, and looked out the window again, at the rolling hills, the smell of the sea, the giant, clean manors with rock gardens and gumball-shaped trees. “We’re very far from London,” she said.
Draco sighed and Astoria knew that was because he knew it was true; and that he had come back affirmed of his--well, affirmed of his everything apart from what his family had given him. Going back--it was beyond feeling, it was something decided by whoever had sowed the seed into her heart at birth, or before, maybe even when all the world was pulsing in the dense heat of a small black spec, impossibly small, and dense, and hot. Or maybe she was that. She was the seed and the blackness of bad failed to manifest and the sower.
Something slipped from her, then, and the Knight Bus lurched, and suddenly they were racing down a narrow, red-dirt lane. She thought of the list of good things she had made about home, the shape of her mother’s hands and the trust in her sister’s eyes, the sturdiness of her father’s shoulders and the serene quietness of the fireplace, usually empty, in the sitting room. She could feel the hair on her arms raising under her jumper. She felt the pull again, the pull inwards, to protect what was at the inmost core: that seed, that space, that capacity. But she held herself still. Looking out of the window to these rolling lawns, where there were some vagrant flowers and where there was soil touched by the wind that had touched the sea and which had touched the dirt under the tires of the Knight Bus and had touched the walls of the towers of Greengrass Castle, and was now streaming in the window cracked open two rows behind them, she thought about boundaries, and how much they depended on human determination, and how they could so easily slip away, because wasn’t it the poet Sappho who--and it was--overwhelmed with love and light, had marked down the words:
I begin to tremble everywhere,
and, greener than grass,
I seem not far from death.
author’s note: Well, guys! this has been a long and tiring journey, not to get punny. I have to thank Julia (peppersweet) for providing consistent feedback and being a fan in general of the pairing and being nice about my uncontrollable metaphor and for making the banner ofc. Also, I think I owe you all an apology, because I said I would use less metaphors in this chapter, but, alas!
Similarly, I am really hoping I was able to tie up all that I presented in earlier chapters--not in a concrete way, of course, as so much is left unwritten, but mostly, I hope my continual reference to the body, goodness as a plant, etc, made sense in this chapter in that literary way things can make sense. I was aiming for a move from the physical body as a reaction for Astoria and Draco--in studying anatomy, which provides a baseline for healing--away from magic, which denies the body largely, in its studies, because magic is so other; but then I attempted to use this newfound appreciation in Astoria for the body as a gateway into what the body holds, because I think that, thinking about it--and you probably are, if you’re someone who has had the patience and energy to make it to the end of this--it is only plain that there is some numinous inside the body. The last couple chapters are hoping to touch on this.
I bring up Descartes because he is well-known for using the evidence that good things cannot come from something less good as a premise for his logical argument in favor of the existence of God in his Meditations.
The last three lines are taken from the poem “Equal of the gods he seems to me” (translated by Frank Salvidio) by Sappho of Lesbos.
I hope that this was a somewhat enjoyable read. Please let me know what you think, and if there is anything I should consider further clearing up in this last chapter.