Chapter 1 : I
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She is beautiful tonight. As I watch her from across the hall, she does not appear to me as she does to others. Anyone else might see a woman of middle years, with a tracery of fine wrinkles near her eyes and a figure that bears the evidence of her long years in the Hogwarts kitchens. In theory, there are others much more pleasing to the eye, as the case had been even in her youth. But no one else can see her, not as I have seen her. Not as I see her still. And tonight, she is radiant.
The end of year feast at Hogwarts always ends in dancing, much to her delight. She knows every song and takes joy in dancing every dance, with any man, woman, or child who will partner with her. Tonight she has no shortage of willing partners, as is usual for her. Everyone wants to be touched by her infectious happiness, to laugh with her and receive the gift of her bright gaze. But for this particular dance, it seems, only one partner will suffice. Her students grin as she hurries to his side, cheeks still flushed from the dance before. She takes her husband by the hand
and as I look into his eyes, I see for a fleeting instant the cool grey eyes of another. Even after all these years, those eyes have never left me. I shake the image away, and smile into the dear face I see before me. My husband is the most exemplary of men. He has given me all the love I could wish for, and I have returned it with everything I have to give. But there is still another face etched upon my memory, and there it will stay for as long as I live. Even as I gaze upon the broad features of the man I have chosen, with his eyes the color of new grass in spring, I remember the one I lost long ago.
I take a long drink of ale, and my wife gives me a shrewd sidelong glance. She will not say a word about my behavior, the way my eyes have followed her about the room, but I know that she sees everything. I have no secrets from her; in many respects my wife is much more perceptive than I. This is one of the many reasons I admired her when we first met, and that I chose her as my life’s companion. We are counterparts in every way; it is a good match. But she knows very well that the past is still with me. I trace my fingers gently across her pale cheek, to reassure her; she looks back at me with sympathetic eyes. This woman is more than I deserve. She is the present and the future. No good can come of
thinking about the past. There is no point in it now. I rein in my thoughts, directing them firmly to the moment I live in. This dance is a lively one, and it has my husband and me whirling about the floor as though we were in the prime of youth. I laugh as he treads energetically upon my feet, apologizing over and over again through laughter of his own. Dancing is not among his strong suits, but he has never refused me a dance in all the time I have known him. This is perhaps the only thing about my husband that reminds me of him.
I have wed a man of noble character, of bravery and wisdom, a man who has no fear of emotions and knows how to manage them. There is great strength in his gentleness. He is quite different from other men; in fact, he is in every way the opposite of the one I have lost. And yet my thoughts still return to that lost one time after time. I glance over my husband’s shoulder to where he sits with his wife at the head table, and I feel the deep, familiar ache for what might have been. It is just as well that the dance has ended, for I find myself fixed where I stand, the weight of my grief holding me down and turning my eyes to the floor in defeat. Will this mourning never end? Why can I not
simply let her go? Decades have passed since the brief time we had as lovers, and yet those memories have remained untouched by time. They are as vivid now as they have ever been. I can feel the feather touch of her hair against my cheek, the curve of her waist beneath my searching hand, her lips meeting mine behind closed doors. But though her physical touch was potent indeed, the memory of her influence is even more powerful. I had been a different man when we were together that way, determined to live up to her unquenchable faith in me. In her I had seen the person I could have been, a person who has never existed. For her I tried to follow the paths of light; when she was gone I was left in darkness, with the harsh realization that I belonged there. Of all my memories of our time together, this is the sharpest, the most painful.
She is subdued now that the dance is over, a rare departure from her natural state. Her husband’s lips press against her hand and she seems startled, as though waking forcefully from a dream. But she recovers quickly, ready with a smile for him before he has noticed anything amiss. Her husband is hardly the most observant of men. The musicians stop and talk amongst themselves for a few moments, and the activity lulls. In this brief space of time, she looks in my direction only to find me staring shamelessly down at her, my weakness laid bare. After so many years, despite all my attempts to train my heart, I am still as lost for her as I ever was. Her gaze alights upon mine
and this meeting of eyes is as visceral, as overwhelming as the meeting of our bodies once was, long ago. I am transported to another time, when I truly believed that nothing could keep the two of us apart. It did not matter that we were as oil and water in many respects; in fact, those differences did much to endear him to me. I always knew that he was more than he believed himself to be. He taught me much that I needed to learn; through his example I grew to accept my own power, and to assert myself with confidence. I learned well at his side, and for these lessons I will always be grateful. But it is more than that, much more. It is beyond explaining, this pull that I still feel towards him. As I watch him, presiding regally over the feast from the head table, I know that he will be with me always. And my heart breaks over again, as it has countless times before.
Not for the first time, I am amazed at the twisted pathways of love. How can I doubt that my husband is the man of my heart? He completes me, strengthens me beyond what I am capable of alone. And yet he is not the only one that I hold close. For I cannot forget the one I have lost; he is woven into the very fabric that makes me. All these years I have held them side by side, and enveloping two loves within a single heart has come with a heavy burden. I am stretched fit to break; how much longer can I bear the pain of it?
Our eyes are still locked. This time, I decide, I will be the one to end this torturous encounter. I turn my eyes away, back toward my wife. She takes my hand discreetly beneath the table, and in her touch I feel the promise she always makes on such nights as these. She does everything in her power to keep my eyes forward and my thoughts away from treacherous places. She has always known that my heart is divided; despite my penchant for secrets, I have never concealed this from her. And to my continual amazement, she has accepted the portion of my heart I am able to give her and made no claim on the rest. She simply tries to help me forget, over and over again. Perhaps this time it will be enough.
I take my husband’s arm and ask to sit down for a while. He obliges happily, leading me to a bench against the far wall, and when we are seated he kisses my forehead in front of everyone. In that moment I know that I am indeed the luckiest of women. And as I glance back up at the one I have lost (for I cannot turn away for long), I see the look in his eyes as he gazes upon his wife. The woman is so like him in appearance and demeanor that it is hard to believe they were not made especially for one another. I see that she brings him contentment, and I am truly glad for him. But I am not naïve, not as I once was. I know that his happiness will not bring me peace, nor will mine do so for him. We are more fortunate than most; we have each been given a second chance at the life we could not have with each other. But it is not enough to cover the loss. The void he left
can never be filled. No one can duplicate her. But there is nothing to do but withstand the searing regret, the grief that thrusts deep into the heart
like the blade of a dagger. What was lost will remain so. We carry on in silence as we always have. But I cannot escape the feeling that if I could just touch him as I once did
just one more time
then I could be whole again.
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