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Heart of Clay by Athene Goodstrength
Chapter 1 : Heart of Clay
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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The summer was stretching itself to the very boundaries of September, and the grounds of Hogwarts were thronged with students taking advantage of what was likely to be the last warm weekend for months. Above the Quidditch pitch, Professor Birch was keeping a watchful eye on a group of slowly circling first years, who wobbled nervously on their brooms. A small group of students were gathered cross-legged outside of Hagrid’s hut, enjoying a picnic of berries they had foraged with the old groundskeeper.

The shoreline of the Great Lake was thronged with people, some skimming stones, others splashing in the cold shallows. Away from the chattering groups, a pair of fourth years sat together, their legs outstretched on the warm gravely shore. Rose lazily traced her finger on the ground in a figure of eight, enjoying the feeling of the warm crumbling earth. Scorpius glanced over his shoulder towards the Quidditch pitch and squinted up at the sky.

‘I think I can see Hugo,’ he said, pointing.

‘Keep watching,’ smiled Rose. ‘He’s bound to fall off at some point. He got my mum’s flying genes.’

Turning back towards the shimmering waters of the lake, Scorpius emptied his satchel of books to use it as a pillow. Closing his eyes against the sun, Scorpius sighed contentedly and listened to the babble of voices around him, and the gentle scratching of Rose trailing her finger on the ground.

‘Hey, what’s this?’

Scorpius glanced to his right, where Rose had picked up one of his books.

‘‘Whizzing Tales for Young Wizards’? Why are you carrying around an old children’s book?’

Scorpius sat up and snatched it from Rose’s hands.

‘It’s nothing! Don’t go through my stuff!’ he said.

Rose narrowed her eyes. ‘Don’t snap at me, Scorpius Malfoy,’ she said. ‘I was just curious.’

He looked down at the old, worn book, his bright blonde hair swinging into his eyes.

‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered. ‘It’s just something from home. Grandmother gave it to me to bring to school.’

Understanding began to grow in Rose’s eyes and seeing Scorpius’s discomfort, she looked out across the water, saying nothing.

‘She’s getting loopier every day,’ Scorpius sighed. ‘I think she sees me as a little boy. Or she thinks I’m my dad; I’m not sure. This book was his, when he was little.’

Rose gave Scorpius a kind smile. ‘I can see why you’d want to keep it safe. Can I see?’

Scorpius handed her the book, and lay down again as she opened the thin parchment pages and began to read. He crossed his arms behind his head, and let the warmth of the sun wash over him again. ‘Read it out loud,’ he murmured.

Rose looked down at her friend, noticing the shadows of his eyelashes falling across his cheeks, which were beginning to turn slightly pink in the sunshine.

‘Okay,’ she said, thumbing through the pages. ‘Oh, how about “The Golem’s Gift”? I know that one, my dad used to tell it to us.’

Scorpius shifted, smiling to himself. ‘Yeah, I liked that one.’

Rose looked down at him for a moment longer, until he opened his eyes and looked straight back at her. Embarrassed at being caught, she turned back to the book and began to read.

*




‘In a town far away from here, built atop a great mountain and criss-crossed with huge stone bridges, there lived a very gifted witch named Irena. Pure magic flowed in her veins, and shone through to the tips of her golden hair. However, she was very lonely, and seemed somehow to be fading, like a flower too long in a vase.

It happened that she was of an age to marry, and so her parents introduced her to a young wizard, the strongest and bravest in all the land. He fell deeply in love with Irena, prizing her fearless nature above that of any other woman, and he devoted himself to winning her hand. He hunted game and brought her venison, and duelled any who dared scorn his love. But Irena did not love him, for she found him foolish and brash.

“Oh Irena,” he cried. “Tell me what I must do to conquer your heart.”

“Fool,” said Irena, as she dismissed him from her presence. “Not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer could ever bring us together.”

Her parents were vexed, but they tried again. They brought to her the wealthiest, handsomest young wizard in all the land, dressed in bejewelled robes and golden rings. He fell deeply in love with Irena, prizing her incredible beauty above that of any other woman, and he devoted himself to winning her hand. He gave her a chest full of rubies and diamonds, and a robe of pure green silk, which perfectly matched her wide emerald eyes. But Irena did not love him, for she found him vain and empty-headed.

“Oh Irena,” he cried. “Tell me what I can give you, in exchange for your heart.”

“Fool,” said Irena, as she tore the silken robe. “Not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer could ever bring us together.”

Her parents were once again vexed, but they had hopes for the next suitor they had found. To Irena’s bower they brought the cleverest, most well-read young wizard in all the land. He soon fell deeply in love with Irena, prizing her quick wits and extraordinary magical gift above those of all other women, and he devoted himself to winning her hand. He brought her many books, and exhibited through hours of conversation his wide and incredible wealth of knowledge. But Irena did not love him, for she found him conceited and dreary.

“Oh Irena,” he cried. “Tell me what I can teach you, that you will give me your heart.”

“Fool,” said Irena, near to crying with frustration. “Not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer could ever bring us together.”

Feeling lonelier than ever, Irena fled into the town and took refuge with a kind family. At that time, and in that place, it was customary for many families to have a servant. These servants were great creatures fashioned from clay, called golems. Inside the head of each of these huge men was a small scroll of parchment, on which was inscribed the same three laws.

The first was, ‘Obey your family in all ways’, for servitude. The second was, ‘Never harm a human creature’, for safety. The final law of the golem was, ‘Never harm yourself’, for a golem was a pricely creature to replace. As she sat that night at dinner, Irena observed the solemn, gentle movement of the family’s golem as he brought dishes to the table and attended to the needs of his owners, and she saw in him a certain beauty the like of which she had never seen before. An idea grew quickly in her mind, and Irena formed a plan to banish loneliness from her life once and for all.

As the family slept, she stole once again into the streets and did not rest until she found a potter, working hard through the night at his enormous fiery kiln. She paid the potter richly with the gems and silk the second suitor had given her, and was left alone until dawn came. Irena worked hard, dirtying her white arms with clay as she built and sculpted a great creature with strong arms and fiery eyes.

The golem did not resemble any man on Earth, but was smooth and strong as a rock, with Irena’s fingerprints marking the hollows of his cheeks and the tips of his broad fingers. She breathed fire into his body, and pressed her lips against his heart before she sealed it into his chest. Taking a scroll of parchment, she wrote only two laws of her own. The first was, ‘Never harm yourself’, for this golem was to be precious to her. The second law was, ‘Love me as I love you’, for she intended this also to be written in her own mind.

When Irena had formed the creature, when he had been heated and grown solid and strong, she summoned all of her strength, and all of her power, for she knew that to create something capable of great love would take the greatest gift that she had to give. As the golem took his first breath, Irena pressed her mouth to his and into him she poured almost every ounce of magic that she possessed. As she began to fall to the ground, huge warm hands caught her and gently lifted her slender body. It was at that moment that their love bloomed, and Irena gave her golem a name. He became Amshel, which means ‘angel’.

When dawn came, Irena returned to the house of her parents, hand in hand with the golem Amshel. Her parents were astonished by their daughter’s choice, but as the golem appeared as slow and solemn as the servants of the town, they accepted the strange lovers into their home.

All went well, until one day Irena’s parents witnessed the golem practicing magic. As they realised what their child had done to create Amshel, fear and disgust struck their hearts and, sickened, they banished the golem from the town. Irena knew in that instant that she had committed a grave sin by giving away her power, but the strength of her love was such that she could not bear to be parted from Amshel, and so she fled with him into the woods.

There they built a house amongst the trees, and lived together surviving on the land around them. Amshel brought his love gifts of rabbit and venison, and in the summer he would return to Irena with arms full of the sweetest fruit he could find. Irena could barely conjure the simplest spell, having given all of her magic to bring Amshel to life, but she felt stronger than she ever had when magic flowed through her veins hotter and faster than blood. Together they lived in peace and comfort, loving one another, and harming nobody.

But word of Irena’s sacrifice had spread around the town, and many people felt harmed by it, for magic is a gift to be honoured by its beholder. Horror and disgust spread through the streets on the back of a whisper, and children became loath to enter the woods, for fear of the unnatural golem and his insane wife. Irena’s parents despaired, believing her lost to them forever. And so they put out a decree, that any man who brought them the head of the golem would have Irena’s hand in marriage and her weight in gold.

And so it was that one day, as dawn broke over the mountains, Irena’s three scorned suitors and a host of other men of the town sharpened their axes and drew their swords and crept through the forest to where Irena and Amschel lay. Their house was of wood, covered in creeping vines and budding flowers... the men set about it with their axes and smashed the walls and doors to splinters.

As he saw the hungry eyes and outstretched hands of the humans as they moved like a pack of wolves towards Irena, Amschel gave a bellow and swung his mighty fists. Around him, men fell lifelessly to the ground and the anger of the mob swelled. The strongest and bravest of the three scorned suitors swung his sword, which chipped a long scar into Amshel’s strong clay body. Gathering Irena into his arms, the golem ran through the woods, his heavy feet pounding against the leafy ground.

But Amschel was solemn and graceful, not fast, and the calls of the men were not far behind them. The golem stopped, and held a hand gently to Irena’s face as he reached up and placed her out of harm’s way, in the top branches of the tallest tree. Irena could do nothing but watch as the creature who possessed all of her heart was chased through the forest by men who did not understand her.

They hounded Amschel through the trees and towards the mountain but there he became lost, for he had never wandered so far without Irena’s hand in his. As the midday sun rose in the sky, the golem and his hunters had turned towards the town itself. Amschel’s clay feet began to chip against the cobbled stone, and everywhere he turned, doors and shutters were barred to him. Confused and afraid, he turned towards the potter’s house, where Irena had first breathed life, and love, and magic into his clay. There, the potter showed kindness and allowed Amschel to hide in the great kiln.

The cleverest of Irena’s scorned suitors was quick to realise what Amschel had done, and he led the mob to the potter’s house. The potter refused to unlock his workshop until the wealthiest of Irena’s scorned suitors removed one of his diamond rings and gave it to the man. The door was unlocked and the golem dragged from his hiding place.

The men carried Amschel to one of the great stone bridges crossing the town, followed by the people of the town. As the suitors began to bicker over who should kill the golem, Irena appeared at the end of the bridge, her feet torn and bleeding from running through the forest. She watched with helpless eyes as her mother and father stepped forward from the crowd and pushed Amschel’s beautiful body over the side of the bridge.

The golem fell, down and down, and shattered into a thousand golden pieces as clay hit stone. And not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer would ever have been able to put him together again. The witch Irena saw this happen, and the moment she saw her beloved golem shatter was the moment that her heart also broke into tiny pieces, sharp slivers and shards coursing through her chest. Not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer would ever have been able to put her heart together again.

She returned to the forest and lived for a lonely decade, her broken heart barely pumping blood around her body. Her magic was gone once and for all, taken from her by the death of the golem. She was no more than a broken human being, a witch only in name. Eventually, having forsaken all magical society, and given up the gifts with which she had been blessed, Irena went to the very same spot from which her golem had fallen, and flung herself into the abyss. Of the wizards and witches who had gathered on the bridge, not one soul conjured a charm nor whispered a prayer to save her.’

*




Rose’s freckled nose was wrinkled in thought as she closed the book. She handed it back to her friend and looked out at the Great Lake, where the squid was now basking lazily in the shallows, students shrieking with glee as it splashed them playfully.

‘That’s not the version Dad used to read to me and Hugo,’ she observed.

‘Really?’ asked Scorpius distractedly, sitting up. He had spent the last few minutes observing Rose’s shoulders growing pink in the sunshine, from beneath his lashes. Since the start of fourth year a few weeks previously, he’d been noticing more and more nice things about Rose. ‘It was one of my favourites... Dad said my grandmother used to read it to him when he was a boy.’

‘Don’t you see what’s wrong with it?’ Rose sighed, turning to look at Scorpius, who frowned, rubbing the embossed cover of the book affectionately.

‘Wrong? It’s just a story...’

‘It’s a story about blood purity, Scorp!’ said Rose, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘About how Muggles and Muggleborns steal magic, and destroy the lives of pureblooded witches. It’s archaic!’

Scorpius shifted uncomfortably and looked down at the book in his hands. ‘It’s just a story, Rosie,’ he mumbled.

Rose crossed her arms. ‘So, you don’t think that golem was meant to stand for people like my mum? For people like me too, I guess.’

Scorpius frowned again. ‘Maybe that’s what the story used to mean, but I never thought of it that way. I don’t think of you that way!’

‘I know,’ said Rose quietly, uncrossing her arms and reaching for the book. ‘We’re among the first of a new generation of magic, I think. I reckon that stories like this are going to disappear eventually.’

Scorpius gazed up at Rose. She thought about a lot of things he’d never even considered. He passed her the book, and their fingers brushed... He spoke quickly to hide the fact that his heart had skipped a beat. ‘It’ll be good riddance, then.’

Rose smiled at him through her mane of auburn hair. ‘I’m sorry I was mean about your story.’

‘No, no. It’s just a silly kid’s story. I won’t tell it to my children.’

They sat for a while watching a group of second year girls take it in turns to pat the Giant Squid and run away, shrieking with laughter.

After a few minutes, Scorpius spoke again. ‘How does your dad’s version end?’

Rose looked at him in surprise. ‘I thought it was just a silly kid’s story.’

Scorpius shrugged, blushing slightly. ‘I was just wondering... it doesn’t matter.’

Rose smiled, closed her eyes, and turned her face up to the sun. Scorpius sighed, and stared out at the lake once again, his hand feeling for a good stone to skim across the water... but then Rose began to speak.

*




‘As the townspeople gathered on the bridge, bickering over who should kill the golem, a figure with feet torn by the forest floor slipped quietly through their midst and climbed onto the side of the bridge. Irena wrapped her arms around Amshel, and stared out at those who would destroy him with great courage and love in her eyes.

In the midday sun, Irena’s hair blazed as brightly as a star, and it seemed to the people that she was full of fire. They saw that the magic Irena had given to Amshel had been returned to her a thousand fold, in every moment of joy they brought one another. For although she had created him, Amshel’s soul was his own, and his heart, though fashioned from clay, was true. And so the crowd departed, and the suitors were driven from the town. Amschel and Irena returned together to the forest, and built a new home amongst the trees.

And when Irena had lived a hundred happy years, and she finally laid down her life, Amshel lay down beside her. There he remained for a century, and then a thousand years after that. Over time, a mountain grew over Irena and Amshel. Trees took root, flowers blossomed and birds began to nest. And so it was that their strange love became the greatest, most beautiful mountain in all the land, and not a soul, nor a charm, nor a prayer would ever part them.’

*



Rose opened her eyes and looked straight at Scorpius, who felt his heart skip another beat.

‘The End,’ he supplied quietly.

Rose leaned forward, her hand rising to gently sweep his hair out of his eyes.

‘Maybe,’ she whispered.

: :

Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to Joy, and makes royal kings and queens of common clay.
: :


 





AN: The title ‘Heart of Clay’ was inspired by Terry Pratchett’s novel, ‘Feet of Clay’. The quote at the end comes from Robert G. Ingersoll’s ‘Orthodoxy’.

Golems are legendary creatures, a part of Jewish folklore - the most famous story being set in Prague. I took a few liberties in my depiction of the golem, but then again, so did Pratchett ;) If you ever go to Prague, you’ll see golem figures all over the place!





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