Chapter 18 : Desire
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Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen,
or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible…
Venn clearly remembered the evening he woke up as a dead man.
He was on his back in his uncle’s office when his eyes opened. He could not see quite as clearly as he had in life; it was as if his vision were permanently clouded by tears no matter how many times he blinked or rubbed his eyes. His muscles were stiff and it hurt to use them for more than the slightest of movements. When he finally looked down at himself, he was startled to see a crimson stain on his chest seeping through layers of fabric.
“I wrapped you in your cloak,” Salazar said from his desk. “But you bled still.” He stood up, walking over to Venn and offering him a hand. Venn took it, slowly sitting up with great pain. As he did so, the cloak fell off, revealing a wound in his abdomen.
The next beat of his heart sent a chill coursing through his veins, a poison that reached out to his extremities and pooled there to torture him. With every pointless breath he grew colder, but no weakness welcomed him to death’s door this time.
He blinked, leaning on the table for support, and then it all came back to him.
He was delirious, having ridden for days without stopping long enough for a substantial meal or sufficient rest. He rode on when his servants paused, and as such, when he finally found her he was a day and a half ahead of them. All the while he found himself obsessed with the sounds of the forest; every rustle and groan could be a predator waiting to lunge at him. Venn had never been so far from home.
In a moment when he was half-asleep, a rustle turned out to be Helena’s wand.
She demanded like a child to know why he had come after her, although she should have already known. He made the mistake of pointing out that she clearly had not thought out the full outcome of her plan and insisted that she abandon her nonsense and come back to attend the wedding, which was still scheduled for the next morning. When her expression betrayed no vulnerability, he coldly remarked that her mother would likely not live long enough to be present for another wedding.
His mention of Rowena was the last straw. With tears shimmering in her eyes, Helena swore never to see him or speak of him again. She turned back, stating that she intended to return to her mother’s side at once, and disappeared into the forest.
As her footsteps faded, Venn felt his heart being taken over by grief. Suddenly, a new sound replaced the quietly crunching leaves, the kind of noise produced by something large moving through the forest. An elk, perhaps, or a wild boar, his brain was saying, but the dread infiltrating his bloodstream screamed basilisk, basilisk! with every frantic beat of his heart. Automatically, Venn drew his sword, looking around for the source of the foreboding sound. Then, another thought entered his mind—Helena, despite her stubbornness, was still a lady. An unprotected one.
The next few moments were a blur induced by adrenaline. Venn remembered charging through the forest, a scream, a flash of gray silk and blood on leaves. He recalled finally being close enough to touch her skin again and finding it lifeless. Her kirtle, stained with fresh blood, bore a remarkable resemblance to her funeral gown.
Unlike her, however, he was never washed clean, another torment of the afterlife. When his men finally caught up to him and discovered what had happened, they put his cold body in chains to transport him back, just in case he awoke and killed them. He would be forced to walk in bloodstained robes and heavy iron for all of his days.
They should have known that it was a mistake. They had found him slumped over her, still cradling her head in his lap even after he had chosen to take his own life.
He looked up to see his uncle studying him.
“Do you love her still, after all the pain she has caused you?”
“Yes,” he said, sighing softly. “And now I must pay for my weakness. I have no choice but to return to my home, forced to exist alongside my mother, in whose eyes I will surely only be a disappointment. I will have no wife, no land, and no title.”
“The story of how you murdered the lady Helena will live on, and thus I am sad to report that the prospect of your name being forgotten is unlikely,” Salazar said. Venn could see what looked like genuine emotion on his face. “If it is any solace, I have seen the lady walking these very halls. I hear she weeps endlessly for her mother and desires to make amends by existing eternally within Rowena’s school. Perhaps I could offer you a place here with me, so that you may be in her presence.”
Venn met his eyes. “Would you be willing to grant me this kindness, uncle?”
“In return, I ask that you never mention the existence of my exotic pet.”
His nephew’s face fell. “Surely it, and you, will be found out. And what of the possibility that one day it escapes and slaughters innocent pureblooded students?
“I intend for my basilisk to be free one day,” Salazar explained calmly. “Eventually the right student will attend Hogwarts, and I will identify him as my heir. He will complete the task I began and I will be left alone to conduct my affairs in peace.” He sat down at his desk, and Venn looked down in resignation at his uncle’s last words.
“I hope you will still be here to see my legacy unfold.”
The man, centuries older than he looked, turned at the sound of his name. He had not heard it in many, many years, particularly not from the lovely mouth of the nearly transparent woman who now shook him from his reverie. She seemed to deliberately avoid him as she trod endlessly around the castle, slipping behind columns to miss him and ignoring his saddened gaze at feasts. It was shocking now to think that she had stopped here upon seeing him before the torturous mirror.
“My lady,” he said in a shaky tone, automatically kneeling before her.
“I cannot comprehend your fixation with this cursed object,” she said, tearing her eyes away from his and approaching the mirror. She traced it idly with several fingertips. Venn could not help but wonder what she would see if she looked in it.
“I have endless time, as you do, and little activity with which to fill it.”
“You think me foolish in my old age?” she replied. “I know of this mirror. It only shows you fantasies, dreams, things that could never come to pass despite your yearning. Am I right to suspect that you see our wedding day in this glass?”
“It is the deepest desire of my heart even to this day.”
“But you turned your back on that dream when you murdered me in the forest.”
“Please, I beg you, choose another word,” Venn pleaded. “I never meant to destroy your life, to take away the only woman with whom I could see my life unfolding. What passed between us was a terrible accident, one which I regret for all my days.”
His eyes fell to his eternal chains, as did hers momentarily. As she looked upon him, she fleetingly remembered the man for whom she had briefly turned back in that cursed forest, an action that had effectively ended her life. She should have pushed on to her father’s castle just as she swore to her groom. Sighing, she shook her head.
“Your lies in this moment cannot erase your cold words regarding my mother, with whom I will never be reconciled as a result of your final, selfish act of jealous rage.”
“Rage?” He looked petrified. “My fair Helena, my perfect bride to be, I made a number of errors in my time as a mortal man, but never could I desire to harm you.”
“Bride to be? You are deluded even now.” Helena turned to leave the room.
“My lady, please, if you no longer desire a marriage with me, even a cruel imitation of friendship in death—at least forgive me my final error. You must know that my every step in this life is torture knowing that you hate me still for my mistake.”
Helena turned and looked at him, and he saw no shade of the girl whom he had loved, only a younger impression of her mother. “When you stole my life, you showed me no mercy, no opportunity for vengeance. I take it now, and forever.” With that, she disappeared, leaving him still on his knees in the center of the room.
He stayed still for a while, soaking up the silence, unwilling to turn back to the mirror. Even its strong, illusory magic could not counteract the power of her departure. He only wished he were as ignorant and deluded as she thought.
Slowly he stood, his chains making no sound. As he had in life, he would persist in death; given his sentence, he could not leave the castle, and would not if he could. Perhaps one day, her heart would soften and she would see him for who he truly was. They could traverse these grounds together with nothing left to hinder them. Perhaps it was possible that she could change, just as he had changed after death.
Venn turned and looked at the mirror one more time.
Enough for this day, he thought. Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall dream of her again.
Ugh, my feelings. I made the mistake of getting attached. Readers, I need a hug.
This has been a crazy, crazy journey and I’m so grateful to all of you for taking it along with me. When I first came up with the idea for this story, I desperately wanted to write it but was convinced that no one else would take an interest in it. I’m so proud of how it turned out and I hope you enjoyed it. I really found a new interest in the Founders era by writing this, which was surprising. It just goes to show you how much un-mined territory there is left.
The quote that introduced this chapter was spoken by Albus Dumbledore and was taken from pg. 213 of the U.S. paperback version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (published in 1999). Obviously it belongs to J. K. Rowling.
I’d love to hear any final thoughts you have on this chapter and Diamonds into Coal. Again, thank you endlessly for your many wonderful reads and reviews.