Chapter 1 : Hero
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The riddles of the brain and the curse of degeneration are impossible to pick out when one is young and strong and too clever for everybody’s good. And as my father started to slip away, my daughter was the one to carry the conversation, to listen as I discussed health and financial stability with my brothers, to hug me if I wondered if I too might fall prey to this disease which does not even spare the heroes.
On the security floor of the magical nursing home, our family arrives, tall, red and young, my two girls peeling the room for their grandfather. My eldest, Lu – named for her paternal grandmother – five bangles on her left wrist and thick-rimmed glasses perched on her freckled nose. And my youngest, Ella, the shy one – sandy hair pulled back in a high ponytail and mis-matched socks.
“The Scamanders to see Mr. Potter,” I tell the desk attendant, a tiny house elf propped up on a pile of books.
“Yes, he should be coming out for lunch, soon, yes,” the elf peeps up. “Do you have some bills to settle first, Mrs. Scamander?”
“Yes, for Dad’s barber treatments and his new robes,” I say, pulling out the bag of Galleons which my brothers and I put together last week for Dad’s expenses.
The worst moment comes in a quiet rush of tears and red. Lysander and I linger at the desk, sending the girls ahead to see Dad. He’s shuffling out from the corridor, as if he sensed somebody was here, stern lines painted across his face. Painted, seared, cobwebs – countless illusions on the father I loved, the man behind the mask of his disease.
When we thread through the sofas of other residents to reach them, seventeen-year old Lu’s eyes are flowing, misting her glasses, pouring a wet path towards the earth, smoothing over the surfaces of her chin.
“No, no,” Dad is saying, staring at my eldest daughter. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m sure I’ve never met you before in my life.” He turns to me, bushy gray brows raised in confusion. Confusion, bewilderment, bewitchment – blankness when faced with the girl who he used to babysit and read the Muggle stories he never got to hear as a child.
“Well, hi, Dad,” I say, false cheer floating through my teeth like I could choke on it. “Lu and Ella and Lysander and I are here for lunch. Shall we go and sit down before being served by the house elves? Lunch looks delicious today. Come on Dad, come and sit down.” I don’t look at Lu as she and her sister follow the three of us towards the sofas, but from the corner of my eye, I see Ella wrap her arm around her big sister’s shoulders, squeezing her tight in a rare show of sisterly solidarity.
Lu’s cries silently for the next few minutes, though she tries to smile through it, choking on her laughter, beyond her control. Her smile slowly edges back as Lysander tells a funny story about the family dog's run-in with a Kneazle.
“Poor Lu,” Lysander whispers to me, quietly enough that Dad’s charmed hearing devices won’t pick it up. Not that he necessarily would recognize the name Lu anyway. “She hasn’t seen him in a few months.”
“They’re trying to take me away, you know,” Dad says after a bit. His mouth is pursed in a thin, strict line. “My aunt. She keeps telling them I’m crazy – I’m not crazy!” His curved fingers tighten around his bony knee. “She stole my wand. Who would do something like that – who would steal somebody’s wand, take away somebody’s wand?”
None of the residents with dementia are permitted to have access to their wands, due to the possible dangers. Of course, there are still magical accidents due to the elders’ magic exploding out of them like it might with a young child who has not yet learned to control it.
Lysander shakes his head. “Awful, isn’t it, Harry,” he says empathetically to Dad. Again, I am grateful that my husband is here instead of one of my brothers: they can’t quite handle themselves in the face of Dad’s disease. That’s not my father, my father was a hero, sharp, funny, gentle. That brittle old man isn’t my father. Sometimes when I come to visit alone, the two of us – the old man and the middle-aged daughter – will sit in silence, until he bursts out, accusing somebody of stealing his broomstick.
“Ron always was jealous of my Firebolt.” “Uncle Ron’s dead, Dad.” Most of them are dead. And then silence, until – “Well maybe it was Neville then.”
Lysander stands up to visit the toilet, tugging on Ella’s ponytail as he walks by. She scowls and swats at him. Lu’s tears have subsided, and she takes a deep breath – the same expression as when she got on a broomstick for the first time at age five, of working her mind up to do something frightening. Like when we went on holiday when she was ten and I was too nervous to leap off the jumping rocks at the lake, but she took a deep breath and forced herself to jump.
“Hey, Grandpa,” she says, cautiously easing her body onto the seat beside him. “I brought some pictures of my last few months at Hogwarts – at my school. Would you like to see them?”
Dad pauses for a moment. And then - “Yes, I would,” he says firmly, and smiles at her. Lu beams, dimples cracking through the tracks of her tears, and stops fiddling with her bangles.
“This is the giant squid coming out of the lake – look how large he is, Grandpa. And here’s the centaur herd running through the woods. And here – look, we’re all waving at you – this is me and my second cousins – Ava Weasley and Isabelle Peakes. Don’t they look alike – of course, they’re real cousins. We all graduated Hogwarts this year together.”
I smile. Lu is back to her usual kind, cheerful self – the person who ultimately handles Dad’s quickly changing moods the best, who does well at taking the disease for what it is, who doesn’t waste time lamenting the man he once was. If the salt-and-pepper man with glasses who helped her learn the swish-and-flick for Wingardium Leviosa is gone, then Lu still loves this dapper old man in the black robes and the speckle-marked scalp, even if his green eyes have been covered by a milky film and he can’t piece together the fragments of his own name. Even if at first he didn’t quite recognize her as somebody important.
“Hogwarts,” Dad muses, toying with the word. Perhaps he catches glimpses of a dark castle rising into the sky as its windows flood with light, or a green skull eating a snake in the sky above the highest tower. Perhaps he sees a bushy-haired teenager hitting a lanky redhead with a scroll as they both laugh, or a three-headed dog – a monster – growling over a trapdoor. “I went there once,” he says instead.
“And here’s just me with Mum and Dad,” Lu says, and I smile at the picture of the three of us waving in front of the castle.
Dad looks. “And Ginny,” he says happily, pointing at the picture.
My daughter giggles. “No, silly Grandpa, that’s just me – Lu.”
“Ginny is there too,” Dad says firmly. “I’d know her anywhere – she’s my wife, you know. Isn’t she lovely?”
“The loveliest,” I tell him, nodding at Lu over Dad’s shoulder. Lu smiles and shrugs – she grew up hearing that her grandmother had been beautiful. When we stand up to go to lunch, she’s back in her usual place, holding Dad’s elbow as he tips forward, placing the cane in his hand, linking her arm through his and chattering away as they move into the lunch room, Ella trailing behind.
“I’m pleased Lu’s feeling a bit better,” Lysander says to me. “I reckon he’s never not recognized her before – never denied the girls like that. It’s so difficult.”
I watch them, the red-hair glinting in the sun flowing through the windows, the old man with the round, protruding shoulders and wrists like sticks, the robes hanging off his frame. “She’s strong, darling,” I tell my husband. “We all are.”
Later, the girls each kiss their grandfather on the cheek. “I’ll be back to visit you again soon, Grandpa,” Lu promises. Then she leans in for one more delicate hug, whispering in his ear – “you’ll always be my hero.”
It’s difficult to be sure if the old man understands or not – if the deeds of his heroism and the fame of his history are anything more meaningful than whispers and stories. But he beams up at my daughter all the same.
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