Chapter 2 : Wales
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These days, I remember little of Wales. Strange, no, to think that such an important, languid, beautiful place has almost vanished from my memory, fading as months and years and decades have gone by into sepia tones and spotted, patchwork black-and-white and smudged stains of grey; a thousand and one different shades, blending and muddling into each other, forest lines shrinking and houses merging with each other, days rolling into each other, all sense of time forgotten.
It muddles; I muddle - I no longer trust myself to think clearly.
Even when I think of home, of my beloved Germany, nestled among the high, jagged reaches of cliff-edges and tumbling waterfalls, the stretching, endless banks of trees spreading a green-yellow canopy over my head, filtering the sunlight, catching on thick, bright veins and sparkling tinkles of water; even then, it is muted, dulled: I cannot hear the water or the wind as it rustled and whispered, the lines of petals vanish as nodding bluebells soften into splotches of periwinkle blue. The sight of it slips, slowly, from my mind, and all the concentration in the world cannot bring it back.
See how low you have brought me, Albus. See what your mercy has wrought.
Do not trouble yourself, old friend - for all I remember little of things, of places and trees and the markings on the birds which used to sing outside your window, I have other memories left: more abstract in nature, though, fragmented things of thoughts and feelings and snippets of sound.
Images are far fewer, and far more difficult to recall - I focus and frown, as though that will help, and flashes jump, skittering like a mad cat; oh, Albus, I am quite lost! - mostly, the images I find are of you. You and I; you and I: in the fields, by the stream, in your bedroom and your father's study, I remember you and how you looked and how the places looked, curving and shaping, around you. Without you, I do not remember the places.
Make of that what you will - it is true, at least.
The few memories I have of that summer which are not of the way your hair glowed in firelight and the way your eyes lit up and shone when you saw me in the same way they would shine when you spoke of a fascinating theory or your Hogwarts, are fleeting and strangely blurred, as though a careless painter has tipped water onto a landscape, and so much of Wales is now a spoiled masterpiece, the colours leaking and running across each other, until I cannot remember how it was supposed to look.
There were hills - I remember them if I sit, close my eyes, and dream memories - huge, green hills rolling off into the horizon, their sides untouched, perhaps even unchartered, and at the base of the hills the fields started, a patchwork blanket spread over the flatlands, surrounding us. Down one side, the valley came, a stream trickling at the bottom of it, dancing and skipping over rocks; the other was simply wilderness, as much as any part of Wales could be wild. Raw land, unbeaten and undisturbed, morphing slowly into a forest, with all the treasures that implies.
We tramped for hours through the fields and the forest and up the hills, do you remember? Mud-splattered and charred tan by the sun, cheeks flushed and eyes bright and lines of water cooling at wrists and under collars, running and running until we found somewhere wild and free, the land untamed and sweetly, blissfully silent.
We would sit by the side of the stream or lay, sunk into grass, in the middle of a field, and talk about anything which came to mind; you would kiss me there, too, safely out of sight of prying eyes and harsh, biting words. Once, we watched the sun set on top of a nearby hill, stars flickering like faint, pale candles, and you spoke of capturing the heavens in a net, containing them in a single enchantment. I think I kissed you, then, but I do not remember any more, only that I was cold and you were so very hot, feverish and dark-eyed, your hands burning trails up my spine.
Did you make love to me there, under the stars? I want to say you did, but perhaps I am being fanciful.
They have allowed me books, you know - only in recent years, when they have stopped thinking of me as a threat (though I cannot help but wonder if this, too, is your doing. It would not surprise me) - and one of them is a collection of pictures of Wales, spanning the length of the country and all the seasons. The English words littering the page, a strange frame for the images, stick on my tongue and the letters seem twisted somehow, so I sit in my cell, a hundred tints of monochrome, and pour over the printed photographs with their bright, flourishing colours, wondering endlessly if they fit, in any way, with the flashes and half-dead memories of it that are left to me.
It is strange; when I look at the pictures all I can think is how peaceful and serene it looks, as though one could go walking for hours across the hills and through the valleys, past field after field, without hearing a single sound. Even the wind would sigh quietly, gently, and stir the leaves slowly, sultry and sly, like lovers waking.
It is strange because the enduring splinter of Wales I still have whole and intact is how we talked endlessly day after day, barely stopping to breathe as it spilled from us - devolving from words to a constant rush of sound, fluid and melodic, rising and falling and chiming in glorious, ringing laughter.
I wonder now how I ever stood it for two whole months, one long rush from start to end; the chatter of the guards disturbs me now, quiet and stilted as it is - my mind drowns under the screams of my own thoughts.
No, now as I sit here, fighting cramp and fading sight, I gaze out of the window across empty, scarred plains and the ragged, gap-toothed sides of mountains, and dream of silence and green, rolling fields, that haven we founded by the edge of the brook.
2nd September 1899; Schwarzwald, Germany
Banished to the small corner of a forgotten county in a country swamped with rain and sheep and nothing more, I was certain it would be a punishment greater than I could bear - I had determined before I arrived that I would run away before the two months were up, splashing through fords and sleeping rough with only the stars and sparrows for company - sent to sink into a depression brought on by a landscape solely made of patchwork fields and a stiff, formal atmosphere pervading every corner, grim and forthright and politely solemn.
Clouds seemed everywhere, crowding the sun out of the sky, and rain felt constant, hammering and pattering and drizzling as you claimed with the curved, teasing smile of a native; the grass was long, in gardens and fields and on the long, winding path down to the brook, flowers tumbled in sweeping trails out of window-boxes, wound around fences and kissing-gates, a kaleidoscope of colours running the gauntlet from the palest, purest white snowdrops, hanging like diamonds, to the vibrant crimson of a bed of poppies underneath a neighbour's window.
If I walked out of Tante Hilda's house to the top of the hill just outside of the village, all I could see for miles in front of me was green space, uninhabited and lush; an unexpected paradise I could not help but delight in.
I had expected confinement. What I had found was freedom.
Then, of course, barely a day later, I met you.
I could never understand how you felt so trapped and imprisoned there, in a place where you could walk for miles without seeing another person, alone and thoughtless, voiceless and passive; it was clean and calm and I could not guess at how you could have missed it, how you could not feel this, of all things, the same as I did.
Crumb by crumb, you fed me bits of your past: of Ariana, her attack, the losses of your father and then, so recent and so raw, of your mother, and I understood it: it was not the land, not the place, but all the pressures and the sorrows it meant for you.
I never told you, though at times I wondered if you knew somehow, but I pitied you for that. I pitied you that this land could not be for you the unintentional haven it had become for me; I pitied you that it could not comfort you how it could me, the wind combing through my hair as he embraced me on a hilltop, arms around my waist and murmuring soothing, cajoling words in my ear as I looked out over the sloping, arching vales.
How could I not, my Albus?
Instead of saying that, instead of being utterly honest with you and letting myself speak those words in a hush, I told you how you were wasted there, how we both were, how our talents would be better served elsewhere - anywhere; together.
It was what you wanted to hear, no? To have that desire understood by someone who matched you; to have the words, bitter and proud, spoken for you so that you did not have to swallow the guilt they were coated with?
It was what you wanted to hear, and what I wanted to tell you.
I did not lie, then. Perhaps they might call it that later, if you ever tell anyone of me (though I doubt it, for it would reveal you to be fallible and human and would hint at a longing you wish you were better than to have), but it was not a lie.
To feel useless and extraneous in a world where obligation alone forces you to stay, locking you in with a cold and unbending ferocity; to want, shamelessly and shamefully, something else, somewhere else - a different taste in your mouth, a different beat in your blood - those sharp, cutting longings I repeated back to you, in other words, about other things and places and people. Yet another thing we shared; sour secrets, and bubbling.
The day after, our fledgling friendship three weeks old, a letter arrived - another one from your friend.
Did I ever tell you how much I hated those letters? Every time you received one, you would sulk for days, distracted and maudlin, your smiles stopping at the corners of your mouth and when you claimed you were happy, quite content, your voice rang hollow. Eventually I learned to plan our time around these letters, irritations and disappointments, to cushion the blows they brought.
As it is, you will know now.
(I would have burned all the letters you received from him as soon as they arrived, if I could have - I would have piled them high in a mound in the garden, built in a tall pyramid of beige parchment and set them alight with a twitch of my fingers, watching the smoke drift in loose coils up into the sky.
They did not help; they made you distracted, subdued and mournful like a whipped dog - I wanted you to be alive.
You would tell me it was selfish if I told you this - now or then or anytime. Albus, it was not selfish, no matter what you may think of me. It was for you; it would have been for you.)
Still, this letter arrived and you came for me, finding me in Tante Bathilda's library, sprawled on the chaise with Cicero for company.
You were smiling at me, faint and fleeting, and your step was empty, lifeless and drained, and I knew in a heartbeat what had happened. When you slid onto the chaise longue next to me, kissing the corner of my mouth, it was perfunctory and chaste and quick, as it might be in a marriage which has outlived passion.
My mind raced, searching for something to comfort you, something other than the Hallows and the outside world - something abstract and elegantly challenging for you to focus that brilliant mind of yours on without leaving anything in reverse, behind to linger on melancholy - but you beat me, speaking before I could settle on something.
"Do you ever think," you asked me, your voice low, but there was something in your voice - a sort of urgency, or desperation - which made me think twice about interrupting you. "About the world? Not about conquering it or remaking it as it should be, but about simply seeing it?"
I was speechless, and my mind blank.
Of course I had thought of it, wished for it and hoped for it, but I had not thought to mention it: it would have been cruel to talk of wandering the globe at will, weightless and timeless, when I knew that time would come for me, but for you it was a spectre you chased and seemed never closer to catching.
To say that I had not expected you to mention it was an understatement: I had dismissed it completely.
Thankfully, I did not need to speak, as you continued, your eyes boring holes into the window even as your fingers stroked across my wrist.
"I cannot help but think of it, what it would be like to sail across the Mediterranean and down the Seine without worrying about anything other than having a grand time," you told me, and in my mind I could picture the letter from your friend: a tale of storm-tossed ships and hardy sailors, beset by mermaids and leviathans before the calm and the strange, unearthly beauty of the cliffs along the coastline.
You were a mystery, then, a labyrinth of stone-faced emotions and knotted, tangled threads, and I could not unravel you - could not even find where to begin.
Be proud of yourself, Albus. It will not happen again.
"Wonderful, no doubt," I murmured, mostly to myself. It was a statement, really, devoid of personal feeling or any kind of real emotion in it, but the words alone were enough to seize your attention and fix it on me for a moment.
You looked at me, and for a moment, I felt naked, my soul bared to you.
"So you have thought of it," you replied, and it was not a question; you knew I had thought of it - I had given myself away to you.
A lie would have been easy, simple and witty, but there was a light in your eyes, strange and ghost-white, gleaming steady, which I had not seen before, and I was tongue-tied, caught staring, and curious.
"I want to go everywhere," I admitted, feeling a smile ghosting over my face as I thought of it - all those carefully laid plans I had made the years before. "I want to go to Russia and run across the tundra with the tigers; I want to ride horses across the steppe in Hungary and Prussia and see the phoenixes in flight in the dawn. I want to go to China and learn how to fly a dragon, and see the curses carved into the wall. There is so much to do, but it would be so wonderful."
"It would," you agreed, and you gripped my wrist, thumb tucking in underneath my fingers. "Particularly if one went with a friend - to explore such things together..."
You did not look at me; the implication was clear.
Reaching over, my heart thumping in my chest, exhilarated and nervous at the same time - for this marked something, meant something; even if I did not quite know what, I knew that it was important in some way - I slid a finger along your jaw, forcing you to look at me. You barely made it, starting to flush and staring at me intently, that strange light now burning.
Then, I kissed you.
At first, you kissed me back automatically, fingers going slack on my wrist, then you slipped an arm under my jacket, gripping, tight and questioning, on my hips, two fingers running along the waist of my trousers and tugging, impatient, at my shirt. I tangled my fingers in your hair, long and loose, already starting to fumble with the buttons on your waistcoat and collar as you pushed me down. Your tie - Ascot-style silk, muggle and fashionable - slid through my fingers, slick and sleek, falling onto my shoulder as you kissed your way down my neck, nipping at the end of my collarbone to draw out a gasp.
Even as I forgot to think - all words, English or German or Hungarian, driven from my mind by pure sensation - I heard you murmur something into the hollow of my throat, letting it ghost over before pressing it into my skin in a hard, bruising kiss; I shuddered and felt you smile.
I have wondered many times what you said and never come to a reasonable or sensible conclusion; nothing fits as it should do. It eats at me whenever I think of it and a part of me whispers that it was important, that I should have heard it, that it would have been defining and changing and thundering, but I cannot write to you now and ask.
I would say I would ask you in the future, when next we see each other - but there will not be a next time, will there? That much we both know to be certain.
Unheard words did not matter then - a promise had been made, however silently, and in swearing ourselves to it, we had crossed a point we could never take back. It was glorious and thrilling and the world burned brighter for it; in that moment, Albus, we were unstoppable and whole and perfectly, completely infinite.
Later, in between indolent kisses, the ends of your hair tickling on my bare chest as the sunlight filtered through them like a curtain of auburn strands, you twined our fingers together and said,
"We should go to Germany first."
It was a simple statement, but it set my stomach to twisting and I had to swallow, feeling suddenly, strangely lost.
"Ja, I would like that," I whispered back, admiring the sweep of your shoulders and the lines and curves of muscle and bone in your arms, how they dipped and rose like the hills and valleys outside.
It was August, then; my home would have been awash with deep, rich greens, jewel-coloured flowers bobbing in the grass and shots of blue and green and white flitting by on the wings of birds. There would be fawns in the forest, tawny and unsteady, and my father would spend the evenings sitting outside with his pipe and a bottle of beer in one hand, watching as pink bled into violet and yellow faded into burnt vanilla.
From then on, Wales held nothing for me anymore: I wanted to go home. The beauty and the freedom I had once perceived in the valleys and hills was gone, and all I could think of were the familiar boughs and plains of my homeland, laden with the last of the summer blooms in delicate, velveteen mosaics, and how much I longed to be there again.
(Whenever you talked of our trip, of our journey to find the Hallows, my mind would wander, inadvertently, to Germany, and I would imagine us wandering through the trees, hand in hand, how you would kiss me by the waterfalls, and sit at their spout to watch the sun set over the treetops in the distance.
It was childish, flooding me with embarrassment and a guilty, creeping shame, and I tried to cover it, to hide it from you - when you looked at me, high on the pedestal you had hoisted me onto, with eyes full of promises and demands and expectations cast in gold, I did not want you to stop, to see how I was still just a boy.
Who among us does not love to be adored so?)
Like everything else in my life, Wales had bored me. You had not - you were still brilliant and passionate and so wonderfully patient; my missing other half, as I thought then - and so I waited for you.
We were to go together, remember? To find the Hallows, to change the world - it was our destiny, would be our victory.
In the end, it was the child of my ideologies and your logic, nothing less, so much so that even now I stumble a little when calling it my own; it was meant to be ours, should be ours.
It died, blinking out of existence without a sound or flare, the moment she died, didn't it? The moment you realised the price the world might be asked to pay for perfection, for utopia; the price people pay to see it birthed, for the sake of stupidity and anger and hate and cowardice, those dreaded horsemen.
I knew then, in that moment, what I had denied for so long - that the cause, for you, had been her, centred in her all along and I had simply been too blind and too selfish and too enchanted to see it. Your passion fled, bleeding out of you even as the blood on my cheek dried up, and you collapsed, crumbling into ruins, lost and desperate for something I could not give you.
Without you, what sense was there for me to stay?
A girl was dead and Albus, oh Albus, you cannot think they would have stopped to ask questions? You were her brothers, you and the goat-boy, I was merely a foreigner with black ink next to my name, marking me out as dangerous and wild and uncontrollable; a feral dog, foaming at the mouth. If I had stayed... if, if, but it is meaningless now to think on it.
One of us killed her and so I ran, fleeing next door without a word, mindless and shaking, my wand rattling around my curved, fisted fingers, flashes of light in a myriad of colours - always the same pattern, always the same - repeating over and over no matter what; sick and leaden, I sat at the table in my Tante's kitchen, a thick woollen blanket draped over my shoulders while she fussed about fetching me coffee, and all I could think was that Ariana was dead and you would hate me, or if not now, you would when you discovered the secret I carried then, uncertain but opaque enough for horror, and Albus, oh Albus, I did not want you to hate me, then or ever.
Since then, on this you have been unpredictable; I do not like it.
There were only two possibilities, after that day: either you would hate me, or you would love me, care for me still - for months after, I could not say which I thought more likely; I veered wildly from one to the other, interpreting every sign one way one day, and the next it would be all upside down.
Now, it is the same, and the fissure between us has only grown wider, deeper, harder to cross.
Once I had been whisked away, thrown out of Wales in a spinning, spiralling thud which left me aching, I prayed - so strange and so foreign after so long without God - that perhaps, perhaps you might still love me.
If, I prayed, if you still love me, still want me, once the shock has faded and the vim and the colour and the life has blossomed again in your world, come and find me.
(You would not come for me - not in anger, not in love, not for anything. Of that, I was certain, more certain than anything else; the thought coming with a burst of clarity which left my skin burning and damp.
I had been wrong before though, about you; perhaps, I hoped, I could be wrong again.)
A/N: absolutely stunning CI by the ever-talented azimuth @TDA
A few translations (German to English) -
Schwarzwald - The Black Forest
Ja - yes
Tante - aunt
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