Chapter 17 : Phonology
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If all music is sound, and all sound is musical in nature – as, by definition it must be – then, what does that make languages?
Songs, perhaps, all of them different, though penned by the same author; linguistic families merely albums, compiled in bouts of creative fever, linked from one to the other by the smallest things: similar structures, similar ways of pronouncing things, of phrasing things, borrowed words given a fresh lick of paint, making them unique again.
New twists, new tilts, lilts in accents, slight rounding of vowels to soften and broaden words; variants of the same tune, in a way.
Over the years, it changes: becoming cleaner, sharper, clearer, as the instruments improve, bettered by each successive generation. Old sounds are lost, fading away as the generations pass, and new ones spring up in their place – the same notes, the same chords, but subtly different, changed just enough to be distinguishable, to be as exciting as the old once was.
Not quite a rebirth, as such, but a regeneration of parts, perhaps.
We had our own language, developed over the hours we spent together that summer, so wrapped up in each other, so intently focused on learning, exploring, understanding everything we possibly could about each other – hungry for any scrap we could take from the other, whether it be a word, a gesture, a flicker of knowledge. From the brightest, boldest enchantment, to the smallest, most secretive smile, I wanted to know everything about you.
I wanted, in truth, to know more than what you said, but to know what you thought, how you thought, when you thought; to know you so intimately I could predict your thoughts before you could say them, could react to your moves as you made them, hear sounds before they were born.
Alas, my darling, but I have never quite been sure if I succeeded – then, I believed there was more, always more to learn; and now, now I am not sure if what I learned was the truth or merely lies you offered and I swallowed whole without stopping to wonder.
It was so easy to pick up, though, so easy to read in your face and voice and the lines of your body; did you know you were such an open book for me, did you intend to be, or was it always as pure delight as it seemed?
Whichever it was, Gellert, it enthralled me entirely.
As time went by, we developed and our language grew, flourishing in the summer sun, it came to be almost addictive – worse than the Firewhisky snuck from the bars in Hogsmeade at school, worse still than the cigarettes older students would hang out of the window to smoke, thin wisps of white trailing away with the breeze. Going a day without it, without you, seemed almost to ache, deep in my chest, as though I had been struck; the force of it leaving a bruise blooming beneath the surface, purple and angry and sad.
I slipped into your room one night, having witnessed your return from the window – only London, but it had been too far in its way – and raced through my duties at home to go to you, and the smile you levelled at me was blinding, making me sigh, suddenly thrumming with the stirrings of a different kind of tension, a different type of longing.
“Albus,” you breathed, beckoning me over, and I slid easily onto your bed beside you, resting an arm on your pillow, hearing the creak of the bed as you shifted, tucking your head into the crook of my elbow, curls fanning across my arm.
“Listen,” you told me, the side of your body against mine as you held the book, opened, in mid-air, the dots and scrambled letters littering the page telling me it was German, though nothing more. Slowly, your finger tracing over the words, you read, “Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte.”
In your voice, the words seemed to come alive, the sounds merging from one to the next, fluid and lyrical, stringing sounds together in chains and patterns I had never heard before, your tongue wrapping around round vowels, clicking on hard consonants.
It was, in one, mysterious and so very thrilling in the mystery; given a strange beauty by my blindness.
“It is lovely,” I murmured, though in truth I was far less interested in the words than I was in you – my fingers yearning to brush against skin, for any touch, however innocent. “But what does it mean?”
“It is poetry,” you shrugged, your shoulder bumping up into mine. “A hundred different things, each with a trio of scholars to argue for it. What does it matter what it means?”
With a negligent flick of your wrist, the book left your hand and started floating, serene and steady, over to the bedside table, your arm remaining in the air. Reaching up, I ghosted my fingertips over your knuckles, tracing the bones there and watching your face, scrunched a little in concentration on the spell still continuing.
I kissed you then, and you made a small, soft noise, pleased and surprised, even as the book tumbled to the floor. In the air, my fingers slipped between yours, our hands crashing down to rest, entwined, on your thigh, and when I pulled away, I could hear you breathe – could feel you breathe on my mouth.
I did not need to tell you I was glad you were back, then – I did not need, perhaps, to tell you anything, as you pushed my hair behind my shoulder and shivered, visibly, audibly, as my cold fingers met your skin.
3rd March, 1919; Diagon Alley, London, England
Freedom is, I think, both a singularly bizarre concept and yet a most necessary one. Bizarre as it is almost a lie we convince ourselves is true, that we are free from all obligations, from all duties and necessities, free to do what we want, when we wish to do it – but it is hardly truth in practice. Thus, it is a lie, but it is one we must tell ourselves, one we insist upon upholding (and so we tell it to our children, to our young charges, to your grandchildren, and so on, perpetuating it forever), because otherwise life sounds so very harsh; confined and constricted and utterly hopeless.
A shield in a way, protecting us from the things we perhaps cannot face.
So it was for me, that in my confinement at Hogwarts, trips out of the castle, to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, occasionally to further abroad – conferences in Cairo, Shanghai, Seville – became my own personal freedoms; my shield from the truth that I had seized with both hands, even as my eyes stayed firmly shut.
It almost shames me now to think of how very profoundly it affected me, to simply leave the castle one afternoon, Apparate down to London and wander down the Alley, bustling and colourful as it was, and do absolutely nothing.
Then and there, I was free from all responsibilities – to the school, to Aberforth, to you, to myself – and there was a bliss in that I admit was wonderfully addictive.
I do not doubt that, in this, I am telling you something you already know. You always were far more bold than I ever was, gathering freedom to you and wearing it like a mantle, living voraciously and brightly and so unafraid.
You were never given freedom, you demanded it, and you took it regardless of whether it was offered.
How I envy you. How I have always envied you that.
There, and on neighbouring avenues, branching off the high street like legs on a centipede, I would sit at a quiet, little café, tucked safely behind glass, a cup of tea and a slice of cake (always different, for ordinary could be ordered anywhere) in front of me, and I would watch the world go by, feel time slip on and enjoy the knowledge that, in that moment at least, I had nothing to do; I was, if you like, entirely free.
Of course, other times I was more sociable: mere self-loathing would not permit me to neglect my friends quite as I had done in the aftermath of you and I that summer, and so I would arrange to meet Tiberius or Elphias, even Euphemia (when she was present in England, which was varied considerably according to no apparent theme), every now and then, to gossip and reminisce and wonder at how we were now the past generation: a new one had been and gone after us.
What I did not quite notice at the time, but which is startlingly clear now – and I wonder how I missed it at all, how I could not have realised that this was going on – was that I had been changing over the years.
For four years, I had been on probation at Hogwarts: my job under threat; my precious, self-imposed cage balanced delicately on a thin sheen of ice, liable to sink at any moment. Managing those years, managing that situation (for when one does not want to be somewhere, but is offered a chance to leave, it is often much, much harder than one suspects – after all, life is never as simple as we wish it to be) had been difficult, far more so than I would care to admit.
I had sulked over it, I had rejoiced in it, I had resented it (since how could I, Albus Dumbledore, who had won international research awards at the age of seventeen and been published in more papers than I could bother to list, not be good enough for something?), but in the end, all that remained was that perhaps, perhaps that would not make me happy either.
Perhaps, Heavens forbid, I was coming to grow used to the job, to the routine it gave me and the security it provided. Perhaps, I was even starting to enjoy it.
Others will only know that last as the whole story – as the dream I had always secretly coveted – and it is a lie which rolls easily off my tongue, even as it curdles my stomach slowly.
Yet another lie for protection, but I suspect I have long forgotten whose.
So, I grew and I changed, and I began, for the second time, to move past you, to most past our shared history and our shared dreams. Utopia would be for you, now, but no longer for me – I had another career to pursue, whatever you may think of it.
Oh, certainly, it was still as much out of fear as it was anything else, but the resentment and the anger and the desperation had begun to fade once more, and that was something to be glad for, I think.
I began to be able to remember you fondly, without the memories spiralling down, and me with them, until I would lose hours to reminiscence and angry, guilt-ridden misery – and is that not what every former lover wants? To be remembered as everything beautiful they were, rather than everything terrible?
In truth, in my memory you were always beautiful – and wonderful and inspirational and all the rest; you were only ever terrible in rationality.
It was strange, though, to walk along the streets in wizarding London less than a year after the end of the war – the Great War, they were already calling it, for the twined scope and horror of it – seeing the world start to rebuild itself, people picking themselves up off their feet. There was a sense in the air that we had been spared, those of us who had not fought, and that something in the world had changed, turned newer and cleaner and chemical.
Could you feel it, too? In Germany, as you sat and discussed, plotted your rise to power, did you feel that the world had changed?
I wondered a lot, then, about the greater good, about how in a perfect world such things, such atrocities would never happen – people would live safe in their homes, free from fear of war and hatred and violence. I wondered if I had gone with you, if we had succeeded in our venture, could we have prevented it?
Would the whole thing – over forty million dead in total – have been avoided if only I had been braver?
It is a selfish, foolish statement, I know, but I could not help it. It plagued my mind endlessly, driven by the guilt that there was nothing I could have done, the burgeoning fear that it if I had tried it would have been too easy to kill, to would, to maim; it sent my thoughts spinning along paths I had considered before, long ago, but in a different season.
What should the extent of muggle and magical relations be? Did we have any duty to them to help, if we could? Should it matter, in times of emergency, when lives are at stake, whether the cause is magical or muggle; whether the villain is magical or muggle?
Alas, but I am far too underqualified to answer such questions – and they have been theorised enough over the years already, and will be picked apart far more often in the years to come, I suspect.
How I hated that politics were now at the forefront of my mind again; how I loved it, revelled in it. How I detested myself for loving it, for spending hours at night before bed, tossing and turning and desperately trying to convince myself that I was a better man now, that I could have power and wield it well now.
One day, I very nearly tipped over the edge – oh, darling, it took everything I had not to run to you without thought, and the decision left me quite devastated for days afterwards – and I’m afraid I quite stunned poor Elphias.
You mustn’t laugh, Gellert, no matter how it seems to you – though, please, do not think ill of me for it in the end; I cannot bear the thought of you resenting me for this.
Down one of the side-streets off Diagon Alley, surrounded by soft cream walls, silver-rimmed mirrors and paintings adorning the walls, I met Elphias for tea that fateful day: I had slipped out of Hogwarts, marking done for the weekend, revelling in the beginning of Spring, and a quick owl had ensured I had company.
It was four o’clock by the time we met, Elphias’ tasselled robe creased in places, hiding a stiff-collared shirt and cravat, held in place by a Ministry pin.
“Sorry, sorry,” he panted, thudding down into the chair opposite. “I had to work late last night – Valerie was not happy about it, but what can you do? – the whole office was called in.”
“Has something happened?” I frowned, spotting a waiter approaching and ordering a slice of lemon drizzle and a cup of earl grey, while Elphias dithered with the menu, having belatedly realised he had not yet even glanced at it.
Soon enough, the waiter gone and our conversation likely to be swallowed up by the chatter emanating from the other tables in the café, filled as it was with a selection of middle-aged ladies loudly discussing the fashions of the day and a pair of warlocks debating the use of Blasting Curses in duelling, but nonetheless, Elphias still insisted on checking around the room nervously before leaning in and whispering.
For all the world, he looked like someone about to make a deal for an illegal Sphinx.
“The Holy Roman Empire has withdrawn from the International Confederation,” he told me, hushed and half-awed, his round eyes wide, and my hands felt numb around my cup of tea, the warmth it held barely registering.
The first step. It must be, it had to be – you could hardly reform your beloved Germany when delegations from each state which formed it sat at the Confederation in equal status? Certainly, you could hardly revoke the Charter when signed to an organisation whose primary objective was to uphold it.
You were moving; stretching and flexing in preparation for the strike, and where was I? Stuck in England, chained to a job I had assigned myself for protection, out of obligation and guilt.
“Ah,” I murmured, taking a sip of tea – more for the sake of doing something, some physical action, to attempt to jolt me out of the daze Elphias had so unwittingly induced. It burned, scalding the roof of my mouth and the tip of my tongue, blazing a trail down my chest. “That is alarming indeed.”
In our secret language, written so long ago but still reeling off my tongue as easily as it ever did, it was the flaring, angry first statement – a gauntlet, of sorts, flung down in the centre of the room, as you watched me, eyes blazing, half-smile challenging, waiting only for the reply to come, knowing that it would.
Truthfully, it had been half a language and half an addiction, strong and consuming, and when the words, even when not spoken by you, crashed down onto the table in front of me, it was almost impossible to resist.
My tongue moved without thought, my mind raced to find an answer; I found myself restless, suddenly, uncomfortable and confined inside.
Soon enough, having excused myself with all undue haste, I vanished from sunny, peaceful London, and reappeared in north Scotland, the rain – heavy, cold, whipped up into a shower of needles by the wind – pouring onto my head and shoulders. It weighed nothing, slipping easily through my clothes as though they were merely an illusion, but nonetheless, it pressed down on my body, forcing my head to bow, my shoulders to curve over.
In my chest, a cold front met a hot one, and they fought fiercely, clashing in perhaps was merely a recommencement of hostilities.
Carefully, studiously, I avoided looking at The Hog’s Head as I walked up the lane, getting closer to it with each step – the sign slowly swinging into view, battered and crude as it was; it felt too much like a betrayal, though I had done nothing, had said nothing, had not even quite thought anything.
Thoughts were starting to form, though, flattening themselves out of the muddle the whirlwind you always were had stirred up inside my mind – half-formed, tentative and unconscionably passionate, born out of a trembling hope and a want which together, somehow, merged to form a kind of fragile, impulsive bravery.
I wanted to hear your voice again, hear your tongue twist around the syllables of our own language; it was as though now I had had a taste of it, I needed it, dependant on it once more.
Fleetingly, I remembered the last message I had ever got from you – your magic twined around them like a calling card of sorts, embedded in them so deeply that when I touched them it was almost akin to those days that summer when we would reach out to press our fingertips against the edges of spells, suspended in mid-air, and feel how they buzzed, purring almost as they brushed at our palms.
I am your captive. A statement, and such a statement – if that was, indeed, what you meant by them.
Did you mean for me to spend hours poring over books, old advice columns and compilations of lists, both magical and muggle, in an attempt to determine what they could mean, never quite able to settle on one – for every time I started to become convinced of one, I would immediately doubt myself.
Perhaps you meant luck instead, or it was a reference to the Hallows – the immortality we craved so much epitomised by them – or simple sweetness, a gentle, naïve innocence; was it a slight, a reminder of how easily I had fallen for you?
Alas, now I am somewhat more certain, far too late in the day for it to do any good – if only then I had remembered the one, unfailing truth you have always held fast to your character: that any statement you make, you make wholly and fully.
Halves are for others, for those who do not see them, for those who need them – not for you, you who wound a continent around your finger and made it swoon when you smiled.
“Albus?” I looked up, startled, to see Aberforth standing a few metres away, dishcloth in his hands and an apron around his waist. He was frowning, his hair cut short and a flower crown dangling out of a pocket; a token from Moira, no doubt, put there a while ago and forgotten about.
He looked so much a family man, then, so much like the scant memories I had of father – a grubbier, rural version of father, perhaps how father might have looked had he come with us to Godric’s Hollow – that it made my breath catch in my throat.
He was happy, and I had to swallow a wave of bitter jealousy; replaced almost immediately by a hot, spiced determination.
What did obligation matter, in the end, when weighed against happiness? What did scraps of freedom, gathered hastily here and there, mean in the face of the possibilities I saw then? What could the world entire matter, when it came down to you and I, meeting somehow on the other side – a second chance at us, at utopia, at everything we had ever been and could be.
Perhaps it should embarrass me that the life I had so painstakingly built was forgotten so quickly – but, alas, I cannot even pretend it.
“D’you want something?” Aberforth asked, giving me a strange look, his eyes narrowing; I had to look away.
For once in my life, I told myself that explanations could wait, that action should – must, would – come first.
“No, no, not at all,” I waved his comment away, distracted and promptly disapparated, the thoughts in my mind finally falling into order, neat and sweet.
Oh, my darling, I called it bravery before – and even to this day, I think it was, I still believe that it was, though I know most would disagree. Foolishness, perhaps, or stupidity, might be considered better words, but I cannot ever think of it was either of those, for they imply things I do not want to stray towards, thoughts I admit I have had, but regret.
Does that not say it all – that I regret most telling myself falling for you was stupid?
I still persist, though: after all, bravery comes in many forms, and who is to say what is brave and what is not? It varies so much, from man to man, from time to time; one man’s bravery is cowardice for another – it is a subjective thing, unquantifiable and indeterminable.
So, the question remains, for you: was it bravery or cowardice that I stood in front of the desk in London’s hub, and when asked ‘where to?’, I answered, in a breath, in a single heartbeat, without thought or pause, ‘Germany’.
Gellert, darling, do you see now why I feared you, in the end?
"Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte": "I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be."
It is a quote from The Sorrows of Young Werther, Letter from 17th May, by Goethe and does not belong to me. Gellert's taste in poetry and literature, though, does, unfortunately, belong to me :P
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