Chapter 18 : Germany
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Some days, I think my father haunts me – I will stir, at night, and see his face flash by in a beam of moonlight, or a stream of German from the guards when they check, every thirty days, that the locks still hold, that the wards have not weakened, will reach me and the voice will morph, so quick and so sudden I am not sure whether it ever changed at all, into my father’s, and all I can do it sit, silent, and wait for it to pass, that shuddering, creeping sensation of being watched, monitored and judged. It hurts; cold and acidic, and I can never be certain if I am afraid or merely anxious.
Other days, there is nothing, no hint of anything or anyone, and the loneliness of solitude eats away at me a little more.
When they come, the voice and the visions, however fleeting they are, I remember my youth and him, and now I am old and growing pensive so I cannot help remembering most the beginning of it all, for that is the time one most envies when one is old: the innocence and the naivety, the endless, boundless curiosity, and the sheer happiness of blissful ignorance of the pains of the world.
Ah, but the memories are never of that, the games in the garden in Visegrád with my brothers, my father (for he was, then) teaching my brothers how to shoot out in the forest and longing for my turn, fascinated and admiring, or even later, the afternoons spent swimming in the lake near the house in Schwarzwald, visiting my grandparents and curling up in their library for hours on end.
Instead, they are of between those times, the times my parents would wish I had forgotten, if they knew at all that I still remembered.
Men and women all have their secrets, and there is nothing so shameful as a secret known, yes?
Secrets have a way of slipping out, though, and once out, there are very few ways to destroy them – and when the secret exists? When the secret lives and breathes and smiles, with your blood in its veins, born of your flesh? What then do you do?
My tombstone in Visegrád does not bear flowers; I went once, but all I wanted to do was to destroy it, that symbol of the life I should have had, perhaps could have had, but was never meant to have.
I remember, just, the look in my mother’s eyes when she wrapped me in my coat, her hands shaking as she did each button up one by one, adjusting my scarf around my neck and my hat on my head, kissing me twice on each cheek. She framed my face with her hands and stared at me, long and hard, imprinting me onto the back of her mind, stamping me there, in blue and grey and white, the only brightness present my hair, still gold even at five years, and my blue eyes.
“You must be good,” she told me, her voice soft, halting, and her eyes were swollen, red-rimmed and sad. “You will be happy.”
Then I did not understand – I was young and confused, simply obedient even if I did not like it, because what was there to be afraid of? – but it did not take me long to realise it was planned, that she wanted me to be obedient and confused and quiet, quiet most of all.
My father, his blonde hair matching mine, took my hand, and if he exchanged any last look, last moment, with my mother I did not notice, too busy staring at the ground, at once resentful and excited for my supposed journey ahead, and then he led me out into the street. The door shut behind us just the once, sharp and swift, and it seemed to echo in my ears as we walked down the streets, through the village to the ship waiting for us at the dock.
On the ship I did everything I could to make him take me back: I pouted, I sulked, I cried and wailed like a child possessed; I hit his arm until I grew tired and screamed until the air ran out in my lungs. All the while, he waited, patient and weary, his brow creased, and when I exhausted myself, trails down my face from tears, enough fire left in me to glare at him but nothing more, he simply tucked me under a blanket.
“One day, you will understand,” he murmured to me, watching me with a small smile, half-melancholy. “And whether you do or not, or you believe me or not, I will look after you – I will make sure you are happy.”
The river swayed from side to side with the tide, and I do not remember beyond that.
That is the beginning, though, and when people ask why I am German, when they wonder why that, why there – why German and not Prussian as my father was, or a Württemberger as I grew up, or Hungarian as my mother was – for all that the qualities, the thrill birthing a country gives you, the power a revolution lays at your feet, in truth, that is what I think of most.
Sentimental, you would say, Albus, and I regret that it is, but you, I know, understand this more than most: that attachment is not to where you are born or where you father is born, but to where you live, and that has very little to do with anything tangible at all.
27th July, 1920; Leipzig, Germany
Have you ever truly been victorious, Albus? Have you ever seen it, heard it and felt it settle in your soul that you had won; it, they, I was yours, beyond any doubt – do you remember it, like I do, full of the glory and the hope and the joy of success, nothing marring it, tainting the purity of the moment.
Ah, this is how we are now, yes? You and I, separated by such a distance, and so I ask questions to you I can already answer, and you do not reply, because you do not hear them.
To philosophy, then: if a question is asked, but no one hears it, has it been asked, or has it merely been wondered? Is asking in the voicing or the forming?
If silent, unheard questions are unasked, then do they not exist in the sense that living, tangible things exist – and, if they do not exist, then what does that make me, for history is formed only of questions, no answers, and that is what I am now.
I can almost hear you sighing, see you smile reluctantly even as your mind begins to hum with the new, fascinating problem in front of you; it is both a pity and a relief that I cannot. We are old now, my friend, and I only remember you as young – your hair is always auburn, your face always unlined and the idea that we have changed so much is only a reminder of the time I have spent here.
Did you expect me to say I wondered what you would look like now? That it would be strange to see you so different, that I shudder at the thought of not recognising you?
Such a fool, Albus, to think I would not – there is no one else to recognise now, and no disguise could ever hide you from me; our magic is too strong and too familiar to me for that.
I know that you remember the day they claim was yours, the victory they say you won – but did you win, or did I lose? For all people say, they are not the same, and you and I know that very well; after all, one does not necessarily mean the other: to win implies something more than simply not losing, and vice versa, and, in truth, I will say that I lost.
Harsh, your sycophantic followers would cry, if they knew, so harsh and so cruel and so wrong, but they do not know, they merely believe – and you would not disagree with me.
You did not win that day, but I lost, and that is the heart of the matter; the loadstone of the wall built between us.
All the more shameful because once I won, absolutely and completely – and, Albus, my Albus, there are few things on earth which can compete with such a sensation: a heady, powerful, hypnotic concoction of joy and pride and a glee barely restrained, humility tossed aside in favour of the certainty that now, anything is possible, all of your limits are gone. Everything around you seems bright, the shadows and hurts of the world lessened, and all you can see in front of you is hope.
It is addictive, as all good things are, and it would be so easy to fall into it as so many great men did, from Alexander himself to Napoleon Bonaparte.
In the end, I never got the chance to even approach it; you cut me down long before it even flickered in my mind.
There were roses – pink and budded, the petals only just starting to peel away from each other – in a vase on the fireplace that day, in the palace in Leipzig, and the mirrors were polished, gleaming and glittering, so that in total it was a sparkling, scented haven from the outside world, filled only with velveteen chairs and curtains of lace and cotton, everything decorated with silver or gold, but never both.
They were state rooms we all stood in, the past and the future together, used to loud clamouring problems, to calls and cries from Kings throughout time, to the arguing of court factions, each one convinced they were better for their name was better, their family was better; now, then, they were silent, save for the scratching of quills on parchment and the occasional low murmur of voices.
What was there to talk about, what need for ugly noise?
For those of us who won that day, victory was nothing more than a first step down a long road, hardly the end of one; for those who lost, well, they were seeing their lives be crossed out and rewritten in front of their eyes, and the only comfort they had was that they had no other option.
Beautiful places deserve a kind of respect, but the history which clung to them demanded it, and I found myself wandering around the suite set aside for our purpose, admiring the paintings on the walls – all of them flitting around, regarding us curiously, quizzically, questioning each other to try and learn anything they could about the events taking place – the Italian Renaissance architecture, enduring still, and wondering what else these rooms had seen.
Had they seen births, deaths? Had they seen fights, arguments, duels, perhaps? Or was it all much nicer, sweeter – had it been in this room that lovers had kissed, secretly, in the dark; or here, where the King had met his mistress and slipped a chain of pearls around her neck.
History has always been something of a familial passion – though my great-aunt takes much of the blame; she indoctrinated me young: even as my mother in Hungary and then my father in Württemberg would take me to church to pray and sing, Tante Bathilda would send me books on Emperors and warriors, heroines and princesses, often accompanied by handwritten notes. When she visited – once a year, in November – she would read them to me, tell me stories which were not in the books.
Secret histories, she called them; secret histories for they are the stories that are not told, ones which speak of things men now call sins.
I listened and I learned, and in turn, I grew to search out stories for myself, reading book after book on the same topic until I could assemble the facts, see beyond each author’s attempts to persuade that they alone knew the truth.
(Historians will always convince themselves of this one fallacy: that what they search for is truth. In honesty, they search for gossip, for some new tantalising revelation – to shock, to stun. It is their own little secret, buried so deep half of them do not know it is there.)
In Leipzig, I stepped out onto the balcony, overlooking the gardens: a map of hedges concealing beds of flowers, fountains and statues tucked into corners in mock-Greek tableaux, deities and heroes alike, busts of royal ancestors, alone without plaques to record their names. It stretched on, further than would be believed, reaching out of the edge of the city and into the countryside which surrounded it.
Long ago, it had been entirely separate from the city, but times had changed and with them, cities grow and evolve, moving and shifting along riverbanks and lakesides, down valleys and up mountainsides.
It looked lonely, as it was, devoid of people strolling round it, laughing and gossiping and romancing, but there was a stately beauty about it all the same, a strength that it would simply remain this way, no matter what its use was, no matter who was there; it did not need people to survive, it relied upon nothing but itself and nature.
“Herr Grindelwald, it is always a pleasure,” the Prussian King – I never called him by name, even then, as he lost so definitively, he was still a King and my father’s no less, if not mine – stepped out beside me. His hair was white now, speckled with grey, and he did not wear any crown or sigil save the deep blue sash which stretched from his right shoulder to his left hip, adorned with a golden clasp in the shape of a griffin.
He smiled at me, wearily, and pulled a cigarette case out of his pocket, bronze and stamped with a rising sun. Without another word, he offered me one, a parody of so many years ago, of so many meetings in between, and I took it, lighting it with a snap of my fingers, loud in the quiet.
“I must say congratulations,” he commented softly, thin reams of smoke spiralling into the air around us. “You have played it quite masterfully.”
“If it had been anything less than masterful it would not have been mine,” I returned, calm and content. The words were smug, proud and arrogant, ja, but did I not have every right to be?
A quiet laugh, quick and short, but no less genuine for that, and he nodded once.
“I would expect nothing less,” he agreed.
Conversation died then – it had never been so stilted between he and I, but this, we both knew, was the end. Friendship can only last so long under such a strain, and I knew he would not want to see me after this, when I, and he knew me to be the mastermind, had ended his career to start mine in earnest.
It had been an unexpected friendship, and one I found I did not enjoy losing – I did not want to lose, in truth, as he had been both mentor and friend, beyond a mere tool and font of information – but any guilt I had was squashed by the knowledge that it was for the greater good, for the utopia you and I dreamed up so many years before.
“I would like, before we return inside, to give you some advice,” he turned to me, dousing his cigarette on the balcony edge and vanishing it with a wave of his arm, sudden and strong. There was something fierce about him then, something I had not expected or known before, and the Elder wand thrummed in my pocket, dark and malevolent.
By my side, I held my hand perfectly, absolutely still.
“You think I need advice now?” I could not keep the scorn out of my voice, the impatience to see my new world born. I would not let anyone withhold it from me anymore; it was so close, too close without being present, and once it was done it could not be undone – oh, how I longed for it to be real.
Patience has never been one of my virtues, you know this well, Albus; even Nico could not teach me that entirely.
“You are taking countries from rulers who have been born for it, trained from birth to serve and obey their people all things; to listen and head and love them, regardless of what happens,” the King ignored my question entirely, scorn bouncing off him as waves on a cliff. Soon, though, soon he would fall and I would rise. “And you are handing them to people who have not, who perhaps are more interested in power than in anything else. This is your idea, your revolution, Herr Grindelwald, so you must protect the people. They will be yours, even if the face they see is another’s. Always remember that you have risen on their favour, but you can fall on it just as easily.”
“Most would say they are not mine – that I cannot be German, not truly – but they will be, and I am not so foolish as to forget who I must look to,” I told him, my voice hard and cold, the words less a reply than a statement, and nothing at all like the promise he perhaps had hoped to prise out of me. “I am of the people, for the people, as you were not, and I do not fail.”
He seemed unimpressed, but I did not care, and turned to leave, flicking my cigarette, the lit end of it now a ragged black-and-grey mess, dull red embers still flickering faintly, over the edge of the balcony.
“It will make you lonely, the power,” he said, then, and there was something heavy, more than simply a warning – the hint of something personal and sad, underneath it all.
“It is convenient, then, that I am already lonely,” I replied without thinking, not enough bite in the words for them to snap, but the bitterness in them was almost tangible in the air, crisp and sour.
After that, nothing more was said.
Does that make you feel guilty, Albus? That I was lonely then, that I am more lonely now than I have ever been? That such a simple phrase, so innocuous, could unman me enough to provoke something more than pride or joy out of me?
I hope it does, if only because then it would mean your affection for me holds, even now; that you lie awake at night thinking of me here, wondering how I am, regretting all you did to me, all you are still doing to me.
I want it to hurt you, for it to haunt you as you stride about your beloved Hogwarts, a ghost in the back of your mind and the corner of your eye, always there but never quite visible, whispering to you, reminding you of those sins you do not name, of those you hide endlessly for fear someone might discover you are nothing at all like the man you pretend to be. I want this hell you have put me in to scar you too, for we are twins in everything else, why not this?
Oh, but you cannot tell me you expected anything else, you always did know me so very well.
Inside, the air was thicker, stronger than it had been on the balcony, the soft breeze there always stirring it round, carrying scents to and fro, and there was an air of tension which had not been there before: nervous, excited, it skittered like a rabbit’s heartbeat around us all, waves of darting glances following in its wake, helpless fish in a net.
The decrees were finished, all that remained were the signatures, twenty-six of them, and then the last final declaration, for my new Germany, my Deutschland; forty-one would sign his birth certificate, in total, to breathe life into him and declare him true.
Was that how fathers felt, when they waited to cradle a new child – nervous and thrilled and happy beyond measure? Did they too, feel so impossibly impatient, twitching and fidgeting while they strain for those all-important words, to see the small, pink face peeking out of a blanket?
It should have been our child, Albus, more than anything, you know this. It should have been ours, since you had as much a hand in his making as I did.
You should have been there, and you cannot pretend to me that nothing of you wishes you had been; I know you too well to believe that, and lies between us serve no purpose.
After all, you would have understood why my heart and soul both trembled when, finally, my turn to sign came and I grasped the quill, dipping it slowly, carefully in the ink, crimson and metallic, meant to last the ages. I wrote my name as I always did, though my hand did not rest on the paper, to avoid smudging anything, but it felt different, as though in that simple action I was redefining myself.
I was, more so than I was not: it forged me a new identity, created something else entirely from me, solidified my purpose, my meaning – the reasons this had all meant so much into a single, simple title.
We were all new men, then, Albus, and it linked us together, a cord around all of our wrists, looping and beautiful but stronger than steel, in a way which could never be broken.
That evening, when I lay on the chaise longue in my house in Württemberg, champagne in a glass to one side and a warm orange glow from the sunset setting the cream walls to smoulder, the frivolity finally faded and I found myself utterly and completely at peace, for perhaps the first time in my life; for a moment, it sparked a note of melancholy – for a moment, it almost sparked tears. For foolish, selfish reasons, I wanted you there, if not before.
You would have understood, though; of all people, you would have understood without me needing to speak, as was always our way, yes?
Do you remember, how we would sigh, that summer, over our shared loneliness, our shared passions, our shared sense that we did not quite belong anywhere, were not citizens of any country but one not yet made or found? We were so separate, then, or so we thought; bohemians of the world, citizens of the world, restless and in thrall to wanderlust, part no society other than our own, subservient to no rules but those you and I created together.
For both of us, it was our mothers who gave us that, who, as they gave us life, gave us another half of ourselves, a different identity to the one we were meant to have, a marker to others and to ourselves that we were not truly children of the land we lived in.
I did it, Albus, I created my home, my country, gave myself a name for what I was, for what I had always been: I was German, I became German, so I could be something more than other, so I did not have to deny the mix of nations in my blood.
And you, did you ever find it, or did you simply wait for the world to mould into the right shape for you?
You cannot deny, not to me, that you are still restless, still searching for that perfect peace, though it is, as I am to you, a dream you gave up on long ago.
A/N: Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great were both real people and thus I do not own them ;)
ja - yes
Tante - aunt
Herr - mister/Mr.
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