Chapter 21 : Clauses
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Has there ever been anything more comforting and more addictive than the absolute promise of uncertainty? It pushes and pulls with an intoxicating irregularity; it balances you, on the very edges of your toes, with your arms outstretched so as not to fall, on a cliffside and summons and cajoles you to cross the rope to the other side, even as the rocks glint below. Even as you are afraid, more afraid perhaps than you ever have been, you are enthralled: the adrenalin pumping around your body, stirring your blood and keeping your mind pressed against the glass, burns as it goes like alcohol, and when it is gone you miss it more than you could possibly imagine.
One of us said that once – only now I am not quite certain which one of us it was. The words sound like mine, but the voice they speak with, the passion and the danger and the heady, dark thrill licking along them is yours.
Does it matter, when it comes to you and I? Has it ever truly mattered?
Others would say that it does – that that is precisely what matters, which of us spoke those words, any words, and which of us merely sat there, sunlight glancing over our shoulders, and listened – but, darling, I remain unconvinced. When that summer it felt like we understood each other more perfectly than two people could ever have understood each other, as though we were two halves of one whole who had finally found each other and were slotting, slowly and carefully, back into place, what does it matter which voice sounded them when both minds thought them, both tongues formed them?
Ah, but I have distracted myself – forgive me.
I have grown old, now, or at least older than I was when we last saw each other, on that hot, happy day in Germany, and I find myself wandering more than before: I trail off into strange rambles of thought, diverted from my original meaning, I amble through the worn paths of the Forest with scarcely a thought to the time or the dangers which hide behind every tree. It was always a habit of mine, to deviate, but now, now alas it is a common occurrence.
We never were certain, were we? Of all the things we were – young and so very in love, drunk on our own intellect, on the thousand possibilities the future spread before us, at once naïve and wise and brave – we were never certain.
We lived on a knife-edge, then, clinging onto every moment in the anticipation that it would vanish when we least expected it (and it did, didn’t it? In a way neither of us had ever dreamed, and neither of us was quite prepared for).
There were some certainties, some truths we knew: that you and I would not separate, that we would never find another who could match either of us, that Aberforth would find some way to damn us with anger alone. Some of those still linger, even now, when that summer has long passed and I have been cloistered up here in the highlands long enough for it to have lost its charms.
Do you think of them, on the wonderful desperation with which we seized everything that summer?
I would like to think you do – I would hate to think you have lost your passion, your fire, your certainty.
(It is perhaps more than a little ironic that separately we were so certain – we are so certain – about ourselves, our thoughts, the world entire, but together, in the one thing we should have made solid beyond anything, we were always so very fragile.
We assumed we were unbreakable, swore that nothing the world could do would tear us apart – and when the world put us to a test, we discovered our coats of adamantium were only china.)
After everything we had woven together had been ripped and torn beyond repair, a wall sunk into the ground between us neither of us could see or feel but which was always there, always pushing us further and further away, we were more uncertain than ever – but now, as I sit here and recall our time together, all the stolen, secret meetings, I cannot help but think that we were wonderfully certain in uncertainty.
It did not matter where or when or for how long, but one way or another, my darling, we always inevitably found ourselves walking down the same paths again – tumbling and stumbling across the top of the wall to fall down together, hand in hand and blissfully complete again. In the same manner as the sun rising and the moon turning through her cycle, we repeated the same dance, the same, tragic dance over and over until it was natural to run to each other, natural for our worlds to revolve around each other.
In effect, Gellert, every clause of my life, every period of time I have spent anywhere, anyhow, has almost always ended with you, and that at least shows no sign of stopping. If that is not a form of certainty, then I am bewildered as to what is.
(Perhaps, then, to finish the metaphor, we only needed a little more time, a little more growth, for our china coats to harden and slide into adamantium; and perhaps, then, we were merely too early for each other, in the end.)
9th June, 1924; Alvanley, Cheshire, England
The air was hot, thick with clouds of cigar smoke – electric blue and heavy, hanging low over heads, the candles floating around the room pinpricks through them – and the old mahogany panelling on the walls, separating out crimson-and-gold patterned, velveteen canvases, shrunk the space down, making it feel cage-like, prison-like almost, as though there was no escape. In my mouth, the taste of red wine, full-bodied and fruity, lingered, drying out the back of my throat, and my head was swimming pleasantly.
Around me circled a number of faces, of famous names at the time, their voices quiet and punctuated every now and then by a cough, gruff and short, and the soft patter of footsteps on the carpet. In one corner of the room, Cantankerous Nott was nodding solemnly as Ariadne Greengrass emphasised a point with a flailing arm, her husband silent by her side and looking deeply uncomfortable. Cornelia Adams stood on the opposite side from their small party, with Heather MacKay and Horatio Prewett, her cheeks flushed and her voice hushed and quick.
“Albus, my friend!” Horace bounced over to me, yet another glass of wine in his hand, his face ruddy and his green striped waistcoat stretched thinly over his stomach. “How are you enjoying yourself? Not as bad as you had thought, eh?”
He laughed at his own joke, taking a large sip, and I could only smile in response – a short, strained thing.
“It has been quite delightful so far,” I responded automatically, the words tripping off my tongue without much thought at all. Stock words; there was nothing sincere about them – indeed, my tone was almost painfully bland – but that did not dissuade him at all.
“Well, I did tell you! Though really, it’s no surprise – a clever chap like you, the Ministry’s the perfect place!” he smiled conspiratorially, leaning in a little with a slight sway. “Minister McLaird’s always looking for advisers, you know, on anything – an easy way in, as well, to go through the support staff channels, and I hear the pay isn’t half bad either.”
“Naturally,” I murmured in response, draining the last of my glass in one go. Too quick, in truth; old habits always have a tendency to sneak up on us when we least expect it, when we are most vulnerable to them. “If you would excuse me…”
Without waiting to see if he would reply, I skirted around the edge of the room, past a pair of elderly men in matching tasselled robes with wide bell sleeves, and dipped into the dining room.
With white-plastered walls, edged with pale pink and gold, and windows lining the length of one side, it was brighter, the air clearer and cleaner, light pouring in and glancing over the gilt on the rims of the teacups and the candlesticks, bouncing off of the wine glasses and champagne flutes lined up on the table, turning the glaze on a round, two-tiered cake already divided into slices into a mirror. Still, my throat did not loosen, my stomach twisting uncomfortably as I searched for the jug of water and a fresh glass.
He could not have known how what he had said would affect me – could not have predicted that I would react thus – but the casual way he had suggested it, the reminder that it would be so simple if I wanted to, if I would allow myself to… that I could, even then, switch careers, follow you down the long road to political infamy. It was still possible for me, for us: the dream we had spun from the air around us that summer, pulling wisps of cloud and feverish whispers from the sky and weaving them into the greater good.
(The Greater Good. Even now, it makes me flinch as it reminds me of you, of that summer, of everything you have ever been to me.
It was a beautiful dream: pure and simple and so wonderfully perfect in its imagining. It was idealistic and grounded in history, revolutionary and yet the best solution, something to believe in and to strive for, to follow and to trust. It was everything you were, everything I had dreamed of becoming, and everything the world did not need or want.
I can never quite decide if I should admire you or despair of you, for the passion and the zeal with which you committed yourself, body and soul, to the cause you chose for yourself.
Martyrdom is glorious in theory, in books and legends, but my darling, I am not certain I could have borne the loss.)
Wandering about the room, the water slowly eating away at the layer of red wine encrusted on the roof of my mouth and the top of my tongue, I found that I was not fighting the urge to go and talk to the members of the Wizengamot, ingratiate myself with them, a childish sort of glee, wicked and hopeful and thirsty, whispering that I should, I could help people, I would be great and wonderful and so very revered. Instead, I was angry that Horace would presume I longed for power, made sick by the thought of holding it – responsibility for so many lives, all the power I had ever wanted, heavy and rich and so very malleable – in my hands.
If I could not manage to succeed with one life, if I could not simply be a brother, how on earth could I father a nation?
(Now, they have offered it to me twice, the duty and the gift, and both times it has been easy to refuse. There will come a day when it is not, I know, and I am afraid, Gellert.)
“Albus,” the call was unexpected and unwelcome after Horace’s reminders of the glorious future I had thrown away, and my smile was brittle when I turned to face Bathilda. If she noticed, she did not comment on it, and later, when I was calmer and far more rational, I would be grateful for it: she had been a great friend to mother, after all, there was no need for rudeness or incivility.
(She had, of course, given me you at the time I most needed you, longed for you, and that was far more precious a gift to me than anything else. Fool that I am, I can never hope to repay her for that, no matter what came after our introduction.)
“Bathilda, I confess I did not expect to see you here,” I responded neatly, keeping my glass of water in front of me like some kind of wet, weak shield. “Though I am, of course, delighted as always. I hope you’ve been well?”
“Oh yes,” her smile was softer and wider than my own had been, genuine warmth emanating from it, if a little cooler, more reserved than perhaps it should have been, but given the history, the facts and the secrets of it all, what more could I really have expected?
It had been nearly twenty-five years since the day you had left; it seemed like an age then, now it feels like it could have been yesterday: time, in all her strange, twisting wonder.
“I have been well, but busy, though I do regret not keeping in touch,” Bathilda told me, one finger running around the rim of a wine glass slowly, absently, constantly. “I meant to, but it kept slipping my mind.”
“In which case, I should apologise as well, since I did not write either,” I assured her lightly, though in truth it felt tiring, so very tiring, having to pretend to be light-hearted and jovial, the perfect guest, when all I wanted to do was shout and pace like thunder, raise a hand and see wardrobes and desks crack and splinter, fine china vases reduced to dust.
Anger in the face of fear; it is lucky, perhaps, that on that fateful day, I was too afraid to be properly, truly angry.
“No need,” Bathilda promised me, taking a small, half-hearted sip of the wine – white and surely tepid by now. “I hear you are at Hogwarts now – I hope you’re enjoying it? I would never have pegged you for a teacher, but I suspect it will suit you quite well, as most things would do.”
“Yes, it has been a very rewarding experience so far,” I replied, and the words seemed heavier and lighter at the same time, meaning more and costing less than they had done previously. It did not strike me then, not so soon, but that was when I found that I had fallen into – not love, never quite love – admiration, perhaps, with my cage.
You would say it is merely a type of Stockholm Syndrome – that in having been isolated from the world for so long, separated from my heart and my soul and my true, real dreams, I had forgotten what the outside looked like, what those things were.
Perhaps you are right, darling; but I cannot say.
“It is remarkable,” I therefore continued, entirely unaware of the significance of the moment which had just passed. “How much one can learn from students – and usually, I must say, without them knowing they are teaching another at all. Of course, it does leave me free enough to do my own research, which has always been a passion of mine.”
“I am glad,” Bathilda smiled again, and this time there was something wistful about it. “Your mother would be pleased to see you happy and thriving. I think I read an article of yours the other day on the misunderstandings surrounding the properties and symbolism of moonstone – it was really excellent. I am hardly an expert in such things, as I have rarely journeyed outside of Europe, to my regret, but I would be very happy to assist with the historical side of things, should you need any? It is a fascinating topic – and a potentially controversial one in these times!”
“If you wouldn’t mind, that would be incredibly helpful,” I found myself smiling back, and easily, naturally this time – academic research was a much safer topic, after all, and a much simpler one to manage. “Hogwarts’ library is excellent, but not up to par in this area, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, it would be no trouble,” she nodded sympathetically, looking at once thoughtful and business-like, a frown creasing her forehead. “Most ordinary libraries, no matter how well-stocked and expansive they are, do not tend to cover topics and subject matters they feel are unnecessary to discuss – or even, in some cases, non-existent. Why, I was saying to Gellert the other day…”
She trailed off, giving me a strange, nervous look, quick and sharp, and took a gulp of wine. The silence hung between us, weighty and so potentially dangerous, and I swallowed, closing my eyes for a heartbeat, gathering myself, steeling myself, and praying to whatever forces might exist that I would be strong enough for what could come.
“I should be glad to hear what he said – he always did have such extraordinary, if fierce and researched, opinions,” I felt myself say, far more aware of the flick of my tongue against my lips, against the roof of my mouth and my teeth.
I took a mouthful of water, a tiny lump of ice accompanying; it was cold, bitterly so, and it grounded me from where you had sent me soaring.
She touched the hem of her jacket, plum-coloured and fashionably tight and stiff, before continuing, the words falling faster than before, as though she was almost pushing them out of her mouth, tiny drops of acid she wanted rid of, so that we could return to the blissful, polite conversation we had had before.
“I was saying to him about how things exist differently in different places – in different forms, if at all, in different words and with different intonations and emotions and social thoughts attached to them. He said how he finds it is the same with people: they exist differently in different places, with different people. With one group, they are one facet of themselves; with another, another; and so on, until they have a hundred different parts of themselves tied to a hundred different places or groups or aspects of a society.”
“I suspect,” I replied quietly. “That he is quite right about that.”
The rest of the conversation passed swiftly – a few more pleasantries, insistences on both our parts that perhaps this time we might remember to write (I did, in the end, but I focused very much of our proposed collaboration, and not at all on anything remotely relating to you or my mother or that wretched, beautiful summer) – and was entirely unremarkable.
Soon enough, I begged my leave of her and then Horace in turn, citing papers to mark, essays to grade and detentions to supervise, and luckily eliciting only a grimace and commiserations rather than pleas and cajoling to stay, and vanished back up to Hogwarts, through the gates and onto the wide, open fields of the grounds.
Absently, I wandered towards the edge of the lake, shimmering silver-blue in the distance, the sun blazing down from the sky and turning the surface of it to a crust of diamonds, glinting and winking at me.
Overhead, a bird cawed, winging its way over the school, a pair of owls flapped steadily southwards, and the trees rustled continuously, their leaves plump and bright, vivid shades of green, touched here and there with yellow and white. The sky was a brilliant azure, the few white clouds near the sun followed by thicker, heavier grey ones a few miles away, bringing the promise of a thunderstorm and an end to the sticky, humid pressure which had enveloped seemingly the whole country – even up in the Highlands, we had not been spared.
It was mercifully cooler there, though: a small wind, impertinent and fierce, jostled its way through the trees and the bushes of the forest, picking and nipping at my hair, my face and the jagged crests of tiny, half-formed waves on the lake.
Once there, with the surges of the lake beating on the ground only two feet away from me, a barrier of tiny, pebbled rocks separating she and I, I could relax, free and safe, and think.
A separation of selves – that was your idea, your philosophy, as you had told Bathilda; the way you perceived the world to impose on each one of us. Some unspoken force behind the scenes, invisible and impossible to counter, dividing up our souls until we are merely sums of parts, characteristics and traits and inherent, unchanging facts, nothing more and nothing less and certainly never quite unified, never whole. Hidden shards of diamond, concealed from some and uncovered for others… was it not how it had worked for us, after all? How it had to work for us, condemned and damned as we were – or so they would have us believe.
Oh my darling, you have always had a gift for rhetoric, and you have always had a gift for stirring things in me, sending my mind soaring off to new pastures in search of truths I had never known could exist; you have always made me restless, restless and stupefied and irresistibly challenged.
If I believed in such things, destinies and predestination and fate, you would be the other half of my soul, and that in every life and in every universe somehow, somewhere, we would always have met and loved.
When I am melancholy and lonely and hopelessly in love, I do not discount it.
In truth, it has never surprised me how deeply you could touch me with such simple words, how easily you could understand me even in perfect, still, silence. On that, at least, we are somewhat more evenly matched, I think: I have unravelled you, to some extent, just as you did to me.
There, though, on the bank of the lake, as much as your words had shaken me and turned my thoughts back onto you, onto us and the secrets we shared, the histories and the anger and the sufferings which scarred us both, they pushed onwards, onto Hogwarts, almost beyond you and I and onto solely myself.
How true your words seemed, and how hollow they made me feel! To think that I, so lauded for my intelligence, for my wisdom and my wit and my learning, could have missed something so basic, so obvious when laid out before me so plainly.
It explained so much to me, so much of my resentment at school, for being cast as the golden child, the genius youth; the perfectly poised, perfectly spoken, perfectly presented student – for the inability it gave me to make a mistake, to be anything less, to be not quite what they wanted me to be. It explained why I had dreaded home, where I was cast as the solitary scholar, the son who could not help, who was better for avoiding it and worse for struggling when asked to do it.
It explained why for so long I had felt so separate from society, from my friends and foes alike, from scholars and teachers and everyone, in truth, but you: to others I was not white enough to be properly British but not foreign enough to be foreign, not openly wild enough to be classed as an ingrate but not normal enough to be a man as everyone else was.
For so long I had existed in a state of limbo, between one thing and the next and not really either, without realising that was where I was.
To realise, though, is to find the heart of the problem, and, for me then, to find a solution.
Why should the fact that it was what the world wanted me to be force me to bear it? Why did I have to split, in the opinions of others, in the way I viewed myself, simply because it was what was done, if I did not want to be?
Why could I not be Albus Dumbledore, revolutionary, and Albus Dumbledore, teacher, at once, in my own way and in my own time?
What would it change, such a small rebellion, to blend the glass shards of my soul together so I am whole again, other than to make me happy? After all, one man is not a revolution – there would be no grand shaking of society, no trembling of the earth as the moral pillars which upheld it were cracked down to their very cores.
Do not think that I did not still want you, Gellert, that I did not still care for you or wonder if perhaps I should be with you and not at Hogwarts, that I had given up forever on our dreams and our beautiful utopia – or even on my secret, private dreams of you and I in a paradise all our own. I had not. I still have not, in some things.
But then I made the decision to be happy and to be solely myself entire – and I think, darling, that you of all people would have smiled, soft and bright, and wished me luck.
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