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Chapter 4 : Bulgaria
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At night, sometimes I dream of fire; dragon-fire, sparking as it goes, eating and melting and consuming everything in its path, the heat from it sucking moisture out of the air, out of the ground, leaving nothing but dust and ashes behind, fine powder which crunches under my boots. I watch it all from the top of a hill, wand in hand; watch as the flames soar into the sky, the roars of the beast ripping the air asunder, hear the screams of women and children and men as they see Death coming for them. Anger, hot and strong, burns through my veins, and I can only think that the fire down below is a reflection of my soul. There is no pity, no mercy; only their unavoidable destiny, creeping ever closer.
When I wake, I do not remember it, the faint leftover thrill of it fading away quickly. The horrors of the night remain there; they will not come into the day, it is not their place. There are other demons to haunt me here, daydreams and the frailty of memory, half-formed images of things which once were real fracturing under pressure even as they slip away.
Facts do not evade me, though, and so I remember why, only why, only ever why, and the reasons linger in my mind, whispering to me as I pace up and down in front of the small window, never looking out. It is all I have left these days, facts – those little snippets of information we used to swap hourly, tossing them backwards and forwards in some meaningless, unspoken competition – and I confess my life has started to revolve around these things, emotionless and impartial though they are.
So, you see, Albus, I do not remember Bulgaria in the day, I do not remember how the mountains and hills and the fields looked, how the smell of charred flesh wound its way up the bank to where I stood, but I do remember why it happened. I have been asked why many times, by soldiers, by politicians, by mothers stricken with grief, by you yourself; the question is always why.
The answer is really very simple: they killed him. They did not need to kill him; why should they? He was innocent in all of this, in the bloodshed and the fury and the fight. He had nothing to do with it, had never had anything to do with it; I had made sure of that, perfectly aware of how I was hated and knowing how well hatred can stir the blood, can drive men to do deeds they would never otherwise commit.
You know it too, though you would never admit to it. Passion is much more similar to anger, to hatred, than it appears – and you were passionate, were you not? Once upon a time, at least.
Bulgaria reminds me of passion, yours and my own, of the simplicity of such an emotion, and the startling complexity it can yet provoke in thoughts and dreams. Passion denied begets anger, and oh I learned that quickly and harshly; a lesson I never forgot. Beyond that, far into anger, the flashes in my mind of flames and smoke speak to me of fury and grief and all the power I had ever possessed, focusing there on that one, small town. Naturally, it was terrible, that much I admit to you, but dear god it was beautiful, haunting and strangely melancholy.
Some days, I want to return there. I want to breathe in the faint echoes of dust and ash, hear the wind sigh as it stirs them up, carrying them over to me. I want the memories of that place, the blood and the tears and the power I poured into that land to come back to me; I want it to possess me again, I want to feel it wrap around me and fill me until I choke on it.
I want the thrill of being unstoppable again.
Ah, but it is not allowed, yes? It is bad, to feel passion and anger and hate? These emotions, they are not for you, not for who you want to become, and so I am not allowed them too, I am simply to sit here, sit here and rot, as you remake the land, press life into it with your hands and your heels, and attempt to forget that you ever once raised a wand in anger, felt power and craved it all.
Some days, Albus, I think I hate you. Others, I know that I do.
22nd July, 1900; Pazardzhik, Bulgaria
Nearly eight months into the new century, the new age for the dawn I would bring, and I had not yet gained anything other than tired bones, a stolen horse and a growing tendency to talk to myself – there was, I reasoned, no one else to talk to, and if I did not use my voice it would grow weak, rough and harsh from neglect. I could not allow that; if politics were to be my end-game, my board of choice, I would need my voice more than ever.
I had fled the moment the girl’s body touched the ground and I saw the loss in your eyes, vanishing over the channel without a second’s thought. Then, I simply vanished. The world will never know what happened next, what I did, where I went; they will speculate, I imagine, dredging up stories and legends and pinning my name next to them, dark deeds all, to suit their fantasies of me.
The truth is much less exciting. I had fled; I carried on running. I apparated across France region by region, crossed the mountains into Switzerland under cover of night, spent a week in Italy sharing wine and cigarettes and a bottle of laudanum with a handsome young man, stubble covering his chin and merry dark eyes. I went around Germany, around my homeland, afraid (and yes, I admit that I was very much afraid) that there the Aurors would be waiting for me, if you had gained the courage to speak of the truth of the girl’s death. If the boy had opened his mouth and barked.
I would not be bound, I swore to myself in the night; I would not be arrested like a common criminal. Ah, the irony of that now, yes? Then I was young and arrogant and the idea of being locked away from the wind and the rain and the earth, without any companionship, any conversation save for myself, seemed a death sentence in kinder wrappings.
Now I know differently; now I know that it is much, much worse than that.
I slept under the stars, then, with all that I owned in a trunk shrunk to fit into my pocket and on my back, and dear god I never been so free, so utterly and completely free. Then, I was nothing and everything, no one and everyone, a living dimorphism in myself. It was wonderful, and despite all the reasons and the emotions and the sneaking, fearful thoughts which stole into my mind when I closed my eyes about the future and plans and what would I do, I am not sure if I have ever been happier.
Ah, freedom: for you a burden you bear only grudgingly, a pleasure you insist on denying to yourself, and for me it is the drug I crave more desperately than any other. How we are different, Albus. How we always were.
Stepping foot into Bulgaria, though, marked something for me – a turning point of sorts. I remember only too well how I had hovered there, on the edge of the border with Romania, a breeze toying with my hair, and a strange hesitance to move forward. The sun was mid-descent, teetering on the edge of the sky, setting the horizon alight with slices of orange and dusky, bruised purples; beautiful, I assure you, but I could not find anything joyful or comforting in it, instead there was only anxiety drumming in my skull, and the faint taste of nausea in my throat.
The future was coming for me, quick and sly and ruthless, and there was nothing I could do about it but allow it to take me, body and mind and soul entire lost to its whims and mercies.
As soon as I had crossed the border, taken that one small step, I felt all the weight of the world come crashing back down onto me. I saw and I remembered and I felt every plan we had ever made, every fevered discussion we had ever had, every passion and determined righteousness I had ever experienced, and yet, and yet still I hovered there, alive again after so very long, but dying slowly once more as the memories went further, the knowledge deeper and feelings soured.
My certainty, so strong all that summer, so devout, vanished. I seemed to myself to be so very young and childish, and the task I had assigned myself – revolution and the creation of perfection – appeared an impossible mountain. For the first time, I thought that perhaps I could fail; for the first time, I wondered if it was as important to realise as I considered it to be.
I was weak and nervous and foolish; it shames me now to think of it – even now as I admit it, the words stick in my throat and seem to burn at my flesh.
There, frozen, I remembered you and how we had made these plans together, how they had been our plans, before everything went wrong. Later, of course, you would deny them, claim that they had never been yours like they had been mine, that you had never dreamed of mastery, of power, of the imperial glory kingship would lay at your feet; you had not yet denied it then, though, and something about the idea of pursuing our dreams (ours, Albus, always ours – no matter how often you try to tell yourself otherwise) alone seemed wrong.
How long I stood there, I do not know, but I know that it was long enough for frost to crystallise on my breath and on the tips of my hair, my fingertips turning red and the wind stinging, poking at my eyes. Tears slipped, trailing down my cheeks, and my throat grew dry, air rattling in my lungs – cold and crisp and painful.
Eventually, once the sunset had faded away into the cavern of night and the owls and other children of darkness ran and played around me, I felt something in my stomach settle and harden, and I was more myself again. What did it matter, I told myself, if you were not here now? If you were not with me for this moment? I would find you again, I would have you again, and everything would proceed as it should; this was merely a… delay in our plans, rather than the end.
(It was not the end; it was never the end, would never have been the end. Did you ever think I would really leave you? Did you ever think you could actually let go of me?)
No, I would do this on my own – I would make the first move in this little game of ours, and then we would see where we stood. I would then decide what I would do with regards to your distance, to my own fears and weaknesses; now, though, now was for victories.
The village was small, sleepy, almost funny-looking with its squat houses and shuttered windows, a few flowers here and there, heads bobbing in the breeze. There was magic here, too: faint, whispering sort of magic, a far cry from the precise force my homeland possessed or the fierce, wild threads of Hungary, but magic all the same. It was tough, hardy and it sunk into the walls of the houses, making their white-painted stone gleam, turning each crude building into its own castle. Resistance and pride: two qualities I thought much of, in myself and in others.
I walked down the streets, a lone wolf amidst sleeping lambs, excitement mounting inside me, strangling the nausea in my stomach and spreading up through my body, seizing muscles and organs until it reached my heart and it possessed me. It was strong and sweet, urging me on to run, to go, go now, faster and faster, not to stop, not to breathe or think until I had it, here in my hands, until it was done. My fingers drummed on my leg, I bit my lip to keep from whistling, from humming something, and forced myself to breathe, slow and deep, searching for calm in the middle of a gathering storm.
You should have been there, Albus, you always knew how to calm me – what to say, what to do. You would have taken my hand, our fingers twined together, smiled and reminded me that I had to be patient, to be sly and clever and quick. To be patient is to be clever, you would have said, and I would have rolled my eyes at you, but listened all the same.
As it was, I simply pushed forwards, relentless, methodical in tracking down the street and then the shop. It was hardly difficult to find: a wooden sign creaked in the air outside it, strung up by a joust and a thread of magic which ran up and down it, ‘wands’ inscribed in Cyrillic next to a faded, cracked painting of what must once have been a wand sparking blue and red and green. Halting outside, I considered the building itself for a moment. It did not look at all like a fitting place for the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, but I supposed that appearances can be deceiving – and the wards around the house were complicated, woven together with enthusiasm and intent, if not skill.
The Elder Wand was inside, I was outside, and my blood ran hot in my veins. Theft is a small sin to commit in such a way, for such an item. I have no qualms about admitting that doing more, much more, to have it was something I was prepared for.
Slipping inside the shop was simple; I do not remember much of how it happened. In my mind even then it was dreamlike: I brushed through the wards as though a veil of spider-silk, revelling in the feeling of being unknown, unseen, and the idea of the becoming invincible. I imagined I could already feel it, feel the wand and the power it held calling out to me, how it would be to hold it and know, know beyond doubt, that nothing and no one could challenge me.
Then it was there, and I knew it without a doubt: carved with elderberries along its length, long and slender and whispering to me, calling to me, to my own wand. It was there: in plain sight, laid out on a workbench as though it was just another tool, another half-finished product to wait for completion in the morning’s light. An oversight, perhaps, on Gregorovitch’s part, but one which was undoubtedly fortuitous for me.
It was cold when I touched it, fingers brushing over the wood before sliding around to pick it up, and it shuddered in my grasp. A captured animal, I thought, trapped and alone and fighting to be free, and my hand was the cage which would keep it chained. I would bind it to me, as familiar to mage, the first of the Hallows, tame it and wield it.
Down the corridor, something shuffled. Heavy and quick, it padded along even as I rushed for the window, unlatching it with a single flick from the Elder Wand, the force of the spell sending the pane careering back to crash against the side of the house. In the next room, a woman screamed; behind the door, a man cursed me and my line, both ways and sides.
I laughed. Dear god, it sounds foolish now, to laugh at such a point – but, why not? I had the Elder Wand, a third of the Deathly Hallows, the start of our now-fabled dream, and then I was unstoppable.
Gregorovitch lurched into the room, a lantern in one hand, a wand in another. He raised it, magic rising around him like a snake preparing to strike, but I was quicker. The spell, crimson and strong, burst out of me without a thought, without direction, instinct alone guiding it and I jumped from the window, falling backwards through the air and then up, up and away, soaring up to join the clouds and the owls on the night breeze.
The wind stole my laughter from my lips, spinning it into the mist as it went, catching me, holding me, holding my hand as I flew on his back, drunk on delirium. My body was shaking, adrenalin still pumping under my skin, and victory stained my mouth with the taste of honey, but nothing has ever felt quite so perfectly wonderful as then: I was young, I was perhaps more alive than I had ever been, and I could see my destiny falling into place ahead of me.
I would, I knew then, lead the world into a new age, raise the revolution which would reform the world, reform order and society. I would marry wizard to muggle in a harmonious union, every being in their rightful place, tearing down the pitiful sham which had spawned our world, unjust and cruel as it was, and replacing it with a better model to suit a more modern time.
(I would, I knew also, do it with or without you, Albus, as you wished, and if you stood in my way I would cut you down with the rest.)
When eventually the wind had laid me, so gently, upon the ground and abandoned me to the care of his brothers out on the hills, I stretched out, feeling my spine unfurl piece by piece, and felt the smile, finally, ebb from my face. It was easier to think out there, cooler and lonely, and as the dew began to soak through the back of my cloak, I shivered and thought of you.
Immortality beckoned to me, as it always had, but for two months it had called towards both of us, entwining us together and fusing our minds, our hopes, our dreams into one. Now, it seemed, I had started the journey on my own, and what a start it had been: the Elder Wand was mine, ja, but of the other two there was no sign, I had no signs, and I lay isolated on a cold, bleak hill in the middle of nowhere, feeling water dry on my cheeks.
You had left me, Albus, left me alone with nothing but dreams for comfort. Did you think of that, in your grand scheme to hide yourself from the world? Or did your courage die at the end of that summer, cradled so delicately in the girl’s hands as she fell?
Ah, I have no answers – I had none then, they have not come to me since.
Light began to tickle at my eyelids, prising them open with a delicateness which surprised me, enthralled me. It was a slow, steady rise: beams spreading out from a focal point, stretching and growing until they surpassed the world entire, setting the horizon aflame and turning the sky to gold; Midas’ touch, liquefied and purified, stronger and fiercer than I had ever witnessed before. Inside my chest, my heart was hammering and I found myself breathless, as lost for words as I had ever been with you.
The truth of it, of what I had seen came to me in an instant, a thunderbolt from the sky: I was to be the sun, heralding the new age, bringing the light and the day and all the beauty and certainty it possessed. It would be difficult, a path strewn with dangers (of course, for what revolution is without peril?) but I would match it, whatever came my way, and the glory in the end would be worth all the cost of the beginning.
In my heart, in my soul, I strengthened, determination fusing into steel and diamond, a shell to weather the hardships of life, and I felt passion stir in me once more, kindling in my stomach, filling my mind with purpose. I was not afraid – why should I be, when fate herself wrote my destiny in the sky?
(The day we fought, the day you ended my reign, your hair was grey-and-red and your robes were dark purple. Perhaps I should have thought of that then, that as much as I might have been the dawn, you were the sunset.)
A/N: Translation: ja = yes.
Also, a huge shout-out to everyone who's nominated this little story of mine in the Dobby's so far. It's absolutely mind-blowing, so thank you all so, so much! I love you all! :) :) :)
Absolutely stunning chapter image by the fabulous nyx @TDA
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