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Chapter 7 : Malapropisms
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The mind enjoys playing tricks: tricks of sight, of feeling, of taste and touch and sound, and each can be disastrous in its own way. To think one sees a bridge when there is none can result in death or injury; to believe one’s self in love, desperately and ardently, can end friendships and start wars; sleight of hand with taste is the poisoner’s final deception; but for me, clever as I am, I find nothing so terrifying as things which mean my mind convinces myself – for there is not usually someone to tell me I am wrong.
You were, of course, ever the exception, darling: you delighted in tricking me yourself, in telling me quite seriously that I was wrong when I was not, knowing that I could never truly be angry with you, knowing that as soon as you kissed me any ire with you fled and I would be left feeling silly and content and so blissfully in love.
Of course, once you had kissed me, I could never help but kiss you again in return, fingers skating along your jaw, and all thoughts of the previous conversation, of your little tricks, would vanish.
Beyond you, though, I have not been tricked often, and less and less as the years go by and I become, or so I am told, more of an institution in myself. Sometimes I wonder if my fallibility is growing and people are not noticing, or too afraid to tell me, or if I am truly as clever as I think I am. Alas, but no one will give me the answer – and I am not strong enough to visit you to ask.
No, instead I tend to trick myself: to convince myself of things which are false, under the guise of self-protection, of the protection of others. I have convinced myself that I could live without you, that I did not love you, that I could – in the end, when it came down to it – kill you for the greater good, that Aberforth would forgive me, that I could resist the temptation of power, and perhaps, for I have never known the truth of it, that you ever loved me. That you still love me.
The trouble with such tricks – glorious mirages though they may be – is that inevitably, as with all things, they end and the spell it broken. Heartstrings fracture, friendships fail, and both parties are left ashamed of their actions, ashamed that they believed in it so long, ashamed that they were not good enough, not clever or cunning enough, to see through it. Humiliation on both sides wounds, sometimes festers, and no power on earth can restore the mirage.
As they say: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
By this rule, I must be a fool more times over than I can count, and the shame is all mine, tricking myself as I am. It is no more than I deserve, having been blinded by myself, blinded by my own pride and stubbornness and self-belief, and I like to think I have long accepted that it is simply a part of me.
Ah, my darling, I am a greater fool than you could ever have imagined – for having seen the mirage revealed and broken, I still long for those days to return, for the beauty and the innocence and the wonder of the deception.
6th September, 1905; Hemingford Abbots, England
Immortality can be assured in a myriad of ways, both physical and not – through preservation of the soul, of the mind, of the body, of all of them at once – and it is such an easy dream to have, a natural thing to crave for you would never be the first nor the last to want eternity in your grasp. Indeed, for many, immortality comes when their names are written down in books, in lists of great men and women, when they know without a doubt that they will be remembered forever, after a life-time of work and achievement.
For me, though, it happened when I was only twenty-five, much of my life and deeds still to come.
It was a little after lunch, on a Wednesday at the end of August, that I discovered the twelfth use of dragon’s blood, and that single second wrote my name in the stars, inked me into history books as soon as it was done. I do not think it would be immodest of me to say that it was one of the most important discoveries in the field of Potions for almost fifty years; before that, the previous advance had been made when Laverne de Montmorency had discovered that one could bottle feelings, emotions, and drink them, make them one’s own.
No, that one single find, after years of work and research locked inside a smoky, dirty lab, assured beyond doubt that I would be remembered long after my eventual death. It was a heady feeling, to be both immortal and young, and I toasted it with orange-and-cinnamon brandy, in a rented hall, surrounded by awed, pleased friends. My head buzzed pleasantly, my heart thudded underneath my skin, and I was alive again, after so many years – alive and eager and once again passionate and hungry for success.
“Albus!” Alain called me, slipping past Cassiopeia Burke and Leonard Macmillan, who were engaged in a rather fierce discussion on Gobstones (though if the matching flushes painted across both their faces had anything to say, Gobstones was not really the issue at stake). There was a glass of wine – red, from the nearby Rhône region – in his hand, and a grin on his face which made me stop dead in his tracks, my heart stilling in my chest. It took me a moment to realise there was a name on my lips; it took two to realise that it was the wrong name, very much the wrong name. “Albus, congratulations.”
Even as he leaned in to kiss me on both cheeks – a custom he exploited to its full extent – his hand brushing mine, and I murmured perfunctory thanks in reply, I could not help but feel somewhat betrayed by him.
It was illogical, irrational, and ill-mannered of me, but it choked me nonetheless, angry and bitter and faintly, very faintly, afraid.
You see, my darling, in that moment, your name – silent for so long – had nearly rolled off my tongue with all the ease it had during that summer, and with that simple slip, I could no longer pretend to myself that I had forgotten you, that I had moved past you and all we had shared together, that the memories of you did not still make me sigh like a lovesick schoolboy and long for you, want to run off into the darkness to find you and stay with you.
I did not want to love you, then; it felt too much like a collar around my neck, forever keeping me chained to a rock, to the leaden ghost your memory had become.
Selfishly, foolishly, I blamed you for it, I blamed Alain for it – anything not to shoulder the burden myself, not to think that it was my fault I saw you in him. The truth, of course, was that it was all my doing: I had seen you in him, and wanted him because of it; the little moments of you I could see and hear and feel in him had no doubt kept your memory alive, had kept my heart trapped in your hands. In a way, you could say that I had neatly arranged my own downfall, my own cage, and it fell upon me then.
Nonetheless, I still ended up pulling him into the hotel room where I was staying, tugging at his clothing, mouthing kisses along his collarbone, his hands gripping on my shoulders and his legs tangling through mine so we tipped onto the bed together. It was familiar, and so easy, and in the dark room his curls splayed over my pillow, loose and wild, the wrong name choking in my throat even as he gasped out mine.
In the morning, I could not kiss him when he woke up, and the apologies stumbled off my tongue, a sense of shame I had never quite felt before curdling slowly in my stomach.
I had left him, two years ago, in Lorraine, having parted from him as friends as close as one might expect when former lovers separate amiably: he had given me a case of wine as a leaving gift, and I had left him a set of fine, ivory-handled quills in return. Even then I had known, I think, that it was not truly much to do with him that I had stayed, and determination to forget an old lover cannot forge a relationship on its own.
Love and trust and genuine friendship are required; and I did not feel those things for him. Perhaps in part, but not truly: not as I should, nor as he deserved.
To use him as I did a second time, though, and this time of my own volition, knowing full well that it would not be about him far less than it ever had been, was inexcusably cruel of me, and the silence in the room as he gathered his things and slunk out of the door was telling: cutting and infused with a toxic mix of our dual shame, his irritation and my guilt. It burned down my throat as I breathed it in and I almost wanted to cry, but I did not; instead, I quietly turned the tap to fill the bath and promised myself, fervently and honestly this time, that I would not make the same mistake again. Another young man should not be punished for my sins in the same way.
Once is forgivable; twice is not. It is a lesson I should have learned many times over in my life, considering the things I have seen and the things I have done, but alas, it seems to fail to stick.
All that resulted from my shame was the end of my friendship with Alain for many years (even then, I do not think he truly forgave me, and I cannot blame him for it), and my quick flight back to the safety of my cottage in Pays-de-la-Loire, praying perhaps that I might find respite in continued seclusion.
I spent my days following the incident taking long, rambling walks around the countryside: down small, winding paths, across fields of corn and through small woods. The air was clean and fresh and smelled of sap and dew, strong and sour, the perfume of the flowers all around only adding to it – a faint undercurrent of powder-fine spice and honey, diluted by the wind. It was beautiful, relaxing, and I found myself able to focus once again on work, on reading and researching, on theorising, and if my thoughts strayed to you, I snatched hat and cloak from the stand, disappeared out the door, and lost myself in the endless swathes of green and blue, watching how the clouds brushed and blew and changed above my head, studying the flight patterns of a sparrow or a hunting hawk.
I had a plan; I was becoming happy and calm, and slowly thinking less of you again – and those times I did, it was less of how I loved you, less of how you smiled in the dark of night, and more how you had shown me this new method, challenged me on that point.
Then, the hunters came.
It is somewhat melodramatic of me to blame it all on the hunters, I admit, but it was an easy thing to feel then, naïve and frustrated and suddenly afraid as I was then. Truly, it is one of our worst weaknesses as a species: that we, as humans, have an unerring tendency to want to blame others for our own mistakes; most of us hate being perceived as fallible, and I more than most men.
The truth, in all honesty, is that they were the scapegoat for something which had been, perhaps, inevitable, though I had not foreseen it.
As I walked, the autumn air brisk and crisp, a harsh sort of bounce to it as it shook leaves off branches and swirled them around the ground in an immortal quickstep, I heard shots – several, in quick succession.
Grouse, panicked, fled from their nests, rising into the sky like a cloud of wasps leaving the nest. Their caws, sharp and high, rent the air and I stopped to observe, thinking that in the case of flight or fight, using the former against an enemy one can never outright is downright foolish. I could not help but feel a pang of regret that there had never been the chance of my learning how to shoot, father having been imprisoned long before I reached the appropriate age, and watched, silent, as the gunshots cracked again, time after time after time, sending bird after bird plummeting to the ground.
If the bullet had not killed them mid-air, the fall would have done the deed for the hunters; no doubt either would be quicker and cleaner than the job the dogs would make of it, sent out into the bush to fetch back the carcasses.
It was a natural affair: the stronger killing the weaker for food, in order to survive – Darwinian in both conception and execution – but something about it struck me deeply, so that I could not leave until I had seen a second and a third round of birds tumble from the sky, and the weather had grown colder, harsher, darker.
The walk back to the cottage was long, the chirps of birds as I passed them sounding loud in the quiet, away from the noise of the guns, though I did not enjoy it as I usually did. My mind was hardly scrambled, as such, more trying to latch onto something, connect a pair of somethings; and the crack of the shots from the rifles still lingered in my ears, still echoed in the distance, making me flinch and jump slightly with each one.
Once back inside, hat and cloak replaced on the stand by the door, I poured myself a dash of brandy, leftover from that disastrous celebration earlier on in the season. My hands were steady enough, and I did not quite feel shaken, but the drink slid down quickly, far quicker than I had anticipated, and I sank into the armchair, trying to think what on earth could have caused me to take leave of my senses like that.
Sooner than I care to admit, I found myself digging under my bed, papers on my desk all turned about in my hunt for the link, for the box in which I still kept – ah, Gellert, you see how utterly hopeless I was? – the letters you had written me that summer. It seemed so long ago, then; harmless to read old letters, but the perfume the box emitted was summertime in stasis when I opened it, and as soon as I saw your handwriting, the way you inscribed my name into the parchment at the top (‘Dear Albus’, always ‘dear’, because you never could quite manage to let go of all your manners, no matter how many times I reminded you that it was not necessary), I could see your hand gripping the pen, the shape of your wrist, and want, inexplicably, to reach out and touch you.
Even now, older and wiser that I am, the box remains in the bottom of Ariana’s trunk – the last of her possessions I have left, for Aberforth took the rest and rightly so – locked and dusty. I have thought many times about throwing it away, being done with it once and for all, but I could never manage to do it. Each time, I hesitated before the fire, knowing I should destroy it, that any other person would have burned the lot years ago; and each time, I returned it so its hiding place, too afraid to open it and re-read the letters, but too afraid to destroy it either.
Oh, my darling, we grow older but never wiser, only ever more convinced in our own superiority, and with it more foolish.
There, in your hand, on a July morning, you had penned the connection I had made so unwittingly:
… as a theory, it is supported, you may know, by their own great men: Darwin wrote of it, the submission of the lesser to the greater for survival, Jung and Freud have found it to be present in everyday life, and Nietzsche refers, though somewhat obliquely, to it also. Perhaps, in the same way, the gifts which define us as a people, are evolution in action – they are what makes us beyond ordinary muggles; this point, I think, can hardly be denied, no? Genetics explain the occurrences far more easily than anything before, and God in his design must have accounted for such a change …
The words were no less persuasive due to time, no less challenging or revolutionary, and I heard them, read them in your voice, remembering with a wistfulness I had not expected how struck I had been when I had first read it, how I had been stunned and stumped all at once, struggling in the search – on principle – for a response to give you, that was not merely ‘I agree’.
It was no easier on a second (or, rather, simply later, since I read and re-read it over the summer and days after) reading, though with the memory of the shooting party still in mind, it seemed far more than simply the theory it had been and felt that summer.
Naturally, muggles are and were, even then, dangerous, both to wizardkind as a race, to themselves and to other being and things. They were testing new theories, probing and pushing ever further and deeper, desperate to understand mysteries we had long ago accepted were impossible to box in in such a way. Pyschology was a new field ripe for plundering; physics was taking flight, both literally and metaphorically; and all along, as these marvellous discoveries came one after another, radiation and dream therapy and quantum theory, muggles still waged wars in the subcontinent, in Africa and Asia and South America, finding new and more brutal ways of destroying each other in the thousands.
Perhaps, in that sense, it was only a matter of time before war came to Europe, before our countrymen tried their hands at it on their own borders, but no one then would have predicted it as a certainty and hindsight makes these things so much more transparent.
I could not then put my finger on what about the idea of it all – the shooting and the cruelty of men and the letter – made me uncomfortable, but what was quite clear was that it did, for whatever reason, and, as winter began to creep in, that I could not stay in France; escapism there was no longer possible.
You were everywhere: in the rustle of leaves behind me as I walked through the forest, in the silence before I fell asleep in bed, in the warmth of the fire as it danced in the grate and played across my wrist, in the glittering drops of frost on the grass in the mornings, each drop a miniature star, and always, always, your voice in my head, reminding me of things, arguing with me, agreeing with me, parroting the lines I wish you had said years before.
You were haunting me, an immaterial ghost, always with the last, guilty thought that you did not have to be a ghost or merely a memory – you could be real and solid and true; I could feel you again, hold you again, lose myself in you again. It would be so very easy, so simple to find you and beg for forgiveness, to fall in love with you again – if I had ever truly stopped.
Pride would not allow me, however, not to beg nor to bow, no matter how much I wanted to, how many of my dreams at night included you, and how many times it seemed the best option to take. No, I was determined not to go down that route: I still liked to think that perhaps I could move beyond you, that perhaps I would find someone else, years later, and I did not yet believe that love, once given freely, is so very impossible to retract.
It is impossible to escape something internal, a spectre of memory, without resorting to dark and dangerous measures, and so instead I resolved to leave the place which had conjured you, in the hopes that your memory would remain here without me, that you would be left to wander the forests alone, crouch in the fireplaces and whisper my name to yourself.
So, I packed my bags, sold the cottage, and returned, after nearly fourteen years away, to England, where I had been born and where my family had been shattered.
Predictably enough, it was raining when I arrived, in the beginning of December, a sleek, soaking sort of rain, and the memory of you smiled quite cheerfully, looped your arm through mine, and asked ‘where to next, Albus?’.
A/N: I do not own any references to Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, Darwin, or any ideas connected to their theories, nor any references to physics and psychology and discoveries thereof :)
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