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Purgatorio

I am haunted, Albus, and I am hunted.

Did you know this would be how it came about, the eventual culmination of things? Did you even suspect or simply guess – oh, you and your famous guesses; you do not guess, you progress down a chain of thought, following patterns and links one after another, to call it a guess merely protects you from failure – that this would be my punishment, my suffering?

Did you want this, when you wanted my salvation?

(The two go hand in hand, schatz, there is no other way – and I waver, constantly, between certainty and uncertainty.

One minute I think you must have known, because there is no other option; another I think that you must not, must only have ever suspected, because how could you want this for me, when you do not believe in it, in what it will give, and you know first-hand how it burns and blisters your skin, the lashes whipping deep into your flesh.

High on your pedestal you shout down that I am a monster, that I am worth nothing, not even your hatred, as you pile dirt and earth around me, moulding a grave for me even as I live. Sanctimonious and god-like, the deceit drips from you in a shower of cold, beating rain, drumming into the ground with all the force of stone.

In your bid to be purified you have forgotten your own sins; you look to mine to cloud your own, no?

You are a liar, and you haunt and hunt me in an effort to pretend you have no ghosts of your own, no pelts on your walls.

You lie, and I pray it melts your tongue, sliding down your throat and poisoning, choking you on silver.)

Oh, but what does it matter – I cannot escape it, any more than I can escape you or Ariana or my stiff, silent father; any more than I could run from my mother, from the names they flung at me in Durmstrang. What does it matter if I stand or if I hide, it will find me anyway, and there is nowhere left to run.

It is not bravery, this, and it is not cowardice: it is simply exhaustion.

Over forty years, it has been, since the day you took everything from me, when you wrote yourself into the history books and scratched my name out as you went. Forty years, and in all this time there has been nothing: not a letter, not a word, not even a sound.

Strange, is it not, how sometimes in expecting nothing we still find ourselves disappointed?

Forty years, though, Albus, half our lives again almost, time running away from us and our dreams and the secret circle of willow trees by the brook we used to hide from the world in, and I have been angry, resentful, bitter for each one of them. Thick and salty, the first sweet hint masking the tang of the sourness which is at its heart, it has soaked into my stomach and lungs with each breath and each sip of water I took, every mouthful I ate, until I have coughed it out and pissed it out and sweated it out through every pore of my body.

It circles, though: what I cough out, I suck back in when I breathe, and so it goes on and on, a never-ending chain looping back on itself to keep me forever tense – like a new-made piano, the strings stretched to breaking point and only ever able to play the same handful of melodies over and over again.

Always, it feels like I am drowning in something I cannot feel or see; it is steady and relentless, gently coaxing me to sleep, cocooned like a baby in the comfort of familiarity, rocked to the tender notes of future promises and possibilities, opportunities ripe for plucking; a lullaby of cold, calculated revenge.

I imagine it would be in D flat major, no? Dark and unstable and tragic; suitable enough for the history we share.

There are shadows at night, Albus, shadows which twist and dance – or seem to; I am no longer sure of what is true and real, and what is only my mind taking facts and spinning them this way and that, reforming them to what it fears and wants and remembers – weaving their way along the walls of my cell, thin arms reaching and snapping, but perpetually moving forwards, closer and closer, until I can bear it no longer and I close my eyes, think of fire, of bright red roses and auburn hair falling over my fingers, and murmur a single, sibilant word.

Incendio.

(Do you know I can still do magic, that even here where I am chained head to toe within bounds I drew and you pulled tighter, retying the knot so there is no way to undo it – a Gordian knot of your own, made from strands of magic, protecting and commanding, which push at me, dampening the air inside Nurmengard so I feel pressed in on myself, squashed inside a cage I do not fit into.

Do you know if I concentrate, think hard and long enough, deep enough, I can summon my books to me, carve numbers and letters into the wall an inch shallow, but nothing, nothing like what I could do, once upon a time.

Would it bother you if I told you, if you discovered it, or would you be strangely, perversely proud that I had found a way, however small, to best you and the Elder Wand?

You would smile, gentle and knowing, and you would take this from me too, this victory, even though it is petty and childish, meaningless in truth. You would assuage your own guilt and your hungry, begging conscience with a trip of words saying it had always been the plan.

Oh, but you are such an accomplished liar, my Albus.)

With a golden shimmer, sparks roll across the floor, a sea of twinkling, baying stars in silver and bronze and butter yellow, twisting and surging, dancing and licking their way up the walls and onto the ceiling, the floor melting away even as they wrap themselves around the metal bars of the window, sizzling and cracking as it bends, slowly, so slowly, bending and bending until…

It is at this point that I always blink, always, and all that is left is a sputter of sparks, crimson and cardamom, half-formed children and dying all at their first breath.

Weak and exhausted; there is no heart left anymore.

Come now, Albus, what did you expect when you locked me in here?

Perhaps you thought I would repent so easily, falling to my knees the moment my regime broke, my friends dead and my followers scattered, my dreams crushed to a pile of dust in your hand, a breeze lifting them off your palm as you scattered them out across the sea separating us. Perhaps you thought that the enforced solitude would wear down at me, weights on my shoulders, around my wrists, dragging me onto the floor, aching and crying, my mind snapping along with my body – too many names, too many souls ripping at my own, consigned to Hell so long ago.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

Ah, I do not know, you know – I do not know you, I think, if I ever did.

I shall give you this one gift, my Albus: you are right, in part. Something in me has broken on Nurmengard’s back; I am less myself now than I have ever been.

Does that please you? Do you like that what you wish for has come? Are you triumphant at the thought that now, now you have finally bested me, owned me completely – I am broken at your feet, the burden of the world still chained on my back, all of my fire and my certainty and my God-given storm of magic gone to you.

Zeus Almighty in your fury, God in your wisdom, Heaven and Earth are both now yours and yours alone – and how does it feel to sit alone?

(You are alone, I know that at least. There will be no other to replace me; you did not manage before to forget me, how will you forget me now, when my life and my mind and my body are entirely yours, locked under your command, at your whim and wish.

No, I am yours and you are mine – I have that to comfort me, I suppose.

How loved I feel, cocooned in your rotten, tortured gift of life.)

Up here in my tower, a mockery of a princess as I press myself against the bars, my hair limp and tangled in wild, knotted curls, the blue in my eyes and the gold of my hair fading hour by hour, day by day, stolen by the sun as she bleaches me to grey, beating down on me, fierce and bright. While I squint and burn, the wind takes my thoughts as they come to me, plucking them from my mind with quick, darting fingers, apples from low-hanging boughs.

We were thieves, once upon a time – raspberries from the market, the juice staining our fingers in a weak, watery foretelling, and stories, rhymes and myths from other ages, shaping them and retelling them. Other, slipperier thefts too: innocence and discovery, taking pieces of dreams from each other for our own and slotting them in place for ourselves; thefts which were almost gifts.

Did I steal more from you, or you from me? A question for the philosophers – though it will never reach them: the wind will have it first and it will vanish from me forever, lost somewhere amongst the peaks of the Alps, embedded into tiny, diamond snowflakes, coalescing around the spires of mountains ten thousand feet high and a hundred years away.

You took so much from me, so much I gave – now, will you admit to that? If I make you, yes? If I stare and glare and rage at you, then you will bend and say that I gave you too much that summer? If I am silent, you will say nothing and claim the suffering.

I fed you hope when you craved it most, sweet and rare; I untied the noose around your neck when it pulled tightest, my hand between it and your throat so you could breathe again; I took your hand and together we jumped off the cliff, soaring and flying, tumbling out over the ocean, leaving chalk-and-green fields behind us – for you, I was nothing and everything like myself: pliable and gentle, subtle and harsh, demanding and coaxing and inciting you to fervour and glory.

In turn, you seduced me to the quiet charm, the surety and the lazy drive hidden somewhere in the heart of your village – in your heart – and you seduced me to you, to your mouth and your bed, swearing to me nothing, promising to me nothing except the future.

We, you said then. We, I replied. We, it was when you ran your fingers over the back of my hand, seeing how my breath hitched, and tugged me to your lap with a wanting, cajoling smile.

Together, we said as we breathed together in sharp, halting pants; as we moved together, locked skin-to-skin in a rhythm it would be too painful to stop; together, together, together.

Now, in this time, I am the one who is choking, hoisted in the air and chained to the mountainside, abandoned by every man Europe possesses and damned for the crows, for the wind and the rain to claw and tear at, the cold sinking his thin, bitter fingers under my clothes and deep into my bones. There are manacles on my wrists and a slender rope around my neck and I am bound to remain, only remain, and nothing more.

(Amongst this you hover out of sight, a faceless man at the front of a crowd which dots down over the slopes and past the villages, not stopping even at the horizon, a silent, ever-present judge on my sins and my failures.

You say nothing and you show nothing – a shadow of yourself.

When we spoke of the future then we were never so alone, never so helpless; it is ironic, is it not, the way it has all turned out?

Your shadows and burdens and haunting, whispering dreams have passed over to me, and in exchange I have left you with everything – hope and glory and the beauty of freedom, a thousand and one possibilities for each new day.

And still, natürlich, you tell me I have taken more from you than I have given.

Is this now our eternity shared? Lies and refusals and the shades of past emotions lingering on in the backs of our minds, passion and anger, a sadness neither of us will admit to and a sour taste of jealousy and bittersweet affection.

Lemon, I think, ja?)

Some days, I dream that if I push hard enough against the bars of my cell, metal digging into my skin and frost sticking me to it – when I fall back it will tear slowly, bit by bit, and I will scream then as the blood wells and the snow on the windowsill turns pink – and reach up to the sky as a thunderstorm passes through, loud and plodding and violent, my mother’s blood will sing again as it overwhelms my father’s in a swell of passion and recklessness which crashes through the sea wall, and the lightening will run down my fingers in a single bolt, fizzing through my body and jolting me once, twice, so I am alive again.

It will thrill and shiver for moments beyond, crackling under my skin and in the air around me with a heavy, static pressure, and I would light up the sky in return, a flash of sheet lightening in white-gold; a sign, a symbol, a message you might somehow see.

In my prison, the stone will hum with the force of it and the bars will sing, vibrating with the effort, and I will burn myself hollow from the inside out to make you look up and think of me.

Perhaps then I can be saved – when the ridges of the scars I carved into myself long ago blaze red, the skin around them crisping, creeping up in a wave of maroon and orange and charred black, the steps down to Hell will fade from in front of me as each one is consumed, bit by bit, and my screams will ring around the mountains with the howls of wolves, an echo of the utopia I would have damned the world to build.

Salvation would be the balm, water and bandages, once my skin had burned away, my flesh seared and my bones blackened with soot – salvation would remake me, whole and innocent, give to me myself.

Perhaps… but, oh, Albus, I do not know if I believe it any more. What possibility is there for me? What hope is left – what use is left, to beg and cry for a forgiveness no one will ever give me?

I am damned, liebe. Damned and cast out – Hell herself will be my penance, I am resigned to that.

If I am allowed one thing, I hope that before I die, the light blooms behind the clouds, the sun cushioned at their centre with petals of cream and grey and bright bursts of yellow here and there, and they glow, steady and beautifully melancholy.

The air would be thick, ribbed and stuffed with jasmine and lilies, almonds and the bitter, burning tang of absinthe.

Do you remember how, once, we wandered through the gravestones in the churchyard, red and white and purple and yellow petals showering around us as the wind played and danced amongst them, handfuls and handfuls jumping and falling, catching in hair and on coats, down necks and under cravats?

We had laughed, then, as we wound our way through the headstones, past statues of Azazael, scythe in hand, and praying, weeping angels one after another, new ones and old ones, faded and weathered down to lumps of granite, only the traces of names left – we were rainbows in comparison: you in deep violet and I in royal blue, our cravats pastel and soft, orange-edged white and pink. Out-of-place, violently wrong in there: fleet and vibrant and far too wild for such a stiff solemnity.

How rude we were in somewhere so sacrosanct; how deliriously sweet it was when you kissed me over the grave, our fingers tangled on the sign of the Hallows.

It is a fact in life that the most wonderful, sumptuous things are always the most terrible – how it was for you.

Solitude and time, two gifts every man craves and desires more than anything else – always he says, more time, I need more time; always he says, I need to be alone, I need to hear only my thoughts – and yet they set my heart to racing, the blood thudding and pounding inside my head, my thoughts and my voice a scream of thunder, rolling on into the next crash and the next and the next…

They haunt me, you see, and my hunt me, and they will not stop until they have me – caught and trussed, forced to my knees, my mind in shards on the floor, my soul shredded and pieces of me, my memories and my dreams, my once-lauded absolutism, slowly leaking out into a pool of crimson, staining the stone flagons brown.

They follow me, always, and so I run, run down dusty grey corridors, through old, forgotten rooms and down tight, winding, twisting staircases; ash surrounds me, covers everything and I stumble, coughing, wild and desperate and breathless, and scrabble on the ground and run, run again. I run and I run; I run without thinking, without stopping or pausing, without looking behind to see what it is which follows – I run on instinct and that alone.

Things bite at me, nipping at my heels, at my arms as they hit bannisters and handles; sharp, stabbing pains, digging deep and making me whimper.

In the morning, when I wake, they stand at the bars of my window, of my door, silent and watching, and I wonder – is this salvation or damnation?

(To fall and push and forge a way along a road of thorns, shredding my skin with each tiny, twitching movement so that I am fifteen million times scarred by the end of it, fifteen million drops of blood tumbling over and over again so I leave a scattered, crimson trail behind me… the pain and the burden and the unending, boundless tides of guilt which will drown me in seconds the moment the barrier rises even a foot…

Is it worth it, in the name of love? Is it worth it, for myself?

Albus, oh my Albus, I am lost.)  




A/N: as before, the chapter title means 'Purgatory' and is taken from Dante's book of the same name - the inspiration for this came from there too. Any references to Ancient Greek gods are not owned by me, and any allegories to Christian religion are not mine either. 

Translations: 

naturlich - naturally

ja - yes

schatz - dear/darling

liebe - love

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