However We Know the Landscape of Love
—an unauthorized biographical account
Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
Prologue: Pub Scene
Many things have been said about Sirius Altair Black, and very few about Larka Janet Roxburgh. In fact, we couldn't even say we knew her name—only vaguely, in the way that we said we recognized old schoolmates' names even if we didn't; the way names sounded familiar because we felt like they should be familiar. To us, she just sort of appeared one day, arriving at Grimmauld Place and stepping inside with an anxious look on her face. So weren't we all so surprised that Sirius—Sirius, the bloke that half the birds at school used to pine over, even if by then he was a gaunt shadow of his old self, a sort of electric restlessness buzzing just underneath his skin—Sirius gathered her and fit her against him, a mellow peace to his ragged—ragged something, we weren't sure what exactly to call it.
Of course, we were very intrigued, but very quickly he died.
Then came the shocker.
And cor, what a story it was.
(Grab a pint—bit long, this telling, because to start at the beginning was the only way to start anything, wasn't it?)
In Medias Res
The woman was a figure out of a John William Waterhouse* piece, a lone profile against the impending storm, about to be carried away by the next gust of wind—with some romantic liberties taken.
In truth, she was perhaps too firmly figured to be blown away by any wind, and would have made a terrible painting. Her posture was perhaps passable—alone on the side of the street, hair lashing and hand at her chest, feebly clutching a scarf, but Waterhouse would have never stooped to paint somebody quite so exceptionally uninspiring. She had traditionally long hair, in a deep brown that bordered black in the dimming light, with eyes of the same color, neither large and watery, nor long and curved. Her nose did not particularly want character but offered none as well.
Even her anxiousness seemed to be the commonplace English anxiety, as she wrung her hands and waited for something to happen. A man passed her without a second glance (or nary a first glance)—wasn't everybody waiting for something or other? The apocalypse? Their house being bulldozed for a highway bypass? A better television program?
This woman, though, was really waiting for the screech of childish laughter that soon echoed, as two children ran after one another from just around the corner: a little girl, very pretty, with wild hair and large underwater eyes, and a little boy, who was far less pretty, even at the tender age where youth often looked like beauty. The children ran towards the perfectly ordinary woman, who upended her slight frown into a relieved smile at the sight of her niece and nephew, and said, in a perfectly ordinary Guildford** accent, "Penelope, Pan, stop running around like little monkeys and come inside."
The children looked at her with appropriately childish disappointment as they were led through a yard lined with bristly borage flowers to a modest house washed in a soft yellow.
Just as the woman was turning the keys to the door, the little, pretty girl shouted excitedly, "Look, Pan! Look at the black wolfie!"
The woman looked up, startled, and caught the outline of something very large and very black. She stood as if struck by the lightning that just flashed, but soon recovered herself. It was only the next-door Ramseys' black Lab, she reminded herself, a swirl of disappointment running at the bottom of her stomach, unsuitable for her sensible age.
"I baked some brownies," she diverted both their and her own attention away from the large black outline. At once, the children discarded the thought of the fantastical wolf, and were drawn inside to domestic promises of sugary and buttery food. She however, followed them and tried to breathe at an even pace and not let the hearth fire make her eyes water.
The living room was warm and cozy, full of large furniture that ate up space and made the room appear less spacious. The woman stepped inside and pushed close the front door, until with a distinct 'click', she sealed the house from the rest of the world. She folded herself into an armchair by the window, made of a fabric with lopsided pandas, a bizarre and out of place look in the room full of practical oaken objects. A book had been lying limply on the carpeted floor, and the woman picked it up and tried to resume at the exact place where she left off.
But of course even warm brownies were not enough to sustain children, and so before she could remember where she had left off—each line of rhyme looked the same—a high-pitched voice broke the silence. "Auntie Larka, tell us a story!"
"Say please," the woman—Auntie Larka—replied reflexively, but her hands were already closing the book.
"Please!" Penelope turned her bright eyes on her, pleading.
She could always start Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border some other time, she supposed—it had been waiting faithfully for a number of years now, and one more day would not make it disappear. It was mostly of old ballads involving faerie abductions anyhow, and Merlin knew she got an awful grade on that paper on faeries—a completely unacceptable Acceptable.
Spurred by her renewed aversion towards faeries, she agreed gingerly: "All right, but promise not to interrupt," eliciting a promise that she knew they would not be able to keep.
"Promise!" the two shouted in unison, tumbling down from the chairs to the floor near her feet, looking up at her expectantly.
"Approximately fourteen years ago, Hogwarts***—" Larka began as one might begin a science lesson.
"What's Hogwarts?" Penelope asked even as her eyes grew even larger, her mind unable to grasp the concept of fourteen years—or even the concept of a year, really, at the tender age when each day was like a year.
Someday, Larka thought, Penelope would break hearts and eat men like air—although Larka was really past the days of wishing her eyes would shine like that in the corner. "Hogwarts was my school—"
"Your school is that old?"
"Yes, and I was a student there fourteen years ago." Hogwarts, like some things, seemed to not have a beginning or an end. "I said no interruptions!" she added playfully.
Penelope closed her mouth docilely and did not say that she hadn't thought Auntie Larka was so old.
"Let me begin again then. Fourteen years ago, there was a girl of but mere fifteen—"
It was Pan that broke her off this time, "That's you, ain't it?"
Larka patted his head, strangely eager to recount her story to children too young to take it seriously, "Yes, smart little man," she encouraged although his line was not known to produce smart males.
She trailed off, her eyes gazing at the mountains and forests and Scottish landscapes that suddenly appeared just outside the window.
"It was the most exciting year of her schoolings—believe me, children, she never left school, not really. And it had been a very good year…"
(Thus the story began.)
* Larka Janet Roxburgh had never once in her life fancied herself one of the heroines in a John William Waterhouse painting. In fact, she had no idea who he was, so was in no position to concoct daydreams based on his various oil-on-canvases of mythical and literary female figures. She would have found his colors intimidating anyhow.
** One could take the bird out of Guildford, as the saying went. Not that Guildford had a distinct accent—most of her accent came from influence of her father, whose speech was influenced by his own father from the Scottish borders. She simply liked thinking about herself as a Guildfordian. Hers was a perplexing accent—not quite obvious enough to pinpoint (a 'aha! You're a Guildford bird!'), but enough so that one might furrow one's brow at something in the speech being off.
*** This was not strictly following the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy (see ISWS 5311-5330 and Non-Magical Protection Act Chapter X, specifically, 14C-2 filing requirements 20 days before disclosure). In fact, to say that was being very loose with the Act in the first place. But if one was going to cast caution to the winds and tell a wild tale to one's niece and nephew, then one certainly was not going to be following the rules, ISWS or NMPA. It was only fitting, since the tale itself bore this spirit as well, and was shockingly full of rule-breaking and otherwise borderline illegal activities.
Author's Note: Story cover is the cover for the single 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' from the glorious 20s. Poem is by the amazing, amazing Rilke.