Anthem for Doomed Youth
Title stolen from Wilfred Owens' Anthem for Doomed Youth, characters/setting stolen from Rowling's Harry Potter series, towels stolen from the Holiday Inn (but they forgive me!).
Author's Note: besides an exercise in melancholy and atmosphere, this is also a bit of an experiment with character "voice" and first-person narration. In short, I'm a twentysomething American college Muggle trying to write like a thirteen-year-old British witch at Hogwarts, sometime in the moderately far future.
This may or may not prove successful, as with any experiment; however please note that errors of grammar, word use, punctuation, tense usage and so on are all intentional. Please don't hold them against me.
Edit 7/22/07 - This story was completed before the release of Book Seven, and many details are no longer canonically accurate. As it is my belief that alteration can only weaken the story, these discrepancies, where they exist, remain.
Well, for History of Hogwarts in First Year Professor Mulletch told us to pick our favorite bit of the school, and to research its history and write an essay out about it. And simply tons of folks picked easy things, like the Common Rooms or the Great Hall or the Quidditch Pitch. But I wrote about the Heroes' Hall, where there's all the portraits of folks who fought in the War, and got five points for Ravenclaw because Professor Mulletch said my essay was "well-written and heartfelt".
And afterwards Harper Drake (who's a Slytherin) said it just figured, and wanted to know when was I going to make some living friends to talk to me instead of just painted ones. Which made me gladder than ever that I didn't say anything in the essay about the Quiet Boy.
The Quiet Boy's a portrait in Heroes' Hall, except it's not like the others. It's a strange portrait. It doesn't move, it doesn't speak. It's like the Muggle portraits Dan Landon talks about, except it isn't a Muggle portrait at all 'cos it hangs right up there on the wall with all those others. It's just . . . . well, it's a portrait of a Quiet Boy, that's what it is. It won't answer back, no matter how you talk to it. Not that you get much chance, 'cos the other portraits in the Heroes' Hall will glare at you something awful if you chatter in there.
I guess I don't blame them. Heroes' Hall is meant to be quiet. Don't know why they still make such a fuss about the quiet, all these years later. Only it's been so long, maybe they're all just used to it. Used to not talking about it. Used to the quiet.
The War was important, of course, I knew that. I'd got every Boy Who Lived Adventures comic that my Granddad had when he was my age; his Dad even fought in the War, at the Battle of the Ministry. But Great-Granddad's portrait didn't like to talk about the War, either. There isn't anyone that does, I guess.
Sure, they toss a bit out, here and there – "And this Hallway was strategic to the Student Underground during the War" – things like that. And of course it's in the texts, along with the School's founding an' all the rest. All the long story about the First Bad Times, an' the Second Bad Times; an' then the big Battles all across Britain, and Europe too, and even Africa some – the big Battles against all the Dark Lord's minions (whatever a minion is). But all of it's long-ago and important-sounding, the way they write it. All distant and pale an' kind of foggy, like looking at it from far-off. Sure, I knew the whole story of the War.
That's the reason I first wandered into Heroes' Hall, and stood looking (as politely as I thought I could) at all the Portraits of the Heroes. Some of them even said hello to me, a little distantly. But it was the Quiet Boy that caught my eye, 'cos he didn't say hello or murmur or even move. Not even a little.
It gave me a kind of creepy shudders, looking at him with his broad pale face and his dirty blond hair that was kind of rumpled on top, and his dark, dark blue eyes that were always looking sadly off past me like he saw something coming. But at the same time, he looked . . . . well, sort of familiar, I guess. Like I had known him before, long ago when I was a little kid. Or like I'd been waiting all my life to meet him.
I guess that's the reason I started going to Heroes' Hall so much – hoping one day he'd be back in the portrait so I could meet him. I didn't know then, you see. I thought he was Quiet 'cos he'd somehow sort of left himself behind and gone off somewhere. I thought maybe that was why he always was looking off into nowhere. He was waiting for himself to get back.
But finally after I'd written the essay and Harper Drake had said what she said, I got sort of curious. Curious about why the Quiet Boy never was there. Curious about who he was.
And one cold, rainy Sunday morning I went in to the Hall and stood looking at his portrait for a long, long time. And then Madame Pomfrey – who's a fat, sweet-faced lady in the portrait right next to him – spoke up real quiet and said hello to me. She knew my name and things by then, because I was there so often. So she said hello, and asked how I was.
And I turned and looked right at her. "Madame Pomfrey, who is he?"
Her sweet, round face got real solemn and she looked past my left shoulder. That's how I knew she didn't want to say, because that's just what my Mum does when she doesn't want to tell me something. "I can't say, dearie. I . . . just can't."
"Well," I didn't know what next. I was sort of angry, that she'd keep it from me – whatever it was. "Well . . . well, why don't he move, ever? Why won't he talk?"
Madame Pomfrey's portrait looked sad. "It's because it was painted," She murmured, "After he died."
That was awful. That was the awfullest of all awful things. I didn't know what else to say or to do. I just stood there a minute and gawped like a fish.
I knew some of the Heroes were dead – most of 'em, in fact, I knew that. I'm not stupid. But even the ones that're dead, their portraits still move and talk and things. My friend Mellicent even knows the charms to make portraits do that – 'cos she's so artistic; she'll be a portrait painter for sure someday. As long as you know the person's name, you can do the charms. Even I could do the charms. That's what Mellicent told me.
And that got me thinking that maybe the charms just weren't done right, you know? That if I just got the Quiet Boy's name I could find someone, Mellicent or a Professor or someone, who could fix them so the Quiet Boy would come back.
I could do that – if only Madame Pomfrey would help me.
I asked his name, but she didn't answer and wouldn't look at me. No other portrait in the hall would look at me. They'd all got that faraway, sad, ashamed sort of look.
So I did the last thing I could think to do, because I'm a Ravenclaw and we're all insufferably nosy (say the Slytherins) and I wanted to know. I wanted to help.
So I went to ask the Boy Who Lived.
His portrait doesn't hang with all the others; it's up alone in the Great Hall, I guess because he was so important. But that was in the War, all those years long gone; and Granddad's Boy Who Lived Adventures made it seem like He was all right. His portrait even laughs a bit sometimes when someone pulls a good trick on Professor Tirpinn or something like that. I didn't figure He'd mind awfully if I asked Him about the Quiet Boy. Plus it seemed maybe like He'd know if anyone did. About the Quiet Boy's name, I mean.
The Boy Who Lived isn't a boy in the portrait; He's a man, almost as old as my oldest brother Jerry, who's married. But The Boy Who Lived always was called the Boy, they say, even though now in real life He'd be as old – older – than my Granddad, if He hadn't of disappeared. Some of the older Gryffindors even say He'll be back someday, from wherever He went off to. But that's neither here nor there, as Headmistress Granger says. What I wanted was the Boy Who Lived's portrait, 'cos I figured He'd know.
About the Quiet Boy's name, I mean.
So I crept into the Great Hall that late afternoon, when everything was terribly quiet and cool and rainy and secret. The Boy Who Lived was busy reading out of one of the painted books from the big painted shelf behind Him, but He looked up when I stopped and stood in front of Him.
He grinned – and Florence Flanders is right, He does have a grin to make your heart patter, even being old and missing and a portrait. "Hullo. Got lost, have you?"
I swallowed and shook my head. Suddenly I had a big lump in my throat, partly 'cos I was standing trying to talk to Him and partly 'cos I was suddenly really afraid. Afraid the Boy Who Lived would stop looking at me, like Madame Pomfrey and the other portraits.
But I wanted to know the Quiet Boy bad enough that finally I cleared my throat and said who I was.
He smiled, real encouraging, and set the book aside and said, "Ravenclaw, aren't you? First year?" I nodded, and he said quietly, "What can I do for you?"
I looked at my shoes, and then the whole thing came out in a big rush. "You know the portrait in the Heroes' Hall, the big one in the center, the Quiet Boy with the dark blue eyes? You know him?"
The Boy Who Lived glanced down, and looked suddenly very, very sad. "Oh, yes. I know him. I know him very, very well."
I looked up, suddenly bold and kind of hopeful. "Then . . . . What's his name?"
He blinked. "His . . . name?"
I nodded. "Please. I want . . . I want to know it, so I can . . . ." So I can know him, I didn't finish.
He looked at me for a long time out of his green, green eyes. Then he just sort of smiled, as sad a little smile as I ever saw. "There's a man . . . . Owens. Wilfred Owens. Do you know of him?"
"Is he a Gryffindor?"
He laughed softly. "He's a Muggle. And he's dead. He was a war poet."
"You mean he was in The War?"
"The Great War, they called it. A Muggle war. World War One."
"Ages ago." I said, and I guess my eyes must've been pretty wide.
"Not as long as you'd think." He sighed. "He wrote a poem. Anthem for Doomed Youth. Look . . . . look in the Muggle Lit section of the Library. It'll be there still. I think."
I bit my lip then, 'cos in his sad little half-smile and his sigh and his green, green eyes, I saw what I'd been afraid I was going to see. "You don't know his name either, do you?"
I didn't know until then that portraits could cry. But these silent tears were streaking down his face from behind the glasses, falling from the green eyes. The Boy Who Lived looked away. "There were so many. So many . . . we didn't know his name. Maybe he was a Muggle. Nobody seemed to know him. Nobody came for the body. But somebody . . . somebody must have loved him. Somebody knew his name. And he died, him and so many others, more than anybody could have . . . ."
He stopped, took a deep breath. "And in another century, nobody will know any of them. Time will beat upon The War like an ocean wave and wear it away into faceless names and meaningless dates, and He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named will be nothing but a bogey to frighten children. All they died to protect will roll on without them, never knowing what was given up. Wilfred Owens."
And The Boy Who Lived wouldn't look at me anymore, either.
So in the end I went down to the way, way back of the library, where there's dust so thick it about chokes you, and Madame D. the librarian lifted down an old fragile book with Selected Poems of English Muggles all in gold on the cover, and I turned the old brittle pages until I found his name: Wilfred Owens. Just the one poem; Anthem for Doomed Youth.
What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can pattern out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
I read that through eight or nine times, slow; and I turned it over in my mind every time, like a bit of broken shell I'd found on the beach. And then I did all I could really think to do.
I put my head down on the reading table and cried and cried.
Well, that was two years ago now, and a little more; and I've got top marks in History ever since, and been sent up for good a dozen times. And Headmistress Granger says I remind her a lot of her, all those long years ago when she was a girl with the Boy Who Lived: she says if I keep up I'll be a Professor someday, myself.
But a Professor's not what I care about being; and neither is working for the Ministry like my Dad or keeping a shop like Mum. What I care about is reading everything there is written on The War, and talking to every portrait in Heroes' Hall – some of them haven't talked to anyone about The War since The War, not even with all the students that have come and gone. And all of them have tons of stories, stories that sometimes aren't even written anywhere except in my journals.
Harper Drake still laughs and calls me bookworm and says nasty things about my "painted friends", but I don't care. I'll write books, someday. Lots of books, exciting books, with all the good and bad and sorrowful bits the portraits have to talk about in them. I'll make them books that everyone will read, and talk about, and remember.
And they'll have all the names I can find in them, written out plain so nobody can forget them.
Some days when Harper's been really spiteful or I haven't done well on an exam, and some days too when everything's been wonderful and I'm content, I still go into the Heroes' Hall and just sit. I'm growing up, but the Quiet Boy isn't; I'll be his age in another few years, and then older than him and then much older.
And he'll just go on his way, nameless and ageless, still always looking off into the distance like he expects himself back any moment.
I still wonder what his name was.