My father has blueberries in his whiskers still. He's staring out of the window with a very odd expression. Seeing him without a newspaper or a bit of reading in front of him is odd. The bowl of berries remain untouched in front of him as he stares at the sunset. Just sitting. Just watching.
He continues to stare outside, and grumbles, "What, James?"
I take a seat across from him. Staring at his statue-like form, I whisper, "Is something the matter?"
"No," he scratches his chin, eyes glittering in the direction of the garden, lit by the calm ruby sky. "Just got a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something I ate, probably."
I snort. "The berries?"
Dad stares at me, and then chuckles, "I have had one too many."
He then picks up his usual Evening Prophet and I feel much more at ease. "Yes, James?"
"Do you like Severus?"
"Sure." He scans the front page, and opens the paper, creating a wall of news between us.
"I mean…" I swallow, trying to master my nerves, "better than Lily?"
I think now he's just using the paper to hide his facial expression.
"Well, I don't know," he coughs loudly and unnecessarily, "he seems to make you happy."
"But what do you think?"
He sets down his paper on the table, staining a page with blueberry juice and growls, "If your questioning how I like Severus as one of you suitors, one of your future life-long lovers, then I think I would have to say that even despite a lack of grandchildren, and ending of the family line, I like him better than Lily Evans."
I think it's the most words he's said to me about this whole ordeal since he called me "flirtatious". I'm a bit bowled over by the harsh annoyance in his voice.
He shakes his head and flicks his paper back in front of his face, muttering, "Especially after what I saw this morning."
This morning? What could he have possibly seen this morning? Severus didn't come over until the afternoon! Unless…
Buggering fucking Merlin. Oh, gods! I left the memory of Severus and Lily having sex in my father's pensieve! My face feels suddenly pale and pasty. My forehead cools twenty degrees but my ears burn like coals. I'm about to faint.
"No. No, way. Dad. Tell me you didn't see that!"
Dad is blushing too, from the sliver of his face I can see over the newspaper. "Nearly had a bloody fucking heart-attack."
I feel like I could die right there. And… I can't stop laughing. Laughing coming from the white-hot furnace inside of me…
Dad's tomato-red face cracks a smile.
I can only imagine the look on my father's old face when those two going at it flitter in between his memories. I let out a roar, holding the stitch in my side. The nerves just well into bubbling laughter, "I'M- SO- SORRY!" I say between burst of giggles.
Dad, his head in one hand, tries to have some dignity and hold down his chuckles as well.
"YOU SAW THEM HAVE SEX!"
He snorts indignantly, "I pulled out once I realized what was going on!"
My insides feel fit to burst. Tears trickle out of my eyelids.
Five minutes later, I'm calm enough to make human-sounding noises again. "I'll take it out…"
"Later on," says Father, "Right now you should get ready for the party. I'll ask Severus to take it out later. It is his past after all."
"That'll be awkward…"
He sways his head from side to side, "Well…"
"I can't believe… Dad, I'm so sorry," I mumble wondering how terribly awkward it'll be for him to ask Severus… to… oh bloody hell. "Do you want me to ask him?"
"Later! Later," Father waves off this recommendation. "Once you've gotten him thoroughly drunk and he doesn't mind!"
We're quiet for a few moments. Dad hides behind the newspaper but I can still see his flaming earlobes. I wipe the smirk off of my face. I'm secretly coming up with a plan to get him drunk right now. Hard cider is one of the top choices.
"But then," I ask, "why is it that you don't like Lily Evans?"
Dad lowers his newspaper and raises his eyes to the ceiling. "Isn't it obvious?"
I gape. Squishing my face up to resemble an old man's, I say, "Not a bit."
He folds his paper and pops a berry into his mouth again. "I think it rather should be."
"I'm not saying that I disapprove of her natural character. You don't love her."
Before I can bellow out an indignant retort he raises his hand.
"No, James, you don't," he says, "take it from an old man. Love is a very confusing thing. Both of them betrayed you. You forgave one of your school rivals who stabbed you in the back before you forgave a girl that has been head-over-heels in love with you since school."
"Well, yeah," I tell him, "but that's because I've been a bit of an idiot…"
He raises one white eyebrow, "And why would you be acting like an idiot?"
"Because you're in love with Severus," Dad says. "Obviously."
Thumping noises echo down the main stairwell. I can tell by just the rhythm and cadence of the steps that it is Severus's stride. Twirling my head immediately, I see a pair of boots, the same handsome black pair that he was wearing before, peeking from underneath handsome black trousers.
My vision trails up his body, as if in slow-motion, as if I'm watching one of those flamboyant, sexualized perfume commercials. How can it be possible that someone I, at one point, deemed the ugliest person in my life could become so incredibly dashing? My breath is taken away. Such calm, humble elegance… a vision of a perfect gentleman. His white shirt clings to him in all the right places. A tight black vest hugs his thin, muscular chest. The trousers stretch over his thighs, fitting every inch of his legs perfectly. He twirls a black jacket around his shoulders, which follows behind him like a cape. On the edge of the last stair, he steps down and his silky black hair twirls about his face. The whiteness of his collar, fitting perfectly along that bare, lickable neck, makes his skin seem less pale, slightly more colored.
My body has stood up and walked toward him without my mind realizing it. My heart gravitates toward him, and my body lamely drags along.
He smiles, tightening at the side of his mouth, and my heart feels like it has exploded.
"You're mum found this," Severus tugs at the sleeves of his shirt. "Resourceful, isn't she?"
I bite my lip, gazing up and down and up and down his body. Forget the party. Let's go back to bed.
"You don't think it's too much?" He gazes at himself skeptically in the large mirror at the end of the hall. "Don't want to be overdressed."
"You're very handsome," I swallow dryly.
He rolls his eyes in the mirror, and adjusts the collar, "Well, as long as you think so."
I think we should get married in suits like that. Bloody hell, where did that thought come from? Fuck. Boys don't get married.
My mirror-self stands next to him, and I stare into my boyish face. Into my eccentric outfit. Through my thick glasses. And I realized another reason I may have picked on him all these years. One was because of Lily. Another was because I was in Gryffindor and he was in Slytherin. But also, I wanted his attention. How could a dork in glasses get someone so cunning and handsome to like him?
I pull off my glasses and the vision in the mirror becomes blurred.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
I pocket them and pull out my wand. I silently perform the complicated sight-adjustment spell. A series of careful charms and my vision in the mirror is as good as before. Tears stream down my face for a moment, a side effect of the charm, and after wiping down my face with a handkerchief I'm good. "Don't want to wear them. They're cheesy," I wave off. "Besides I'm going to a party."
Severus looks oddly concerned, "But I like your dorky glasses."
I walk towards the kitchen, ignoring him. I sit at the kitchen table to find my father staring at me with a strange, constrained expression on his face.
Snape sits next to me, folding his legs, "Sorry. I didn't mean dorky. I just like them. They make you look hand-"
My father makes a very slight shake of his head. So slight that I don't think I was meant to see it. Severus raises an eyebrow. "-some… but… do what you want…"
My father puts down his paper.
"Well, boys, maybe since you're both dressed, you should be getting along."
"But it's only six-forty-five!" I insist. "If we go early it'll be bad luck!"
"It's fine. I'm not going to go yet, anyway. You boys go ahead and we'll meet you lot back here in a half hour."
"Wait…" I ask, "Back here?"
"We need one of you to help us with the pies." When Severus turns, he give me a wink that clearly means, we need to get Severus to take out the memory.
Opening the picket fence, I find the late springtime air sticky with smells. Honeysuckle, blueberry pie, figs, and smoking sausages waft towards me. The breeze is misty and humid; the heat of the day never truly leaving even thought it's is almost dark. The fireflies have already come out to play even though the sky is still pink on the horizon. Children ready their nets and their jelly jars for the great firefly chase on the edge of the party in the high grass. It is neither day nor night; it reminds me of when I met James on the rooftops…
Most of the men are wearing silk ties and tweed jackets, their sons wearing smart-looking vests and pollo shirts- much like James himself- and they are stuffing their lips with cigars or pipes or brandy. We had come, after all, very late, and most are imbibing in creamy desserts or Irish coffee or tobacco. I'm starving. I hadn't eaten all day, save a bit of tea this morning and a yogurt, because I had been saving myself for five. And now a deep rumble tickles my stomach, accompanied with a few aches and pains.
I turn to see James with a full pile of food. Heaps of salad, tripe, sausages and potato salad decorate the china plate. He has a skyscraper of cucumber sandwiches tottering on a saucer. Winking at me, he motions with his chin toward the white-tablecloth-covered tables, beckoning me to find a seat.
A creature of a woman, lets out a loud, "Hungry, young Potter?"
He smiles, having bitten into one of his cucumber sandwiches, returns a muffled, "Phhamishhhed."
The creature hobbles toward him, a brass cane clutched in her thick, veiny claws. She looks somewhat like an old owl, popping her overlarge eyes behind a thick knitted shawl. She's wearing purple slippers on her swollen feet. She's a stout old woman, barely reaching James's chest in height. Her nose is wrinkled and long, and her eyes are sallow and dark.
"So rude," says another woman, behind me in the line for potato salad. "You would think after ten years of coming to this party late…"
I turn slowly, hardly surprised when I see a woman of similar age slopping salad onto her plate; her voice sounds so shriekingly old, like nails on a chalkboard. "I wouldn't try that one, dear," she says when I place a scooper in bowl of fresh green-bean salad, "Martha made that and she's always been bad about using old mayonnaise. Got everybody sick last year."
She says that so loud that several people from neighboring tables turn to glare at her. She smiles at me, not noticing them. "And who are you? Not another relative of the Palmsa-Sparrows?"
"Stop nosing about, Muriel," said the other old woman in the shawl. "James Potter brought him in, did he not?"
"I only asked because they're Jewish. All I need is another person asking me about where my assets are," she says, again very loudly so that I blush crimson when a group of black-haired, hooked-nosed muggles (who bear certain similarities to my figure) glare at me from over their coffees.
"I have no intention of creating a new checking account for you, madam," I say resolutely. Muriel stares at me long and hard, as if studying my sincerity and general character.
"You will have to excuse her," says the owl-like lady. Her voice is quite low and soft like the beating of a dove's wing. It's the opposite of Muriel's screechingly loud voice, like a vulture's. "She thinks that becoming old automatically allows her to be rude to everybody."
I nod, but Muriel ignores the lady as if she hadn't heard, still staring at me. "You are a wizard, then. Are you not?" she asks in a very low, growling voice.
My eyes widen, "Yes, madam, I am."
"Good to know," says the woman, patting my arm with a stiff, scratchy hand and pushing me out of the way. She totters off in the direction of the trifles.
The other batty woman swings her arm into James's open one, and says, "Come, now, sit with me, Potter."
Biting his sandwich without using hands, he nods.
I follow them, sheepishly, to table far away from most of the crowd, in the back corner. A lonely candle keeps the bugs at bay and lights the small table for four. Pink clouds clutter the sky. Our table is just along the brush of the tall grass, which is darkening in the receding light. Putting down his gargantuan plate, my darling pulls out the woman's white chair for her, while she thanks him, muttering "what a gentleman," and "thank you, dear."
"Now who is this?"
I shiver at her kind, soul-searching gaze, reminiscent of Dumbledore's.
"I'm Severus Snape," I say plainly.
"Bathilda Bagshot," she says over tightly knitted old fingers, her cane resting on her lap. "It was wise to not bring Sirius this year," she mutters to James, "Muriel would have had a cow."
"But I thought you would have brought your fiancé…"
James and I look at each other.
"Couldn't make it," James lies through his teeth.
The woman waves off the excuse with the back of her thick-fingered hand.
"Wait a moment," I say with a sudden revelation, "Bagshot, the woman who wrote Hogwarts a History?"
Her purpling, veiny lips spread to reveal crooked browning canines and yellow incisors in a twisted representation of a smile, "Yes. Thought we might get there eventually. You did go to Hogwarts, didn't you?" I nod vigorously. "Are you telling me that you actually read the book, or that you just happened to know the author?"
"Read it? I memorized it!" I exclaim indignantly. "Knew it page-by-page by the time I was nine." I couldn't wait to go to Hogwarts, I would pore over and highlight the pages whilst my parents fought downstairs.
She smiles again, showing more mossy teeth. A mole on the bottom of her chin sticks out further with the action. "James never read it, did you James?"
James, whose mouth is full of potato salad, shakes his head. "Duddnent," Swallowing hard, he mutters, "Wanted to find out for myself, is all."
"It was a remarkable work," I say, taking up my knife and fork and digging into the sustenance, "Very well researched..."
"Yes," she tugs at a hair sticking out of her mole as my stomach wriggles, "one of my personal favorites."
"Oh, yes. Plenty of good gossip. All history is truly just very well established gossip, anyway," she grins. I mull over this, stuffing my mouth with steak and kidney pie. Perhaps she's right. "Conversing with the Fat Friar and Sir Nicholas was most fun, I must say," says Mrs. Bagshot. "Though Armando Dippet wouldn't give me any answers about certain aspects of the school. Albus was a tad more helpful but I think he was lying out of his arse throughout half of it. The whippersnapper." She smiles fondly.
"Professor Dumbledore?" James says, in-between bites, "Lying?" The gullible sap.
She gives a wider grin. "Oh, I knew him as a schoolboy. He couldn't lie to me then, either."
I splutter my cider into my cup. The image of a young Dumbledore just doesn't look right in my head. Before I can say, Albus Dumbledore was young once, you mean? I ask, "You knew Albus Dumbledore as a boy?" She nods. This woman must be at least a hundred years old to be able to call white-bearded Dumbledore a whippersnapper. "My… you look… remarkable well for your age!"
The old lady straightens her back a bit, her height barely changing with the posture, "Ate the crust of my bread and drank my apple juice every day, I did." She says beaming. She winks as though she had taken a liking to me already.
She smacks James on the arm and whispers something in his ear. I blush.
"So what was he like?" I ask.
"Dumbledore?" She says.
"As a kid, I mean."
"Oh," She smiles, coyly, as if waiting for me to interrogate. "He was very bright in the head, that one. Family life, of course, very shrouded in tragedy and mystery. But that's a sad story." Her wrinkled, mole-covered face twinkles; her eyes blink once or twice, as if begging me to ask more.
James rolls his eyes. "He knew Gellert Grindelwald personally, too!"
Bagshot glares at him, as though he had spoilt the best part of a book she hadn't read yet. As if he had told the end of her fascinating story. "James!" She continues, a little less theatrical and excited. "Yes, he knew him. In fact," she lowers her already very quiet voice so that I have to lean in to smell the dead skin on her cheeks, "He was my nephew, Gellert… him and Albus took a shining to each other. They were engaged."
I stop chewing.
This woman has to be off her rocker.
"The dark wizard Grindelwald."
"Was engaged to Albus Dumbledore."
She nods again and behind her head James makes a loopy motion with his finger at the side of his brain, and rolls his eyes.
"Huh," is all I can say.
"Never would have thought it, eh?" She smiles, showing off those mossy teeth again. "Got some of the best gossip in Godric's Hollow… and did you know-"
"Oh, look at the time!" says James exuberantly motioning at his watch. "We'd better go and grab those pies, haven't we?"
"Oh, that's right," I say. I try to act sorry, "We promised James's mum that we'd help her bring the pies back."
She grins, "Well, let me not be the reason that those famous Potter pies got held up. Go on, boys!"
We dump our half-eaten dinner in a bin and walk brusquely down the lane, towards James's house again. My stomach gurgles, trying to digest the pie, the sandwiches and the image of a young Dumbledore. Whenever I glance at Potter, he's trying to stifle a ridiculous grin. I imagine that he's heard that story before.
It's completely dark now. The lane is colored sparse candlelit street lamps, which may or may not be lit by magic. The moon is glowing almost too bright for a crescent moon. The pavement turns into cobblestone. The stars are pinpricks in a cloudy sky.
"Just losing her touch," James says. "She's not completely mental. Just like Dad, I supposed. Losing a sense of reality."
We walk along the darkened lane, treading slowly, enjoying the moonlight. Our stride matches rhythmically, though I'm lower to the ground, and James marches like a prince. The pace has decreased from a dart to a promenade. I take in the sights of the empty street, the handsome rows of bushes, the older buildings. James entangles his pinky in mine. We're almost holding hands, but not quite.
"Dumbledore always did have impeccable fashion taste, though," I say, mock-pensively.
James chuckles, "Not every gay man has impeccable fashion sense. Come off it."
A hyena-like sniggering noise… must've been the wind.
We turn a corner, and four dark figures block the narrow alleyway ahead. We walk towards them, and all light seems to be snuffed out. The stench of tobacco and stale gin whiffs through my nostrils and the hairs on the back on my neck stand on end. "Let's go back," squeaks James suddenly.
Pivoting on the heel of his expensive brown shoes, I grab him before he stampedes back down the lane. "It's the quickest way home!" I say. They're four people from a nice neighborhood. It's not like the alleyways at home, in London. Not like we're going to get mugged…
"Hey there, 'impeccable fashion sense," says one of the voices.
"Impeccable fashion sense," another chuckles out a billowing smoke ring, "My arse."
"Ooo… I've got impeccable fashion sense." One of the other men makes a harsh, but accurate impression of James's most insecure voice.
James looks at the cobblestone. "Go 'way," his voice is frail, diluted.
"Go away?" A cigarette from the tallest figure flicks into fireworks on the brick wall next to us. A very tall, burly man stands in our way, lit only from behind. "Don't want to play this year? Eh, foureyes?"
He gives James a small nudge on the shoulder. James merely stares at the floor, rigid.
Four eyes? I think to myself. James… bullied. JAMES Potter is being bullied? James shakes his head and blushes. His tightly clenched fists tremble a bit. He's not even wearing his glasses…
It unsettles me. In more ways than one. James Potter should be synonymous with quidditch and burly muscles and hamburgers and girls on his shoulders and hundreds of friends and cowboys and beating up greasy Slytherins like me.
James Potter can't be pushed around. It's just not possible. An oxymoron.
The man grins. One finger trails along James's chin and something explodes inside of me. He lifts his face until James's brown eyes glance at him fearfully and then they dart back at the ground. "Sorry," I almost sound like a yowling cat when I say it, "Who are you?"
The man lights his second cigarette. The flicker flashes over light blue eyes, bleach-blond hair, and a very round nose. But his handsome features have gone to seed… his freckled skin is spotty from prolonged exposure to the sun, his hands are calloused, and his teeth yellowing, "Benjamin Harding. And who is this fine young gentleman?"
A glance downward reminds me that I'm wearing my grandfather's slightly-too-fancy outfit. "Oh, don't let the suit fool you," I say. I protrude a hand.
He shakes it, and I squeeze his fingers harder than I've squeezed anyone's ever. "I'm actually quite a bastard." He smirks. "Call me Sev." I usually shorten my name whenever I have to deal with particularly dense muggles (which, I would assume from his crumpled jeans, Benjamin must be).
"Is Sev a friend of yours, foureyes?" Ben flicks ashes on James's sweater.
Why isn't James doing anything?
"Is this your impeccable fashion sense buddy?" He says, leaning over James's childish, scrunched figure. He looks so small compared to him, blimey… "Do you compare notes?" Ben towers a head over him, and even James's burly quiddich muscles can't compare to Ben's. From mining, I suppose. "Hmm? Do you pick out each other's clothing?"
"Is there a problem?" I say, my voice becoming so raspy and low, that I feel like I could turn into batman and become this guy's worst nightmare.
Ben doesn't take his eyes off of James's. Sweat is tricking down James's long thin nose. "No," He whispers his sticking breath over James's handsome face, "But just know that this kid is more queer than Fonzy is straight." I don't know who "Fonzy" is, but I take it that's an insult.
I want to say, I know. But my darling's face is white and contorted with fear.
"I don't care," I growl.
Ben's eyes flicker to me in disbelief and then back at James, fixing him with a snake-like stare. This pins James to the wall like a lifeless marionette thrown aside.
"You should," Ben isn't having fun anymore. His boyish blue eyes pierces James's like shards of ice, "cause he's a dangerous one, he'll just leap all over you and…"
"Stop!" James says in a shaky voice. "Leave us alone."
One of the others cackles, "Leave him alone is more like it." Ben rolls his eyes.
"He isn't dangerous. Tobacco is dangerous. Gin is dangerous. He can't hurt me," I sputter out before I realize what I'm saying.
James's eyes widen, and moisten. I give him a confused, well-go-get-him glance. And then I remember that I've said something that has… in a weird way… to do with forgiveness, love and forgetting what happened in school. You're fine, I try to communicate through my eyes, just calm down. You're fine…
I'm wondering when he's going to put on the glasses and turn into the super butch masculine hero I know he is.
Ben pushes James in the chest. He stumbles, sweater skating along the brick wall, sending crumbling bits of brick and mortar showering the floor. James shields himself with his arms, preparing for something that I would never dream to be coming.
"Stop!" I say.
Potter holds his defensive stance, stiff as a board.
Ben lifts a fist.
I grab his arm and run.
The punch that was aiming for James's face lands square on the brick, clipping rubble in its wake. A swear and a few catcalls follow us. I apparate without thinking, to the fifty feet up the hill. "What did you…?!" James asks once the popping of our ears has subsided.
"Who the fuck were those guys?" I demand into the evening sky.
When I turn, James has retreated into the warm light of his house. I can see his shadow in the window of the kitchen. His mum and dads' silhouettes look concerned.
Anger, bubbling up from nowhere, boils over into my brain. James is not allowed to act weak.
He's being a child… crying to his parents. As if I hadn't been bullied just like that all those years. By him. And did I cry to my parents when I got back from school? You bet to fucking hell I didn't. I had no one to cry to. James Potter isn't allowed to get sympathy.
But I'm exaggerating. He's not crying. Nearly, but not quite. I see his clean, dry face, gulping for breaths. "Ben… and those… other boys… they…"
"Lock the doors, Mary," says Potter senior. He pulls his son's shoulders so that he could see eye-to-eye. "Did they harm you?"
He shakes his head rapidly. "Severus saved-"
"Do we need to contact the ministry? The police?"
Bloody hell, what's going on?
I let out a minor gasp. "The police? They were just a couple of drunk guys looking to start a fight," I say.
Everyone in the room gives me a look that plainly says, "You think so, do you?"
James buries his face in his hands.
"Severus," says William, "perhaps you should come with me."
Mary hugs her boy once William is done patting him on the shoulder. James says, "No!" His ears are red and he seems even more upset than before. He can't look at me in the eyes. He shakes his head at his Dad, eyes closed.
"Severus," the man grips my wrist from his wheelchair. A pop later and we're upstairs in the bedroom with the many-layered wardrobe.
Mr. Potter's face is as white as a sheet. He asks, "Is he lying?"
"Is James lying?"
"What?" I fumble, "About what?"
"Did they hurt him?"
I squint my eyes, "Of course not! Do you think I would've stood by and-"
"Right," The old man runs his thick fingers through very sweaty white hair. His wrist shakes. "Right." He looks ready to pass out. A vein in his temple pulses; he turns an ugly shade of purple.
The shivering turns quickly into the shakes. "What the hell have you been doing, here?"
The intonation of his voice at the floor makes the quiet what do you mean die in my throat. He points his finger at the carpet, becoming so pale, so disgusted, so suddenly flabbergasted that this must be a memory. "James…" he says with all of the authority in his fatherly voice. "Get up now. And you…" he points to the other end of the carpet, where an invisible Benjamin Harding looks up ashamed. "Need to go to your mum's. I'm calling the police."
Silence rings throughout the room, but Mr. Potter is still shaking his head slowly, as if a minor figure on the ground were still shouting complaints. Bile rises in his throat; I can see him swallow. "Get out, Ben."
I grimace. What does that mean?
He shakes himself to a halt. I whisper, "What happened?"
His shoulders slump. Reality rushes over his face, cooling the sweat on his temple. He wipes a handkerchief over his eyes, sighing, "I think there is something you need to see in there." He points to an ajar cabinet door.
He merely nods. "James left a memory of yours in there too. Mind fishing it out?"
Mr. Potter is gone. I turn around and his wheelchair is turning out of the door, leaving me to stare at my shadow on the cabinet door. The edge of the sieve glows with the colors of the thoughts inside, swirling as if it were a cauldron still stirred by a ghost. I glance down my long nose at the faces that bubble to the surface. Lily's face in the throws of passion (She showed me what happened, James had said, apparently he left the foul memory there), my own with the glow of young love in my eyes, a young black-haired woman (Mary when she was younger, perhaps?), William's face… Edward's face.
"He hurt me, Daddy…" echoes one small boy's voice. "Kicked me!"
"Why did you let him kick you, Jamie," answers a stressed man's voice. Without my noticing a piece of my hair sinks into the liquid-gas.
Little James wipes his nose, "I don't like him!" He pouts, "He makes me do stupid things until I explode." He explains.
"And why would he want you to explode?" He asks.
He draws lines in the dirt with his shoe. "Because… because," His eyes dart up and down and all over, searching for an answer, "because then I do magic!" When he says magic, a small smile graces his lips, and his arms fly out from behind his back. "Not on purpose!" He says after a few seconds (his father must've given him an aggrieved face). "I can't help it. He makes me so agerdated." He bites his lip apologetically.
"Aggravated," says Mr. Potter.
James smiles. "Right, I meant that one. Aggravated." He abashedly clutches on to his father's hand. "He makes me aggravated."
Enthralled in their conversation, because they must be talking about Benjamin, I dive into the bowl headfirst. An unsettling, dizzy sensation, and I'm on my feet again in the garden at the back of Potter Manor.
"He makes you aggravated until you explode and do magic," His father echoes.
"Yeah," James says, clutching to his hand and following him into the house. I trot after them. "I think he likes it. Magic. I think he likes trying to get me to do things."
They enter into the hall. Mr. Potter merely shakes his head, "You can't try to appease to somebody who terrorizes you!"
"What's appease mean?" James asks.
Mr. Potter shakes his head, "To please somebody just to get them to go away. It never works."
"Oh," James looks downtrodden at the carpet. They trot upstairs, socks and shoes rubbing over thick red carpet. James's mum calls something up to him about laundry…
Memories shift. Two lovers in union, red hair and black hair, rutting against each other on a bed… No, I think to myself, not that one. I don't care about that right now.
A young girl and a boy, smiling and walking together through green and flowery meadows … a younger William and Mary, who broke my grandfather's heart.
Soldiers, uniforms, a muggle train leaving off to Germany… William, in English uniform, waves goodbye to a crying Mary in the crowd as the train takes him away. She chases the train, waving wildly, struggling to breath from the exertion and the sobs. When the train moves too far away, he punches the compartment door, hard.
I use all of my occlumency powers to steer myself through the memories like a captain of a wooden vessel in a hurricane.
Guns, mud, "Jake! NO!" Muddy, bloody hands shake an unconscious soldier. His eyelids flutter open, he struggles to breathe. William beams, "You're going to make it, stay with me…" The other soldier coughs. Deep heaving breaths wrack his figure, and William lifts the man a flings him around his soldiers.
Pregnancy looks well on a younger Mary; she holds her stomach happily.
Edward's face looks like a dragon's red-eyed stare… he lifts one leather glove and slaps William's boyish face with it. He clutches his cheek, astonished.
A ring on a young girl's finger…
"James!" Mr. Potter barks. I feel like I've heard this tone of voice before: "You've got to go outside with the other boys!" He waggles his finger in the air. His attention is drawn to the real James standing not three feet away from him. He looks quite a few years older, maybe 12 or 13. "They're all out playing cricket. I know they're muggles. Don't try to do any more magic! The last time you did Ben had boils for a week. This time you've got to be more careful."
James nods and stares at the floor. He's decked out in raggy outdoor clothing.
His father nods once, "I'll see you back at 8:30 then?"
The younger James bites his lip. "Can Ben and I have a sleep over?"
Mr. Potter rounds on him in disbelief. James appears innocent, coy.
He grimaces, "Ask your mother first."
James beams and runs down the hall to his mum, who is washing dishes. She makes a shriek of an "Of course" and kisses James on the top of the head happily.
"Right, then," Williams says. "Have him over here and not the visa versa."
James smiles happily and flies out the door and down the road to play cricket.
The scene changes, and I pull, with all of my mind power, to find the next chronological memory in the chain of events, steering towards the answers to my burning questions…
William and Mary wear matching bathrobes (William in a navy blue, Mary in a deep red) as they blow their son and Benjamin kisses good night. Slowly, inch by inch, they shut the door to go to sleep. I whirl around. Usually, one must follow the person whose memory it is, but William has left, and now James and Benjamin are still in bed tickling each other.
Unless… this is James's memory? James lets out a shriek, as Ben twists one of his nipples through his shirt, James retaliates by trying to tickle Ben, but Ben's chest is firm and he's not ticklish at all.
James giggles into his pillow. If these weren't young kids I would say that he was flirting with him. He leans in close and lays a head on Ben's shoulder. Ben, who looks a few years older, pushes him off, hard.
"Ouch!" James says, feeling his neck, his dazed and happy smile siphoned away.
"Stop, four eyes," Ben rolls his eyes at the ceiling, "You need to lay off."
"Sorry," James blushes. "I'm just a huggy person."
"Huggy? Try queer."
James blushes even more, and his boyish face lights up like a traffic light. "I like to hug… is that a problem?" He puffs his chest out defensively.
"Yes. Only poufs hug. Lay off," Ben says.
James folds his arms over his chest, "Sorry."
Ben's large forehead furrows in curiosity. "You're not… are you?"
"I… don't…" James's glasses slip down his nose.
"You don't like other boys, I mean."
James opens and shuts his mouth like a codfish pulled out of water. "I dunno."
Ben scrutinizes, "You don't know? What do you mean? Just say no."
James squirms next to him. "I've never kissed a boy."
"Why should that matter?" Ben fumes, hitting James very hard in the middle with his pillow.
James laughs, thinking merrily that they're playing some sort of game, "Well then I don't know what I'd like best."
Ben glowers, "You like girls best."
James shrugs, and promptly hits Ben back with a pillow. He stuffs it into his face. Ben pushes him off, hard. Ben stuffs the pillow he had back onto the headboard and sets himself underneath the covers, giving James furious glares.
James asks, after he had curled into a tight ball next to him, "Haven't you ever thought about it?"
"What it would be like?" James, the younger, more brave, more "huggy" James, leans in closer to Ben. He trails a hand along Ben's arm. A shiver as if from an electric shock, trails up Ben's spine. And he gives him a glare of deepest loathing. "It can't be that bad, can it? I mean… it would be just like kissing one of your mates!"
"Only not," Ben's face turns bright red. "Only you'd be a pouf!"
Ben looks very hot and uncomfortable now. He clutches his blankets very tightly around him and refuses to look James in the eyes.
James bites his lip, watching Ben's cheeks light up like Santa's.
Ben stares out the window. "People who do that. They aren't right in the head."
"They hurt each other."
James's eyebrows form one thick line, "What do you mean?"
"Boys aren't supposed to touch other boys like that… it's wrong!"
Ben seemed to be getting more and more upset.
James traced lines along Ben's back absentmindedly. This only spurs Ben on. He swings round, pinning James's small wrists to the head post and leaning his weight on top of him.
James's eyes widen, and then he closes them, as if suspecting a kiss…
My stomach squirms and sinks as if I had just eaten a live octopus when Ben and James' young mouths touch. Aren't they awfully young to be experimenting like this? I mean, really, I didn't even know what sex was when I was they're age. Then again I did hit puberty very late… A squelching sound and it's over.
"Bet you fucking liked that, didn't you? Pouf."
At that James shrinks. "Not really."
James tries to move, but Ben's weight keeps him pinned. His breathing lifts his chest up and down very fast, like a small bird's. Ben twists his wrists. "Ow!"
He kisses him again, one of those slobbery, teenaged kisses. Ben's stare is now full of lust, and James's is of fear.
"I… I'm not sure if I like this," says James, but the frailty undermines the firm words.
"I don't care."
"But…" A finger tugs at the band of his elastic underwear. I can only watch, appalled, as Ben's hand wanders further down underneath the slip of the elastic band. "I don't like that," says James, barely suppressing his panic.
"Aw, come on," says Ben, "You said you would."
My gut clenches again as Ben punches him in the gut. Winded, James claws at his face, but Ben's fingers wander further down…
"I don't want to," James says, more confidently.
Benjamin's grip around James's manhood tightens, especially as James tries to wriggle away. "I don't like it!" he says more loudly. Stirring from the other room.
Ben laughs and then punches him, hard, in the gut, in the groin, in the face… hitting him everywhere. Blood trickles from his lip. He curls up, hands over his face.
Ben kicks him when he wriggles away. He pulls his hair clamps his mouth shut when he tries to cry out.
Tears stream from James's eyes…
I can't take anymore of this.
The soft night air hits my nostrils, and my stomach squirms and tightens as my head whirls. For a fleeting moment I think I'm going to be sick. The scene that Potter's father played out like charades in front of me plays out in my head again. Only the characters and places are very disgustingly specific. Ben, go home, I'm calling the police… he was molested… and beaten up…
I summon a vial out of thin air, tap my wand on Lily's memory, and insert it into the glass tube, sealing it with a cork.
Bloody hell, I think to myself. What has James been through?
It all seems so inconsistent. If he were so tormented during his younger years then why would he torment me during school? If he knew what it was like to be bullied then why would he put somebody else through that humiliation? Why would he abuse me?
I don't understand it at all.
Another memory comes to the surface… tears stream down James's face, now maybe fourteen. His father paces back and forth in front of him.
"Why did you hit that Snape boy again?"
I dive in. One answered question leads to ten more questions…
Potter glares out of an open window, where the quidditch pitch gleams in the sunlight. The stone rooms of Hogwarts fizzle into reality. Dumbledore sits behind his desk folding his fingers together, looking reserved and apologetic.
Potter glances up at Dumbledore and gives him a glare of loathing.
"Don't look at me like that, James," says the headmaster casually, "you know very well that what you did causes this sort of action. Previous headmasters would have expelled you on the spot if they had so much as…"
The portraits on the wall behind him nod in approval. One of them, Phineas Nigellis, actually claps.
"Yes," says Mr. Potter nervously fingering through his thinning hair, "you were absolutely right to call me, Albus, I'm afraid this has gotten quite out of hand."
I don't remember this ever happening… I never had an inkling that Potter and his gang ever got in any trouble for tormenting me. Besides fifth year, of course, but then he was just praised for saving my life… I never heard that James was sent to the headmaster's office, or that his parents were called. He seemed to just get away with everything… maybe they had tried to keep it hush-hush.
"This is a major concern not only for the school but for your own well-being, James." Dumbledore stirs a cup of tea that had popped out of thin air. He hands James a cup, but James just closes his eyes and turns away. "I want to know the root of this Snape business. I know he's unpopular. And he has an unhealthy fascination with the dark arts."
"And he's a git," Potter bellows.
Mr. Potter runs his face through his hands.
"But he's still a human being who should be treated like one and not like a sack of potatoes," Dumbledore quips. "Or a quaffle. Or any other object."
Ah… I remember that one. James and Sirius had pretended I was a bludger. I still have the damn scars. They made great beaters.
James suppresses a grin. Which only makes Dumbledore and Mr. Potter more explosively angry. "James!" Mr. Potter balked, "This is not what we taught you to be! You are not a…"
"A bullying toerage…" James grumbles.
"Yes, right. You are not a bullying toerag! You know better than to treat another human being like that! Is it just because he's a half-blood?"
James scoffed, "O'course not."
"Is it because he's in slytherin?"
James rolls his eyes, "Not really."
"Is it because he likes the dark arts? Because he likes Lily?"
"It's just!" James bursts, "Because he's a greasy slimeball, ok?"
Dumbledore and Mr. Potter glance at each other. The headmaster leans back in his chair, takes a drag of tea, and says, "So it is because of Mr. Snape's, I'll admit, woefully poor hygiene habits that you feel the need to use him as a human punching bag?"
James sniffs, but doesn't say anything more.
"James…" Mr. Potter kneels down so that he can see his son eye-to-eye. "What is it? You can tell us…"
The headmaster raises one white eyebrow but says nothing.
James smacks backward in his chair, staring out at the quidditch pitch. His eyes seem suspiciously moist. He folds his arms and lets out a "huwua" of a sigh.
Mr. Potter eyes turn cold. He stands up at once, glaring down at his son, "James, you're grounded. You're to have no friends over this summer, and-"
"No!" James bellows. He must've been hoping for Sirius to come over this summer again.
"-And if you act up again, I will be personally pulling you off the quidditch team."
James's appalled expression widens so that I can see his tonsils.
"Headmaster?" Mr. Potter asks, apparently to add to the lists of punishments.
Dumbledore wipes his mouth sheepishly. "Er… tomorrow you're to help Hagrid with the bowtruckles," William nods firmly. The professor's blue eyes find James's. "Better go off to bed, now, James."
He shoos him away with the back of his hand.
Mr. Potter paces like a particularly agitated tiger, back and forth, staring at the floor, hands behind him.
James, who had turned at the door expecting some sort of acknowledgement from his father, tearfully slams the door with full force. Mr. Potter doesn't even flinch.
Dumbledore's tea and cakes are replaced by two shot glasses. He pours brandy over his beard and shakes his head. "William, I acknowledge that this may be embarrassing, that you may not have expected it, and that it might come off as a shock… but please explain to me why you are in such a heightened state of distress."
"He needs to see a psychologist," William growls, pacing still.
"A fine idea," Dumbledore strokes his beard, twisting the tuft of mustache at the corner of his mouth. He sips the brandy, studying the figure in front of him as he thumps back and forth, back and forth. "Do sit down; you're making me nervous. And not even Voldemort can do that."
William shivers at the name, takes a seat on one of Dumbledore's plushy chairs, and grounds his palms into his eye sockets. "It's my fault," he grumbles. Dumbledore passes him the other shot glass.
"William, many parents feel that way. But many parents also tend to forget that their children have their own brains, heart and soul, and don't always act of their parent's will…" quips Dumbledore, refilling the glass when William downs the contents.
"Oh. It's not that, Albus," he downs the second glass. "I'm an idiot."
Dumbledore chuckles, "I have known many idiots, William. You are not one of them. You just tend to do idiotic things for those whom you love…"
William stares. His face is blank, impassive, and somewhat sad. As if Dumbledore has gathered the entire nature of his character in a few sentences.
"I'm sorry," says the headmaster. "That wasn't my place."
"It was and that's the problem," William takes a deep breath. "James went through a certain… trauma… in his youth. Something terrible happened to him. And…"
Dumbledore strokes his hand through his beard again. "And?"
"I… I oblivated him."
Dumbledore's blue eyes narrow. He finally drains the content of the glass, and admits, "Yes. That was particularly idiotic." Williams stares at his hands, hunched over. "You knew better than that, William. You of all people should know that the damaging psychological, emotional and magical effects of a memory still remain with or without that memory present!"
The father stares at Dumbedore's lush carpet under his feet, gulping out, "I just didn't want to see him in so much pain."
Dumbledore sighs. He twists his beard, and stiffly climbs from behind his desk to sit in front of it. He pats William once on the shoulder, as if to say, "well at least I can understand that."
Mr. Potter's hand is over his face, and if his middle finger isn't covering his eyes he might be crying. Dumbledore, perhaps coming to realize that brandy simply wasn't enough, pulls a pack of small cigars from under the clock on his desk and lights one for himself with his wand. He offers one to William, who shakes his head. Dumbledore takes a long drag. The smoke that twirls from the end is purple and green.
It's so odd… seeing the white-bearded, noble, wise Dumbledore looking so… human. He takes long pulls from the cigar, the smoke billowing around him like spidery webs of air, crossing his legs and staring at William's degenerate form every now and then.
Finally he asks, "And you believe that this traumatic experience and the tormenting of Severus Snape are somehow related?"
William shakes his head. "He was beaten up as a kid. My only explanation is that he feels the need to place that inner aggression on other people."
"There's something more specific, isn't there?" Albus puffs, "Something you're not telling me."
William blushes, "My son is… he's… Mary and I suspect that the reason he was beaten up was that he… well, he… liked… another boy."
Albus's eyes are not sockets of fire but suddenly rueful orbs of compassion.
"And perhaps… I may be going off on a limb here, but… perhaps he likes this… this… Sevurnus boy."
Albus puffs his cigar even though the light has gone out. "Severus."
"Right. And… I'm no psychologist, mind, but I have read one or two books on Freud."
Albus grimaces, and then stares at his own cigar as though entertained, "Em. Keep in mind that Freud had been on cocaine for nearly a decade when he wrote his major findings."
Albus smiles, "Go on."
"James may have a crush on this Semervus person. And it may make him so terrified that he feels that he will suffer though another trauma. And in order to solve this, he must beat up the other boy to reassure his masculinity and his pride."
Albus lifts his eyebrows, "A fine hypothesis."
"Is that it, do you think?"
"It's difficult to say. Though I don't believe it's far off," Albus puffs his cigar and says, "Poor James. We have got to find a way to help him. Though I am at a complete loss as to how to do so."
"Wait it out," Willaim runs a hand through his hair, "Wait until he gets over his crush…"
Albus rolls his eyes to the ceiling. "Lord knows that might never happen."
"Please, just don't expel him, Albus," pleads William. "Just keep him in school, and if this happens again, I'm just a floo away."
The headmaster nods and watches impassively as Mr. Potter shakes floo powder into the fire and whooshes off to his mansion.
Fawkes lands on Albus's shoulder. He smashes the bud of his cigar in an empty gold plate.
I pull out again.
"Severus!" calls Mary Potter's voice from the hall. "Are you alright, dear?"
"Yes, madam," I call back, catching my bearings and leaving this cursed room.
My eyes are still adjusting to the brightness of the hall when Mrs. Potter pulls me into a bone-crushing hug. "Severus, darling. You're so very brave. We could never repay you for helping our James."
"Nevermind," I whisper guiltily.
She hic-cups through tears, stuttering through the fast words, "S-s-sirius always g-goes with him to the party, be-because God knows why but they've always b-b-been afraid of him. And I don't know what I would do if anyone harmed him. And I know that you of all people have a right to just w-w-walk away and w-watch."
"Don't be silly," I mumble, "I'd never let anything happen to James."
"I was so s-s-scared because I thought they'd have a go at b-both of you. But James told me you were so b-b-brave, and that he loves you…"
She claps her hands over her mouth. "I s-s-s-shouldn't have said that."
"But it so good of you to help him. So self-s-s-sacrificing."
The more she talks, the more I feel like my feet are sinking into the rug. It swallows me whole, like quicksand. The more I feel like I have no right at all to hate him after all.
"Did you ever show him what happened?" I cut across her. "After Mr. Potter took out the memory?"
She shakes her head and blows her nose on a lacey handkerchief. "We just told him. He didn't even need us to tell him. He knew. He would always be paralyzed with f-f-f-fear when Ben came around."
I grimace at the floor, remembering how roughly I had treated him this very afternoon. At any point he could have been afraid, but I wouldn't have taken any notice. But he wasn't afraid of me was he?
Mrs. Potter tries to pull herself together through the handkerchief. I pat her on the arm as if to say, there's nothing to worry about.
"I need to talk to James," I say resolutely.
I snuggle on the couch, bare feet curled underneath me for warmth, a duvet wrapped around my shoulders, trying to pull myself together. A cup of tea grows cold on the coffee table. That was so embarrassing. I'm not supposed to act this weak in front of Snivellus. He was just coming to respect me, too. I try not to think about it. Trying and failing, cringing at the expression on Severus's face. I am a failure. He thinks I'm pathetic. I am pathetic.
I don't know what's wrong with me. Why I let Ben get to me like this… Sirius has protected me from him all these years. I think it's because he makes so many gay jokes that it just terrifies Harding so that he can't even bring himself to punch him. Severus… Severus didn't do that. He just stared at me, as if he knew.
And he said he didn't care if I was queer.
What the hell? Of course he fucking said that. We nearly had sex this afternoon.
I'm not queer though.
The pangs on the muscles of my heart twang as if someone were strumming the strings of muscle, pulling back my chest like a bow. The familiar thumping in my chest whistles in my ears. I feel the tug and pull of unconsciousness. Ben tormented me about being gay so much that I never thought I could be.
Hey Foureyes! Is that come on your chin? Get over here!
Stop it! I'm not queer. Shut up!
Severus's cold hand on my knee. His kisses in the smoke-strewn bar, Speakeasies. He fucks me with his fingers, and even though I'm so incredibly scared, I'm enjoying it. Even in the case of so much evidence I am suffering this horrible denial.
Lily's pink frilly bra.
Looking away, thinking of other things when I saw other boys in the showers.
God, I got so good at it, too. This powerful denial. This reconstruction of my life, so that anyone who looked at me couldn't dare question my sexuality. I couldn't question it either. It was impossible. James Potter, a queer? Of course not. Are you mad? That guy?
Not Snivellus, though.
He's a fucking flamer if I ever saw one.
"Potter, let me DOWN!"
A boy, twisting in pain above me, upside-down, again.
"But you'll have so much fun up there! How about I take your clothes off? Maybe then all those dirty Slytherins can have their way with you!"
"Oh, what's that? You would rather have Gryffindors do it? Sniv, you perv…"
Snivellus's robes fall to the floor, he vainly tries to cover himself, naked except for graying underwear. I am splitting my sides with laughter…
Oh, Sev. I am such a horrid person, dragging you into this cycle of abuse…
"Having a bad day-dream?" A warm, comforting voice behind me whispers.
I nod. Severus's arms wrap around my shawl-covered shoulders. He lazily trails patterns on my open palm. "What can I do? What do you need me to do?"
I don't trust myself to speak. Forgive me. Hold me. Love me. I shake my head, "I'm fine, you git. I can take care of myself."
He clutches me tighter to him. I can feel the fluttering of his heartbeat on my back. "James… I can get rid of him, if you ask me to," he whispers.
"What?" his words barely sink into my ears. I'm so overcome with this deadening emotion.
"I can make him go away. So he doesn't bother you anymore."
This fierce loyalty. It's what Lily was afraid of. I know in my heart if I asked him to walk outside and cast Avada Kedavra on Benjamin Harding he would immediately go and do it. The suspicions about the dark arts, Deatheaters and Voldemort writhe in the back of my brain. "No. I don't want you to do anything like that."
"I don't have to kill him," he whispers, "just make him shut up, just make him not want to touch you anymore."
I want that. I really, really do.
But I know that letting Severus do this would be like setting a mad dog off its chain. "Sev… I don't want to put you in danger."
"I won't be in danger."
I want him to get Benjamin. It just feels so right, him coming to my rescue.
"No…" I mumble weakly.
"I'll be back," says Sev.
Yes, do it.
"Severus, don't!" I bellow.
I turn my head and he's gone from the living room. The curtain rises and falls as if he had just swept by it.
My father's wheelchair squeaks into the room. He obliviously scans the area. He does his usual dance about the living room, squeaking in between and around furniture, between the coffee table and couch and footrest, until he gets to me, and smiles. "Jamie, you alright?" He pats my knee with his warm, elderly hands. He is bottling his concern up, trying not to appear too tender. "You look a bit peeky. And you've wasted your tea."
I eye the cup of cold brown liquid.
My father watches me. I sit there, not responding, embarrassed beyond belief.
"We should go get the pies. The party is probably almost over." He says finally. "Where has Severus run off to?" He studies the twilight outside between the curtains.
"Dunno," I lie. "Said he had to do something and come back."
Father grimaces, as though he disapproves of this behavior, but doesn't say anything. "Right then. I'll get the blueberry and apple, and you can get the pumpkin and raspberry. And the rhubarb, if you can manage it."
I rustle my hair and straighten my polo, making myself more presentable. I charm away the tea. Shooing the cup and saucer to scuttle back to their places in the cabinet, I ask, "What about mum?"
"She wants to rest, now," Father says. "Go say goodnight to her, then."
Mum is wearing her most ancient and sweet night gown. Seashell pink, and it goes all the way to her ankles. A tangle of sewn-in plastic gems and silky frills lines her chest. She takes out her earrings out of wrinkled ears with thick, old hands.
"Mummy," I whisper, loosing all traces of dignity. I've lost it all, anyway. "Night…"
"Oh, good night, pumpkin. Take care of your old man, will you?" She grasps both cheeks in her cold, wrinkling hands and kisses me very softly on my brow, the scent of her perfume wafts through my nostrils. Lavender and peppermint. The familiar, warm smell makes me want to just lay here and curl by the foot of the bed like I did when I had nightmares as a boy.
A bit of lipstick that she had not taken off yet smears on my forehead. I feel it's stickiness but I don't want to wipe it away.
She beams at me. Her eyes glisten in an I'm-so-proud-of-you way. She ruffles my hair and says, strangely, "What a catch, hmm?"
I think she's referring to chasers and quaffles until she clarifies, "That Severus boy."
Oh, him. Yes. Better than any golden snitch.
"Do you love him?"
I feel my neck reddening. All the stuff from before, Ben, me tormenting Snape, upside-down with his trousers down, comes into my head. I feel a sickening bubble in my stomach as if this were a very unacceptable topic to discuss with my lovely sweet mother.
My lips tighten like McGonagall's. Images of destruction stir in the back of my brain, of Ben pulling my pants down in front of all the girls, of him flicking ashes on my chest a few hours ago, of Severus's sickly underwear when I raised him by the ankles, pushing him down the stairs, of his come on my chest, of his bleeding face underneath me in the alleyway next to the warehouse, of his betrayal, of her rutting against him, of him telling me that he loves me, of him fucking me with the broom, of Tobias and the family album, of a kiss shared at Speakeasies, of a whispered "Darling" when he thought I was still asleep…
This jumble of emotions could be called love. I never expected it to be this cruel or complicated or humiliating. It's not the fairy-tale love where things become better, where the couple are happy, where they ride off into the sunset.
This love can only lead to pain, destruction, secrecy… even if we one day learn to trust each other… I never knew love could hurt this badly.
Love that's not… convenient.
It wrenches out of me when I say it. I hope it isn't true. But it is. That's the problem. And I want… need more of it.
"Oh, Severus. He is good for you." Mum says.
Her eyes glitter. She loves me. But the love she has for me is not convenient either. I wrap my arms around her. She's worked so hard for me, as a parent.
She pats me on the head, holding me to her cold, shriveling chest.
"You two should stick together. You're going to last. I know it."
I cough out, "Reading too many romance novels, mother?"
"Call it a mother's intuition."
It's gotten cold outside. I insist that we go back in to get Dad a pair of gloves. His hands always freeze because of the wheelchair. He gets angry when I fuss over him, so I pretend that it's me that's far too cold and needs to go back. After our fingers are properly covered, we walk and wheel down the lane. I double take at every street corner, staying away from backlit alleys. The pies tempt me as I walk down to the party, which is now only lit by candlelight and fireflies. The children and wives have mostly all gone to bed. With a relieved sigh I realize that includes Muriel and Bathilda.
I hope Severus is all right.
The men and boys that are left are beginning to wind down. One group is in a taboo discussion about religion. Another group is in a taboo discussion about politics. And another (a group of teenage boys) is talking about sex in hushed voices. I roll my eyes. What alcohol and caffeine does to stiff-upper-lip Anglicans!
But when my father and I pass to the dessert table, a row of men follow us, sniffing and getting a look at this year's goods. The older families in the community immediately know which pies they are, who made them, and which ones will be gobbled up first. The newer groups, like the Palsma-Sparrows, are going to have to find out for themselves.
Every year, without fail, the apple pie is gone within minutes, and sure enough four men with pipes and three older adolescents immediately get a slice. One is left. I am about to grab the last bite but I guiltily pass it to the elder Palsma-boy.
Father immediately strikes up a conversation with a longtime friend/enemy/neighbor Joshua Green. Mr. Green is an obnoxious man with a lot of money, mostly from oil in far-off places. He was born filthy rich, and "hasn't changed a hoot in fifty years," or so says my father. He's usually caught with a pipe with a tennis-ball sized head between his teeth under a gray mustache, a jacket with leather pads on the elbows, and an overall impression of constant smugness. My father hates the man.
Usually at this point in the party, every year, his boy, James Green, for one reason or another insists on talking to me. He seems to think that since we share the same first name we share the same interests. This is not the case. He likes tobacco, fine cutlery, and Indian women. I like quidditch, chocolate frog cards, and sneaky Slytherins with black hair and hooked noses. We do not get along. But the infernal man pretends that we do. I must avoid him at all costs.
Hastily I try to pay my closest attention to a slice of pumpkin pie.
"Oh there you are, old boy, haven't seen you all night!" says the strapping boy who bounces across the dessert table in a fine, unwrinkled brown suit. "What on earth have you been up to?"
I want so dearly to say, I've been having sex with a man. But I bite out, "Nothing."
The only good thing about my yearly conversations with James is that I don't have to say much. "Oh, really? Well I've been off to South Africa. Father has a yacht in Port Elizabeth, do you know, and I've spent the last few months down there. It's a good thing too; I heard you had had terrible weather. Was it alright?"
"Well my mother complained of it, I can assure you. We were digging for pearls of all things. And one of my men found one the size of a golf-ball," He says.
With very little energy, I mock astonishment, "No, you don't say?"
From across the table, I catch Father's eye. We grin at each other. The apple doesn't fall from the tree.
"Yes, I had an awfully good time. I made Amulya a long string of pearls and sent it to her. She died when she heard I found each one myself. Almost died."
"Psst," A voice from the bushes says.
"Anyway. Who was that nice young man that you had brought to the party earlier. A friend of yours? He seemed very posh. I've never seen him here before."
Crap. I actually have to pay attention now. "Er…"
"What does he do business in? Is he working… professionally?"
"Yes. Chemistry. His name is Severus."
"Oh what a very strange name," he says. "Where do you find these fellows with such strange names? Who was the other one? Sir-us?"
"Sorry… if you would excuse me…" I mutter, glaring into the bush.
He's there all right. Speak of the devil. Severus looks windswept but savagely content. His suit is rumpled. So is his hair.
He motions with his hand for me to come here.
"Sorry," I dishonestly apologize to James, "Don't mind me, somebody is drunk. Got to go take care of them."
"Oh right," he says. He makes a disappointed frown.
Thank God. Severus grasps my hand and we run off. He leads me down one back alley, then another, and then a back lawn.
"You have the best timing in the world," I whisper. "What is it?"
"It's a present," he says.
We chase a doe through some back bushes. A field nearby is lit only by moonlight. Wispy grains shiver in the wind. A World War II bunker in the distance appears like a black matchbox. We stalk though the growth like tigers until I see a figure, like a very, very large bat hanging from an oak tree.
Slowly padding though the field, I realize that it's an upside-down human being.
"Lumos Maxima," Severus shouts.
And of course it is Ben, hanging by a rope from his ankles, swaying back and forth. His face is white even despite the blood flowing to his head. Tears stream down his forehead. He looks terrified.
"Sev, what did you do?"
But as he swings slowly with a creak, creak, I can catch a glint of a slash across his back. Blood drips from an open wound.
"Apologize, worm," Sev demands.
He points his wand to the bottom of Ben's stubbly chin. Ben wibbles. His cracked lips shiver.
He then burst into tears. "I'M SORRY I HURT YOU! I'M SORRY!"
His voice shrinks and shrivels like a four-year old girl's… like a pig's.
Severus digs the wand further into his flesh. His eyes flash dangerously.
"I'M SORRY AND I'LL NEVER TOUCH YOU AGAIN!"
My stomach churns and burns. I didn't want it to get like this.
"SWEAR IT!" shouts Severus.
Ben heaves in a great sob, "I SWEAR! I SWEAR ON MY MUM! PLEASE!"
"Ok," I whisper. "Alright. Sev, let him down."
He stares the tied figure sadly. "I thought we could just leave him up."
Ben sobs. He chokes and coughs out his own snot. I grimace. His blue eyes glance at me pleadingly, and then back at the ground as though he thinks he'll be beaten for such insolence. "No… let him down, Sev," I whisper. "That's enough."
Ben whimpers with relief when he falls to the ground.
"I don't think it is," Severus growls. "It can't ever be enough."
He shrivels and cries on the ground, hands still behind his back. The dirt and salt grinds into his open wound as he tries to swing around like a turtle on it's back.
"Sev," I grasp his hand, which is caked with mud and grim, "There's no taking back what happened to me. And there's no taking back what I did to you."
His mouth is a thin, tight line.
"You've already made me such a better person-" I start.
"FUCKING queers, let me go!"
Severus raises his wand and without flinching casts, "Sectumsempra!"
A red line dribbles blood beneath Ben's bellybutton. Sev is holding himself back for me. It's merely a deep, thick gash.
"Killing him is not going to solve anything," I finish, eyes on only Severus.
Ben lets out a fresh wail.
Severus glances at me though curtains of messy hair. "You're right."
"What I really want is for you to forgive me."
He kicks Ben in the shoulder, flipping him back onto his bloody back.
A wand jabs his throat, "You will not. Touch him. Ever. Again."
Ben nods. The blue eyes that terrified me for years flush with tears. "Y-y-yes, I promise."
He casts a countercurse for the magical binds on his wrists.
"Run along before I decide I haven't beaten you enough."
He does. Before we speak again he is a dot on the horizon.
"Sorry," Severus mumbles.
"Got out of hand." He fingers his wand at both ends.
I wrap my arm around his shoulders.
The weight of understanding passes over us. The shared pains and torments, the hurt of being pushed around, abused, until we couldn't get up any longer. The taunting, the spiteful words, the insults, the cutting, the hitting, the faking… All of this flies away from us with Ben's turned back. Yes, it is still real, and no, it can't be forgotten. The blood boils beneath Severus's shoulder.
He still wants revenge. But maybe not from me anymore, but for me.
"Let's go back."
I sway as if I have a belly full of blood churning in my stomach. Hurting Ben was entirely far more unsatisfying than I thought. I had considered… no. Not even I should consider that. Not to mention a sudden visit to Macnair would raise suspicions among fellow Deatheaters…
But he's ever so fond of muggle torture. Perhaps I should have brought him to Malfoy.
But the sick, unsettled feeling lurching in the pit of my stomach won't go away. I can't save James. I can't change the past. I can't erase the chain of events that leads him to hurt me. I can't make James love me.
The comforting hand in mine is the only thing stopping me from falling over or passing out. Violence has always been the solution for me. Call me a fool but somehow I could never understand the words "violence is not the answer". It is. Just not a good one.
"I don't feel well," I say suddenly. "I want to go back to the house."
"Oh," James sooths, running his fingers up and down my spine, "Alright, go up, and I'll get Dad and meet you back there. Ok?"
The streets are too quiet when I walk though them.
A muscle in the bottom of my stomach twitches spastically as I step a foot on the banister. Something's not right. I sniff the air. The stench of warm pies and cake has been washed away by the odor of dust.
Swallowing hard, I step onto the carpet. Thump. Thump. My footsteps fall as slowly as the seconds ticking on the grandfather clock at the corner of the room. Midnight. Something's not right. Something's definitely not right. A smell on the edge of the cheesy smell of mold stings my nostrils and they flare. I try to slow my quickening heartbeat. Only one lamp is on downstairs. Maybe Mrs. Potter when to bed early.
"Mrs… Mrs. Potter?" I ask on the end of the wind. I bite my lip.
No answer. But that is nothing to worry about. She just probably has the music on very loud. I can hear it's bluesy jangling through the hall. It buoys my confidence. The soft lamplight glows solitary in the dark hall, illuminating a vase of dead roses. Their dead black leaves look like beetles in this light. "Mrs. P?" I ask, a little more loudly, a little more confidently, trying to sound like Sirius… when there is no answer I bend the door backwards, sending a cascade of light over the carpet.
The room is void of movement, save for the record player scratching out an old tune.
I went down to St. James Infirmary…
The circular chandelier is lined with cobwebs and dust, making it appear waspish, ghost-like. The red Persian rug, the pale wooden-lined Victorian loveseat, the china set at the corner of the room, the golden-rimmed telephone, the tall furniture-like radio set. It all looks like it could be preserved in a museum.
And I saw my baby there…
She was stretched out on a long white table,
My eyes scan the room again, taking in the tall, dying hydrangeas from outside of the dark window through thick, rug-like, yellow curtains. I am about to leave and shut off the light when the corner of a white thumb catches my eye.
The music fades into nothingness. My ears are ringing. Underneath the couch is hand crouched in an odd position, and a head facedown into the carpet.
I am there in an instant, at her side, echoing, "Mary! Mary Potter!" throughout the house. Shaking fingers grope a cold neck for a pulse. The top of her white waspish hair glows red. "HELP!" My fingers feel nothing, when I pull them back they are stained with her blood. Impossible… how?
The corner of my heel kicks a door that I had not seen before. Handsome, dark-stained wood opens up to reveal a hidden staircase. "A staircase?" I ask the sleeping figure. She must've fallen down the stairs while… we were gone.
"Help!" I call again, and the voice is not my own. "James! Mr. Potter! Help, somebody!" Trying to stifle my panic, I think to myself, you are a wizard, are you not? Use your wand! I pull it out and flick it into an arrangement of positions, whispering incantations whilst tears of panic and pain threaten.
Mary… what happened? Why did you fall? What were you doing?
It must've been an accident, answers a calmer voice in my head.
She's not dead, though. She can't be dead. It's just not possible. She had been making pies merely an hour ago. She sent me with them over to the party. She had to be still, very much alive.
She may search this whole wide world over…
The woman who I was just beginning to understand… James! Stay here for James, Mary!
She'll never find a man like me.
But it's no use. One of the spells of my own invention tells me that she's been dead for at least a half an hour. That can't be it. I'm just not doing it right. Check her vital signs again.
I lift the cold hand, and I know at that touch that she is no longer alive. It is stiff, completely unmoving, frail, cold… when I touch her veins, there is nothing moving underneath my fingertips. She is gone. The pale wreck of a fumbling old body, too slow for her quick, young soul lays before me on the hearthrug. A thing wearing her clothes and face.
"James!" I sob into my hands. My wand, a useless stick on the floor in front of me. "JAMES!"
James peers through the door.