Episode XIX: The Professor Fantasizing About Disappearing into the Woods
Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a lonely herbologist reflects on his mercurial ex-boyfriend: 23, male, exclusively drawn to narcissistic arseholes, still recovering from a breakup.
7:03 a.m.: I think I have always known I would only be able to love people who were fundamentally incapable of loving me back.
7:05 a.m.: I am for all intents and purposes an orphan, though I do have some family. My gran and her sister, my uncles, the vestiges of my parents. But the unfortunate thing about children is how readily they perceive things, like their own unwantedness. I felt it and did not have the tools to understand it, and now that same look in people's eyes, like the one my gran used to give me, does not register to me for what it is: longing for something else. A son and daughter-in-law who were once grown adults, for example; fully developed people with memories and consciences who would be preferable to the small, imperfect thing in constant pleading for affection. But I have been taught to call that longing love, and so I do.
7:06 a.m.: I'm feeling maudlin so I write it down for him. I'll call him B because I cannot be bothered to call him anything else. The most striking thing about B is his theatricality, his appetite for drama. His mother was an opera singer and he is himself an enthusiast of art, almost maniacally. He wants his life to reflect the emotional complexity of fiction rather than the vacancy he actually contains.
7:08 a.m.: You're such an appealing emptiness, the way you want someone else to fill you up with something of value. Very tempting. I really think you believe it can be done. I know I could never do it but I still think sometimes about what I would have placed inside you if you'd let me. No, that's not a euphemism, don't smirk at me, not now. I'm being serious. I think about the joy I would have wanted you to have, the optimism. I know there are clinical reasons you're like this, genetic ones probably or questions of nurture or lack thereof and in my defense it's not just you I hate. I hate everything that made you this way, I hate your circumstances, I hate your money and the ease of your privilege and the way you will never be or feel complete. I wanted to complete you. I still do. I keep waking from dreams where I'm chasing after you. I never see you or anything, you're not actually in the dream, but while I am darting through the woods I know it's you I'm trying to find. Unfortunately the real you doesn't leave any traces.
7:10 a.m.: I write to B almost every day, though he never answers. I don't care. I'm not even embarrassed by it anymore, if I ever was to begin with. I don't care if he reads them or not, I just want to write them. I just want to get the words out of my system, like sweating out a fever. I only ever feel okay once I've finished a letter to B, but by the time I've sent it from the owlery I inevitably arrive back here again. Chronic disappointment. The boy who might have been, who never truly was.
9:00 a.m.: I am primarily the Herbology professor at Hogwarts, though it's nearly time for the summer holidays. My students are finishing their exams now, which will keep me busy for approximately three more days. When they're gone I'm not sure what I will do. At first the act of rebuilding after the war was replenishing, cathartic, but even then I was struggling with something inside me. I hate to admit it, particularly given my problematic attraction to B, but within me there is a terrible cynic. What's the point? he says. Every day he asks me this. Most days I have an answer. The point is survival, the point is renewal, the point is forward motion. Some days, though, I hear silence, and those are the days I know I am being swiftly overrun.
3:13 p.m.: On the days I cannot answer the question, I turn to my friend L. She's a journalist who lives on the grounds with her… boyfriend is a conventional word. Whatever C, a magical creatures professor and former dragonolist, is to her. He seems happily enslaved by her, which I suppose any man would be. I would be if I could choose.
3:15 p.m.: "Nargles," L observes instantly, scrutinizing me. I shrug. "Well," she says, considering me with a sweeping glance, "is there any more room?" I think about it. I also think, briefly, that B would know better than I would. His hands have been everywhere on me, places I never see or touch or think about. I lack his vanity and rarely observe myself. "Here," I say, gesturing to a spot on my side. I avoid my ribs generally, because it can be so difficult to breathe. The vibration ricochets and I have to remind myself to inhale. But seeing as today I can't answer the question, that may not be a bad thing. I think I'd like a jolt to my system. "Okay," L says, stepping aside to let me in.
3:47 p.m.: L never designs the tattoo first before she does it. She just draws on me with a bit of marker and then gets to work, which I admire; she filled two sleeves that way, a chest piece and a back piece, the tops and sides of my thighs. I think the inside of her head is a beautiful place, so every piece of art on my body is a transcription of her imagination. B asked me once what I was trying to cover up with all the tattoos, but it's less a matter of coverage than transformation. "You went such a long time without any new ones," L says. I don't answer because I'm focusing on my breathing. "Have you heard from him?" she asks. This time I don't answer because she knows the answer is no. "Well, I still don't understand it," she says.
4:13 p.m.: There are only two kinds of people in the world: people who suspect L of knowing nothing and people who are already aware L knows everything. "There's nothing to understand," I tell her, "because none of it ever made sense. Not all love has to have a future." On paper we're a long distance relationship that fell apart when I went back to Hogwarts. In practice we're a pair of walking abandonment complexes. This is one of the things I've come to terms with: I love him and he loves me but there is no future for us without heartbreak, and just because a person can become desensitized to pain doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. I fought so hard for this life. I fought so hard for my right to even be alive. My parents gave their sanity for it. Isn't it my responsibility to honor that? Aren't I obligated to value what they gave me, even if their absence is what made me what I am?
4:18 p.m.: Oh, I know I'm a hero. I hear it all the time and it never registers. This is the thing about who and what we are; our internal measures and scopes of things are so impossibly miscalculated. We think we can be called a hero at seventeen and it will give us back the love we didn't have, the respect we never won, the validation we never received. But this is the truth: nobody can ever tell you what you're worth. You will never believe them over the things you tell yourself in secret.
4:38 p.m.: I ask L what she's drawing and she tells me she's actually writing. Can you believe that? She's writing a poem on the lines of my ribs. I ask her what she's writing and she says she doesn't know, she's just writing as it comes to her. I think about the fact that she's committing me to whatever she feels is relevant at the moment and then I decide fuck it, I don't care. Better to live in L's head. Things are tranquil there.
5:12 p.m.: L pauses suddenly, sitting upright. "Excuse me," she says, and then walks away. I hear the brief sound of retching and then she returns. "Are you sick?" I ask her. "Gestating," she says, resuming her work. By now the sharp prickling sensation has returned to my skin from its initial numbness. "What?" I ask, realizing what she's saying. "You're pregnant?" "Yes," she says absently.
5:23 p.m.: I want to congratulate her, but something sticks in my throat for a moment. The thought of anyone as a mother always makes me think of my own mother, whom I have technically never met. The woman who occupies her body now is a stranger, a ghost. My experience with mothers is distant, and imagining L with a baby in her arms harms me as much as it soothes me. "Are you happy about it?" I ask her. "I seem to be feeling everything," she says. "The universe and I are marvelously harmonious at present. Yesterday I wept at the sound of a particularly contemplative breeze." I think those might be hormones, but we're talking about a woman who calls nearly everything by an incorrect name. I don't think there's any harm in letting her believe she is slightly more divine. "Giving life to something must be incredibly rewarding," I say. She looks at me slantly. "You would know, wouldn't you?" she says.
5:43 p.m.: She's talking about herbology, I assume. But coaxing a plant to life isn't exactly the same. "Nothing is ever the same as anything," she agrees, and then sits back, grey eyes coolly surveying her handiwork. "I'm done, I think," she says, and after she rubs my skin with some healing salve I sit up, lifting one arm to see what she's written.
5:45 p.m.: The words are in script, curling in and out between other illustrative plants, the portrait of a lion. Her newest addition looks like vines sprouting out from the side of my ribs, almost illegible:
HERE IN THIS
LIFE IN THIS
5:49 p.m.: It means nothing to me. Like pop art, empty words. I reach for my shirt and smile at her, because the lettering is beautiful and she is going to be a mother and I adore her for everything she is. For everything she is that I am not. "I love it," I say. "No, you don't, you hate it," she corrects me wryly, "but I've learned people sometimes hate to hear the truth. And anyway, you'll grow into it." Like it's one of my uncle's too-large jumpers. "I'll do my best," I say.
7:01 p.m.: I take my supper in the Great Hall alongside the other faculty, the skin on my side smarting each time I unintentionally brush it with my arm. M, the headmistress, sits beside me, casting glances at me every now and then. I think she feels some concern about me. "What's to be done about him" is a form of conversation everyone has had about me at various points in my life. What's to be done about the child who can't stop having nightmares. What's to be done about the boy who is maybe a squib. What's to be done about him, he's failing all his classes. He's not his father or his mother, he's just some sad substitute for them both. What's to be done about the pureblood who can't follow orders. What's to be done about the professor who still isn't happy, who left on sabbatical and returned no better than before. My presence feels over-swollen and tumorous again, bothersome to those around me. My cyclical need to flee returns.
7:05 p.m.: "I always feel so sluggish in June," M says.
7:06 p.m.: The other professors are looking forward to the summer holiday. One of them, a tormentor of mine like all the others, is married to my friend R, who works in the village. She'll be working in their joke shop this summer, probably soon to have a baby of her own. One of the others, the estranged wife of a notorious Death Eater, looks equally ready for a change in weather. Her circumstances have altered somehow, unspokenly. There is a small tremor of happiness from everyone around me, cheerfulness and resolution. Even M, who is being sympathetic, knows this will be a different summer than the others. She doesn't say it, but she has been lonelier in the past than she is now.
7:07 p.m.: "I may travel again," I tell her. "The arboretum is finished and my syllabus is complete. I'm sure C won't mind looking in on the seedlings." M nods. "Might do you some good," she says, adding, "You're very young to resign yourself to this life." I wonder if she means this life of solitary isolation or simply the life of a career academic. I wonder if part of her considers them one and the same, or if maybe I do. "Where will you go?" she asks, her tone light, conversational, anecdotal. My problems worry her. What's to be done about him?
7:10 p.m.: "Germany," I say offhandedly. "Bavaria somewhere. I have an uncle there." There are several species of magical plants with healing qualities worth a study there as well, though I don't think that's what interests me. There's something very haunting about the forests there, the cobbled roads that run through the woods, toward the mountains. I keep having dreams about forests. "That should be enlightening," says M. We eat the rest of our meal in silence.
10:17 p.m.: Before I fall asleep I feel an itch again to talk to B. In the better parts of our relationship he was my best friend, and I've never known another person like him. He is magnetic, an unavoidable, undeniable, unshakable source of energy. He is charismatic and spontaneous and handsome and vain, beautifully selfish, and so proficient at making demands that it's hard not to love him for it, perversely. Spoiled children are very often sweet when they get what they want.
10:19 p.m.: Here's what I think. I think you have all this repulsion with yourself—the same fucking shit that all the rest of us have, by the way—but you think you're so much cleverer than everyone else because you can see it. So you leave traps. You say I dare you to love me but once people do, it only reinforces your belief that you're smarter than everyone else. You know what the flaw in that is, right? That it's possible to love ugliness. It's possible to want things even if they aren't good. So yes, you dared me to love you and I did and you hate me for that because now you have no choice but to realize I'm an idiot. Then you punished me for my crimes against your cleverness, but honestly, it's exhausting. Aren't you exhausted? Must you be the clever one all the time? The careful one? Okay I'm an idiot and you escaped being one too—does that make you happy? Does it make you happy like I used to make you happy?
10:25 p.m.: I send the owl and drift to sleep on my back, avoiding the fresh sting of my new tattoo and dreaming of forests again.
7:45 a.m.: I look at the tattoo for a long time this morning, contemplating it to see if anything new occurred to me overnight.
HERE IN THIS
LIFE IN THIS
7:47 a.m.: Nope.
12:13 p.m.: Exams keep me busy today. The Herbology exam is half practicum, half written, and at this point I'm just looking over the result of what my students have learned. The care and keeping of magical plants. Sometimes when I do this I recall my own magical education, the difficulty of it. I always sympathize with the students who struggle because I, too, know what it is to not understand, to wonder if there's a hole in my head where information should be. It was L who realized I was struggling with reading; she suggested I wear a rather mad pair of spectacles she charmed to help me make sense of things. She has a strange name for whatever creatures she thinks are responsible for the mess. Dyslexias or something. I assume they're the same species as nargles. Whatever she did, it helped.
4:27 p.m.: Sometimes I wonder whether life would have been easier if I'd actually been a squib. There would have been no expectations, no "charms is a soft option," no "he's not as good as his father, what's wrong with him"—just the abject silence of whatever my friend H happened to learn while he grew up with muggles. Maths or whatever. I sometimes imagine myself doing maths, which seems relatively straightforward. I always seemed to lack a connection with magic. The spare dregs of it I had were such a strain I often had headaches while I was in school, like I was squeezing every last drop of magic out of myself and it left me shriveled up and wasted every night.
4:33 p.m.: I don't love magic the way other people do. Magic is what robbed me of my parents. It was a spell that took them from me. I have never been proficient with it. What brings me peace is life itself, plants, magical or otherwise. That there is nothing technically magical about a combination of soil and warmth is comforting to me. I notice there are students who excel at this, at nurturing, even if they struggle elsewhere. Tenderness is a quality not well-rewarded by the world; ruthlessness, even in academia, will take most of them much further. Ambition will stomp out whatever softness might exist and pragmatism will kill the rest. What most of my students don't understand is that most things do not succeed without a mix of both—without both the courage to expand their roots and the comfort of having a safe place to grow.
6:34 p.m.: I decide while eating that I'm definitely going to leave again. Initially I left because I felt stifled by the broken castle, the reminder of all the deaths I'd witnessed, the torment of my peers. When I met B, I thought that could fix it, somehow. No, that's not true. He thought it would be enough, that I would stay. He took my restlessness as a personal slight—as if I were telling him his love had not healed me. It hadn't. My love hadn't healed him either. We do that ourselves. He didn't understand that and maybe he never will. The point is I'm still trying to expand outside my container, to stretch my roots, which may require more space than I suspected. Maybe the problem was always that fleeing to London wasn't far enough.
8:23 p.m.: I spot L wandering the castle grounds from my office and catch her looking up at the sky, one hand on her stomach. I'm guessing she's feeling her connection to the universe at the moment, so I wander over and we walk in silence for a few minutes. She brushes my hand with her fingers, humming something to herself. It's not a recognizable song, so it's probably the universe again.
9:02 p.m.: "I'm not worried about you," she says after we wander near the lake. "I just thought someone should tell you that." I laugh because it's funny to me that anyone worries about me, and yet I know what she means. Everyone worries about me in a very specific way. What's to be done about him?
9:03 p.m.: "I've been dreaming about forests," I tell her. "That must be very soothing," she says. It is, in a way. It's alarming, but not in a bad way. Sort of like I'm gradually pulling back the veil on something I can't yet see.
9:05 p.m.: I think up until now I've misdiagnosed my need for touch, affection, connection; that sort of thing. I ran into a friend earlier this year, a man I'd found myself attracted to during those first years after the war. I think I let myself believe that if he touched me I'd forget all these other yearnings, but unfortunately the problem is highly cerebral. Or so the forest dreams suggest.
9:08 p.m.: L hugs me for a long time. "I'll tell the baby all about you," she assures me. "I'm just going to be gone for the summer," I remind her. She gives me a distracted smile. "Well, even so," she says to me, sort of the way I talk to students who think they're failing my class. Then she waves me off before disappearing into the home she shares with C.
10:12 p.m.: It occurs to me to wonder what specifically L is going to tell her baby about me.
10:15 p.m.: I'm going to Munich, not that you care. Not sure where I'll go exactly but it seems an acceptable place to start. I have an uncle who lives there, which you may or may not remember. My gran used to threaten that she'd send me to some muggle boarding school in Germany if I didn't do better at Potions, and I remember thinking at least they wouldn't make me do potions in the dungeons with Professor S—. I think I could have done anything else. H— used to describe some sort of physical education component he loathed while he was living with his aunt and uncle, which I think I could manage. He said it was humiliating or at least intended to be humiliating but I doubt it could be any worse. Besides, I handle humiliation well. I must have sent you hundreds of letters at this point and I know they're ending up somewhere in a heap, gathering dust. Maybe you burn them? It does seem your style. You have such a flair for drama. On my good days when I ask myself the usual questions—what's the point, why do I exist, etc etc—I remember what you'd say. You'd remind me there's no reason for anything or you'd tell me there's nothing in life better than sex, which would at least reassure me of something. That if I existed purely to offer you ecstasy then honestly, that's as good a reason as any to be alive.
10:25 p.m.: I pause, remembering one of the times I made B dinner. The wine was perfect, the food was exquisite. I had outdone myself. Even I can admit that. B looked at me and said he was experiencing metaphysical perfection. I think he was probably imagining all the many ways it wouldn't last, and in that moment I thought: this idiot doesn't even realize he's perfectly capable of joy.
10:30 p.m.: Anyway I'm not sure if I'll keep writing to you. I think all I'm doing is keeping this door open and I don't know that it makes sense. For what it's worth, I always thought I would grow more with you at my side. You do push me. Pull me and torment me. You frustrate me. I fail with you, often, and I think I realize now that I have to fail in order to grow. But I think I need to consider the whole thing, with you, a failure. It might have just been a bunch of small failures before which I think is the point I'm trying to make, but I have to close the door and consider it one big failure. You and I failed, the end, time to go. I was sad with you and I'll be sad without you and I don't know which sadness is worse. But I know which one you're giving me, so that's the one I have to take.
10:34 p.m.: B has an excellent sense of humor, better than mine. I put on Nessun Dorma and imagine the way he sang it to himself, noticing me watching him and then launching into an entire one-man production. I know for a fact I am the only person who ever saw that side of him. No one else he knows would have looked at him the way I did, like he was the star around which my universe orbited completely.
10:36 p.m.: I know he loves me. Loved me. Even if it became untrue or was no longer enough, I can be—I have to be—satisfied with that.
10:38 p.m.: I didn't fall in love with parts of you. Imagine how stupid I would be to love the way you are in bed without knowing the intricacies of why you're like that. Imagine the unbelievable ignorance of loving only your sarcasm or your wit without knowing the things that make you sad, make you angry, make you smile. I fell in love with you because to me you are the most beautiful thing, the most fragile and complicated thing I've ever had in my care, and I tried to be gentle with you. I wish you had loved me for that but I know that you couldn't. So I think it's time to tell you that you don't have to feel guilty anymore, you didn't break me, I'm not ruined because I lost you or broken because you caused me pain. But I do think that it's time to say goodbye.
11:03 p.m.: I run my fingers over the words on my side, which are healing nicely.
HERE IN THIS
LIFE IN THIS
11:05 p.m.: I still don't believe it. But I trace the paths of L's careful sketching on my skin and feel comforted that even I have roots somewhere.
9:13 a.m.: It always breaks my heart a little to see my students boarding the train, heading home again. I feel particularly melancholy about it this year while watching them go. I can't say this year had any special or unspecial students—not any more or less than previous years—but M's June gloom touches me faintly. By the time I see them again, they won't be in the same places I left them.
9:15 a.m.: Just before the train is scheduled to leave, I decide it would be easiest to join them rather than arranging an apparition permit from Hogsmeade. I hurry back to M's office to bring it up with her, and as I suspected she has no objections. "Are you going to London?" she asks. "Initially yes," I say. I think she suspects I'm going to see B, but I'm not. I meant what I said in my letter to him. I've got to let him go, but that doesn't mean I don't still have loose ends to tie up in the city.
9:34 a.m.: I tell M that I will likely take the whole summer. C has agreed to watch over the plants in the greenhouses, and I have few other obligations while the students are away. M seems to consider what I'm doing very sensible. "Everyone needs to get away every now and then," she tells me. "Even you?" I ask. "That's none of your business, young man," she says, though I think she looks at me fondly when she says it.
10:15 a.m.: The train pulls away and I haven't said goodbye to L, but I think it would be redundant after our conversation last night. I pull out my notepad and begin sketching things, largely flora. I amuse myself over the journey, sitting in a compartment with the one or two other students who read silently or doze off until we eventually arrive at King's Cross.
8:45 p.m.: I had written to my friend H while I was still at Hogwarts that I'd stay in Diagon for the evening, but he insists on meeting me at the Ministry and Flooing with me to the house he shares with his boyfriend in Cornwall. "So sorry to keep you here so late," I tell him, but he looks up from a massive pile of paperwork and rolls his eyes. "Believe me, I have plenty to do," he says drily, gesturing to the files. He's Head Auror at the DMLE, so I suppose he does.
9:13 p.m.: I never saw H as the sort of person who'd manage a country estate, but upon arrival I'm less surprised. It's actually quite a small house situated near a cliff, beyond which the salty sea air is undeniable. He tells me little anecdotes as we make our way across the landscape; his godson is rather adept on a broom now—there's a small pitch for him to practice over there—and spends most of the weekday being tutored by T (H's boyfriend) in… something. "Not entirely sure," H admits. "Obscure literature, I imagine. Revenge narratives. Political revolutions." I laugh. I don't know T well. He's very close to B, though I specifically do not ask about him. "I know T is teaching him to paint," H adds. "I didn't know T was an artist," I say. When H smiles, it's the faraway look of a man in love. "He is," he says.
9:34 p.m.: Late suppers seem to be common in their household. I say very little while T waves around a spatula, describing the process of whatever it is he's made. Later when I wander around looking for the toilet I notice a room with the door ajar, the interior cluttered with easels and art materials, charcoals and paints. Canvases are strewn over towering piles of books, nearly my full height. The whole thing looks incredibly unstable. "I know, right?" laughs T, materializing behind me as I jump, startled. "I'm rather unwisely permitted my many indulgences," he explains, and then beckons me the correct direction down the corridor.
10:13 p.m.: I excuse myself for bed, leaving them to talk. H has his feet in T's lap, the two of them unwinding on their sofa, and while they murmur to each other in little half-aloud, half-intuited phrases of intimacy, I think again about the words in my tattoo; but of course this is not a compelling example of any ordinary life. T is a maniacal pureblood with a massive inheritance and H is practically a war hero seven times over, a success in all the ways I am not. H was always destined for greatness; I wasn't, and I've come to terms with that. His story is a love story, that much is familiar, but it is rare and remarkable. That he and T should have each other now feels not only right, but almost fated, or at least circumstantially justified. The love they have feels earned.
10:21 p.m.: I know the letter-writing has always been one-sided, but I do miss it. I miss the permission I had given myself to believe I still had things to say to B; things I wanted him to know. Tonight my fingers itch to tell him how much T reminds me of him in certain ways, how close I feel to him just from hearing similar phrases. You would say that, I thought when T made an affectionately caustic comment about H's socks. But no, I have to move on, things have to change. There is relief in that, even if there is sadness. Sometimes feeling anything is a relief, more so than trying to feel nothing. Clichéd I'm sure, but I would rather have sorrow from what I lost than the alternative of never having spent my nights in B's arms at all. At least he proved to me one thing: I am not incapable of passion, of deep, intimate connection. Because of B, I know what kind of man I am in love and I am not ashamed of it. So there is gratitude in my loneliness. There is grace in it, after all.
10:23 p.m.: The skin is healing already between the little vines of L's scripted letters.
HERE IN THIS
LIFE IN THIS
10:24 p.m.: The skin is healing, and so am I.
5:34 a.m.: I'm up so early that I decide it's better to get moving. I leave a letter for H and T, thanking them for their hospitality, and then I pause in front of the Floo, considering where I plan to go next.
5:36 a.m.: I asked H yesterday for some trivialities about muggle currency, which he seemed to find odd. I didn't know why I was asking, either, until just now.
5:45 a.m.: It's a bit early for any respectable businesses to be open, but thankfully there's always Knockturn, dodgy as ever. I set up a deposit from my Gringotts account, exchanging it for a mix of pounds and euros. I'm fairly certain the exchange rate is abominable, but I don't really care. I make more money than I need living at Hogwarts.
7:00 a.m.: The non-magical parts of train stations are deeply confusing. Someone asks me for an identification card, which I manage to conjure on the spot. (Charms are useful, Gran.) There's quite a bit of pushing and shoving, plenty of strangeness. I think people are looking questionably at my clothes, but that's nothing new. B loved to tell me I was insufficiently dressed. One thing I do notice is that their tattoos are sitting still, which is interesting. I know if I were to reveal any portion of my limbs they'd see motion, but nobody is paying attention to me right now.
8:30 p.m.: For another lengthy train ride I draw and read, pulling things out of my bag. I do notice one woman with heaps of luggage when she glances with confusion at my extension charm. She has children with her, and one of them waves to me. The mother scolds one of the little ones who's lost their toy, and I have the strangest sensation of seeing myself at that age. I had a toad I kept losing track of, which irritated Gran to no end. She was tired of raising children by that point, I think. Her work was supposed to be done by the time I came along.
9:03 p.m.: Eventually I get to Munich, though I can see very little of it. I consider visiting my uncle who lives here, but I don't. Tomorrow I'll get a car I think (I can't drive, but how hard can it be?) and make my way to the woods, which I don't want to have to explain to anyone I know. I check into a hostel for the evening, somewhere over near the Marienplatz, which seems to be fairly central. Then I go in search of something to eat and walk into a small pub, or something like a pub. Something that smells like food, anyway.
9:10 p.m.: "Ah. There you are," says B.
9:11 p.m.: It's difficult for me to explain the impact of seeing him. I can't understand for a moment why nobody else is looking at him, until I belatedly remember that he means nothing to them and neither do I. The shock slips down from my head to my toes, dripping from my fingers. I haven't seen him in well over a year. I haven't the faintest idea what he's doing here. He looks exactly the same and it hurts me. My loss apparently took nothing from him. If anything he looks better, more handsome without my tiresome demands for fidelity and kindness, though he does seem thinner, or possibly his cheeks have simply sharpened over time to match his barbs. "How did you find me?" comes out of my mouth. "You're not actually that complicated to follow," B says neutrally, "though given your letter, I was expecting you yesterday."
9:13 p.m.: I sit down numbly. I can't decide whether I want him to leave. I don't ask him why he's in a muggle pub because it doesn't even occur to me that we exist, that any of this is real. Do I hate him right now? I think so. "Do you want me to go?" he says, reading my mind. "I don't know," I tell him. He smells the same. People always have a laugh about descriptions of masculine smells—something uniquely him—but I truly don't know what it is. Blame my lack of refinement. He smells to me expensive and rare, like antiquity itself. He is timeless, belonging to nothing and no one, to nowhere, not even to me. He nods in response to my stiffness, neither briskly nor unkindly. I think I am acting precisely the way he expected me to act, and lucky him. Lucky him for getting to prepare himself when I am sat here numbly swallowed up by everything I'm feeling. "Here," he says, sliding a package across the table to me. "When you're done, here's the name of my hotel." He gives me the address to a place in the wizarding quarter of the city and leaves.
9:18 p.m.: I sit in silence for five minutes. Someone comes over to tell me the kitchen is closed and I order a beer but don't touch it. I don't touch the package either.
9:25 p.m.: I think they are letters.
9:28 p.m.: Is he giving me back my letters? The thought of it makes me furious. I reach across the table and tear the parcel open.
9:29 p.m.: They are not my letters.
9:30 p.m.: I throw down some amount of money (almost certainly not the correct amount) and fumble for the exit, heading back to my room. The others, a young couple, are already asleep and I consider casting a Lumos, but instead I carry the package of letters out with me and sit beneath a streetlight.
9:54 p.m.: I am writing you this letter drunk. It contains nothing. I also contain nothing aside from criminally expensive whisky which is currently wafting effervescently from my pores. I fucked someone yesterday and I do not think they enjoyed it, which is hysterical. You've ruined me for sex. I can't touch anyone anymore, not in the same way. I considered celibacy until I remembered I'm a good lay and little else. Take away the sex and I'm just the little else.
10:12 p.m.: It's you for me and I'm just trying to save you. No I'm not. I'm such a fucking liar, honestly. I'd rather take you down with me if given the choice but I'm malicious with fury, insidious with it. I'm not enough for you and you left and now nothing is enough for me. The cosmic hilarity of you and your goodness. All the misanthropy you could have had that you don't. It's exhausting. Frankly it's lunacy. Why aren't you destructive? Why am I the one who ruins people, breaks them? You have every right to tear open my chest and laugh at the vacancy inside it. I should be on my knees for you. How can you love me? How can I ever love you back the way you ought to be loved? You picked the wrong man for this, fuck. I can't even send a letter. I can't even bring myself to tell you how broken I am when you're gone.
10:37 p.m.: Ironically I know you're going to hate me more the longer I'm silent. I think you're training yourself to hate me and to my credit, I don't want to interrupt. You're doing such work, I can feel it in your letters. You lose pieces of me, you forget things. In your last letter you talked about the second time we slept together. You said we were both drunk but we weren't. I wasn't. I don't know if you knew that at the time. I think in your memory I'm always fucking sauced but that didn't really start until after you left. I didn't need it while I had you, but then you went away and I had to start asking myself questions like how do I build my life around someone whose entire existence is so much bigger than mine? And that's when the vials became paramount and then it suddenly became very important to say yes when someone who wasn't you was asking me for something that wasn't love. I KNOW THESE ARE EXCUSES. I KNOW YOU'RE SHAKING YOUR HEAD. I KNOW I BELONG TO YOU BUT I AM NOT PREPARED TO GIVE YOU THE LIFE THAT YOU WANT. stop laughing it isn't funny. do you understand that I am unhappy almost all of the time. I feel like you don't understand that. YOU PRESSURE ME. YOU MAKE DEMANDS. YOU WANT ME TO BE RESILIENT AND I AM NOT. i am two breaths away from failure at all times. I have dreams about you and when I wake up alone I am gripped with terror and don't tell me I'm being dramatic. Of course I am being dramatic. I AM FUNDAMENTALLY UNWELL AND DRUNK.
10:56 p.m.: I think that I'm getting attached to these letters. They're my only form of conversation with you. I know it's patently unclever, but believing you'll inevitably be with someone who isn't me one day is easier said than done. On my good days I congratulate myself for being selfless. You say I'm selfish but actually that's nonsense. (If it were up to me I'd run your baths, I'd stroke your hair. I'd become your personal boudoir photographer, the keeper of your bees.) I've been reciting my inventory of your tattoos in my head every night to fall asleep. I keep thinking about the empty space on your ribs and what I would put there. I think I would put myself there. My own name, in my own hand, dozens of times. (I am a textbook narcissist. We both know this.) I think by the time I see you next (if in fact I ever see you again) you will have put something else there and it makes me absolutely mad with both lust and grief.
11:17 p.m.: I've been using that ridiculous WANDR device you were using when we met. There are so many people in this world who aren't you. Some are better than you honestly. But I was so very fond of your specific imperfections. Every time I encounter a flaw that isn't yours I hate it. Of course, when I dig up one of your attributes in someone else it makes me absolutely ill. In fact I am writing you this from the toilet of a date I am about to flee.
11:34 p.m.: I cannot even fuck anymore so I am going to fuck you now in my head. I wonder if you'll know. I wonder if you'll feel it from wherever you are. Teaching children. God, how repulsive. I think I'll start by sucking you off somewhere wildly inappropriate. The castle corridor. The stairs. Your office. My god, you have an office don't you? You have an office and I've never fucked you in it. Of all my sins. We're going to fuck in your office. I know what you like, and beneath your nonsensical demand for emotional stability you're a horny little bastard. Lust. I enjoy the word lust. It reminds me of licking the underside of your cock just to say it.
11:38 p.m.: At some point B's tone changes. He gets, ironically, more sober, though the letters themselves get shorter. Ultimately I am sorriest that you must not have known the way I felt. But I am also inexpressibly angry. How could you not have known? How did you miss it? I did as you asked and I never do as anyone asks. What more could I have done to persuade you to stay?
11:44 p.m.: You do not give me sufficient credit for recognizing the nature of your tragedy. I also do not think you give yourself sufficient credit for having lived one. You want to know why I need the vials and yet equally, I want to know why you don't. I am desperate to discover the source of your stability. I have to assume it is some all-encompassing betterness. You are just better, made of stronger stuff. I sense you could peel back my skin and find my insides rotting and fibrous, overripe and fragile like the bruises on a peach. But you are golden, you have gold in your veins, and the fact that sadness has not destroyed you makes you utterly incomprehensible to me.
11:58 p.m.: As the letters catch up with the present I start to feel it more as a conversation. I don't know what I wrote to him eleven months ago at the height of my anger, but I know what I wrote to him four days ago, three. Some of B's letters are not even letters but random repeated words (easier someday, easier someday, someday someday someday) and some that are almost like notes to himself (I resent being tied to you from this distance? has no one got an axe?) or reminders (guard your heart and take no prisoners, as agrippina—his nickname for his mother—always says).
11:59 p.m.: Nothing has ever made me happy but you, he writes. Then only one letter remains.
12:01 a.m.: This is the end? No this cannot be the end. I am just getting started. I am just beginning to look at my world and ask the idiotic questions you would ask. Who am I, why do I exist? It isn't this. Not one thing about any of this is right. Who am I? A man you loved once. Presumably an integral part of your fabric. As you know I'm quick to give myself credit and I will credit myself with this: you are not you without me. There will never be that version of you again. You and I will both suffer for knowing this and we are terrible martyrs, me worst of all. I make suffering look like a chore and you make it look commonplace. But the truth of it is that you are the beat of my heart and I am surer of that than anything. I'll say goodbye if that's what you want. Goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye it makes less sense every time I write it. Goodbye goodbye goodbye you're not mine I'm not yours goodbye goodbye goodbye. This is nonsensical. This is madness. Why did I ever let you leave. I won't say goodbye to you, I won't. Why didn't I fall to my knees and beg for you. Why did I pretend to be sensible when I am incapable of loving you sensibly? At least if you'd pushed me away because I'd wept that I was nothing without you it would have happened honestly, authentically, not like this. I would have said I can't breathe without you, that I don't like who I am without you, that I'm afraid of what I will become without you, that I don't want to exist in a world where you are not mine and jesus christ no no no
I will not say goodbye to you until you shut
the fucking door
in my face.
12:18 a.m.: He pulls open the door to his hotel room. "Do you know how to drive a muggle car?" I say without preamble. I notice he seems completely unaffected by either my presence or the question that comes out of my mouth.
12:19 a.m.: "Yes, I know how," he says. "Are you just saying that?" I ask. "No, I actually know how." (I'm not surprised. In fact I might have already known his answer was yes before I came here to ask him; he is a rare compilation of odd skills, niche interests. There were many, many reasons to love him and despite everything I still recall them easily, without effort.) "So will you drive me somewhere?" I ask. "Where?" "The woods." "You came to Bavaria to go to the woods?" "Yes." "What was wrong with the British woods?"
12:23 a.m.: "Are you going to do it or not?" I snap.
12:24 a.m.: He stares at me. It's an unusual stare from him in that it contains no judgment or expectation. He's just staring blankly. "That's all you have to say? 'Can I drive,' that's it?"
12:25 a.m.: "For now, yes."
12:28 a.m.: "Fine," he says. "I'll drive. In the morning?"
12:29 a.m.: I think something might be wrong with him. "Yes. First thing."
12:30 a.m.: "Okay." He steps back, about to close the door, but my hand shoots out and he looks at it, the outline of my palm against the wood.
12:31 a.m.: "We're not going to talk," I say flatly, because all I have in my head are a year of his words and none of mine. I don't remember anything I said that prompted all of these letters. I don't remember anything that used to be my own. The inside of my brain is now his personal real estate, filled with his emotions, his petty thefts. His grievances are all I can hear. I know that he hurt me, I know there are scars here, everywhere, more scattered over my body than the ink that crawls across my skin, but at the moment I can't remember them even though I know that I will. Because he has seen me, all of me. These wounds are not old wounds. They never healed. This pain is not new. Tomorrow I will remember them and then we'll talk, but tonight we will both say nothing.
12:32 a.m.: "Okay," he says. "Okay?" "Okay."
12:35 a.m.: I toss my bag into the room and slam the door behind me and he says nothing. I suddenly remember how young we are, how little life we've lived and how wasted so much of it has been, lost to either war or misery. I reach out and take hold of his chin, pulling his mouth close to mine and pausing. "If you taste like whisky, I swear to god—" "I won't," he says in an unrecognizable voice. I part my lips with my tongue and then brush his, just slightly. He's right, there's nothing on his breath. He only tastes like peppermint toothpaste and the happiest year of my life.
12:37 a.m.: I am the one who makes it a kiss. He seems unpracticed, almost hesitant. I push him and push him and push him until I can taste the following year in the sound of his groan, the year we just survived. Here is the bitterness, the months we spent fighting followed by the ones we spent apart, and I want that. I don't want only the good parts, the oblivion and ignorance of everything to come. I don't want to ignore the pain he caused me, or the pain I caused him. I want us to share it, the two of us, the only two who will ever understand. We're already shackled to it; better we harm each other than whatever guiltless third party has the misfortune to get in the way.
12:49 a.m.: I make it rough. I make it angry. I'm shoving him hard against the wall when suddenly he breaks like glass, shattering in my hands. It's not something I can see, exactly, because his eyes are unfocused and mine are too, but I feel it. I feel something break and it cuts us both. He starts bleeding in front of me, words I can only half-understand. "She's gone, she's gone, the money couldn't save her, nothing could save her, not even magic, not even me."
12:58 a.m.: There is only one 'she' for him. There has only ever been one woman who matters enough to break him like this. I sink to the ground with him. "When?" And why wasn't it in any of the letters?
12:59 a.m.: But I know why it wasn't. This is a man who compartmentalizes himself. He is so many different fractions of a person: adoring son, shameless lothario, unequivocal success. He has no patience for weakness, least of all his own. He is exorbitantly wealthy and pathologically fucking starved. Fatherless like me, but he had something. He had something I didn't and that's what made him what he is. She's what made him what he is.
1:18 a.m.: I pull him into my arms and he stays there, both of us sprawled out on the floor. Too old for this sort of thing, and still too young. I wonder how long he's been waiting for someone to hold him. A lifetime? No, not that. Not forever, and this is the change. This is what brought him here, what changed his mind. He has always had someone to love him unconditionally and now that she's gone there will be nothing. So really, this isn't him changing his mind about me. This is really, actually, not about me, and I think that should make me angry, but at the same time it doesn't at all.
1:48 a.m.: At some point he starts talking in a fluid, dreamlike way. It was some sort of disease that affects both muggles and wizards and takes them quickly, snatching them like a thief in the night. Degeneration, B says. He says it a few times rhythmically, de-gen-er-ation. Unfortunately there's no fountain of youth, no more Philosopher's Stone, no reversal of damage, and they caught it late because B's mother loathes healers. She hated hospitals. I think all of us who lived through the war have imagined our deaths, and B and I do it again now. How will we die? In some ways B's mother wins the lottery. She was wealthy and did not have to suffer the crisis of losing her looks, which she would hate. She won't have to face her own decay. I imagine myself growing old here on the floor with B in my arms and I start to imagine how he'll look, how he'll look at me. When my hair thins, will he still want me? My father is not so very old and his hair has receded, lending a noticeable summit to his already heart-shaped face. They are alive and not alive, my parents. I have never had the chance to mourn them as B is mourning now, nor will I get a chance, because when they are gone I will only feel relief. Relief that their bodies will finally stop betraying them; that maybe wherever they've gone they can have their minds back, their love of each other and me, their memories of who they once were.
1:53 a.m.: "When?" I ask again. "The day you sent your last letter," he says numbly. I can't believe I didn't hear anything about this. I wonder if T knew. I wonder if T told B how to find me, where I was going, but then I remember that I was the one who told B, and maybe I did that on purpose. This is all fresh. A million kinds of pain in one. I hurt from my own wounds and his and we fall asleep that way on the floor, his head on my shoulder. My hand on the pulse in his chest.
4:42 a.m.: We wake stiffly and climb up to the bed, sore. He doesn't ask me to, but I curl around him and we sleep again.
5:32 a.m.: At some point I have the forest dream again, one of those quick vivid dreams where you're not fully asleep. When I wake I have no idea where I am, but the motion of B's breathing doesn't disorient me so much as make me feel like I never woke. I fall asleep again.
9:22 a.m.: I don't remember taking my shirt off, but when I wake to B looking at my skin I realize I must have just done it out of habit. Slipping into bed with him is like muscle memory, second nature. He, meanwhile, is tracing the tip of his finger over the tattoo on my side, and I know he is consuming the words rather than reading them. "Love is here in this ordinary life," he murmurs to himself, lingering over the word ordinary. He looks up to meet my eye. "I thought it would kill me to find something here," he tells me, his fingers still hovering over the words written between my ribs. "To find something of yours that was new, that I had no part in."
9:28 a.m.: I'm not so stupid that I've forgotten everything that preceded last night. Grief or no grief, this man has a tendency to have his way with me. I climb out of bed and go into the bathroom, splashing cold water on my face. My reflection is unchanged from yesterday, two days ago, which seems thoroughly inconceivable. When I return to the room, B is dressed with my bag over his shoulder, his own (much nicer than mine) held in one hand. "Where are we driving?" he asks me. I wonder if I should regret this decision. "South," I say, "and we're not using any magic." He gives me a look as if it doesn't especially interest him why I've decided something so plainly unorthodox. I think he may struggle to find interest in much of anything for some time. "Fine," he says.
10:45 a.m.: Of course B speaks German. Of course he does. I let him handle everything logistically, although all that's available is a tiny vehicle that will seat nothing more than the two of us. Even our bags have no real space, so we open the sunroof and let them perch atop each other, strapped down to the seats themselves. I accidentally enter on the driver side and wordlessly swap places with B, neither of us touching. I think we likely won't. "South?" he says. "Just find a quiet road and drive," I say.
12:34 p.m.: The sun breaks periodically through the trees as we drive and I suspect I will remember this particular silence. It is heavy with things he and I have said to each other (in letters) in the past fifteen hours or so, which is technically a conversation he's been having with me over the last year. It's strange how time works when you think of it that way, as something you can experience aside from a ticking clock. He has known for weeks, maybe months, that he would lose his mother. I have only just learned the threat of her absence and it is already too late. I have been confessing to him for months nearly every night, and while I've been doing it to temper my feelings he's been absorbing the cataclysm of bearing them, all of my thoughts pouring into his head. Eventually the sun is high above the increasingly craggier peaks and I say we must have gone too far. He nods and turns around.
2:12 p.m.: We stop to eat something. I have a terrible handle on muggle money and we can both see I've overpaid, but at this point it doesn't matter. We fill up on breaded veal cutlets and return to the road, realizing we're in Austria.
3:37 p.m.: It's possible we're driving in circles, so B stops the car in some quaint medieval town I can't pronounce without spitting. "We're walking," he says. I don't argue.
4:23 p.m.: "What will you do without her?" I ask. "Write letters I'll never send," he says drily, gesturing me toward the forest. "Shall we?" he prompts, reminding me that I've already made clear my interest in woods. "Yes," I say.
4:52 p.m.: "I'm not enjoying this," he says. I pause, looking around, and then sit down somewhere that feels meditative. "Does it feel like your dream?" he asks me. "How do you know about that?" "You told me in your letters." "I did?" "You've been dreaming of forests for months," he says. "Huh," I say, and then I admit, "No, it doesn't feel like this at all."
5:01 p.m.: "There are other forests," he says.
5:03 p.m.: I turn to him and he mirrors me. He's so very uncomfortable, I can tell. He dislikes being outside. He never understood how I could spend my time in the dirt, planting things. He enjoys the luxury of fine things, comfort. "You'll have to say goodbye to her properly," I tell him, "because fucking other people will not work in this particular case." Probably not the best time to make a joke that is clearly not a joke, but like all things of a punitive nature, B takes it. "I haven't fucked anyone in months," he says. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" I ask him. "If I'm being honest I don't actually know," he says, and shrugs. "I never understood why you gave me a chance in the first place," he adds, "when you knew exactly what I was at first glance."
5:14 p.m.: I can see what he means by that. He gave me every reason to think exceedingly little of him. He interrupted a date I was on, insulted me, demanded I owed him my attention. If someone had told me that first day when I ran into him in the lift that he would break my heart—that he would betray me and sleep around and drink like his life depended on it—I would have pointed out that the only unbelievable thing about that scenario was the detail where I let him in to begin with.
5:16 p.m.: The trouble is my life of rejection. I say yes to people who say no to me because everyone says no to me. Sometimes I think I seek it, the familiarity of feeling unwanted, and because with B that sense was merged with attraction, I couldn't stop myself from diving in. Maybe if my mother and father had not been tortured beyond recognition they would have taught me to value myself, to only accept love that was good and kind and well-meaning. Instead I said yes to love that was…
5:18 p.m.: "It was good," I say, changing my mind. Clearing my throat. B looks up, bemused. "It went bad between us, don't get me wrong," I explain quickly, "but I gave you a chance because you saw me as something to be won, not a problem to be solved." What's to be done about him? was the question everyone else had asked for my entire life, and B had been the one to give me an answer I could live with: Nothing. He is what he is and there is no apology to be made for that. So to my own questions—Why do I exist?—I temporarily had an answer, too. I don't know why but I don't care. I exist in orbit to this man and that, for me, is enough.
5:20 p.m.: "I spoiled your trust," B murmurs. "Because of me you'll accept less than you deserve." "Not true," I say with a bitter laugh, because I'm not entirely without self-awareness. "I accept whatever anyone will give me," I remind him, adding, "I always have."
5:23 p.m.: He lunges towards me and I startle, but he only takes my face between his palms. "Don't say that," he says, pained. "Don't say that, please. Please."
5:26 p.m.: He releases me from his burst of either remorse or affection and turns away. I rise to my feet, not wanting to prolong our mutual discomfort. "Let's walk," I say.
5:35 p.m.: Within ten minutes of walking I tire of it. It's a bit sticky-hot, even at this time of day, even though it's unseasonable warmth. My feet hurt. My legs are stiff. My stomach growls for more breaded meats or maybe sausage, or whatever it is Germans eat. Or maybe we're in Austria. "Let's go back," I say. Cabbage, I think. Probably cabbage.
7:13 p.m.: We make our way to the car and then check into a small inn, a family-run sort of place. They happily make us precisely the meal I was expecting, which B eats without much enjoyment. His comfort food is caviar, I think to myself, and then I begin chuckling. My laughter grows, devolving until I'm shaking with it, and suddenly tears prick my eyes. B watches me with a bewildered frown. "Your comfort food is caviar," I explain, tears still in my eyes and I can hardly breathe, but he swallows guiltily. Then suddenly I can no longer laugh.
8:01 p.m.: We go back to our room and each sit on our own beds. "I did actually say goodbye to her," B tells me. "It's what I've been doing the last few weeks, saying goodbye." Now I understand his last letter to me: I won't say goodbye to you, I won't. "I suppose that's growth," I say to him.
8:03 p.m.: "It will be an ordinary life now," he says softly to himself, and I know he is thinking of the words L tattooed on my ribs.
8:05 p.m.: What I wouldn't give for an ordinary life. For two parents. For the serenity to accept my stable job, my decent work. For a childhood without trauma, an adolescence without war. What I wouldn't give to have heard my mother tell me even once that she loved me; for her to recognize my face, which has always been so like hers, as something she brought into this world. I want to tell B that his life is not made ordinary simply for his loss, but I don't think I even understand what ordinary is anymore.
8:14 p.m.: We sit in silence and I watch a single tear roll down B's cheek. A single tear, like a work of art. An aria in motion. He has never cried in front of me, not even while drunk. I've cried in front of him many times. I've wept from frustration and anger, and I suppose that's a gift I have. I am not empty, I have never been vacant. But whatever he's been drinking and fucking to mend has caught up with him now, and here it is: one tear to mourn the loss of his mother. I am all he has left and he doesn't even have me.
8:22 p.m.: Except, of course, that he does.
8:23 p.m.: "We're not going to fuck," I tell him, but I'm already crawling into bed with him, I'm already kissing him, I'm already letting him fumble with my clothes. One fucking tear and I'm so hard I can't see straight. He looks vulnerable and beautiful in his sadness and I admit, in my weaker moments I have wished guilt on him, I've wished misfortune, but now I understand I've never actually wished him pain. I think I always knew he had plenty of it without my help, wherever it came from. Whatever it was he needed in his life, I wanted him to take it from me. Maybe because I always knew I was the stronger of us both.
8:34 p.m.: We're naked and pressed together, touching and gasping, spite and nostalgia, his tongue darting into my mouth like a plea. There's nothing refined about this and it's unclear if it's even an act of sex; are we just pressing ourselves together? It's some desperate attempt to morph into one thing, to bleed from my boundaries to his. He's hard against my hip and I'm pressed to his stomach and intensity mounts, urgency pairing with friction. We move along the same tides and he comes first, dry sobs fermenting in my mouth. My sweat-slicked forehead drops to his. He needs me and I need his need; it arouses me, I admit it. This is what I know about love: unlike everyone else that I have ever known, my love never runs dry.
9:15 p.m.: We clean ourselves up and he follows me into the shower, drops to his knees. I'm not going to come again this soon and eventually he leans against my thigh, sighing while the water spills over him. He wraps his arms around my hips and I rest my hand on his head, both of us holding still like this is some kind of fucked up baptism. I know I shouldn't sleep in his bed but I'm going to. I'm going to, I know.
10:01 a.m.: We sleep in, but there's toast available for breakfast. We take some back to our room, where B asks me if I want to keep driving or go back to the woods or what. I tell him let's just stay here. He asks me if I mean the town or the inn and I say no, right here. I pull him back to bed and we fall asleep again instantly. I have always slept well in his arms.
1:03 p.m.: We sleep like the dead. We sleep like we've never slept before in our lives. Every hour or so we wake and turn over, readjust. I'm hungry, but only for more sleep, dozing off like I've been starving for whatever renewal this might bring. I don't know what specifically I'm regenerating right now but it feels important, feels paramount. I don't have dreams. I dream of nothing and I sleep so hard my head pounds. At some point B stretches to his feet and returns with some water. He whispers to me that we can sleep until dinner and I nod, drifting off again like I've been drugged.
5:43 p.m.: This time, B is ravenous at dinner and I remember that I know what his comfort food actually is. Mushroom risotto, his mother's one good recipe. Her third husband was insistent she learn to cook but all she did was learn one thing and make it over and over. Husband Number 3 was less than pleased, but B devoured it, his mother's risotto. It was creamy and buttery and he made it for me after an especially productive day of sex. It was very similar to this day, actually, in that we didn't leave the bed for anything but food. I was on my sabbatical then, so I had all the time in the world to discover all the possibilities of sex. The ways it felt good and the ways it felt aggressively acrobatic. The ways it felt intimate and the ways it felt like maybe too much, like maybe if we kept going precisely that way, then I'd chain myself to his bed and never leave. At the end of that day he cooked me his mother's risotto and poured me a glass of wine and played me his favorite opera, and he sang to me, Nessun Dorma, and I felt my heart puncture with the knowledge that I was irreversibly tied to him. Forever one of his threads.
6:49 p.m.: We wander down the cobbled street and buy a bottle of wine, something French that I let B pick out. When we return to the house we don't feel comfortable asking the owners for glasses or whatever tool muggles use to open bottles, so B somehow manages to shove the cork into the wine and we drink it guiltily, shushing each other like badly behaved schoolboys. It occurs to me he probably hates that we're at a muggle establishment but then I remember what he said—not even magic could save her—and I think this is a different B than before, or that maybe B is someone different all the time. We were so good before I left to go back to Hogwarts. I remember that, how in love with him I was, how dazed with happiness, but there was something else, some other raw thing I couldn't salvage. I had to go back, I thought at the time. I don't know what I was thinking. Here, kissing B on the stairs while he dribbles red wine into my mouth, I honestly can't remember.
7:32 p.m.: He undresses me and I let him. He pulls me on top of him and I let him. He reaches over for the wine and I don't feel angry. This isn't the same as before, this isn't a compulsion, the sip he takes is just to marinate this moment in a hint of bittersweetness, drenching it in our malingering haze. He doesn't feel compelled to finish the bottle and neither do I, shimmying down his abdomen until my legs are half off the mattress. He's so hard my mouth waters and I take him deep, up to the back of my throat, glancing up only when I hear him swear.
7:41 p.m.: He holds one hand over his mouth, panting into his palm, gripping the headboard with his free hand. I let my hands roam, touching him everywhere, stroking my thumb precisely where I know he'll come undone. Then my mouth travels, too, and my kisses linger, my tongue beginning a conversation that unravels him, loosening a coil of tension from the inside out. I haven't been with anyone in months. I thought about it not long ago with the friend who came to visit, but truthfully there's less satisfaction when it isn't B. He always finishes dramatically, choking down the sound of it, going boneless and limp. I never feel more powerful than when I've made B come, like he's helpless to it. Like I've made him weak for me, and as a rule weakness is something he cannot abide.
8:23 p.m.: He whispers to me that I know what he wants and I do. I do, I always do. Even when I hardly knew what I wanted from a man, I still knew how to touch B. I still understood the way he wanted me to fill him. There were other times and other ways, times I wanted to be the one feeling him, but I can tell this one is my turn. He'll expect me to fuck him, but I won't. I will love him, because that's what I do. Because I love him, and that's what he wants.
8:31 p.m.: I hardly last. It doesn't matter. I'm forgiving him. He must have known I would, or maybe he knows I forgave him a long time ago. Maybe he knows I will always forgive him and maybe that's weak, but I don't care. Is it wrong to be worth loving simply because my loyalty is never held over his head like a threat? I won't retract it, I won't deny it, not if this is what he wants. I'm not the Boy Who Lived and it's not my job to get things right. If all I am is a man who won't be talked out of love, then so fucking be it. If there is nothing remarkable about me except for how deeply I care, then let it be that.
9:01 p.m.: I've forgotten how many days it's been since I told him I was saying goodbye. I've lost interest since then in being healthy or being whole. "We can go anywhere you want," B says, "anywhere except for backwards." I want to laugh. "You'll come to Hogwarts with me?" "If you want me to." "You'll get bored there." "Tie me to your bed, then. I'll behave." He nips at my shoulder and I catch his jaw, sliding my fingers around his teeth. "I don't want to go backwards," I say, and then because that's not quite it, I say, "I don't want to go back." He looks up at me and waits for me to finish and I tell him the truth, "It's not working. It's not this."
9:11 p.m.: He rears up in alarm. "It's not this?" "Stop, that's not that I meant," I sigh, pulling him back to me and securing my legs around his, locking him into me. "I meant… this, the way I'm living my life, it's not working and I don't want to go back."
9:13 p.m.: He goes serious. He falls silent. I think for a second he's asleep when he says, "If I have to spend the rest of my life helping you search for whatever makes your life feel like it's working, I'll do it." "What if all I want to do is be alive?" I ask him, and then I press, "What if I don't want to put down roots at all? What if all I want is to float around, expanding?" He considers it. "I have a lot of very marketable skills," he says. "I can make money anywhere, anytime."
9:15 p.m.: His arrogance is a spectacle to behold, but he's right. He's a publicist, an illusionist. That sort of thing can be done from anywhere, magical or otherwise. "Am I an idiot to trust you this time?" I ask him, and this time I pull away just in case. Just in case I have to feel him lie, which I know is a very real possibility.
9:20 p.m.: He sits upright. The sheets are so very quaint and they look silly wrapped around his dark hips, the elegant angles of his torso. "I can't promise I'll always make you happy," he says slowly. I nod. "I can't promise we won't fight." Another nod. "I can't make any promises about forever." "This is not a strong start," I point out to him. "I know," he says slowly, "but here's what I can promise."
9:25 p.m.: "I promise I'll never forget your birthday or the day that we first kissed. I promise we'll get up early on occasion, just often enough to remind ourselves how it feels to rise with the sun. I promise to give your life meaning, to never let it go dull. I promise to believe you when you tell me I matter, to give more to you than I take. I promise if I ever go to bed angry, I'll do it in your bed. I promise that every day you spend with me," he says, reaching for my hand, "I'll find some way to show you that you are loved. And if that's enough for you, if you can accept it, I promise, I won't prove you wrong. I choose life with you," he tells me. "I choose life. I won't prove you wrong."
9:30 p.m.: How problematic we are together. How little sense we make. How unfortunate that we're the sort of people who could fuck this up ninety-nine times out of a hundred and still, we always seem to take that unlikely shot.
11:35 p.m.: "The rest of the world will be mourning her tomorrow," he confesses to me in a low voice. He is an escape artist of sorts, so naturally he took the very first opportunity to run away when he could. I can't really be angry with him; spontaneity is clearly something we have in common. "Then I guess we know what we're doing tomorrow," I tell him, both of us already drifting to sleep.
12:02 a.m.: Tonight my sleep is dreamless. I guess if I'd paid better attention in Divination, I'd have pieced together that I wasn't dreaming about literal woods. I still feel like I'm seeking something—that idle sense of incompletion hasn't gone away—but it doesn't… hurt as much? If that's possible at all. I may still be searching, but I no longer feel the pressure in my chest of being lost. It feels like the dream itself: alarming, but not in a bad way. Like I'm gradually pulling back the veil on something I can't yet see.
9:00 a.m.: I'd been enjoying our little experiment without magic, but only apparition will get us back to London in time. B is quiet this morning, understandably. He puts on a suit and hands me one of his and I don't argue. I don't think anything he says about his mother should be recorded here, since that's his story. But then he sits beside me and takes my hand, and that is part of mine.
1:30 p.m.: I can tell he doesn't want to linger. There are many adoring fans sobbing over the loss of a woman only B truly knew, so I take him to the one place I need to go before we leave.
1:34 p.m.: "Mum, Dad, this is B—," I say, introducing them. Both my mother and father look at me like something half-remembered from a dream; like I might be one of the healers that usually attends them, or maybe someone they've crossed paths with a few times. Which I am. I'm their son, obviously, and what I am is built upon their absence as much as it is their blood, but I am older now than they were ever really allowed to get. I'm grown now, a stranger they don't actually know. I have the life that was taken from them, though I feel less sad about that than usual. I don't know what it's like to love a child, but with B beside me, I think I understand how this is what they fought for in the end. My right to be unremarkable; the privilege of my ordinary life.
5:56 p.m.: B and I point to a spot on the globe and make our way to a muggle airport, which is… overwhelming. But I am not afraid of being overwhelmed. I don't have a sense of greatness; I'm not the Chosen One, I never was. All I have is the same longing everyone has—the need to anchor myself in this world that is so much bigger and more complex than me. To seek it is natural, to be scared is unavoidable. There's a lot to be said for having the courage to rise each morning and live.
6:04 p.m.: I am a man who loves fearlessly, and for that I am loved in return. That alone is remarkable, extraordinary. I am young and healthy and all the world is at my feet. That, too, is a blessing, a gift. Why do I exist? Because there is something extraordinary to be discovered every day, and if no one else is recording it, why shouldn't it be me? Maybe no one will write books about my life or remember me long after I'm gone, but because I exist, there is one less lonely man in the world; one more group of students who've learned what it means to help something grow. Maybe tomorrow there will be someone else who will change irreversibly, beyond recognition, solely because my life coincided with theirs. Maybe not.
6:15 p.m.: B's fingers brush my side and I know he is thinking about the words there; the secret that the universe told L, which she so generously shared with me. I think about the fact that so long as I know it—so long as I never keep it to myself—then I will always exist for something.
7:29 p.m.: Somehow, L gave me an answer in the form of a mission.
7:30 p.m.: Love is here in this ordinary life. In this extraordinary life, there is love.
a/n: And now, officially, we're done.