MUSIC, when soft voices die,His hands gripped the armrests tightly, painfully, his aging bones protesting the abuse, but he was quite unable to unclench them.
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken;
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap'd for the belovèd's bed:
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.Percy Bysshe Shelley
This was a terrible mistake.
He'd known that the second the cellist had drawn the bow across the strings and the stark, open harmony had seared across his nerve-endings, harsh and minor and waking all the despair he'd felt in the past five months, but thought he'd begun to master.
He shouldn't be here.
Ordinarily, he wouldn't be: it was term-time, and he should be in the Great Hall as he'd been for the past twenty-five years, at the Halloween Feast, overseeing his charges and basking in the satisfaction of their safety -- at least insofar as that was possible, given the great and recent cost of it. But Headmaster had called him in over summer hol and said, "I think you're due for Sabbatical -- you've earned it," and would not be persuaded that what he needed was work.
There was nothing left to go back to other than the work, after all. Nothing but an empty house, or his brother's establishment which he could barely tolerate, either, as it had its own memories.
I want nothing so much as to find a nice, secluded cave, crawl into it, and go to sleep, he thought as the solo cello sang a long, minor scale upward until the orchestra joined it. To sleep forever, if possible.
His brother had taken one look at him this morning -- the gaunt cheeks, reddened eyes, unkempt beard -- and muttered, "Oh, Merlin's -- look, shall we go to Edinburgh tonight? Do something?"
"London," he'd heard himself reply, and his brother had started.
"Are you sure that's --"
"London," he'd said more firmly. "Perhaps there'll be a concert tonight. Or the cinema. Anything, really, I don't much care what."
And his brother, sighing, had granted the wish, and recklessly abandoned his business to the mercies of the slovenly bar-maid and the kitchen-elf, just to accompany him.
His feet had automatically taken him to Queen's Hall -- and they'd stood, shocked, staring at the hoardings that blocked the view of the burnt-out shell. He hadn't known it was gone. The past three years hadn't left time for pleasure trips to London, and he raged at that, too -- for every second he'd had to squander on the bloody war had been one less second he had to spend with her, just as time was running out.
He'd never understood, really, that this would happen. Intellectually he had, of course, had known she would likely be the first to leave, despite his age. But it had been unexpected and brutal. He hadn't sensed that it was coming.
He'd once said quite truthfully and sincerely, if unthinkingly, that he'd rather be happy no matter how long it lasted. Well, the gods had heard him and provided happiness in abundance. The only shadow over their life had been the absence of children -- of their own, that is, for he'd begun teaching, and so had she, with the youngest in Hogsmeade: her students had been drawn to her shy gravity and sweet, low voice just as he had, and she'd taught them their letters and a love of reading. Several of his students, back in the Great Hall, were the legacy of her unexpected gift for teaching, and he'd rejoiced in that, and taken to thinking of them, particularly, as their children.
But the gods had heard the other bit of his statement, too, and he hadn't realised that the pain would be this great, bone-deep ache.
It was his fault, really. He'd been selfish: when the danger had presented itself he'd listened to her arguments to stay and, conditioned by twenty-six years of respect for her wishes and his own unabated love and desire, he'd kept her there, precisely where his enemy could find her most easily.
Grindelwald's agents hadn't even bothered to muck about -- just thrown one simple, terrible curse. They'd known no amount of pain they might inflict on her could make his grief any sharper, his anger any greater. They'd intruded, they'd cornered, they'd killed, and left immediately. It had been sufficient.
He supposed he ought be grateful for that Teutonic commitment to efficiency. She probably hadn't suffered, beyond a few seconds' terror.
Twenty-six years. Twenty-six years, out of a lifetime he currently reckoned at one hundred-four.
He sat, quite lost in these thoughts, until the Third Movement -- quiet and sweet -- began to calm him; by the Fourth Movement he'd regained some composure and his hands had relaxed, the knuckles aching from the tension they'd been held in for nearly forty minutes.
The audience applauded, the lights rose in the auditorium, and he became aware of his brother's hand on his own -- his brother's a bit frailer, more fragile, concerned, and yet, somehow, stronger.
"You knew, didn't you?" he asked him as the audience began to file out around them.
"You don't really want me to answer that, do you?" his brother replied quietly.
"I suppose not," he admitted. "I hope you understand that I've never envied you that -- the knowing, I mean. What the devil of a decision -- say something and risk spoiling the happiness, or watch it all play out, knowing there's not a blasted thing you can do."
"Precisely. I, on the other hand, have always envied your ability to take what good you can, and move on."
He snorted. "Not very subtle, Brother."
"Wasn't meant to be." His brother squeezed his hand again and then patted it before releasing him. "I didn't know the specifics, in any case," he added so softly that the man had to strain to hear him. "Just that you'd... be in a great deal of pain, far sooner than you expected."
"Ah. I'm glad you didn't say, then."
"That last thing was nice," his brother said more cheerily (well, as cheerily as he ever got), determined to change the subject.
"Elgar," he said absently. "I missed most of it. Can't say I appreciated it much."
"Huh. Don't think I've heard him, before," his brother said, aspiring to a musical literacy he most certainly did not possess.
The man laughed.
"Yes, you have -- she played the Variations on the gramaphone all the time."
So much for changing the subject.
"Want to stop in at the Bull and Bush?" his brother said, making another attempt.
"No. No, I think I want to pop back and see if Headmaster's still up," he said thoughtfully. "I know he wants me to take another two months, but...."
"But perhaps he's frustrated enough with everything that he'll have you back early?"
They smiled wryly at each other, and rose and gathered up their coats.
"Besides, I've been hanging about your place too long."
"I don't mind that."
"I know you don't, but if I have to watch that bloody swan seduce poor Leda one more time, I shall blast him out of the frame."
"I'd have to charge you for that, you know. I could move the goat upstairs, and put Leda over the bar," his brother offered.
"No, you couldn't. You'd miss the bugger and be barging into the room at all hours to polish it," the man groused as they exited the Royal Albert Hall.
(He didn't mind his brother barging in, actually. It had been a nightly event, for a while, when the loneliness had got too bad, and his brother would sit beside the bed and hold his hand, to offer what comfort he could.)
"I think," he said as they walked along, "I shall ask Headmaster if there are rooms available."
"Probably sensible. You're next up for Head of House, in any event."
"You won't give up the lease on Heart's Solace, though?"
"No, not yet. I don't think I'm ready to let go of that."
"Good. It's a good investment, best hang on to it."
The man had a curious feeling that his brother didn't mean a financial investment, but left it at that; and they walked down the blackout-darkened streets of London, talking quietly, until they found a good Apparition point and popped home.
Notes for E minor
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