I am forty-two years old today.
Given that I know I'm going to die three weeks shy of my eight-fourth birthday, this year is something of a half-way house. It reminds me of the turning of the seasons on the twenty-first days of December and June -- of knowing that the year is either getting colder or warmer from hereon in. I'm told that I should expect this to be the winter of my life, but for some reason I feel like I'm living in a perpetual summer solstice.
I've already survived all the hideous things I predicted for myself. The death of my wife at the hands of one of Zabini's Breakthrough lynch mobs. Losing my eldest son to that same party of delusional rebels, from his warped sense of duty. The decline of my mother after finding my father in bed with another two women. She coped -- even someone without my abilities could have foreseen that -- but she was not spared months of embittering grief.
I feel that my role in the world at large has played itself out. Seers do not just happen upon the earth by chance. We are drawn to the troubled times of history. Or perhaps the troubled times are heralded by us; perhaps we even usher them in. Little wonder that we are as equally reviled as we are respected, or that people often thought they could stop the tide of evil events with our blood.
I trust that I do not need to regale my paltry audience with events of the last twenty-odd years. I am not quite old enough to have outlived anyone who suffered through them by my side. It will be some time before people can look back on them with objective indifference; I cannot predict if they ever will. Like I said, my powers have much diminished, starting with the day Blaise Zabini -- the self-styled Leader General of the Breakthrough Party -- died.
Let us simply state the obvious: Zabini was a madman who was lucid enough to sway too many others to his cause. No one knows what it is like to fight a war on two fronts until one is standing between the powerful bigot who wants to control your people, and the Muggles one has to protect from him. I cannot count how many people returned home from patching up the scenes of a roust between Zabini's Breakers and an innocent, confused group of Muggles, to find their own homes destroyed by another battalion of the same men.
I was not the only one who despaired of ever toppling this loathsome dictator. Not one of the hundreds of plans we put into operation against him came to fruition. He was just too good for us. But not, it transpired, better than his killer.
We know little about her. Only two other people were in the same building as Blaise Zabini and Gytha Holt on the day she assassinated him. They did not see her arrive. They did not see her leave. In fact, they didn't discover his body for hours.
Some say she was trained by an Auror, but I doubt that. Those Aurors that Blaise did not rally or coerce to his side he slaughtered without mercy. Unless she chooses to come forward with her story, I think she will forever remain a mystery. Speaking as someone who saw what she did to Blaise -- both before and after he was dead -- I rather hope that she will not.
Under duress, I once did try to get a read of Gytha Holt. It drained me for days, and all I was left with was an image of a chubby, gurgling baby. It had a perfect heart-shaped bruise on its forehead. I maintain to this day that it is simply one of the things we are not supposed to know. I can tell you, though, that the name Gytha means 'war.' I do not think that is a coincidence.
As for my own history, well, that is less well-documented. My mother was a passing wily woman. She soon recovered from the shock of finding that her son was a Seer and moved to protect me from the inevitable backlash. She used her own considerable powers of persuasion and that of her influential friends to force the entire corps of Aurors and employees of the Department of Mysteries into signing a secrecy agreement about my powers. It might even have worked, had not my visions started manifesting themselves in ever more violent and public forms as I grew older.
People do not like to be told the time, place and manner of their deaths. I discovered this on my first day at Hogwarts, with my head flushed down a toilet. I learned -- with difficulty, but I learned -- to be extremely circumspect about the information I revealed. The girls with shining eyes and hair who wanted to know if the class Lothario had ever noticed them -- did I have the right to tell them of the evil that lurked in their futures, of those who would suffer at their hands, at the losses they would themselves endure? I didn't think so, even without the mental influence of the friendly neighbourhood bullies.
When I was a child, the visions came thick and fast. All I had to do was concentrate, just to the level another child would use to read a picture book or colour a painting, and there they were. They flocked to me, swarmed around my brain, chattered in my ears till I threw pillows at nothing in order to sleep. From studies conducted on and by me, and my own personal opinion, I think that this is due to the natural openness to new experiences that all children display. Little girls and boys dream of princesses in tiaras, dashing sword-fights, vanquishing dragons and having enough money to buy all the ice-cream in the world. As we grow up we realise how ludicrous these ambitions are, so we shut ourselves off from them -- usually, forever.
I was no different. Talking to beings from another astral plane, and hearing their tales of fantastical places that I later realised were the past, simply did not happen -- so, after a time, these spirits left me be. I still regret that.
By the time I was twenty I had to consciously put myself into a trance to evoke the visions. I travelled all over the world, learning esoteric practices from shamans and witch-doctors in remote corners of vanishing rainforests and expanding deserts. I drank so many poisons that I stained my fingernails and the whites of my eyes black, and all of my hair fell out. It grew back as dark as my eyebrows, interspersed with odd tufts of blonde, like the coat of a piebald badger.
I cannot say whether or not the concoctions worked. Increasingly, the visions arrived when they would and stayed for however long they chose. I no longer had any control over them. For their part, they were far less interested in my personal fate than I was. I was thirty-two when I had the last vision pertaining to myself. It was disappointingly trite, revealing only that I was due to get a bout of diarrhoea from the guava fruit juice with which I was currently enamoured.
Naturally, I made a comfortable living peddling fortunes to those too stupid to realise how little they wanted to hear them. It surprised most people to be told they were guaranteed to dislike the news about their future, even when it was good.
I still don't know how any of it works. I told one man he was going to be killed by a dragon on a trip to Romania; he cancelled the trip and lives on today, doing a steady business in magical fertiliser. I warned Charlie Weasley that his next broom ride would be fatal. He laughed it off, saying that he'd had every possible safety spell installed on his state-of-the-art Lightening Strike. Perhaps he had, but the manufacturers had not been so vigilant. Not even wizards can survive fifty-feet drops on to concrete from brooms that go to pieces in mid-air.
So, it would appear that free will is alive and well. Perhaps what I see are the important branches in life. Not every decision you make is going to significantly affect the course of your existence. A scant few, on the other hand, make history. Your history.
What if Voldemort had not been abandoned in an orphanage? What if Snape had not killed Dumbledore? What if Harry had recovered his magic? On a more hackneyed note, what if my mother had not married my father but instead wed the love of her life, Ron Weasley? I certainly got glimpses of all those futures in potentia. (I had red hair.) I cannot claim with any authority if they happened 'somewhere else' or not. All I know is that they did not happen here. Or if you like, think of it this way: even if your vision is twenty-twenty, you cannot see what is happening behind you -- unless you turn around.
Blaise Zabini wanted me to tell him a number of things. When would he die, and how? I think he hoped to circumvent this occurrence by killing the man whose hand turned against him. He also wanted me to predict his enemies' movements, reveal choice information about their whereabouts and help him outwit them at every turn.
My wife was the price I paid for my refusal.
I still wonder, sometimes, if Blaise wasn't right on some particulars. I often resent concealing my true nature when I walk down Oxford Street. Once or twice I've been taken to a Muggle hospital in the midst of a prophetic seizure and have had to pretend I have epilepsy. Yet -- I don't think any magical coup is worth the bones of one Diagon Alley street-sweeper. That is where Blaise and I had a difference of opinion.
Besides which, it is I walking down Oxford Street, not the other way around. Those Muggles who -- through their association with Muggleborn wizards -- have been inducted into the secret of our world, have never sought to infiltrate it. Granted, their motives were not wholly pure. None of their compatriots would believe cock and bull stories about a school for witchcraft, flying brooms and wands that turned water into wine. To their credit, however, none of them have ever so much as tried.
I believe Muggles call a neighbour-against-neighbour war a 'civil' one. The term is rather a misnomer.
There is nothing particularly civil about being interrogated by your own son, having him demand in words frothed with spittle why you refuse to bow to the will of his great leader. Blaise, although fond of physical contact himself, never allowed his sergeants to indulge. I once thought it was from a tiny, residual sense of honour. Now I realise he knew how very much crueller it was to simply see your own blood turned against you. He had plenty of hot-headed adolescents among his ranks -- each and every one brainwashed into supporting the justice of his 'cause,' not one of whom would have hesitated to point their wands at their own kin should Blaise have asked it of them.
Equally, I would not call it civil to have a man die at his brother's hands.
Stefano Aribas was in training to be an Auror when Blaise came to power. He defected rather than bow to Blaise's rule, and joined the Resistance. I met him several years later when I myself joined. One thing led to another after I asked him about his curiously familiar appearance. (I, as you may imagine, never forget a face.)
Draco Malfoy may have been one of the very first victims of Blaise's reign of terror, but he was not the last. When Stefano discovered that his brother Alexandre was passing classified information from the Spanish Ministry of Magic to Blaise's Breakthrough cells in Spain, his grief was terrible. So was his revenge.
As I understand it, there was more than mere brotherly affection bonding those two together. And more than fraternal discord killed them. After Stefano cursed his brother so that his heart would explode in his chest, he remained to watch him die. At the last moment, he kissed Alexandre goodbye -- and died from the Deadly Nightshade that coated his lips. They died in each other's arms. Perhaps they would have wanted it that way.
Unlike many of my more optimistic friends, I never thought that the trouble would end with Blaise's death. But I am glad he is dead. Now, perhaps, for a short while, we can heal. Until it is time to fight again.
However, my cynical diatribe was not the reason I sought to examine my role in these troubled times. Blaise's plan to use Harry Potter as a pawn fell through with Harry's disappearance. As a result, Blaise retreated for a time to lick his wounds, only to re-surface more fanatical than ever the month after I finished school. By then, he didn't need any pseudo-hero to hide behind. In the years that followed, the world all but forgot the strange and absurdly tragic existence of Harry Potter.
I did not. It was not my lot to do so, when every now and again I caught glimpses of him in my dreams. Before anyone jumps to conclusions: no. I don't know where he is. I never did. I know all the theories, all the suppositions, all the wild hopes. That is why I refuse to content myself with anything but fact.
The first fact: Harry was never comfortable with his notoriety. Having experienced a little of it myself, I completely concur with his dismissal of fame. Besides which, even my seven-year-old self could see that Harry was not the paragon the world desired him to be. He was cranky when he woke up, he swore when he stubbed his toe, he was given to sulks and fits of temper that would have shamed a two-year-old. He was no less a good man for these faults, but the world did not want a good man. It wanted a perfect one.
The second fact: Harry knew all along that Draco Malfoy was masquerading as a Spanish reporter. How? Because I told him. I told him the very first day.
At the time Harry wasn't aware of the extent of my powers -- neither was I, come to that. But I knew enough to warn him when the researchers were coming over to prod and poke him, so that he could pretend to be asleep. I anticipated his thirsts and hungers before he felt them, and knew what to fetch to sate them before he asked. He may have thought me astute, but little more than that. More important was the fact that, by the time Michel Rodriguez appeared on the scene, Harry trusted my judgement implicitly.
Not long before Harry left for good, he was told by the Aurors and magical researchers that excess amounts of magic were toxic to Muggles. What he wasn't told was that his extended stay in a highly magical environment -- St Mungo's -- had drastically lowered his immune defences. It explained why he was so weak and ill all the time he was awake.
While the researchers couldn't begin to address the problem of filling the emptied stocks of Harry's magic, they were intelligent enough to locate the cause of his poor resistance. As a result, Harry's room was stripped bare of all the basic magic that is inherent in wizard buildings, as well as the wards and warning devices added later. The Aurors were cautioned to cast spells only when absolutely necessary and to keep visitors to a minimum to aid them in this. In any other room in the hospital so well guarded by Dark Wizard captors, Draco's thin disguise would have been penetrated in seconds. I later interviewed some who claimed acquaintance with him; all claimed such shoddy planning was characteristic of Draco and was mainly due to his overblown confidence.
Of course, I didn't know this at the time. I found out later, from my mother, who had her finger in countless pies. I don't know if Harry was ever told but, somehow, I doubt it.
The third fact: I was the one who engaged Blaise Zabini to locate Draco Malfoy and tell him of Harry's awakening, in the hopes of fetching him back to England. I did so in my mother's name, after picking Zabini's enterprise out of the Lemon Pages. I little thought that Blaise would be such a powerfully negative influence on all our lives. All I knew was that picking him was what I was going to do well before I did it. I also knew that Harry would need Malfoy. What for, I am still not sure.
When I first saw the man who introduced himself as Michel, I was heartily puzzled as to why the man beside him was being so totally ignored. He was blonde and slight, his pointed face as different from Michel's swarthy handsomeness as it was possible to be. When I next got Harry alone, I asked him why he'd refused to speak to the blonde man.
I won't detail the tedious exchanges that led to Harry's identification of my 'ghost' as Draco Malfoy, nor the subterfuges necessary for me to liberate a wand and, following Harry's instructions, run tests that would ascertain if Michel Rodriguez was who he claimed he was.
That is where the realm of fact ends and the kingdom of fantasy begins. I didn't know Draco Malfoy from Adam. Taunting him with my knowledge amused me, but I possessed a seven-year-old's view of why Harry concealed Draco's true identity -- in other words, I had no idea. There was no doubt that they struck up a curious friendship. There was no doubt, either, that seeing his secrets and apparent 'deception' by Draco Malfoy spread all over the Daily Prophet hurt Harry more than he was ever likely to show.
Was Harry simply tired of his life as a research subject and object of pity?
His bank vault, later found to be cleared of every Knut, had contained enough money to allow him to live the life of several kings even when converted into Muggle currency. Hair dye, contact lenses, clothes, aeroplane tickets, even plastic surgery; these are easy to obtain when you have limitless funds. Harry had the cash and wherewithal to stay hidden for the rest of his life, and that's pretty much what he did.
Did Harry's closest friends, Ginny Wood, Ron Weasley and my mother, miss him?
Of course they did, terribly so. Just as they'd mourned for him eight years before when he was as good as dead to them. His awakening was a miracle -- a reprieve for which they'd long since learned to cease hoping. Given time, they would have adjusted to having him back from the living dead. Then again, when that time was taken from them, it was easy enough to pretend it had never been. For eight years they'd learned to live without him. Ginny had lost a lover; Ron and my mother, a mediator and friend. They'd done their grieving and their coping. Eight years was good practice for the next forty. We can all vouch for that.
Did Harry die?
That one's easy enough. If Harry made sure to stay well away from anything magical, he would remain reasonably healthy. The question of whether he could bear to do that is far more difficult to answer.
Did Draco really betray Harry?
It depends on what the questioner means by 'betrayal.' When you are seventeen and your world is falling down around you, when your parents are in mortal danger and you are the only one who can save them -- what price betrayal then? Draco hardly knew Harry when he hated him. In two weeks in a hospital ward, he got to know him better than almost anyone. He could still have betrayed him, but why would he have waited to send his story to press? To complete his devastation of Harry's heart? Or because he didn't do it?
Every written word is open to interpretation. That's why I'll tuck in here a little something that has been in my possession these last thirty-eight years. There was no signature and no magical read on the letter when it was delivered to me during the Christmas of my first year at Hogwarts. I'm not inclined to discover the identity of the sender. Either way, this is what it said. Make of it what you will.
Who is Harry Potter?
He is a hero, say some. Others would declare him a blood-traitor and despise him for destroying wizarding kind's last chance of redemption. Few members of the latter group are still in a position to speak their views. Those acting in Harry Potter's name made sure of that.
I don't think he's a hero. I never did, not from the first moment I met him. I saw him as an advantage, a mark to be gained. Later, I saw him as a closed door -- a representative of the biggest failure of my life to date.
My opinion of his hero-status has not faltered, even as I came to damn well like the man. Heroes are, in their ideal state, dead. Harry Potter is very much alive. He is inclined to be tempestuous, to argue with those who think they know better than him (or even actually do), to question authority and generally act like a complete fool. He has flashes of insight and flashes of idiocy in equal measures. He has never been in love, yet he knows how to love better than anyone I know.
I have spent two weeks with Harry Potter. In that time I went from despising him as an attention seeker, to feeling pity for his miserable state, to ending my judgement of him forever because he was my friend.
If I'd ever been a truthful man, I'd have sent this article to a newspaper. After all, I ferreted my way into Harry Potter's good graces by posing as a journalist. In the end, however, I discovered that I wanted to divulge details of this man about as much as I'd like to have my sexual prowess rated on the front page of the Daily Prophet. I knew so much about Harry Potter by the end of two weeks that I couldn't even begin to list all of it. Perhaps I still could have done so if it were not for one thing -- one very important thing.
And it is: everything I learned about Harry Potter ended up tying him to me. Where he ends and I begin is impossible to tell. Not only good memories and happy ones, but every crabbed and unworthy thought he thinks could just as easily have been thought by me. As I have no wish to reveal myself so conclusively for public consumption, I could not possibly do the same to Harry Potter.
Perhaps I loved him for those two weeks. Perhaps I only fooled myself. Perhaps I was revealed to myself in my entirety and was so consumed by it that I confused those feelings with any I had for Harry Potter.
I think he loved me, a little.
Heroes cannot love that way, though. I am not a virginal maiden, nor even a man worthy of any honest emotion. I don't wish for it. I never cared for responsibility. I would never have wished loving Harry Potter on my worst enemy.
Then again, my worst enemy was Harry Potter.
If Rita Skeeter were here now, I'd have one thing to tell her, and one thing only.
Harry Potter wears red boxers.
Did Harry run to Draco when he left, or away from him?
A lot of people would like to think that Harry wreaked dreadful revenge upon Draco for his multiple crimes. Certainly he was never heard from again either. I'm the only one who dares imagine that there was more between those two than that. Constantly in their company, witness to their interactions, and not blinded by years of partisanship and conflicting hopes, I saw what no one else did. People think that they would always welcome love and close the door to hate. But when you can't tell one from the other -- when you're all alone -- can you be sure who or what you'd let walk beside you?
I could find out. The spirits are still there, and they're a garrulous lot -- gossipy to the core. I have enough potent dream-herbs and mystical wines to smooth the way to half a dozen astral planes.
However, I know better than most how little I wish to see. Watching my wife be Crucio'd to death not once, but twice, did not help me prepare for it. The vision only let me live in dread of the event from the day I knew it would happen.
Yet, and yet, my imagination runs riot as often as it did when I was ten. Perhaps ...
Perhaps my vision would allow me to see two heads: one light, one dark -- both, I daresay, a little speckled by grey -- bent together. Jaunty Caribbean music plays in the background; fresh breezes blow in off the turquoise ocean. Waitresses in grass skirts serve drinks the colour of tropical fish. Draco and Harry use two straws in one glass. Harry allows Draco to stick the cocktail umbrella in his unruly curls, tucked behind the arm of his glasses. In return, he dabs the salt of the tequila from the corner of Draco's mouth with his thumb.
A nice image, is it not?
But is it true?
That's for you to decide.