BLACK FLAME: A HARRY POTTER FAN-FICTION STORY
By Avellina Balestri (alias Rosaria Marie)
Word Count: 3,251
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing imagery, descriptions of torture, and a brutal execution
Summary: Azkaban is a terrible place of torture, especially for the blind and paralyzed Severus Snape after the Second Wizarding War. Unable to tell his true story, will he find compassion in the boy he always despised?
It is dark. An unmoving darkness, voiceless and cold. It is not like the snows, fresh and flowering, but like metal, cutting and deadly. They had left me here to disintegrate in an inner hell and an outer prison, because I cannot move and I cannot speak. Nagini’s venom had delivered the fatal freezing, vocal chords damaged beyond recall, and the body stiff like a corpse. I am alive, yet not alive, slipping from one state of oblivion to the next.
Azkaban is a place of torture. I had always known it would be. They do not know my story; they do not care to know. It is locked within me, within my mind that they torture. Time has lost me in the dark, and the closeness or length of it confuses me. But I know they keep coming back…the dementors, those with false faces, those who strive to suck out one’s soul. They pierce through my brain, tear through the memories, and leave me broken and bruised.
Surely they have seen my story by now? They must know I am not all I am accused of being. But they do not care. There is no way out now, no way away from the pain they inflict, and all I have to my name in such horrific moments is suffering so acute it rips my heart in two with hatred and hurt and leaves me with a perpetual throbbing in my head. And then I am alone in the dark again, and I cannot even cry.
Am I alive? Am I dead? Is this truly my hell, my eternal black flame that blazes around me for all that I have done and failed to do? I am losing myself, I am losing myself…and I am afraid.
I cannot move, but I can think, even if I cannot distinguish thoughts from dreams, nor dreams from memories. I have not been a praying man, at least not knowingly, but I find myself doing it now in the silence. Not in any formal way, not in any way that would even make sense to a mortal listener, but it is the end result of any conscious creature being brought to its final dismantling. We spill out whatever soul is left in us, not so much for aid, as simply to be heard. We speak to some essence that is closer to us than the pain, even though often enough the words do not form right in the mind. It is a jerking motion of will, crying out when the throat constricts, watering down with the eyes are dry.
I am afraid when the door opens, for the clanking always means more torment, more memories of dead faces, more disgust with the sickening evil around me and within me. I curse them all, and I curse myself, and I am so alone. Were I Milton’s Satan, I would shake my fist in the air and curse the sky. But I am not. No, not I…a human being, though all have forgotten it. I am too human to cover up this gaping wound of darkness. I am too human not to find myself humbled by its weight.
But this time, I have a visitor. The Potter boy…oh my God. I hear his voice addressing me, testing to see if I can respond. I cannot, though he must see in my eyes some spark of awareness, for he goes on. He’s here to see if they are giving me the treatment I am due for my crimes. His voice is cutting. There is hate in it, and I hate it back. He lectures me left and right, tells me I am getting exactly what I deserve, that I should have been here for years, that meeting death in this place is all I am worth. I hate him, but I cannot deny it.
I start to cough. I’ve been doing it a lot. Must have a cold, though I cannot tell anyone. The congestion has been building up, making it hard for me to even sleep the few hours I am allowed. I’m very thirsty and my lips feel raw. My heart thumps very hard and I shiver a lot. I am unnerved…they usually tear through my mind when I’m coughing, because I am too weak to push them back. Oh, I don’t…want that…
I feel a touch on my shoulder, and the brat’s voice is nearer to my ear. I start to shake, and I hate myself. I look…weak…but…oh, oh, not again, not again, I can’t go through it again, and…it’s so cold…
The touch lingers strangely, there is a pause in the voice, and then there is rough brush of the back of a hand against my forehead. His hand falls away, but the quiet remains between us. I am holding in a ragged breath, waiting for the worst, and recovering from…was that truly a touch I felt? I forget how it feels…to be touched…and everything seems shrouded, so far away…
Suddenly, I feel some weight on me, something wrapping around me, and I shrink against the prison wall. What now? Why now?
Then the voice tells me not to fear; it’s just a cloak. It will keep me warm. Then again there is silence, the silence of a warring conscience, and my visitor is soon gone from me. And I manage to make my fingers work a little and clutch that cloak tight against me. It was from pity given, come forth from the pitiful heart of the Potter brat, and I should hate it with all my strength. But instead I think I could almost cry…oh, almost…
I would think it a dream if not for my grip on the material, tightening whenever I’m in pain. They try once to pull the cloak away from me, but I won’t let them. I start to talk to it in my mind, as if it were some friend come to visit me in the dark. I don’t have any friends, I know, but I let myself pretend. I must be going mad, but it is all I have. And I wonder why it was given to me, a convicted death-eater, condemned for the murder of a headmaster, and all those I could not save?
I wonder if the boy will ever come back…
And ultimately he does. I know not how long it has been between one time and another, but he tells me it’s Christmas morning. Evidently the dementors do not take off for the holiday. I am still spasmodically trembling from their latest set of tortures, tearing through my worst childhood memories. My head hurts far too much to describe it, even if I could. And I find myself, sorry fool that I am, sinking into old emotional traps, hating my father for his cruelty and missing my mother for the single embrace she gave to me when I was very young, and that he beat her for…
The boy talks for a little while, and his voice is softer than the first time he came. I still cannot follow the words very well, still cannot respond, although I suppose I would say something sarcastic if I were myself. But I am not myself. I am afraid, and I want him to stay, for they surely won’t come back to hurt me while he’s here. I…I want my head to stop hurting. And hearing the voice of another human has suddenly seemed the sweetest thing in the world to me, like a bird’s song in the breast of winter.
Then he says he has a book. He says that he’ll read it to me. Am I that pathetic, that my heart leaps at the promise, the way a child wishes to hear a bedtime story? I loathe myself, I mock myself inside…but I want to hear a story…anything to remind me…of what life is…
“White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree
Falls down scarce audibly.
The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.
The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne, echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far afield
Then all is silent and the snow falls
Settling soft and slow
The evening deepens and the grey
Folds closer earth and sky
The world seems shrouded, far away.
Its noises sleep, and I
As secret as yon buried stream
Plod dumbly on and dream…”
A poem, oh…how long has it been since I have read a poem? I don’t know. It seems…eons ago…too long, too long indeed. It makes me wonder, is it snowing outside? I want to ask…so much…
So I try. I try to force my vocal chords to work, even though I can make no more than a rasp that breaks down in a cough. I try it again, without success. But I am stubborn; I try a third time…and manage one word, slurred and possibly incomprehensible: Snow.
And I feel so stupidly happy, almost to the point of giddiness, that I have managed that single vocal manifestation of my mind. Surely my blind eyes are dancing dumbly in the dark. Then there is a long silence, and I am afraid all my labor had been for naught, all my childish pride in uttering a sound has been washed up and ignored.
But then the boy, knowing beyond knowing, answers me with a melancholy tenderness:
Yes, yes it is snowing.
And all of a sudden, I feel the egg of myself break all the way, and the yoke come oozing out, and the tears I had been unable to shed run down my face. And I am shaking. And then he touches me again, and I try and shrink back again, but he won’t let me this time. I don’t know what miracle has happened, but he holds me, holds a murderer against him, and the powerful sensation of human touch feels as if it might kill me. I am still shaking, but the sorrow is not unmixed with some blessed joy. I think of my mother, and cry myself to sleep.
It is Christmas, is it not? Then perhaps…justice and mercy have kissed…
I used to be afraid when I could not tell the difference between the dreams and the memories, but now I am able to, and I am able to distinguish the real from the unreal. The boy is real. He comes to see me often, talks to me, even if I can barely respond, and reads me things that fill my dreams later on. Yes, that is the difference. My memories may be ugly, but my dreams are beautiful. And somehow, the latter seem realer than the former. I…believe in them.
I try and speak a little at a time, single words that barely sound as they were meant to. Sometimes they make me cough. But the boy strangely seems to understand most of it. He is patient with me. I don’t know why, but he just humors me, and makes me feel a little more human than I did before. We two old enemies seem to be the only humans left here in the dark.
One day he lets me smoke a cigarette with him. He asks me if I want to, and I look at him, blindly, and he must read it well, for he knows I do. God, it was the first smoke I had in years. I never would do it on the school grounds, and indeed, if I’d ever caught him at it, I would have been quick to dock points from him. But here we are together in the most bizarre of circumstances indulging in the forbidden pleasure. He chuckles over it. The corner of my mouth dares the venomous paralysis and years of scowling to lift, ever so slightly.
His ministrations are not all as unhealthy as cigarettes. He also brings me hot tea I manage to drink through a straw, as well as a potion to help with the congestion and get me to sleep. It was hard to swallow it down at first, but it has helped make my throat less scratchy. It also eases the pain in my head, even as it makes me groggy. The boy usually stays talking to me until I drift off on the straw mattress he lent me. No one else would have bothered.
I become afraid, sometimes, before sleeping, for I fear waking up to horror again, or indeed never waking at all. What is it in man that so fears his own annihilation? I don’t know, but I do know my fingers have tremulously grasped the boy’s sleeve more than once, and given it a tug. He in turn has grasped my own sleeve and tugged it back. It is our broken way of saying goodbye. Oh, what is this frail binding staunching my heart’s blood?
Still further, what is it that made him ask for them to remove the manacles they used to hang me up with, and bandage my wounded wrists? He no doubt still views me as a killer, as a minion of darkness, as an enemy without mercy. I cannot talk; how can he truly know I do not wish the worst for him? But no…he wets the rawness, cleans the cuts with gentleness. I should be taking the notion of pity bitterly, but perhaps it is just some stage of understanding that the shadow is not to be feared. It does not divide so much as it unites, in remorse, in regret, in some splintered reality we all must bear.
Or perhaps, even deeper down, there is some instinct in him…something that tells him there is more to this story than meets the eye. Yes, I sense it in him sometimes, like when he comes in after I have been tortured, and I feel like I cannot breathe, and I panic, thinking I am going to die like that, and he puts his hand on his chest so I can feel it rising and falling and tells me it’s alright, that I can breathe, that the horrible things they show me in my mind are somehow…less than real. He says he’s been through attacks like that before. He calms me, as one who believes in the unsullied humanity of another.
Should I try and tell him? Even though I sense a growing distaste within him for the methods of Azkaban, perhaps even an abiding disgust, I doubt he could help. I doubt anything could free me from this place. And even if it did, where would I go? No; my end draws near within these walls. And yet it is a comfort to know that in the midst of the torture, there has been something striving after me, some goodness that has come to me unexplained and undeserved. It simply is, for its own sake, like the rare wonder of a pristine flower amidst the winter snow. And that makes all the difference.
But the end must come, for they have run through all my memories, pulling them to the forefront of me, bit by bit, sucking at them like leeches. I have stopped fighting it now; I wish for the end to come. I suppose I should be afraid, and I suppose I am. But there is some small hope in me that if unmerited kindness might be found in this world, death will be incapable of stopping it altogether. Even if the Face turns away from me, I would like to believe that the Hand might hold me still. Perhaps I hope for too much, but I cling to it all the same.
And then it comes, the day of the knife’s edge. I know not what time it is, but it is after the tortures, and my head feels hollowed out inside, and I know that all has been done. I am useless to them now, all the information stored in my memory gouged out and downloaded neatly in some soulless database. I am an empty shell to them, and there is no one left to defend me.
I feel the sting of the Demeter’s blade against my neck, and the splitting of the skin. It is a mix between a criminal’s execution and a hog’s butchery. They intend it to go slow. I had wished this on my enemies in the past; I don’t wish it on anyone now, as the metal taste fills up my mouth and my veins are being sliced. It is a strange thing to feel them burst open, like torn threads, and feel my pulse quicken at each rending.
And then the main pulsation in my neck is severed, and I feel a rush of heat, like lava flowing down, and up. It is all over me, the gush of it, warm and sticky in the apex of its surge, but instead of frightening me, I let it overtake me, let myself go to the flow of it, down my neck, in my mouth, everywhere…I am running out with it, I know not where, but it is taking me away from this place, and I let myself go out with it…
I feel flesh being torn up like a flap, the way they slaughter fowl, and the slow slitting of the windpipe. I try swallowing back some of liquid in my mouth, but it comes back up, spilling down my face. The last cut is brutally hard, and then the knife is withdrawn. Am I dead now, I wonder? For though I cannot swallow, I still am in my darkness, bathed in blood, immobile yet still somehow conscious. I have no choice but to lie still, knowing death is ruling these moments…
I blink, and the darkness, though still there, seems pregnant with a presence. The black eases into gray and I see myself, and my empty eyes, and the blood run down all around me like a river. It is a surreal thing, viewing death in death….
Then voices, then footfalls, then the boy…he is here, and trembling in shock at the gruesome sight. Then he cries out, in a mix of rage and remorse. He has seen the memories, at long last, the ones pulled out by the dementors. He knows now the truth that had been hidden from him. He swears at the guards. He swears at my corpse. But I can make out the water in his eyes. And he is soon down beside me, and he wipes the blood off of me. And I feel it, I feel…I don’t know…is that what love is?
I wonder, has he been the one to brighten my black flame? One soul, unknowingly, touching the evil that entraps, and untying it not by knowledge but by the smallest yet truest measure of pity and pardon? I would have scorned it once, with all the bitterness burning within me. But I cannot anymore. I never will again. In death, I am content to follow the flame wherever it may lead, for the blackest has brightened, and all else is lit up by the fires of love.
Some fire, perhaps, may burn whiter than snow…