Also, I'm now all moved in at IJ, and can be found under the same username there, if anyone wants to look me up! ( http://rose-whispers.insanejournal.com/ )
Title: Persistence of Memory
Summary: In the life that should have been the perfect fulfillment of her dream to live in Australia, Monica Wilkins struggles to understand why she feels so empty. In the past, Susan Granger sees a whole new world just waiting for her daughter to claim.
A/N: Originally written for the 2007 femgenficathon, based on this prompt:
I want to be a free rover on the breezy common of the universe. -- Harriet Martineau.
Thanks so much to thescarletwoman who hand-held me through a very long bout of writer's block and beta'd this at the very last minute for me-- any remaining mistakes are mine.
First posted: September 30th, 2007
It isn't often that a couple of librarians gain their life's ambition, but Monica Wilkins knows that she and her husband are luckier than most. Theirs has been a life plagued by no bad memories, no moments of despair or deep, painful doubts. They have never bothered with silly things like children or bosom friends to hold them back, and when they found they had the chance to move to Australia as they have always dreamed, to begin a new chapter of their lives, they jumped. Simultaneously, because that is what Monica and Wendell do. They grew up together, went to school together, became librarians together. Monica doesn't waste precious mental energy on remembering much outside of that. She has had friends, yes, and experiences, but she feels life didn't really start until they found themselves here. Here in Queensland they landed good jobs working in two different libraries-- her at the local public, him in a high school twenty minutes' bicycle ride away. They rented the most ideal, quaint cottage they could find and discovered the best restaurants nearby. They stocked their shelves with row upon row of books-- a disproportionate number of them about dentistry, perhaps, but everyone is allowed a quirk or two. Another of their quirks is the lack of photographs they brought with them. No need to remember the past when their future is so bright and open for them. They have the whole world laid out at their feet, and they are dancing their way through life.
Sometimes, when Monica walks by a tourist shop she sees racks of postcards. Each image is as idyllic as her existence is. Not a spot of sorrow to mar the picture-perfect existence inside the borders of the card. Inside the borders of her life. And she wonders, but not very often, why she doesn't care enough about anyone back home to bother sending them a postcard. These strange flights of fancy and nameless wistful nostalgia always pass however. There are far more interesting things to do than worry about the mail.
At first, Hermione Granger's mother thought the letter must be a hoax. An elaborate one, to be sure—neither she nor her husband had seen such thick, high quality parchment like this, and the rich green ink looked fresh from the bottle. But she was at a loss as to who would go to such lengths as to train an owl, of all creatures, to deliver a letter. The address gave it away as a prank, though, if a puzzling one.
The bedroom above the kitchen
16 Tinsdale Row
And not a stamp to be seen. Not as though the real post worked that way, did it?
But it was all so sophisticated and planned out. The congratulatory letter, the book and school supply list, the explanation of how to get to this imaginary school: Platform 9 3/4? Why did anyone think this funny? Who would want to tease Hermione so?
For Susan Granger had no doubt that this was a joke, and a cruel one. She wasn't blind. Her daughter was bookish and brilliant, unafraid to show to the world just how much she knew. It would be hard to say which was her best subject, as she excelled in them all. Well, all of them except gym, and neither Mr nor Mrs Granger thought that mattered much anyway. And as to her favourite classes, they changed week to week, depending on what she'd been reading. She loved history but also science, excelled at English but was equally adept at maths. A bit hopeless at art, but she tried so hard and was so well-versed in art history and theory that her teacher gave her good grades anyway. In fact, she'd been a model student-- aside from that one startling incident when she'd accidentally smashed a double-paned window out of frustration over a poorly-constructed papier maché pig. Even then, the custodian had sworn that a girl as small as Hermione simply could not have done it, and chalked it up to building stress.
Yes, Hermione had an excellent memory. She could recall names and dates, facts and figures, on the slightest whim. She could also recall every snub, every humiliation, and every schoolchild prank that had been perpetrated against her, and they hurt her more than she ever let on. But her mum knew. The time Nigel Morehouse had thrown rotten blueberries at her as she walked home, staining her best school blouse, or the time Stephanie Bassett had leaned over the desk behind Hermione and cut off a large chunk of her hair, Hermione too immersed in a book even to notice at first. Hermione was an easy target for the other children. She simply lived on a different plane than they did, in a different world whose walls were constructed with words and thoughts. Lofty castles made of grand ideas soared in Hermione's intellect and imagination. Dragons and chimaeras and all the great minds of history populated her world. From Lao-tzu to Hegel, Tolkien to Dickens, Rembrandt to Da Vinci, her daughter's voracious appetite for books and knowledge drove her to learn as much as possible. The other children just didn't understand her. Even Susan Granger, who held degrees both as a Doctor of Dental Surgery and a Doctor of Dental Medicine, didn't understand her daughter sometimes, though she encouraged her as much as possible. Her husband wanted Hermione to become a dentist one day too, but Hermione's mum knew, somehow, that that was a path too mundane for her daughter. Hermione was destined for greater things.
And along came this letter, which Susan Granger thought had to be a hoax. Magic like this did not exist in the real world, outside the confines of Hermione's mind. This... this Hogwarts was hogwash, and Susan would not stand for her daughter to get her hopes up that she might have a place in a world where she would fit in better than she did here. She'd torn up all the parchment that had arrived and tried not to wonder who had been behind it.
There is no doubt that Monica and Wendell fit in perfectly in their new community on the Sunshine Coast. It's almost as if their life here has been tailor-made for them. They have made friends easily at work and in their neighbourhood. They've joined a local bridge and euchre club, they take Thai cooking lessons at the community centre, and Monica and a group of four ladies from the neighbourhood do yoga on the beach every other Saturday morning. It's like magic, how happy they are. How far away their old life seems to them. They don't even talk about it, really, and one of the girls from yoga has joked that she thinks they're really fugitives, they discuss their past so little. At least, Monica thinks it's a joke.
Sometimes she dreams, though. She can never remember what it is she's dreaming about, but she wakes up with an ache so fierce, it's as though a piece of her has been carved away. She doesn't understand what causes this pain-- it's more profound than anything physical could ever be, as though her very heart has been bruised. As though her very soul has been burgled, and something vital taken. When she screams her way to consciousness, a name on her lips that she can't remember, she feels as though she's not really alive, that she is a jigsaw puzzle missing half its pieces.
She thinks about buying a cat, something that she can nurture. She's never wanted kids, but some heretofore unknown instinct wants to reach out and love something. Protect something. If she gets a cat, it might shut Mathilda Muggins up. The woman is a nice enough next-door neighbour but she swears that the only true path to happiness and fulfillment is parenthood. Mathilda has seven children, all grown, so maybe she's on to something.
Susan Granger and her husband were discomfited by the appearance of three more identical sets of letters the next day. Hermione noticed immediately the handsome eagle owls sitting on their windowsill at breakfast and chimed off a list of random facts about them that made Susan wonder just when on earth her daughter had managed to squeeze in an interest in ornithology. Susan's husband made a vague comment about calling an animal regulatory board and getting rid of the owls, and that seemed to be the end of the matter.
Hermione went to school and came home with her lower lip trembling, trying fiercely not to cry because Elisa Wexworth had called her a wormy little know-it-all, just because she'd received the top marks on her geology test. Susan Granger had been astonished to find herself wishing fiercely that this supposed world of magic might just be real. A school where all of the children had been handpicked because of their love of learning and their innate abilities, where they welcomed each other rather than shunning their peers, sounded like a dream, ephemeral and unrealistic and yet so, so tempting. If such a place existed, it could offer Hermione the whole universe. She knew her little girl had the brains and ambition to go as far as she wanted to, but what she really needed was acceptance and friendship.
The mirage nearly won her over, though, and she made a mental list of more likely possibilities. In the end, Susan was sure that someone out there, some child with a credit card from overindulgent parents, put this ruse together. Wanted to hurt her baby. That made more sense than a school of magic being real. She burned the ridiculous parchments without letting Hermione see them.
Monica Wilkins doesn't look up from her book on the history of ornithology until the woman in front of her shakes her on the shoulder.
"I beg your pardon?" she says, jerking away from the smiling stranger.
"Susan Granger, you naughty beast! Just pulling up roots and disappearing like that," the woman says, completely unfazed by Monica's furrowed brow and looking of incomprehension.
"Madam, I suggest you take a step or two back," Monica says. "Kindly refrain from touching me."
Now it is the woman's turn to frown. "Suze, what's wrong with you? You're not in some kind of trouble, are you? No one knew what the hell happened to you, or whether Hermione was with you or what. Are you living here now?"
"My name is Monica," Monica affirms unsteadily. Hermione... That throws her, hits her like a football to the gut, and she doesn't understand why. The empty, happy spaces of her mind and memory cannot help her.
"Who are you trying to fool?"
"My name is Monica Wilkins and I do indeed live here," she snaps, her head aching and her heart crashing a staccato of panic against her ribcage. "I don't know you and I don't care to."
The woman shakes her head. "My mistake, I suppose. I don't know what I could have been thinking-- my friend would never be so rude."
If the last thing Susan Granger had expected the day before was three owls, the last thing she expected today was a small cat with a weirdly spectacle-like pattern about its eyes sitting on her stoop, appraising her as she bent down to fetch the morning's milk delivery.
"Who do you belong to?"
The cat continued to stare at her.
"Would you like some?" Susan asked, glancing from milk to cat and back again. Only the cat was gone all at once and in its place was a small but severe looking old woman wearing a ridiculous pointed hat and square spectacles.
"Susan Granger, DDS and DMD?" the woman asked.
"Oh my," Susan gasped. "Do forgive me for the fantastical nature of the question I'm about to ask you, but were you a cat just now?"
"I was," the woman said, and Susan's heart skipped about three beats at once. Magic, she thought, though she didn't know why. Magic. Magic exists, magic is real, this woman is magical, I must tell Hermione.
"You're here about my daughter," she blurted, and the older woman nodded sagely.
"Perhaps this will be easier than I anticipated. I am Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration Professor and Deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. May I come in?"
Susan nodded speechlessly and ushered the stranger inside. Her nine o'clock would be kept waiting but she had the vague notion that it was a double cavity filling for the Emerson twins and that could definitely wait.
"You received our communications?" McGonagall asked.
"I burned them."
"I didn't think they could be real."
McGonagall's lip twitched into what might have been a smile if she cultivated it a bit further. "Normally we send a representative to the school to speak with Muggle parents. Due to a clerical error, however, you got our missive but no one along with it to explain."
"I understand how overwhelming this must be, but I am here to offer your child a future that she cannot possibly find anywhere else. I come from a place where she belongs."
Susan nodded again, feeling faint but triumphant. A place for Hermione to belong to. Even before the Deputy Headmistress could continue, Susan knew that her wild fantasies were true. Magic was real, and the whole world lay open to Hermione.
Monica doesn't mention the incident with the strange woman to Wendell. No need to upset him, especially when he's having one of his episodes. She wonders if the pain ravaging the inside of her eye sockets and cranium matches the headaches he's had since they arrived. They've both been examined by doctors for a cause of their headaches, but no one ever knows what to tell them. Homesickness, one specialist suggested. Lack of adjustment to the time zone, said another.
Hermione... The name tastes familiar to her tongue, as if it is a word that her mouth is used to shaping, though she has no memory of it. The pain in her head is nowhere close to the anguish she can't explain that seems to be twisting at her heart.
Their life has been nothing but sun-dappled days of beaches and card parties and perfect, even, uneventful happiness. Monica has read that happiness means nothing unless one has also suffered her share of sorrow. It provides a means of comparison, a scale for emotion. Monica thought she understood happy, but their content life here has been empty, and she doesn't understand why. It is broken, shallow, and she didn't know it until she tasted this bizarre sadness, so deep and fathomless that she feels she hasn't lived at all.
Of course, the thing that Susan enjoyed most in the world was when Hermione came home from school, but her second favourite thing was receiving her daughter's weekly missives. They always arrived by owl, because Hermione said practically that if this was her life now, her parents had best get used to it. Her letters were full of life and detail. She described her classes vividly and Susan was glad to see how much Hermione was learning (even if Susan herself didn't understand a word of it). Through her daughter's precise, still girlish handwriting, Susan saw how her daughter overcame laws of gravity, physics, and common sense. Hermione made objects float, created fire from nothing, crafted potions to make a person sleep for a hundred years. She learned the theoretical underpinnings so that turned living creatures into combs and pincushions-- opining to her mother her worries and wonderings at the nature of the animal soul and whether a temporary transfiguration into something not-living was like murder.
More importantly, though, she talked on and on in her letters about a certain Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. She didn't seem to have made many close girlfriends, but it sounded as though Ron and Harry were her best mates. Hermione had never had best mates before. She'd really only had other kids she'd tolerated and even then, those children hadn't always returned the favour.
In Hermione's stories of Ron and Harry, what Susan Granger saw between the lines was the way her daughter was loosening up. Learning to have fun and to push the limits of her new world. Tales of trolls defeated and treacle tarts eaten and late-night astronomy classes and dragon drop-offs abounded, but what Susan Granger read was a burgeoning bond of friendship between the three children that she had never seen for Hermione before.
Years sped by, and Hermione's bonds with the boys only grew, though her letters became less informative with each passing season. Susan didn't hear much of life at Hermione's school, in Hermione's world, though she was informed all about changing salmon into silk ribbons and deflecting silly jinxes that made one's knees wobble or face break out in boils-- and it made her question the lot of this Wizarding world, really, if that was all they were interested in doing to each other. It wasn't until her daughter's fifth year that she began to glean from what was said and not said that trouble lurked around Harry Potter. Danger. And she worried that her daughter's loyalty to the boy could be harmful, even fatal. She never knew why she thought that. Perhaps it was mother's intuition.
Monica's friends are all lovely people, but she doesn't feel as though she can confide in a single one about the echoing place inside her that can only be filled by pain. Nameless, faceless pain that she can almost touch but can never understand. She wonders, but only sometimes, if something terrible happened to her in England. Is she in shock, somehow? Is that why she has no clear memories of her life there? Is that why she can almost picture someone important but can't quite draw the contours of the unknown's face? It's like looking at the back of a tapestry, this memory-bereft life of hers. Its very chaos and incompleteness work to suggest that she need only step around to the front of the image to understand what she is looking at.
She has sense memories that her mind can't identify or systematize into what she knows about herself. She can feel messy, baby-soft hair against her lips sometimes, or smell a peculiarly girlish, peachy sort of scent just as she awakens. Her arms recall embracing someone that her brain can't think of, and she tries to pretend that she's not going mad.
This life of hers-- built on books and silly, trifling friendships and quiet nights spent at inconsequential adult education classes with her husband-- feels as if its foundations are made of nothing more than the sand on their Sunshine Coast. Feels as insubstantial as that same sunshine, but infinitely colder. She was supposed to be finding her way in the world at last, but this... this is not life at all. This is existence in all its glorious, devastating emptiness.
It is only when a young woman with wild hair escaping from its bun and dark bags under her eyes walks up to her and calls her by name-- does she say 'Monica' or 'Susan'... or 'Mum'?-- that her always-present headache explodes and her ever-increasing melancholia evaporates. She sees a flash of bluish light and sees/hears/feels--
"Mum, the war is coming, and Harry needs me."
"Harry can get on just fine without you! The very idea of you dropping out of school! If your father was home right now, he'd have a fit!"
"They can't do this without me, don't you understand that? They might have all the bravery and might of Godric Gryffindor himself--"
"Which one of these insane wizards are you talking about now?"
"But they need me for this, Mum. They've always relied on me to be the problem solver, and you and dad have to understand that. Besides, you're in real danger too."
"You keep saying that, but I don't agree. This dark lord of yours--"
"NOT of mine!"
"--isn't going to come after a pair of, as you insist on putting it these days, Muggles who don't matter to this war!"
"Oh, but you do matter, Mum. You know so much about me, and too much about Harry because of me."
"Regardless, I will not have you rushing off into something you haven't thought through properly."
"Unfortunately, I have thought it through all too well. Obliviate!"
And Monica Wilkins gasps, and twitches, and disappears as if she is nothing more than a mirage shimmering away with the shifting sands. Susan Granger stares at her daughter for the first time in a year. Hermione looks battle-weary. Careworn. But triumphant. Both women sob, and take a step back toward each other. Susan has dozens, hundreds, millions of questions but they will wait just for now, because her arms have rediscovered the embrace that they never truly forgot.