that's the price she'll pay I took a knife and cut out her eye I took it home and watched it wither and die Well, she's lucky that I didn't slip her a smile That's why she sleeps with one eye open That's the price she'll pay I said, hey, girl with one eye Get your filthy fingers out of my pie I said, hey, girl with one eye I'll cut your little heart out cause you made me cry I slipped my hand under her skirt I said don't worry, it's not gonna hurt Oh, my reputation's kinda clouded with dirt That's why you sleep with one eye open But that's the price you pay I said, hey, girl with one eye Get your filthy fingers out of my pie I said, hey, girl with one eye I'll cut your little heart out cause you made me cry
Twenty-two years could not be explained in a letter. That did not mean that Celia didn't try: She tore at her heart as she tore up page after page, but this half-place found and the violence that now threatened it would not resolve themselves into words, and the silence of the decades hung above her like the exquisite blade of a guillotine. It would not be broken by the tapping of an owl at the window: She must face the confusion that would follow ringing the doorbell.
Christmas had begun to promise a return to golden moments in these uncertain and shadowy times. For a day, forgetting serpents and expulsions and pedestals, and perhaps even the bubbling blood that she had stoppered. Were they ever innocent? Perhaps not, but nostalgia gilded the season, and there would once again be a table set for six - no, five, she reminded herself heavily - and they would all play at childhood, at a tea party with fragile china dolls, and make believe that the world hadn't gone to shit.
But Brent had been looking at a ruby pendant when he had asked if she was getting anything special for her family. She muttered awkwardly that she hadn't decided yet, and fell silent. She supposed he must have grown accustomed to the door she sometimes closed, because he said nothing more about it, and left her to her thoughts as they wandered through Diagon Alley. When they returned to King's Cross, she left him for a moment on the platform, and with a queer, emotionless voice, bought a ticket from the man behind the window, and dropped it into her bag without another word.
The ticket lay on her desk for three days, untouched, though she would look at it every now and then, almost afraid of it. She had avoided this journey for so long that it was nearly impossible to make, and when midnight chimed and December 20th arrived, she wanted nothing more than to rip the ticket in two and let life continue as it had. Instead she rose, dressed, and left her tower. Outside the entrance to the castle, a carriage waited in the dark, the skeletonous creature that pulled it stamping at the frosty gravel. So strange to finally see the creature she had for years known was there. She looked away from it, feeling ill at the dark reminder, and stepped on board.
It was a fourteen-hour journey, from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade, Hogsmeade to King's Cross, King's Cross to Euston, Euston to Chester, Chester to Llandudno, and Llandudno to Betws-y-Coed. She slipped in and out of dark dreams, half-images flickering through her mind: the CloudChaser, the Obliviator, Athena Morgan, and Brent, over and over again. The noonday sun, filtering through white clouds, burned against her eyelids, and finally at twenty-seven minutes past two, the train came to a halt at the old stone station, and the conductor shook Celia awake. As she huddled close into her coat and stared out, it lifted her heart to see how little the town had changed. Perhaps it would all be easier than she had thought... She left the train, stiff from the long journey, and navigated again the roads of her childhood.
Celia approached the old, white cottage tentatively. It had grown wild since she had last come here, as though her mother's domineering hand had lifted from the garden. The old sign advertising Sycamore House was gone - she supposed that they must have given up that business. They would be old, now. As she stepped towards the door - a holly wreath gleamed proudly from the centre - she imagined how her mother would at last have given up dying her hair, how her father would be bald and wrinkled and spotted. Their eyes would have dimmed, perhaps, but they would be their eyes, filled with confusion. It would take them a moment or so to recognize her.
As she raised her hand to press the doorbell, she thought she could hear the television's hum in the background, and a woman laughing. She did not recognize the voice. The sound of the bell cut through the thick, cold world, and then the silence that followed seemed to hang for ages, dull and painful, as she imagined the slow walk of the aged to the door. When at last it creaked open, a young woman, red haired, with a stomach swollen like a cauldron, hands leaning on her lower back, breathing like a guppy, all tired-eyed and red-cheeked stood in the doorway like the punchline to a cruel joke. "What?" She puffed, sharply.
"I'm... looking for John and Matilda Sycamore..."
"They don't live here anymore."
The girl's hand thrust the door forwards to let it slam again, but, losing her own temper, Celia caught it mid-swing, and asked through the opening, "Please, I've come a long way and I need to find them."
The girl sighed, "Mr Sycamore sold the place to my husband when his wife died." It hit her in the chest like a battering ram, and her ribs gave way, and burst in splinters into her heart.
"D-do you know where he is now?" She asked her, the sharpness in her voice gone.
The girl sighed again, turned into the house, and then took a deep breath and shouted in a piercing voice that cut through the village and sent the birds rushing, "RORY!!!" Then she turned back to Celia with a forced smile. "My husband will know." Then she disappeared back into the house with a queer waddle. After a few more minutes, a hollow-eyed, mousey haired man with a look of exhaustion reached the door.
"Yes, sorry about my wife, she's... well... you saw. You're looking for Mr Sycamore? Do you know him?"
"He's... my uncle." She lied, not sure why she needed the deception.
"Ah. Well, he's staying in Grothford House - it's just off Elsmoor Road, you can't miss it." With an apologetic look, he closed the door.
Celia stumbled backwards, as though reeling from some impact. As she turned back to the road, she scolded herself for her naivety. Twenty years was long enough to change worlds. How could she have expected - the rational thought did not even finished before the scream rose from inside her, unbidden, flaming from inside her lungs, but emerging from her mouth without sound, a rush of air, the bile in her throat, and a pain clutching her head like cold fingers. She could not even remember her mother's face. She forced herself to walk to Elsmoor Road.
Grothford House was a wide, single story, sanitary-white building, the paint peeling in places, so that it had begun to look grey and wrinkled. Outside on the pathway stood an abandoned wheelchair, the seat stained, a front wheel missing. Celia focused on the fog of her breath, letting it condense against her eyes so that she might blame it for the wetness that tempted them. Before she rang the buzzer, she rubbed them with the cuff of her coatsleeve, looked up at the grey sky, and blinked until her eyes dried.
"Can I help you?" The woman behind the front desk wore a blue uniform, a name badge that proclaimed her to be called Esther, and a soft smile that did not extend to her tired eyes.
"I'm looking for John Sycamore?"
"Are you related?" Her eyes scanned the features, which must, even now, bear some resemblance - she had always had his nose, his eyes.
"I'm his niece." The lie rolled easily.
Esther seemed satisfied with this, though she said, "I didn't realize he had any family," and she stood, and led Celia through the white corridors with their blue plastic floors, past old women with walkers, and old men staring blankly at the empty walls, and young women pushing tea trolleys.
"I'm afraid I haven't seen him in a number of years." Celia told her, in the voice of the imaginary niece who had little need of mourning. "Has he been living here long?"
"Since his wife died, six years ago. Cancer, I believe."
Celia nodded stiffly: the niece had no need to express the sickness that was curling inside her stomach like a snake. Esther stopped outside a door that was labeled, "John Sycamore. Prot. Alz. No Gluten."
"I'm afraid he has some trouble remembering things. He has his good days, but... A lot has slipped away."
Celia nodded, glumly, and followed Esther through the door. "Hello, John." Esther smiled. Celia's father sat in the chair, slumped forward like a bored child, all grey, skin hanging from bone so that he looked like a scarecrow: just sticks wrapped in clothes. He looked at their shoes. "There's someone here to see you." He lifted his head, slowly, as though it took some effort, and when his eyes fixed on his daughter, he said only, half-heartedly, "Celia." Celia's heart leapt, but the nurse said, "Oh dear... Celia was his daughter, I believe. They never got on. He talks about her often."
"No," Celia replied, "They fell out some years back."
"Do you know where she is now?"
Celia stared at her father, whose head had again slipped down to stare at their shoes. "No, I'm afraid I don't."
"A pity... I'll leave you two alone, shall I?"
Celia watched Esther leave, and then turned to her father, suddenly feeling small in the strange, clinically white room, as though the place might digest her. "Dad?" He looked up at her, as though he had forgotten that she was there, and this time there was no recognition in his eyes. "Dad, it's me, Celia. I've come home."
"Celia? That was my daughter's name."
"Yes, Dad... It's me..."
"I sent my daughter away, once, and they did something bad to her..."
Her bandaged fingers fumbled with the ticket. She had managed to stop most of the bleeding, but the cuts under her fingernails had not stopped. The fear in the conductor's eyes when he looked at her was odd, as though he were afraid of her and not merely for her. She walked slowly to take her seat, but the man behind did not press her, his eyes fixed on her crimson fingertips. She had to bite her lip as she sat so she didn't scream: the burns behind her knees, between her legs, inside her mouth still felt like hellfire.
They said that Olivander had been taken. It was over. Celia had pretended for too long: she was no witch, and she had no right to live among them. The mask... no no no no... Every time her mind stepped in that direction, it was pulled back as though by a hook in a vaudeville show. Home. Go home. Go home. Eusten. Chester. Llandudno. Home. Every movement burned as she walked the old road, and the street was empty as the sea, and the faces that she had known as a child stared out at her from windows and doorways, and in their eyes she saw that they were afraid of her.
The garden was in perfect order, as it had been when she left: her mother's domineering hand over the welsh flora crafting the garden of Sycamore House into an almost-Eden. She kept walking still, along the path, even though she couldn't see anymore, with the tears in her eyes. The blisters behind her knees were breaking now, and she could feel the blood slickening her calves and her thighs, though the only pain she really felt now was her crimson fingertips. She reached out a hand, and felt that the door was there. Somewhere there was a doorbell that she needed to ring. But the doorstep rushed up to meet her.
"I sent my daughter away, and they did something bad to her... They made her into a witch." And he said it with such despair that her heart broke for him. She asked him if he was cold, and she wrapped his knees in a blanket. She walked to the kitchen, and she had a cup of tea brought to his room. She asked if he was comfortable, and put a pillow behind his back so that he wouldn't slump forward so badly. When she left, she stopped again at the front desk. "I'll be in to see him again." She lied, still not sure why she needed to.
The journey's dreams were bloodier this time, and she woke to a mechanical voice announcing, "Arriving at King's Cross Station in five minutes." and saw the lights of Midnight London through the water droplets left by her eyes upon the glass. The man across the aisle was looking at her with that strange fear in his eyes. She wiped her eyes, and gathered her things together for the final train journey.
Standing once more before the barrier between platforms nine and ten, Celia stopped, and pulled her coat tighter around her, as though it might hold together the parts of her body that wanted to fly apart. She looked at her fingernails, which she had always kept long, and shaped, and painted, to hide the scars beneath. She remembered Brent's words. "I?ll fight so that others won?t have happen to them what happened to us."
She stepped through the barrier.
Oh the river oh the river it's running free And I'll join in the joy it brings to me But I know it'll have to drown me Before I can breathe easy And I've seen it in the flights of birds I've seen it in you in The entrails of the animals the blood running through But in order to get to the heart I think sometimes you have to cut through But you can Odyssey on odyssey and land over land Creeping and crawling like the sea over sand Still I follow the heartlines on your hand This fantasy this fallacy this tumbling stone Echoes of a city that's long overgrown Your heart is the only place that I call home I cannot be returned What a thing to do What a thing to choose but know In some way I'm there with you up against the wall, on a Wednesday afternoon just keep following