The Diversity Deal

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Diversity and inclusion are wonderful when they work in your favour. In the last week, Muslims like myself have been the beneficiaries of the world’s love and understanding. At airports around the United States people with open, liberal minds have acknowledged that most of us are just ordinary folk. We only want to live and work in peace and free from fear. Owing no allegiance other than our shared humanity these generous and passionate people stood up for our rights and our cause.

I’ll admit that I am conflicted. There are so many sides to what has happened that I am not sure how to reconcile them all. Let me lay them out for you.

Perhaps easiest to understand is that I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love in the face of an act of hate. It is a bright light in a time of encroaching darkness. I salute all those who have given of their time and skill and energy in the cause of humanity. May whatever powers you believe in uplift you.

But this has also left me with a sense of dread. I fear many Muslims do not understand that this is a two-way deal. We may be heartened by the efforts of others on our behalf, but what will we do when it is time for us to stand up and be counted? I have no doubt that the Trumpists are coming for us all. So, answer me this my Muslim brethren:

You want to live in peace, free from fear, with equal rights to your neighbour, and to practice your beliefs without interference. But if that neighbour is from the LGBT community and will not be served in a local store will you campaign on their behalf? That neighbour’s right to live without molestation is the same as yours.

What if that neighbour is a woman exercising her right to choose, and finds herself denied medical care; will you step forward and raise your voice? Her right to choose what to do with her body is the same as yours.

When emboldened fascists daub swastikas on the local synagogue will you be there to wash the walls and help protect your fearful neighbours? Their right to religious freedom is the same as yours.

All the things you want for yourself you have to be willing to offer to others, without stinting or reservation. If you’re unwilling to do that then you are unworthy of any shred of what has been put on the line for you this week.

That deal has embedded in it the Islamic concept of Adl – justice. What you want for yourself you must want for others, irrespective of what they believe and how they want to live. Freedom for Muslims means freedom for non-Muslims. If you aren’t able to sign up that then sign up to Trump or ISIS, they both believe in one law for them, and one law for everyone else. You think I am exaggerating? See if you can read beyond the first few lines of this from Breitbart without vomiting. I couldn’t. The Alt-Right would restrict women’s education in an echo of the Taliban, and it is their poison being whispered into Trump’s ear.

So how do you reconcile the freedoms you are morally bound to protect, if they war with your own beliefs? That, my friends is a test of faith. If you believe that the message we bear is the Truth then trust in it. Welcome everyone and let your capacity to love and accept bring them closer to you. Or maybe you and I just aren’t the same kind of Muslims. Maybe you are a Muslim that takes pride in the bloody history of Islam of the sword. If so, ISIS is waiting for you, what are you waiting for? My Islam is the one of mercy for mankind.

And in that internal argument of faith lies another source of discomfort. There are countries that export terrorism. Decades of Saudi money peddling the spiritually bereft Wahabi / Salafist ideology has created a generation of emotionally and mentally damaged people, willing to believe violence is an answer. In places this monstrosity has replaced mainstream Islamic thinking. My real dissension with the Trump ban is not its existence, every nation has the right to protect its borders and vet those entering for potential threats. But when that ban specifically excludes the nation that provided the 9/11 hijackers I am left aghast. If the ban had been properly consulted on, discerningly targeted and professionally implemented, it might have been a valid policy. Instead it is an act of naked racism, spiced with a toxic dose of Trump’s personal commercial interests.

And that last leaves me with a sense of fear. I live in London. I only have to contend with the backwash of Brexit and Theresa May trying to sell the country to the highest bidder. But I have friends and loved ones in the US. They are people who cling fiercely to liberal ideals, and carry a deep respect for their fellow humans, irrespective of creed or colour. I fear for them, because their chief executive is trampling on every concept of value in pursuit of his own limited interests. The coming battle for America’s soul is one in which there will be casualties, and my friends are people of conscience who will stand and make their presence felt. I fear for them almost as much as I fear for family in Pakistan who live in the shadow of lawlessness and Salafist terrorists.

The Trumpists are coming for us all, and that brings me back to my initial sense of dread. My challenge is to the Muslims – when they have had enough of you and bully the gay man two doors down from you, will you stand watch so he can sleep safely? Will you escort the woman past the baying mob to the health centre, will you link arms with the Rabbi to keep the fascists from the synagogue? If you want these people to stand up for you, you need to stand up for them. That’s the diversity deal.

END

picture credit Nuccio DiNuzzo

My author site

If you want to read more in a similar vein:

Remember, The White Folks Won

The Gates to Common Ground

J’accuse… the Muslims

 

Immigrant Car Wash

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They are Albanian and they never stop working. The queue usually stretches outside the gate, and covers the range of cars from executive cruisers to family run arounds. Their slick processes deal with each equally.

There are no six sigma consultants here, no industrial engineers, but to my eye the method is perfect. Young men swarm over the cars that are being washed, careless of the spray from pressure washers, and practised enough to know they won’t take a direct hit. The roles are well defined: hose, sponges, chamois, windows, vacuum and interiors, but like a Dutch football team from the 70s they can switch, seemingly on instinct, based on the level of demand. When a new car rolls through the gate someone will break off and begin by squirting industrial cleaning fluid onto the brake dust that coats the wheels. The supervisor is the libero, spotting gaps and filling in around his workmates, adding weight to any part of the machine that is slowing things down.

The pricing board has any number of options, but I think everyone buys the standard “inside and out”. The young men don’t skimp, they don’t cut corners and they take pride in their work. I’m not sure anyone would notice or care too much if the guy with the paintbrush didn’t flick over all the edges of the interior trim to get dust out, but he does anyway.

A couple of them speak enough English to understand any special instructions, the rest is done in the universal language of nods and gestures.

My late uncle had a theory that people drive better after they clean their cars. He said it instils a sense of pride that leads to greater care. I don’t see anyone boiling out of the gate and driving like a lunatic, so I have no evidence to suggest his theory is wrong. It has a charm to it, and I want it to be true.

Before the Albanians came the lot had been vacant for years. It was a goods yard once, a relic in this residential suburb, too close to the rail tracks for the property developers to take an interest, and bypassed by modern logistics. For fifteen years it has been a bustling corner of the cash in hand car wash trade. Cars come in one gate dirty, the owners leave the engines running, and the cars leave the other gate gleaming, with the sickly chemical smell of spray wax and cheap air fresheners.

The pricing is rudimentary, always just off a full note. It once was £8, and only a churlish hand took the offered change. It is now £12 and I would guess most, like me, offer £20, take the proffered £5 note, and leave the shrapnel. At the end of every day I bet someone sifts the chrome drum of the vacuum cleaner for coins.

It’s not a unique model of business, and you can find an “American Hand Car Wash” anywhere that a busy road passes a gap between businesses.

I don’t tell my mother I use the car wash. Her first reaction would be: “Save your money, I’ll do it.” That is despite the effects of age and arthritis and, that at barely five feet tall, she would need a ladder to reach the roof of my aging Renault. It is for the same reason we only warily take her to restaurants, and when we do we don’t show her the menu. After fifty years in this country she has not lost that working class, immigrant sensibility of saving every penny, of doing things yourself rather than paying others.

She was born in a mahal, which translates to palace, but is probably better understood as a chateau or stately home, and was the darling child of a proud and ancient lineage. She had a milk nurse. This was in part superstition – none of her preceding siblings had survived infancy – and in part because ladies of a certain stature, like my grandmother, did not nurse their own children.

All of that ended with partition. She left India with half her family to the newly created Pakistan and then she married my father and moved to London. She worked in a factory, a dry cleaner’s, and finally a greengrocer’s stall until my father died. Then she bought a sewing machine and ploughed through her grief, rocking me with one foot and working the machine with the other. Her desk job in a bank, which she retained until my brother and I bullied her into retirement, came when I was about three.

Thrift and hard work are the principles that have stayed with her in that arc from faded aristocracy, near destitution, emigration and now comfortable middle class. There is little in that arc that is unusual or noteworthy; in my corner of London I see it everywhere. The ethnic stores that pepper the high street open early and close late, if they close at all. It doesn’t matter if it is the Polish delicatessen or the Turkish convenience store. Old Gujarati ladies once lined the tills in the supermarket, blue branded jackets over their sarees; now paler faces are mixed in, with broad Slavic features and extra Js and Ks in their name badges. They pull the long shifts and late shifts and just keep going.

All of this cultural melting pot is inside the north London eruv, the hub of British Judaism. No one makes trouble because trouble won’t pay the rent and leave enough to send home at the end of every week. And that home is presently only an abstract concept. There is no going back; there is no option but to succeed. A return, in the rare instances that happens, leaves deep roots and ties here. Despite race, religion or any other distinguishing feature, here becomes home.

This is my home. My daughter was house captain in the local church primary school, my niece sang the hodie in the carol service in our local church (not as well as this though).

More broadly, making this country a home for immigrants matters. Immigrants work, immigration works. It provides weary economies with a supply of labour that is relentless and driven. It provides aging populations with youth and vigour.

Once the immigrants move beyond self-sufficiency, which they must to succeed, they become the source of wealth from which our top-heavy populations will pay for pensions and healthcare. Our task as mature post-industrial economies, hungry for sources of growth, is to harness that energy and determination, to take the skills and talents of new arrivals and use them. Weaving these disparate, different threads into the fabric of our society is a symbiotic act, necessary for our survival and theirs. It should not matter if it is a South Asian junior doctor or an Albanian youth with a burning desire to work all the hours he can, they are resources that want to be made productive.

In the same way disseminating the wealth of knowledge in our universities is to seed the world with its most dynamic workforce influenced by our culture and values. Closing bogus colleges is a valid, if costly policy choice. Restricting student numbers is blinkered short-termism.

That is not to ignore the structurally unemployed amongst our own populace. The decline of heavy industry and the growth in the service sector has left some regions in a spiral of decline. The solution there is different, and independent of creating a welcoming environment for migrants. Structural problems need structural solutions, and that means investment. The country needs an infrastructure that allows employers to disperse from dense metro areas, which they will if connectivity and access make the economics of moving viable. Education and retraining is needed for those whose jobs have disappeared, and those who have known nothing but a generation of unemployment. In the short term that investment will be re-distributive, but the point of an investment is that it pays back.

Today, our beloved NHS would fail without the contribution of migrant workers. But there is a genuine question to be asked: What restricts the educational attainment in certain parts of the country that means our own citizens cannot fill the gap in skills. The question is a supply side one, your Ghanaian nurse is a demand side response. The myth of migrants taking local jobs can only be true if the unemployed of Leicester or Middlesbrough are given the opportunity to gain competing skills.

In contrast, the investment for immigrants is not financial; it is in opening our hearts and minds to the contribution others can make, if we only stop thinking of them as “other” and instead as like ourselves: people trying to build a life for themselves and their families.

The young men at the carwash have changed in fifteen years, just as the faces lining the supermarket tills have changed. The car wash has changed around them. They all wear logoed sweatshirts now, and will change your tyres as well as wash your car. It would be naïve to think all the income goes through the books, but some of it does, where before the whole thing had no paper trail.

The lot, which served no purpose before they took it on, is always busy. They are always busy. I don’t envy them the cold water and back-breaking labour. I’m one generation on, living off the effort my parent’s generation put in. That means I know why they do it. One day their kids will bully them into retiring and grudgingly they will agree.

 

END

If you are interested in my writing check out my author site

Other essays you might be interested in:

Remember, The White Folks Won

The Gates to Common Ground

J’accuse… the Muslims

 

 

Coming Soon – Like Clockwork

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This is a lesson in heresy. Britishness comes with an over politeness, and a self effacing reticence that means we often don’t ask, and don’t get. We hold back, which to other cultures can come across as aloof and rude. If you don’t get it, follow Very British Problems on Twitter. Lucknowites have it too, and regular readers of my blog will know of my connections there. So I have this thing squared.

Except, once, and only once, I put it aside. Those lovely, life affirming, literature loving people at Transmundane Press were running an open call for submissions. After the Happily Ever After is out now and I urge you to buy it, even though I’m not in it. It is significant because I emailed them and asked.

The question was about The Lesser Evil (my Harry Potter fanfic).

It fits the brief, I wrote, but… copyright.

The inestimable Alisha wrote back: I like it, but… copyright. Send me something else.

I emailed them a 26k novella. Like Clockwork. They liked it. They’re going to publish it. It’s coming soon.

There’s the lesson in heresy. Sometimes you just have to ask.

And now you’re asking: What’s it all about Ali?

Here’s where the teasing starts. It is a gothic suspense/horror/mystery/anti-romance with some steampunk elements set in Victoria England.

It is also a bit Hornblower without the sailing. I worked with the Royal Navy for a year in a civilian, entirely non seafaring capacity, almost twenty years ago. I still look back on that time with great fondness, and Like Clockwork is a hat tip to the wonderful people I worked with. The etching of Portsmouth Harbour hangs over my desk, and was, among other things, a parting gift from the project team. No client gives consultants parting gifts, but they did to me. The image below is of the note on the back.

Head over to TP to read the blurb. I’ll be over here listening to Dionne and getting misty eyed.

imag1466 * Project CAPITAL rolled out the MoD’s financial management system. 2SL/CNH = Second Sea Lord, Commander in Chief Naval Home Command, which is the part of the implementation I joined.

Remember, The White Folks Won

Remember, the white folks won.

There is only one eternal law: to the victor the spoils.

You may have a proud and ancient history, Mansa Musa, Cyrus, Babur or any in a long line of famed kings and emperors, but they are just that: ancient. The white man had the last empire, the last colonies, and still has his client states and his bootlickers. Where are yours?

To him you are the subjugated and enslaved. You live in the country he colonised however many hundreds of years ago. You live on land he claimed, whether by conquest or by genocide. To the victor the spoils. You are there on sufferance. You are there because some few pricked his conscience, or because he ground his own labouring classes in his wars, and someone had to drive the trains and sweep the streets. And even then he says “go home”, and you cast down your eyes because you are rooted to this soil, this toil and nowhere in the world are you not alien or heretic, like me.

You think the riches ripped and torn from the shoulders of your ancestors give you some rights in return? You think your sweat has earned you a place at his table? You think basic human decency grants you a right to live? You may have won your manumission, but in his eyes you have no personhood. Your difference is stamped in your skin, in the hook of your nose or the cast of your lips.

You point to your white friends and I point to a butter smear of gentility over the white bred slabs of their compatriots’ contempt. For every one that marries you, or takes you to their home, their hearth, their heart, whose soull really is a light unto the worls, I’ll show you two who seethe with cold resentment when they see you on their streets.

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You say that they have laws, and I ask show me the justice? When the red man claims his rights he is subjected to the full weight of the baton and the gun. When the white man claims his rights he is the hero standing up against oppression. This is his justice.

He led the world to war, called all the righteous up against Hitler, and we too fought and bled for that was just. But on his park he still bows to the statue of King Leopold who depopulated Congo, and nor was he alone. He writes the history that he chooses to teach.

Crime knows no colour or creed. All have the capacity to be good or to do evil. But when you do wrong you are the epitome of your race, it is in your blood to flout the law and break the social contract. When one of his does wrong he whitesplains: it is high jinx or some disorder of the mind, not something deep beneath his hall pass skin.

You say they made a black man chief, a brown man mayor and see how we now hold some offices of state. I turn over the page and show you all the vitriol and the hate and wager: see how long he keeps his seat before the bigot or the braying fiend displaces him.

Come my coloured brethren, let us bow our heads. Remember that the white folks won, and we will always be the spoils.

END

 

If you are interested in my writing take a look here

The Footsteps of the Valiant

I had a tilt at the Bartleby Snopes dialogue only writing contest this year, an entirely new format for me. The rules are simple – only dialogue, no “he said”, no directions, just conversation. They keep the top five entries on the boil and reject everything else. I clung on for a few days, but inevitably got tinned.

That said I had a bit of fun with this and I hope you do to:

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Studded Door

 

The Footsteps of the Valiant

 

“Who’s there?”

“Archon? Archon, is that you?”

“It is. Child, you don’t sound like one of my regular guards.”

“No, your holiness. Far from it. I have come to save you.”

“Bless you daughter, but you are taking a terrible risk. Flee, before they find you.”

“Don’t worry; no one will be coming for a while. Your long captivity is almost over.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“The guards on this watch have been bribed. They’re all looking away.”

“‘By their own greed shall they be undone’ as it says in Acolytes Three.”

“Yes, your Holiness.”

“What is it that you are doing? All I can hear is a scratching at the door.”

“Trying to pick the lock. This one looks like a regular forbidding dungeon door with a big unsophisticated lock that a halfwit gaoler can manage, but it turns out to be surprisingly complex.”

“Well, they have had me locked up in here for a long time, I’m sad to say you are not the first devout soul with fire in your belly and righteousness in your heart to try and save me.”

“I know, there are memorial cobbles hidden throughout the city with the names of the holy martyrs.”

“Cobbles?”

“They prise one up, engrave it and replace it overnight. There’s also a threnody that is sung by everyone in attendance: “The Footsteps of the Valiant”, it’s quite a moving tune.”

“Cobbles are not lacking in humility I suppose.”

“You are a prisoner of the state Holiness. They could hardly erect statues.”

“No indeed. How are you getting along with that lock?”

“It won’t be long; the Duke had a similar one on his strong room. There’s a trick to it.”

“I see. I take it the path of righteousness has not always been the one you have chosen?”

“No your holiness I’m a thief. I don’t actually have any of that belly or heart stuff. Your followers got tired of sending each other to certain death trying to save you. They hired me. I’m a professional.”

“So what about that business with the holy martyrs and the cobbles?”

“It never hurts to empathise with the client. Especially when the client thinks they have a cause. It can get you ten, maybe fifteen basis points on the price. Bitter, hard bitten pros with no emotional intelligence have to sell their services at a discount.”

“My goodness, I had no idea it could be so complicated. I must admit I’m not sure how I feel about being rescued by someone who has not been saved.”

“Oh it’s your flock that are saving you. The money was raised by subscription. As best I can make out, you’ve had everyone from widows and orphans contributing pennies, to businessmen putting an entire year’s profits into the fund. It was very touching, but of course it doesn’t pay to get sentimental.”

“But you are the one who is doing the saving.”

“‘Judge not the sword, but the hand that wields it.’ That’s from Ruminations Six.”

“You know your scripture!”

“Good research on the client, adds another ten points to the price every time. Those surly hero guys hanging around in taverns half drunk and unshaven really don’t know what they’re doing. I have an office, and a secretary. Prospective clients get cinnamon tea and a brochure.”

“I suppose that makes me feel better about it. How is that lock coming?”

“Nearly there. Just one turn…got it. Stand back your Holiness. There’s a torch out here, and the sudden light may be painful.”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“Oh.”

“To be fair, no one else has ever got this far. We’ll have to review security arrangements.”

“Gosh. It’s rather nice in here isn’t it?”

“Well, there had to be some trade-off for being locked up all these years.”

“Your carpets are as good as the Duke’s and I happen to know that’s a third century jade vase.”

“You’re an educated woman.”

“Well, yes. But that one I stole to order for…”

“That was you? God bless you. It was originally stolen from the Church by the second Hieromancy. ‘It will profit them not the things they take unto themselves. For all shall be returned to its rightful place in time for judgement.’ Divination Twelve, in case you were wondering.”

“It seems I’ve been an agent for the Church before then. It’s good to know we’re on the same side.”

“Indeed. If you like what you see here, you should come out onto the balcony.”

“How do you have a balcony in a dungeon?”

“Come and see.”

“Oh. Oh my word.”

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?”

“I never imagined there would be a cavern inside the mountain. Where does the light come from?”

“As I understand it there are crystals in the rock that run right the way up to the surface. Or they redirect light to each other or some such. It does give the whole thing a lovely glow. And the rainbow over the waterfall is almost permanent.”

“I did wonder why you stayed here.”

“I am a prisoner, child.”

“Yes, but there are stories about how you gave sermons in two villages at the same time. I always wondered why someone who could do that would allow themselves to be locked up.”

“You believe the stories? I’m surprised.”

“I stole some records from before the dissolution of the Church. The parishes kept records of who came and went.”

“You really do your research very thoroughly.”

“Thanks, I had an intern do the actual data work.”

“And these records showed me in two parishes at the same time?”

“Yes, and it happened more than once.”

“Unfortunately it’s not a miracle or some God given power. The truth is a little more prosaic. I served four parishes as a young priest, and I had to walk from one to another. I wasn’t actually that devout, and they were all about fifteen miles apart around the Sky Lake.”

“I know, I have the records, remember?”

“Yes, but what you have to factor in is that two of the parishes were in a different diocese.”

“So?”

“I got paid by the sermon. I knew no one would cross check the records from one diocese to the other. They used to hate each other.”

“You were fiddling your attendance to get paid more.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“I’m a thief, not a fraudster.”

“I always thought putting around the story that I was able to perform miracles by being in more than one place at a time was quite inspired.”

“Divine inspiration?”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“I take it you aren’t coming with me then?”

“Not as such, no.”

“You can let go of my arm.”

“You see, the Duke and I have an arrangement. He needs the people to believe in something to stop them falling for heathen influences. And the firebrands have a predictable cause to rally around. It makes them easier to track.”

“You’re quite strong for an old man.”

“You see those spars and blocks in the corner?”

“Yes.”

“That’s actually exercise equipment. I also do yoga. I’m in pretty good shape for someone who hasn’t been outside in a decade.”

“Do you have to grip so tight?”

“The arrangement serves the church as well. Nothing keeps the people as devout as a live case of someone suffering for their souls. Donations have never been so high, even though the services are held in secret.”

“I imagine that saves a lot in overheads.”

“You’re very astute. Church buildings are in need of constant repair. This way the worthy lend us their houses, and I’ve cut an entire layer of management out of the structure. It’s very efficient.”

“My arm is hurting pretty badly, do you think you could let go?”

“I’m afraid not. There are very few people who know what is happening. Even the guards just pass what they think they’re feeding me through a hole in the door. My meals actually come on a dumb waiter from the palace kitchens.”

“I’m really pleased for you, but I really think I ought to get going. I only bribed one shift of guards and they’ll change soon.”

“And there’s the rub. The arrangement works because it is secret. And a secret is only a secret if no one knows it.”

“Penitents Seven?”

“Good guess. Penitents is a go to book if you’re in doubt because no one ever reads that one, but actually that is all my own.”

“It’s an awfully long way down.”

“‘He who dies to serve the faith shall live for ever.'”

“Does it matter that I’m a she?”

“Not to God. On the plus side, maybe you’ll get your own cobblestone.”

 

THE END

If you are interested in my writing take a look here

 

The Lesser Evil

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The Lesser Evil

(Harry Potter Fan Fiction)

 

“Why does she keep touching you?” Ginny asks the question lightly, as if enquiring about the weather. She doesn’t even look at me as she leafs through the newspaper. There’s no suggestion that this is different to the quiet routine of our evenings when the kids are away at school.

I don’t answer. The armchair has me in its grip, too exhausted to move. My work is meticulously filed, my reports thoroughly written. So different from my school days. Diligence delays the moment of my return to this place.

“I just think it’s odd. Any excuse to put her fingers on you, hold your hand.” Now she does look up. My eyes are closed but I can feel her gaze, still and curious. “At dinner on Sunday she wiped that smudge of icing off your cheek.”

The speech must have been rehearsed. All the while I was in the office she would have stared into one of my pictures and worked on the pacing and intonation. The questions are to put this into the realm of another’s fault. It’s not Ginny. It’s not me. It’s the other woman. How strange she is, this interloper in our lives. How maddening to us both the quirks of her behaviour.

Ginny knows if she brings the locus here, into our living room, into something between us, it would be to invite the blame to sit at our hearth and add its silent accusation.

“I hadn’t noticed.” The lie falls easily into the space she has left for it.

“I don’t mind for my own sake, but she’s married to my brother.” Sub text: your best friend. “You know how he can get.”

I do know how he can get. His anger I can handle. It is a red thing, a live flash that can be doused and cooled. The sister, my wife, she’s like me. Her rage is black, deep and lasting. You might mistake the coals as dark and cold, but put your hand on them and they will stick to your skin, burn through to the bone.

“I’ll tell her to stop.” I know she’ll reject my opening offer in this negotiation.

“That would be weird.”

“You tell her.”

“That would be worse.”

“Then I’ll stay away from her.”

“That would be best. Just don’t make it obvious you’re avoiding her.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”

The silence returns, blanketing. For her the task has been accomplished. How could we possibly be to blame? The problem was outside of us, beyond our hearth. Accountability has been localised there, as has the response. There is no more to say on the subject. Unless it is a test, a tableau and trap, a probing of my own responses. Sitting by my own fire, I can’t let down my guard.

When there is a sufficient distance, the taste of the last conversation a memory, she asks “How was your day?”

“Tiring.”

“Still the same case?”

“Yes.”

“Any leads?”

“None. Just a trail of bodies.”

“There’s nothing in the paper.”

“Just the obituaries, otherwise we’re keeping it quiet.”

“Those were reported as old age and natural causes.”

“They weren’t.” I have to get out of this house. The constant wariness is kicking me deeper and deeper into a well of fatigue. “I’m going to get some air.”

“Would you like me to come?”

“It’s OK, I need to get the day out of my system. I’m not great company right now.” Subtext: It’s not your fault. You’re OK, I’m not OK.

“I’ll keep dinner warm for you.”

“Thanks.”

I leave the house without my coat. It is a miserable, frigid February. I consider going back for it, but the door opens and it floats out by itself to settle on my shoulders. The fact that she still cares only makes this harder.

Just outside the village a path veers off from the road and heads off across the fields and farms, shielded by hedgerows. A stream winds its way through, heavy with a month of rain. I stop on the little hump backed bridge and stare into the water. It’s too dark to see my reflection. That’s just as well.

Sometimes in the mirror I can see the shadows. He’s left his mark on both of us, a stain that can’t be removed. Funny how I can’t say His name any more. I used to shout out it so bravely, so cavalierly when He was something I could fight.

I wish there was something I could turn my anger onto now. Someone I could charge at, my head down, heedless of the consequences and howl invectives. A sink into which I could pour the constant bubble of my resentment.

I was forged and scarred in war; I can’t live in a time of peace.

The path here seemed so natural, so obviously correct, and as easy to take as the path to the bridge. We had won a war and lost half a generation. The bodies of our friends lay broken amid the ruins of Hogwarts. In that bittersweet aftermath how sane it seemed to grab whatever happiness was available, share it between us. We knew it might be lost in an instant. We married young, bore children to fill the void.

The danger did not return. How easy to look back now and say “Had I known then what I know now, I would have chosen differently.”

That is a lie. We did not have it in us to do that. Could we have walked away? Could I have said to my closest friend, my brother-in-arms “This happiness you have found is less than the happiness I deserve”? Could I have admitted to the girl who waited for me, “You were only ever a safe haven, a refuge I found from the sacrifice I made for your brother”?

She is here. The one. The destiny that was so obviously written for me that I resisted it, fought against it like it was a prison coming to claim me. The one who was the very best of us. She respected my need for freedom even though it meant she settled for an ordinary man.

Her arm snakes its way around my waist. There is warmth against the chill. I rest my head on the soft bed of her curls. She puts her head against the hammer in my chest. The skittering chaos of my heartbeat slows and steadies. The rest I should have found at home seeps into my bones, scorning the chill and the drizzle.

“How long?” I need to pace this respite.

“He’s discovered Netflix and Quentin Tarantino. He won’t realise I’ve gone for a while.”

The kiss is simple and sustained. An umbilical that feeds us both. A union.

The moon is up. She steps back and by its light pulls away a few hairs that have stuck to my coat. She drops them in the river, and then she’s gone. I wait, listening to the stream and then follow her back into the village, past the glowing windows of her house and into mine.

 

* * *

 

Ginny is curled, foetal against my back. Part of me wants to turn around and offer her some comfort. She is as much a victim of bad decisions and the change of time as anyone. And she has carried the burden of His presence, as I did. That deserves a bottomless well of compassion.

I can still smell the other lingering in my arms, on my breast. If I turn around and hold Ginny, she will know someone has been in her place. Not offering her comfort is a lesser evil, a mercy that she will not ever understand or appreciate.

Compassion, comfort, mercy. So easily confused with love in the fear and alarum of battle. So obviously not love when the dust settles.

Sleep has only claimed me for a little while when the tapping comes. A folded card is marking a regular tat tat tat on the bedside table. The words printed neatly on the inside glow gently in the dark.

“What is it?” A sleepy question. Night will reclaim her in moments.

“Work, I have to go.”

“Be careful.” Mumbled, and then she has drifted away.

I slide out of bed, careful not to let the cold in. I change in the kitchen, well away from the bedroom so I don’t wake her. I stir up the fire and add another log. When it is crackling I add a handful of powder. It flares green and I step through.

I emerge in a room which is frigid and dark. The small fireplace behind me, long unused, spits out dust. I step to one side. My partner appears. Best friend. Brother-in-arms. Cuckold.

Her perfume is heavy on him, beneath it their sweat. My hackles rise. I fight the urge to lash out.

“Harry? Is that you?”

“Yeah.”

Light emerges from wand tips.

The corpses are a couple. Very old. They could have died in their sleep, both sitting in their armchairs, a small coffee table between them. The man’s face is twisted in horror, as if he has been scared to death. The woman looks bewildered. There is not a scratch on them, no sign of violence. Nothing else has been disturbed.

There are pictures on the mantelpiece: the couple in younger, healthier times, a young woman who could be a grand daughter, and another couple with a toddler, who could have been the same young woman in her infancy. None of the images move in their frames. This is new; thus far all the victims have been wizards and witches, old and living alone.

I try to concentrate on the faces in the pictures, but my senses are flooded with the smells he has brought in with him. They cut through the cold air and the death stink. He moves around the room, knowing there is nothing to find. I stand still, jaw clenched. The ink stain on the inside of my ribs aches. It marks the place where the Dark Lord had his grip and was ripped out by my own death.

I feel it seep up and around me, loosening my grip on my magic. I stamp on it. Hard.

There is a change in the air, a scrape of claws on the carpet. A dog bursts in at ankle height and gives a single bark.

“Stupefy.”

“Silencio.”

He muffles the sound, I stun the dog. My spell blasts it back down the narrow hall, sliding across the floor into the kitchen to lie limp and still.

“Steady on Harry.” Ron’s spell was better, considered and proportionate to the threat. We are here to find clues and clear up the evidence of death by magic, not unleash our anger on a small West Highland Terrier.

“Someone could pick out its memories. Had to be sure.” Another lie that slips out easily. He falls for it, as he does every time. It is a lie that suits many purposes. He’ll tell his wife, who will know it is nonsense, and she will seek me out to comfort me. I’m getting too good at this.

“Good thinking.” He casts his light around the room. “Let’s finish up here, I doubt we’ll find anything, but we have to be sure.”

“Yeah.”

He goes out, leaving the ghost of her scent behind in the room.

 

* * *

 

Work passes slowly the next day. There is paperwork to file on the deaths, adding to the roll call of a serial killer. No one in the magical community has been stirred by them yet. The victims are all old, their deaths expected. Families are saddened but not surprised, the police have no evidence on which to hang suspicion. Only a few of us carry the burden of knowledge.

A junior Auror has left background research on the murdered couple on my desk. Brian and Edith Leahy of Gosport. Brian was in the late stages of terminal cancer, but refused palliative care because of Edith’s dementia. He would not let her live alone, or in a hospice. Fifty years of marriage, one son with his family had moved to Denmark. Brian had cared for Edith through years of his own illness. The bland facts of the lives snuffed out are an injustice. There should be more to show for that devotion. I leave the report on my desk.

On the roof of the Ministry, I stare at the leaden sky. The old couple had precious little time left, and their deaths were perhaps a blessing in disguise. I lean over the parapet and dry heave. A dribble of spit falls onto the streets of London. Once I fought for those precious moments of life. I should aspire to be like Brian Leahy, and if that is not possible then at least to mourn his death.

In the afternoon we gather round curled scrolls and notes pinned to a board. We scrub hands through our hair and over tired eyes. We have no leads, no clues. The only reasonable surmise is that there is a dark wizard at work. I know what I have to do next. Ron’s not happy about it, and he wants to come too. That would be an escalation. There is history here, and that needs to be respected.

I leave him at the office and appear outside the gates of the old manor house. It is as forbidding as I remember from the last time I came here, bound and beaten. They make me wait. It is an important part of a valid wariness, a demonstration of who is coming into whose domain.

Lucius sits at the head of his dining table. The only light in the room is from the enormous fireplace. He tries to sit up straighter when I am shown in, tries to sneer, but he is a broken shadow of a man. He has the dark rage too, but in him it is the pathetic whining of a cur. There is a goblet in his right hand, which trembles with the knowledge of his impotence. His left hand snaps onto his right wrist to steady the goblet, and then in a burst of furious action he hurls it into the fire.

There is a snap as a house elf appears, diving into the fire to retrieve the goblet and emerging with its rags a-smoulder. I don’t flinch and I don’t react. He mumbles to himself and then calls for more wine.

It takes a few minutes for Draco to appear. His is lean and tall and gaunt. Pale as a ghost. He shows me into his study wordlessly. Only when the door is closed and the unwelcoming halls are locked out does he speak.

“Why are you here?”

“I need information.”

“I thought ferreting out things you weren’t meant to know was your particular skill.”

I don’t rise to it. Eventually he motions me to a chair. From a sideboard he pours two drinks, and puts one on the coaster in front of me. He doesn’t sit. He stands at the window and looks at me in its reflection.

I take a sip. Fire-whisky. It is smooth and sharp like a goblin made knife.

“There’s a serial killer on the loose.”

“Should I be worried?”

“He’s targeting the very old and infirm.”

“Maybe I should invite him in. He could be doing me a favour.” He looks out through the walls to where his father sits.

“It looks like the work of a dark wizard. Killing curses. Six so far.”

“You think of dark wizards and you come here. Should I be flattered?” There is bitterness in his voice. His family are still wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, but their power and influence is much diminished among ordinary wizarding folk.

“Six deaths. Someone is trying to emulate your old master.”

“Why would they tell me about it?”

“Because if there is a rising of dark wizards they will need you and your money.”

He laughs at that, a genuine display of mirth. “You never had real money. You don’t stay this rich by giving it away to every madman with fire in his eyes.”

I don’t have an answer to that. The black rage is in me, clawing under the surface, but I am in his domain and I need his help.

He keeps looking at me in the reflection and occasionally sips his drink. “The war’s over. Why are you still fighting?” He turns from the window to look at me directly and answers his own question. “You’re looking for a wall to bash your head against. You’ve won, and now you don’t know what to do with yourself.”

“There’s always something to fight for.” It’s a weak answer. I’ve ceded ground to him, and he knows it.

“No. The things you fight for in peace are simple, prosaic. Raising yourself to see to the kids at night, resisting the urge to shout at them, letting them grow into who they want to be.” He pauses, looking for the key to get in. “Keeping the fires of passion burning when the fuel is spent.” I know I have not reacted, but he nods slowly to himself with the ghost of a smile. “I lost in the war and I’ve won more from it than you have, because I can live in the peace.” He hasn’t taken his eyes off me. “That isn’t enough for the Chosen One though, is it? You need the big achievements, the cries of acclaim. It’s not enough to be a hero in your own household.”

He’s echoing my own thoughts from the day before. Knowing that his mind has taken him to the same place as mine makes me feel like I’m wearing soiled clothes. I’m running out of the patience to take his barbs. “Do you know who is behind the killings?”

“No. It’s not anyone who looks to me and mine.” He goes back to looking at me in reflection. “But there are whispers in the wind.”

“Tell me.”

“Whispers that tell me this is as much your doing as anyone’s.”

My grip tightens on the glass. It is goblin made, no pressure I could put on it would make it break. I could use it to hammer the manor house into rubble. “What do you mean?”

“I said your skill was ferreting out secrets. I learned about Polyjuice potion from you. Your exploits have launched a whole industry making invisibility cloaks. None of them a shadow on yours, of course.” He swirls the little that remains in his glass. “And then there was your odd behaviour in the battle. Everyone else was fighting for their lives and you were chasing round the school looking for a trinket. Word gets out, people make connections.” He laughs again. “You burst out of the bank on a dragon. People have worked out you were looking for objects connected to the Dark Lord. The word being whispered in secret places is “‘Horcrux’.”

“That’s not a word many people know.”

“You’re deluded. In any case you might take an interest in a book that went missing from the school library. Very dark magic, very highly restricted.”

“Do you know who took it?”

“‘Who’ could be anyone.” He finally moves away from the window and drops into the chair on the other side of the desk. “One of my own businesses is selling ready made Polyjuice potion. Just add a hair and you can be anyone you please.”

“Do you keep a list of your clients?”

“Just the interesting ones.”

“I’ll need to see it.”

“It’s at the shop. Stop by tomorrow. I’ll tell them to expect you.”

I put the glass carefully back on the coaster. He shows me out by a side door and we don’t exchange pleasantries.

The study was stuffy and the whisky was heady stuff. I walk for a few miles trying to come to terms with what is happening, trying to hold in the horror. Someone is trying to make a Horcrux. Someone wants to split their soul to make themselves immortal through cold blooded murder. Alone now, I let my body shudder and shake. It’s a hideous thought.

I don’t go straight home. I wait on the bridge. It’s late. She won’t come at this hour, but even the faint hope of it is better than the sterile confines of home. And then she is there, slipping into the circle of my arm. She gives me a fierce, tight hug and rests her forehead on my cheek, breathing heavily. The whisky still clouds my lips. She replaces her forehead with a kiss and then she’s gone.

 

* * *

 

“Any message for the kids?”

“You’re going to Hogwarts?”

“Following up on a lead. There was a book stolen from the library. I thought I might stay for lunch while I’m there.”

“Just tell them I love them.”

“They’ll hate that.”

“Then make sure you do it in front of all their friends.”

I leave with a smile. The kids do that to us. They give us a shared purpose; push the darkness into a corner. I go to the office first and brief Ron on the evening’s discussion. He offers to get the list of customers from the shop. He doesn’t like going back to Hogwarts, and I don’t press him on it.

The school gates show signs of repair. Ancient stones alongside fresh cut new ones. It’s like that throughout, except for those parts that had to be torn down entirely. I look in on Neville first. He’s elbow deep in muck in the greenhouse, but still puts out a hand to shake mine before withdrawing it with a rueful smile.

“How are the kids getting on?”

“They don’t have green fingers, but they pay attention. They’ll be fine. How’s Ginny?”

“Fine, she sends her regards.”

“This isn’t a social call.”

“No. What do you know about the book that was stolen?”

“It’s baffling really. Middle of the day, the library was busy. The alarms on the restricted section went off. We’ve accounted for all the children, and none of them set off the alarm.” He stops for a minute, washing the dirt from his arms. “The thing is the book went after we’d cleared the library, but before the detection spells were reset.”

“I’ve heard invisibility cloaks are becoming more common.”

“They are. We’ve confiscated several, but they’re not that effective. We had four teachers in there scouring the place. Someone got by us, picked up the book and got out again without us noticing.” He steers me out towards the hall for lunch. “We’ve told the students it was a drill.” He puts a hand on my arm to stop me. “I sent a report to Ginny, this used to be her department. Now she’s back at work I thought you’d know all the details.”

“Ginny didn’t come back to work.” That had been the plan, once the children were all at school and her days would be empty. “It’s not been the right time.” He doesn’t pry, and I thank him silently for that.

“The report will be on her desk.”

“I’ll look for it.”

After lunch I go to the library. My Auror’s badge opens up the restricted section for me. There’s thick dust everywhere. The house elves are not allowed to clean in here. Only one shelf has been disturbed. The stolen book is back in its place, and has been put there recently. Whoever put it back didn’t trigger the alarms this time. He’s getting better, more skilled, more cunning.

Before I leave I open up the map. I trace the familiar parts of the castle and look for names I recognise, the children of friends. The new additions to the castle aren’t on the map, and students seem to walk through walls and then disappear entirely as they pass through remodelled sections. I spot my sons moving between lessons. Another name catches my eye as I begin to fold the map away. Disappearing off the edge is Ginny Potter.

I open out the map again and rub my finger over the spot where I saw her name, but there is nothing there now.

I have a sick feeling developing in my stomach. By the time I get back to the office, Ron has gone. He’s taken the customer list with him. I sit at my desk for some time, rubbing my scar for the first time in ages. It hasn’t troubled me at all since the battle, but I feel its presence on my head now.

I go to the bridge first. I need courage before I walk into my own home. I need to be grounded, certain. I also need to see the customer list, to confirm or close the yawning pit of suspicion that is opening up in front of me. That means going to Ron’s house, which is a sweet torture all of its own.

I haven’t given her the signal. Somehow she knows I need her. She arrives out of breath, wearing a lighter autumn coat. She stops short of me, her expression haggard and wan. Suddenly her lips are on mine. Her kiss is not the chaste, dry connection of lips we have indulged in up to now. She is impatient and hungry. I ease her away, gently at first, and then a little more forcefully.

“Please, no,” I gasp. She pushes my arms away and begins pulling at my coat buttons. “Remember what we agreed,” I beg. It’s increasingly difficult to turn her down.

“I need you,” she growls.

“I know. I feel the same, but not now, not like this.” This time when I push her away, she stays back. Then in a swirl of her coat she has gone.

I gulp big lungfuls of air. On top of all the confusion I don’t need this right now. I give her ten minutes and then follow. Ron answers the door. He has a hollow look in his eyes. “There’s something I don’t understand,” he says.

“Ginny’s on that list of customers.”

“How did you know?” His jaw is slack in surprise.

“It’s just a sick joke. Let me handle it.” Another lie without a flicker on my conscience. I don’t take the list, I don’t need it. As I turn to leave I see the coat rack in their hall. There’s no sign of the autumn coat. I keep turning, avoiding the desire to stare, or rush over and check. I’ve been incalculably stupid.

At home Ginny is sitting in an armchair by the fire. Her wand is on the table, well out of her reach. I stand at the door to the living room. Where do I start this conversation?

She saves me the trouble. “I forgot about the map. The cloak doesn’t fool the map, does it?”

“No.”

“When they test my wand they’ll know it was me.” Her voice is matter of fact. There is none of the anger that bubbles inside of me, stifling me. I force out a single word.

“Why?”

“Be more specific.” It is a fair challenge. There is so much here I don’t understand. I can’t form a more pointed question. Eventually she offers information to break the silence. “They were all old. Very old, near death. I may only have stolen days from them, months at most.” There’s a glass of wine in front of her. She dips her finger into it and flicks the drops into the fire. The alcohol burns off, and then the drops sizzle against the logs. She does it six times over, once for every life.

“He’s still in here.” She sucks the wine off her finger and then points it at her chest. “The way He’s still inside you.”

“We don’t have to be what He wanted to make us.”

“No, we don’t. But to be free of Him I have to get Him out.” She looks up at me at last. Her eyes are calm, her breathing is steady. “It’s a fantastic idea, don’t you think? Carve out the diseased part of my soul into a Horcrux and destroy it.” She looks away. “Maybe then I can be the woman you need, rather than a fellow prisoner.” She looks at me again, still wholly in control. “I thought I had found a way to fix what’s broken inside me, and now I’m prepared to face the consequences.” She stands up and holds out her hands, wrists together. “Another successful case for the great Auror, finding the killer in his own home.”

“You killed six people.” It’s not a question. It’s barely a statement. I still can’t process what she has done.

“I admit it. My only regret is that I didn’t succeed. I just didn’t have the hate and malice it takes to create a Horcrux.” She puts her hands down at her side. “Just remember that I did it because you wouldn’t face our problems head on to fix them. Brave Harry, ready to die for the world but turns and runs from his dysfunctional marriage.” The turn of her head fails to hide a little sneer of disgust. “I haven’t indulged in the escape you’ve given yourself.”

“You know.”

“You’re an imbecile Harry,” she scoffs. “I knew before you even began. I cracked your little code ages ago. I’ve followed you out most evenings, watching your childish hand holding and baby kissing.”

“My cloak.”

“Our cloak. What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours. For better or worse.”

“Was today the first time you impersonated her?” This is safer territory, I can handle my own betrayal better than her brutality.

“Maybe.”

My mind races through every meeting on the bridge. How often was it my own wife in disguise? Which moments of infidelity were partial, of the heart and mind only, not of the body? That must have been so much worse. If I pick apart the reasons, trace her motivations, somewhere under the darkness and beyond the insanity I’ll find myself. I can’t run from this. No one can save me from it. We’re in it together.

“What do we do now?” I ask.

We stand facing each other for an age. The fire dies down to a dull glow. I pick up her wand from the table. There is an acceptance in her eyes. Through all this she has been more courageous than me. Mad and remorseless, but also courageous.

There is a need for accountability and a penance. Someone has to pay for what has happened. For the sake of our children I cannot let it be her. My question is not hers to answer. I have the answer inside me. The murders will go unsolved, but they will stop. We’re already in the prison we have built for ourselves.

I snap the wand across my knee and throw into the remains of the fire. The flames flare up briefly, and then sink back. Her eyes widen in surprise.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

“The only thing we know how to do. Fight the darkness.”

THE END

I initially put forwards the bones of the relationship theory in this story in this post

All the characters, components and paraphernalia above belong to JK Rowling and/or her publishers. The story itself is my original work, it is intended as an homage to the wonderful world Ms Rowling created.

If you are interested in my writing take a look here