Every Beltane, as the earth begins its slow peristaltic roll towards summer, Potter comes to Bound Skerry. How long he’ll stay is something only he knows. One year it was a month, and another it was only a day. Just as I try not to anticipate his arrival too feverishly, I try not to dread too deeply his departure. Both are things over which I have little, or perhaps even no, control. Sometimes the wind blows in snow from the Arctic. Sometimes it blows in sand from the Sahara. And then, just when the rockcress creeps from the crevices of my stone cottage, with its bruise-hued foliage and its small white flowers, lurid in the lengthening twilight, it blows in Potter, striding across Grunay’s craggy brow, his dark cloak furling and unfurling like a sail. I stand on the rock-strewn shore of my prison and watch my jailer approach like a ship blown off course. Like a bird separated in a gale from its flock. And my blood surges with a sound like the waves beneath my feet, thundering in their subterranean caverns. In the sunless chambers of the tiny island’s soul.
Long ago, I got over the shame of it. Mostly, although not entirely, because the concept of shame had lost what little meaning it had ever held for me. It requires context: shame in the face of family, community, God. But like many things I used to feel, the scouring wind has blown away shame just as it tears off, bit by bit, the British flags Bruray’s postmaster stubbornly keeps replacing. Scraps of red and blue and white flung into the North Sea like strange wordless missives. Once I heard the men, just off their boats from a month-long hunt for herring, talking about the ragged shred they’d hauled up in their nets. Five hundred leagues north of the Faroe Islands, the pub in Klaksvík nothing more than a three day-old memory. A piece of the Union Jack cavorting in the waves with their silver darlings. They dried it out and brought it home with them. For more than a century, the ladies of the Out Skerries Historical Society have been sewing a quilt out of such scraps, the date and nautical position of their discoveries embroidered in gold thread.
It strikes me as a curious, but appropriate, enterprise. Perhaps I’ll take Harry to see it one of these days. But then again, leaving one quilt just to see another seems rather pointless, and besides, I doubt that he’d understand why he should see it at all. A sentimental Muggle artefact made by old women and girls from the bits of home their men bring back to them, just as a reminder that not only is leaving dangerous (the frayed and weathered cloth attests more eloquently than words to that fact), it’s impossible. You will always be found and returned.
As I, myself, discovered that one time, during the first year, when I tried to escape. He tracked me down in Tórshavn, just before the Winter Solstice. Blowing in off the Norwegian Sea like a storm, his Apparition whipping the cold dry snow into my face, stinging my cheeks. Wearing black robes and an even blacker scowl, he hexed me to my knees and seized a fistful of hair, pulling my head back, and suddenly, somehow, the realisation hit me. Nobody knew about this. I was Potter’s little secret. I swallowed, well aware of the jagged trajectory of my Adam’s apple as it moved along the arc of my throat.
You, he rasped, yanking my head back even farther. You.
No, the shame is long gone.
Moving about the tiny rooms of my cottage, opening windows and brushing the sand from the sills, I feel the earth tilting on it axis toward light and life and warmth. I smile, knowing this is a magic so ancient it confounds the attempts of humans to channel it. Better luck channelling the weather or the roll of the tides than Beltane’s vernal tug. Even here. Here, where nothing comes between earth and sky save a thin skin of slate and wet thatch. Here, where life can be boiled down to a broth of monosyllabic words. Rock. Grass. Sand. Sea. Here, where so few insects dwell that the carcasses of sea birds are stripped to the bone by the seasons. God’s teeth, the villagers say in response to almost everything. Even after a decade and a half of sharing these forsaken isles with them, I still don’t know whether the phrase is a greeting, an exhortation, or merely an acknowledgement of shared circumstances. It doesn’t really matter. It always seems to convey the necessary meaning, regardless.
How’re you getting on with the Muggles, Malfoy? Potter asked once, early on, before he’d realised that he didn’t need to humiliate me to get me to comply with his requests. In addition to it being pointless, it was also a silly question. I’d quickly discovered that every last one of the Out Skerries’ seventy-six inhabitants is at least half witch or half wizard. While I, myself, stripped of my wand and forbidden to perform Ministry-recognised spells, am at least half Muggle. I’d merely shrugged. After all, our brief time together is not to be wasted on things as trivial as words.
Unless, of course, those words happen to be commands, like come here.
Look at me.
Does he satisfy these urges during any other time of the year? Or is it just something in the reawakening earth that sings to him? A Siren song he can’t resist and that drives him like a shipwreck against the shores of my body. Let me, he’d said that first time, fumbling with the rope, all thumbs and wind-burned cheeks. He’d bound me rather clumsily to the headboard, and the angle wasn’t right. Yet despite being unable to achieve penetration, he’d come anyway. Groaning deep in his throat and soaking the mattress between my legs as the rain flung itself against the panes of the tiny window. Still hard and wanton from the lack of oxygen his makeshift ball gag permitted me, I’d writhed and spread my legs and come on his fingers when he’d finally cottoned on and slid them in, twisting his knuckles along the sensitive rim and grazing (no doubt inadvertently) that spot deep inside of me. I’d lost consciousness briefly, and when I came to, Potter had been worshipful and possessive and abjectly sorry. He’d lost control . . . He hadn’t meant to . . . Oh god, he knew he shouldn’t, but please could he do it again?
Isolation breeds unlikely love affairs, and after more than a decade, I am no stranger to the sorrow that descends when the otter and her pups return, after a summer in Bound Skerry’s tidal pools, to her winter haven beneath the Bruray pier with its predictable bounty of fish guts tossed in pail-fulls by the curers into the petrol slicked harbour. Nor the elation I feel when the swallows return to their nests beneath the thatched eaves. Is it any wonder that I’ve fallen just a little bit in love with Potter? Potter, who stands awkwardly in my doorway, shier than a schoolboy and ducks his head when I hand him a cup of tea, blushing at the sheer flayed-open nakedness of his own desire.
We never speak of news from the mainland. I have never learned whether my parents survived their sentences in Azkaban, and I don’t know how Potter spends his days. Whether he’s married or single. Whether he has children. I am ignorant of these basic facts, but nonetheless I bare my soul to him and lay pieces of myself at his feet like bits of shell and sea glass. Like a dog retrieving pieces of driftwood. The more I give to him, the more he takes home with him, carrying me, a molecule at a time, away from Bound Skerry. After he leaves, I imagine him in a featureless flat, ascetic and bachelorly, sitting on a bed and untying his laces. The sand on these islands works itself into every crack and crevice, clinging to the weave of a jumper and collecting in the bottoms of unused teacups in shut cupboards. Bemusedly, he watches as it pours from first one shoe and then the other. Every time he steps on the floor he’ll think of me. A grain of memory working itself into the flesh of his heart.
And thus the irritant becomes the pearl.
The wind is from the northeast, cool and fresh. It will be in his face as he makes his way across Grunay, tossing his dark hair about like the flame on a pale candle. There’s a sheltered cove on the other side that he uses as an Apparition point. There’s no need for it to be so far away; Bound Skerry’s shores provide suitable cover. But over the years, I’ve come to think that it’s the walk he requires. His back to the mainland, and nothing before him but close-cropped grass and stone and beyond them both, the shimmering sea. Draco! he calls, throwing my name into the wind. It reaches me in a whisper, and I feel my blood start to thaw after the long winter of his absence. With something that feels like blind faith, I turn my face towards the westering sun. Towards home. Towards Harry, dark and storming, advancing like nightfall. For hours afterwards, he lashes like a gale. The kind that sinks ships and spits out their splintered masts. But I am bound. Cleated and moored in place by tenderly tied knots. I am right where he wants me. Right there in a harbour of white sheets, the sweat drying on my face in a rime of salt, and the wood of the bed frame creaking with the roll of his thrusts. Once he told me that sometimes, just before I come, I shiver like a boat striking a pier and that, if he holds me tight enough, he can feel my orgasm reverberating in my bones, like deck planks shuddering on impact, like steel cross-girders absorbing the sudden collision of sea and shore. I take his word for it because all that I’m aware of in those moments is the sweet bliss of freedom. Latches sprung and tethers sundered. The bruises the ropes leave behind vivid reminders of how it felt to be unbound, if only for an instant, from Bound Skerry.
Draco, he whispers, smoothing the hair off my brow. Come back to me. He means “breathe.” He means “return to consciousness.” But all I hear is a key turning in the lock, and sometimes when I sob as the flood of oxygen returns feeling to fingers and toes, I can’t tell if it’s because I don’t want to come back. Or because I want to too much.
The children on Bruray have lit the bonfires already. Greasy trails of black smoke from old tyres and turpentine-soaked beams streak the horizon. Like everything in this place, the sight is oddly beautiful. Harry’s cloak will smell of it when he arrives, the burning of all the things winter left behind. Broken and no longer useful. He’ll fill the corners of my cottage with his awkward fidgeting, his fingers carding through his hair, the nails bitten down to the quick. He’ll loom in doorways and track mud on the floor. His presence at once as welcome and mysterious as a change in the weather. He’ll prop his boots on the grate and cradle teacups in his hands and upstairs, in my bed, he’ll make the sinews in my body keen for him like the plucked strings of a harp, strung too tight and straining against the ties that bind me while he sates himself on the sound.
Pulling my cloak from the peg by the door, I head out into the coppery light of the late afternoon and pick my way down the steep west-facing embankment to stand in the shadow of Grunay. There are always the unanswerable questions. Will he come this year? Will he be different? Will this be the Beltane he sheds the secret of me like a snake sheds its skin? This time, when his thumbs press against my throat, will he not let go? Beneath my feet, the waves rush in and break themselves against the rocks, over and over. The sound of their retreat as they drag against the innumerable pebbles is like a sigh. Over and over. I close my eyes and feel the earth tilt. I am a marble on an uneven table. A ship on the point where the horizon curves into the sea. The wind blows my hair into my face and whips my cloak about my calves. It is such a constant companion that it is easy to imagine it as something corporeal. The gold thread suturing together the thousand parts of me, binding them together just as Harry’s secret binds me to this place. Binds me to Bound Skerry.
The sun, low on the horizon, drops into the notch of Grunay’s standing stones and throws its light across my face. I open my eyes, blinking away the salt water startled into them by the sudden glare. In the downs behind me, a cuckoo calls, the sound full of a kind of secret mournful joy for which the Gaelic word, uaigneach, is untranslatable into English. I draw a deep breath and hold it until it hurts, as over the brow of the hill, Harry strides, his cloak blowing out behind him like the wake behind a ship at full steam. Instinctively, I raise a hand in greeting at the same moment his voice reaches me.
I feel the blood surge darkly in my veins. Bealltainn. Sanntach tàrladh.