A past, more sensible, less frightened version of me might wonder what I was doing with a human leg, most of a human hand, thirty gallons of petrol and a crowbar.
Luckily, all sensible people had long since left my house.
As to what I was doing? I was – clumsily – faking my death.
Okay, okay. From the top.
Originally I came from Sydney. I came from the first week of 2017. I was thirty-four years old, a single receptionist with a bitter outlook and, yes, inveterate muggle filth.
Here and now I was home in this quaint English countryside, a tall, strapping wizard with a physique to die for and thick blond curls. I was a best-selling author, a known charmer; a liar and a jerk with a heart of mud. I arrived in the dying days of 1990 and everything went downhill from there.
I woke up Gilderoy Lockhart one morning in winter. I found no clues as to what had happened to make it this way, and had absolutely no idea how to get back. I didn’t even know I was in the magical world until the post owl came and scared the piss out of me.
The first day was the worst, because it was the one upon which I received several terrible shocks in quick and brutal succession. It was also when I discovered that the magical world relied upon magic to the same degree normal sane people relied upon technology. I didn’t mean just computers and phones, either: everything from travel to cooking required magic.
I had magic. I absolutely had it – I just couldn’t use it properly.
Even a year later I was still pretty terrible at it. I could manage some simple stuff, enough to get around oh my own, and I was learning, but as for anything even a little bit complicated – well, necessity might be the mother of invention, but you can be damn sure we invented the wheel before the combustion engine. I wasn’t good at complicated stuff.
That first day, though. That was a nightmare. Nothing could have blunted the shock of waking up and rolling out of bed to stumble - to find myself the wrong size, the wrong shape, and a thousand copies of the same unfamiliar face peering at me from the mirrored walls.
Let me assure you, at the time I didn’t care one whit that the face belonged to some impossibly beautiful, golden-haired Adonis-looking motherfucker. It wasn’t mine.
I was horrified when I realised it was somehow on me. How did you just casually get a new face?
The house was another mystery. It was a five-room cottage, one which apparently existed out here in the middle of a pretty sort of nowhere just for its sole occupant. It was filled with mirrors. Huge ones, spanning whole walls, with intricate gilt frames. They made the place dizzying and huge, and whenever I turned around a handsome blond was watching me in suspicious bewilderment.
The first hour I stumbled through the house, uncoordinated and frightened as I watched the sun rise out the windows. It was quiet, isolated: a countryside retreat. Was I meant to be here? Was I not? Did this person exist before or had I fallen, fully-formed, into a brand new existence? I muttered to myself aloud and then stopped, startled by my voice. It was deep. I ended up wandering, touching everything, rubbing my skin and hunting through rooms, haunted by my reflection at every turn. Some of the mirrors whispered to me as I passed, sweet nothings and compliments, questions about when I was going to sit down and do my hair.
I felt like I was going crazy.
The post came on soft silent feathers, swooping down through the window with a hoot, and I screamed. My voice cracked the silence, huge and terribly deep.
The owl screeched, dropped the letters and flapped away in a graceless feathery fright.
I swallowed. “It’s a bird,” I hissed at myself. “Get a fucking grip.”
The owl landed on the windowsill and glowered at me, unblinking and offended.
I looked at the post. There was a big bundle tied with twine, a newspaper, a few official-looking envelopes. I breathed.
Well. It wasn’t mine, but I oughtn’t leave it on the floor.
I gathered it up, left it in a neat pile on the table. Post delivered by owl. That was fucked up. Could an owl even carry all that?
I supposed if it could carry all sorts of prey…
Then I glanced at the post and saw that it was addressed to Gilderoy Lockhart.
I looked back at the mirror. I… No.
“No,” I said flatly.
“Who,” said the owl. “Who. Who.”
Was it mocking me?
“Fuck off!” I snapped at it. It puffed up, all feathers and wounded dignity, and then it did indeed fuck off, leaping away and gliding silently into the trees outside.
I tore through the house, and new details leapt out at me as I did. Those books on the bookshelf? Lockhart’s. The papers on the desk? Writing notes.
And nothing worked properly. I couldn’t even make a pot of tea because I had no way to heat the water. There weren’t any matches and the stove didn’t even seem to produce gas to light anyway.
I revisited the bedside table and found the wand.
That day I mostly only succeeded in setting myself on fire and crying a lot. I didn’t prepare food. I didn’t shower. I didn’t even change out of my soft sleeping pants.
I was a golden-haired Adonis-looking dude and all I could do was curl up on a chair in the elegant, empty dining area and bawl.
Day two was …arguably worse.
My agent called - by which I mean she stepped fully formed out of the fireplace.
The actual fireplace. She just. Walked out? Like it was a doorway.
Her name was Sarah Pemberton, Ms not Miss, according to the letter she’d sent me yesterday and which I had not had the wherewithal to read. She had a very slight frame and very dark skin, and she looked like she could have stepped out of a magazine for alternative fashion: she wore a waistcoat and an asymmetrical green velvet skirt over her leather trousers. She had a pair of black and silver boots with wicked heels that laced up to her calves, and I found myself a little bit jealous of them. There was a leather case that followed her around like an obedient dog, either a handbag or something she used for work.
“Oh thank god,” I choked out. “I’m so sorry, I really need help.”
“You usually do,” she drawled, and I ignored that in favour of explaining, with increasing bewildered hysterics, the situation.
She pursed her lips, looked up at me through her long dark eyelashes, and accused me of writers block.
“I don’t have writers block,” I snapped.
“Good.” She nodded, dark curls bouncing around her chin. “Because you can’t afford it.”
“My problem is not writers block - it’s that I’m not Gilderoy fucking Lockhart!”
“Well, now, there’s a publicity idea. Your adoring fans would love to see that.” She crossed her legs with a velvety rustle. “Do you think we could leak footage of you using polyjuice in the bedroom?”
“Are you even listening to me?” I shrieked.
She rolled her eyes, bored. “You’re struggling with your manuscript. I can see that. I don’t think an identity crisis is going to convince Beckett House’s solicitors, though, so you’ll need to come up with something a mite better to get out of it.”
“I am not trying to get out of writing a manuscript, Sarah-”
“Heather, Gilderoy. There’s no need to be rude.”
“– I will write the fucking book for you, whatever, I don’t care. But I woke up in this body yesterday, I’m not Gilderoy Lockhart, and I need HELP.”
“You are a bit overwrought, aren’t you?” She sighed, finally pulling herself together to do something helpful.
She made a pot of tea and set it on the table between us upon a coaster that was, like many things in this plush and polished and unlivable house, both hideous and very expensive looking.
“You have this problem every time you sit down with a new manuscript, Gil,” said Heather, taking one of my large golden-tanned hands in her small dark one.
I did? He did? I perked up. Maybe it was some kind of crazy accidental magic Lockhart’s body just did when he was stressed? “You mean he turns into somebody else every time–?”
She rolled her eyes again and ploughed on through: “And as you do every time, you will finish your manuscript. It will happen by the deadline because you will work on it. You always produce for us, and this time will be no different.”
“What,” I said flatly. “No, Sa– Heather, no, stop going on about the manuscript for a second. I’m literally not the same person, I’m–”
“Gil. Gilderoy. If you’re still having this identity crisis once your manuscript is finished, I will hold your hand all the way to St Mungo’s. Until then…”
She patted my hand and forced a tea cup into it. I clutched the bone china like a lifeline.
“I…” I stopped, staring helplessly into my tea.
Heather leaned forward, giving me serious eye contact. “Gil.”
“Mm?” What the fuck, that wasn’t even my name.
“Write the fucking book.”
She wasn’t going to let go until I agreed, was she? “…right,” I said, awash with despair.
“Good.” And then she smiled.
Heather remained utterly impervious to my inner - and outer - hysterics and left me with a reminder that my manuscript was the last one I was contractually obligated to produce but nonetheless due in nine months. Like a goddamn baby.
I didn’t get anything done that day, either. I just went back to bed. It was eleven o'clock in the morning and I was just done. I did not deal well with being overwhelmed.
At least Gilderoy’s bed was soft. Comfy. It smelled expensive and good, like everything else here.
On day three, I got up and brushed my hair. The mirror was more helpful than my agent had been, whispering soothing nothings about how pretty I was.
And I was. Very pretty. The mirror convinced me I’d feel better after a shower. I showered. I had a killer body, broad through the shoulders and tight through the hips and belly, with a butt you could bounce a coin off. I looked incredible when slippery and wet. And I knew all this because there were mirrors everywhere, and even the ones that weren’t enchanted told me I was hot.
I tried smiling at myself and, okay, yes, alright. I could see it. Most charming smile indeed.
Okay. That was a little encouraging. Maybe everything else was a mess but at least I was absurdly, stunningly beautiful.
I remembered the spell Heather had used to boil the water and successfully managed to make myself tea on the twelfth try, only breaking two cups and one ugly vase in the process. I drank my tea and dug through the pantry until I came up with a slightly wrinkly apple. It was a little old, but sweet and not yet mushy.
Then I went and dug through Gilderoy Lockhart’s manuscript notes. His writing desk was the only truly comfortable place in the house (other than bed): it was huge and wooden with an inlay of muted blue leather, the chair was comfortable and there were few decorative distractions. There was only one picture of Lockhart here, a silvery-framed thing in which the image fluttered and batted his eyelashes at me. I turned it over, much to his distress. Everything here was geared toward actually getting things done.
I could write a manuscript. And if I showed Heather I was doing it, maybe she’d help me with – well, the basics, at least. Currency. Household tasks. Where the fuck I was and how to perform basic magic.
And maybe, yeah, maybe a check up at the hospital. Because this body was really real. Everything was, despite the pervasive and jarring disconnect in my thoughts. And I was starting to doubt my previous reality as fuzzy memory. Was it really a thing? Why did I feel so unsettled?
Every time I tried to stop and think about these circumstances, I just about shat myself. It was stressful and scary and upsetting.
Fine. If a manuscript was what Heather wanted, I could vomit up a manuscript in four or five weeks and palm it off on her for serious red penning. And in return I was sure I could get her to help me.
I looked at the notes.
Fucking Gilderoy Lockhart.
He was writing an autobiography.
Fuck my life.
I took a deep breath. Okay, well, we were going to have to close the book on that one.
That was fine, I wrote fiction in my spare time – I was sure I could come up with something, however sub-par, in his genre.
After another pot of tea – only three attempts that time! – I sat down with a cup and a pile of Lockhart’s most recent works.
Five hours later I got up to pace. I’d figured out the reason Lockhart was a best seller: he wrote the literary equivalent of A-grade premium crack cocaine, packaged beneath a smile and a wink from a very famous beauty.
I …wasn’t sure I could write as well as he did.
Still, I diligently made notes, picking out the common elements between his books and writing down common turns of phrase and pervasive themes and parallels. If I couldn’t do it as well as the real thing I was going to make a good go at imitation.
Day five was when I picked up my mail and stopped.
The date said it was January 1991. Which meant…
I looked at my ink-smudged fingers, ignoring the soft complaints of my mirror about the state of my tumbling golden hair.
I went back and scrapped my notes.
I knew exactly what I was going to write.
It took more than five weeks. It took me a week to organise my goddamn notes. I missed having a laptop.
I wandered around, half naked and living on tea and biscuits for weeks (I can confirm that Lockhart’s beauty must be supernatural in origin because it did not rely on my maintaining it through any kind of diet or exercise or proper sleep schedule), and I wrote. I wrote in fits and starts, ten jagged words one day, six thousand the next. I wrote as it rained and poured. I wrote as the evergreens bowed beneath the weight of their snowy branches. I wrote in a frenzy until my hand cramped and I got ink on my face. I boiled water for tea six times before finally remembering it in time to make a pot while it was still hot.
Little Hangleton rose up from the smoke of memory and spilled across the page, alive in ink with the Gaunts and their decaying bloodline and their hissing voices echoing down through the years. Wool’s orphanage unfolded on the parchment before me: a rabbit dangling from the rafters, a secret cave by the sea. A burning closet, magic; and fear, always fear.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.
When I presented the manuscript to Heather, she flipped it open and her eyebrows rose nearly into her hairline.
She left and she read it, and when she was done she came back.
“Gil… you have a reputation for researching your stories pretty thoroughly,” she began. “Are you sure this…”
“It’s at least as accurate as the others,” I said mildly.
She tapped her fingers on the parchment, staccato and nervous. "It seems like it is. It’s not that. Your interviews and circumstances all check out, although they don't all, erm, remember you. It’s just… This is going to be controversial. For Merlin’s sake, Gil, you don’t even call him You Know Who!“
I hadn’t really considered it, actually. I was so used to considering Voldemort a character in a book, it hadn’t occurred to me to censor it. And I had not censored anything. From the squalor of the inbred Gaunts to the vile orphan upbringing of Tom Riddle Junior, I’d written everything I knew.
“If I was going to censor anything,” I admitted on reflection, “it would be the horcruxes.”
Heather looked uncomfortable. “You weren’t specific about how to make them,” she said.
“I looked Horace Slughorn up. You know he’s still living? A well-connected fellow. If I take this back to the office, I think we shouldn’t put his name in it. I’m sure he doesn’t want to be connected to You Know Who, and he could cause a lot of problems of we’re not careful.”
“Fine,” I shrugged. “Nobody needs to know about his role. It’s not fair to him, anyway; I’m sure he didn’t know what he was enabling.”
“Gil,” she sighed like she couldn’t contain herself: quick, explosive, excited but scared. “Are you sure about this? It’s the last book on your contract, and I’m sure people will read it, but… It’s going to have your name on it. Are you ready for the backlash on this?”
“Sure,” I agreed blithely.
It was nineteen ninety one. Voldemort had been gone for a decade and he’d remain gone for another four years at least. Which meant that I had four years to figure out how to stop being Gilderoy Lockhart. And now, when he did return, everybody would know all about Tom Riddle Jr. About his horcruxes. About his history. They’d know he wasn’t even a pureblood.
My book was going to smear his name with shit all over. A poor, trembling orphan half-blood boy scared of his own mortality. Cruel, brilliant – and pathetic.
When Heather left, I felt pretty good about my decision.
Two months later, Death of a Dark Lord was published.
I stood in front of Flourish and Blotts with Heather making faces just outside of camera view, and I smiled into the array of flashbulbs. The lights blinded me. The manager complained about the smoke.
The first Howler came that very evening.
So, no, didn’t go well. That wasn’t to say it was unpopular. No, it was very popular – Skeeter wrote a scathing, horrified review of it within the first week, and by the second week scandal had quintupled sales.
People hated it. But they hated it with fervour, with passion, with rage – and for everybody who was so offended he could barely breathe were six or seven people who simply had to know what was so distressing.
My book spread through the population faster than the flu.
Voldemort’s supporters hated it. Voldemort’s opponents hated it. Concerned parents despised it. Politicians took it up like a rallying cry: how could I be allowed to write such vile filth?
I got my first death threat within the week. As death threats went, it was pretty standard: a letter in rounded handwriting assuring me that somebody knew where I lived and I would handily receive what was coming to me.
It was the first, but hardly the last. There were a surprising number of them. Some were creative, and some were simple broad ‘you’ll get yours’ kinds of notes.
I had half a dozen lawsuits for libel and ten or twelve Howlers every morning.
I wasn’t sure why threats to burn me were as common as they were, but I did begin to wonder if fear of burning was some kind of strange witch-hunt legacy for Wizarding Britain.
People approached me in Diagon Alley to tell me how despicable I was, as though their feelings were so important I shouldn’t be allowed to buy parchment without stopping to consider them.
Somebody sent me a surprisingly well-developed moving photograph of livestock being culled.
It went on. And on.
Every threat I received required I make another laborious Floo call to the Ministry and report to the obsequious Auror liaison officers, none of whom seemed very concerned.
Admittedly I wasn’t, either. At first.
There was always the nagging fear that if I left the house somebody would be waiting outside, somebody would be ready to set me on fire. It chewed at my mind when I tried to sleep and nibbled at my thoughts when I got up every morning. But it wasn’t something that really, truly frightened me until I got the first dark mark in the post.
The owl dropped a scroll marked with a skull swallowing a snake and nothing else onto my desk. It unfurled, hissed and smoked wildly, and the disappeared in a foul-smelling cloud, leaving only the singe marks on my desk to show for it.
That marked a turning point. It was the moment I realised how real this was. It wasn’t the Wizarding equivalent of goats screaming like humans on the Internet, wasn’t the same thing as getting ‘you deserve to die’ as a response to a piece of writing posted in a public forum.
In the end, the real terror of it was this: each and every person writing to me had the means of following through with their threats. They had wands. And the dark mark… that was not something people here threw about lightly. It was just proof that at least one of these people was unhinged enough to really do it.
It got worse.
A lot worse.
Heather’s body turned up in September. Burnt.
That was exactly the sort of thing to make me sit up and pay attention, you know?
Now? Now… the moon was waxing, swelling night by night among the clouds. The stars were bright.
It was a fine night to die.
…or to pretend to die, at any rate.
I spent part of the night hidden in the opulent bathroom, ignoring the mirror’s cries of dismay as I painstakingly shaved my head. Most of the lovely golden curls were tossed in the fire at my earliest convenience.
I already looked pretty different with my head shaved.
After a few long, heavy-breathing seconds, I took my little silver potions knife and carefully but purposefully disfigured my face.
Lockhart’s face was what sold his books. Polyjuice potion was both difficult to brew and lasted only an hour. There were some things that were permanent and which would make a much more significant contribution toward taking on a new identity.
The mirror started yelling as soon as the first drop of blood fell onto the marble countertop.
“No, sir, you mustn’t –”
I shushed it impatiently. “I really must. Please stop yelling. I would really not like to slip.”
The whole business was painful, obviously, but the pain was a hot, sharp-blooming thing that was really secondary to how scary it was. What if I did slip? What if I bled too much?
The knife made a long, deep line across the ridge of my browbone, just past the outside of my eye. After a second, I went and did one across my forehead and over the bridge of my nose as well.
I could see the skin peel back and split just before the blood started running. It ran fast, streaming, red. It was healthy-looking blood, at least.
There. “Well. Who’s Witch Weekly’s most charming smile now?”
I flashed my reflection a giddy smile, but head wounds bled a lot. There was blood between my teeth.
Whoever was winning that award next year, it sure as shit wasn’t going to be me.
I stemmed the bleeding with a plush, wine-coloured towel. The blood wouldn’t show as obviously on it… although that wouldn’t matter in a few hours anyway. As soon as it had slowed to a sluggish ooze instead of a stream, I cleaned off my hands and began applying salve to the mess of my face.
Holbarm’s Liniment was renowned for closing wounds quickly and preventing infection – but the scarring was infamous. It was mostly advertised for use on places like dragon preserves, where wounds needed to be closed, fast, and hang what it looked like in the long term.
Here, it was perfect, because when I looked up my face was completely unrecognisable, but the scars looked… well, not old. They were still red and tight. But they didn’t look like fresh cuts, either, and they certainly didn’t look like they were going away.
My mirror gave an anxious whimper.
I looked at the jar in my hand, pursed my lips, and slammed it into the glass.
The mirror shattered, glass raining down in pieces and shards, and didn’t make any more unwelcome commentary.
I left the towel and the broken glass right there.
The jar was still in one piece, so I determined to take it and the knife with me. Who knew what I might need?
When I left the bathroom, I went back to my crow bar. With effort, I tipped a book case and wrenched some of the shelving out. I grabbed several of the books (Lockhart books, of course), tore out the pages, tossed them haphazardly around the room. I aimed one heavy one at a mirror and flinched at the shattering glass.
The Lockhart in my huge, blown-up poster of myself was really alarmed to get tossed into the fire. Good. Fuck him.
I broke pretty much everything.
I’d robbed a muggle morgue earlier that evening. I know, right? Still. It was completely sensible from my point of view, because I needed body parts and I wasn’t about to either die or kill someone to get them.
Even a really rudimentary grasp on magic allowed me to get past security, and as for the single human guard – well, the only charm I was really good at was – you guessed it – the memory charm. It was either a biological predilection for it, or Lockhart’s muscle memory was just that ingrained.
Either way, smuggling out a few pieces? Child’s play. Honestly, the worst part was probably wielding the bone saw. I was sure to make a mess of the place when I went, turning over tables and desecrating bodies all over the place. It wasn’t the sort of crime one could hide, so I made no effort to hide it – I just disguised what I’d actually taken amidst the mess. The muggle police would be baffled, the cameras wouldn’t work, the security guard would remember nothing – and the Wizarding World would, as always, pay not a jot of attention to anything further away than the ends of their noses.
In theory, you were only supposed to lose about a pint of blood at a time – much more and you started feeling the effects of it. I’d been saving up over time, and had about three quarts of my own blood stocked in the same jars most wizards kept preserves in. It wasn’t a whole body’s worth, but nobody was going to pay that much attention with the place this wrecked.
All of the things Lockhart cared about were things I didn’t. I tore them up. I broke them. I up-ended petrol on half of them.
The things I took fit in a bag – not a backpack, Lockhart didn’t own one. I’d found a moderately ugly bag he’d been gifted years back buried at the bottom of his cupboard last week. It had a strap that went crossways over the body and a heavy dragonhide exterior. The interior, blessedly, was expanded past all reasonable expectation.
Several things were coming with me.
Money, obviously. Lockhart had plenty of it, and his expenses were often so bizarre that nobody would bat an eyelash if a few score thousand galleons went missing from his accounts – especially in drips and bits as they had over the past month. If nothing else, the goblins were bound to tell anybody asking to mind their own business, which suited me just fine.
I wasn’t taking much of the clothing, because Lockhart had a very definite and very loud sense of style, which wouldn’t help me in the slightest. He did have some very good, sturdy boots, and those I couldn’t resist.
I was taking two tea settings, three pairs of really nice boots, a copy of Death of a Dark Lord and some money. Lockhart didn’t seem to have cared much for the beautiful tea settings gifted to him, but I sure did.
The air smelled of woodsmoke and green things – from the hearth and the most pretentious garden money could buy, respectively. There were flowers in there that came from Africa and South America, ones that needed specialised spells to keep them warm. They were very pretty but the garden predated me and I didn’t care nearly as much as its previous owner presumably had.
It would probably all go up in smoke, because I was setting the biggest fucking fire I could.
I was at this point way too aware of the Wizarding World to think anybody would check to find out if the body parts they found actually matched Gilderoy Lockhart’s blood or tissue. They certainly wouldn’t be much concerned with looking at the use of petrol – the rest of the stuff I was burning was mostly the endless store of perfumes and personal care potions that littered the house.
The vast majority of them had ‘extremely flammable’ warnings on them. I figured that was what the aurors were going to want to see.
It was oddly cathartic, actually, breaking everything and upending potions and petrol on it all. Living as Lockhart had been exhausting. Public appearances, flashy clothing, smiling and pretending to be in love with the adoration of strangers – every time I ripped the cover off a book or smashed a mirror, I felt like I was exorcising the whole experience.
I left my ill-gotten body parts in the bed, soaked the linens with accelerants, and poured my blood all over it. It was grim and it was awful. It sure looked like a murder scene.
In the end I stood in the garden, dressed down in jeans and dragonhide boots with a woolen coat thrown over the top and an ugly bag slung over my shoulder. The wand had to go, too, because it was a surefire means of identifying any given wizard.
Still, there was one last spell to cast before I could snap it, toss it into the house and get out of here.