an interlude with the muggles

The house became a livery stable, then a pub, then a demolished and empty lot with nothing but bunches of weeds in it, then a square office building, then a heap of rubble; and then, finally, an art museum.

And still Lealy did not leave. 

Lealy was the truest soul that ever lived, you see; and he watched the old old men of the old old family venture forth into the world to be crowned and manipulated and murdered, and saw the old old women retire, for an instant, to bed, and never come back up again. And when they were gone he befriended the horses, and made sure there were always sugar lumps for them (but not too many), and had the ruder stablehands sacked and the kinder ones rewarded. And at the pub Lealy saw the happy drunks home safely, and the cruel ones to the gutter. And, when he was surrounded by nothing but great bunches of weeds, Lealy helped them grow as tall as weeds could, and saw to it that they blossomed into sturdy, fuzzy flowers to captivate passing schoolchildren. 

Even the office building prospered because Lealy was there. The young men and women with padded shoulders to give them courage became genuinely brave over time, for Lealy would make sure that their charts and graphs were always in the right place, that there was always a cuppa for them at their desks, and that in the angular boardroom the men with cruel eyes and bristling mustaches were seated in the lowest, most unreliable, most uncomfortable office chairs – Lealy liked to reserve the lowest places for the lowest people.

Lealy even stacked the rubble, when the office building came down; and kept a solid fellow in a sturdy hat from plummeting to his death; and contained the great billowing of smoke so that no worker, busy demolishing and building back up again, might find their lungs clouded up and their futures likewise clouded with sickness.

But in the museum Lealy found something new, something different. Here people came not to shore up old names, or discuss charts and graphs, or even to drink away their sorrows. Here people hung rebellion on the walls, and preserved brilliant moments between loved ones, so like those precious moments long ago with the old family that Lealy had by now nearly forgotten. And so Lealy became the protector not of horses or harassed secretaries, but of ideas, of progress, of bursts of expression.

It was the oddest task Lealy had ever had. The pictures did not need a cuppa. But he soon learned to protect them from camera flashes. The young artists who came all full of dreams did not want his service. But perhaps they could use some inspiration – which was a harder thing to provide by far.

But Lealy took to it. Lealy never shirked his duties. And so he began to swell up as he never had before, learning about love in the curve of a brushstroke, and beauty as it was reflected in the glaze of a common pot. They did not use the pots to make tea here; they displayed them. Ordinary, loyal little things – they were now repurposed as beautiful, ornate, precious, worthy of admiration.

Lealy loved the museum best of all. And the museum-goers, they loved him. They came looking for something extraordinary (one does not look for wonderment in a pub or in stables or in an office building, or even at home – but in a museum! That is a different story), and the ones with the clearest eyes, the youngest hearts, the most open minds – they found Lealy. 

Lealy would whisper to them the secrets of how to stay loyal and true, and, above all else, how to put kindness into the world. Lealy was not supposed to talk to these clear-eyed persons, not really. While Lealy had stayed in this one spot, watched it mutate around him, the world had undergone even greater mutations, and now there was a Statute that said Lealy was not supposed to be in a Muggle museum at all.

But what did Lealy care for such ever-changing, unreliable things as Statutes? Statutes are forged to tell men their proper places. But Lealy was no man. He was a house elf; he did not need to be told where he belonged.

One of Cassandra’s great-granddaughters was so talented that she knew, almost instinctively, that Trelawney women would for generations to come sow calamity wherever they went, simply though Sight and Speech.

It would not do. It was a cursed life. There was no point. So she booked a third-class passage (why waste money, when her end was undoubtedly so near?) on the great disaster of the age. And as her fellow passengers marveled at the size of it, the grandeur, as they brought back tales of the gilded upper decks, all those ballrooms and dining rooms and gorgeous first class folk in their jewels; she sat and thought of being swallowed up by the icy black water, of vanishing, a statistic, an accursed Trelawney name snuffed out by a terrible accident no one could see coming.

She might have been consumed by selfishness, that inward-looking sin suicides are often accused of. Oh, we say, if they could look outwards and think of others, then they wouldn’t chase after death!

But do you know? She soon met a kind Muggle Finn sharing a cabin with five other Finns, a sweet Polish woman with a ten-month old baby, and a laughing family from Assyria, who had come on at Cherbourg. She broke bread with a smiling girl whose father spoke sadly of Austria to a friend, fixed toys for a small boy and his smaller brother, and tickled the feet of little Millvina, who she could see (through a haze, as though it were not quite fixed yet) might have a future that would span two millenniums.

But it was no use, none of this made her want to live. She was, in a sense, as anchored to fate as the boat she sat upon. So Ms. Trelawney was forgotten, and went down with the ship. Only her cryptic advice – concerning Lifeboat 15, or Collapsible 2 – remained, guiding those fellow passengers to safety, though the unsinkable was doomed to sink.

Yes, she was a suicide. But she was not entirely selfish.