Pairings: Cuthbert Binns/Walburga Black, Walburga Black/Orion Black
Word Count: About 13,300
Transcribed from back cover of book:
Professor Cuthbert Binns (living: 1865-1963, haunting: 1963- ) is the leading Magical Historian of his day. He has published widely on topics ranging from, 'The origins of magic in native rock art,' to 'Wizard-Muggle relations through the ages', and was awarded an Order of Merlin (second class) in 1936, when his seminal work, 'A History of the magical world in 100,000 pages' became the best-selling Historical text on record.
This volume, however, is - for the first time - autobiographical in nature. It is thus somewhat experimental in nature, but serves to remind both the author and the reader that we each build the fabric of History, in our own ways, however small.
"Being in love with a person is more difficult than being in love with a book. You can carry a book with you wherever you go, but a person moves around on their own, and one is never sure where they are or where one will see them, next. Also, books get older in a predictable way: if you take good care of them they don't seem very different at all - aside from the odd scratch on the cover or a looseness to the spine - but people can change their thoughts and feelings and opinions, such that what was once written there disappears altogether and is replaced by information of an entirely different sort.
That is why people are so difficult."
Author: C. Binns.
Dictation: Gluey the House elf.
Production: A.P.W.B. Dumbledore, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,
Published, 1964; Revised, 1991.
Author's Notes: This atory was written for odogoddess in the fabulous hp_beholder exchange, 2012. Her request included 'friendship' and 'a meeting of the minds', and I have attempted to include these ideas here. The tale is also somewhat inspired by 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' by Mark Haddon.
Professor C. Binns: A Personal History - Part 1
As time passed, I began to notice a difference in Walburga, in addition to the percentage of conversations which were not business-related. She had been so clear and measured at first, and that was why I had liked her.
Over time, though, I found that she became more changeable - not in an unpleasant way; no, not at all - but expressions would pass across her face more quickly than the clouds on a blustery day, and she would laugh far more, sometimes when I didn't understand why. Much later, I heard someone say that young women can be 'excitable'; perhaps that was true. I heard someone else say that they can be 'capricious' - but that seemed to be a very negative thing, so I'm sure it was not the case.
Overall, it is likely not surprising that she changed. She was, after all, a person, and changeability is one of the most difficult things about people.
What is surprising, however, is that I didn't seem to mind.
If anything, I found it enthralling. With most people, I feel nervous and uneasy when I don't understand what they are doing or saying, but with Walburga, I was happy just to be there with her, and to watch her. She was a perfect white-and-black kaleidoscope: symmetry in motion, with an utterly consonant voice that was a pleasure just to listen to, regardless of what was being said. I trusted her completely not to hurt me or to be difficult, even when I didn't understand. I had never trusted a person like that, before, not even my own Father.
Sometimes, Walburga would seem sad. When I thought she looked sad, it was almost as if I felt sad, and I wanted nothing more than for her to be happy, again, so that I could be, too. That was quite confusing, but I found that I didn't mind it, either. It was like the opposite of 'schadenfreude' - and although it felt sad at the time, it was possible to sort-of be pleased about it, afterwards - as if it was the actual act of matching feeling sad or happy that could make one feel pleased in general, not whether the feeling that was being matched was a happy one or a sad one per se.
With hindsight, I can say that for the second time in my life, I had fallen in love. Just like my book, when I was a child, I thought of Walburga all the time she wasn't there, and I wanted nothing more than to talk with her and to write to her. I looked forward to our weekly meetings more than I had looked forward to anything in my life; more so even than Flooing to the library in Alexandria, or when I had received an Order of Merlin for my 'History in 100,000 pages' becoming the best-selling Historical text of all time.
Being in love with a person is more difficult than being in love with a book. You can carry a book with you, wherever you go, but a person moves around on their own, and one is never sure where they are or where one will see them, next. Also, books get older in a predictable way: if you take good care of them they don't seem very different at all - aside from the odd scratch on the cover or a looseness to the spine - but people can change their thoughts and feelings and opinions, such that what was once written there disappears altogether and is replaced by information of an entirely different sort. That can be exciting, but also quite frightening.
The commission was finished, but Walburga and I carried on meeting about once every week, either at her family's house or in my flat. She told me all about what she had done in the preceding week, and was interested in the new books I was writing. She said that she could 'be herself' when she was talking to me, and that was different from how she felt when she was with her family or other members of her society. I was not quite sure what she meant by that, but it sounded positive, so I was pleased. I also did not know what she meant when she said that, one day, her life as a single young woman would have to come to an end - but it sounded like something that was making her sad - at least in part - so I didn't ask further.
It was at one of these tea-time conversations that Walburga shared her big idea about my future. "Cuthbert," she said, not looking at me, but looking around my little flat, in a circular motion, "It doesn't seem right that you're here on your own, lining the pockets of that obnoxious Mudblood downstairs."
I had no idea about the sort of fabric with which Pennyswipe's pockets were lined, but I let that pass. I could say, though, that I did not care much for man.
Walburga continued. "Well, I was thinking about it, you see. You might remember my great-grandfather, Phineas Nigellus Black?"
I said, "Yes, because Professor Black was the headmaster of Hogwarts when I was in my 6th year. I remember him as strict, and knowledgeable about Dark magic."
Walburga paused for a second, then smiled and said, "Quite." Then she said, "And both before him and since, my family has been influential in Hogwarts. My Father, Pollux Black, is on the Board of Governors.
I nodded. Her facts were clear so far, but I still didn't understand what it had to do with me.
"So, you see, if I asked him to get something done in Hogwarts, he would have the power to do it. For example, getting a new teacher appointed. Would you like to be a Professor at Hogwarts, Cuthbert? Would you like to teach History of Magic?"
I remained quiet for a very long time before answering, because it was a very big question. On one hand, it seemed a wonderful idea - being a Professor, getting to talk about History every day with lots of people listening quietly - and even getting paid for it.
However, I was nervous. Schools are very full of witches and wizards, and, unlike the occupation I had enjoyed all of my life, I would have to react to all of the odd things they would say and do. The thought made me anxious, and Walburga somehow guessed that, because she asked, "What's wrong?"
"The people," I replied. "I don't know whether I could cope with them all."
And then she said something very simple but very marvellous. "Of course you could. It will be wonderful for you." It wasn't a question (I could be sure of that, because the pitch of her voice did not rise at the end), it was a statement - as if she somehow knew a definite fact about me.
I like facts, but I like to make sure they are true, first. There was a risk that she might have been 'joking'. So I asked, "Really?" just as she had done, once before.
"Yes," she replied, "Really."
I was surprised and very happy. I utterly trusted Walburga to tell the truth, so that made me feel brave and excited, and I said 'yes' to her idea.
Within a fortnight, arrangements had been made, and I Flooed with my belongings to Hogwarts. Pennyswipe did not say, 'goodbye', but he did say, "Please don't let those Black wizards carry out their threats; will you? Will you, Mr. Binns, sir?"
I didn't know what he was talking about, and I didn't much like him, so I decided to ignore it.
I was met by Armando Dippet, the Headmaster, who showed me my rooms in which to live and to teach (My classroom is 4F, and I like it very much because it has room for all of my books), and explained about meals in the Hall and drinks in the staffroom. He handed me a timetable full of neat little squares, which I also liked very much; it reminded me of being a student there, and the rhythm and security of the castle. I had been happy at Hogwarts, all of those years ago, and was pleased to be back.
Later that day, I walked into the staffroom, and was met by a tall man with auburn hair and a long beard that matched. "Ah, Professor Binns, I assume?" he asked.
"Your assumption is correct," I replied.
"I am delighted to make your acquaintance. My name is Albus Dumbledore, and these are some of our colleagues - Filius Flitwick, Charms Master; Silvanus Kettleburn, Teacher of Care of Magical Creatures, and Horace Slughorn, Potions Master." He pointed in turn to each of the wizards standing in the small group, such that I might learn their names individually and shake their hands. It was very clear, and I liked that. Everyone said, 'hello'. It was going quite well, I thought.
"Would you join us for a drink?" asked Horace Slughorn.
That was the first example of what were to become many conversations I had with my new colleagues. I was very pleased to find that they were interested in History, and understood what I meant when I talked about patterns.
They were very helpful, too. On one occasion, Filius drew lots of diagrams of faces for me, and explained what people meant when they made each one - moving their eyebrows, cheeks and mouth in certain ways. He explained that it was just another kind of learning patterns, and that - us both being Ravenclaws - it would be easy to determine the logic behind it, and that could be a fun problem. He smiled as he said it. I like Filius.
Horace is somewhat more difficult to understand, because he says lots of things that aren't exactly true (but they aren't lies, Filius says, but 'metaphors'. Metaphors are not nasty, like lies). For example, when drinking a glass of wine, he once said that it was, "Exactly like a tuft of goat hair caught in the breeze on the volcanic slopes of a mountain, in spring, with a touch of physalis at the rear." I was sure that a glass of wine could not possibly be exactly like that.
On the other hand, though, Horace is kind and generous. He has often shared many of his sweets and drinks, and always takes the time to ask whether one is well. That, I have learned, is a kind thing to do - even if the information as to whether the other person is well has no direct relevance to the person asking the question.
Albus has always been very clear and fair; he is good at talking in a way that makes sense, and is logical, when he so chooses. I like talking about History with him, because he knows almost as much about it as I do. He also seems to understand a lot about people, even though he sometimes claims he doesn't. He once said, "Hogwarts is like a tropical ocean reef: it provides a safe environment for diverse and interesting creatures that wouldn't survive in the open water." Now I understand 'metaphors' better, I think that might be true.
When I joined the staff, the one thing that Albus and I disagreed about was Walburga. He said that the Black family had dangerous ideas and prejudices, and that I should be wary of their influence. I told him that Walburga was my best friend, and that I could not imagine being without her. He didn't say anything else about it, after that, but he looked a little sad at the same time as smiling. I wasn't sure what that expression meant, but perhaps he agreed with me that loving someone is not something that can be argued with. So he didn't argue about it, and then it was fine.
Walburga Flooed to the school sometimes on a Sunday afternoon and we had tea and cakes - but sometimes I Flooed, and we had tea and ice-cream in her big house on Grimmauld Place in London. It reminded me a bit of the house in which I had grown up - nice and neat and square - but with more gilded and decapitated things on the walls. They were interesting, but also not very pleasant to look at.
I liked being at Hogwarts - I was coping with the teaching just fine, so long as the students kept their questions to factual matters - and had even found a little time for writing, even though I knew the teaching and marking load would necessarily slow my output. -But I looked forward to seeing Walburga more than everything else put together.
I remember the first time she visited me in my new suite of rooms at the school. She seemed excited and talkative, and remarked that the rooms were very attractive and spacious, the tea brought by the elves was excellent, and that my timetable looked full and stimulating. I confirmed all of these observations as true.
Then she asked, "So are you happy here, Cuthbert? Did we - did you - make the right choice?"
I said, "Yes. Thank you very much for suggesting it."
Walburga paused, then smiled and said, "You're so sweet."
It was difficult to tell what she meant by that - how could a person taste sweet? She had most definitely not tasted me at all, and, given that I was not a foodstuff, it seemed quite an illogical thing to propose.
However, I could hear that her voice remained calm and consonant, and that she was still smiling, so I deduced that the comment - however obtuse - was intended to be positive. "Thank you," I said.
"Indeed, it's just as I imagined," she continued. "Hogwarts suits you so well, Cuthbert. You make an ideal Professor - what with all your facts and historical insight. I bet the students don't know what's hit them!" She laughed, and the pitch of it spanned a perfect octave, ascending. The sound was very pleasant. "It's perfect. Tell me you'll be here, always."
'Always' seemed a bold proposition. I, however, had no wish to disobey her. "I will be here always," I said.
So, it was done.
I had been at Hogwarts for six months when Walburga made her announcement. It was the 18th of May, 1946, and she had invited me to have tea at her family home in London. The day was unseasonably warm and very humid; some of the flowers had begun to rot in their buds before they had even bloomed.
She met me at the door and let me into the parlour, just as usual. The elves had brought a tray, but there was no ice-cream today, just tea. It was black and very bitter. Walburga did not ask how my week had been, nor did she volunteer her own news. Her brow looked tense and had lines just at the top of the nose, in what Filius said was a 'frown'. I had never seen her looking so quiet and tense, and it made me feel sad.
When she had poured the tea, Walburga said, "I'm so sorry Cuthbert. There is something I have to tell you."
I nodded and said, "Very well. What is it?"
"I have to get married," she replied.
I was confused: I knew about getting married - it was something that happened to people once, on a spring afternoon, like getting a health-check from a Mediwizard, or getting a book published. It wouldn't take long.
Therefore, I didn't understand why she thought it was important to tell me, and why she was apologising - and I said as much.
She smiled. It seemed very kind, but still sad. It was the same look that Albus gave me once, when we had talked about Walburga, and it meant that someone was thinking two different things at the same time, so I am told.
Walburga said, "I have to apologise because it will mean I can't see you any more, Cuthbert. I'm very sorry. I will miss our chats, terribly. My future husband... he's very possessive. He does not take kindly to me having any male friends, of whatever age.
"I knew it would happen one day, but my parents have arranged the marriage for a few months' time, so I must leave dreams and toys and conversations behind me. I have to fulfil my destiny as the next Black matriarch, and that means I must do as Orion says. I'm very sorry."
I didn't say anything at all. I didn't know what to say, but - even if I had - it truly felt as if my lips and tongue didn't work anymore, and thus I was not capable of it. My breathing didn't seem to function properly, either. It came in strange gasps and coughs, and my eyes felt all wet. I didn't understand what was happening to me, and I felt very afraid.
Walburga said, "Oh, Cuthbert, don't - please, I'm so sorry, I..." and then she put her hand on top of my hand on the table. It was soft and warm and very nice, but I couldn't understand why she was doing something so nice at the same time as making me so unhappy. The confusion of it made me feel even worse.
I never got the chance to ask, however, because at that point, a man appeared in the doorway of the room. He was large and dark, and had an angry look, showing many of his teeth.
"Walburga!" He shouted, "I've told you before: I won't tolerate your sneaking off."
"I wasn't," Walburga said, and her hand gripped mine more tightly as it lay there, "I just needed to-"
"-And what in Merlin's fucking name are you doing with that old creep?" the man shouted, "I won't have it. He's a bloody pervert, that's for sure."
"Orion, please... he's younger than us, really. Cuthbert would never even think of-"
"-I won't stand for it! I won't have you seeing him."
Walburga stood up and placed herself between the newcomer and me. "No! You don't understand. I was just-"
She never got to finish her sentence, however, because at that point, he hit her across the face. I screamed and disapparated, in panic.
That was the last time I saw the person I love.
Chapter 3 [ed. 1991]
I thought about what happened, afterwards - for days; months; years.
I knew I couldn't see Walburga again, because then she would be hit again, and that would make me very unhappy, indeed. I read somewhere that if one loves a person, one doesn't want that person to come to any harm - and one would do anything to stop that from happening, even if it harmed oneself in the process.
Well, that was exactly accurate, I found - and I noted that, for once, a book which wasn't purely about History might be correct.
Even if it harmed oneself in the process.
I thought about that phrase a lot; it certainly did. For the first time in my life, my 'heart' was 'broken'.
It is a decidedly peculiar phrase, is it not? The cardiovascular apparatus residing in my chest was, of course, as untouched as ever. Yet something - something which I did not, and still do not fully understand - happened over that time that made me feel sick and faint, as if my throat was constricting too much and something in my chest was under a dangerous amount of pressure; as if I was being squashed by something so heavy I might die.
As it happened, though, I did not die - at least not at that point and from that cause.
My colleagues were very kind to me. Several of them asked as to whether I was well, and listened calmly when I explained that I was not. Horace gave me a bottle of his favourite wine and a box of his favourite sweets. Filius was especially helpful; he brought me to realise that I was not the first and only person in the world to have felt like that, even though it seemed so individual and painful it could not have possibly occurred before, in the whole of History. For the first time in my life, I was told that I was like other people, and it was a comfort.
And thus, also for the first time in my life, I realised why all the other people in the world say words they do not mean and make up stories and lies (or 'metaphors') to describe something that is real: to make it unreal. -Because sometimes there is something so strange and awful that it defies words and needs its own odd universe of make-believe and falsehood, just to be described at all. Perhaps, if you describe something dreadful and real in words that cannot possibly be real, it makes the thing itself less real, too. And that must be how most people manage to cope, all the time, when they feel as if they are going to die.
As I said, I never saw Walburga again, after that - nor did we communicate again by letter or any other means. Occasionally, I heard something about her: that she had given birth to a child, or had influenced a decision in the Hogwarts Governing Body - but I tried not to discover any information, lest the mere fact of my knowing might somehow make its way to her husband, and she would get hurt because of it. I still valued her safety and happiness above all else.
However, I held true to the promise I made to her: I shall be here always.
I died on June 17th, 1963, at 4:03am. I don't remember it, because I was asleep at the time, in front of the fire in the staffroom. I have spoken to other ghosts, who describe a point of decision at the moment of death - that they could either go through a door, or on a train, or up a ladder, or not - and they, invariably, chose 'not'. I suspect I have no such memory because I had already made my decision; when I make a promise, I keep it.
Albus, who was Headmaster by then, said that I could carry on teaching History of Magic, if I wanted to. He also said that he thought Historians were important, and he wished he had read my book, ' The rise of dictators past: patterns for the future of Prussia? when it had first been published, in 1943 - because that might have made him 'save some time and a lot of heart'. I wasn't sure what he meant by that, and I didn't ask. According to Filius' diagrams, it looked as if it might have been 'private.'
He did say, however, that he thought the dispassionate treatment of such topics was probably the most useful a human can achieve - and that perhaps, as a ghost, I would be even better equipped than I was in life, for revealing the patterns of beings and their follies. I told him that being a ghost did not feel very different to me from being alive; I still existed on the fringes of the world - only now, perhaps that sense was more legitimate.
That, in itself, is a comfort. It is nice to officially not fit in, rather than merely feeling as if one is an alien, with no outward sign of it to use as evidence. The only person who made me feel as if I was truly a person was Walburga. She is gone, now - to me, and to the world - so I am an alien once more, and shall be for ever more.
Albus said he hoped I would be willing and able to continue turning a trained Historical eye to the affairs of the day, whatever they may be. He paused, and I thought he might have looked 'worried'.
In the ensuing years, there have indeed been a lot of stirrings - much bloodshed and bad news - and I can see that some of the people in Hogwarts have been made to feel as I felt when I lost Walburga, by the war. I am sorry that they feel that way; I would not wish it upon anyone.
Indeed, it is the first time I have seen a series of historical events as anything other than a comforting, logical list. It is strange that after so many decades of being an expert at History, I should now come to see it differently - as a mess of people and feelings, with no clarity and pattern at all, because one is too close. It is strange that I had to have my 'heart' 'broken' to be able to see it like that. I'm not sure whether or not I like it, and whether it is of help or hindrance to my writings.
I do my best to keep my promise to Albus - that I will try to benefit the school for as long as I am here - but I find that I don't remember some things very well, anymore. History is as clear as ever - all of the names and dates and battles in perfect order, like a freshly-set chessboard - but things that happen in the present day are very blurred, and wash over me, like the swell of the lake when I dive through it. I have difficulty remembering the names of my students, for example - they all look the same, when one is a ghost. And I am increasingly bad with dates and times of the year - Christmas and summer look much the same when one cannot feel cold or warmth, and cannot taste roast goose or summer pudding.
But, still, I try.
I am told that we shall soon be entering a new Historical chapter: a boy, a chosen boy will be joining us this autumn, and that all manner of things in the world are likely to happen.
I will watch, and do my best. One day, when the muddy fields have cleared, the fallen are long buried and the survivors are old and toothless, I shall see the exquisite, fractal patterns of it, and it will look beautiful. When all has passed to dust and History, I shall be here; always.
This is usually my favourite part of a book, because it tells where one may find more interesting books and papers. I also like the soothing rhythm of lists, all arranged in the same order: author, date, title, publisher.
I find, however, that there is little to put here, and that I have already broken convention, by instead entering prose.
I can cite my first love, of course:
Oglewood, E., 1856. A History of magic from ancient times to the present day. London: Galleon Press. Reprinted in 1935, ed. Binns., C.
And I should list a small selection of my own works, lest the reader wish to reference them further:
Binns, C., 1885. A History of the magical world in 100,000 pages. London: House of Quillbright.
Binns, C., 1886a Goblins revisited: New evidence for ancient civilizations in the Far East. London: House of Quillbright..
Binns, C., 1886b </i>Goblins re-revisited: Rebutting new evidence for ancient civilizations in the Far East.</i> Canterbury: Pursebank.
Binns, C., 1901, Giant wars, then and now. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1905, The origins of ancient runes. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1911, The historical uses of Abyssinian unicorns in potion-making. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1912, Dragon farming in Transylvania in the seventeenth century. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1920, A history of wizarding dress and costume. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1922, Wizard-Muggle relations through the ages. Canterbury: Pursebank, Canterbury.
Binns, C.,1929, Bowtruckles: uncovering intelligent beings in wizarding prehistory. Canterbury: Pennyswipe, Canterbury.
Binns, C.,1931, Native rock art, and the origins of Magic. Canterbury: Pennyswipe, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1935, Why don't wizards have royalty? -And other questions of Magical power and leadership through the ages. Canterbury: Pennyswipe, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1939, Goblin rebellions over time - patterns of distrust and riot Canterbury: Pennyswipe, Canterbury.
Binns, C., 1943 The rise of dictators past: patterns for the future of Prussia? Canterbury: Pennyswipe, Canterbury.
[Binns, C., 1945 The most noble and ancient house of Black: A History Private commission, unpublished.]
Binns, C., 1953 The history of Merfolk from Persian lakes to the present day. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Binns, C., 1964 The use of magical creatures for spying and reconnaissance in Wizard-Muggle skirmishes. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Binns, C., 1977 Reflections of war: Ancient Greece and Sparta. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Binns, C., 1982 Goblin-Wizard relations in the eighteenth century. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Binns, C., 1990Where did we go wrong? Stirrings of battle and hope in late twentieth century Britain. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
But perhaps most of all, I should cite a source that bears only a little text. For I have learned, over all of these years, that sometimes people do not make sense, and that state is the natural order of things. People and their feelings are not logical, and that is, after all, how the world should be - and we should love them for it. So, through all of this and despite all appearances, I have learned that I am a person, too.
Archdover and Sons Inc., 1985. Gravestone in Black family plot, Conningham Square, London. Amended, to present, with daily addition of red rose (non-corporeal); 2190 specimens added to date [31st March 1991], ed. C. Binns, 1985-