REC: THE COMFORTABLE WOUND This fic. My friends, this fic is a revelation.
Really I want to say FOR LOVE OF GOD, GO READ THIS NOW, but that wouldn't do it justice. And I want to do it justice, because it is the story that jarred me out of fic apathy, that made me sit up straight and realise, in a kind of shock moment, the revolutionary potential that can be set free by rewritings and explorations of ›canon‹. That sounds very abstract. Really that's just me, not the fic; or rather, it's what the fic does without ever having to say.
Some of you may remember o_mayari from her spectacular alternative universe take on the Golden Trio, The Eleventh Birthdays (my rec is here). Or Romance of the Age (the original deeply_horrible post with comments is here), with its breezy, savage, gloriously unfettered deconstruction of the brightness and glam and simultaneous monstrousness of the first war generation.
The Comfortable Wound is related to Romance of the Age, although they don't belong to the exact same universe. (You absolutely do not have to know RotA in order to read TCW.) Many of the same families and institutions -- the Blacks, the Malfoys, the Potters, the Weasleys, the Ministry -- play a starring role.
But whereas RotA primarily focused on the hard-lined, speed-driven, violent time sliver before the first war, TCW explores the soft aftermath, the silver-smooth transition into normality following the second. The balance of power between the families has shifted with deaths and jailings and acts of heroism, and so have the values associated with power. Before the war, one sought glamour and excitement. Now, many of those bright young things are pushing up the daisies, many of those values have been revealed monstrous through the war they underpinned, and as such the power strategies have also undergone metamorphosis.
Lightning-fast these strategies have also departed from wartime tactics. As Harry, together with Ginny one of the story's main protagonists, is to realise to his shock and disorientation, the post-war wizarding world has nothing to do with justice or revealing truth or protecting the weak. For the people running the post-war wizarding world (not unlike post-war Germany) are, in fact, the very same people who supported the war in the first place. All that has changed is the discourse and the method. In other words, much to Harry's disgust, the age of comfort has descended, and this need for cosiness and comfort and superficial tranquility not only threatens to make invisible those wounds he cherishes and defines himself by, those wounds inflicted by war and family, but it also coexists quite easily with racism and intolerance and class oppression.
The fact of the matter is that, for all his good intentions, Harry cannot escape the world or simply shut it out of mind. Nor is that world entirely unattractive. No, Harry gets inextricably Involved, and it's in the push and pull of those forces against his -- against his own expressed desire for comfort and a family and unexpressed desire for danger and adventure and uncomfortable truth -- that his character gains definition, depth, and narrative power.
This is what I meant about the fic being revolutionary. Not only does it take problematic canon givens seriously to make fruitful those paradoxes and uncomfortable implications, no. It also takes unloved canon characters like Ginny Weasley seriously, Ginny whose story tends to be forgotten or shoved aside or instrumentalised. TCW makes her story urgent and vital and necessary. The same with newly resurrected Regulus Black (who, next to Harry and Ginny, becomes a driving character of the story) or Andromeda Tonks. This would be a revolutionary move in and of itself, a key critical intervention. But Mayari does not stop there. She also succeeds magnificently in what I am coming to think of as The Task: believably characterising people who are, from a moral standpoint, absolutely despicable (i.e. Narcissa Malfoy) without romanticisation or softening or relativisation or preachiness. Narcissa is at once incredibly attractive and charming and a scheming hypocrite. The pleasure to be had from her ambivalence as a character is immense.
I haven't even begun to mention the plot, or rather how plot is set into motion through a most hilarious and unsettling accident (involving a Deathly Hallow and, as implied above, the unexpected resurrection of one Regulus Black). I may not manage to mention the plot any further than this in this rec, out of a very real fear of spoiling you much. So instead of speaking of plot, let me speak of genre. Beyond the fact that this is a novel length story (and TCW is only the first part of a series titled ›The Family Skeleton‹), this is also a story constantly interrupted by or driven forward by letters (based to an extent on the real letters of the Mitfords). Indeed, certain characters can only express themselves fully at arm's length, that is in letters and other forms of communicating while veiling. What one says may entirely contradict what one writes. This is at once a game and could not be more serious. And this ambivalence of the word -- of these modes of writing and reading and speaking -- comes to infect the very language of the story itself, which oscillates between direct and indirect speech, between thought and spoken word, and literally thrives on subtext.
Is there a pairing? Yes, there are several, although you might not see them right off the bat. That would defeat the point. I suppose I can say that the story is tending towards certain pairings, many of which won't become clear until the entire series has been posted. The guessing game is its own reward.