It was not her, you understand. Without the aid of the Pensieve, without a certain boy’s eyes as a reminder, he would have been unable to cobble together even what she’d looked like. He would have woken in the night, shivering and furious, and clawed through old trunks and ripped apart photo albums to determine if she’d been snub-nosed and daring, holding an untested potion aloft, or perhaps prim and studious, as obsessed with books as the Granger girl.
Both? Or neither.
It didn’t matter. The truth was, he hadn’t really listened or paid attention when he’d had her in front of him; he’d never bothered with understanding her. His memories, insubstantial and silvery, revealed someone in bits and pieces, only those slivers of her that had come in useful when he’d been constructing himself. Here she was showing him kindness. Here she was spurning him, crafting for him his worst memory. Here she was in relation to him. Never as herself. Even he, selfish as he was, finally came to understand the unfairness inherent in that.
She’d surely been greater than the brew in the Pensieve. She’d surely been a person, once. But he had long ago lost sight of that person, if in fact he’d ever had it, and he was left grasping after a chimerical Beatrice — part friend, part enemy’s wife, part sacrifice, but nothing real. The real one was the one he had no right to know.
As he died, he could pretend that it was her, but that was because he had always been pretending, had always seized for himself the parts of her that he needed. Here was courage, embodied in the beloved dead girl. Here was spite, in the former friend who’d turned him away. Here was envy, sprung from the kiss in her mouth, the nightmare in which it was pressed to James Potter’s heart. But these were not enough to make a living, breathing woman. They were only shades he’d brewed up for himself.
In the end, he was not just brave, not just spiteful. He was sorry as well. He hoped that didn’t come from her. He had used her and sliced her up and mixed her into a kind of silvery regret potion. Like she had never been a person at all. So she had no reason to be sorry.