Chapter 1 : Hecate Sits
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in her cauldron she stirs the world.
Dark is the curtain that falls. Long after the pregnant moon has risen, she remains in her chair overlooking the gardens. His breath is still on her cheek; it lingers there, sweet with the broken promises he once whispered in her ear. As she watches, the waning moon climbs higher, illuminating the world with silver. Light sweeps across the lawn towards her and for a moment, she cringes. She feels safe in her darkened bower, entombed by the mystery of what will be.
The table before her is dressed in dark cloth. Astoria runs her hands over it, feeling the delicate softness of the velvet; it is like a cat, that cloth, and she strokes it almost lovingly, imagining the purr a sinuous feline would emit. She had always wanted a cat, but he had not liked them, preferring a rather large and sleek breed of dog that she supposed suited his personality.
Her eyes fall on the stack of cards by her elbow and slowly, Astoria abandons the cloth of cat and reaches for them, closing her eyes. She breathes deep the night around her, taking the cool air of the sitting room into her lungs. She can smell smoke, although no fire burns in the hearth, and taste the long forgotten scent of flowers. She cannot remember the last time a rose, or lily or any other of her favourite blossoms had adorned the crystal vase sitting patiently on the table.
She sits and waits; waits for the air to become cooler, for the night to caress her, to move her. A breeze touches her neck and she smiles, loving the way the air moves around her throat, like fingers.
“Why do you play with those things, Astoria?” His voice is soft, intrigued as always when he witnesses this yearly ritual. She does not turn, knowing he will be standing in the doorway, leaning with his casual grace against the frame. She never tired of looking at him, at the way he fit with the house, refined and graceful, aristocratic and regal. It pleased her that she had become part of his world.
“I like them,” she responds, her hands grasping the cards gently. He crosses the floor towards her, his footfall light and elegant. She can smell him, and again, she breathes deeply.
He snorts, running his hand gently along the back of her neck as he passes, coming to stand before her. He is not looking at her, but out at the garden, bathed in the moonlight. “They’re a silly Muggle thing.”
She does not reply and he folds his arms, turning to look at her. A small frown has taken residence between his brows and she wants to smooth it away. Silence is between them, but it is soft and gentle. Rarely do they fight.
“Astoria …” he begins.
She startles him by flipping the stack of cards face down on the table, her movement swift. They land with a soft thud that echoes through the darkness of the room, sweeping into every corner; the room now knows that this is a serious business, this ritual of hers. She almost feels the room pay attention. Astoria sweeps her hand across the table, the cards following suit, spreading in a perfect arc.
“Pick a card,” she says softly.
Her husband falters. “I don’t think …”
“Draco, pick a card,” she repeats, her tone commanding. She thinks she sees his hand tremble as he reaches towards the cards. He shakes his head and pauses. “Scared?” The words are a whisper.
“Of course not,” he snaps. Still he will not touch the cards; his hand snakes out, his index finger coming to rest, falteringly, delicately. Astoria nods, and slowly, she slides the card away from its sisters. His eyes are on her face as she flips it over.
She does not speak, waiting, and as if he cannot resist, Draco leans forward.
“Who is she?” he asks, frowning. “She’s not very attractive.”
From nowhere, Astoria hears an amused cackle. It sneaks in through the window with the breeze, tickling her ears and the skin on her neck.
“She isn’t meant to be. That’s not the point.”
Rather than argue, Draco shrugs. “Whatever. She gives me the creeps.” He turns back to the window and stares out at the night. Astoria watches him a while, until his eyes reach for her again. He wants to know, despite what he says.
“It’s Hecate. Goddess of the crossroads. The crone of acumen.”
Draco raises a blonde eyebrow. “And that means?”
Astoria indicates the card and when she speaks, her voice leaks into all the corners and spaces of the room. “See where she stands? The crossroads. On nights when the moon is dark, she walks the earth with a pack of hounds, haunting crossroads. She watches over travelers between the worlds, from our birth to our death. She is a weaver of wisdom, which is why she is depicted as the crone. She is the goddess of midwives, birth, fertility, the Underworld, magic and the dark of the moon. This card, Draco, means that Hecate is there to meet you, at the crossroads of your life. It means you have to make a decision, that you have to move forward, even if you are afraid.”
He bursts out laughing, the sound destroying the strange spell that her words had somehow woven. “Do you really believe that garbage? Muggles are fools.”
Astoria grows angry. “It’s our history as well, Draco. The beginning of magic. You should pay attention. You might learn something.” A pleading has entered her voice but if he hears it, he does not mention it so she changes the subject, not wanting him to leave yet. “Scorpius is doing well at school.”
Draco nods. “Of course he is. He is a Malfoy.” He pauses. “Is he still not talking to me?”
Astoria bites her lip, struggling to maintain composure. It is always hard to talk of their son. “He’s upset. Give him time.”
“You know best.” Draco smothers a yawn. “I’m going to bed. Coming?”
She looks away; depression takes hold, sinks its claws into her and she blinks the tears from her lashes, not wanting him to see her cry. “No, not yet.” Astoria hears him sigh. She feels his lips touch her cheek and then his presence is gone from the room. With a cry of frustration, she sweeps her arm across the small table, knocking the cards and the velvet cat-cloth to the ground, and then, she allows herself to weep.
The room grows suddenly colder. “Why did you not tell him?” the crone asks. Her voice is scratchy, like old paper, like the thorns of the neglected roses in the garden, and makes Astoria wince. She knew the goddess would come, as she has done on this night for the past two seasons.
Astoria looks up and shakes her head. “I could not.”
The goddess clicks her tongue. “You must,” she chides, grasping Astoria’s chin between her strong, bony fingers. “You need to move on.” She sighs, withdrawing her grip, and shuffles towards the window.
“Why did it have to happen?” Astoria whispers. The goddess turns to fix her eyes on the grieving woman.
“I cannot say.” She looks up at the moon and Astoria wonders what she can see. “It is not good for him to linger. It is not the way it should be.”
“I know. I will tell him next Samhain,” Astoria whispers, feeling the tears begin to fall. The crone nods. Astoria closes her eyes, swallowing the anguish in her throat. It slides down to settle in her stomach. When she opens her eyes, the crone is gone. A single black feather remains on the carpet near the leg of the table and she picks it up. Later, she will add it to her collection, realising she has three and wondering how many more she will accumulate before she finds the strength to tell her husband the truth.
Under the moonlight, Hecate sits. The garden is wild around her, the trees bare of leaves, and the flowers dead in their beds. She nods. It is as it should be, here in the wilderness. Winter has come, her season has come and she shakes herself, allowing the chill to sink inside her. She lifts her withered head and glances back at the towering manor house and sighs.
In her cauldron she stirs the world. The wheel will turn.
Such is the way of things.