Sometimes, laying in the soft light like this, the hairs on her arms casting long thin shadows like tree trunks over the forest floor of her young skin, Dollie wonders what it is she really wants. She knows she has it all here, and she is occasionally grateful for what she has been given, has expected and received, has taken interest in and mastered. In the early mornings the clock skips the chime on the four o’clock hour because something’s wrong on the inside they never bothered to repair, and she feels universes wide, too big for her body, too grand for a small room in a small flat, too infinite to lie between these yellowed, lace-trimmed sheets next to a silent, breathing body she has very recently been given, has expected and received, taken interest in, and mastered.
She has thought about what it would be like if it were different, if she could be small and really know someone, see the inside somehow. The closest way to get somewhere is in the bones, where the blood is made. Mother does not care for anatomy but the human body is a gold mine, the vestiges of whatever life breath was out there in full, what once put everything spinning. The body’s cracks and nooks, hills and valleys are not wonders lost on Dollie; she has asked countless lovers what they imagine it would feel like to crawl through someone’s marrow, to get close to them that way. It is the closest way to know someone, she is sure, but they have all been dull and boring, and things have been lost on them. It is like a tragedy
, but that, she thinks, tracing her life in the cracks of her elbow on those pre-breakfast Sundays, her cheeks lifting in a small, indulgent smile, depends on who you would ask
Her mother is a good woman with a proud nose and a strong history. She comes from an old family. When Dollie was little, she had asked her mother what it meant to be from an old family, because if one thought about it everybody came from somebody before them. But properly old families are different from the blood, from the marrow, her mother said, and that was worth knowing. It was something to believe in that could never change, no matter how time progressed. Dollie would bite her tongue then and refrain from saying what it was she wanted to, which was that time, probably, was something solely human, only an illusion, something small. But she knew that nothing her mother believed in was small, or illusive. These things were real by her mother’s hand.
Dollie was always a witch, never had had the chance to be a Squib. Dollie was never sure her mother would have loved her if she had not loved magic so, or their proper, old-blood Tuesday afternoon teas. If Dollie had never grown to be a welcoming, charming hostess, if Dollie had never learned to tame a man, she was not sure her mother would have found her worthy of their family name.
It was not her father’s name; Dollie’s mother was a woman and woman only, not a woman-of-man, and Dollie would also be a woman and woman only. Dollie often said she’d be a woman plus brains, and yes, her mother said, brains were good, useful in that slow and clawing ascent that all women of their line had made.
When Dollie was nine her mother had taught her about appearances. We love pink, as a strong colour of our superior sex, as a symbol of our ability to wear it, to have a woman’s mind and a woman’s body, the soft scent of a climbing rose and the lingering sting of its thorns. Cats, a noble breed, old and regal, and tea, the blood of the goddesses, right-hand woman of the bloody queen.
Dollie’s mother knew of her daughter’s love for books and worried that this bookish quality might come into the way of her ultimate purposes, but soon realized that this bent toward knowledge could only come to her aid in that one true self-recognition as a member of a superior, capable breed, born to be Her own Maker. Let her read, let her learn, and let us trust in time that she will come to see herself as purveyor of justice, a line straight from the bowels of history sent into the present like an angel of truth, Destroyer of those unfaithful, unworthy.
So Dollie read. All the old names, the modern potions, charms, even, yes, for her love of tea, divination. She turned to law. When she entered Hogwarts she began to see that it was easy, that she was better than others her age, that even when she did not try it came naturally to excel. She developed a passion for aiding others in their studies, and was not always sure if it was to help them or to make them dependent on her care. They were a faithful bunch, five or six students who came to her without question, with complete confidence in her abilities. She was intelligent and despite her mother’s wishes learned to see that she was also the dependent of her dependents; that life was interwoven this way, that she lived by the touch of those who lived by her own.
She was a model student. Her mother had brought her up in the best taste, with utmost regard to the tradition of her old-blood ancestry, and Dollie performed her part, took pleasure in doing it well. She came to believe that all of life was like a performance, because she learned of herself she did nothing for the sake of it, for her own wants or desires other than those that stemmed from an appreciation for the notice or attention of others. If she performed well on a paper it was so that her grouplings would come to her more often for aid; when she became a prefect her joy was not for her own accomplishment but for the want of it in others; if she flawlessly administered a punishment for a minor infraction on her rounds it was so that others would see, and know that she could, and would, when duty called.
The hardest lesson was the art of utter mastery. Dollie’s first kill was on a Friday. She was learned and ironic enough to realize the perfection of this conquest; just as instructed, she thought, eyeing the Holy Bible
on her bookshelves. This time there would be no resurrection. He would want her again, though she had been timid at first, though she had not known, initially, what to do. But it was summer, the air was sweet, she had looked beautiful in a fuchsia evening gown over champagne and berries. She knew the things he loved, she could quote from scripture and Hogwarts, A History
in a single breath and she could recognize his charm, though he was young, and green, and a half-blood.
Lying with him next to her she thought about how large she was, how expansive her abilities, how far she had come in her eighteen years and how the lives that she had touched would never forget her. She was guided not only by ancestry or her mother’s early care but an innate desire for the feeling of permanence, for leaving marks, for connection with others. Though this first boy’s marrow was not quite so dark as hers, she thought about what it would be like to crawl through it, to know him this way. She asked him what he thought of that and he had laughed, saying that he thought she was beautiful and powerful. It was the answer she wanted but not the correct context and she was unsure, despite herself, for the first time that others could ever be enough.
There was, as she knew, more than a galaxy in a universe, more than a galaxy cluster; more than a single brain in the body, more than a set of lungs, but there was always that core, that gravity or that mass of neurons without which nothing mattered, nothing floated; without which there would be no flesh or upper air.
When Dollie’s mother was dying she sent for her young daughter who was rising through the ranks of London’s upper-class society by tooth and nail. Dollie had a mind of her own and it was the only reason that her mother had allowed her to move out on her own; it was only fitting. She admitted times were changing and she trusted that the mark of the strong mind was, as ever, the ability to be unique, to have a will and to acquire means. All these things her daughter had managed and she as a mother was not wanting for pride. She was always one to give credit where credit was due.
Dollie came in her own time, dressed primly in lace and cardigans, her hands folded neatly over a floral-printed handbag. Her mother took a moment to smile and then settled her down across the table for tea. She knew she was dying but one must respect these things. Even to the end she would show her Dollie that structure and a correct place were priceless in this dog-eat-dog world. It was of course respect for this that had kept the blood pure, the woman strong through adversity.
It was a hard thing for Dollie to recognize in a real way, beyond a simple understanding of life cycles, that her mother was to die, but a harder thing to hear what it was she had to say. She talked about the clock and how she had never bothered to fix it because no one was awake at the four o’clock hour anyway and it was an old clock, had been in the family since time was standardized, and so it didn’t matter what was wrong on the inside, and how she had loved watching Dollie grow into a young woman after her own heart.
She had smiled at this phrase, and it was only natural, Dollie knew, for a mother to delight in these things, but her mother’s smile was one she’d seen in the mirror time after time, on her own face, following knowing and strategic conquests; Dollie could not find comfort in the knowledge that once she had needed to be needed, needed in return; all around her the walls of her youth, holding in them all their structure and power were cold and unvivid, dim and lifeless, could crumble in a moment. Dollie’s hands were cold, she remembered the lifeless torpor in the air that had made her leave this place at all, and felt the horrid sinking impression that all her life she’d lived in a constructed heaven, a perfect trap.
That day she had smiled and sipped her tea and thought about the constellations of her palms spread open on the cool golden sheets of her London and how wicked it would be to be good on purpose; to be rigidly, unyieldingly good, and to leave in her footsteps a hell gilded over.
Sometimes when she sits behind her desk checking up on the mail Dollie wonders what it is she really hopes to find in the packages. It has been many years since she has had to comfort herself with ideas of grandeur, with thoughts of the gaseous systems of the upper air or the interveined constellations of her flesh. She has not thought of crawling through bone in years, has not needed to gather around her devout followers, but still, cannot but help indulge her love for books. It is paper, after all, she thinks, that is the mark of power earned, in this kind of world, the marriage of the corporeal and the ideal a mark for the lasting.
Dollie has always known how to be grateful for what she has been given, has known how to expect and receive, has learned how to take interest in something, and to master. The power does not come unwanted, or unexpected, and she plans to master it, as she has mastered other things.
Educational Decree No 23:
Dolores Jane Umbridge has been appointed
to the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor
educational decree number 23 is the sole property of JK Rowling :)
also I should point out that "born to be Her own Maker" is directly adapted from a line in Daniel Defoe's
Robinson Crusoe, which is originally "But that I was born to be my own Destroyer...."
similarly, the phrase "upper air" is something that i've subconsciously picked up from Dylan Thomas's short story "Just Like Little Dogs."
thank you for reading!