Chapter 2 : Sensation
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Of this our time, all you prefiguring,
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing.
-Sonnet 106, William Shakespeare
Years passed in a beautiful monotony of being admired and awed upon the great resemblance between the Lady and the Fat Lady, as the former referred to the duplicate of her own form who existed beyond the frame. Many things happened in the world beyond the house: a killer who stalked the fallen women of the London slums sensationalized headlines, leaving a trail of slashed corpses. Captain Jeremiah Smith, the flesh and blood Captain, who was quite highly placed in the Ministry of Magic in law enforcement, suspected that a vampire was involved. His Aurors quietly hunted down the ripper and put a stake through his heart.
The Muggle queen died, leaving the nation in a great state of mourning and shock. The Fat Lady herself wept for days, great wet tears which stained the old lace hankerchiefs, not the factory-made kind which was equally available to the rising merchant and business classes. Never that. The two young daughters went to Hogwarts and returned, and one found a husband, and there were balls and parties and celebrations, and nobody mentioned that the once handsome Captain and his once resplendent bride were no longer young and fit, that now he limped with a finely jeweled stick, that every day it was more difficult for the wrinkled house elf to hide the silver in her mistress’ hair, or to pack the pudgy feet into dainty slippers.
The century was young when the Fat Lady herself surrendered to her years of poor health and vanity and died. The Lady – that is, the Lady in the portrait, wept heavily in Jeremiah’s painted cloth arms at the news, as the great form shrouded by a pink sheet was squeezed through the doorways of the house and taken out the main entrance. In life and in death, the Fat Lady was obstinate about not going via the more subtle route of the servants.
The day of the funeral, Jeremiah and the Lady watched grimly as the daughters and son of the house supported their ailing father, house elves wiping their own luminescent eyes with dishcloths as they saw the family off, not permitted to attend the funeral of the woman whom they had spent the better part of their lives serving. Zizi, the most forceful and dramatic of the daughters, wept copiously whenever she set eyes on her mother’s portrait. The Lady thought to herself that there was a great deal of weeping going on these days.
“You would think they would maintain some decorum,” she told Jeremiah haughtily. He hid a smile behind his moustache and bent over her cheek for a sweet kiss, and wrapped his arms around her round shoulders.
“You are most confident in your own emotions,” he told her softly. She smiled up at him.
“As long as you are near to me, my dear fellow and husband, I shall be content as a lamb.”
And she had been content for many years. Jeremiah was the best of companions: the most loyal, the most entertaining. He could mimic the master of the house so perfectly that no guest would ever guess that it was one part show. The Lady would conceal a smile behind her fan. And Jeremiah could be playful and ridiculous; one thrilling day, they had gone fishing in the ocean scene from Hero and Leander, another time drunk themselves silly from the wine in the usually somber imitation portrait of the famous The Last Supper. The disciples were not pleased. She had drunkenly told Jeremiah that she loved him best like this: when he denied the conventions of the world beyond their frames, when his face was flushed with warmth, and twirled his moustache around her finger and danced about with his hat upon her head. Oh, how they had laughed!
To Jeremiah, there was no soul more beautiful than she. And she returned the sensation whole-heartedly; some observers, catching them unawares in the dining hall, chortled as they tucked their wands inside the pockets of waistcoats and dinner gowns and admired the great love that the Captain must feel for his wife.
But disaster was about to strike, for not soon after the Captain followed his wife to the grave. It was discovered that his debts, drawn from long years of secret rendezvous with the underground gamblers run by rogue goblins – in which a wizard could never truly expect to win more than once, no matter the promises – and the opium dens housed by hags and other magical outcasts of the London underground had led to a severe depletion in his fortune, and the debt creditors, magical and Muggle alike, were unlikely to stand by and let this opportunity disappear.
The children flung themselves about the house, collecting treasured memories, whatever they might carry, with special attention to those which would be deemed the most ancient and valuable. Zizi, unsurprisingly, succeeded in capturing the most, including the golden cup with the engraving of the badger upon it, whose imitated copy was painted into the Lady’s own background of her portrait and which she took a great deal of pleasure in admiring. She watched as Zizi stuffed the cup into her dress right in front of the portrait, glancing around as if to ensure none of her siblings had witnessed the lifting of this particular heirloom.
The portraits and paintings eavesdropped in a rare show of unity as top-hated strangers moved through the rooms, peering at the valuables with their monocles and having their house elves take notes of the values of the house’s possessions. The portraits were the last to be auctioned off to rich members of the greater London area: Jeremiah and the Lady held hands and clustered together until a lady with painted-on eyebrows and frilly sleeves demanded they move apart with a sharp huff, so that she might examine them.
Her name was Miss Violet, she told the auctioneer pompously, and she was a darling friend of the poor late Mrs. Smith and she would be purchasing her portrait. Jeremiah’s portrait she seemed to regard with an air of dislike; the Lady wondered to herself how women seemed to often be jealous or hateful of their friends’ mates.
The Lady cried out in surprise as a spell lifted her from the wall and onto the floor immediately. She looked about frantically for Jeremiah, and tried in vain to slip behind the tapestry to move into his portrait, but it appeared that when the frame was removed from the wall all connection with the other portraits was cut off. She let out a little cry as the portrait was unceremoniously tipped and she flew into the paneled wall, and heard mixed with Violet’s cries to preserve the valuable frame the call of Jeremiah’s rich, deep voice calling out to his “dear, dear Lady.”
As the large canvases descended over her frame, wrapping her world in darkness for the second time since her creation, the last thing she heard was Jeremiah’s voice growing with increased panic and undeniable love. She buried her face in the sleeve of her gown and wept dry tears of paint and plaster.
The Lady’s stint at the house of Miss Violet, a vain and quick-tempered sort of woman (rather like her friend the late Fat Lady), was short, for Violet was not long for this world either. The Smiths and Violet were creatures of the last century, and their portraits – Violet also had a portrait commissioned by Podmore, the same rough-hewn artist who had painted the Lady herself – were the only monuments to their memories. Far more lasting than their children, who left only fleeting impressions on the world, or the living’s memories of the old beauty of the Victorians, the portraits were both stagnant and forever.
The Lady made quick companions with the portrait of Violet, a merry figure who was constantly searching for some mischief or fun. Violet was entranced to hear about Jeremiah and how he had been left behind, surely with only the gods and goddesses on the ceiling in the drawing room as his dubious company. The Lady fought not to weep for him, only begged Violet of the portrait to ask after Jeremiah.
Violent laughed at her, but not unkindly. “I fear he will be lost to you, my dear,” she said gently. “Unless Miss Violet thinks to purchase him, though I doubt that should happen. Or perhaps she shall purchase one of those blessed portraits who have more than one frame, and may travel between them; I hear they are most expensive, but if there were to be the same portrait in this house and where he is being kept, you might have a chance.”
“To… to travel between the portraits and be reunited?” the Lady said hopefully.
Violet had shook her head, round curls bouncing about. “No, no, dear! Alas, that is only for the portrait in question. But they might transfer a note, or a token between you.” She smiled sympathetically and patted the Lady’s arm.
The Lady could only think of her lost husband: how lonely he must be, without her; how he must be fretting for her safety and happiness as she worried for his. They had been commissioned to match one another; they were two parts of a pair, alike in size and frame. To be without him was the worst sensation she could imagine. Jeremiah haunted her dreams with his gentle smile and rich voice crying out in amusement as she made a particular quip or witty comment. She woke in the mornings, head leaning against her frame, and imagined she could see him waiting in front of her. The sudden separation between them, the impossible horror of it, made her existence most distressing.
To make matters worse, Violet- the original Violet who seemed to be ageing by the day – had taken to speaking with the Lady as if she were her lost beloved Mrs. Smith. The Lady felt oblige to return with the appropriate haughtiness and confidence, which while it pleased Violet was rather exhausting. She was nearly relieved when the old woman finally died, leaving all her possessions not to her brother and his family (whom she viciously wrote in her will would have gained more had they seem fit to visit her more than once a year), but to her old school, a castle far to the north called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
A long and dark rumbling voyage through a carriage and the huffing and puffing of several different breaths passed. The Lady sat in state on her comfortable sofa when she could, or leaned against the walls like a common maid when the frame was tilted or bounced on the tough furrows and ditches of the road north.
Her new home in Hogwarts was high in a tower where few seemed to go. The headmaster at the time had approved the placing of each of the new pieces of art from Miss Violet’s, choosing the frames depicting famous witches and wizards to decorate the places in the school with the highest volume of traffic. The Fat Lady had been neither famous nor well beloved, and thus the Lady found herself quite isolated.
Hogwarts was a great fortress, populated with portraits of all sorts, and it took her a long time to properly navigate. Unlike Jeremiah, most of the portraits of Hogwarts preferred to spend the days stationary in their own frames and their nights snoring peacefully, instead of roaming about the castle. The Lady would perhaps one day be pleased to settle into this routine, but she had a goal, and a most important goal of discovering where Jeremiah’s portrait was now and how she might communicate with him. She longed for him desperately: for his cool demeanor in the face of strife or offense, for his gentle way in helping ease the laughter from her dry throat. They had lived together for a long time, created to be husband and wife, and to think of separating them was as cruel as if Adam had remained in the Garden and Eve been cast out, with no means of communication between the two lovers.
“You should stop moping and find a course of action,” her friend Violet insisted one day. Violet, to her own surprise and delight, had been hung in a small chamber off the Great Hall where the teachers at the school often communed after meals to discuss the events of the day and the students’ goings-on.
“But how?” the Lady said desperately. “There are thousands of portraits in the school, perhaps more! How could I know whom to ask, what to say?” Jeremiah Smith: a fine man with a thick moustache and a plumed hat. A fine example of a Napoleonic hero. How many portraits in the Kingdom fit that description? She bit her lip, holding back tears.
The speckles of paint making up Violet’s face turned pink and she looked as if she were about to say something when there was a loud creak as the door to the chamber swung open.
“Did you see him, standing there bold as brass in the doorway like he owned the place?” one voice chortled. It belonged to a portly woman in flowing blue robes. She snapped her fingers briskly and smiled benevolently as a house elf wearing a dishrag as a loincloth appeared, bowing slightly and staring at the richly carpeted floor. “Some of the headmaster’s finest sherry, please and thank you.” The house elf was gone with a loud Crack! and appeared moments later, setting a shimmering goblet into the woman’s hand. The professor chuckled. “What Dippet can’t see won’t hurt him, mind!”
“Ol’ Dippet looked mighty pleased, ‘e did,” a young wizard said, throwing himself down across one of the plush sofas which filled the space right before Violet’s portrait. He had the thick accent identifying him as one of the lower classes, the Lady thought disdainfully. She knew that the Smiths would never have allowed such a creature to sit in their presence. “I never taught the older un- ‘ad the second un, ‘e was in ‘is fifth year when I started.” He lit up a cigarette with a quick spark of his wand.
“Eh, you shouldn’t be doing that, it’ll damage the portraits,” the woman said, but more from habit than with any real venom. The young man shrugged and put the smoking stick to his lips.
“Professor Merrythought and Professor Nott,” Violet whispered to the Lady. “The headmaster has been interviewing for a new Transfiguration teacher, I suspect that’s what they’ve got their knickers in a twist about. Nott is a nasty piece of work.”
“Sad how that family has fallen, after what happened to the father and all,” Merrythought was saying sympathetically. “And the mother and the sister dying so abruptly. They were quite well-to-do, you know, before it all happened.”
“Aye, I don’t spare much of a thought for them uppities,” Nott sneered. “It’s us up-an-comin’ wealthy they should be worried about. Anyone can have old blood nowadays, if you know whom ter pay.” He took another satisfied huff of his cigarette. “Eh, Merrythought, give-us a biscuit if you please.”
“Very well, I should be going,” the Lady said, reviled from the sight of the professors in their finery and gossip. The smoke from the young man’s cigarette was making her eyes burn, regardless. She smiled at Violet and began to make her slow and steady way through the portraits to reach her own, where she planned to have a good think.
Moving through Hogwarts was especially difficult due to all the different floors and levels, and the staircases which were prone to moving. In order to climb a floor the Lady often had to pass through tiny staircases between portraits, but if she tried to pause for breath the staircase would seem to urge her along on her way. The passages between portraits existed only for necessity: the true existence occurred within the visible frames itself.
In her distressed state she found herself stumbling into an unfamiliar portrait with a large, grassy field and blue skies. She thought perhaps there could be a castle made out in the distance, though she did not pay it much mind as for the purposes of her existence the castle could never be reached and not explicitly real, at least in the dimension of the portrait. Lifting up her skirts, she avoided a large pile of horse pats and stepped over it daintily with her slippered shoes. But the field proved to be more treacherous than that, for soon she found herself sticking her foot straight into an even larger and more fragrant pile.
“Oh, bother,” she cried out, all pretenses of decorum forgotten. She winced as she pulled her foot and tried to wipe it free on the grass.
And then she screamed, for straight ahead there was an imposing figure on horseback charging towards her, with a lance balanced across the beast’s neck and a look of fury in the animal’s eyes. But before she had time to react or leap out of the way, the horse shook its head briskly, bucked its hind into the air, and neatly deposited the knight into the ground. And the Lady realized that it was in fact not a wild warhorse but a pony, and a rather fat and satisfied one at that as it promptly settled down to chew some grass and snort loudly, as well as add to the collection of horse pats in the field.
The knight, grumbling, got to his feet and moved towards the Lady. She looked to her left: they appeared to be in deserted part of the school which she did not recognize, with an empty wall of stone facing the knight’s frame. She placed her hands on her hips and scowled at her companion.
“How rude, sir, frightening a lady as such! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“My wonderful lady!” the knight cried out, throwing his lance to the side. “I am your humble servant! Long have I patrolled these dastardly corridors, searching for quests and longing for a chance to prove myself at last!”
The Lady thought of the portrait of the knights of the Round Table who had lived at her first home: she and Jeremiah had thought them most stuffy indeed. This knight would have a tough time of proving himself to those particular pig-nosed gallants.
“For I am a knight errant, and in order to find a quest I must first have a lovely lady companion to guide me!” the knight declared. “Shall it be so? Am I the Beaumains to your Lynette? Shall I be the Redcrosse to your Una, or will you prove to be a Duessa?” he paused suspiciously, but she noticed he was wringing his metallic hands. She wondered if he had been saving these pretty lines for years, and felt a little sorry for him.
“Well, there is a quest I know of,” she said slowly. “Though it is a most perilous and unlikely one, and which is very unlikely to prove successful.”
“Alas, what could it be?” cried the knight. “To take the sword and scabbard from the lady of the lake and return them to the king? To slay a fearsome dragon holding a kingdom hostage?”
“No,” the Lady said. “It is my beloved, you see, my own husband. He is being kept from me.” And she explained the whole situation: how she and Jeremiah had been parted so precipitously, how Violet had preached of portraits that could travel between frames in other locations and carry messages. When she had finished, the knight slapped his pony’s rump with a start.
“Sir Cadogan shall help you in this quest, my lady!” he vowed with great pomp. “I vow on my life I shall not fail, that I shall duel with the false tyrants who keep you from your fine lord! I shall smite all who oppose your happiness and bring you their heads as trophies!”
“Perhaps it would be best to keep the smiting to a minimum unless necessary,” she said hastily, but Sir Cadogan had already charged off on his pony, bellowing about enemies and shouting bloody murder. Quite literally. She suspected some of the less tolerant portraits in the castle would officially identify themselves as his enemies by the time the night was through and their rest disturbed.
Sighing, she began to fight her steady way through the field. As she was distracted it took her a great deal of time to find her own portrait again, her head filled with the distant longing to hear Jeremiah’s voice once more. Even admiring the cup with the badger, the great symbol of the house, could not cheer her.
To the Lady’s shock, Sir Cadogan achieved his quest in a matter of weeks. She had been sitting in her portrait, watching the students pass by on their way to Divination and entertaining herself with their idle chatter. She had been wondering how to pass the rest of the day: to have her ear talked off by Violet, or to tempt fate a little and try to tame the lions in the savannah portrait on the third floor, or perhaps to steal some wine from the portrait of the lady of the vineyard near the entrance to the dungeons. Tired from all this musing, she had drifted off into an easy slumber, leaning against the frame, when there was a sharp knocking and the sound of a man clearing his throat, echoing inside the armour.
The Lady snapped to attention at once, turning to scowl at Sir Cadogan. “What is it now?” she asked irritably. Being roused from sleep always left her quite hostile and uncooperative. “Can you not leave a lady to slumber in peace?”
The knight bent at the waist and stood with a sharp salute. His armour let out a creaking protest at the rusty motion. “I beg your pardon, my lady!” he flounced. “But I bring good tidings indeed! You must come at once, for we have a long and weary trek ahead of us, to a distant chamber which the likes of me might never find again- perhaps it might be compared to that mystical kingdom of Avalon!”
He seemed to bounce excitedly at the thought. The Lady was only relieved he had not brought his fat pony into her carefully arrayed sitting room.
“Very well, I shall come,” she said haughtily, thinking that she did not like the sound of the likes of Sir Cadogan never finding the chamber again, and the odds that this might be a fool’s errand, or indeed a quest led by a fool.
Sir Cadogan led the Lady through Hogwarts, climbing purposefully through the protesting portraits. There was a slight hiccup when Sir Cadogan persisted on challenging several enraged friars to a duel right there on the altar, but the Lady quickly hastened him along with a word of polite apology. In her opinion, the friars were the ones who had instigated the conflict, but Sir Cadogan was hardly one to back down from a fight.
Eventually the Lady found herself stepping into a dark frame which was quite small, though she saw a door in the corner which appeared to be slightly ajar. She looked behind her: Sir Cadogan’s helmeted head nodded from the corresponding portrait of a man in medieval garb with a golden helmet on his head who was staring at the knight rather confusedly.
“This is as far as I go, my fair lady!” Sir Cadogan called up at her. “Fare thee well in finding your good sire- I shall be occupied dueling this scurvy tyrant to the death!” He turned and raised his sword with a vicious cry on the crowned man- the Lady winced as she heard the sound of painted metal clashing.
Hoping that the conflict would be quickly resolved, she turned to face the inhabitant of the painting to whom she had been brought by her reckless champion. She found herself facing a thin, iron-faced man, with spectacles perched on the bridge of his long, thin nose.
“My glorious madam! Dexter Fortescue, humbly at your service,” the portrait cried, turning towards her and sweeping a low bow. She examined his clothes with particular interest: they were like nothing she had ever seen beyond her frame. He wore a large ruff about his neck, and his hair was coifed into rich curls. His lower body was garbed in rich, frilled robes, and bright silver buckles glistened from his black shoes. Like in her portrait, the bits of his dress which could not be seen from beyond the contours of the frame were far less grand and detailed.
“Hello, good sir,” she said primly. “I am sorry to disturb your slumber.”
By the looks of things, this was what the other portraits in the room had been doing. The Lady looked about her and found that she was in a most extraordinary room. The curtains were quite large, descending most of the height of the walls, and as they hid the natural light the room was lit by several bright candles. There was a large, neat desk in the center of the room, in front of which sat a young man with thin, lanky limbs and a neatly pointed beard descending off his chin, who was watching the Lady and Fortescue with keen interest. He smiled mildly as the Lady’s gaze passed over him.
Hanging on the walls were several other portraits, all of just one person, and most leaning against their frames in sleep, which had led the Lady to believe that Fortescue had been doing the same. On the shelves of the office were an array of fine treasures, ranging in grandeur from a shimmering goblet to a ratty, tattered pointed hat.
“What is this place?” the Lady asked quietly, eyeing the young man who appeared to be waiting for the office’s occupant. She noticed the tattered edges about the elbows of his robes, and how his nose was quite crooked and swollen, as if it had been broken and then mashed into his face until it was quite out of place.
“Why, it is the dwelling of business of the Headmaster, by the by!” Fortescue said with a flourish. “That ruthless ruffian, that clanking champion of yours forced his way in nigh a fortnight ago to demand if any of we prior Headmasters of this notable establishment- and Headmistresses,” he added with a charming smile in response to a loud clearing of the throat from a silver-haired woman in a neighboring frame. “If any among our company had heard any news of your beloved husband, the fine captain of the seas and leader among Muggles and magical folk alike!”
“And… did you?” the Lady asked a little breathlessly. She was quite taken aback by Fortescue’s grand and fanciful speech. The young man in the office was listening especially attentively now.
“Indeed, my lady!” Fortescue responded with a self-ingratiating grin. “For you see, I have a second portrait which is laid host in a most glorious house- a house of a noble and ancient wizarding family, mind, in the most glamorous royal district of Kensington! And you see, my lady, I traveled to this other frame to bring a message from the Headmaster as of late, and found that I had been granted a new neighbor in my position in the master’s study.”
“Jeremiah?” the Lady cried out with excitement. Her eyes searched the back of the portrait and she lunged towards the door at the back, trying to open it. But the door would not budge for her, and in a moment she felt Fortescue’s papery hands on her wrists.
“Only I can travel between my portraits,” he said gently, and seeing the despair in her face his pompous attitude and diction seemed to lessen towards something more human. “But I may carry letters between the two of you when the Headmaster’s business takes me to my other post. I would be most happy to do it, my lady, and your captain has written this for you.” He tucked a letter written on faded parchment into her hand and smiled. “I believe he was forced to most dishonorably remove the parchment and quill from a portrait of a medieval scribe at work on the Magna Carta, but that is of no matter. He is in good spirits, and thinks of you most fondly.”
The Lady clutched the bit of parchment to her heart. Beyond the frame, she saw the young man in the office smiling benevolently at her.
“A happy ending at last,” said the stranger from the world outside, eyes twinkling.
Thank you for reading, my lovelies! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did writing it, and I would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time. ‘Hero and Leander’ is credited to Kit Marlowe. With the mention of a painting of The Last Supper, I had in mind the work of art by Leonardo di Vinci. The references to the knights of the round table and the mythology of King Arthur (the lady in the lake, Beaumains and Lynette, Avalon) are credited here to Sir Thomas Malory who wrote ‘Morte Darthur.’ The mention of Redcrosse, Una and Duessa is credited to Edmund Spenser, poet of The Faerie Queene. He owns the characters from the Faerie Queene and I do not own them. And yes, you are reading a story written by an English major/nerd. Can't you tell?
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