Chapter 1 : The North Window
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The North Window
beautiful image by the talented Ande at tda.
It is a quiet day in Bathilda Bagshot’s heaven. The room is dark and rich and lovely, with a strong oak table and a plush chair on which she sits, her legs crossed and ink stains adorning the cracks of the lines of her palm. The curtains colour a deep red and swoop over the windows, matching the splendid embroidered rug, and arranged upon the table is a creeping vine which seems to grow a little prettier every day. Soon, there will be blooms which breathe upon it like little hearts. The door is slightly ajar, and a triangle of light creeps across the floorboards. From beyond Bathilda’s cottage, the sound of gleeful children playing harmonizes with the scratching of words and swirling letters across the thick parchment.
Bathilda is writing again, for when she writes she can parcel away the knowledge that the thick rug beneath her sensible shoes is far less stable than it looks, like if one were to push too hard one might find herself tumbling through the floor. The children shouting and laughing so gleefully, just out of sight, shall never be anything other than lonely ghosts. She imagines them with red eyes and pale, skeletal faces, their laughter the shriek of hungry monsters.
Behind the rich red curtains covering the north window, three faceless musicians saw away at their instruments, while a girl twirls, her skirt billowing out gracefully.
Beyond the east window, a woman is waiting, checking the golden pocketwatch tucked into the pocket of her frock.
In the south, a gaunt frame of skin and bones stands frail and staunch. Sometimes the old woman stares in at Bathilda’s sitting room, and other times she simply stands, as if gazing at a distance which Bathilda’s old eyes cannot quite make out.
The window to the west is beside the door, but Bathilda avoids them both. She does not open the door. She does not look beyond the curtains of the window. On darker days, she will find herself growing nearer and nearer to peeling back the curtains, to witness the creature which rested there, to the west, tapping and scratching and moaning against the west wall in the dead of the night. But she never quite makes it there. She is afraid of what she might see to the west.
“You’re writing again.”
With three words, Bathida's quiet day is ruined.
The voice does not ask questions. Bathilda looks up, her eyes wrinkling into slits as she beholds the intruder. She never hears the strange lady’s creak on the floorboards as she steps inside, never sees beyond her figure to the demon children to play among the clouds. Perhaps they are afraid of the stranger.
“Yes, I am writing again,” Bathilda says haughtily. She covers the parchment with her hand, noting how long her fingernails have grown. She remembers hearing once that finger and toenails and even hair sometimes grow on corpses. “Is this any concern of yours?”
“I suppose that depends,” the visitor says. Her eyes shift to look at the lady, as if gazing into an uncomfortably bright candle. The lady’s features are indecisive: she will have decided on her having a petulant mouth when her eyes will turn into dark blue holes. Her hair fluctuates from golden curls to white straggles which hang off a mottled scalp. The unquestioning voice is sometimes that of an old woman, and other times that of an arrogant, golden child. There is something of moonlight about the way she shifts in shades.
“Depends on what, exactly?” Bathilda asks, dipping her quill into the inkpot. Before she can react the lady has lunged forward – she smells something like burning meat – and snatched up the sheets of parchment. Frowning, her eyes peel across the crisp lines.
“No good, no good,” she mutters, crumpling her day’s handiwork into measly shreds. She watches, horrified, as the lady throws them out the door. Bathilda doesn’t want the demon children to know what she has written about them.
“Just what sort of result do you desire?” she asks between gritted teeth. Her tongue flits between the gaps. “What do I have to do to be good?” There is a sudden gust of silence, as the children outside pause in their game to listen.
“Tell the truth,” the intruder says evenly. She turns to go. The lady’s form does not cast a shadow across the crescent of bright sunlight on the floor. She turns to look back at the old witch, and for a moment her eyes take on the blue innocence of a child. “The truth and all that comes with it.”
Frustrated, Bathilda frowns to herself. She had only been here in her heaven a short while before the lady began to visit. She never stays, never touches her, never does anything to prove how she is more than a figment of an old woman’s imagination. She wonders if she is a ghost, or a figure from her past. Surely, she cannot be expected to find a familiar face in those shifting, indecisive features, in that voice which never intones in quite the same way twice.
Perhaps she is in fact in hell, and the lady is a missionary, a consort of the devil himself, a modern-day Virgil, sent to drip her bone-dry of truth on a quest from Limbo to Salvation. If that is the case, then she would prefer to write lies for the rest of her eternity.
As she ponders this, eyelids thick and heavy on her drooping skin, she hears the sound of music coming from an invisible source. Despite herself, she cannot help but to tap her foot a little as the music swells within her stomach with a strange stirring of familiarity. Bathilda places her hands – her weak, delicate, ink-touched hands – on the oak table and pulls her stout frame up. Her bones are stiff and hard, as if she has not oiled them in decades. With care, she meanders to the north window, peels away the heavy red curtain, smells spices and the cold odor of liquor inch through the air, condense on the glass.
Beyond the north window, the faceless musicians play the waltz. Invisible hands flit from their spiderlike touch on the bows. A fearless sound tickles her lips, tugs at her little white tufts of hair. And the girl in the white dress, who has always twirled and laughed on her own, turns to Bathilda and beckons. There is a flicker of sadness on her beautiful face: there always was, even in those golden days.
As she reaches through the glass to touch the girls’ hand, constrained in a white glove, she hears the voice of the strange lady.
Tell the truth.
Once, there were two young people in love.
The year was 1904, and it was Muriel Prewett’s ball that her parents were hosting in honour of their only daughter’s twenty-third birthday. Muriel, to their great relief, had recently returned from living abroad in Paris, a city towards which the ruffle-throated, diamond-inlaid wand bearing felt abhorrence and a private sense of intrigue which quivered in the depths of their powdered, Doxy-infested wigs.
Bathilda Bagshot, curator of magical history and scandalously unmarried for a woman still in her fertile years, wore a white dress to the Prewett ball to impress her innocence and virtue onto the judgemental crowd. She smiled to herself at this intimate irony.
The Prewetts were of a very old and prestigious family, and Bathilda knew that the most notable wizarding names of the British empire were sure to be in attendance along with the proudest inbred families to litter the pages of the history of wizardkind with scandal and poison. Why, in the Malfoy family tree alone there had been two bigamists, one royal executioner and a handful of illegitimate children, not to mention the fraud-spluttering politicians, the Malfoy who had successfully cast the Imperius curse on Oliver Cromwell, and an archbishop who had re-directed church funds to fill his own coffers at Gringotts with stolen gold and silver.
The Blacks would be in attendance, and the Potters and the Gaunts – who both claimed to trace their ancestry to the Peverells. Truthfully, it was a far grander crowd than Bathilda would regularly be invited to attend upon. The Bagshots had no old money and no old blood, though Bathilda’s late father had sworn that there was a Hufflepuff somewhere in their lineage. With no trinkets to show for it, not to mention a shallow vault in Gringotts, the family had faded into oblivion, their three older daughters married and with children. One even had two grandchildren, due to her marriage at a young age and her daughter’s marriage to a foreigner. Their names were Greta and Gellert, though Bathilda tried not to think upon them often anymore. Not after the incidents of a few years past.
Bathilda had been the youngest child, born as a great blessing to her ageing parents, or so the priests had insisted. Instead, the miracle girl had grown up to great mischief and even shame for her family, but Bathilda could not care much for others’ good opinions. She was older now, and rather wiser. Had she not made a name for herself as a noted magical historian, she would surely not have been invited to the party. Well, that, and chances were Muriel Prewett had interceded with her parents.
The Prewett estate was beautifully decorated, with fine goblin-wrought candlesticks glimmering with light that flickered against the suits of armour which guarded the great reception room. In the corner, music floated forth from an assembly of strings and bows, the conductor waving his wand in the air. The witches floated across the ballroom, smiling gracefully up into the eyes of their suitors, and silver trays with shimmering drinks and tiny snacks prepared by the family house elves floated freely among the guests.
Bathilda had little patience for this finery. Her cottage in Godric’s Hollow suited her very well: it was full of books and parchment and quills which magically replenished themselves with ink. The walls were hung with portraits of famous historic wizards littered throughout history, and when Bathilda was bored she would choose one at random and would write a brief biography to warm up her bony hands. The fire kept the cottage warm even as the frost fought its way through the old thatched roof and the white-washed walls, and the smell of flowers lingered in the smoke. Her hands feel tight and constrained inside the crisp white gloves.
Finally, Bathilda found Muriel speaking with her parents. The domineering Mr. and Mrs. Prewett had none of their daughter’s beauty, Bathilda thought to herself. Mrs. Prewett had been pleasant enough to her in the past: indeed, had she not been interviewing the older woman a few years ago about her ancestor’s role in the goblin rebellions on the sixteenth century, she would never have met Muriel. The girl had been lurking outside her mother’s sitting room, no doubt fishing for gossip. Bathilda smiled to herself at the memory as she stepped into the triangle of the little family. Such was Muriel, as Bathilda had learned to accept her.
“Much congratulations to the beautiful birthday girl,” Bathilda said, smiling and inclining her head politely to the Prewetts. She saw from Muriel’s quick intake of breath and sly smile that she had succeeded in surprising her.
“Thank you, Bathilda, darling,” Muriel said, a white-gloved hand skirting to her lips. She turned her large, blue eyes on her parents. “Mamma, Papa, you remember Miss Bathilda Bagshot, yes? She is a most talented witch, a brilliant historian – surely you’ve heard of her work on the Battle of -”
“Yes, yes, Muriel, we know Miss Bagshot,” Mrs. Prewett said impatiently. She smiled at Bathilda, though there was something uncertain behind the façade. “You are very welcome to our home, Miss Bagshot. I trust you will enjoy yourself.”
The dismissal was clear, but Muriel had another idea.
“Bathilda, you must come and meet Edmar and Ignatius,” Muriel said, putting her little hand on Bathilda’s arm. Bathilda saw the young woman’s father glance at the physical contact, a perplexed expression dancing across his thin-featured face. “You have never met my brothers and they are most dear to me. Mamma, Papa, I shall rejoin you further. This is my ball, after all.” She steered Bathilda gently away, who barely had the time to smile politely at Muriel’s parents.
“Oh, thank Merlin and high heaven you are here,” Muriel said in a low, slightly nasally voice. She glanced behind her and steered Bathilda around a couple who were gazing sloppily into one another’s eyes as they stumbled towards the dance floor. “You shall not believe it – they’ve forbidden me to return to Paris, and set up a betrothal! Can you imagine it – a betrothal, to a proper man!”
“From my knowledge of it, betrothals tend to be between a man and a woman,” Bathilda said playfully, her heart thudding hollowly against the corset she had laced herself into that afternoon. Her wand had helped.
“I shan’t do it,” Muriel said confidently. She plucked a glass of goblin-made wine from one of the floating trays and took a dainty sip, passing it to Bathilda. The latter took the crystal glass, her fingers brushing against Muriel’s, noticing how the other woman’s lips had left a faint mark on the rim. She smiled and placed her lips to the same place, letting the cold liquid swirl across her tongue.
“And how do you propose to avoid your parents’ wishes? There is not some other fine person you wish to wed?”
“Oh, how you like to tease me,” Muriel grumbled quietly. “Come along, we shall slip away and be able to speak frankly. You may meet my brothers later – surely, Ignatius is quite consumed with wooing the lovely Miss Black.” She smiles scathingly at a young wizard who was approaching them, his hand held out, and escorted Bathilda into the grand hallway.
The Prewetts had been estate holders near the Welsh border for centuries, and the entrance hall still maintained some of its original fittings. The preserved head of a dragon stuck from its mounting on the north wall, and the tapestries’ colours were dim and faded from years of the sun and his destructive rays. Upon the tapestries, threadbare images of ladies and goddesses shrank, drained of their colour and their liveliness as they moved slowly through the tapestry, like in a dream.
“This way,” Muriel said, sliding her arm down Bathilda’s until she held the thin, gloved fingers in her own. Bathilda looked up: they stood in front of a tapestry that would have once been splendid. As she looked, Bathilda could make out the figure of a woman, with silvery blond hair against the backdrop of a forest. She seemed to look down on the two women.
Muriel ducked behind a tapestry, pulling Bathilda through. To the older woman’s surprise, she found herself in a small corridor.
“But what about the footman?” Bathilda asked, having seen one in the hall in his tall pointed wizard’s hat with the Prewett coat of arms sewed into his livery cloak.
“What about him, darling? He’s the servant,” Muriel said resolutely. Bathilda watched in shocked amusement as Muriel reached down the front of her dress into her chest, pulling from within its folds her wand. She giggled at Bathilda’s shocked expression. “Oh, pish posh, what is it? This isn’t Paris, it isn’t considered acceptable for we young eligible witches to have our wands about our persons. And what good is a corset if not for concealing a wand? Lumos.” As light filled the faint corridor, Muriel laughed at the expression on Bathilda’s face.
“Oh, you rich and your secret passages behind tapestries,” Bathilda said, smiling as she followed Muriel through. It was a slim area, with only room to move single file.
Muriel’s tinkling laugh trickled behind her. “Quite silly, is it not? Edmar likes to say this passage was built to hide away the first owner’s mistress – regardless, the lads and I used to come and play here. It irked Mamma and the nurses to no end, and I do not know if Papa knows the passage exists. We call it the Moon Maiden passage, because of the lady on the tapestry. Now, here we are.”
Bathilda found them in a small but comfortable chamber. A few dusty portraits hung on the walls, and a tiny window peeked out onto the grounds. The fireplace lay dull and neglected, and the few portraits on the walls were either empty or faded into the canvas. On the floors were a few cushions and blankets, which Muriel said daintily upon, placing her lit wand on the cold stone floor beside her and crossing her legs at the skin, pale ankles protruding from beneath her skirt.
Bathilda sat as well, a small distance from Muriel. “Are you going to explain to me why you’ve led me on this wild adventure?” she asked, the corner of her mouth twitching. “And do tell me, who is your new husband-to-be? I must confess how very anxious I am to meet him.”
Muriel touched her hair, as if to ensure its elegant curls were still clipped firmly to her head. In the dim glow from the wand, Bathilda had the chance to appreciate Muriel at last. Her reddish-blond hair framed her face, and her eyelashes were so pale that her blue eyes appeared very round and unblinking. Her skin was pale and delicately fitted to the frames of her bones, and ever so often did the round, plump lips curl into a mischievous smile. The forest green dress looked soft to the touch, curling off to reveal the tops of her white shoulders and her small chest. Bathilda thought how Muriel was beautiful: sly, poised, but utterly delectable.
Now, under Bathilda’s careful scrutiny, Muriel was blushing prettily. She bit her lip and raised her eyebrows at Bathilda. The sound of the music had trailed them through the entrance hall and through the passage, and Bathilda tapped her fingers gently against the floor to the sound. The instruments were playing a waltz.
“If you insist upon knowing, they have chosen Ollivander for me. The families are negotiating now on how to push us together and convince me to accept the lout’s proposal. Apparently they also considered the Gaunt boy – not that tramp, but the distant cousin, but there are rumours he’s been cursed with impotence and naturally Papa would not hear of it.” Muriel’s voice dripped with disdain. “So, it seems I am to be the wife of a wandmaker. Apparently many parents would not hear of me as a match for their precious sons due to my ‘gallivanting off about the continent in questionable company,’ as Mamma accused me of.”
“I have no idea of what company she might mean,” Bathilda said innocently, batting her eyes at Muriel. Images of Paris – of smoke filled bars frequented by hags and goblins beneath the levels of the street, of dark charms hung in greasy shop windows, of sipping wine from the bottle beneath the naked moon, flashed through her head. “Besides, isn’t Ollivander – ah, how to say this delicately – is he not a lover of something besides female flesh?”
Muriel giggled. “You are the princess of euphemisms, Batty. And yes, perhaps he is a sinner, but even were it not for that I would not wish to marry him.”
“Now, I hardly think it appropriate to call the poor Ollivander a sinner, Muriel,” Bathilda said, tutting her tongue playfully. Silently, she was remembering a scene she had accidentally barged into a few years ago, in her cottage in Godric’s Hollow. A secret she had guarded most diligently.
Pushing these thoughts back into the past, Bathilda leaned a little closer to the other girl, feeling her heartbeat quicken. “And I do wish you could refrain from calling me ‘Batty,’ why, you make me sound quite mad.” She smiled, her eyes tracing, Muriel’s pink lips.
“Absolutely, positively mad,” Muriel whispered. She closed the distance between them, her lips pressed against Bathilda’s, her hand trailing across her shoulder, gently touching the highest ridge of her spine, the nape of her hairline. Bathilda sighed happily, and they kissed to the tune of the waltz, hidden behind the tapestry of the moon maiden, while other couples, couples who could safely dance in one another’s arms, moved across the floor with finely wrought smiles and precise, mechanical steps.
In heaven, in her cottage, Bathilda’s hand comes to a stop from where it has moved across the page. She takes a deep breath, filling her shriveled lungs – though she knows she no longer needed breath, for is she not already dead? – and sets down the quill. The words have taken her on a journey through the night, and from the west window the moon seemed to shine in through the heavy curtains, pervading its way into Bathilda’s home, undoubtedly shining brightly on the monster which scratches at the window
Bathilda looked up: the strange lady is in the doorway, has trickled in through the walls like moonlight on a lake. Bathilda glances at the lady’s shifting face, feeling weak and defiant.
“Have I done it to your satisfaction?” she demans, thrusting the ink-stained pages across her writing desk. The lady’s thin, white hands scoop up the pages, and her finger moves along the script.
“Very good,” she says finally, tucking the pages to a place inside her silvery dress.
Bathilda glares. “Now, will you leave me to wither away in peace?” she asks. The lady’s face seems to shift: the eyes looking out are, for a moment, achingly familiar.
“You are not the kind of woman to wither away, Bathilda Bagshot,” the lady says quietly. “I shall return tomorrow.” And with that, she steals away from the cottage, the door closing behind her.
Bathilda moves to the north window, where the three faceless musicians and the twirling girl had once waited. Now, there is only oblivious darkness, and solitude sets in. From the west window comes the sound of tapping, but, as usual, Bathilda chooses to ignore the creature which lingers there. She thinks it might consume her. Instead, she blows out her candles and goes to bed, wrapping the old quilt around her body in a fragile cocoon.
Author's Note: Hello! Thank you for reading. This will be a three-chaptered short story, and I will hopefully have the next chapter up soon. I’ve never written an afterlife story before, nor had the main characters be a samesex pairing (well, not overtly) so I’d love to know how I did. Oh, and I played with the timeline a little bit - Muriel is a little older than she would have been in canon and Bathilda is a little younger, but the differences shouldn't matter. The references to Virgil, Limbo and Salvation are references to ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri – I don’t own them or any Harry Potter material.
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