Chapter 2 : A Man's World
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A Man's World
gorgeous image by Ande at tda.
Bathilda’s mornings are not so different dead as they were alive. First, she shuffles from her bed and washes her hands and face and teeth carefully in the china basin. She wonders bemusedly how plumbing still worked in heaven, how it was as though her house and every part of it had been plucked up and set among the swirling mists which cavorted among the screams of the demon children beyond her front door.
She dresses herself in a smock and slacks which flowed loose and light around her thin form, like wearing air. Carefully, she moves backwards down the steep steps which she had once flitted up and down so lightly as a younger woman. Once downstairs, she sets to preparing her breakfast, the same little meal as usual: two English muffins, a cup of tea and a fruit.
The golden butter spreads across the warm bread and Bathilda listens to the demon children outside. They sound a little more subdued today, as if it were cloudy and the sunshine was not there to splendor and frolic in. Bathilda looks down at her breakfast. Was she truly, honestly hungry, or was eating a habit for those who forgot how they no longer had a heartbeat, that their true body and its human needs was in fact lying somewhere in pieces down in the smog-ridden world?
She wonders what the demon children might look like. Some days she imagines them with horns and fangs and red eyes, like baby incubi from the horror stories she used to hear as a child. On other occasions, she thinks they must be as elfishly beautiful and finite as the children of the sidhe, the mischievous and devious fairies who are said to live beneath the fairy mounds in Ireland.
In fact, Bathilda had once written a history of the sidhe, based on the tales she had heard at the knee of her mother when they were chiding her for not being a good child. The book was never particularly popular.
Impulsively, Bathilda takes her untouched breakfast and moves towards the door. Keeping her eyes peeled on the familiar stone of the steps leading up to her cottage, careful not to look around in the west, she lays the food there with crooked-jointed care. Don’t look, don’t you look! She retreats into her house, feeling the swish of air as the demon children seize the plate. They make sounds like ravenous animals. Keeping her eyes tightly on the ground – as if she were facing down Medusa – hears a scratching from where the west window is, as if the fearful creature there were trying to reach the door in time to seize Bathilda. The old woman trembles as she shuts and latches the door behind her. She wishes she had her wand to fortify properly, though truthfully in those final years she was too blind to use magic safely and too weary to summon the strength.
Hoping to steady herself, Bathilda instead moves towards the east window. The sun rises in the east. There, she is reassured by the sight of the woman who checks her watch, her face spread in a mask of patient, restrained concern. Bathilda watches her. The woman’s ankles are hidden in the ground on which she stands – an uncertain, unpromising sort of cloudlike floor. She carries a traveling case, and her hair is wound up in a careful pile on top of her thin head.
She thinks of the secrets of the past
She had knocked. Tea was ready.
“Gellert, darling? Are you there?”
A still kind of silence, as if the occupant of the room had stuffed his fist into his mouth to keep from breathing, to keep from making a sound.
She picks up her quill. She settles her skirt around her swollen ankles, round apples in her knobbly legs. Her body is like a bundle of sticks held together by twine, but her hand is firm and steady in its pilgrimage across the page.
Tell the truth.
The week after the ball at the Prewett house, Bathilda had received an invitation to attend upon Mrs. Prewett and examine some of the historic relics and art in the house. She suspected Muriel had mentioned her interest in the Moon Maiden tapestry, among other things, and was thrilled by the thought, if a little frightened of meeting Mrs. Prewett again.
The gentlewoman was the sort of person who could wheedle a secret out of anybody. If she had been born fifty years later, she would have made an excellent Auror or investigative journalist. As it was, the ageing woman who had once been vivid and beautiful was now confined to the splendid life within the walls of the old house, surrounded by things which had long outlived their time and served as portals to a forgotten age when things were, frankly, not much better for the women of the time.
As she hastened her things – picked up the bits of parchment she had bound and the quill which was enchanted to hold ink without being replenished in the pot, and a poesy of flowers she had picked from her garden – Bathilda thought back to the last time Mrs. Prewett had invited her to pay a call. It had been before she left for Paris, and the time when Muriel has first come to her attention. She had not yet cleaned out the room that had been her great-nephew’s, Gellert’s when he came to call, and all the thoughts of the incident had been quite disturbing to her at the time.
“Gellert –I said tea is ready. Are you alright?”
She had opened the door, looked towards the bed, where the golden-haired boy could so often be found lounging, a book perched upon his knees, his finger moving across the parchment and his eyelashes glowing from the sun streaking through the open window.
Bathilda was not proud of how Mrs. Prewett had succeeded in drawing out so many details of her nephew’s stay. She had seen Albus a month ago, when she had visited her friend Armando who was the new Headmaster and she had been doing some research on the castle for a new book she was planning on the school’s origins. Albus’ name meant white – the colour of purity, of virginity, of womanhood, of the moon. Bathilda had always felt slightly queasy at one of the old customs of a bride wearing white on her wedding night – to ensure that the marriage had been properly consummated. It made her sick to think of. These were the sort of thoughts which arose within her when she laid eyes on the young fellow, of pollution and blood and a rising wave of unfairness. She wasn’t sure whether he was the victim or the one who was being unfair.
She had promised to keep the boys’ secret. Muriel had her own thoughts to say about that.
Bathilda tucked her father’s pocket watch into the folds of her frock. It had been one of the few things the thorough old scholar had forgotten to catalogue in his will, and so Bathilda’s siblings had taken pity on her and allowed her to claim it. The watch was a distinctly masculine thing, with broad, rugged edges and an abrasive rhythm which seemed to pulse against her heart. Bathilda had never received a watch when she came of age, like the men of her family, but this one made her feel powerful and assertive, enclosing her timidness and fear in the careful rhythm of its cage.
When she reached the Prewetts, she was seen into the parlor by one of the house elves, who trembled and tittered and nearly tripped over the fringe on the rug as the poor thing walked backwards out of the room like a peasant being dismissed by a king. Bathilda smiled at it: she was very interested in elf history and affairs, and the particular sort of magic they seemed to possess, but her publisher in London had been far more interested in her proposal of a comprehensive history of the magical world which would span several centuries and endless generations of masculine heroes.
Muriel and her mother were sat on two of the sofas, backs straight as boards and eyes cool. Muriel’s ankles were tucked to the side, and her hands were folded primly in her lap, her half-moon nails hidden beneath the folds of gentle flesh. Her body was angled slightly away from her mother’s, and her blue eyes wide, the translucent lashes quivering in their invisibility.
“Bathilda, thank Merlin,” Muriel said, rising daintily to her feet and with a careful swoop organizing her skirts about her ankles. She trotted forward and took Bathilda’s arm. “Mother, I’ll be showing Bathilda about the house. The elves will set up refreshments and tea in a hour or so – it’s all been organized.”
“Nonsense, darling, I’ll accompany you,” Mrs. Prewett said. “You’ve been off gallivanting in Paris and school for the better part of your life – there is no person better equipped to tell dear Ms. Bagshot about the workings of the house. After all, it is I who have been cooped up here for the past thirty years.” She let out a little tinkling laugh with a hint of hysteria about it. Muriel turned so only Bathilda could see her face and nibbled at her lip and rolled her eyes. Bathilda smiled.
“Don’t worry, we can speak later,” she whispered to the light-haired young lady. She, too, was yearning to touch Muriel’s skin as she had before, to run her lips across the delicate eyelids, to feel the laughter sing within her ears, the laughter which only a few people in the world were privy to hearing.
“We’ve just had the Ollivanders and the Smiths pay a call,” Muriel murmured in Bathilda’s ear as they walked into the grand hall. “It was ghastly, Batty, I wish you were there to distract me. Mama was simply trying to throw Garrick and I together. I cannot bear the Smiths either – they’re hardly good company anymore. Did you hear about how one daughter weasled away the family fortune and left her siblings nearly penniless? They even had to sell the matching portraits of their late parents – I heard the lady ended up at Hogwarts-”
Muriel’s gossip was interrupted by Mrs. Prewett clearing her throat. “This Cabinet is said to be one half of a Vanishing Cabinet from the late Georgian period,” she said, stopping in front of a polished cabinet whose mirror was rusting about the edges. “My family purchased it at a brilliant price – there aren’t many which are properly fabricated anymore. And come, look in the case, Ms. Bagshot – it’s a goblin-made tiara, it’s been passed down through the female line for centuries and worn by generations of brides. If my Muriel can ever decide on a desirable bridegroom the trinket will be hers – how lovely it would look on your golden hair, darling.” Mrs. Prewett spoke to her daughter, but her eyes seemed to linger on Bathilda. The younger woman felt for a dreadful moment that her lover’s mother may have known, or guessed, far more than she should.
Bathilda distracted herself from this thought, feeling her cheeks glow a faint pink, by putting her face very close to the tiara. The old wizarding families were noted by their possessions of such trinkets, and she thought the thing was very beautiful. Her own face, reflected in the glass of the case, seemed very plain and common in comparison.
“Mamma, Bathilda was very interested in the moon maiden tapestry when she was here for the ball,” Muriel said, lightly touching her fingers to Bathilda’s wrist as she brushed by her. Bathilda felt pleasure rush through her as she thought of the tapestry and how they had hidden away from the party in the passage beyond: she allowed a sly little smile to play about her lips.
Mrs. Prewett nodded, seeming to shake herself from the earlier nuance which dangled in the air between them. “Ah yes, well, a pity that the work was not better preserved, but I believe it has been a family heirloom for generations. See, we are approaching it now: how pretty the maiden is, despite being drained of colour-”
They moved up the steps, heels clicking gently on the old stone floors. Bathilda thought how curious it was that the stairs be left without the rich carpeting she had noticed on the night of the ball. Perhaps it was off for cleaning, or only used for special occasions, though she could not think of why that might be. Indeed, now that she was paying closer attention, the grand hall did feel rather less decorated than it had at the ball. A few old gray bricks poked through places where she was sure there had been portraits in the past, and at least two of the sentry-like suits of armour had been moved.
She was roused from these thoughts as their small party came to pause in front of the moon maiden tapestry. It appeared to be one of a set of five: from the nearest one, Bathilda caught a glimpse of a silvery-white creature moving to set its graceful head into the lap of a young maiden – the story of a unicorn coming to visit a pure virgin in the woods. The moon maiden tapestry, however, seemed to bring an entirely new life to the threads.
The tapestry’s subject was a girl of humble beauty. Her skin had lost its pink, girlish hue – for the bright colours are always the first to fade as the years flood by. Behind her, the distant sight of cliffs could be seen jutting from the threads. Her hair was silvery and flowing over her naked shoulders, and as they watched she seemed to look towards the sky, moving slowly and deliberately as if she were a very old woman whose skin was truly held together by thread.
“She is very beautiful,” Bathilda said honestly, though something about the moon maiden disconcerted her. Perhaps it was the obscure landscape beneath the tapestry’s subject. Something compelled her to think of the woman in the tapestry as a she, not merely as part of something pretty to be looked at. “Tell me, who was the artist?”
Muriel and her mother exchanged glances. A few names were put into the air, none of which Bathilda quite recognized.
“No, Mamma, I’m quite sure it’s a Tossutti work,” Muriel cut in, gracefully gesturing towards the tapestries. “Yes, I believe I remember Ignatius telling me some pish posh about her. Tossutti – she was a most wonderful Italian artisan, Bathilda, and she was rather unique in that she served both Muggles and wizards. She was the one who used to disguise herself as a man when her career was first beginning, am I correct, Mamma?”
Bathilda bit her lip. She could not quite recall the name Tossutti. Bathilda considered herself a collector, a sort of custodian of history, as you please. She prided herself on the immaculate knowledge of prominent wizarding events and figures. She was in the process of writing a comprehensive and massive tome of wizarding history, after all! Besides, the idea of a woman disguising herself as a man to further her work was quite interesting to Bathilda, whose field was principally dominated by wizards.
“I believe so, darling,” Mrs. Prewett said, bearing so close to the tapestry that Bathilda and Muriel exchanged nervous glances that she might peek behind and discover the passage which lay behind it. For Muriel, the expression was more one of terrified glee, much as she had worn when she had insisted Bathilda kiss her tucked away off a rather busy street in Paris. “You know, Ms. Bagshot, the moon maiden’s story is particularly unique and rather tragic. The other tapestries depict more conventional stories, ones which have trickled through wizarding lore and even infiltrated the Muggle world – such as the maiden and the unicorn, and Helen of Troy, who you may know, in the wizarding world, was the daughter of a Veela and a God.”
Bathilda pursed her lips. The story of Leda and its mythical origins both fascinated and repulsed her. She always pitied Leda, Veela or not. Bathilda’s own expertise was on the medieval period, but she was very familiar with the classics as well. “And what of the moon maiden story?” she asked, looking up at the faded women with the silvery hair, whose hand trickled across the tapestry. Bathilda noticed that the woman was barefoot.
“Oh, it’s a most gruesome and tragic story,” Muriel said, clapping her thin, pale hands together lightly. “Come, let us have tea in the drawing room, Mamma, and we can tell Bathilda the story.” She smiled mischievously. “Perhaps you will even see fit to put the tale in one of your histories, dear.”
Later, Bathilda was pleased that she heard the story of the Moon Maiden tucked away in one of the hard pink sofas of the drawing room. She would have found it quite difficult to meet the maiden’s eyes in the tapestry as the tragic tale unraveled.
“The legendary Moon Maiden came down to the earth to live among the people,” Mrs. Prewett explained, wetting her lips on the sugary tea balanced upon a white saucer. “She was the daughter of the heavens and sister to the stars. She was promised to the Chevalier of the Sun, and when she refused to marry him she slipped down to the earth in a beam of the moon, and all the tides followed her call.”
Bathilda smiled at the little house elf and accepted a biscuit. She caught Muriel’s eyes on her, and the light-haired woman winked cheekily at her, pale skin seeming to shine almost ephemerally in the sunlight peeking through the curtains. Muriel’s mother had paused in her tale.
“Surely you can assist in remembering the story, Muriel. I seem to recall being called in by your nurse to tell you the tale over and over again…”
Muriel smiled at Bathilda, her eyes full of promises. “Mother used to enchant our dolls to move across the room and act out the stories,” she explained. “The moon maiden flooding down from heaven – or the chandelier in the nursery, I suppose. We had a grand old time.”
“That is very lovely,” Bathilda said softly. She had always seen Mrs. Prewett more as a listener than a storyteller – being a storyteller herself, Bathilda wasn’t always prepared to recognize the trait in others. “What happened once the maiden got to the earth?” She thought of the silvery eyes of the creature of the tapestry.
“Why, she fell in love of course!” Muriel exclaimed. “She met a handsome knight errant voyaging in the woods. He fell to his knees and kissed her hands and pledged his ever-lasting allegiance and adoration of the most passionate sort…” She caught and captured Bathilda’s eye, who fought to keep roses from blooming in her cheeks. “And the moon maiden, who was promised to the sun, fell in love with her knight, and told him to come to her in the moon, to climb the staircase through the clouds and be her lover there, and they would tread the soft white sand of the moon together… oh, darling, this is such a fanciful story. I can see your historian’s brain churning like a miller’s wheel inside that pretty head.”
Bathilda smiled nervously, glancing at Mrs. Prewett. The older woman was accepting a biscuit from the elf, the wrinkled corner of her lip turned down slightly. Muriel’s mother was very hard to interpret, Bathilda thought.
“And then she fled back up to the moon and waited for her lover,” Muriel continued, pressing the tips of her thin fingers together in anticipation. “She sat among the valleys of silver and she waited… and still he did not come. She peered down among the sinews of the earth and could not find his beloved face... what was it you used to say, Mother? Oh, she wept tears of glass.”
“How sad,” Bathilda said. “Was she ever reunited with her lover?”
“No,” Mrs. Prewett cut in before Muriel could reply. She set a dainty gloved hand along the ridge of her seat. “He did not come, for he was a mortal and not worthy of a maiden of the heavens. And so when the moon spun, the maiden was alone, and the moon spun to face the sun chevalier, her betrothed, and he was most furious with her treachery. The sun grew hot and reached towards the moon with claws of fire for her betrayal.”
Bathilda frowned. “And then? Did she survive?”
“Of course not,” Mrs. Prewett said, a hint of coldness creeping through her delicate syllables. “The maiden was caught up in the glare of the sun. Her flesh caught fire and cooked and blackened and turned to ash. He killed her. She burned.”
“Oh, how very horrible,” Bathilda said quietly. She thought of the poor maiden, trapped by the sun and his masculine rage, her pale skin boiling and blackening. She thought of the figure in the old tapestry, guarding the passageway where she had so carelessly hidden with Muriel, almost as if they were mocking the maiden’s unhappiness. She reminded herself that to give such license to a piece of art was irrational, but she could not help but wish they had spared the poor maiden the sight.
“And the legend goes that the maiden’s spirit haunts the spirits of those who are too weak,” Muriel added, eyes glinting with excitement. “She punishes them, those who are too weak to seek their love, she burns them up in their lies and their denial, she burns them like she was burned by the sun.” Bathilda noted with some uneasiness the hunger in Muriel’s voice, the odd thrill the girl she loved felt from the misfortunes of others. She recalled telling her about the Dumbledores, and how Muriel had pushed and prodded to know more about the poor mad little girl who had died so suddenly with a certain morbid curiosity. Bathilda thought there was no glory in those who were punished for their love.
“Aunt, vat can I say to apologize?” the boy had said, bowing his head. She could not tell whether it was shame or the feigning of shame that lingered in the air between them. One could never tell with Gellert. “Vat you saw… it vas nothing to concern yourself with. I know my place and my God, and it vas a slip of the vill…”
A slip of the will, her nephew had said before she had silenced him and told him never to mention the incident again. She had thought many times of that day, of the glowing fear which had risen through her body as if knives were running through her veins and clouding her head, blurring her thoughts. She had wondered whether she had the right to chastise for the sin, whether one sin was as wrong as another if it were committed from love. She wondered now if the moon maiden would punish her nephew for how he had abused his love.
After the tea, Muriel coaxed Bathilda out for a walk in the gardens surrounding the grand old house while Mrs. Prewett went to lie down in her bedchamber. The two woman linked arms and walked in an uncharacteristic silence. The gardens were beautiful as the sun began to fade back into his horizon. He bathed the regimental flower formations in a golden light. The moon was showing early, plump and round as she peeked timidly from the clouds like a mirage.
“Funny, that story-” Bathilda started to say, her words getting tangled up with Muriel’s. Both women giggled softly. “Sorry, love, what were you saying?”
Muriel smiled, leaning over to lean her light-haired head gently against the curve of Bathilda’s shoulder. She turned her head to trace a light kiss, right above Bathilda’s collar. “I was saying,” she murmured, pulling away, “that things are harder, different here, back in England. I was thinking that perhaps we ought to finally speak with our families about… well, to speak frankly, about the truth.”
Bathilda’s heart quickened against her corset. She turned to trace her lips faintly across Muriel’s hairline, reveling in the delicious smell of her skin and the faint perfumes which lingered in the fair hair. “I want to be with you so dearly, my love,” she said quietly. Muriel straightened, and steered them towards the hedge maze, where they would be hidden from view of the house. Bathilda peeked behind her, suddenly sure that she would see a curtain twitch and Mrs. Prewett’s pale moon of a face peering from between the curtains.
“And I you,” Muriel whispered as the withering hedges swallowed them into their folds. She spun and wrapped her arms around Bathilda’s waist, touching her hair as if she would pick out the pins and let the dark curtains hang loose about her shoulders. “You see, I must speak to Mother. I could not get by without my inheritance… but I might be able to convince her otherwise. I need not marry Ollivander, surely…” Bathilda could not help but wince slightly at Muriel’s words even as she allowed her lips to be captured by the soft pink ones. She felt Muriel’s triumphant smile curve against her mouth.
“Only if you are sure,” Bathilda found herself saying. “For I have seen how a dangerous love can tear a family apart, Muriel… I do not want that fate for you.” She longed to utter the fiery words cooped up within her chest – leave with me, leave everything for me – but while Bathilda was a careful person who treaded lightly across the lives of others Muriel was a ferocious spirit who blundered about and looked beautiful in doing so. The hearts of humans could not be fixed with a Reparation spell.
Muriel pulled away for a moment, her eyes glittering in the growing darkness. “Is this about the Dumbledores? Oh, Batty, you have been promising to tell me what happened in their family for years!”
Bathilda drew away from her lover, her body longing for Muriel’s soft touch yet her mind cautioning her as well. “I can’t tell you, Muriel, you must know this,” she said, trying to keep the indignation from polluting their time together. “I cannot ever speak of it, I cannot speak of it even beneath a truth potion. The knowledge is locked far in the back of my mind.”
Two heads bent together on the bed, whispers traveling through the air like broken keys. The girl, cold and silent in a box. Shame, and emptiness, a shelf emptied of books and a pair of forlorn boots abandoned by the door.
“Very well,” Muriel said stiffly, after gazing into Bathilda’s eyes for a moment. Whether this was a display of affection or perhaps an attempt at Legilimency so that Muriel might be privy to Bathilda’s secret thoughts, the dark-haired witch could not be sure. Legilimency was traditionally only taught to wizards at Hogwarts, so any skills Muriel might have would have been taught secretly from her brothers.
“Muriel…” Bathilda sighed, frustrated breath tickling her lips. She longed for those simple, wild days in Paris, where two women disappearing into a hotel room overlooking the Seine together was overlooked, where even the grotesques and gargoyles of Notre Dame seemed to grin down in passive acceptance. The English thought of Paris as a refuge for sinners, but truly it was a place where those who wished could escape the confines of England and break free, break free and be free to smile and love as one chose and as one wished. “Muriel, we cannot continue like this. The secrecy, the lies… I cannot be invited to your home and stand in front of your parents like there is nothing between us. These sorts of lives… they only lead to tragedy.” She thought of the boys. “I do not wish to live and die a liar. Can we not at least return to the continent – we could go back to Paris, now that I have met with the publishers, or perhaps to Rome – I would simply love to write a short history of the Vatican and the secret wizard sects and the magical symbols painted into the Sistine chapel…”
She realized she was babbling when Muriel put a soft finger to her lips, eyes smiling. “You are right, as always, my darling,” Muriel whispered. “I should love to go to Rome with you… but, ah, I must speak with Mamma. To disappear so soon, it would surely break her heart. Surely you can understand this? If we are to run away together, my parents deserve to know why.”
Bathilda’s heart fluttered and sang. “Yes, yes, my dear,” she whispered. The two women began to walk slowly towards the gates of the property, from which the anti-Apparition wards would be removed and Bathilda could Apparate home. The other choice would have been to use the Fireplace in the kitchens for Floo travel, but Muriel would not hear of Bathilda using the servants’ route. Apparition lessons and licensing fees were very pricey, and the Floo, an invention spurred by the rise of industrialization and the need to transport many wizards from one place to another in a short amount of time, was considered very low-class.
And as they walked, the two young women made their plans. The agreement was that they would meet in Godric’s Hollow, right by Bathilda’s letterbox at her gate. Bathilda would arrange for a Portkey, and they would disappear for a while – to Rome, where Bathilda had a friend they could stay with. It was to be a glorious adventure, and they would eat cheese-smothered pasta drink wine on the cobbled roads and converse with the ghosts of gladiators who fought silver battles in their old battleground of the Coliseum, and feel their pale English skin freckle and redden beneath the warm Italian sun.
But as Bathilda reached the gates, she saw that there was a wizard already waiting there, with a box and a briefcase tucked under his arm. Muriel inquired what he was doing, to be calling so late, and the strange, sober man replied that he was there to meet with her father, and would she be so kind as to show him in until Mr. Prewett arrived?
Bathilda looked back at Muriel through the gates, the pale head receding into the growing darkness, framed against the house, both angelic and mischievous. She smiled softly, lingering for a moment to watch Muriel fade away. In three days and three nights, they would run away together at last.
Three short days turned into anxious nights, and at last Bathilda made the short pilgrimage to stand by her letterbox, traveling robes pulled about her frock and the keys to her house hidden beneath the doormat and spelled to be invisible. She gazed up at the moon, who was slowly beginning to show her pale face far away in the heavens, and smiled to herself. She was ever so eager to see Muriel.
And so she waited. The Portkey appeared, a rusted silver hairbrush with pig’s hair, and she set it on top of the letterbox. She checked her watch: Muriel had half an hour before the Portkey departed for Rome. The thing had been incredibly expensive to organize, and Bathilda marveled at how such a simple, plain object could have cost her so dearly.
She waited, and she checked her watch that had been a gift from the father she had adored, and who had never cared for her quite enough. And when the hours had flooded by the moon grown fat in the sky, glowing down tauntingly, Bathilda had bit her lip. But it was not until she retreated into her home, until the Portkey had long ago left England and she had, for lack of anything else to touch, set the kettle boiling, that the regal owl came tapping at her window.
I am so sorry, my darling – I am so sorry. I did not come for I am not brave like you and it was far harder to tell you these words in person. I have spoken with my father and my mother – their rage was horrid, their disappointment worse. I will spare you the words which were raised against you. I could hardly bear to hear them.
I digress. They shall not allow me to go to you, nor to leave the house again to meet you again, I suspect. Mother is livid, and Father is ashamed. They vow that no other witch nor wizard will ever speak of this affair, that I will marry the Ollivander boy. You see, Father has lost our fortune. That is why much of the artwork has been sold – that is why there was a man who stumbled upon us at the gates. My dowry has been eaten up by bad investments – snatched up by goblin hands, Father says. I must marry for the sake of the family, as the Ollivanders are rich but common, and they will have me.
So is my duty. And my duty to abandon you. Oh, how dearly it pains me to say these words! How wrong we have been. I pray, and my family is praying for me, that we both may be forgiven for our youthful foolishness.
Bathilda clenched the thick, expensive parchment in her hands. The letter infuriated her, the betrayal had sent whispers of shock flooding through her veins, anger skirting about her skin as it glowed pink with rage. The letter was full of Muriel, her self-centered insecurity, her unavoidable sense of propriety and lack of concern for another’s feelings. Was it not worse to let Bathilda imagine the slanderous comments shouted about her in the Prewett sitting room, warded with Silencing spells? How could Muriel dare to place the blame on her parents, when she could have taken her wand and run, run to Bathilda, were she not so selfish and afraid.
In that moment, Bathilda Bagshot knew how it was to hate. She picked up her favorite quill, plunged its tip into the ink, spread a sheet of parchment over her table. She began to write, ink-black spiderwebs of cruel words weaving themselves across the page, snaring the tears which dripped from her eyes and wrapping her grief into their treacherous constellation. She wrote as if she had never loved Muriel Prewett. She wrote as if she had sold her soul to the devil and he had already arrived to cut out her heart and send it down to Tartarus.
Bathilda was nothing if not a storyteller.
And when Muriel would read the letter, her vivid pride bruised and burned and her heart in shatters, she would weep for the last time. The owl found her on the steps of the Prewett house, a case of things tucked under her arm. She had changed her mind: she was going to Bathilda. But as she read the letter she turned to fire again, she devoured and spluttered and choked on Bathilda’s words. She turned back to the house of her parents. She locked the door behind her.
In the heavens, down shone the silvery mourning of the moon.
The East window. In heaven, in that strange little heaven, Bathilda peels back the curtains like they were a layer of skin at looks to the east. The east, where the sun rises and sheds his smoldering rays down upon the man’s world below, where the moon maiden looked as she was cooked and burned by her angry suitor. On earth, Muggles have long since figured out how to find the moon, to capture her in the heavens, and Muggle men’s feet have trod and marked her surface.
In the east window, the woman who checked her watch had stood, haunting Bathilda. But as she turns to look, the woman is gone, empty skies in her place.
Bathilda turns back to her table, and finds the mysterious stranger has once again appeared, is once again collecting the many pages of writing which are Bathilda’s product for the day. Words trickle across the page, words of truth. Bathilda is a storyteller, in life as in death, but the truth floods through her veins like an avenging spirit.
“Well done,” the stranger says quietly, though her voice ripples and fills the corners of the humble room. Her gown of white flickers against the candles Bathilda lit to illuminate the pages for her tired eyes. For a quiet moment, a kind, simple expression seems to shine out from the stranger’s face.
The stranger leaves as effortlessly as she came. The demon children are quieting in their play as the day draws to a close. Bathilda moves past the empty east and north windows to the south, looks out to the south. She sees the gaunt shell of an old woman standing there, staring in at her, the skin hanging off her face in baggy folds and her spine curved and arched like a hissing cat’s. The vision looks in at Bathilda. She wonders if the south window is in fact a looking glass.
From the west window comes the terrible scratching and greedy cries of the creature that lingers there. Bathilda does not go to look.
Author’s Note: The Sistine chapel belongs to Michelangelo. As for Medusa and Tartarus, which are both Greek myths, there is no real source but I do not own them. Many historians and writers of Greek plays have featured these myths. Helen of Troy comes from Homer’s ‘Iliad,’ and ‘Leda and the Swan’ was also a popular myth but can also be attributed to Ovid in ‘Metamorphoses.’ Thanks for reading! This is turning out with far more feminist messages than I first thought, but I'm having fun with it. :)
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