Chapter 3 : The Moon Maiden
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The Moon Maiden
breathtaking image by Ande at tda.
From the south, the cold things come. Cold like death. Bathilda is chilled, and she sips a cup of tea that tastes like leaves which are buried under the snow and unearthed in the spring, mixing with the warming dirt. She starts to think in terms of elaborate words and metaphors. Her life reads like a script in her head. A biscuit falls into dry crumbs on her tongue, and as her hand protrudes from the afghan wrapped round her tiny body she cannot keep her hand from quivering.
On her finger rests a ring, a plain gold band with a tiny silver stone like an imperfect moon. This was her mother’s engagement ring, though she rarely wore it, claiming it interfered with her chores about the house. The ring had fit Bathilda when her mother died, and so her siblings allowed her to keep it: now, it coils and hangs off her thinning fingers, trapped by her knuckle, sagging along with the loose skin and tiny, delicate bones which made up her hands. Absently, she twists the ring around so it is facing upwards once again, instead of having the stone dig into the fleshy part of her upper palm when she clenches her fist.
The silver stranger is everywhere today. Bathilda dreamed of her voice, hardly louder than boiling water yet just as urgent. She sees the stranger in the reflection in the shadows from the table, protruding quills forming a withering face on the floor – she sees her reflection in a spoon, big-snouted and distorted. She feels the stranger’s guidance in the gentle strokes of her quill across the page, creating a mosaic of dark and cream, as if the lady’s hand were upon her own, lifting and sighing with each stroke.
From the west window, the thing which lurks there beats its fists against the stone walls. Bathilda thinks wildly that it must be ruining the ancient rose bush which sat there for her entire tenancy in Godric’s Hollow. What a shame, she says to herself. Round and round she twists her mother's ring.
Instead of confronting the beast, Bathilda moves to the south window, looking out at the strange figure there. In some lights, the creature is a thing of nightmare – a withered husk with dark sockets for eyes, and spotted skin drooping off her face. Her spine arches up towards the heavens, and her hair is gray and matted as if she had forgotten to wash the soap from it. Bathilda looks at the old woman, puts a hand to the glass. She sees her own reflection imposed upon the woman’s face.
She leaves the curtains pulled back as she sits down to write again. Her knees creak painfully. The old woman, so familiar and dead, watches as she writes.
Bathilda saw Muriel once in the week after her lover’s rejection. The event was a Gringotts affair, to celebrate the induction of a new head of the Goblin Liaisons Department who was said to be very promising (Bathilda would later embalm him in her book Scions and Swindlers: Corrupt Politicians of the Twentieth Century for his dalliances with young Ministry workers and pulling of funds from tax vaults). However, at the time the wizard was very celebrated, and Bathilda was pleased enough to have been invited to the party.
Gringotts was one of those institutions which filled her with both a sense of wonder and disgust. She had once mused to Muriel whether this feeling was spawned from a deeply buried jealousy that her own vault was very close to the surface of the bank and comparatively empty – she was quite interested in the work of the Muggle Freud and how his theories might be compared to wizarding social dynamics. Indeed, in the same book in which she exposed the lecherous banker she would accuse a member of one of the most prominent families of having making policy choices based on his deeply repressed desires and lack of family nurturing and warmth as a child.
Bathilda tried hard to banish thoughts of Muriel from her mind as her small heels clicked on the marble floor. She smiled graciously at Mr. Gaunt – who was to die of dragon pox in the coming year and take the last shred of respectability for his family down with him – and was soon engaged in conversation with a very young and very earnest youth called Filius, whose tiny stature and hint of goblin blood left him rather excluded from the uppity-minded wizards of the highest class. Bathilda found Filius quite delightful, although she did have to bend down rather far to hear his chatter in the crowded room, and was pleasantly surprised when he expressed interest in her work and the other notable literary names of the era.
“Yes, I read that impassioned defense of cruelty towards dragons by the Scamander lad,” Filius told her. “I was rather horrified to find out, Ms. Bagshot, that despite the new amendments to the Magical Beasts Act at the convention of Madrid, there are no laws protecting dragons whom are privately owned by the goblins!” He turned quite pink.
“A preposterous law indeed,” Bathilda agreed. Though she privately respected the historical role dragons played in the goblin’s history, back to when the ancient goblin kings used to use them to torture and execute thieves and plunderers of their treasures, she felt quite ill at the idea of the poor beasts being trapped in the darkness of the vaults beneath them. She had noted upon entering that there were goblin sentries with stern looks on their faces planted at each of the lifts and entrances to the vaults. Filius’ keen understanding of government impressed her, however: she remembered learning he was a Ravenclaw.
The conversation was quite disturbed when a toffee-nosed wizard’s grand wig caught fire, and Filius became the hero of the hour by extinguishing the blaze with a neatly performed Aguamenti charm. After congratulating the wee man on his charmswork, Bathilda noticed a familiar thin frame standing near the beverages table. She left Filius to the attendance of his new admirers and went to present herself.
The young man was tall and thin, even then, with sandy hair tied back in a neat tail as was the style among many wizards of the time. He wore a fine set of sparkling blue dress robes, and his blue eyes seemed to twinkle as Bathilda approached.
“Albus, how lovely to see you,” Bathilda said, wishing she could entirely mean it. Since her nephew Gellert’s abrupt departure and the death of Albus’ poor young sister, she had rarely seen the Dumbledore boys. Albus occasionally frequented such gatherings as this, though he was quick to dismiss them with a laughing remark that he was quite tired of being asked why he had chosen a position at Hogwarts over joining the political elite at the Ministry. As for Aberforth, he had a talent for disappearing into the air and causing others to wave away his existence like irritating smoke.
Albus soon engaged her in a conversation about her recent research – they had first begun corresponding, of course, when she had written to him while he was still at Hogwarts about his notable papers on the history of magic. He was a brilliant wizard with a wonderful mind, and their conversation could easily float on the surface, never diving into the underground ocean bed of the personal.
Indeed, she soon found herself moving away from academic topics and telling the young professor about her research into the story of the moon maiden. Albus was quite intrigued, and betrayed no concern at the mention of love.
From across the room, a pair of curious eyes caressed Bathilda’s form, peeking out from through the sea of pointed wizards’ hats and trays with sparkling goblets peeking through the air. Muriel was angry, still – she had not taken well to Bathilda’s angry letter.
She was there as the guest of Garrick Ollivander, her betrothed – though within the year, the Prewetts’ fortune would have been drained to its final heirlooms, the family reduced to poverty. The Ollivander family would recede on the match, and Muriel would live out her life a spinster, growing in bitterness and anger. She would associate Bathilda with that golden time before her family had fallen, and made every casual effort to slander and mock the author to those who would listen. Muriel Prewett was left with nothing but her ability to hold a grudge.
They didn’t speak that night. Such was the nature of the times, when words were carefully constructed and only given away as precious gifts. Bathilda was not brave then, not as she should have been. Muriel was too stubborn to think about it.
In fact, years passed until they met again.
There she was, Bathilda, with sprinkles of darkness on her high cheeks and the bleach of the sun in her hair. She came back to England to write a book, to write her book, to carve out her place in the magical canon and prove that she is worthy of being remembered as one of the scholars of her day. She was also running from that dangerous war which was tearing great holes in the landscapes of Belgium and France, running from the knowledge that pulling the puppet strings was somebody who had once been very dear to her.
She finished the book. The publishers were pleased. To her delight, they were impressed in how she had incorporated the female figures of history into the fabric of history, bringing them out from the dominant male stitches and seams. The office decided to host a celebration for the book's release and the immediate interest the Hogwarts curriculum shows in it. Bathilda was having a lovely time until Muriel glided up to her, alone and pale and regal.
They were middle-aged women by now, and Bathilda took Muriel in, examining the patterns of wrinkles at her crinkling eyes, how the blush on her cheeks seemed like it might peel off at any moment. The fair hair had a distinctive silver tinge, and was thinning, making Bathilda imagine that Muriel might be one of those ladies who would die with very thin hair, her scalp shining through.
“Ms. Prewett, a pleasure,” Bathilda said with as much cordial coldness as she could muster. She felt her palms dampen with cold sweat and hid them within the folds of her skirt, and inclined her head politely. Her ring feels slippery and uncertain on her finger. “I am very pleased you could make it.”
“Thank you, Ms. Bagshot,” Muriel said stiffly, haughty chin poised high in the air.
A pregnant moment lingered between them, and Bathilda felt rather than thought the words of the angry letter she had sent to Muriel force themselves through her body. She had written many things since then, and perhaps her handwriting had changed, grown more pointed and deliberate. The silence lingered, and Bathilda found herself wishing she could pull Muriel away, from all the faces, and ask how she was, and to offer her condolences for the death of Mrs. Prewett some months ago, and perhaps to breathe in her fresh, flowery scent again. But then -
"Did you hear old Taedio Binns died?" Muriel said, her gloved fingers knit tightly round one another, coiling like a spinning wheel. "They found his body in his office."
"I heard," Bathilda said, unable to conceal the disappointment in her voice. She had been sorry to hear about Binns - he had been her professor for History of Magic when she attended school, and a kind, if rather introverted and monotonous lecturer. "In fact, I heard rumours that his spirit had chosen to linger in his old haunt of the school - Professor Dippet informed me that he was willing to allow him carry on until a replacement is found."
Muriel looked slightly taken aback at this volunteering of gossip, but the exhausting of the topic left them with little to say to one another. For Bathilda, a hundredfold of questions lingered in the air. For what did you leave me? Why did you choose not to love me? How does your hair still smear the hair around us with that sweet, familiar perfume? But she bottled the thoughts inside of her like falling angels, tumbling round and round in spheres of light.
They moved away to speak with other people, though Bathilda found her eyes often straying to Muriel’s very erect neck and back several times throughout the soiree. She remembered the kind kisses behind the tapestry of the moon maiden, that woven guardian concealing their love behind the walls. She thought of soft hands. Bathilda’s own were bearing some signs of ageing, and she could never seem to scrape the ink smudges from growing into her fingers.
Europe and the world were changing, and there was to be little time to waste on forlorn fantasies in the coming years. Bathilda busied herself with writing, with researching and volunteering in a London hospital. After the war, she found the time to write a book about the magical involvement in the war. She focused on Britain, only writing the name Gellert Grindelwald when she had no choice but to mention him.
Often, Bathilda wondered if the information of what she had seen all those years ago could have been used to influence the war. But she could not bring herself to make the news public – although, it was not only Albus Dumbledore’s reputation which urged her to keep quiet. She was also ashamed of her own involvement, of how the knowledge of what Gellert and Albus had been to one another would so negatively affect the views of both great wizards that it might trump their accomplishments. Muggles were still being arrested for such things, and Muriel felt a great sense of shame for this. Try as she might, it was impossible to convince the world to change.
“Aunt, vhat you think you saw vas not the truth,” he had said, piercing eyes fixed upon hers in a very intrusive way. Power seemed to crackle in the room, and she found herself wondering if upstairs the other boy was hastily arranging his buttons and disappearing out the window – if he left through the front door, then this would have to be real.
Gellert’s eyes – they were so strong. She found herself trapped by them.
Later, much later, Bathilda would suspect that without her explicit realization, Gellert had employed Occlumency to wrap the memory deep within her mind and to prevent her from revealing it. Near the end of her life, a journalist would invade her home and use unorthodox methods to trick the truth from her tangled mind, and yet Bathilda would keep that one secret. She would always keep it, whether through the powers of the mind of a boy long gone or her own strength of will.
Gellert Grindelwald was punished for his sins. Bathilda wondered one night when she could not sleep, nursing a cup of herbal tea as she perched stiffly in the window, whether the moon maiden would punish her nephew, for casting away his love. Whether he would soar up to the moon and be thrust out into the sun like a sacrifice. She wasn’t sure that he didn’t deserve it.
Perhaps she herself deserved the penance of the moon maiden. Had she not thrown away her love – had she not herself been cast away like the rubbish in the sewers?
There were others of course, men who came tapping at her door – usually sent away with a polite smile and a biscuit. Men who admired her work and her independence, and were eager for a slice of the same fame and repute which Bathilda had forged for herself in a post-war world, where things were changing for both Muggle women and witches alike. And there were women as well, beautiful creatures with soft bodies and sly smiles.
But in the end, to the tired, dwindling end, a truth was held that there was nobody – nobody at all, for Bathilda Bagshot to love than Muriel Prewett.
And Bathilda’s end was a gruesome one. She died, over a hundred years old, whittled and faded down to a tiny shadow. She rarely wrote anymore, instead fumbling around her house, murmuring to herself. Things took longer as her eyes grew milky and her hands weak: she had to rest for twenty minutes after simply moving up the stairs with a laundry basket. She had no children, and many of her friends were dead. Had Lily Potter, her neighbor, still been alive, then surely she would have checked on the old woman and helped take care of her.
As her mind grew older and more tired, Bathilda found herself thinking back to Muriel more and more. She knew the beautiful young woman had grown into a bitter and gossiping crone – or, that was the latest report from her friends outside of Godric’s Hollow. But Muriel had her brother’s daughter’s large family to take care of her, however reluctantly, and Bathilda was glad she would not be alone.
Bathilda was alone when she died. Quite ironically, she had once written a chapter in a book about the history of dark magic and the subject of animated corpses. Her body was used as a vehicle for impersonating her and setting a trap for Lily Potter’s son, and her death was not discovered until many months later. Perhaps it was a blessing that Bathilda saw none of this dark use.
Instead, she remained, lonely and preserved in heaven, staring out the south window.
She did not know that Muriel Prewett had arranged and attended her funeral. She did not know that five months after her body was discovered, Muriel Prewett was found dead in her own home, after peacefully passing away in her sleep. But Bathilda Bagshot, hands stained once more with the ink and letters of the story of her life and her love, wished she could change the course of the past. She wished she could be close to Muriel, just once more.
Here she stands, hips leaning against the wooden windowsill, quill and parchment abandoned on the table. She is dead and alive and uncertain. She has been lonely for so long.
“She is gone,” Bathida says, pressing her fingertips into the glass of the cottage window. Beyond, the clouds seem to stretch in every direction. “The old, gaunt lady. She is gone.”
You have embraced her and written about her, and so she need no longer remind you, the silvery visitor says softly. The words chime not in the air between them, but within Bathilda’s own head. She feels them press their syllables against her heart, and turns. The stranger stands in the doorway, palms hanging gracefully at her sides. Her face seems to shift like a cloud moving across the surface of the moon, and for a moment her eyes are blue, oh so blue, like the sky which never quite shines blue enough from Bathilda’s cottage. Her skin is unlined, not like the young, but like the ageless.
Bathilda turns to the North window, where the faceless musicans once played their waltz, where the girl had twirled before them, where there is only empty sky.
“Who were the musicians?” she asks, her voice sounding harsh in the silence of the cottage.
The girl you used to be, had you danced to the music prescribed for you. The voice is filled with silver and dignity.
Bathilda nodded: this seemed to make sense. She had written about the musicians, about dancing and touching Muriel that night. They had served their purpose. She turned to the east window. “And who was the woman waiting to the east, with the watch?”
She was the woman you wasted your heart to become. She was lonely and guilty and full of regrets. She should not have waited: she should have chased and run, dared to run.
Bathilda felt the threat of tears poking at her eyes, trickling towards her dry, dry skin. Thoughts raged in her head – for how could she have been expected to know it was alright to chase and to run, in a world which rejected and loathed her deepest desires? By the time she had become an old woman, the world might have accepted her in stride. But by the time she died, it was all too late. Old women cannot be expected to run.
“And I suppose the old husk of a woman to the south window was me as well? Before I died?”
That was the old woman you let yourself die to be. She does not matter anymore: you shall never be her again.
Bathilda found this thought a little reckless. What was she now, if not the twin of the old woman with the haunted eyes, the paper skin? Had she not seen her reflection pasted onto the specter’s gaunt face? She sighed.
“And the children who play and shout beyond my door?”
They are the children you could have borne. They are lives which will never be born, thoughts which will never be realized, stories you shall never tell.
Bathilda sighed. The demon children could no longer frighten her. They had fled to the clouds beyond her touch. “And who are you?”
The lady stepped forward at last, her face clear and beautiful. In Bathilda’s eyes her expression seemed to come into focus, blue eyes glittering, face pale like a powdered Frenchwoman, lips curled in a gentle smile. She held out a hand to Bathilda, and her touch seemed to pass through the old woman’s hands like venturing beams of light.
Why, child, I am the moon maiden. The stories have it wrong, you see. I am not here to punish those who were not brave enough to love. I am the patron of lost lovers. I am here to bring you to the truth.
The moon maiden moved to the west window, peeling back the curtain so a smidge of pale moonlight trickled in across the cottage. She beckoned to Bathilda, a radiant smile flitting through and illuminating everything it touched. Obediently, Bathilda moved forward, fearful of what ghastly image she might see, the creature which had been scratching at the walls of her cottage.
An old woman peered back at her from the other side of the glass. And in a spritely moment both pairs of ancient eyes shone with recognition, and Bathilda moved towards the door, flinging it wide open, a smile cracking across her face like water breaking up a winter’s worth of ice. The visitor was stooped and weary, with hands like claws and a traveling cloak about her shoulders. Her eyes carried the milky blue of the nearly-blind, and her face was folded and wrinkled, yet beautiful.
“About bloody time you let me in! I’ve been tapping at your door for ages, you absolute wretch.” There was gleeful tenacity in her voice. The wide smile piercing through the old skin said all Bathilda longed to know.
Bathilda laughed, and both figures shifted. Again, for a moment, she was young Bathilda Bagshot, smooth of skin, tall of figure, dark of hair. And her companion was the young, wickedly clever Muriel Prewett one again, pale skin soft against the pink lips. And the two women wrapped the other in her arms, her skin smelling like soap and lilac and air, a waltz strumming a lively rhythm in her head. Dead, alive, no matter, for the pounding of their hearts was enough to let them forget.
“Come inside, sweetheart,” Bathilda said, and, not letting go of Muriel, she led her inside the cottage. Impulsively, she looked over her shoulder for the moon maiden, but the strange figure had disappeared as quietly as she had first appeared, speaking of the truth. She looked down on her own hands, where the moon maiden had touched her. For a moment, again, they were the unlined hands of a young woman, the ring no longer too big for her bones.
But Muriel was there, and her blue eyes were shining with love and hope, and she knew that they had so much to talk about – a lifetime, a lifetime of words to be spent and kissed to be given so willingly and passionately! And Bathilda looked at the thrilling, dark moons blooming in Muriel’s eyes, and she wondered where she had been, all along.
The paths of heaven are a mystery to even those who traverse them. Whether the sun burns brilliantly or the moon whispers her gentle song, the inhabitants of that place are to be tested and tried. They could have had a moment: they could have had eternity. If a soul were to look up at the skies that night, one might see the creases of the moon shining down to touch the earth with careful light.
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