Vignettes 2: Of the Causes of Magic.
by Calanthe Borrible.
Disclaimer: With the exception of Elizabeth Figg, all characters
and settings are the property of JK Rowling; I do not have permission to use
them and I am not making any profit from doing so.
Note: N.B. This story is
part of a series begun before the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The series takes the end of Harry
Potter and the Goblet of Fire as its starting point, and although I intend
to braid into the original concept some of the information revealed in Phoenix,
not everything will be the same.
fic was inspired by my grandmothers—because little old ladies can be heroes
too, in all sorts of unexpected ways. I’m sorry it’s taken so long; it was a
difficult story to write in the first place, and it’s been a bad few months
since the end of the thesis. Still, I got there in the end…
Spartina, in the hope that she hasn’t given up on me yet.
the harsh afternoon light her hands were stark shapes against the pages, bones
draped in rags of brittle skin: a mummy’s hands. Her lips pinched bitterly.
She hitched her knees higher under the rug. Old aches deepened sharply in her
bones; she slitted her eyes against them, squinted down at the book in her
stripped the pages to yellow blanks. She knew perfectly well what was printed
on them: The author respectfully dedicates her work to her teacher and
friend, Arabella Mary Buckley Figg, magistra artes magicae, with much
gratitude, and so on. But she sniffed crossly anyway.
else I can do for you, Mother? While I’m on my feet?’
‘I will have a cup of tea, if you’d be so
kind, Elizabeth. And pull that blind down, the sun’s in my eyes!’ Her voice
was thin and cracked in her ears. She hunched sourly over the book.
Behind her, the floorboards creaked, and a stick
thumped onto the carpet. A blocky shadow stumped past her elbow, reached up an
arm to the blind. The light muted to heavy gold, pulled Arabella’s chin down
between her shoulders, weighted her eyelids. She jerked her head up sharply.
‘Ridiculous,’ she snapped, ‘needing that thing at your age—Not that low, you
silly old woman, I can’t see a thing!’ A long dark tail curled above her toes.
Bright green eyes regarded her insolently for a moment over the edge of the
footstool. She narrowed her own eyes, glared meanly back; they blinked, and
vanished, and after a moment the tail gave an ostentatiously dismissive flick.
Elizabeth twitched the blind up an inch. ‘Better?’
make that tea then, shall I? Not that I usually have tea after half-past four
in my own house—’
yes, you do that, old woman.’
the pages were ivory, dusted with faint blurs that might be letters. She
squinted down at them fixedly; they did not grow clear with glaring, but after
a few moments, she heard the walking-stick thump hard into the carpet, pivot
toward the door. From the doorway there came a sour mutter: ‘Would it be too
much to ask you to wave your magic wand and conjure up your tea for yourself, Mother?’
breath hitched sharply; pain tore through her chest, and her head reeled. Her
fingers seized into claws. Paper buckled under her nails—
bulked on the arm of her chair, poured onto her knees, a startling weight: she
choked, gasped air into her lungs, her heart hammering painfully. Green eyes
blinked up at her in slow satisfaction. Whiskers flicked. A black tail
whisked over her knee, curled around fat haunches. The cat settled itself
deeper into her lap, patted her leg proprietorially with one paw.
she wheezed. ‘Horrid beast—’
A warning bellow from the head of the stairs. ‘If I come back and find you’ve
turned Miss Purrsey into anything, I shall turn you out in the street!’
Arabella’s mouth creased bitterly. She squeezed her
eyes into hard lines, knotted her fingers in the knee-rug and jerked its folds
straight across her lap. Lumps of Elizabeth’s crocheted antimacassar dug hard
against her ribcage. She made a cross, involuntary noise, shuffled against the
stiff chair-back; newly-familiar pain bloomed in her spine as she moved. She
stopped, and it faded to a dull ache again, slowly. Her breath huffed faintly
in her nose. From downstairs, she heard clattering, and a gravelly, tuneless
hum that dragged her chin toward her breast, slowed her breath to a rasp in her
nose. Behind her eyelids, light shifted, puddled, streaked into colours—scarlet,
poison yellow, sickly green…
A small boy slammed into a stone wall; above a
chaos of shouts and spells, she heard bone splinter. A stocky girl stumbled
mid-spell and fell, clutching a purple flame to her chest, her wand tumbling
from a suddenly slack hand. Arabella closed her eyes to the sight of them,
gritted her teeth, forced her wand up against a weight of dead stone, dead
spells. ‘Suscita,’ she croaked. The noise of the battle swallowed the word.
Her lips peeled back from her teeth. She sucked breath into tight lungs. ‘Suscita.’
Under her feet, stone quivered. Around her, spells
stirred, sank back into stupor. She forced her chin up, pushed up her wand in
a double-handed stroke of Invocation—
A shrill scream
split her ears. Her eyes jerked open; she scrabbled weak-fingered after her
wand. The scream stopped…in the silence, she recognised a kettle’s voice, and
blood forced its way into her face, a weak warmth.
She lifted a hand,
scrubbed at her cheeks. Her fingers were bare bones against crumpled skin; she
pulled them away, forced her back straighter against the tortuous antimacassar,
arranged her forearms deliberately along the arms of the chair, her hands like
a skeleton’s atop tapestry pansies, and squinted fiercely at the window.
After a moment,
beyond the white haze of Elizabeth’s net curtain, she made out shapes: a ragged
hedge, a low brick-red roof, a tall square housefront, windows that shone with
The stairs creaked. She huffed her throat clear.
‘What is it now, Mother?’
house—come here, old woman!’ On her knees, the cat lifted its head. The tip
of its tail brushed against Arabella’s knee, sent a thread of cold chasing up
house?’ said Elizabeth from behind the chair-back.
one!’ She jabbed her chin at the window. ‘Is that the boy’s home?’
Potter lad?’ Elizabeth snorted. ‘Wouldn’t go so far as to say home.
That’s the Dursley place; he lives there in the summer. Did you want this cup
of tea or not?’
yes, put it there.’ She lifted one pile of bones a little, waved it at the
table by her elbow, let it fall again before it could crumble to nothing. Her
head sank back towards her chest; bone whined faintly in her neck. ‘Old fool—Albus.’
A shadow loomed above her; she flinched, sharply. Then Elizabeth’s hand
appeared over the arm of the chair, scratched behind the cat’s ears with one
thick finger, and her face warmed again.
hand vanished, and the shadow followed it, left behind a cup at the corner of
her eye. Steam curled up from weak tea. Crumbly currant-dotted biscuits
perched on the edge of a saucer. Arabella lifted her head. The heavy light
set her eyes swimming; she squeezed them shut, poked out her chin with a hard
sniff. Her fingers dug into the arms of the chair.
dying, old woman,’ she said into gold-tinged darkness. The words were gall in
the curtain, she heard a bird’s wings like a distant heartbeat. Young voices,
clear and high. The grumble of Muggle wheels and engines along Muggle
streets. The cat shifted on her knees, stilled…‘Glad to hear it,’ snapped
Elizabeth. ‘A woman oughtn’t to be outlived by her own mother-in-law, it’s
unnatural. Just don’t do it in my house, that’s all I ask. I won’t have you
haunting me, Mother!’
breath caught hard in her lungs. The world blurred around her; she reeled,
clawed harder at the tapestry. ‘D’you think—I have any intention of haunting
you? Or anyone else? I’ll die where I please—’
‘Now, don’t you be morbid, Mother. You know what
that mediwitch said. You’ll see out two hundred just to spite me.’ The world
steadied, slowly, as Elizabeth went on, ‘Now you drink up that tea and eat your
biscuits, I won’t have good food going to waste in this house.’
‘Morbid.’ She scratched a finger across threads of
wool, picked at the stem of a pansy with a nail. ‘What would you know?’ Her
hand crumpled, fell like a dead thing, slack and cold over the arm of the
chair. ‘I’ve lost my virtue, Elizabeth.’
was a sour snort from behind her chair. ‘I’ve seen your wedding portrait,
Mother. You never had any virtue to lose.’
‘Hold your tongue, old woman.’ Words stuck in her
throat; she sniffed again, weakly, shook her head, hunched back against the
antimacassar. Silence echoed in her ears, in the space around her. ‘I
remember your wedding-day,’ she said into it at last. Her voice was thin and
creaked, then bedsprings; at the edge of Arabella’s sight, Elizabeth lowered
herself to sit on the foot of the bed. ‘So do I.’ A cat arched against one
stout calf, colourless in a bright slant of sunlight. Elizabeth reached down
one stiff hand to scratch its ears. Her mouth in its web of wrinkles was wry.
‘By the end of the day I thought I’d married into a madhouse. By the end of
the honeymoon, I knew I had.’
turned her face away. ‘Never could understand what my boy saw in you,’ she
muttered at the arm of the chair. ‘My Antony. Old woman…’ Her eyelids sank.
She forced them open, glared sidelong at the bright squares beyond the
curtain. ‘I’d have a decade yet, but for that school! Those spells—the
Foundation spells, the Headmastery—Minerva doesn’t know what she’s talking
about. I wasn’t strong enough. What he did—the Riddle boy—he was
trying to smother the spells, you understand, stifle them. I had to wake them
again, almost from dead stone. It took everything I had. Nothing left.
reached down to scoop up the cat, hoisted it against her shoulder. ‘You’ll
recover, Mother, you know that. The mediwitch said—’
snorted, viciously. ‘The mediwitch said. I know better. So should
you, old woman! Nothing left in me, only dregs, no use at all to anyone…’ Her
hands slid across the tapestry, fell into her lap. She burrowed them under the
edge of the rug. Her eyelids drooped; her voice dwindled to a thread. ‘What’s
he up to now? Young fool. I don’t know…nobody knows. Nothing since March,
not a sound, not a sign… But he’ll come back!’ She sniffed. ‘And what will
they do without me then, old woman? Eh? My boys and girls? You’ll keep your
eye on them, Elizabeth!’
the edge of her sight, Elizabeth’s brows lowered into an ominous line.
of them. Jasper and Gertie and Peg. Lydia. Ancilla—she’s done well for
herself, Ancilla, she’s Head of—no.’ No, that was wrong. Her head swayed
wearily from side to side… ‘Remus—you remember Remus, old woman.’ Her voice
boy. Grey in his hair. I taught him how to darn his stockings. Why you
people insist on wearing such inconvenient underwear, I’ll never know—’
reared up, swung around, chin jutting out in a snake’s strike. ‘In my day, some
subjects were not discussed by decent women!’
it’s not your day any more, is it, Mother?’ said Elizabeth with sour
satisfaction. ‘Now you drink your tea and read your book, and don’t—’
Emilia. Did I tell you about Helen Emilia? Nominated to the Magistracy!’ She
gave a sharp nod. ‘First causes—the origins of magic. And not just physical
causes…It’s a good book,’ she said fiercely; and then the strength ran out of
her again, and the old aches and the new pains pushed her down into the chair.
She batted a hand against the book limply, through folds of rug. ‘An important
book. Nobody’s ever thought of it before—reinterpretation. No fixed meanings,
no fixed values, only perception and use…Madam Oldfangle would never have
accepted it. But they will!’ Her voice was weak, a thread. ‘Who would have
thought it would be her, eh? Of all my boys and girls?’
a moment, Elizabeth grunted. ‘If you’re not going to talk sense, Mother, I
have ironing to do. Miss Purrsey, you stop here and take care of your Gran for
Mummy. Mogget, Tuppence, come along now.’ The bed creaked again, slowly, as
she levered herself up. Shadow swelled for a moment, lumbered away before the
new cold could seep into Arabella’s bones. The groans of the floorboards faded
into the distance.
lips pinched with distaste. ‘Gran.’ She dragged a hand from under the
rug, pushed folds of wool against a smug flank. ‘Shoo, you great lump! Off!’
But Miss Purrsey’s tail only twitched into a smoother curve. Arabella’s mouth
puckered. She looked away. The bright dazzle of sun on distant glass caught
Her voice wavered in the quiet. She squinted against light and weariness,
glared at bricks and the pale outlines of fence palings. ‘Well…even fools can
have good ideas now and again. I suppose.’
slant of light from under the blind eased across the carpet, edged up over the
rim of the footstool, bled colour out of gaudy woolen sunflowers, thread by
thread. It crept over the toes of her slippers, brightened the last curls of
steam above the cup to gold. She chewed on silence, stared into the light,
stared it down.
in the brilliance, a shadow moved. She blinked, squinted harder, stuck her
chin out crossly—
back jerked against the antimacassar; a sharp ache shot between her shoulderblades.
Her nails dug into wool. ‘Elizabeth—’ The name was a hoarse croak. She
wheezed in a breath, coughed her throat clear. ‘Elizabeth!’
is it this time, Mother?’ came a blurred growl from downstairs.
shadow reached the gate of the house, halted for a moment. Arabella clawed at
her sleeves. ‘Where is it? What have you done with, it, you old fool—ah!’ A
thin disc came free of the cloth. She pinched smooth wood between her
fingertips, pushed down, felt fine carven lines against her skin: the phoenix
emblem, the Venite…
Her wrists shook violently, and her fingers went
slack. The disc slithered down her wrist, over her lap, vanished between cloth
and cushion. She hissed, clutched for her sleeve again—
the edge of her sight there was a brief flare of colour, violet bleeding into
white. The shadow ghosted through it, toward the house, as it died.
caught her breath. Her hands curled into fists, nails snagging on cloth and
skin. ‘Well,’ she wheezed at the light. ‘Well…then we must hope that
dregs are enough.’ But it was a long moment before she could free her fingers
from her sleeve, stretch over the arm of the chair for her wand. Sullen embers
flared in her shoulder, elbow, wrist, but she closed her fingers as tightly as
she could on the familiar wood, dragged it close and slid her feet from
footstool to floor. Lines of fire arced up her shins. She hissed, planted her
heels hard and pushed up against the arms of the chair. Her joints whined.
The rug began to slide. The book tumbled from her knees. The cat clawed at
her sharply, sprang away with a yowl.
closed her eyes, drew a breath and drew strength up from her heart with it. A
schoolchild’s exercise, and what gathered in her was weak, erratic; but it
would do. She let the breath go, and the world and the light fade around her
heart froze in her chest. She heard a harsh croak—her own voice gasping after
breath. Then she heard something snap. Fire blazed up, through ankles, knees,
nose was thick with the smell of dust. Small pains dug into her palms, swelled
along her arms. Her temple throbbed where it pressed against rough wood. A
long wet trickle traced the line of her jaw, trailed into the sharp ache of her
neck. She forced her eyes open, burned a glare sidelong through a whirl of colour
and dark, and her breath hissed in her teeth triumphantly.
was on the footpath outside Number Four, Privet Drive.
breathed in hard. The dark haze pushed back a little. Shadows clotted into a
shape before her; it was a moment before she recognised the line of a cloak
draped over high shoulders, folds of cloth falling back from an outstretched
hand. Then, beyond the shadow, a door swung back, and a woman peered out, her
face sharp with annoyance.
wood caught a lazy gleam of sunlight. ‘Imperio.’
woman’s face slackened abruptly. Bony hands fell limp against floral frills.
Narrow eyelids drooped. A shiver crawled down Arabella’s spine; she tried to
gather herself, straighten her back, but her legs were cold and slack in the
tangles of her robe. She gathered breath instead, forced her hand to close on
Dursley.’ The words rang with malicious satisfaction. ‘You’re not as strong
as your sister was, are you? A shame. Still. Open the door, Petunia. Step
back from your threshold. Invite me in.’
the woman’s shoulder, another face appeared, round, puckered with temper.
‘Mum? Mum, who’s that? Mum? He’s—Mum, what are you doing?’
A tremor ran through the woman’s face. ‘Diddums, go back inside—’
forced her wand up, began a stroke of Avert. ‘Petunia Dursley—this is the
creature that—murdered your—sister!’ She heard her voice crack and fail in the
space between them. There was a slow swirl of shadow in her eyes; red gleams
lighted on her, and saw a flicker of expression like a contemptuous smile. The
wand rose negligently. Scarlet light flooded her eyes.
she gasped. Her strength vanished and her hand fell, but the light sheered
away from her. Heat stole the breath from her lungs; she slumped against the
gate-post, slithered down it, toward the gravel. Tiny petals drifted down at
the edge of her sight, shrivelled and brown. There was a long, silent moment.
Then a brief, high laugh rang in her ears, and the shadow turned its back on
her, and tilted its head at the woman waiting in the doorway.
the door, Petunia.’
forced up her chin. ‘He’ll kill you—and then he’ll kill your son—’ Sudden
terror flashed through pale green eyes. ‘And then he’ll take your sister’s
flower-frilled bosom swelled. The thin mouth worked for a moment. Then,
suddenly, a shrill yelp spilt Arabella’s ears: ‘You get away from my Dudley,
door slammed shut. Breath hitched in Arabella’s ribs like a laugh—
streak of fire seared her eyes. She hissed, braced her shoulder against the
gate-post, curled her fingers stiffly around her wand…the fire died, and she
saw that the door had held, but she dragged her wand up again, gritted her
teeth, and aimed a shaking Casting stroke at the shadow’s heart. Her voice
grated in her ears. ‘Pelletemere!’
left her with the word. The darkness whirled on her; for one clear moment she
glimpsed outraged scorn in red eyes. Then there was a sharp crack—
snapped in her head, flooded her nose, slithered scalding-hot over her mouth.
She choked on the smell of rust. Her stomach clenched, heaved violently. A
storm of dark and colour blurred her eyes, sent her reeling. She fell—
knots of pain pushed faintly, insistently, against her temple, her chin, the
heels of her hands. She forced her eyes open a crack, saw shadows and faint
shapes the colour of dust, unrecognisable.
closed her eyes again. ‘Elizabeth.’ The name dried to ash in her throat. Old
woman. Cold gripped her by the back of her neck, shook her till gravel
rattled under her ribs and hands, spilled her slack against the stones. Ice
gathered at the corners of her eyes, oozed glacier-slow onto her skin. Then,
faintly, from somewhere very far away, she heard the thump of a walking-stick
on paving-stones, the squeak of rubber-soled shoes. Breath lurched in her
throat like a sob.
Mother, what have you gone and done now! I thought you said—’
High above her, a bird chattered, broke into a bright warble. Wind rustled in
hands gripped her shoulder and hip, heaved stiffly. Gravel pushed against her
shoulders. Her head lolled slackly; her mouth fell open, and breath gurgled in
her throat. Light flooded her eyes. She choked, squinted, made out the
outline of a face above her—a familiar thick pucker of brows, blunt mouth drawn
to a harsh point. She felt fingers grope along her wrist, tug at an eyelid,
pinch her forearm. She closed her eyes again.
said Elizabeth, and then, ‘Well,’ and then, sharper, ‘Well, let this be a
lesson to you not to go poking your nose into other people’s business,
Mother!’ Then Arabella heard a distant clatter, and the ghost of a bellow that
had once commanded whole wards: ‘Dursley!’
forced a rasp of voice into her throat. ‘Elizabeth. Old woman—’
brushed over her forehead. After a moment, she recognised the touch: fingertips.
‘What is it, Mother?’
She shifted her head, a little. Stones dug into her skin, pressure without
pain. ‘My box—you know the one. Letters. For my boys and girls—things they
need to know. Make sure they get them. Gertie. Jasper. Lydia Carmody—thinks
I don’t know what she’s about—silly girl. One for Remus. Helen Emilia.
Ancilla Warden—no. No. She—died. Long time ago now. Don’t bother with the
letter for Ancilla, old woman—’
large palm closed around her fingers. ‘I’ll send your letters, Mother, you
save your breath. Dursley!’
screwed up her mouth. ‘Old woman—’
scrape of wood and hinges. ‘M-mrs Figg?’ The cold gripped her again, shook
her weakly, let her go. She shifted her fingers against Elizabeth’s palm.
There was no response. Her mouth moved slackly. That boy. Not safe—like
took your time,’ snapped Elizabeth over her head. ‘My mother-in-law’s just
gone and killed herself for your sake, Dursley—’
breath stopped in her lungs. For an instant, her heart pounded in her chest,
hard as hope. Killed myself. For your sake. To keep you safe.
lips peeled back from her teeth fiercely. She drew a breath—another—as slowly
and surely as she could. The same child’s technique of preparation, but it
served: the ghost of strength rose in her heart, drifted into her bones, skin,
mouth. She shaped a word on unresponsive lips—Immisceme—and the fence,
the garden beds, the house, built themselves around her, solid lines in the gathering
I’ll—I’ll call an ambulance…’
waste your time, it won’t do a scrap of good. Just fetch a blanket.’
shrill singsong; distant as it was, it grated in her ears. ‘Dudley! Diddums
darling, be a good boy and fetch Mummy a blanket from the cupboard? Quickly!’
Then footsteps scritched nervously across gravel. ‘M-mrs Figg—your
mother-in-law—is she—well, one of them?’
‘One of what, Dursley?’
Extende. Faint presences, like ghosts,
drifted behind the walls: the woman, the wizard, the man, the boy. She was
shivering again. The strength to bind them was gone from her bones.
More fussing noises. ‘Well—a witch—’
caught in her lungs like bitter needles. Ice oozed from her eyes, sealed the
lids shut, coated her cheeks, her mouth, her throat. Something touched her
scalp amid thin braids of hair and thick pins, settled there and cradled her
thing. It went away when I…am I a—witch?’
Enough that it was a wizard—or some such magical thing. The rules are the
rules, doesn’t matter if you’re as much a Muggle as I am.’ Surprise cracked Arabella’s
eyes open, jolted slivers of ice out of her lungs. She hacked weakly.
Something stroked her forehead, so light, smoothing the tremors from her bones
before they could begin. ‘What, Mother, you thought after all these years I
hadn’t picked up even the basics?’
like a snort caught in her nose. She rolled her head against the broad hand,
gathered shards of breath and scraps of strength and shaped the next word: Conligate.
The ghosts drew closer, melted into the walls.
Gravel crunched. A voice she should know blared distantly, ‘Mum, what’s going
on? Is that old biddy having a heart attack?’
hauled breath into lungs stiff with ice.
you, Diddums, now you go back inside. Quickly!’
away, a door slammed. The sound jolted her down into the stones. The hand
against her scalp shifted slightly; that light tough brushed her forehead again.
you stir yourself, Mother. That’s right. Just you rest, now. It won’t be
long.’ Elizabeth’s voice was harsh.
faint crunch of gravel. A sharp uncertain voice: ‘Lily was—murdered?’
that’s what Mother said, that’s what happened. I wouldn’t know.’
Intranimeus—occultarcanum. The walls quivered, melted, sank slowly down to
knot at the base of her heart like pain.
told me she was murdered. The letter didn’t say anything about murder!’
Vivus. Her lips were stiff, frozen.
thing. Will it come back? Will it—’
voice cracked, stone under a hammer-blow: ‘Will you hold your tongue, Dursley,
and let my mother-in-law die in peace!’
Silence. Fingers shifted faintly in her hair. She
forced her lips open a crack. Her voice creaked out like a glacier’s voice. ‘Fidelius—’
touch vanished from her scalp. Elizabeth’s voice battered at her ears,
vanished behind thickening ice. Mother! Mother—what have you done
‘All safe now—’ She felt the words slack in her
mouth, forced them out triumphantly as the ice slithered cold into her heart
and sealed the secret inside. Tell Helen Emilia—it worked—