|atdelphi (atdelphi) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2014-05-08 12:31:00
Forget for a moment that you saw her for the first time in a shadowy courtroom deep within the Ministry of Magic.
Where she perched on the dais, a superior smile on her face.
Where she showed up to testify in carpet slippers and an old housecoat.
Where she implied your dear boy had broken the law!
Where she lied about seeing Dementors in Little Whining, under oath. Fumbling. Transparent.
Forget that you imitated her simpering smile later, with Albus. That bitch, you said, though you rarely swear.
Or that you mocked her slippers and housecoat with Amelia, afterward. Pathetic old fool, you said, although she's exactly your age.
Take a breath. A step back.
And forget what you already know.
The war is over. Harry is working at the Ministry now. He's no longer in danger.
And someone did send those Dementors to Little Whining. Harry was within his rights to fight back. And you've learned, at great cost, what it feels like when power turns against you.
Yes, she rushed to judgment. And she was wrong.
Yes, she believes she knows betters than others. She always has. She's got to watch that.
Yes, she lied under oath. She'd do it again, gladly, go to Azkaban for those she loves. That's the kind of person she is.
And, yes, she has cats.
Four cats who are her closest friends in the world. But you had twenty-four cats on decorative plates hanging in your office at Hogwarts. Plus the small ceramic kittens on the table in the hall at home.
When you discover what joy a warm, live kitten can be, you may become a cat lady, too.
That's what you already know about each other.
Here is what you don't know.
After her reign of terror at Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge broke. Cleanly, completely, almost as if she were a wand that had been snapped in two. It wasn't losing control at Hogwarts, the long slide into June. It wasn't the humiliation of the Weasley boys' grand exit. It wasn't even the assault.
(Not "assault," rape; let's just call it what it was. She was carried off into the forest by a herd of centaurs who hated her, and she returned speechless and traumatized, with twigs in her hair, and Albus Dumbledore later insinuated that she had asked for it. What you think happened to her?)
No, it was what happened afterward that truly shattered her.
Dumbledore, talking to Amelia Bones at the far end of the infirmary, where they thought they wouldn't be overheard: So good of you to come, Amelia. She hasn't had many visitors.
Didn't make many friends here at Hogwarts, I've heard.
Not many. Speaking of which, Amelia, we should talk about--
Because she really isn't--
Yes. Word reached me at the Ministry. I've heard.
I'm sure she has extraordinary bureaucratic talents, Amelia. I know how long you've worked with her.
She has a firm command of the law, the best I've seen. But no judgment, apparently.
No ability to inspire confidence in others. And a tendency to lash out at those who express dissent.
There might be a position opening up in Arthur Weasley's department, once she's recovered. Something more appropriate.
That brief phrase, "more appropriate," broke Dolores Umbridge.
During her thirty-nine years at the Ministry, Dolores Umbridge had risen farther and faster than any witch except Amelia Bones herself. Up until her year at Hogwarts, she'd thought she had everything under control.
Even now, three years after the demotion, she's not quite sure who she is, or where she's headed.
And here's what you don't know.
After eighteen years living among the Muggles in Little Whining, Arabella Figg is ready to come home.
She'd volunteered for the assignment, you know. Originally, back in 1981. Because she believed in the Order. Because she was concerned about Harry. Because Dumbledore had asked her.
(Who would have sent Alastor Moody or Kingsley Shacklebolt to look after a baby, after all?)
But mostly she volunteered because she missed Marlene. It wasn't just moving house, it was a chance to start over at a point when everything in the wizarding world reminded her of her loss.
It would be an adventure, she thought. And it was, certainly. But it was hard in ways she didn't anticipate.
Her neighbors seemed obsessed with clean kitchens and those noisy motorcars. They looked askance at her scarves and her incense and her housecoat. They were always doing something. No one lounged around in slippers, or stayed up past ten at night, or expressed any interest in her herbal cigarettes. Arabella Figg had moved into an entire neighborhood of Petunia Dursleys.
It took her more than a year to find a neighbor who wasn't eager to leave after the first cup of tea, and she never found the pub where women went to meet other women. To this day, she's not sure if Muggles don't do that sort of thing, or Little Whinging simply wasn't the place for her.
She's proud of the work she did, looking after Harry. But now that Voldemort is gone and Harry truly safe, Arabella Figg is done with Muggle life.
She'll be hesitant, I should warn you. She's never been interested in romance, apart from the suitor she had for five years during the First War.
Suitor. If that sounds like a prim, old-fashioned word to you, you're right. It was a prim, old-fashioned relationship. His name was Alistair, and he worked at the Ministry, and he always did exactly what Dolores told him, and he never quite measured up.
She admired his precision and tidiness. She appreciated the inordinate amount of attention he paid to her. It was certainly time for her to get married. But he bored her. In bed, after he'd finished his business, she would bat away his hand and retreat to the shower, where she could bring herself off more quickly, with greater pleasure.
In love as in everything else, Dolores found, you had to do a thing yourself to make sure it was done right.
In the end, Dolores decided that Alistair's lack of ambition and milquetoast habits stood in the way of a promotion at the MinistryÑboth for her and for him.
She excused herself from the romantic entanglement on their fifth anniversary. Five years of her life was enough to devote to a failed project.
Arabella Figg hasn't always been lonely. You might assume that a Squib would have a hard time finding love in a world like ours, but Arabella never did. She was pretty and vivacious as a girl, free-spirited and sexually adventurous as she grew older. She came from an old wizarding family that for four generations had run the post office in Hogsmeade, so she rarely lacked company, even when the children her age left for Hogwarts.
As an adult, she lived for more than a decade with her sister before moving in with the young Auror Edgar Bones. It was a highly suitable match, her parents whispered, especially--well, you know why. But then, after a life-changing encounter with his sister, Arabella declared herself single again and scandalized the wizarding world by appearing on the front page of the Prophet arm-in-arm with Amelia Bones, smiling broadly, ashamed of nothing. She was linked with a well-known Muggle actress for a time and gained a reputation as a host and an amateur photographer. Then toward the end of the war, she fell in love with Marlene McKinnon, an Auror and a protégé of Amelia Bones who was rumored to be part of a secret organization fighting Voldemort and suspected of aspiring to her mentor's job.
Reckless, Arabella would murmur.
You love it, Marlene would reply, and she was right. All the way up until the end, Arabella loved it.
You think you don't have much to talk about, but you could talk about Amelia Bones. You'd be surprised how much Dolores knows about her. She spent much of her life watching Amelia, emulating her, modeling her own career on the older woman's. Amelia was living proof that it could be done, that witch could rise to a position of real power.
Amelia Bones was also perhaps the one great love of Dolores's life, though Dolores never fully understood her own attraction. She always believed that Amelia lived alone, that work was everything to her, as it was to Dolores.
It would be good for her to know that's not true.
(And it would be good for you to remember that you loved Amelia before you loved Julie or Marlene.
For you to be reminded that you might yet love someone else again.)
You could talk about the Ministry, about your determination to move back into Magical Law Enforcement. You don't have to be modest. No one knows magical law the way you do. Your ambition is what makes you. It was what drew Arabella to MarleneÑ-her arrogance, her drive, her refusal to hear no.
(It was never your ambition that was unattractive, at least not among the people who were closest to you. It's your inability to show mercy, to see where you went too far and why. It's not too late to learn if you would only open up and talk about it.
It's not too late to care.)
You could talk to Dolores about cats. She hasn't lived with one since she was a child, when her mum discovered that she stopped sneezing when the old tabby ran away. She became interested again only a few years ago, when the Charming Collectible Company began offering decorative plates via owl post, and Dolores realized she'd already purchased all forty-eight commemorative Ministry wax seals.
She bought six plates, and then another six, and when she arrived at Hogwarts in early September, she sent away for the rest of the set of twenty-four and hung them in her office, neatly arranged by breed and color.
She wouldn't have given the cats another thought had she not noticed that the very last one--number twenty-four, a tiny Siamese with bright blue eyes, the one closest to her desk. Number twenty-four would wake up when she returned to her office, as if she had been waiting for Dolores. Number twenty-four would watch her. Number twenty-four would purr and gambol when Dolores smiled at her.
Number twenty-four liked her.
No one had paid her that much attention since Alistair, all those years ago. It stirred emotions in her she couldn't quite name. It made her wonder what it would be like to have a kitten--a real kitten--to come home to at the end of the day.
She took all the decorative plates with her when she left Hogwarts and hung them at home--all except number twenty-four, which to this day stands on the shelf next to her bed. It throws off the symmetry of the display in the hall, having only twenty-three plates, but Dolores doesn't care.
You could talk to Arabella about cats. In fact, you might have a hard time talking about anything else. They were her confidants and allies in a world of electricity and hosepipe bans and bad telly: Mr Tibbles, the dominant one. Mr Paws, the shy one who spends his days behind the overstuffed chair in the front room. Snowy, the one who likes to sit on your lap. Tufty, the smallest one, the aggressive one, the one who's constantly coming home with cuts and scrapes and blood matted on his fur.
Not unlike some witches we know, she'll say, clucking her tongue ruefully.
(Go ahead, ask. That's your cue. It won't take much to get her talking.)
Arabella Figg sees stories everywhere. The cats are just the beginning.
Who knows what might learn if you took the time to talk to one another?
If you listened to each other.
Rather than assuming.
If you gave each other a chance.
Not because it's wrong to be single or live alone.
Living alone can be good.
Not because it's wrong to love cats as much as you love your family or your closest friends.
That's fine. Many of us do.
But because you are both lonely.
And you both love cats.
(And when I say you both "love cats," I don't mean "love women," not necessarily.
Although that's certainly true in your case, Arabella.)
(And yours, too, Dolores. If you're honest with yourself.)
I look at the way you love your cats, and I see two women who are still searching for something, something that you might yet find in the other.
I think you both might be ready to fall in love.
Tomorrow morning, Rosmerta will oversleep. She'll have had an especially late night in the pub, and when her alarm rings, she'll pull the pillow over her head and ignore it, forgetting about the advertisement in the Prophet. You'll arrive--Dolores punctually, Arabella a few minutes late, flustered--and you'll discover the Three Broomsticks still closed up, Rosmerta nowhere to be seen.
But it's a lovely spring morning, and the sun is out, and neither of you has anywhere to be until lunchtime.
It would be so easy for you both to turn away and miss this chance.
You could avoid her, Arabella, because Dolores Umbridge is a bitch.
Or you could look right through her, Dolores, because Arabella Figg is a dotty old cat lady.
Or you could say hello.
(You say hello first, Arabella; you've done this before, it's easier for you.)
Go ahead, Dolores. This is how it starts.
"You're here to see about the kittens, aren't you? I am, too."