Jane Bell was the instigator of the whole situation, the sixth year girl swallowing down her fear (a perfectly pointless fear, she hadn’t been in trouble once all the time she had been at school) and making her way down to Filch’s office and rooms. Heart pattering and breath knotted in her throat, she knocked on his door, and waited as his irritable growling came closer and closer to the door.
It swung open to reveal the man with a rather silly looking apparatus on his head, a massive magnifying glass swung to the side to keep his sight clear and the correct size and he glared at her. “Are you here for the lost and found?” he said.
“No, I…” Jane took a breath and said, all in a rush, “My aunt is a squib, and she works at the Wallace Collection in London and this last summer she took me on a visit and explained that the old works of art need specific humidity and light and some need to be in a special cases to keep them from withering, and she told me all sorts of what needs doing, and I realized you do that for Hogwarts and we don’t have special cases or special types of light to keep them from darkening or dirtying and I wanted to say thank you.” She stuck out her hand towards the man at that, hand shaking a bit as the man stared at it, before looking back up at her in confusion.
They remained like that a long time before Mrs. Norris meowed loudly from inside, startling them both. Filch took Jane’s hand, and only then did she realize he was wearing gloves. “You’re the first student to ever thank me. What’s your name?”
“Jane Bell. Hufflepuff.”
“Had to be. Well, you’ve done it now, said thanks, and I appreciate that. Now head out.”
“Wait, first, uh…she, uh, my aunt, she wanted me to give you this.” She thrust out a letter, and soon as Filch took it, she turned and ran, back to the warm Hufflepuff Common Room.
Behind her, Argus looked at it in bafflement, before narrowing his eyes. Now that was a trick and a trap if ever he saw one. Taking it back inside and closing the door, he took off his magnifying helmet and rubbed a knuckle behind Mrs. Norris’ ear.
“Well now, someone finally says thanks!” enthused the woman in the portrait, ever tending her beloved roses. Amelia Verso was her name, painted just at the cusp of Romanticism, when women in paintings were painted like Le Brun painted them, rosy cheeked and blooming with health. Amelia had been a dedicated gardener, out among those her family employed at the estate, muddying her hems as she admired and learned all there was in caring for and breeding roses. The Verso family still had her watercolor floral studies, which blew gently in unseen wind and Argus hungered to see them after what Amelia told him of them.
“I don’t trust letters,” grumbled Argus, setting her carefully aside. “Now let’s keep you safe before we search this.”
“Oh dear, Argus. You’re too watchful for your own good.”
“Hmph.” He prodded at the envelope with a blunt stick before moving up to increasingly sharper objects, and when the knife split the paper of the envelope and nothing happened, he deemed it safe. Plenty students would love the chance to put some sort of exploding colored chalk in an envelope, something to turn his face blue and they would laugh and laugh whenever they saw him.
But inside was a letter, hand written, and once it was safe, he sat down to read it.
Dear Mr. Filch,
I’m dreadfully sorry I never did learn your name. My niece doesn’t know it, you see, she always calls you Mr. Filch and so I must address you as such too.
My name is Anne Umber, Jane Bell (who hopefully delivered this to you and didn’t just slide it under your door) is my niece on my sister’s side and is a fine upstanding Hufflepuff, at least from what I understand of the Houses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I never did show any display of magic growing up. My parents did a marvelous job with it, they never made me feel lesser, but everyone else certainly did. A child my age in Diagon Alley in the middle of the school year? Well, everyone knows what that means. Mum and Dad could never protect me from that, but they tried. Still, seeing my sister going off to Hogwarts, it sucked my soul dry. I wanted so badly to climb aboard that train, it was the color of adventure, that red steam engine, I was thirteen and weeping like a child the whole trip home, seeing my little sister off on a grand adventure to a world I was kept from.
It faded, and I grew up between worlds, the way one does. Studied art myself, the way I assume you did, and followed that passion on through my doctorate. It may not be the treasure trove Hogwarts is, but I do work as curator here at the Wallace Collection and find my little Rococo Jewelbox as lovely as any castle. It’s not easy, your family being magical while you strike out into the muggle world, but I’ve found my own little bit of joy.
And then my dear niece Jane came and visited me this summer. She wanted to spend a summer in London with me, test her toes in the waters of the big lake, she said, she’s used to such small towns. I took her to work with me, showed her Fragonard and Murillo and snuffboxes and chests of drawers. Sweet Jane, she was shocked silly to see them so still. Whatever will she do if we take her to the National Gallery? In any case, I told her all there was to tell about how these things are taken care of, how careful people must be, told her about chemistry used to preserve these paintings. And bear in mind, these are only from the eighteenth century!
Sweet Jane, would that you could see her face when we were having lunch and I talked her through how old her school is. (It’s an old wound now) I think she only just realized that the place she lives is a whole thousand years old! She was near in tears, thinking about all the old things that needed protecting. She’s a sensitive dear, you see. “We’ve got no cases and no guards! We can just touch anything we like!” she was saying.
“Jane, surely there’s someone who takes care of it,” I said.
“But there’s so many paintings! And so much old furniture!”
“Well then, there must be a whole lot who take such good care of it.”
“Just Mr. Filch,” she told me.
I wanted to thank you, one historian to another (did you study art restoration, perchance?) for all that you do, maintaining that school. I’m sure it wouldn’t hold the love of so many if it weren’t for people like you working so hard. Though I must admit, I never heard of a wizard taking such care of old things. They tend to forget. They say you work with your hands, Mr. Filch, and I know well what that means.
Though, I feel I must be insulting you. If you’re working so very hard on conservation and restoration, then I can’t imagine you’re still only “Mister.” You must be Doctor Filch unless I miss my mark?
Please, write back, I’m sure us squib relatives would like to know what Hogwarts is like through the eyes of one of our own. And I, especially, would like to know what it is like through the eyes of a fellow art historian.
Argus stared down at the letter, ferociously unmoving. He ignored Amelia Verso asking after it, he didn’t move or speak. He wanted so much to believe it, but didn’t dare. A fellow squib. A squib who studied art, who worked in a museum, in the Wallace Collection. A squib who appreciated what hard work Argus put into maintaining Hogwarts.
Mycene Filch had named her only son Argus after the grand king, son of Zeus and Niobe, and hoped her son would be just as talented in transfiguration as she was. If she didn’t have an ingredient for a recipe, she’d just change something else into it, she kept a plot of zucchini that overflowed every summer so she’d always have some sort of food to transfigure into another.
He remembered sitting and working on his homework and watching his mother change things into other things as she worked, and thinking to himself that he’d be doing that right alongside her in a few years, after he went to Hogwarts.
And yet, the magic never came. The letter never came. His birthday was in the summer, there was no reason it shouldn’t, except that he just…couldn’t do magic.
Mycene Filch took him to Saint Mungo’s, demanded to know why her son wasn’t displaying any magical abilities, Mycene had magic, her late husband Hesiod had magic, why didn’t Argus? Was he a late bloomer? She knew perfectly well the old tradition of breeching your son at the first sign of magic and she knew well of Timoléon de Tourné, he hadn’t been breeched or showed magic until he was fifteen and he had gone on to write at least four new transfiguration spells!
Argus had been poked and prodded and finally the healers shrugged their shoulders and said, “sometimes it just happens, Mrs. Filch, your son isn’t magical.”
Sometimes Argus wondered who took it harder, him or his mother.
That fall, when those Argus knew were going shopping at Diagon Alley and getting onto the marvelous scarlet steam engine his mother had told him about, Argus sat at home and read Hogwarts: A History and cried because it all sounded so marvelous but he couldn’t go. He was wrong, he should be magic like his mother, like his father had been. Hesiod and Mycene had both been magic, why wasn’t Argus?
Why couldn’t he go to a castle that loved its students, that was filled with cheeringly joking staircases that moved about, with a great hall that showed the skies outside without its weather interrupting the meal, where the great Black Lake was filled with mermaids and a Giant Squid and the Forbidden Forest a great sanctuary for magical creatures? Why couldn’t he go learn magic? Change matches to needles and zucchini to garlic and cast charms and brew potions and every other lovely thing? Why couldn’t he go to the castle that so many people loved so well that they donated portraits of themselves to hang in its halls that when they died a part of them might live on there?
Mycene had no real guide on how to raise a squib son, and neither did her friends or anyone else the Filch family knew. So, she just ended up distancing herself, and to this day Argus didn’t know if that had been out of some sort of affection, trying not to rub it in his face, or if it had been because she just didn’t know how she was supposed to raise a son who wasn’t magic. Did muggles do that if their child showed magic? Just…pull back because they didn’t know what to do?
Argus remembered though, he remembered the transfiguration in the kitchen, the stories of Hogwarts, playing Quidditch with other kids on toy brooms that would go no further than three feet off the ground. And underneath the sorrow, he burned. Why should he be denied the world he grew up in? Why should eleven years be pitched out the window just because of an accident in genetics?
(It’s a question of recessive and dominant genes, Argus remembered hearing, not understanding what it meant, why the healers shook their heads so sadly. All he knew was he was broken and not right and no one could do anything about it.)
Soon as he was old enough, he started trying to find ways to fix himself. Lots of people out there were trying to fix squibs – doctors and amateurs, clinical studies and miracle cures. He drank potions and followed courses, even went to the scrubbed-clean church nearby and tried praying, just in case.
And when he was seventeen, and facing graduation from the muggle schools he had been attending, and the prospect of university, he sat down at the kitchen table as and asked his mother, “How do I get to Hogwarts?”
“You can’t, Argus,” she said, not looking up from where she was transforming squash into bundles of carrots. “Only wizards and witches can go, and you’re far too old.”
“No. I’m going to get there. How can I get there? What jobs need doing?”
It had been the first time in six years she had looked at him as if there was potential there. And she took a breath and said, “Arithmancy is mathematics. If you become an unparalleled mathematic genius, you might get hired. Dumbledore might prefer a genius to a wizard, but it’s not a sure thing. The groundskeeper now had his wand broken, you could do that too.”
“I hate math and I hate the outdoors.”
She shrugged and said, “Cooking and cleaning is done by house elves. But…” she pursed her lips at that and said, “Last year, your class went to the National Gallery, and you told me that there was some painting you couldn’t see because it was taken away?”
“The Arnolfini Double Portrait. It was away for cleaning, or something like that.”
“Hogwarts is overflowing with paintings and tapestries. If you learned and mastered conservation and restoration…you could get to Hogwarts that way.”
And that was that. He talked to his teachers about wanting to go into art conservation and they helped him find programs to do that. His last year before university he studied hard and made some of the best grades he had ever made, before he was too distracted with attempts to use his pocket money to turn magic and now he had a plan to get to Hogwarts one way or another.
He applied to all sorts of programs, wrote draft after draft of entry essays, and was accepted to over half of them. He attended the Cortauld Institute’s school studying Art History. And a month in and he realized that this wasn’t just a desperate plan of a squib to get to Hogwarts, he really loved this stuff.
He studied “The Bar at the Folies-Bèrgere” and the question if the man in the top hat reflected in the mirror was the viewer or not, he studied how the Dutch mixed oil and tempera paint to make those perfect details. He studied Lucas Cranach the Elder’s pastoral paradise of “Adam and Eve” and his subsequent austere Protestant paintings, he studied Marian devotion in early Lutheranism and in Spain and their devotion to the Immaculate Conception. He studied Bosch and fantastical monsters (even to someone who was raised in the magical world) and how those translated to earnest faith. He studied Islamic influence in southern Spanish architecture, how pointed arches gave birth to Gothic architecture that flowered and flourished through Europe except for Italy which refused to adopt it, staying Romanesque until the Renaissance. He studied Abbot Suger in Saint Denis and he studied Robert of Molesme and the Cistercians.
He studied Michelangelo’s “The Dream” and Dürer’s “Melancholia I” and Leonardo’s many drawings and the scant paintings he ever bothered making. He wrote papers about Petrarch and how he had singlehandedly launched a smear campaign against the entire medieval age and was recommended to publish that paper, if he just improved bits of it.
That publication got him a spot in the program for Conservation of Easel Paintings at Cambridge, and when he showed it to Mycene, she looked him in the eye and nodded. He could get to Hogwarts with that, she told him.
He studied painfully hard, changed from full time to part time when his mother got sick, and when she got better he dove back into full time once more. He got his degree, and immediately dove into his doctorate program.
He taught what he himself had learned, and worked on his thesis on tempera paint vs oil paint and what effects were wrought on them by time. Mycene told him he needed to come up for air, but he thrived on this sort of thing, taught students who were just at bright eyed as he was when looking at pieces of art in person, turned away those who thought art history would be an easy degree by teaching them no, this was a discipline that required one to know everything.
He wrote a thesis and he cleaned and restored paintings. He worked an internship learning how to frame paintings, holed up in a shop building and carving frames and hanging pieces in the homes of the rich who owned paintings that needed hanging and he got quite good at it, in time.
He graduated and he was finally Dr. Argus Filch, PhD.
Mycene, now a lot older than she had been when she looked him in the eye and told him that he might get to Hogwarts if he was good at conservation and restoration, wrote letters. She’d been doing so for a long time, while he was in school, and finally the only wizarding painting conservationist in London invited Argus to dinner.
Over the course of that meal, they went over Argus’ education, how few magical conservationists there were, and by the end Argus was promised a job at the man’s own company. He returned to his flat and screamed into a pillow, giddy and overwhelmed. Even as a squib! Even as a squib!
The paintings Argus worked with were mostly portraits from the previous century, rosy cheeked children and women who held those children close, fathers standing over their families, scholars in studies, and so on. And they all had compliments for how careful Argus was, because he had worked with Muggle paintings that couldn’t tell him if things were going well or not, and they returned home with good things to say about Dr. Filch.
He didn’t say a single word about school, preferring to talk to those he worked with about his credentials as a restorer and conservationist. After all, Hogwarts didn’t teach any classes like that. And that got him by.
Finally, he worked on the painting of two girls in a garden, a portrait of a woman and her twin when they had been young and now they were very old, but it was one of a pair, the other hanging in Hogwarts, and so without Argus having to do a single thing, he was sent an owl asking to meet at Hogwarts to ask after his credentials as a conservationist.
Dumbledore knew, of course he knew, that Argus was a squib, that he was nonmagical, that he couldn’t do even the simplest spells. And he watched as Argus valiantly tried not to cry at finally, finally being where he had been barred. And he watched as Argus controlled himself and proceeded to draw ragged, pained breaths upon seeing the torches with their smoke so close to the paintings, to too-direct light causing cumulative light damage (“That is non-reversable!” he spluttered), to just how little respect the children in the school had for the treasures of art they lived among.
“Dung bombs in tournament armor?” asked Argus, voice weak.
“They are fourteen years old,” said the old wizard.
“That’s no excuse! That thing is five hundred years old! At least!”
The job had been offered by the time they finished walking through the castle to the Headmaster’s Office.
It was one of the last times he was called Dr. Filch, and the last time any student treated him with respect.
“Well, come on, Argus, what is it?” He jolted, and turned to where Amelia Verso was standing on her toes, trying to peer at the letter.
“It’s…it’s a letter. From the girl’s aunt. She – she also works with art.”
“Oh, how marvelous! What does she say?”
“She’s a…she’s also a squib. And she…she wanted to thank me for taking care of the art here.”
Amelia proceeded to congratulate him, to chatter away such positive things, but Argus excused himself, promising he’d finish with her, and retreated to his living quarters, tucked behind his workspace and office.
Argus Filch’s home was overflowing with books and an old phonograph (just about the only way he could listen to music in Hogwarts). There was also a cat bed for Mrs. Norris, who liked to curl up in it when she wasn’t curling up in Argus’ lap.
She was a spoiled cat, wasn’t she?
He felt…jittery. That letter from Anne Umber, it was exactly the sort of thing that was too good to be true. Another squib who heard what good work he did? Who worked in the same field as him? Too good to be true. He wished he still had access to the academic library at Cambridge, so he could look her up and see what publications she had under her belt, she had to have some, to be working at the Wallace Collection.
Maybe some kid had found that old publication about Petrarch, and they concocted this…this too perfect scenario, just to laugh at him. But he knew none of the brats at Hogwarts cared about higher education and publication and none of them would bother digging through old art historical publications and then create a fake character like this. It was impossible. But he had long since learned not to trust, either.
He rifled through the books and found an old favorite, sitting down and burrowing his nose in it, right where the bookmark was.
Between ten and eleven Edmund and Julia walked into the drawing-room, fresh with the evening air, glowing and cheerful, the very reverse of what they found in the three ladies sitting there, for Maria would scarcely raise her eyes from her book, and Lady Bertram was half-asleep; and even Mrs. Norris, discomposed by her niece’s ill-humour, and having asked one or two questions about the dinner, which were not immediately attended to, seemed almost determined to say no more. For a few minutes the brother and sister were too eager in their praise of the night and their remarks on the stars, to think beyond themselves; but when the first pause came, Edmund, looking around, said, “But where is Fanny? Is she gone to bed?”
Jane Austen was a comfort. Lots of muggle literature was. They didn’t…make him yearn in the same way. Wizarding fiction couldn’t seem to figure out that plots did not need to lean entirely on magic. No one could go a page without throwing a spell around, and those hurt too much. So, Argus instead buried himself in the literature that the muggle world had produced, able to enjoy it the way he couldn’t always stomach magical literature.
Mrs. Norris jumped into his lap as Argus read of Fanny Price, the Bertram family, and the Crawford siblings. Eventually, Jane Austen and her stories calmed his nerves, and he marked his place, set the book aside, and stroked Mrs. Norris, eyes closed.
“What am I going to do?” he asked, voice soft. Mrs. Norris just continued to knead his leg, claws catching in his thick pants.
Finally, when Amelia was hung up again, Argus sat down in his office, took some parchment and a fountain pen and wrote in deliberately clear lettering rather than his usual spiky scratch, the kind of writing he did when anyone else had to read it but even more careful.
Thank you for your letter. I admit, I was very surprised to receive it. Yes, I am a Doctor, not that you hear it much in these old halls.
He stuttered a thousand times over it, and ended up with a painfully short letter that just amounted to saying, “You’re too good to be true, are you real?”
He cringed as he brought it to the owlry, and just about ran back to his office, wanting to forget that awful letter and that awful thought that this woman wasn’t real.
It was a day later that one of the house elves helpfully presented him with a letter in a modern envelope, just like the last one, and he sat at his desk, not doing a single part of logging the lost and found like he should be doing (and how had that become his duty?), instead staring at the envelope a long time.
Finally he opened it, breathing deeply, and unfolded the paper inside.
Dear Argus Filch,
What a pleasure it was to hear back from you! And what a name you have. Have you ever read Anne of Green Gables? ”A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.” I’ve a name so common as to warrant different spellings and different associations with spelling. But you! The one who guarded the Golden Fleece!
I know it was honestly most irregular to receive a letter like you did, but I simply had to write it.
I studied art history at Oxford, and where you clearly specialized in Medieval, I did in Rococo. What an age that was, a time when someone asked “Why not?” Why could a swing not be exercise? Why could we not build a cascading canal three kilometers long? Why not make a sculpture for the garden and cover it in gold that it might shine in the sun? Why not?
I expect you have much the same to say of medieval! But I admit I do not know much of it, not beyond the classes I took as an undergraduate.
She went on, but Argus’ breath had caught on Why Not? It told so much about her and who she was. She studied art with joy, looked at her time of study and delighted in the culture of joyous excess. Argus looked with such fondness at the medieval age in its demand and desire for decoration, at creating masterpieces of stained glass to color the very light around them. The medieval age loved color and light and beautiful things and so many people thought so poorly of the age he loved because of Petrarch and he scrambled for ink and parchment without realizing what he was doing until he was already writing, Mrs. Norris looking up from her food for only a second before returning to her meal.
Dear Anne Umber,
I was actually named for the son of Zeus and Niobe, the king of Argos, he was the one Argos was named after. You’re thinking of Argus Panoptes. Mother did love Greek mythology, and Greek Mythology has too many Arguses as it is.
Forgive me, but you wrote of “why not?” and I absolutely had to respond. I could hear such love for your studies and time of choice in it, and it echoed my own. The medieval age clamored for color and decoration, they wore clothes of all sorts of colors (you wouldn’t believe that for how much people want them to have worn only brown), the technique of glass jewels had been developed in Ancient Egypt, you know, they decorated everything within their means. Colored glass even to decorate light. It’s not quite the gay frivolity of the Rococo age (feel free to admonish me for that), but there is something so wonderful in an age that wanted to tell stories on capitols of pillars and thought of Heaven as a place beyond the very fabric of the universe that was made of holy light, something that could only be replicated with gold, for nothing else on earth was perfect enough to emulate it, even the smallest amount.
Alchemy and it’s understanding of gold as perfection absolutely plays a role in the depiction of Heaven as gold, forgive me if I cut you off from the idea of depiction only being for richness. To the medieval artisan, perfection was the only option, one didn’t use expensive materials to be paid more, one used expensive materials because they were the closest to perfection.
As you can tell, I’m still rather bitter about “The Dark Ages” – that comes entirely from Petrarch and I have yet to forgive him for that. My colleagues at Cambridge laughed at me for the grudge I bear him, but rest assured if a painting of Petrarch is ever hung in Hogwarts I will give him a piece of my mind.
And so it happened that a letter came in turn for him as well, from Anne Umber, who wrote just as delightedly about his love for the medieval as he had of hers for Rococo. She did scold him for “gay frivolity” and wrote about pleasure and sensual spiritualism from the baroque and how it evolved into rococo’s bright joy. She wrote with great passion and opinion about the 1401 Baptistry Door Competition of Florence’s wool merchant guild and how honestly furious she still was that Ghiberti won (Yes, I’m perfectly aware that Brunelleschi would be tied up in those doors just as long as Ghiberti was, had he won, and the dome of the duomo would not be half so marvelous as it is, but let me have my anger!) and proposed she would allow him his grudge against Petrarch if she could have hers against the judges of that particular competition.
Argus had laughed reading that letter, with Mrs. Norris asleep on his lap and the phonograph playing an ever so slightly scratchy recording of Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eau à la Villa D’Este.” He surprised himself by laughing, at catching himself smiling, and always seemed to find himself writing to Anne after a day frustrated with the brats who didn’t understand anything about the wonderful place they got to live and study at. Jane Bell, the sixth year, was a notable exception, and she even shyly waved hello from time to time. He wondered if her aunt told her about their correspondence.
The weeks went by and with them came plenty of writings from Anne, and he cheered to see each one, tossing aside even the squib-cure-courses he indulged in from time to time when his self-loathing got too intense.
It’s ever so disappointing to see those dear children and nephews and nieces head off to school there and ignore all that isn’t magic. Are there not magnificent worlds to be found not in a world tied off from the rest, but in the imaginations of those who never saw magic? I once caught my nephews laughing themselves silly over a muggle book that imagined its own world, with its own magic, filled with dragons and elves and goblins, and I gave them such a talking to. “What worlds did you ever create? You wave your wands, but a good half of the magic in that book depends deeply on grammar and language. Do you even study the languages your spells are written in?” They wouldn’t look at me for days!
I saw a man using flash photography in a gallery the other day, and I nearly shrieked aloud. I can hardly imagine what you must face with torches and lamps and all! Not only light damage, but smoke! It does make me think of Michelangelo’s famed ceiling, though. I saw it once, (I swore I’d name any daughters I had Sistine. It’s a name that slides so beautifully off the tongue, doesn’t it?) and but Lord if I didn’t crick my neck bending back to see it! Not to mention the Last Judgment, it’s such a dismal outlook on humanity, isn’t it? The Book of the Damned so much larger than that of the Saved. I have such thoughts.
Tell me, your grudge against Petrarch, did you ever write a paper called “Petrarch’s Dark Ages and their Cultural Impact”? I do believe I found a piece by that name by an Argus Filch. My goodness you must have only been beginning your graduate courses when you published that! It’s so convincing, I think I’m beginning to grow a grudge against him myself! Stop me now, I love his concept of the Admired Lady too much!
I agree entirely! Dante and Beatrice’s ascension through the false ranks of Heaven (I need a better way to explain that) and its progression towards the Empyrean do speak to a scientific understanding of mysticism, but the Empyrean and the Rose of Heaven must speak to the continuing understanding of Heaven as separate from Creation! And don’t go bringing up the Empyrean as another word for the fixed reaches of the universe – Dante speaks of the Fixed Stars as separate!!!
I will have you know I had to go to the library for some of the points I made in my last letter, and while you may know more than me of this time period and may rather rub it in my face, I shall forgive you. Instead, let us shake hands and speak of other things. (No matter how much I may wish to tell you all about the Unmoved Mover, I value you too much to drive you away with argument.) Mrs. Norris, a name for a cat I’ve never heard! And yet it seemed so familiar. I realized then that you had almost certainly named her for a certain Aunt Norris of Mansfield Park, unless I miss my mark?
Forgive me the sentiment of the last letter, I don’t ever mean to presume. I know you will receive this before you have a chance to write back, and I only mean to apologize. I may enjoy your letters but that does not mean I should assume we are so familiar. Forgive me, and let us forget it.
The wall was soon plastered entirely with Anne Umber’s thoughts and feelings and writings, and all her flowered language. His own writing was chicken scratch, but hers was lovely. And so he spent ages at a time slowly making his letters neat, just so she might be able to read them. The paintings about Hogwarts knew all about it. Absolutely no one else did, and that was exactly how he liked it. Amelia Verso sometimes wandered out of her garden, not for long, but just long enough to visit with a few of her friends, and whisper to them about Argus’ pen pal.
But of course, they whispered and they whispered, until Argus was reframing a tavern scene, and everyone in it was rousingly clapping and approving of him in loud terms. “Quiet down,” Argus said.
“But it’s awful well done of you, making friends!” said the tavern wench who liked the company of the black haired girl who tended the fire best, even though usually she’d be painted at some young man’s side. “And better still other Squibs.”
“We’ve seen you hurting,” agreed the old tavernkeeper, nodding sagely around his pipe.
“Quiet down or I’ll never give you a frame and you’ll never have any more customers, Jellyband,” said Argus.
“Well! Can’t say no to that! Quiet down everyone, Master Filch says so!”
They didn’t quiet, tavern scenes rarely did, but they did settle into singing softly together, and the singing helped Argus keep swift, steady pace in reframing them. When they were settled, a cheer went up and Jellyband called for a round of drink to be brought. The maids rushed to do it, and they began pounding on their tables, demanding Filch drink with them, a toast to the new frame.
“One sip,” said Filch warningly, before pouring the smallest amount of brandy he possibly could, taking the promised one sip as the tavern caroused. “Right, I’ll be hanging you up tonight once the brats are asleep.”
“They aren’t that bad,” said one of the students always debating philosophy in the back.
“No? Tell that to Marilla Upshot.” As one, they winced. Filch had changed his policy about hanging and taking down paintings after Marilla, some kids had tried to startle him something awful, and it had resulted in Marilla being dropped two floors before a staircase swung violently to catch her. She refused to be hung where children would do such things ever again, and now she sat forever reading in peace and quiet in the teacher’s lounge. A drop like that was a horrifying thing for a painting, especially tempera ones, who were painted onto wood. If they broke apart, there would be no saving them. Some had cloth backing and if Argus had them take shelter in another painting, he could sometimes loosen the cloth and re-fix it to new wood, but that was never a guarantee. Now paintings went up and came down after curfew.
The tavern scene was set aside, and he turned to the poor hunting scene that had been ravaged by the students. Tapestries didn’t move and breathe and live like the paintings did, but there was an air of sadness to the lady with her hawk that there usually wasn’t, and Argus couldn’t sleep the night before because as he drifted on the edge of sleep, he kept hearing a horse bellowing in pain.
Argus hummed soothing words under his breath as he worked, the way he always did when working with muggle paintings during his earlier career, and the way he did now with tapestries. The slash across the horse’s leg wasn’t as bad as it could be, but it would take care to fix properly and well.
That had been a month long intensive course taken during the summer not long after starting at Hogwarts, learning how to repair tapestries, and then two years later handling armor at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. He still went most years, and attended lectures and demonstrations, his apartment behind his office and workshop was filled with notebooks filled with the notes he took during those conferences. They were what helped him keep Hogwarts up and running.
He wondered, sometimes, what would happen if he just up and left, handed in notice and said he wasn’t going to fix anything else. How soon would the brats (except Jane Bell) realize what damage they were doing? How long before someone came begging him to come back? But then he thought about the damage that would have to be done before anyone asked him to come back and shuddered. Even in his fantasies of having his work be appreciated for once (and maybe being called Doctor Filch again), he couldn’t do it, couldn’t face it.
But at least there was summer holiday. The brats (except Jane Bell) would go home and it would be peaceful at Hogwarts until September. The International Medieval Congress was in July, and he was quite looking forward to that, the keynote was about anchoresses. Mrs. Norris would be allowed free range to hunt in all the students’ dormitories to clean out the mice that crept in each year from the sweets and food they kept in there, and maybe he could take the train down to London and stop by the Wallace Collection and…
No, Anne wouldn’t want to meet him. Not if she knew him. She knew him through his careful handwriting as he debated and joked with her about medieval and early renaissance philosophy and the Age of Enlightenment and how the Victorians treated both those ages. He laughed aloud over how Anne underlined things two or three times to make her points, having to squish down her letters in the line below to make them fit, he sometimes indulged in a doodle in the margins like a historiated initial, very rarely though, and for her write back about her delight at his drawing of Mrs. Norris sleeping in the curve of the letter D. She thought him knowledgeable and charming and called him “Dearest Argus” once before swiftly sending a letter on its heels asking him to forget she did it, she valued his friendship too much to make him uncomfortable.
If she ever met him, she’d see a spiteful old man who sneered and snarled at children for having opportunities he never had and who couldn’t get over himself (she didn’t hurt about not getting on the Hogwarts Express, he had never gotten over it, he built his whole career around getting here). She’d hate him. She’d hate him and she’d be right to and no matter what he couldn’t go down to London and go the Wallace Collection, just his luck he’d be there looking at The Happy Accidents of the Swing and she’d see him and he’d come back to a letter that laughed all about that ugly man who looked so out of place in the gilded and fine Wallace Collection. Like pumice bread next to a diamond.
He worked himself into a fine sulk over it, hating himself enough that when a letter from her arrived, he set it aside and went back to work, logging the lost and found and instead reading on that squib cure course he had tossed aside earlier.
Of course, the next day a package arrived for him, a beautiful edition of Anne of Green Gables, and he sat over his breakfast and stared at it for a long moment before opening it to the first page.
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.
He was pulled into Avonlea, into Matthew Cuthbert riding off to collect a boy who wasn’t a boy at all, but instead a talkative precocious girl called Anne Shirley. Anne Shirley because A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.
He had bought and sent for this book because of that. Because Anne Umber had quoted it when she complimented his name and despaired of her own common name.
He closed the book and went to his desk, shuffling aside the write-in course advertisements until he found the envelope with his name written on it in fine cursive and opened it, sitting to read.
–I am here, I know not how.
I go hence, I know not where.
Well a day! Willingly thou art never forgotten.
–I go, I stop, the longer I stop the more mad I become.
Thine for ever, the world o’er your betrothed.
–But if the war should end?
–I should rejoice to always be there.
That poem is written on a saddle in the collection here, and I think about it so very often. Two figures, a man and a woman, holding this exchange. It’s from the 15th c so I do believe you’re more an authority than I am, dear Argus. After all, if it isn’t 16th or later I know nothing at all. Maybe you have some grand explanation for what the man is saying. “I should rejoice to always be there” At war? At home with her? And what on earth does “The world o’er your betrothed” mean?
I’m determined to understand your passion for the medieval, but we don’t have much further back than the 15th c. That said, with a poem like this I can see where one might be danced into the medieval.
How was it, he thought, sitting at his desk and reading her letter, that Anne always knew exactly what he needed to hear. He sat a long time, hand over his mouth, staring at nothing at all. If she would hate him once she met him, then perhaps she could just remain his friend in writing and nothing more. He could indulge his love of art and have someone to talk to at last. Another squib and one who knew and loved art much as he did.
He kept Anne of Green Gables at his side all day, even as he walked about the castle. Thumbing at the spine, it kept his mind on Anne Umber and by the end of the day, he sat down to write back to her. He hadn’t been so furious at himself so long as to be suspiciously absent in correspondence, after all. It would be enough, he told himself, to know her through discussion of opaque medieval/renaissance poetry, to rail with her about art they hated, to tell her all about Hogwarts from the view of a professional of their careers. He did not tell her about his intention to go to the International Medieval Congress at Leeds again.
She told him of her plans to visit France. She was to go to Paris that spring, to visit a colleague she knew at the Musée Cognacq-Jay, she told him of her intentions to visit the Musée de Moyen Âge as well and think of him. He sat in his castle (how romantic he sounded in his own mind, how maudlin) and thought of her sitting in on a café’s terrace, drinking coffee (tea. He couldn’t imagine her with coffee) and watching the French walk by, elegant as you please. And Anne, more elegant and knowledgeable and refined than any of them, sipping tea and watching the world rush by. What sort of pastry would she eat? Fruit, he thought.
Smiling ridiculously, he wrote to her, a lamp lit at his elbow and Mrs. Norris sleeping in her bed. He had to go patrol the corridors in a bit, make sure everyone was in their dormitories. But he had time to write.
I’m imagining you in Paris, and I’m having such a good time doing so. Some anonymous street with a café with some generic name (every book I’ve read of Paris they’re all called “Café Central” or “Café Saint Germain” or the like), and you sitting there with a cup of tea and some sort of pastry, watching people go by.
And then you write to me. Sitting there, you take out pen and paper and write to me of everyone you see. Telling me of ladies with scarves and men with high necklines, all cigarettes and coffee. And you will tell me of all the art you saw, telling me about Cognacq-Jay’s collection – all about paintings and furniture. And then you will try and prompt me and pick me with talk about the Moyen Age and all that’s there. Stained glass and sculpture I expect.
And perhaps you’ll try and tempt me to come to France with you. To walk through the Louvre with you and say any number of things about the collection. We should spend at least three days there, and then more besides at Orsay. You’ve said so much about the art in Paris, I would like to stand in front of those paintings and hear you tell me everything again.
Argus stood, took the page and crumpled it up, throwing it into the fire. “None of that,” he told himself. “None of that.”
Almost furiously he stomped about pulling on a jumper and coat to stay warm in the cool nights and took his lamp in hand, scowling already as Mrs. Norris trotted alongside him, meowing at him. She was a dear thing and always made her opinion known. Stooping for a moment, he scooped her up into his arms. Her claws caught in his coat, and she rode along happily as Argus stalked through the halls, making sure everyone was in their dormitories.
The brats (excluding Jane Bell) often liked to try and sneak past him, but he knew their tricks by now.
“I’ve a doctorate, I could be teaching at universities,” Argus muttered to Mrs. Norris. “I could be a conservationist. I could be at the British Library studying manuscripts. I could be curating a show on Books of Hours.”
He often spent dark nights muttering about all he could be to Mrs. Norris, who was a very good listener, and when he was assured no one would be sneaking out, he returned home, and roughly picked up Mansfield Park and burrowed his nose into it, wanting nothing more than to see Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram finally realize their matched affections and marry. Miss Crawford could sod off to London with her disreputable brother and Mrs. Rushworth. Fanny and Edmund would take the parsonage and be happy.
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.
If only his own pen didn’t dwell there.
Still, sitting and reading as everyone in Mansfield Park was sorted away into happiness, he calmed down, and stayed up later than he should have carefully writing back to Anne.
I’m imagining you in Paris, sniffing at all the cigarettes and coffee. When you go to the Musee de Moyen Âge, make certain you see if you can find the Papal ring of Sixtus IV, I know they have it, but I do not know where. Yes, I remember you telling me about the crick in your neck to see Michelangelo’s ceiling.
I finished through Mansfield Park again this evening. (here Argus paused a long moment, scratching Mrs. Norris’ ear and listening to her purr, and in the distance, Peeves cackling some mischief. He’d set his alarm early and see what damage needed fixing. And then at last he continued writing) You asked me once if my cat wasn’t named for Lady Bertram’s sister. Indeed she is, she’s a cat with plenty will and opinion and will have it made known. But in truth (here again he paused) I have always felt closer to the mean and sallow, including Mrs. Norris. Have you ever picked up The Secret Garden? Mary Lennox, that sour faced mean little girl, is closer to me than Fanny Price ever was (much as I love her).
We have not spoken much at all about our shared state but to talk about Hogwarts, and how your niece made you aware of me. You wrote of it only at first: “seeing my sister going off to Hogwarts, it sucked my soul dry. I wanted so badly to climb aboard that train, it was the color of adventure, that red steam engine, I was thirteen and weeping like a child the whole trip home, seeing my little sister off on a grand adventure to a world I was kept from.”
The truth is, I am here because I could not manage to set aside that hurt. Perhaps it is Nature, perhaps it is Nurture (mother never seemed to know how to handle having a squib son), but the fact remains that I am that mean, sallow-faced Mary Lennox, furious at all around me. I came here because I could not stand that I was not allowed here. I discovered my passion for art only because it was what would get me to Hogwarts.
Call me a coward, writing of this to you before you are to go abroad in hopes you won’t have time to respond, and perhaps I am a coward. It would not be the least I’ve been called. But I have been reading Mansfield Park and thinking of the mean and unlikable, and I do not wish to deceive you. If you have thought me to be a man worth knowing, I am sorry for it.
Forgive me for not answering all the rest of your letter here, it is late, I am weary, and I must wake early for I hear the poltergeist making mischief in the castle and I dread what he’s done to the tournament armor this time.
My best to you,
He tried not to think about it as he sent that letter off the next day, and tried not to think about what Anne might think and what she might write, if she wrote anything at all. It was better this way, he told himself, even as he stalked to the library in the early morning. Irma Pince, for all the terror she inspired in students, had a decent working relationship with him, and when a student’s grubby hands got over the truly delicate books she called him in.
“It’s one thing to have a buildup of ages,” she fussed as she took him to the book in question, “but quite another to have food smeared on a Book of Hours!”
Argus’ heart very nearly stopped at that, but still he sat beside her, because for all that Irma knew her books and her literary domain, she was not a medieval conservationist, and she knew when it would be too dangerous for her to try anything.
A wizard’s book of hours was a thing of wonder. They were not living, no wizarding religious art was, but there were quiet ripples of motion. The first time Argus had seen one, when he first started at Hogwarts, he had teared up and had to step away from the book entirely as Madam Pince gave him a single solemn nod of approval. He remembered it so vividly; Saint Anne teaching the Virgin how to read, the garden they were sitting in and their clothes moving in unseen wind.
The dirtied book in question had a smear of what looked like butter on the corner of an Annunciation to the Shepherds illustration, a fully colored and beautiful piece with just a little ripple of motion in the starry sky to suggest the heavens were about to part and reveal the angels. It was a beautiful example of early 16th century illumination, and Argus knew if he turned a few pages there would be a magnificent illustration of plants and insects, beetles clicking their mandibles slowly and the buds blooming and closing once more. He had studied this book for its botanical illustrations, fancied writing an article, not that it would ever get published.
“Who handled this?” asked Argus, peering closely at the page.
“A sixth year, Jane Bell. I’ve got a right mind to lash her to next year!” Argus closed his eyes a moment and took a deliberate breath. Jane Bell. All the brats except Jane Bell. But apparently not that anymore.
“I’ll give her a lashing myself,” he said, feeling mean as Mary Lennox ever was. “After I clean this.”
It wasn’t so bad, it had been caught right away (thank goodness for Madam Pince, who took it upon herself to look over every rare and valuable book that got used at all, even with supervision), but it did cast a dark gloom over Argus’ mood. He went to Jane’s head of house and got her schedule and got her sent down to his office during her free period, and sat glowering there with that same Book of Hours safe on his desk, a Dutch kitchen scene working away at lunch, and calling to him that he really should eat something.
“I’ll go to the kitchens later!” he snapped. The head cook raised his brows at Argus but said nothing, only turned back to ordering his own mates. Doubtless this would be served at Jellyband’s, or some other tavern. And wouldn’t that be the gossip? Argus snapping at paintings. He preferred that to when they all hooted and hollered over his supposed lady-friend.
Anne Umber wouldn’t be his lady-friend, not even a friend once she read that letter he tried to forget he had sent at all. Next week he should start taking down the letters from their place as wallpaper in his own rooms.
There was a trembling knock on his door, and Argus opened the door to reveal Jane Bell, red-eyed and sniffling. That didn’t do a thing to him anymore, hadn’t ever since the first fourteen year old he had shouted at for laying flat palms on a marble sculpture. Didn’t anyone teach their children that touching marble discolored it?
But then Jane Bell burrowed her face in her hands and just about wailed, “I’m so sorry! I thought my hands were clean! I just wanted to see what Auntie Anne was talking about in her letters! I’m so sorry! She was talking about medieval books and-and the colors and I just wanted to see it! I asked Madam Pince if we had any medieval books and she let me see that one and I didn’t know!”
Argus stiffened at that, and cleared his throat, and told her roughly, “Come inside, no use doing this in the hall.”
Jane sat down in the chair in front of his desk, still sniffling but a little closer to full on tears, the sound of someone trying very hard not to cry, faint apologies still escaping her. Argus stared at her a long moment, trying to figure out what to do. He usually shouted full-voiced and didn’t feel bad about it, he was teaching these brats about how precious the things they were holding were. Jane already seemed to know that. Had Anne really written to her about medieval art?
Mrs. Norris seemed to decide for them, walking calmly over to Jane and hopping into her lap. It shocked Jane out of her tears, and her hands immediately went to pet, prompting the cat to fall to her side, kneading at her sleeve contentedly. She’d probably start purring in a moment.
Well, he couldn’t yell now.
Sitting at his desk across from Jane, he squinted at her a long moment before he said, “So your aunt’s been talking about medieval books? Or did she call them illuminated manuscripts?”
“Both?” whispered Jane, looking petrified. “She-she said there’s a difference.”
“It only counts as an illuminated manuscript if it uses gold. But that’s a technicality, most people call all illustrated books from the time illuminated.” He hesitated a long moment before he took the Book of Hours in hand and said, “This is The Hours of John Kempe. Made between fourteen ninety and fifteen ten. He bequeathed it to Hogwarts at his death, he specified it in his will as ‘the one that begins with Obsecro Te after the Calendar.’”
“A Book of Hours doesn’t have a set order, but they all contain the same things. They have a Calendar of the Saints, what we call Canon Tables which is a sequence of the Gospels, the prayer Obsecro Te, the prayer O intermerata, the Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Virgin, the Hours of the Holy Spirit, the Litany, Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and the Suffrages of the Saints.”
Jane was staring at him with wide eyes, and if she was a few years older, she might be like the students he helped teach at Cambridge, the ones who were as starry eyed about art as he had been at the Cortauld Institute. So he kept going.
“John Kempe’s Hours are a masterpiece, and a fine example of conventions of Books of Hours.” Carefully, with hands practiced in doing this, he opened the book to the beginning of the Calendar and began to leaf through it, pointing out to Jane, hands firmly occupied by Mrs. Norris who was indeed purring by now, all the illustrations. “In January, the scene is of feasting, February, sitting by the fire. In March there is pruning, April always has a garden scene.” Smirking, he recited, “‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, that droghte of March hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licóur of which vertú engendred is the flour; whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth inspired hath in every holt and heeth the tendre croppes, and the Yonge sonne hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, and smale foweles maken melodye that slepen al the nyght with open ye, so priketh hem Natúre in hir corages, thane longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, and palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, to ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; and specially, from ever shires ende of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, the hooly blissful martir for to seke, that hem hath holpen when that they were seeke.’”
“What was that?” whispered Jane, looking baffled and amazed.
“Don’t expect me to know any more than that, but it was the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. If you went to Muggle school, you would have had to memorize it too.”
“But what was it?”
What lacking education, thought Argus, and forced himself to stop right there, otherwise he would freeze and be unable to continue. The thought that one of the brats were lacking when he had spent so long hating and envying them?
“Geoffrey Chaucer compiled all the popular tales of his time, and put them in the mouths of pilgrims going to Canterbury, had them all tell stories to each other to pass the journey. He died before he finished, but that was the general prologue. You probably didn’t understand it because it was Middle English.” Jane looked enchanted, and Argus cleared his throat and continued, imagining he was back at Cambridge, “Anyway, May has a scene of Hawking. Sometimes it’ll be boating, but John Kempe’s isn’t. June is the harvest of the hay, in July is reaping. August has threshing, September has what’s called treading the grape, when grapes are pressed to wine by people stomping on them. October has ploughing, November has acorn gathering, and here in December is a kitchen scene; see the bread being baked and the pig being cooked?”
“It’s beautiful. But these are just daily life. They don’t look a thing like the one I saw earlier and dirtied.” Her face crumpled at that, and more apologies flew from her lips.
“I’m not going to yell at you, so calm down,” snapped Argus. “I only yell because you br-kids don’t know how precious the things you’re destroying are.”
“Are we really destroying?”
“If enough hands touch marble, it turns brown. You might not be, but years of students touching whatever they’d like? Absolutely. But the illustration you were looking at comes from the Hours of the Virgin.” Flipping to those, he walked her through the hours. Matins with its Annunciation, Lauds with its Visitation, Prime and the Nativity, Tierce and the Shepherds, Sext and the Adoration of the Magi, None’s Presentation to the Temple, Vespers’ Flight into Egypt, and Compline with the Coronation of the Virgin.
Jane looked entranced, and Argus closed the book and said, “That’s illustrations. Doesn’t count as illumination because there’s no gold.”
“Are there any with gold?”
“Yes, but you won’t see those a good long while. Not after this. No, don’t start blubbing at me, it’s cleaned. But wear gloves next time you handle something like this.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Filch. Just, my Auntie Anne was telling me about medieval art in one of her letters, and I wanted badly to see it.”
“Wear gloves. Apologize like this to Madam Pince and she might forgive you. Might.”
“Why are you forgiving me?” she asked like it was something impossible, and really it was. Desecrated art was a sin in Argus’ book, and medieval art doubly so. Usually he would be screaming himself hoarse over this. But instead he just frowned, and said,
“Well, you were trying to learn. And you’re sorry. You looked at this Book of Hours because you wanted to learn, you didn’t go pawing at art because you think you’re entitled to touch it. Why would I yell if you’re trying to learn?”
“Thank you, Mr. Filch,” she breathed, and Jane Bell was gone, Mrs. Norris looking put out at losing her petting place and hopping into Argus’ arms instead.
Anne had written to her niece about medieval art. He wanted very much to write to her, ask her why and what she had said, to tell her of the incident with John Kempe’s Hours and assure her all was well in the end. Maybe even tell her how he felt like a doctorate student teaching undergraduates again, like passing on all the beauties and interlacing of books and art – that Chaucer’s declaration of April’s lovely flowers brought about a garden scene in a Book of Hours – the very things he so loved writing about with her.
And then he remembered how he told her all about how mean and callous he was, how he envied children and how he never grew beyond that eleven year old boy who didn’t get an owl, not really, and cringed. He’d never get to talk to her again, he just knew it.
So he was surprised when one day a letter arrived for him over breakfast, addressed to him in the fine handwriting of Anne Umber. Terrified he slowly opened it and pulled out the letter.
It was written on stationary of a hotel, Les Tournelles, in Paris. He thought of that letter he had burned, imagining how she’d write to him, and couldn’t help but read on, heart in his throat, frightened of what he’d see.
My dearest, Argus,
I will broker no such words directed to Doctor Argus Filch. He is a very dear friend of mine, you know, and I will not stand for such abuses labeled against him. A coward? I will not hear of it. For what could be braver than to speak of the dark corners of one’s self?
Now that I’ve admonished such abuses, let me say my piece.
Let us begin with Mary Lennox, shall we? She was a callous, mean thing for privilege and neglect. You will recall that once cholera killed her parents, she was left entirely alone for no one thought to do anything with her at all, before she was sent to
Misslethwite Misselthwight Mistlethwaite Manor and to her uncle. (Forgive the misspelling, I don’t have time to go find a copy to get the spelling right.)
The charge is that you are Mary Lennox “furious at all around me” but I must refute that, my dear friend. For Mary Lennox softened, did she not? With the garden, with the park, with Dicken and her jump rope and Colin. She was furious for neglect, left only to the care of servants too petrified of her parents to ever be true friends. Now, perhaps you are lonely at Hogwarts, but you are there.
Let me make one thing clear, my dear Argus; the pain of watching my sister set off in that red steam engine dulled, but it never went away. Even now, when I go to Diagon Alley after work, do you not think I yearn? Do you not think I look at Olivander’s and wish? If you are mean Mary Lennox, then I must be Colin Craven, convinced his father hates him because he was not born well. What a pair we are!
Let us be mean together, let us be sallow and sour. I’m quite happy with your company and if we are both to be mean, I should like to do it with someone I like.
Now let us turn our attention to your so-called “cowardice.” You say it is cowardly, writing this to me. I must return, in part, to the sallow and sour to make my point. You are the bravest squib I have ever known, writing so bluntly to me. I know a handful of other squibs, and you should know that the lot of us pretend very hard we aren’t bothered by being squibs. We all look at each other over lunch in Diagon Alley and say “I’m not bothered one bit, you know. I walk past Olivander’s head held high. I laugh at wizards for not understanding how to use the Tube. I took my sister to the art museum and cackled my head off watching her try and talk to a painting.”
But here’s the truth – we’re all lying. To admit that you never got over that first great injury, to admit that you watched for owls when you knew they weren’t coming, that is more than we can do. We’re all hurt and angry and pained, but we hide it. Hide it and spend our pocket money on cures. I certainly did, I’ve plenty of stories about how those potions I took made me sick. The only reason I stopped was because I’m a curator now, I can’t risk them making me ill at work, not when I work at a mundane museum.
You are a coward? I can’t speak a word of how I resent the world I was raised in for rejecting me, and I’m not the one surrounded by it every day! At least in my work I’m apart from it, but you live and breathe the world that does not want us. What bravery that must take! What astounding bravery.
All this to say: You are allowed your frustration, your anger. The fact that you only unleash it when the students sully the art is admirable, you recall I scolded my nephews something awful not long hence and that was because they laughed at a muggle’s imagination of magic. I shudder to think what I would do surrounded by children who toss magic around like it’s nothing.
I could see your soul in this letter, my dear friend, and I will keep it safe. If you do not wish to, you need never speak of it to me again. I know how a dark night of the soul can let all sorts of things come out.
I’ll write you again, let you know if I can find Sixtus’ ring. My friend Aline and I are to go to Les Puces as well, that magnificent flea market. I’ll write to you of what treasures we find.
Take care of yourself, Argus, don’t hide yourself from me, I quite like you as you are.
All my friendship and all my care,
Quietly, Argus dropped his face into his hands and just sat there a long, long moment. He did not cry, his breathing did not falter, but he felt as though every drop of emotion had been ripped out of him and crammed back in awkwardly. And it was only breakfast.
There was nothing for it, he was in no state to do any work on the hunting landscape. The hunters themselves were off hunting foxes in another painting, their presence wasn’t necessary for tending to their frame, and Argus could probably convince some genre painting to put them up for the night.
After he controlled his breathing and very gently tacked that letter to the wall with all the rest, Argus headed out, he had to talk to Herr von Damm and his wife, see if they would be willing to house the hunting party for the night as their frame wouldn’t be up until at least tomorrow night.
Stalking the halls and watching the brats around him, he felt…calmer, somehow. Knowing that Anne was bitter as he was, that the squibs she knew were too, even if they pretended they weren’t bothered. Maybe some of them were like Jane Bell. Maybe.
Herr von Damm had come over to England about the same time as George I, and had been in the country home of William Crowborough for thirty years before Mr. Crowborough donated it to Hogwarts, and since then the prosperous country squire and his family had been very popular in the hallway near the Charms classrooms. They still liked speaking German above English, and even in the midst of the world wars, they stubbornly spoke German and didn’t lose a bit of respectability.
Argus remembered fondly those years of language requirements for his doctorate. He still understood Latin, of course, but had long since forgotten anything of Old or Middle English (excepting Chaucer’s General Prologue) he had ever known. But when Herr von Damm learned he had also had to learn German for his doctorate, they refused to ever speak in English with him. It kept the language reasonably fresh, at least.
He was in the middle of muttering to the country squire about hosting the hunting party when the classes changed, and immediately his shoulders hitched up. They were fresh from Charms, who knew what hexes they’d be inclined to throw at him?
“Never you mind them, someday they’ll be paintings and they’ll thank you every service you do,” assured Herr von Damm. Argus glared at him, but the squire wouldn’t back down about it, leaving them pointedly staring at each other until interruption came from a hesitant voice saying,
“Morning, Mr. Filch.”
He turned and saw Jane Bell there, two girls her age staring wide eyed in horror at their friend talking to him. He just grunted in return.
“I just wanted to say sorry again about John Kempe. I talked to Madam Pince, she says she’ll start supplying gloves herself.”
“It’s clean,” he grunted.
“I know. But I’m still sorry. And I thought you might like to know about the gloves. Anyway, have a good day!”
And she was gone, and Frau von Damm hummed and said, “There, see? At last we’re getting somewhere.”
“That’s Argus’ lady friend’s niece, my treasure,” her husband said.
“She’s not my ‘lady friend,’” hissed Argus under his breath. “Now can you put them up for the night or not?”
“The hunting party? My dear, do you think we can?”
“So long as they bring their catch to cook,” decided Frau von Damm. “I’m not springing twelve people on the cook, she’ll kill me.”
That was good as a yes, and thank goodness for it. Argus scurried off quick as possible after that, he hated being around the brats (except Jane Bell) when they could get creative with what spells they might shoot his way.
Over lunch, with Mrs. Norris sleeping peacefully in her cat bed, her paws twitching in dreams, Argus wrote two letters. One was friendly chatting about the Musée Cognaq-Jay and how it couldn’t possibly be half so fine as the Wallace Collection (he had mastered written sarcasm) and asking about the heads of the Kings of Judah, had she seen them? The other was much, much harder to write. It ended up only being a paragraph or two, a halting quiet thank you for what she said, an attempt to tell her how much of a comfort it was to see that she was angry as he was, sometimes.
After writing it, he wanted very much to just burrow his nose into a book, to read of Anne Shirley or of Emma Woodhouse or even of the mismatched pilgrims heading to Canterbury. But he couldn’t, he had a meeting with Headmaster Dumbledore, his monthly plea that they should do something more substantial for conservation and restoration than allow him a tiny workshop he couldn’t even fit some of the pieces of art into. William Breuden’s Merlin at Stonehenge was a history painting on an appropriate scale, the last time the old druid demanded cleaning Argus had to shut down the entire hallway and that only led to the brats deliberately breaking in, which very well could have led to great harm done to the painting. If Dumbledore cared about this castle and its treasures, he should do something about them and not treat his conservationist like a bloody janitor who had nothing better to do than run the lost and found and scrub the floors.
“I have a doctorate!” he complained to Mrs. Norris. “If he’d let me, I could put together a whole bloody show on Books of Hours, display them at the Museum of English Wizarding Art, does he have any idea of what treasures he’s sitting on? Any idea of how popular a show of Hogwarts’ treasures would be? The Treasures of Hogwarts, just imagine. Hours of John Kempe, that sixteenth century tournament armor, the stuff that belonged to that cousin of the Earl of Cumberland’s brother-in-law, Mrs. Greenbranch, the Madonna of the Owl, The Astronomers, Judith at her Toilet, centerpiece Merlin at Stonehenge. It would be massive.” He sighed, and looked down at Mrs. Norris who just stared back up at him and admitted, “I’m a conservationist, I don’t know how to handle that, but I could do it. I could talk to Anne. But these brats, these…all these wizards, they don’t care, do they?”
Mrs. Norris just offered a quiet meow, and followed him as he went to the Headmaster’s office, papers clutched in his arms and shoulders hitched up against the brats. If he lost his papers, if he lost even one of his points, he’d be even more unheard, and he was the only voice of defense the masterpieces of Hogwarts had. He sometimes hated that fact, but it was still true. Amelia Verso, Marilla Upshot, even people like Jellyband and Herr von Damm and his family, they depended on him to keep them whole and safe and clean, and people like John Kempe left behind their worldly goods to Hogwarts because they trusted these things that were so important they felt they had to dictate where they went would be taken care of there. In John Kempe’s will, it had been given to Hogwarts so that way children who did not have the funds for their own Books of Hours would have something to read and pray from – he left it to Hogwarts so it could be cared for and used by those who needed it most.
So what if the Victorians had taken Merlin from a semi-legendary recording of an early magic user in Britain who found favor with his contemporary courts and turned him into a figure worthy of worship? So what if swearing by Merlin was so ingrained by the turn of the century as an affectation that it had managed to turn British wizarding society almost to a one into atheists? John Kempe had worshiped using his Book of Hours and he left it so someone who could not afford to commission one could have one while at school. And Argus’ job was now to advocate for his memory, which meant preserving it so it could be read by those who were respectful, which meant they needed to do more to keep humidity down in the library because parchment was so much stronger than paper but it wasn’t invincible, which meant Argus needed a bigger budget and maybe they should hire a junior conservator, or at least offer an internship.
Not that the Headmaster ever listened.
“Thank you for the information, Mr. Filch,” he said placidly, the way he always did. “I will certainly share it with the Board.”
“Doctor Filch,” he stressed like he always did. “Headmaster, this castle is over a thousand years old and it has been collecting art that whole time. I cannot do every piece justice alone. When I last cleaned Merlin at Stonehenge, it took me months and every other piece had to wait, even those that just needed repairs to their frame. If you care about this school, you need to listen to me.”
“I cannot make decisions by myself, I’m afraid. I’ll pass on your dire warnings, and hopefully we can increase your budget.”
“I am not your janitor, headmaster, I am your conservator. Remind them of that.”
It was deeply frustrating but he owed it to the hunting party that was being put up by the von Damm family just as much as to the memories of everyone who donated their art and books and heirlooms to Hogwarts. If he took his job any less seriously, he would leave.
At least now after the meeting he could dig back into Anne of Green Gables and let himself be soothed by Anne Shirley’s less harrowing ups and downs.
The Board didn’t increase his budget, which didn’t surprise him, but he did write his frustrations to Anne, who wrote back her own fury on his behalf. It was reassuring, reading her railing against the idiots who didn’t know what needed doing and wouldn’t listen because the one who was telling them was a squib. She saw what he saw, he wasn’t some upset squib throwing himself against the brick wall of wizarding society, he was the lone defender of that which was under his care.
And indeed, his letters then allowed space to complain about what it was like, being the squib conservator at a place like Hogwarts. Anne was a lovely sport about it, dancing between discussion of art and history, playful jokes about her academic background at Oxford and his at Cambridge, and his woes that he was being treated more like a janitor than conservator most days. It had been him and the old caretaker, Mrs. Peabody, but she broke a hip on one of the staircases and had to retire, and he was to cover the most important aspects of her job until a replacement came, just running the lost and found and taking some shifts making sure no one was sneaking out of dormitory. And then the Board decided that it was so much easier to pay one person instead of two, and he found himself having to take on more and more of her job.
That’s exploitation, Anne had written. That’s conflating your role as conservationist of the castle with a caretaker’s day to day work because you both take care of the place. You survived a thesis defense, tap into that again and stand up for yourself! But I take your point about being a squib, they’ll never listen to you.
At some point, during it all, among his visual descriptions on the pieces in Hogwarts he thought she’d like best, and her stories of life in London and amusing stories from the Wallace Collection, Anne wrote what Argus would later think of as The Letter, capitals and all.
I read your lovely description of the Madonna of the Owl side by side with a photo of Peter Paul Rubens’ Holy Family with a Parrot, and I have to say, I am still deeply convinced that Gainsborough was more influenced by that piece than he was Athena. I know what you’re going to say, you’re going to make some brilliant argument about the Christianization of Pagan Gods and Idols, the way Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic God from his philosophic studies has been interpreted as “through a mirror darkly” to align it rather than admittance that early Christian theologians had the same training and used the same framework to write understandings of their own faith. You’re going to say something cutting and true about Athena and Hestia and Hera (or Minerva and Vesta and Juno if you’re feeling Roman) and how Mary is the Mother and Bride and Queen and I’m going to be convinced, so let me cut this off at the pass.
Which is more likely? That Robert Gainsborough, who was a generation after Rubens and was known for his connection to the Netherlands by way of his wife’s family’s business, would be familiar with and copy Rubens or that he was mixing Christianity with Classical imagery in 1644.
I think you’ll agree with me that to say so is ridiculous.
The common imagery of Athena with her owl aside, Gainsborough painted this in the midst of the English Civil War! Aside from Athena, who do we associate with owls? (If you write me back and claim Hypnos, I will contact my sister and have a howler sent to you) It is Wizards and Witches my dear friend. Robert Gainsborough, painting the Madonna of the Owl is absolutely creating a visual signal that while England is tearing itself apart, our world is united by our magic and by our faith. It is a sweeping, assuring image, and considering you and Madame Pince have found record that it was commissioned by Hogwarts, it is clearly one meant to assure the children. (Though, of course, ignoring squibs as usual, and any student who does not have a history of Marian devotion, let alone those who aren’t even Christian)
Really, it is such a shame that this whole parallel world of art is only appreciated by you, Argus. Would that Hogwarts offered some sort of art history class! Otherwise those children will just breeze past them and grow up to be on the Board of Governors and refuse to listen to the very same experts they hired.
In more recent news, the Domestic Drama of Claire Latimer and the Cute Chippy Boy continues, if you’ll allow me to indulge in my assistant’s love life?
The letter went on, but he had to set it down and had to read about Claire and the Cute Chippy Boy later, too stunned by the idea.
He had spent all this time furious with the brats (and Jane Bell) because they had been uncaring of the art, willingly smearing their hands where they shouldn’t, unthinking of touching three hundred year old paintings simply because they could talk. He had spent so much time spending each monthly talk with Dumbledore nearly begging for something, anything to be done to make his job easier – an intern to help him; a dedicated workshop somewhere on the grounds, perhaps, or better yet in Hogsmeade where the brats couldn’t break in; a little more than a warning at dinner that they weren’t allowed into certain hallways while he worked; talk to Professor Binns about making history engaging, something. And here was the easiest answer.
Stroke a wizard’s ego about having a class on appreciating their unique culture or educating the youth on the treasures of Hogwarts or any number of things and they might agree. Wouldn’t be him, obviously, they’d want to hire a proper witch or wizard to do it, Percival Hoult in London was one of the most sought after magical conservators, but Philomena Osgood just outside Leeds was just as talented, and even if she was more specialized, she would have to know plenty about the history. They could come in for a month, or perhaps each month have someone new, get a wide range of guest lecturers.
Or even Irma Pince, she had certainly dug through archives with Argus in the attics of Hogwarts, she could certainly handle a class on the history even if library sciences are worlds away from conservation. She walk them through the hallways to show them how Mary herself did not move in the Madonna of the Owl, only the owl ruffled its feathers every so often, they’d watch Merlin at Stonehenge and talk about the 19th century’s increasing emphasis on druidic history and talk to him about how when he had been painted he had been an admired legendary figure and how over time people began to swear by him like a deity. Irma would be wonderful at it, she’d walk them through the books in the library, the time and care that went into each one’s creation, through tempera painting into oils, through the ages of art, maybe they’d be allowed to go to the Museum of English Wizarding Art, the seventh years at least, down in Dorset. And she could be trusted not to let them touch anything.
If they had a class like that, maybe then he could argue for a workshop somewhere, in the castle or on the grounds or in Hogsmeade, or an intern – at least one student would probably want to learn once they knew something about art history, or even just a delineation between his role as conservator and a general caretaker.
Oh, that would be wonderful. Being able to spend his days dedicated to his job, chatting with paintings and reading publications, corresponding with the other conservationists and restorers in the wizarding world and keeping contact with muggle ones, writing letters to Anne, listening to his phonograph and curled up with his cat. No more lost and found, no more having to deal with the brats (except Jane Bell), it was exactly what he wished most for.
And Jane had tossed it off before moving on to the Domestic Drama of Claire Latimer and the Cute Chippy Boy.
Immediately he grabbed a piece of parchment, and went to write before he paused the way he always did. This wasn’t paper after all. Composing the letter in his head, he started with commiseration about Claire Latimer and the Cute Chippy Boy and then swiftly pivoted into the idea.
What would an art history class for children look like? It couldn’t be structured like college classes, it would have to be something for Hogwarts where no child cared about History of Magic. Enough historical context to possibly promote one of them to seek higher education, enough stories to make it not like learning. Mixing History of Magic and Muggle Studies without letting them know that was what they were doing, enough simple explanations and enough facts.
It swiftly became a beloved back and forth, building this theoretical course, until Argus’ next monthly meeting with the Headmaster. Anne had written encouragement, offered her voice as a curator at the Wallace Collection if he thought it would help, and wrote bolstering words that even if the Headmaster didn’t agree, even if he shot it down, she thought it a wonderful idea and it would be an engaging break from her own work to keep building theoretical lesson plans with him.
It can be our passion project, my dearest friend, she had written, and no wizard can take that from us.
Each month, Argus went over what paintings needed cleaning or restoration with Dumbledore, explaining how long it took and what needed doing in the coming month. It was usually ended with his monthly pleas for a little more support in his job, but this time, he bypassed it, and put forth the idea of the class.
It wouldn’t be anything more demanding than a walk through the art, talking about the rich histories apparent in them, maybe the sixth and seventh years would have a short paper at the end. It wouldn’t be demanding, it wouldn’t require supplies or books (partly because none had been written), it would frankly be little more than story time. But with the purpose of teaching about the history of art and why people donated these things and how truly delicate they were, especially some of the experimental things done in the 19th century.
He was…he was pretty proud of it, actually. A low risk class that the brats would jump onto because it wasn’t hands on, but one they would have to engage with because it because it would be walking, not sitting in a stuffy classroom. Story time for the first years and slowly move on until the seventh years would be talking comfortably about signs and symbols and representational codes. He’d let the oldest ones in to see him working on paintings, even, though he might need more of a dedicated workshop for that, if the class was popular.
And Dumbledore didn’t say no.
But tellingly, he didn’t say yes either.
“It doesn’t have to be me that teaches it,” Argus said, desperate to have some sort of reaction beyond infuriating wizarding deflections. “Irma Pince would be more than competent, or – I can write to my colleagues in conservation, see if any of them is interested in a teaching position. It’s a good idea, how many students have ever read Hogwarts: A History anyway? This castle has a thousand years of art history in it, but the students walk past it and have no idea.”
“I’ll pass on your proposal,” said Dumbledore only. “After all, all new classes must be approved by the Board of Governors.”
Who’d shoot it down because he was a squib, or ignore it because he was a squib.
When he wrote to Anne, it was with despair more than frustration, he got that out in a shouting match with one of the old Headmasters from 1476 – he hated any squibs in the school, Argus just wanted to get his job done – did he want to rot?
He got a little maudlin with it, too, which was probably why Anne’s letter came back the way it did.
My dearest friend, my Argus,
What is a wizard but a man who never moved past the 14th century because the Renaissance was too odd for his tastes? What is a Witch but a woman who sneers at anything more advanced than a steam engine? My heart breaks that you bear the brunt of their cruelties to those like you and I. You put together a truly, truly engaging curriculum, who ever tried to create a unified ramp up into art history for children like that? In practice things would have to be tweaked, of course, but Argus, if I ever had had children, I would have loved to give them the chance to study what you offered.
In times like this, I wish more than ever that we could call one another and say these things to you with my own voice, but that wish can’t be fulfilled that way. Instead, might I propose something else?
Let us meet at last, my dear friend. In summer, just after the children go home, take a week and meet me somewhere; be it London or Hogsmeade or anywhere else. I know your soul by now as you know mine, I feel as though we are the dearest friends already! And where my friends are either in our field or are fellow squibs, you alone are both as I am. Let me put a face to the soul, my friend, and you to mine.
I am becoming poetic again, but is that not what letters are for? To sound our best and make plain our souls. When we meet, which I hope will be soon, you shall find me much less well spoken than this. You write on parchment, my dearest friend, I will at least do you the courtesy of thinking as hard on my words as you have to do. I won’t do to waste a whole sheep for the sake of a letter, yes?
If this proposition is too much, only ignore this, write to me of whose portrait you’ve chatted with while you cleaned them, or your thesis on King Arthur in Wizarding Art Versus Muggle Art, or even list me the reasons why you detest Petrarch for what he’s done to the medieval age. I won’t begrudge you wanting to protect yourself, not when you’re already under attack every day from Hogwarts.
Write me back, Argus, be it in agreement or dismissal. And always know I am on your side against those ridiculous wizards waving their little sticks.
Argus had to sit in his apartment with Mrs. Norris on his lap and a cup of tea with something extra tipped in for a long time after reading that letter, listening to his slightly scratchy record of Liszt to calm down.
He wanted to meet Anne. He really, really wanted to meet Anne. But he did not, in any capacity, want her to meet him. It was every fear made real, she’d see him and walk away, pretend she didn’t see him, never write again. She’d see him and she’d know. Who knew what she was expecting, but probably not an ugly, angry old man who was bitter at children and talked to paintings because no one else wanted to talk to him.
Granted, that was a little less pathetic because the paintings talked back, but still.
He had a little bit of time before Anne would take his lack of writing as a clear dismissal, a few days, and he could always tell her of a painting or suit of armor or tapestry or manuscript or anything else in the castle that took his attention. He could think about this.
He made the mistake, however, of telling a painting of Percival about it during a check for damage after some fifth-year’s prank exploded too close to him.
“Your lady, she has wishes to meet?” the Perfect Fool asked, a smile lighting up his face.
“Anne does, yes,” said Argus. “By the fountain, is everything in order? I had to get a lens replaced in my magnifier, you have to let me know about even the smallest things, it won’t be back until Thursday.”
“Oh, let me check.” The knight cheerfully made his way to the fountain, poking at the stones and swirling his hand through the water, checking as he said, “This is marvelous, my friend! Where shall you meet her?”
“Don’t know if I will. Anything wrong with the carving of the hart?”
But Percival did not stoop to check the carving, instead he stood stock still, mouth agape as he demanded, “What?! Why would you not go to her?”
“The carving, Percival.”
“No, not the carving! My friend, your lady has called you to her side, why would you not go to her at such a request?!”
“She isn’t my lady, she’s my pen pal. She wants whatever she’s built up in her head, she doesn’t want me.”
“Argus. Listen to me. You simply must meet her. Not here at Hogwarts, not at that Wallace Estate she works at–”
“–but somewhere neutral where you are both unburdened. We have all seen how you and she are with each other in words. So long as you are honest in your letters, then surely she cannot object to anything about you, my friend. I will not hear a word otherwise.”
“Then you won’t hear a word otherwise. Now check the carving of the hart.”
Finally, all was declared well, but Percival was to stay until Thursday when Argus could double check with the magnifier. And each day, Percival tried to convince him to go see Anne, couching it in the most florid terms the way only a pillar of chivalry could. And when he was checked over with the magnifier and no damage was done and he was hung up again, he got onto his horse and went riding, telling everyone of Anne’s request to meet, and how Argus was thinking of declining. And once the tale reached Jellyband’s tavern, Argus knew no peace.
Courting couples in florid Rococo gardens scolded him for denying Love his due, scholars complained that in their day they never would have turned down meeting a fellow intellectual in their fields, a painting of a Wizarding Carnivale in Venice was filled with the drunken passion only 18th century Venetian wizards could muster up and to a one shouting in impassioned Italian about all the reasons he should meet his lady-love.
Why the paintings of Hogwarts had gotten it into their heads that they were in love was beyond him. He snapped about that once to a castrato who had wandered into a Spanish style still life to raid the candy jars, saying, “Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna weren’t in love!”
“Yes, but you aren’t a homosexual like him,” countered the man, cutting a bit of marzipan for himself.
Which Argus couldn’t find a very good argument against.
Finally, a letter came for him from Philomena Osgood; she was going to be in Hogsmeade on her way to a cousin’s wedding, and she’d like to share a pint. Taking the chance to escape the castle’s gossipmongers in its paintings, he shrugged on his coat and went walking out to Hogsmeade while the brats (and Jane Bell) were just beginning to trickle to dinner.
The Three Broomsticks was, as always, busy. And Philomena, a rotund witch of good humor, was patiently holding down a table, two glasses of crisp cider in front of her. When she spotted him, she smiled, and only when he was seated did she say, “It’s good to see you, Argus.”
“And you, Philomena,” he returned, taking his glass and tapping against hers.
“À votre santé.”
They chatted about inconsequential things for a few minutes, before Philomena asked, “And how is old Hogwarts doing? I do really only trust her with you.”
“She’s as well as I can keep her,” groused Argus. “Friend of mine helped me put together a proposal for an art history course, try and keep the kids from smearing their hands on everything, but…it will probably be shot down.”
“What? Why? I wish we could have had a course like that, I keep looking back at Hogwarts and cursing that I didn’t appreciate her. Why would they shoot it down?”
“Philomena,” he said flatly, looking at her. She, at least, had the grace to wince.
“Sorry, Argus. You mentioned a friend helped you? Who was it? They must be in the field, do I know them?”
“No. She’s another squib. We’re pen pals, she’s a curator at a muggle museum in London.”
“Oh. Oh, I suppose the Board of Governors would gloss over someone who works in a muggle institution…Listen, I met the curator of decorative arts at MEWA at a party Percival Hoult was holding last year, the one you had to miss because of the repair you had to do.”
“The Mars and Venus by Capelli.” It had bad been splattered by ink, and then someone got the bright idea to try and wipe it clean while Mars was screaming his head off about it, so Venus reported, but that only smeared it and then they tried to scratch it off before Mars’ screaming really scared them off. Venus had taken it as an opportunity to go visit the rather dashing version of Vulcan on the sixth floor, tucked away in a corner where their tryst would be away from all children’s eyes, in a Symbolist forest grove. Mars, however, had paced back and forth within the frame while Argus worked. They had fed into each other’s rage about it, Argus had had to go sit down and pet his cat and listen to his record of Debussy while reading to calm himself down. Otherwise he’d snarl at paintings that didn’t deserve it.
“Oh it was the Capelli? Argus, you have a braver soul than I. Ink on a painting by Agostino Capelli.” She gave a shiver and continued, “In any case, the curator, Daniel Livermorn. I met him at Percival’s party, I’m sure I could write an introduction, if you wanted to get his support.”
“I’ve turned in the plan this month, if I do it again so soon…”
“That’s probably true. Well, let me write it anyway, you’ll adore Daniel.”
“I don’t adore anyone.”
Conversation continued on pleasantly, talking about MEWA’s newest show – one on loan of Japanese woodblock prints from the 17th century – and their respective work. Argus bought the next round of cider and Philomena chatted about her cousin and the wedding she was going to, and Argus found himself mentioning something about Anne. And that turned out to be a mistake.
“Who is Anne?” asked Philomena.
“My pen pal,” he explained, “the one at the muggle museum.”
“You know, I have never heard you sound so warm when talking about someone.”
“I’m plenty warm when I’m talking about people.”
“You’re as warm as you think they deserve. Which means you’re glacial to anyone outside our profession who isn’t two hundred years dead.”
“Not two hundred years.”
“Well, very close to that. But Anne’s made you nearly smile, Argus. What’s she like? You don’t smile talking about any of us you do like.”
“We started writing after her niece told her that I was the only thing keeping the castle from falling apart,” said Argus. “She studied and works with the Rococo, primarily, but she works with the Baroque. We tease each other for our specialties, I write her visual descriptions of paintings at Hogwarts, since she’s never been, and we talk about them. I studied at Cambridge and she studied at Oxford, we joke about rivalries. She calls me Lennox, sometimes, when I’m being surly, I call her Craven when she is, too. Doesn’t happen as often, of course, but it does.”
“You have jokes with her?” asked Philomena, the question yanked out of her before she recovered. “Sorry, sorry, didn’t meant to accuse. But Argus, you have nicknames for each other, you joke and tease – you never do that for any of us. You sound like you’re nearly in love with her!”
It was one thing to have the paintings gossip about his “lady friend.” He could dismiss that – they were paintings, they had a world of amusements painted into their frame but had to remain in the foreground to be seen, so they kept the living world in their foreground too. But it was different to have someone he considered a friend, a woman he deeply respected and enjoyed the company of, to say the same thing.
He just took a drink of his cider and wished it was stronger stuff. He didn’t really even like the stronger stuff, and Philomena knew it, that was why she ordered them cider instead of firewhiskey. He just wanted this conversation to be done.
“Oh, Argus…” said Philomena.
“We’re just pen pals,” he grumbled.
“Like that means anything? Look, this summer, meet her. At the very least have a friend who makes you smile.”
“She wrote me,” he admitted, staring into the delicate amber of his cider. “She wants to meet.”
“Even better! When are you going?”
“Argus,” said Philomena, and her eyes were sharp. But it was one thing to explain it to a painting, and another to a full human.
“I’m not. She…she’s built me up in her head. Better if we just write.” He was mumbling into his drink, and the pub was loud enough, he’d almost thing he could get away with it. But Philomena huffed at him and said,
“You’re being ridiculous. You two have nicknames for when you’re being surly, yes? That means you’ve at least proven that you aren’t perfectly mannered. Don’t look at me like that, it’s one of the things I like about you, God help me.”
Argus smiled, he couldn’t help it. He liked Philomena, he didn’t know anyone who didn’t.
“Just think of it as meeting a fellow professional,” she was continuing, gesturing expansively after deliberately setting down her glass so as not to spill it. “It doesn’t have to be any more than that if you don’t want it to be.”
“You’re just in a mood because you’re on your way to a wedding,” accused Argus.
Philomena huffed, and said, “That doesn’t change the fact that you would do well to expand your circle of friends.”
“You aren’t going to let this go, are you?”
By the time they parted ways, Philomena had managed to make him laugh more than once and had made him start to think that maybe he really could meet Anne. It wouldn’t be for a few months yet, not until the school year was done. He could make himself a little more palatable and presentable by then.
The castle itself was always quieter after dinner, students knew they had a limited amount of time before curfew, and most didn’t want to get into trouble. And after fetching Mrs. Norris from his rooms, Argus set out on a walk through the castle. It was his daily tradition, to see if anything needed immediate tending after a day with the brats (and Jane Bell).
Of course, there was no small amount of muttering at him the way the paintings had been ever since tales of Anne’s letter had spread – had it really only been a week? Sometimes it seemed much longer – but the walk was for the most part calm.
On the third floor, down by the rooms mostly used by student groups, there was a painting Argus loved much as he hated, it was a Spanish painting brought in by a Headmaster in the 16th century, who thought Hogwarts really needed to be more international than it was. It was a good urge, but the painting he brought in was a history painting of a party where the troubadour was performing the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which were, to a one, unreasonably catchy, and if he walked by while they were singing, he would reliably be whistling the tunes the whole rest of the evening.
And of course, as he approached, he could hear the lute and voice of that painted troubadour, his pleasant and powerful tenor enough to be heard a distance away.
“Guïar ben nos pód’ o téu siso mais ca ren pera Paraíso, u Déus ten sempre goi’ e riso pora quen en el creer quiso,” he sang, and Argus already found himself humming along. “E prazer-m-ía se te prazía que foss’ a mía alm’ en tal compannía. Santa Maria, strela do día, móstra-nos vía Déus e nos guía! Santa Maria, strela do día, móstra-nos vía Déus e nos guía!”
But at the end of the song he heard applause from living hands. Someone was listening and applauding that peacocking troubadour as if his head wasn’t big enough.
Turning the corner, he saw Jane Bell there, applauding and listening with an encouraging, if blank face, as the troubadour complimented her, turned about the room to call to the host of the eternal revelry, before beginning a new song. And this one he whistled for days after the fact.
“A Madre de Jesú-Cristo, que é Sennor de nobrezas, non sofre que en sa casa façan furtos nen vilezas. E dest’ un mui gran miragre vos direi que me juraron hómees de bõa vida e por verdade mostraron que fezo Santa María de Monssarrat, e contaron do que fez un ávol hóme por mostrar sas avolezas.”
“You’ll be humming it for days,” commented Argus, and Jane Bell jumped in surprise, spinning before saying,
“You surprised me, Dr. Filch!”
Argus was shocked silent, the revelries continuing on uninterrupted, a group of maidens starting to spin in dance together to the ridiculously catchy song. “What did you call me?” he managed.
“Oh, should I not have? I’m sorry. Auntie Anne said you should be called Doctor like she is.”
“No, that’s…I do have a doctorate, yes. Why was your aunt writing you about me?”
“She says you’re pen pals. Since you’re both squibs and both work with art. You wrote to her about this painting, and she thought I’d like it, so she wrote me about it, is all. Oh, you probably don’t remember me, I’m Jane Bell, my aunt is Anne Umber. Do you know what they’re singing, Dr. Filch?”
It was…it was the first time he had been called Doctor Filch in…well, since he got onto a first name basis with the others in wizarding art conservation. It felt almost overwhelming, not that he’d let anyone know it, let alone a student. He was saved, however, by Mrs. Norris tugging at Jane Bell’s robes, and the girl stooping to pick her up, settling her in arms and scratching just behind the ears.
Clearing his throat he said, perhaps gruffly, but definitely kinder than he had been towards any other brat in the school, “The painting is ‘The Festivities at the Home of Rodríguez José de Lucientes y Silva.’ It was painted by Ignacio Caballero in 1560. The painting is of a famous party thrown by Rodríguez José de Lucientes y Silva in 1287, it was to celebrate Rodríguez’s knighting in the Order of Calatrava. That’s a knightly order created for the Reconquista, the history is long and confusing, but mostly Wizards stayed out of it. Rodríguez, though, specifically sought to join and aid the fighting. The party was held mundanely, because of the muggles present, but it was the same night that an owl came to the party bearing a letter to welcome the son of the Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava, who was present, to La Granjilla, the most prevalent wizarding school in northern Spain at the time.”
“I’ve never heard of La Gran…” said Jane Bell.
“La Granjilla. It’s gone now, well, the building is still there, but badly damaged. After the union of Ferdinand and Isabella, uniting Castile and Aragon, and the writing on the wall for the Expulsion of the Jews, the wizarding communities of the north and the south made peace with each other – there’s a painting of it in Spain, in the Museo de Arte Mago, it’s somewhat famous, you might know it. ‘The Accord of Toledo?’ The Accord was a private agreement to preserve the wizarding community. The history is long and difficult, but it essentially created a united school for north and south together. La Granjilla was abandoned, and so was the southern school, I can’t remember the name just now.”
Jane Bell was staring at him, eyes wide, just like they had been with the Hours of John Kempe. Argus cleared his throat and said, “In any case, this scene took place in the thirteenth century, the troubadour there is singing the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a series of songs written then. They’re all praises and miracles and prayers for the Virgin Mary. He’s just finished ‘A Madre de Jesú-Cristo.’ It’s too catchy, you’ll be humming it for days.”
“Do…do you know what exactly he was singing?” asked Jane Bell.
“I can translate!” offered a portrait, that of Endymion Willoughby, a 19th century dandy of a wizard who would rather while away his days in fête galante paintings than anywhere else.
“You?” asked Argus. “Endymion, since when have you studied anything so serious?”
“I beg your pardon, Argus, but I have been here with them since I came to Hogwarts, and that was in 1841. I speak Gallo-Portuguese by now.”
“Alright then, what’s the story of A Madre de Jesú-Cristo?”
“The story goes that among the pilgrims to the Monastery of Montserrat, there was a pickpocket, who made friends with another and stole his money in the night. The next day, after Mass, the Virgin Mary blocked his exit. He could not leave until he confessed, repented, returned the money, and sincerely apologized for his misdeeds.”
“There you go, Miss Bell. A miracle of a mother making someone apologize for stealing.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Jane Bell, the question seeming to explode out of her. “You remember the stories and the history and who painted it and when and…”
“It’s my job to know,” said Argus. “That’s what I get paid for. I have to know each painting and when it was made and where it was made so I can conserve them. Knowing the stories…well, you pick it up.”
“Argus is very good at his job,” put in Endymion. Argus sent him a sharp look, silently telling him to shut up. The troubadour had finished singing, and now dancing music was playing, men and women dancing in stately groupings in the evening air. The owl coming for young Gonzalo Muñiz Ponce de León hovered in the sky in the distance, always only just on its way.
“Dr. Filch?” asked Jane Bell, sounding hesitant but not uncertain. “There’s…there’s a painting near the Arithmancy classrooms I’ve always wondered about, the one of the people collecting firewood and crying? What…Do you think you could tell me about that one?”
Argus knew exactly which one that was. It had been painted during the Hundred Years War, it had been an attack on the cruel history of the French; that while England had Merlin and Stonehenge and a history of the gentle partnership of Camelot, the French only had the history of the Wicker Men.
“That’s a rough story,” he said. “You don’t want to hear about it too close to bed.”
“Really? Is it that bad?” Argus nodded. “Why is it in a school if it’s bad?”
“It doesn’t show the event they’re preparing for. It’s only that bad if you know what they’re doing.”
“I still want to know,” said Jane Bell.
“Not close to bedtime. It’ll give you nightmares like nothing else. If you really want, I’ll write it down for you. Only,” he stressed, “because if I don’t, your aunt will find someone to send me a howler for refusing to teach you about art. Understand?”
“Yes. I should go back to my dormitory now, but thank you for telling me about Rodríguez’s party, Dr. Filch!” she carefully set Mrs. Norris down, offered a smile, and went briskly but unhurriedly back down the corridor.
“Don’t say a word, Endymion,” said Argus, looking at the dandy who was smiling to himself.
“Wouldn’t dream of it!” said Endymion, winking and stepping out of his portrait. Likely to find a lady fair or even a charming lad to seduce and spend the night with.
Argus, for his part, sighed and walked to the library, finding Madam Pince shuffling out the last student to start readying for bed.
“Argus!” she greeted, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
“I need our copy of ‘Commentaries on the Gallic Wars,’” he said, resigned. He’d have it ready for Jane Bell in the morning, it was as good an excuse as any to avoid writing that letter to Anne for even an hour.
“Latin or English?”
“We have an English version?”
“Yes, but it isn’t a manuscript, and I know how you like handling those.”
“Hmm. Well, I’m copying a bit over, better use the English.”
“Oh, are you making some point to that pen pal of yours?” asked Irma as they made their way through the stacks.
“The paintings told you?”
“Well, you have been a little more interested in wizarding texts lately, I was curious!”
“They’re all gossips.”
“And we all take advantage of it in our own ways.” In short enough order, Irma flicked her wand, discreetly, as if Argus wasn’t surrounded by blatant displays every day, and summoned down the blue bound book. “You’re lucky I trust you.”
“I know it was hard earned,” said Argus, sharing a conspiratorial smile with her before taking his leave, book tucked under his arm.
It was a translation by W.A. MacDevitt, and it was more than clear enough for someone who was used to dense historical texts and the even denser primary texts from historical eras. But he was looking for a way to explain the painting to a sixteen year old girl.
Sighing, he took a piece of parchment and as he planned out how to explain it, he sighed again, and heavier, and already knew what he’d be writing to Anne. Here he was, getting a chance to put that curriculum to the test, and it was for Jane Bell and no one else would care.
“The Construction of the Effigy” – painted by an unknown painter circa 1419
The painting is what is called a “history painting” and one of the earliest examples of it housed in Hogwarts. History painting is a painting that depicts A) a moment in history B) a scene from literature or myth or C) a religious scene.
This painting depicts the Gauls of France in the time before Roman conquest. The people are gathering wood to create what is called a “Wicker Man.” We don’t know if Wicker Men were ever real, the only real account we have was written by Julius Caesar in his book “Commentary on the Gallic War” and the Gauls were his enemies, he might have made things up so the Romans would hate them. In his book he writes this:
“The Gauls are devoted to strange practices; when they face severe diseases or battles, they will sacrifice human victims or will swear they will and hire Druids to perform the sacrifices for them. They believe their gods will not be kind unless the life of a man is exchanged for another’s life, and so they have national sacrifices set up, not just personal ones. Some of the Gauls make giant effigies of men with hollow limbs that they fill with living men and set these aflame, so the sacrifices die by fire. They sacrifice criminals, believing that their gods prefer this kind of sacrifice, but if no criminals can be found, they will sacrifice even the innocent.”
The painting is of the Gauls gathering wood to make one of these Wicker Men to burn sacrifices alive inside. Because they are crying, the viewer is supposed to guess that they are going to burn innocent people. But no one is suggesting they stop and let these people live.
This painting was done around the year 1419 – the dating of this painting comes from the techniques used, when there first appears record of people owning it, and sometimes we can even test the material to see how old it is. In 1419, England was at war with France, the Hundred Years’ War. It started because King Edward III of England believed that because his mother was French and the French Capetian Dynasty had died out, he should be King of France as well. The history is a lot more complex than that, but that’s the simple version.
England and France went to war over it in 1337, and the war only ended in 1453. It lasted multiple kings, though there were a few short times of peace. The fighting had just started up again in 1415.
This painting was done during that Hundred Years’ War and was about how the French Druids were willing to murder innocent people. The idea would be that France had been cruel and bloodthirsty, while England’s Druids were peaceful and forged alliances with the Kings of England – that’s the myth of Merlin and King Arthur. When you look at it, it’s supposed to be a sneaky way of spreading tales of the French, so when this was on display, people would believe in England’s right to rule France, even if just because we were supposedly superior.
Remember, every painting has a story it’s painter wants to tell, but you can’t always believe them. The Druids of England were said to perform human sacrifices as well. Supposedly, they would impale their sacrifices, or practice what is called “The Threefold Death” – that a person would be hanged, burned, and drowned all at once.
Did either of those Druids do any of these things? We don’t know. Many of the records we have come from their enemies, we have to view those things critically, second-guessing and doing our own research by excavations and archeology. When you look at “The Construction of the Effigy” remember all that.
It was a fairly decent little explanation, Argus thought, and set it aside to have it delivered to Jane Bell by a house elf the next day.
And then he took a second piece of parchment and stared at it, willing the bravery to write Anne to present itself.
Eventually he summoned it, writing that he would enjoy meeting her after the school year was finished, and did she have any suggestions of where would be best? Then he pivoted away to pleasantries and then to the story of Jane Bell who asked after paintings and how he had to tell her about Wicker Men and druidic sacrificial rites, though, of course, he had only told generalities.
It’s almost funny, he wrote, that so soon after having things shot down, a student should ask after the history of the art. I almost expect you wrote to her telling her to ask me about it, but I know you, Anne, you wouldn’t do something like that.
And it wasn’t even a pointed sentiment, he did know Anne, he did know she wouldn’t do anything like that.
He paused, once he finished by signing his name. He did know Anne. She was right, they knew each other so well. He turned and looked to his wall that had once held only a print of Charles Paul Landon’s “Icarus and Daedalus” (which had been a pain to find but still so worth it) and now was absolutely wallpapered in letters from Anne, and found the one she had written the previous month, addressing it as Dear LENNOX and signed it off as your dear friend, Craven. She knew him. Yes, he tried to hide the darkest corners of himself, but she knew that there were dark corners at all.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. And there were months still to prepare, he needn’t work himself up over it just now.
The letter to Anne he set aside to mail out the next morning, and went to bed, keeping his light on to read a while with Mrs. Norris curled up in his lap. She’d be in a right state when he had to actually lay down, but for now, he could appreciate how nice it was to have a warm cat in one’s lap while reading a good book. It was a pleasure not everyone got, especially not wizards who insisted on keeping owls instead of friendly, domesticated creatures.
The next day, letter to Anne sent off and the note for Jane Bell passed along to have it sent in with the rest of her mail at breakfast, Argus was free to spend the day writing up orders for materials. This, at least, he had yet to have to fight for, and he found some measure of comfort in that fact. He needed various chemicals and mineral spirits, some replacement tubes of muggle archival paints to make minor (and reversible, Sistine-Chapel-Restorers) retouching where necessary. Linseed oil, poppyseed oil, turpentine and spike lavender oil, new brushes, more cotton, there was plenty that needed ordering, but it was second nature by now.
Lists written up, he asked a house elf to bring them to Dumbledore so they could be approved that he wasn’t misusing his budget (and to note that even though some of the more mundane things that the caretaker portion of his job required was running low, he would not order them himself). And that done, he made his way to where Rolanda Hooch would commonly be found, to ask if she would give him a lift out to Feorme Hamas Farm.
There were two main places to check for Rolanda; the teacher’s lounge, or out by the Quidditch Pitch, and thankfully she was in the first one. She was chatting idly with Marilla Upshot, the portrait having actually closed her book to chat, but greeting Argus fondly and going back to her book when Argus made the request.
“That’ll be a good decent flight,” said Rolanda. “Meet me by the pitch in twenty minutes?”
This flight had the potential to be deeply awkward, sharing even one of the larger brooms meant for two people, but Rolanda had never been shy a day in her life, and Argus was too busy holding on for dear life. He trusted Rolanda with his life, of course she wouldn’t crash the broom, but the fact that he had no power whatsoever to control the thing was still daunting.
It was an hour’s flight to Feorme Hamas Farm, the farm that supplied Hogwarts exclusively and had for the entire time Hogwarts had existed, thus the name, Provision Homes. Even when tensions were high about English wizards and witches coming into Scotland, before the Union of the Crowns, Feorme Hamas had been left alone. And even Voldemort knew not to interrupt such vital supplies.
“Argus!” called Morgan, the middle aged witch who ran the farm, the daughter of the incredibly old Urien family. It was in no way pureblood, they had waxed and waned into and out of becoming muggles and wizards to the point that no one, not even the Urien family, knew if they had begun as a wizarding or a muggle family. “And Rolanda! What a nice surprise!”
“I wrote you last week,” said Argus, raising a brow at her.
“Oh, did you? Sorry, the kids must have gotten into the mail again. Can I take a stab at why you’re here?”
“Why am I ever here?”
“We do have the makings for your glues, true. Come on, I’ll unlock the workshop for you. Rolanda, do you want a cup of tea?”
“I was going to do a little flying,” offered the witch in question. “But I’ll take you up on it later.”
Morgan took Argus to the workshop where he mixed up all number of glues and did some of the fiddlier work with repairing precious glassware, far away from where they had been shattered where there was no chance of it being disturbed.
The workshop he used was the back corner of the one used by the Urien family to prepare parchment, and their lime baths for animal hides were just as foul to the nose as Argus’ boiling of bits of cartilage.
There was a slaughtered ox strung up near the workshop, the process of harvesting the hide just beginning. It was a little gruesome, but Argus refused to ignore the origins of that which he wrote on and looked right over to wave hello to Morgan’s sisters. He saw discarded pages of parchment at Hogwarts, students treating it like paper and complaining when it was hard to write on. It was skin, it had fat deposits, Feorme Hamas Farm would do what they could to try and alleviate the oilier skins but you had to work with your parchment.
“We’ve already got the order for parchment and quills in time for exams,” said Morgan. “Are you lot using your quills once? I remember teaching my classmates who didn’t grow up with them how to keep them sharp, but I really do worry about our geese and turkeys, the number you order. What are the kids doing with them?”
“As if I know what the brats do. I swear, half of them don’t know what parchment even is.”
“That’s a great solace to us, Argus, really it is.”
“I hate it too.”
“Yeah, but you aren’t slaughtering sixty cows just for exam time so they have enough spare parchment.” He supposed seeing that slaughtered ox would mean it was cows that year. Sheep the year before, the farewell feast had been pretty heavy on lamb and mutton. “Say, do you want us to save you some prime cuts? Once we’ve got the skin off this one, Will takes over, he could definitely set some aside and wrap them up for you.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“You’ve certainly got time.” Morgan was then fishing the keys out of the depths of her pocket and unlocked the workshop. Considering what was kept inside, no wonder. Along one wall were giant baths of water, lime, and water again, to wash and move the skins down the line. Hoops and frames were stacked against the wall, ready to string them up and treat them with chalk or alum or whatever else needed doing, a sparkling jar of ground glass to be baked into pumice bread entirely out of reach of everyone so the kids couldn’t grab it and hurt themselves, a pile of templates stood ready to cut pages to standard sizes, and as soon as the skin was harvested from the ox, they would begin, for to wait would be to ruin the parchment it could offer.
Parchment making was an art precariously thriving in the wizarding world – it was done by hand entirely, which made it suspect in the first place (what good was it if you couldn’t wave a wand to do it?), and the producers were relatively few, considering the demands laid on them. A few things snuck in from the muggle world, and one of those was the ease and cheapness of paper. The wizarding world only trusted parchment, but they demanded it in quantities of paper. It was one of the greatest frustrations Argus had with the world he had fought to get into and which seemed driven to push him back out.
Argus, however, was tucked away into a corner that they let him use, since he could not mix his glues in his rooms in the castle, the ventilation was enough for paintings, but not for this. And even if it were, he probably wouldn’t be allowed, since he still used Cennino Cennini’s methods, since those were the methods used on the majority of things he had to tend to. It was nearly a rule of thumb among wizards, one that actually was quite comforting to Argus’ medievalist tendencies; if it worked in the 14th century, why bother updating?
And so he spent the next long while just as busy as any of the brats at Hogwarts in their potion classes. Flour paste was the easiest, and so he’d do it last, starting instead with goat glue, and while that was boiling, starting into the fish glue. By that time, Morgan’s sisters were already in the workshop, diligently preparing the cow’s skin, and were happy to point him to where the offcuts of skin for parchment were stored so he could make his sizes. It was only when the skin was soaking in the first water bath that Argus asked for use of some of their lime for his cheese glue, and Simonetta was perfectly happy to fetch it for him.
“Do the goat and fish glues travel well? They’re not exactly solid like they should be when you leave,” she asked as they measured out the lime next to the cheese Argus had brought.
“They do well enough,” said Argus, beginning the mixing process and already half distracted by it. “It would be better if I could do them in one place, but I’m not allowed to make glue in the castle and I can’t get out here with regularity.”
“Why not? We can send the necks and cartilage for glue just as well with the rest.”
“Simonetta, I don’t think Hogwarts has taught how to cut quills and keep them sharp in all the time I’ve been there, and the students treat parchment like paper. I think the decision was made to keep it from the students what all it is. They don’t want me boiling animal bits where the brats could ever find out what the hell glue is made from.”
“That’s a massive disservice. A Throw Away Culture operating on goods from a slower one?” Simonetta shook her head, looking just as disgusted as Argus ever was about it.
That was why Argus truly liked coming to Feorme Hamas. Everyone here worked with their hands and didn’t shy away from what they were doing, they knew that meat and parchment had the same supply chain (or lack of chain, in this case) and the pieces left unused from parchment could be used to make glue, that blood made the ground rich for crops, that when done right, nothing was left unused. Even the bones could be used, not just for stocks and stews, but for blotting ink in writing and preparing drafting tablets and panels for painting.
Simonetta had to go back to tending to the skins not more than a minute later, and Argus was left to finish mixing cheese and lye into glue and get it into that specific glue pot. With all the other types finished, he could finally make the flour paste.
Heating water just short of boiling and sifting the flour, he thought that it might be nice to get prime pick of some fine meat cuts. He might not be able to cook for himself in his rooms, but he could hand them over to the kitchens and request use of their space, even promptly bustled out with it to be delivered cooked. What he had ever done to deserve that, he didn’t know.
When the water was on the edge of boiling, he poured in the flour and stirred it vigorously, until it made the paste that worked so as glue for parchment, and poured in salt to keep it. This he could and did make at Hogwarts, but it was never a bad idea to make a fresh batch while boiling the rest of his glues.
With that too poured into its dedicated glue pot, and the fish and goat glues setting to solidity, Argus went up to the large farmhouse, hoping to manage to get a cup of tea before the flight back to Hogwarts. He liked his work, even as unpleasant as the smell of his glue mixtures might be (especially when mixed with the smell of parchment work), but having just a cup of tea to give his leaf glues a chance to get a little more stable before they went flying.
Morgan and her wife Helen were dancing down the length of the house, a radio in the kitchen playing at full volume to be heard. Argus had long since given up on staying current on music, so it didn’t surprise him that he didn’t know this singer, just caught Helen’s eye and shared a wink before stepping in just as Helen stepped away and started dancing with Morgan in her place, making the witch laugh, her head thrown back in delight.
“Hello, Argus, all done, then?” laughed Morgan, letting herself be danced towards the kitchen.
“Just letting the glues set a bit. I don’t suppose I could ask for tea?”
“I’ll put on the kettle,” offered Helen.
Rolanda had been doing elaborate tricks in the fields, and apparently the Urien family children had been enchanted, because Cosmo Urien came in with his twin boys under his arms, both of them demanding to go ride with her because she was going to do a Wronski Feint with them after Olivia’s turn.
“You aren’t riding along for any tricks like that,” Cosmo was saying. “And besides, you were both grounded anyway!”
“But dad!” they whined in unison as they went past the kitchen.
“Marcus and Harry tried to convince Alicia that the pumice bread was magic because it sparkles,” said Morgan. “They didn’t have any, but Alicia did come asking if she could have some with her tea.”
“Cosmo and Beatrice have been reading them Alice in Wonderland,” explained Helen, lighting the fire under the kettle.
“At least she didn’t eat any,” offered Argus, taking a seat at the wobbly little kitchen table. He couldn’t pick Alicia out of the hordes of Urien children even if there was a threat of death over his head, but even when he was bitter at the brats at Hogwarts, even when he grumbled exaggerated stories about Inquisition torture methods to scare them into line, he never wished for a child to eat glass.
“At least that. So, while the water’s heating, what’s new with you, Argus?”
“We’re already distracted from our work, you might as well make it so the books never get balanced,” said Morgan, smiling at her wife as they joined him.
“You…you remember my mentioning of a pen pal?” he said, hesitant.
“Oh, yes! At the Wallace Collection!” said Helen brightly. “I went there once, when I was younger. It’s a beautiful museum, even if my father couldn’t stand some of the art. Thought ‘The Swing’ was too risqué.”
“Well, it is a man looking up a woman’s skirt in a time when they didn’t really wear undergarments. But, yes, her. We, uh…she wrote to me asking if I’d like to come meet her when the school year is done and I sent off the letter this morning agreeing.”
“You have a pen pal?” asked Morgan blankly.
“He told us about her ages ago, starling. She’s also a squib who works with art? She’s a curator at the Wallace Collection?”
“I don’t remember. Sorry, Argus.”
“Your head’s full of people already,” said Argus, who was comforted that someone could learn about Anne and then forget her. The paintings were obsessed.
“My family is exactly the right size.”
“You have nine siblings.”
“As all families should!”
“Starling, you are talking to two only children, you’ll never convince us, even though I love our family,” said Helen. “But this is exciting, Argus! Where will you be meeting? Only, I mean, in the magical or mundane world?”
“Don’t know, yet,” said Argus. “I only just agreed, we’ll figure it out.”
“You’ll be going at the end of the school year, any idea when? Only, we don’t want you to miss our bonfire night.”
“Oh, yes, will you be here?” asked Morgan.
The Feorme Hamas Bonfire Night, when the school year was done and they weren’t under demand for materials and food. They lit up a bonfire and threw a party for the family, and after Argus’ mother had died and he was officially alone in the world, they had found out about it from Mrs. Peabody, when the old caretaker had still been around, and invited him, and he kept coming ever since.
“I’ll be there,” he said. “I’ll meet Anne afterwards.”
“The pen pal, starling. Goodness, you’re brilliant about everything on the farm, but you’re just hopeless when it comes to anything off it.”
Morgan shrugged good naturedly and said, “I know my limits.”
The kettle had been filled all the way, which was preservationist instinct in action, as when it whistled (and it whistled the tune to Lavender’s Blue), no fewer than ten Uriens came wandering into the kitchen. Rolanda was pulled in behind a teenage girl, and looked windswept and grateful for a cup just like everyone else.
Teacups were distributed, and tea was poured, and a cup was set aside for Will Urien, who was still toweling his arms dry. “Oxen are no joke,” he groaned, hopping up onto the counter like everyone who couldn’t get a proper chair.
“Oh, Argus, did you want some cuts?” asked Morgan.
“I’d take some,” he answered.
“After I have my tea,” warned Will. He was a mighty, muscled man, honed from years of butchering all numbers of creatures for Hogwarts and for the Urien family table as well. He looked a little absurd, with his delicate bone china cup, perched on the counter and ankles tucked together just like his sisters and nieces’, but Will was a delicate soul, he liked poetry and painting, and Argus liked him for that. Sometimes in the summer, when the food and supply deliveries were so much lighter, Will made them himself, so Argus could walk him about to see the art.
The Urien family was ridiculously large, but they weren’t ridiculous about it – there was no room dedicated to the family tree, there was no weighing of family members to see if they were worthy of being on it, they knew their ancestors had been supplying Hogwarts with goods, and they knew their descendants would do the same. If ever Hogwarts mistreated them, they could starve the castle out and they held the power at the negotiating table. A farming family through and through and Argus liked them immensely. He just wished he could come with more frequency.
When tea was done, Argus went to pack up his glues, and Rolanda chatted with some of the young adults about various Quidditch clubs and how the scores stood. Will came jogging out not long after with a package of neatly wrapped meat cuts, which Argus took gratefully.
And just like that, his afternoon at Feorme Hamas Farm was done, and he had to make the nerve wracking flight back to Hogwarts.
The paintings, when he mentioned the letter he had written to Anne, were overjoyed. His evening walk was interrupted by chatter about it every few feet until he had to cut it short and go back to his rooms. The next day, one of the ghosts stopped him and asked why the paintings had been so rowdy the night before, did he know? And Argus had to get out of that conversation as soon as possible. He could not let it get to Peeves or his life would fall to shambles.
Anne, for her part, wrote back, happy to have the agreement, but willing to put off discussion of where exactly they’d meet and when until they were closer to the actual time, when she might know her schedule.
He thought, for one wild moment, to ask her to come to Feorme Hamas Bonfire Night. But she worked with the Rococo, with the florid and complex, with Pierrots and Columbines, with chinoiserie and little jewels of snuffboxes. Feorme Hamas was deeply traditional and Argus loved his time there, there was something honest about being there and seeing the animal carcass and knowing that none of these people tried to pretend their wares were anything but what they were. But Anne? No, he couldn’t spring that on her.
Instead, he just went about his job and wrote Anne letters about the paintings and their upkeep and all the usual things, and read her letters about the day-to-day work of curation and how a painting went out on loan and one came out of storage to take another’s place while it was cleaned, and how a horsefly had gotten into her office, and how her assistant had found her with a cup and piece of paper running around the room reciting William Blake’s poem The Fly at it as she fruitlessly tried to get the insect outside.
It made Argus laugh aloud at the image, and he dutifully wrote back his own story of one of the professors coming across him on his evening walk in a hushed but intense argument with a portrait of a respected Healer about Jeremy Bentham. The professor in question looked between them and then turned and walked away.
The next letter, Anne said she wanted to meet somewhere they’d be on equal footing. And she cautiously offered, because she had been there with Aline (did he remember her from her letters?), that Giverny was meant to be lovely that time of year.
Argus knew of Giverny, every student of art history did. He took a class on Impressionism, same as anyone, he read about Pisarro the anarchist and Renoir the sentimentalist and Degas interested in depicting adolescence and alone for it, Cezanne’s multiple viewpoints, Manet with them but never of them, and of course of Monet, the last survivor. The struggle between his fascination with light and water and how his eyesight was failing him. The most famous pond in the world.
He hadn’t thought of it in years. Why would he? It was the birth of modern perception of art, and Argus specialized in perhaps its exact opposite. But he hadn’t forgotten it. Anne studied the Rococo, he the medieval, though they actually worked far more broadly than their academic specialties. He’d argue that the Renaissance was a better bridging of their fields.
But…but it bled into both of their fields. Impressionism didn’t. Maybe it was a good idea to meet somewhere they were both only passing familiar with it.
He’d never been to France. It might be nice.
“Of course France will be nice,” sighed Celeste Tipthorn, the varnish in desperate need of cleaning after smoke damage from a fourth year’s prank and the sitter herself in need of conversation that wasn’t from her immediate neighbors. Celeste, painted as she was after the cholera outbreaks of the 1830’s, was weakened, and even though her mind was witty, she had a hard time moving. “Really, Argus, why do you think we go there?”
“In your case, Celeste, I think it was because your parents came from France,” said Argus, still bent double over her hem, carefully wiping it clean of soot. How did they let smoke bombs in Hogwarts? Honestly, Celeste hadn’t been due for cleaning for another two years. Still, she preened under it like any painting, luxuriating in the careful attention and feeling of being cleaned. It wasn’t like when old varnish was removed and new layers applied, that deep clean was rare, and it left whole paintings logy and loose, even the most animated of scenes sprawled out like they had just gotten a massage at a fine spa. Last time Jellyband’s tavern had been so thoroughly cleaned, it had been closed for a week.
“Be that as it may,” said Celeste. “If France wasn’t worth going to, Martin would never have agreed to purchase that house. And, Argus, we purchased that house just after the Bourbon Restoration.”
“I would have thought return to royalist governance would be a draw.”
“Argus, they went from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic to an Empire in the span of thirty years. Absolutely nothing was certain. It was the third style of governance in fifteen years.”
“I know the timeline, Celeste, thank you.”
“The point is. If France wasn’t worth going to, no one would go. Where would you be meeting her?”
“Normandy? Argus, why are you going to Normandy, if you’re going to France, then you simply must go to Poitou-Charentes!”
“What do you mean no?”
“No, because we’re going to meet at the house of an artist. Claude Monet.”
“And who is that?”
Argus paused, and moved to make eye contact with Celeste as he said, “He’s considered one of the greatest French painters at the turn of the nineteenth century. His home and gardens have been preserved exactly as they were, they’re nearly as famous as he is. You were dead by then.”
“Well. Hmm. Get back to cleaning, Argus.”
The shenanigans of the brats dropped off as they got closer to exam time, and the thank you note Jane Bell had written him for his explanation of The Construction of the Effigy was put in pride of place on his chest of drawers, where no one but Mrs. Norris would ever see it. It was the first time any student of Hogwarts had ever done something so polite and he didn’t really want it featuring in painting gossip.
But as exam time drew near, it meant the end of the year was drawing near, which in turn meant his meeting with Anne. They had chosen June 4th to meet, he had a hotel reserved in Paris for the daytrip out to Giverny, and he was starting to dread and regret it. And when he told Amelia Verso about it, the one who had been there when he got that first letter, she refused to let him back out.
“Argus Filch,” she said, one hand on her hip and other brandishing her shears, “this woman has made you happier than I have seen you in quite a long time, in being your friend. We love you, of course we do, but you are flesh and blood, we’re oil and pigment. You need living friends too. So you’re going to go to France, meet Anne, and I know the lot at Jellyband’s are like to tease you and I know the story got twisted into her being your lady friend, but Argus, I saw you when you read that first letter. Go meet her, you’ll be happier for it.”
Talking to Amelia was actually really comforting, and it helped steady him.
Of course, when a seventh year end-of-schooling prank damaged her frame, he went nearly ballistic as she talked him down, reminded him it was only the frame, she was fine, her roses weren’t even disturbed. Still, he sneered and snarled in helpless rage – these brats were damaging untold worth around them but it was only the frame so nothing would happen and they were finishing school anyway so no one with power to punish them would do anything, laughing it off.
He never wanted what nearly happened to Marilla Upshot to actually happen – he wanted no panel painting to crack and break, no deliberate slashing of canvas, he had managed to get bare torches exchanged for lanterns to keep smoke damage down because that alone gave him heart palpitations – but a part of him, the part that wanted to scream at the brats who took this world for granted, touched priceless things because they figured if they weren’t behind glass they were fair game, crumpled up and threw away parchment like a sheep didn’t die to provide it, that part of him wanted something to happen. To have one great tragedy to make everyone in the castle wake up, look at what was around them, value it for once, and be better.
The brats leave June 1st. Jane Bell hand delivers him another note, thanking him for being so kind to her even when she messed up the Hours of John Kempe, and promising she’ll bring gloves next year. He gets, perhaps, a little emotional over the gesture.
Feorme Hamas Farm has its party the next day. Rolanda was to give him a ride out, and timing being what it was, and with the request and written agreement, Argus took with him his luggage to go to France the next day. Mrs. Norris, for her part, was to be checked in on daily by Rubeus Hagrid until Argus got back, with the house elves to refill water and food, and all the doors left open so she can hunt the mice drawn in by the food students hid in their dormitories.
He held Mrs. Norris for a long time, pressing kisses to her head until she squirmed. She was a very patient cat, at least to him, so it took a while. Then he set her down in her bed and pet her and promised he wouldn’t be gone long, no longer than when he went to the Medieval Congress in Leeds. She didn’t care, seeing as she was a cat.
Rolanda dropped him off at Feorme Hamas, before flying on herself, starting her long flight back to her own home. Argus and Hagrid were the only ones to live full time at the castle, after all, though professors came and went through the summer months.
Morgan greeted Argus happily, and led him to the guest room in the farmhouse, tucked in a corner and only big enough for one person to stay in. “Used to be bigger,” she apologized, “but we had to squeeze it down over the years. You know, more nurseries and all.”
“I have stayed here before,” he reminded.
“Well, yes, but I’m still sorry.”
“Starling!” called Helen, her voice faint down the halls. “Starling, where did you put the pork tray?!”
“Sorry, my lady love calls.”
“It’s still in storage, love!” called Morgan as she ducked away.
Argus knew where he’d be in the way and where he wouldn’t be, and ducked easily through the preparation for the party, until Morgan rang the bell, and the Uriens, Argus, and the various hands of Feorme Hamas joined in the yard.
The tables were set up in horseshoe shape, and they were laden with all manner of food, except the roast pig, which needed a table of its own, and was laid out on the pork tray, a massive earthenware masterpiece given to the Urien family in the 16th century by the then-Headmistress as thanks for their work. Morgan and Helen loaded up everyone’s plates with pork (except Katherine, who wasn’t really able to digest red meats, and Jake, who was Jewish, who got equally generous portions of substitutes), and when it was done, they stood, and raised their glasses in a toast, and Morgan called, “School year’s done!”
A cheer went up and they all drank, before Helen raised her delicate soprano voice, and sang out in breathy tone, “Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu! Groweþ sed and bloweþ med and springþ þwde nu, sing cuccu! Awe bleteþ after lomb, lhouþ after calue cu! Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ, murie sing cuccu! Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu – ne swik þu nauer nu!”
The round was built, the kids who didn’t know the words just chirping cuccu! cuccu! while their parents and older siblings and the workhands and Argus all sang the round, the old song of summertime no more applicable than on June 2nd when the brats were gone and Hogwarts stopped demanding so much. Summer really did have a precise date, for Feorme Hamas.
After the last voice finished the round, another cheer went up, and Ricky Urien went and turned on the radio and turned up the volume, and dinner began.
Argus, seated near Simonetta and her husband Jonathan, chatted away about his recent projects and cleanings, and yes he did bring luggage, he was going to France the next day, Morgan was riding into Hogsmeade for a few things and he’d go with her to catch the Express, no villager wanting to board it when it was full of students, after all.
“Why are you going to France?” asked Jonathan, who mostly worked in the dairy production, and so was rarely in the workshop where his wife worked on skins and Argus on his glues and the fiddlier bits of repair and conservation.
“My pen pal and I are going to meet,” he explained. “We’ve been writing since September – we’re going to Monet’s garden.”
“Morgan mentioned,” commented Simonetta.
“Morgan did?” asked Jonathan, raising a brow at his wife.
“Alright, Helen mentioned, but Morgan did say something about a pen pal. How did you start writing? Is she also in conservation?”
And so the story came out, interrupted by passing salads up and down the way, buttering bread rolls, and when Uncle Eustace stood up and sang a warbling version of “There’s Nae Luck About the House” and everyone applauded the man who had been growing pumpkins that reliably weighed in at several hundred pounds for the last forty three years, even if anyone else would sing that song at least twice as fast. William sprung to his feet not long after and recited John Barleycorn at the top of his lungs, culminating in pulling out a little flask and taking a drink, making everyone roar in laughter and applaud, and every child asking their parents what was so funny and who was Mr. Barleycorn and why couldn’t he die?
Not wanting to lose the turn of Burns, it was Mary Campbell who stood atop her chair and began to lilt along, “’Twas on a Monday morning, right early in the year, that Charlie came to our town, the young Chevalier. Charlie, he’s my darling, my darling, my darling; Charlie, he’s my darling, the young Chevalier!”
Argus ate and clapped along to songs and applauded impromptu poetry recitations, and laughed when Jonathan told stories about the funnier moments of dairy production (which Argus would never have thought could exist, before the Urien family). And when their stomachs were content in pork (or beef, or tofu, respectively) and the rest of dinner, Helen pulled Damien and John in the house to help carry out dessert, a raspberry champagne cake that stood four tiers tall.
After dessert, then came the bonfire, which had been set up, but was only lit afterwards. The children played games at strictly (and magically) enforced distances from the flames, while adults chatted, danced to the music coming out of the radio, and drank firewhiskey and muggle scotch and wizarding cider.
“Do you speak French, Argus?” asked Morgan, her legs thrown into Helen’s lap as they sat on a spread blanket together, cider in hand.
“Enough,” he allowed. “I should be able to find the train, at least.”
“You seem quite calm about all this,” commented Helen, stroking her wife’s ankle. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Two weeks ago I was half sure I should just cancel. I’m taking calm as far as it will take me.”
Slowly, slowly, the party wound down, those with wands and magic taking up setting charms to clean up, while the pork tray had to be washed by hand, and Argus took that up, considering its age. Everyone else was happy to let him.
Morgan warned him of when she’d be heading off to Hogsmeade, and everyone drifted to their beds, full and content and ready for the relative ease of summer.
Argus dreamed fitfully of faceless women turning away in disgust at seeing him, and quiet, firm demands they never write each other again. He woke up unsure again, but it was too late, he was due to take the train down, and to cross to France.
Morgan seemed to notice, riding in the buggy with him, and put one hand bracingly on his shoulder. Despite being a witch, her hand was rough and her muscles strong from work, and that helped.
Delving himself deeply into his books also helped, it kept him distracted and helped ease back into the mundane world.
Entering London after Hogwarts was always jarring, and it took a good while to get his feet under him again, which he didn’t bother to get this time. If he could stay a little off balance the whole time until he got to France, he might not need to adjust again to French culture rather than British.
Delaying getting his metaphorical sea legs until he got to France worked, steadying himself into French muggle culture instead of British. But it didn’t help how he lay awake late, his stomach in knots and heart in his throat. He shouldn’t go. He shouldn’t go the next day, he was sure. He’d flee back to his little rooms in Hogwarts, tell the paintings she didn’t come, that something must have come up, write Anne about the damage done to Amelia Verso, explain why he couldn’t be there. Keep Anne as a friend but put off meeting her indefinitely.
He woke up nauseous, had a cup of dark coffee and nibbled on the edge of a pastry bought at the train station. What was he doing here? Why was he catching the first train out? Why wasn’t he going to the Musée de Moyen-Âge? Or Notre Dame or Sainte Chapelle – why wasn’t he catching a train out to Chartres? Anne could be on this train.
Just like that he went stiff and bent his head double into Anne of Green Gables, hating himself worse than even when he found himself bitter about children having opportunities he had been denied. Why had he brought this book? Why did he ever think he could do this? Why was he here? He had dedicated his career to getting into Hogwarts, why couldn’t he be happy with the company of paintings and how he got to handle manuscripts and tapestries and everything he loved?
Giverny was announced, and he got off the train.
Why did he get off the train? He should have kept riding it to Rouen, he could have admired the cathedral.
Anne of Green Gables he shoved back into his bag, muttering cruel things to himself under his breath as he made his way to the famed artist’s house, rereading Anne’s letter. She had been there, with Aline, she knew, and told him to meet by the ice cream van that stood opposite the wall of Monet’s home, she’d be the woman in the green scarf patterned with canaries, since Argus didn’t have anything that was distinctive like that.
“Green scarf with canaries – that’s who you think will like you?” he muttered, sneering at Normandy’s lovely countryside as he walked. There had been a bus, but it was early, and he wanted the opportunity to turn around, so he walked, leveling abuse at himself. It wasn’t longer than the walk to Hogsmeade, after all. “Why would she ever want someone like you? Couldn’t even promise something she could pick you out with. You get shoved in the corner of the castle, you and your cat, when’s the last time anyone even called you doctor? Next to a curator at the Wallace Collection? She’s got colleagues and publications and what do you have? You thought shaving this morning would help? Bought a new shirt – oh that’s definitely going to make her like you.”
By the time he got there, by the time he saw trees with mistletoe woven into the fingers of their branches reaching over the stone wall around the property, his heart was small and hurt, he couldn’t sneer and snarl at himself, he had talked himself into terror instead.
The entrance had a line in front of it of people waiting to go in, and true to Anne’s word, there was a little ice cream van across the street from them, by a nearby restaurant, and a little bank of earth. He couldn’t go in, not without Anne, and the thought of sitting in the restaurant made him feel nauseous, so instead he settled on the little bank of earth, clutching his bag and trying not to think.
Every group of people wandering over, in loose groups from the train station or closer from tour bus outings, made his heart stop and his stomach twist. He couldn’t read to calm himself down, he wouldn’t see Anne, he had to spot her so he could run away. Every moment thought to himself that he’d better get up, catch the bus back to the train station or just walk, just leave. She’d hate him, she’d see him and realize how ugly and awful he was and leave, and she’d never write to him again. Better to leave now and have done with it. He didn’t belong here anyway, not that he really belonged at Hogwarts either. He was one of those pitiful squibs who tried so hard to be magic when it wouldn’t do a thing. Not like Anne, who was a success in her field – not just anyone became a curator at a place like the Wallace Collection.
“Excusez-moi?” asked a voice, and he looked up sharply to the woman with the softly greying blonde hair and warm lines about her face, smiling hesitantly at him, her green eyes full of apprehension. Green eyes accented by a green silk scarf decorated with cheery canaries. “Pardon, mais, etez-vous Argus Filch?”
“Yes!” he said, wincing at how he nearly shouted it as he stood, at least one person in line turning and frowning at him. “Yes, you – you must be Anne Umber.”
“Yes! Oh, dear Argus,” she said, taking his hands and holding them tight. Her hands were warm and they held his such that he couldn’t help but hold them back. He used solvents and mineral spirits, his hands were rough from mixing glues – hers were soft from books. “I want to embrace you a thousand times over, but I know we’ve really only just met now. It’s just about time for an early lunch - have you eaten?”
“Ah, no.” He couldn’t tell her about how nauseous he had felt. Looking at her, he couldn’t break the illusion she must have built up of him. If she could look at him and not leave in disgust or just pretend she never saw him, he couldn’t jeopardize that.
“Well, Les Nympheas is open, let me buy you something. I feel I owe it to you after all those magnificent letters.”
Argus smiled weakly, and offered his arm to her. It felt right. She smiled wonderfully at him for doing so, and together they walked to the little restaurant that probably cost far too much. When they had ordered and drinks had been brought, Argus still had his hands wrapped tight about themselves, nervous that at any second, she’d leave. At least he had money in his wallet if she walked out.
“And how is dear Mrs. Norris?” Anne asked, sipping at her drink.
“She’s back at the school. Talked the groundskeeper into looking after her.” He couldn’t believe himself, talking in short gruff sentences like Anne was one of the brats at Hogwarts. Anne. “I’m sorry, I…”
“You’re nervous, I am too. But Argus, we already know each other so well. You unveiled yourself in your letters, I knew your soul before I saw your face.” She took his hand at that, and he closed his eyes and squeezed back a moment, feeling more settled at her admission of nerves and assurance that she was not put off by him because of their letters.
“Mrs. Norris is doing well. Still the only thing I trust in that whole school to catch mice. You wouldn’t believe how often the kids smuggle food into their dormitories, just about every summer I have to go open all their doors and just let her hunt.”
“I’m sure she loves that.”
“She does. So sometimes she tries to do it during the school year. Students think she’s seeking out them breaking the rules and reporting it to me.” Anne giggled at the idea, face scrunching up pleasantly.
“Do they really?”
“I’ve seen them run away when they see her.” That made her laugh outright, and his shoulders relaxed and his twisted stomach relaxed. This was Anne, the woman he knew from letters, the woman with whom he argued about Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes and then joked about how Anne’s sister was decently adjusted to the muggle world but was just as bad as some of the more traditional students about some things. She called him Lennox when he was being surly, and he called her Craven when she was snippy in turn.
He didn’t need to be afraid.
“And how are things between Claire Latimer and the Chippy Boy?”
“Oh Argus, she came in and told me they tried to use tartar sauce as a vehicle for flirting.”
“Oh, God,” he said, laughing in horror.
“She wouldn’t even tell me what they said – which, thank God, frankly. We have to be somewhat professional. But when she doesn’t tell me, that almost makes it worse.”
They talked and laughed and ate, and when they finished, a crowd was just coming in for lunch, meaning the house might be quieter.
Argus almost forgot how he had been sick with fear, now that he could look Anne in the eyes. He couldn’t forget entirely, but it did feel inconsequential. There was no reason to it, not entering the grounds and house of Claude Monet with Anne. He had offered his arm again and she took it. His anxieties meant nothing, next to that.
Rows of iris flowers lined the walks offering up their rich shaded petals, the rose path just beginning to grow over the arches. The house was a warm, inviting pink, with green shutters thrown open onto the world and its flowers. Inside, it was packed full of Japanese prints, reproductions of pieces Monet owned and those he painted, marvelous rooms that Argus wanted to just exist in, a dining room of such cheery yellow that it made Argus think of those Hufflepuffs who made it their mission to smile and greet everyone they saw.
“This yellow reminds me of Jane Bell,” said Argus, as Anne steered them over to a pot that proclaimed J’ai du bon tabac.
“House colors. Hers is yellow.”
“Oh. Oh, I suppose. I always thought of Jane as being pink, more than yellow. My sisters were both Hufflepuffs, you know.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“It doesn’t matter, really. But Jane was so happy to be sorted into Hufflepuff just like them. I’m…I’m glad she came and visited me last summer. I’m glad she told me about you.”
“I almost didn’t believe you were real, at first,” admitted Argus as they stepped into the blue tiled kitchen with its shining copper pots. “It all seemed too perfect, in that first letter.”
“Oh, my dear friend.”
He shook his head, banishing the memory of when he thought Anne the invention of a prank, and said, “Too gloomy for a day like this.” He offered a smile, and after a moment, she returned it, her hand, where it lay on his arm, squeezing it slightly and accepted the change in conversation as Argus asked, “You mentioned you started watercolors, recently?”
“I’ve been painting flowers,” she agreed.
“Is that why you suggested Giverny?”
“Oh hush, you.”
It was easy, being with Anne. They crossed the street to the pond, like everyone else, and meandered about it, admiring the lilies, the trees, the reflections and the light, the Japanese bridge with the mighty and ancient wisteria plant twining about it. It was worlds different from medieval art, or rococo, and it did indeed keep them on equal footing.
Should it be this easy? He couldn’t help but feel comfortable, able to tease and smile with Anne, but the corner of him that hitched up his shoulders around the brats for fear of what hexes they’d send his way couldn’t help but worry.
But it was a worry no more significant than a fly buzzing in the corner of a room. He could ignore it entirely as he laughed with Anne in a garden blowing with color.
“Argus,” said Anne eventually, “do you have a ticket booked for heading back to Paris?”
“No, I didn’t choose a time.”
“Well, I bought two tickets returning on my train. Would…was that too presumptive?”
Argus smiled, and put his hand over Anne’s still on his arm, saying, “It absolutely was not. You bought lunch, might I buy dinner?”
On the bus back to the train station, waiting for the train to come in, on the train, their conversation wove down familiar paths that didn’t need to pause for the writing of letters. They revisited old debates from letters they had to set aside for one reason or another, talked about Leonardo and Raphael and Sofonisba and Artemisia, listened to one other talk, Anne about Reynolds and Fragonard, Argus about the Limbourg Brothers and the anonymous masters of medieval monasteries. They talked about why not and the joy of the medieval and the revelry of the rococo, and the solemnity of the medieval next to the quiet sadness that the rococo depicted as it ignored its presence.
They were still talking when they returned to Paris, and still talking as they walked, Anne’s hand still looped into Argus’ arm, to find a good place for dinner. They had both taken hotels close to the Gare St. Lazare to take the train out to Giverny, and found themselves at a lovely restaurant looking onto the Eglise de la Sainte Trinité and the little park in front of it, still talking about Vasari and Pacheco and their respective Lives of the Artists.
“I just think that Vasari’s position as the first real art historian is given a little too much weight,” Argus was saying, even as he cut into his duck. “Yes, he created the field with his book, and I respect and thank him for it. But taking it without question creates the problem of who is included and who is excluded. Do we take him at face value? Can we take him at face value? The artists he included are masters of the craft, certainly, but he specifically left out master terra cotta workers – he’s created in our field a hierarchy of materials from his own biases.” He glanced up at Anne then, and found her just smiling at him, not even eating her own meal. She looked…fond, if he could dare hazard a guess. “What?”
“Nothing, Argus, nothing, just…you are everything I thought you to be. And I’m glad.”
He ducked his head at that, feeling himself blush as he said, “Then I’ve done a good job fooling you.”
“Don’t, Argus. Don’t become my Mary Lennox just now. You haven’t fooled me. You are deeply intelligent, and you keep it all in your head. You are sensitive to the time periods, to the work, and no wonder, you’re working with the products of those times daily. I meant what I said, in Giverny. I knew your soul before I ever saw your face. You can’t fool me, not after you were so brave as to talk about the darkest corners of it.”
“I thought you perfect,” he admitted. “Until you called yourself Colin Craven, until you started letting it show. That’s why I wrote you that letter. I…I thought you perfect, and wanted to let you have the chance to break our friendship.”
“Never,” swore Anne, reaching and holding his hand tightly in hers. He held hers back just as tight. His rough from work in conservation and the general caretaking he had to do, hers soft from books and cotton gloves.
When dinner was done, he insisted on walking her back to her hotel, enjoying the early summer air, and still talking. He worried they’d run out of things to talk about, but the moment he did, Anne would bring up Plague Saints and away they went. They had to cut themselves off, they got to Anne’s hotel too soon. He stepped into the lobby with her as she got her key, and then accepted the bisou she granted him, smiling in that newly discovered and newly loved way she did.
“You’ll have to come pick me up tomorrow,” she teased. “I don’t know where you’re staying.”
“Well, what time suits you?” he asked.
“Come at eight. Give ourselves an easy morning, and we’ll to the Louvre, unless you object?”
“With you? Never.”
“Goodnight, Doctor Filch.”
“Goodnight, Doctor Umber.”
His step was light as he retraced his way towards Gare St. Lazare and to his own hotel, his bag with Anne of Green Gables the only thing tethering him down.
Anne was every bit herself from her letters, and she liked him. They could talk about anything, he would listen about anything she wanted to tell him, and she did the same for him. He had worried it would be stilted and awkward, and it had been, at first. But now it felt like they had been friends for ages – because they had been. She was right, he knew her soul before he knew her face.
He slept well that night.
Anne wore that same silk scarf the next day as they wandered the great museum, pausing when a painting caught their eye, or a statue their attention, or decorative arts inspired a story. Argus’ were almost all about conservation and the repairs he had to do on top of cleaning, Anne’s were more comments on what her colleagues were publishing.
“How does it work, retouching, when the paintings are the way they are?” asked Anne when they paused for lunch, the little cafeteria in the lobby more than enough to eat little more than a sandwich before going to see the Holbein and the van der Weyden.
“Percival Hoult, in London, he’s written extensively about it, he sends out packets about it to all his clients,” said Argus. “Those are, of course, a little simplified, but his writing is one of the most comprehensive in my field.”
And he went on to explain, gesturing with his water bottle, that during a restoration process, the painting would grow deeply still. It could still talk, but even then the lips didn’t move – it had been disturbing the first few times he saw it, but he was used to it now. Retouching, done atop isolation layers, operated like a mend on a piece of clothing – it was visible, but not noticeable unless you were looking, and it separated from the painting if ever it was cleaned off, but it wasn’t like little dots of pigment were left scattered over the canvas even when the sitter was gone.
“The enchantment is entrenched into the object,” Argus explained. “They’re all painted with mundane materials, at least until you get to the more experimental modern art, so the material work of conservation and restoration, that works just the same as mundane work – no one really caught on until I was respected in the field that I couldn’t do the magically created work. Mostly because that’s all new. No, the enchantment is in the gesso, or on the ground layers, not in the image itself. I rarely, if ever, have to work on that, if the bra-students do damage enough to the grounding layers, I give that to a colleague.”
“Were you about to call them brats?” asked Anne.
Well, so much for that. He had ruined it – it only took him 24 hours.
“You would too, if you saw what they do,” he defended. “Smearing grubby hands on statues and paintings, set off smoke bombs near priceless works – they tore a fifteenth century tapestry this year. I can yell myself hoarse at them, and none of them listen. It’s a miracle that school’s still standing.”
“Did they really? Oh, Argus, I wouldn’t know how to start repairing a tapestry like that. Jane wrote to me about the debacle of the book of hours, she seemed surprised you didn’t yell at her.”
“Well, she felt bad about it, she had only been doing it to learn.”
“I’d still give her a strong talking to! Is it so rare, that she should feel bad and apologize?”
“Yes,” said Argus. In all his time, the brats were only sorry they got into trouble for it, they didn’t care about the actual damage.
“Oh Argus…” But she didn’t go into it, just sighed in the way that said she understood and let them move on. It was somehow better than anything she could have said.
Soon enough, commenting on Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves, Argus remembered.
He had nearly written to Anne about this – the letter he threw away – the only time he had deliberately discarded a piece of parchment like that. He had dreamed idly of going to the museums of Paris with her, wandering the boulevards and debating Haussman’s boulevards. And here he was, doing it, and since that first nervous offer, it was almost always with her hand tucked into his elbow.
And what was he supposed to do with that but smile as Anne brought them meandering to Matsys’ Money Changer and his Wife? What was he supposed to do but nod as she talked about convex mirrors and tapped at his arm to make her points?
And lingering in the back of his mind, cringing at it, was the thought that every painting was going to be insufferable because they had been right. At the least, Jellyband and his tavern could never know about how Anne took his arm, he’d never know peace. Amelia could know, though. Maybe.
“Argus, there’s a place I would love to take you for dinner,” Anne was saying. “Aline brought me there, they do a Sole Meunière that’s just to die for. It’s a little bit out of our way from where we are now, but I don’t want you to miss it. Do you trust me?”
“Anne, there’s no one I trust more,” said Argus. And it was true.