The audition goes well, Zelda thinks, but not perfectly. Try as she might, softness still lingers at the edges of her accent; there’s softness, too, rounding her cheeks where she longs for sharp lines, and in the occasional twist of her stomach at the sight of her sister’s flushed and fearful face. For years now she’s strived to stamp that softness flat, and she’s close - her diction grows crisper with every murmured prayer, each barbed word she throws, and they fly more freely than ever before. Time, she knows, time and devotion will take care of the rest; in the meantime a good contour brush and the occasional numbing balm mask her most frustrating weaknesses.
She thinks. Hopes. If she is to play Lilith - the queen of queens, the most devout of devotees - she can show nothing but pure, unbridled strength.
Even if she doesn’t feel it, at least she fakes it better than most.
“Well done,” Faustus tells her when she leaves the stage. Faustus will be playing Lucifer Morningstar himself, and Zelda acknowledges him with the close-lipped smile she’s been practicing. Yes, she hopes this smile says. Of course - did you expect anything less?
“Yes, sister,” Edward says from behind her, and Zelda prides herself on not visibly startling. “You were very impressive. I look forward to seeing which role you bring to life.”
As always, the praise from her brother warms something deep within Zelda, and she bites the inside of her cheek to keep her grin from turning to something less controlled - a task made harder when Faustus scoffs and says, “But surely she will be cast as Lilith!”
Edward fixes first her and then Faustus with a long, inscrutable look. “You will bring honor and passion to any performance,” he says at last, and nods at them as he takes his leave. Zelda’s smile fades as she watches him go, unsure what to make of his words.
“Rubbish,” Faustus says. Zelda turns back to face him. “You shall be Lilith, if for no other reason than I should quite like to see you on your knees before me.”
He smirks, stepping closer, and Zelda arches a carefully-plucked eyebrow in response, forgetting Edward as the warmth in her belly begins to burn.
Unholy Lilith, she prays that night, I vow to thee that, given the chance, I shall show the coven your grace, your strength, your devotion - I shall give myself unto you and channel your spirit, bring glory to the Dark Lord as you yourself have since the beginning of time. Her hands tremble as she bows her head further, eyes closed in supplication. Lilith, Mother of Night, she pleads silently, should you find me deserving, I shall honor thee and thy most cursed tale with all that I am - oh Lilith, I beseech you, in your infinite disgrace, for the chance to prove myself worthy to you, to the coven, to the Church of Night, and to the Dark Lord himself!
When she is cast as Eve three days later, Zelda accepts the role with a straight back and a cold smile. She throws herself into rehearsal and when the time comes, she steals the show; Edward smiles proudly from the audience, Hilda clapping from her seat next to him. When it’s over she does, in fact, end up on her knees before Faustus, and she excels there as well.
Offstage her syllables grow sharper, her sympathies smaller, but her need, her desperation, to prove herself takes up too much space to give them any mind. She fashions herself the role of Zelda Spellman and plays the part perfectly.
Diana was lovely, Zelda can’t deny it; a pretty face and a steeliness so well-hidden beneath sweet words and soft touches that it took Zelda a very long time to see. She supposes there must have been more buried deeper still, because the prettiest face in the world wouldn’t have been enough to lure Edward so far from the Path of Night.
Certainly no force in the world could sway her devotion - she, who has put her faith and loyalty above all else, never complaining or questioning. When Edward first left and the small shriveled seed of resentment began to bloom, she smothered it; when he returned with his mortal bride and the Dark Lord’s blessing, the most sacred and shocking of gifts - and still, still he had wanted more - when that resentment threatened to burst to life she beat it back, twisted and contained it to an icy kernel lodged somewhere near her ribs. Easy to ignore, to forget.
It’s even easier now. Since the wretched wailing had summoned them to the entrance hall, where dread curdled in her gut - dread that became nightmarish reality when Faustus knocked on their door not ten minutes later - she herself has been ice. Stiff as stone and twice as cold.
Hilda can’t stop shaking. Sabrina weeps like the world is ending.
Zelda always thought the world would end in fire, but she’s been wrong before.
As Sabrina grows, Zelda comes to know Diana in ways she’d never expected. Certainly Sabrina is a Spellman - she has Edward’s talent and passion in spades, and something of his look for all that she grows to be the image of her mother - but she is playful and temperamental and hungry in ways that are at once familiar and foreign to Zelda. She burns bright, and Zelda can’t help but be warmed.
Sabrina’s babbles turn to words and then sentences; her shaky footsteps become sprints, and she leads Ambrose and Hilda on many a merry chase. She shouts and laughs and argues and teases and grows so very quickly - surely more quickly than a full witch, because every time Zelda blinks she seems to have aged a year.
The years themselves go by faster than ever before.
When Sabrina announces that she wants to go to the local elementary school, Zelda refuses immediately. The tantrums that follow are among the most violent they’ve seen yet, and if she weren’t so irritated she’d be impressed at the raw power Sabrina displays - power that must be harnessed and directed, she reminds both Sabrina and herself, not set loose on the mortal world. Out of the question.
But Sabrina is insistent, and forceful, and - despite all of Zelda’s practice - very hard to say no to. When she looks up at her with Diana’s eyes Zelda thinks she might finally understand what Edward was trying to do. Might finally understand why.
The night before Sabrina starts school, Hilda tucks her in while Zelda kneels in her own empty bedroom and prays.
“Most unmerciful Dark Lord,” she begins, then hesitates. She thinks about Sabrina down the hall, her new school outfit proudly displayed on her dresser, and her heart clenches.
It’s not the Dark Lord’s guidance she needs right now.
“Mother of Demons, first among witches and women,” Zelda whispers, “I beg you, watch over my niece Sabrina as she ventures into the unknown, as you once did. Give her the strength to recognize and reject those who would humble her - help her to seek her own power and use it for the glory of his unholiness, the Dark Lord.” She blinks rapidly, the pattern of her bed quilt a blur of color that lingers even as she closes her eyes. “Protect and guide her when I cannot. I try, your disgrace -” she flinches at the crack in her voice but continues - “I try, and yet I fear it is not enough.”
She is filled with fear, and for just a moment she allows herself to feel it. She opens herself to Lilith and offers every shameful doubt, resentment, and terror unto her, less prayer than plea.
There is no force in the world that can sway Zelda’s devotion; she reminds herself, again, that the Dark Lord had spared Edward the choice between faith and family.
She wonders if Edward had been this scared, and who he’d prayed to.
Adam raped Lilith in the Garden, long before Eve picked the apple.
Lilith. Oh, Lilith -
Lilith fled Adam, rejected the False God and left the Garden for a wasteland. Wandered lost and lonely, but free.
Lilith, lend me your strength - lend me the fire to break these chains -
She came upon Lucifer Morningstar in the wilderness, and in return for her devotion He elevated her above all other witches.
Do not forsake me now, in this hour of all hours - oh please, Lilith, Mother of us all -
He promised Lilith a throne and a crown, an eternity of ruling Hell at His side.
I sought my own power and glory, like you - tried to protect my family from men who would do us harm - I failed, I failed, and I need your strength now more than ever, Lilith -
Anything, I will do anything, I do not ask for myself but for my family - witchhunters, Ambrose in the dungeons, Sabrina slaughtered, resurrected, how - how? - Lilith, please, for the love of - for the love of - for my family, please, for my family - grant me freedom -
“Come, wife,” Faustus says, and Zelda follows where he leads.
With barely two dozen of them left Zelda is grateful for every living body under her roof, but did they all have to be teenagers? Not just the coven but the mortals, too, in and out of the mortuary like they own the place. The drama, the angst, the hormones - she hasn’t had a headache like this since the 1860s, and she’s spent the last sixteen years raising Sabrina.
Still, she can recognize the small mercies (and right now they’re all small). Children are more malleable, not fully formed; none of them are untouched by what has happened, but they will be more easily remade. Time will fill the cracks in foundations that were not quite yet solid, while Zelda searches desperately through the rubble of centuries for any truths left to cling to.
She clings to Hilda most of all - Hilda, who had always put her faith in firmer things, potions and plants, dough and dirt beneath her fingers. She’s the steadiest thing in the world right now but even she doesn’t quite understand, and for the first time in her life there is no higher power for Zelda to turn to. She leads the students in their nightly rituals in an effort to give them some semblance of normalcy, but the Dark Lord’s Prayer tastes like snake oil on her tongue.
We could pray to Lilith, Hilda suggests instead. Zelda doesn’t know how to tell her that there’s no point. Whether Lilith never hears her prayers or simply ignores them, the end result is the same.
Lilith rules over Hell, victorious, and Zelda is left behind: a refugee in her own home, a stranger in her own body, and alone in her own mind.
It’s worse at the Academy. Hilda has cleansed Faustus’ office six ways to Sunday, but Zelda is haunted more deeply than she’d care to admit. When Elspeth walks past humming an aimless tune, the world suddenly begins to spin - Zelda herself is spinning, her dress fanning out around her as she dances to the music…
“Satan save me,” she gasps reflexively, gripping the edge of the desk before doubling over and gagging on the words.
Hilda prepares a numbing salve and calming draught before the Council arrives. Once perhaps Zelda would have protested, loathe to admit such a need, but now she doesn’t hesitate; when her sister assumes the glamour she’s aware of the gooseflesh on her arms and the sick ache in her stomach, but there’s a glorious distance between herself and her emotions. She doesn’t so much as flinch at the image of her once-husband.
That evening she clings to the last vestiges of numbness as, decision firm in hand and petty, useless feelings tucked neatly aside, she leads her coven in a new prayer.
“Hail Lilith, full of disgrace; cursed are you amongst women, and cursed is the fruit of thy womb, Demons. You left the Garden where the weak ones dwelled...”
She stiffens mid-prayer at the sudden, seductive brush of something in her mind - a presence, an acknowledgement - gratitude - the words spill out of her, and for a moment it seems someone is listening -
- but it’s gone as quickly as it came, the flicker of a candle snuffed before the wick could catch. Smoke and mirrors and false promises, as ever, and she finishes with hollow words and a hollow heart: “Praise Madam Satan.”
“Praise Madam Satan,” the coven echoes, looking to her.
Her. Faithless, abandoned, unworthy - Zelda Spellman, High Priestess of nothing at all, praying to someone who has never once listened.
It’s not faith so much as it is desperation and a queer sort of logic. Hilda cannot be dead; therefore, this will work.
“It is said that whenever you call on the Triple Goddess, she comes to you,” Zelda begins. “Much as I ignored her - put my faith in lesser gods, signed my name in other books - she still came to me when I needed her most. When I wandered lost in the Nether Realm, it was she who led me back to the material world.”
The women surrounding her are a motley crew - witch and mortal, familiar and strange, trusted and dubious - but their energy is strong, and she feels it rising within her.
She has been lost for so long and now, the earth is solid beneath her.
“We call you, Hecate!” Zelda shouts. “We call on you now, Maiden, in your unbounded potential!”
She feels Sabrina in the circle, wishes she could take her hand - she’d woken from limbo and the first thing she had known was the warmth of Sabrina’s arms around her. I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter, she thinks, and feels her own power becoming wilder - I will not fail you again.
“We call on you, Mother, in all your divine power! We call on you, Crone, in your arcane wisdom!”
Hilda is dead in the dirt. Zelda remembers the sleep demon, and her own horror upon realizing what she had done - not this time, Batibat had said, and Zelda thinks the same thing now, not this time, it’s not your time -
“We are descendant to all Maidens, Mothers, and Crones,” she cries, “and so when we call on the three in one, we call on all witches, stretching back from the beginning of time to the end of days!”
Lilith, the very first witch, had stood in her house and asked for sanctuary. Zelda had turned her away, sick and distrustful - you worship me, Lilith said, aghast, and something painful had snapped inside Zelda - what good has that done us - lies and manipulations, betrayal and endless, awful silence - and yet Zelda includes her now in her prayer, a tiny spark of hope that this time she lets burst into wildfire -
“We call on ourselves, the powers that have been denied us!”
No one, Zelda knows now, has ever answered her prayers; she has come this far by herself, by her own strength and the strength of her family. She feels that strength alive in her like lightning. She feels the witches around her, the ground beneath her, the wind fierce and fearsome, and Hilda, so very close - reaching -
“Imbue us with them, Hecate, and we shall pray to you morning, noon, and night! And we shall live to honor thy three faces, thy three forms!”
This is the answer, Zelda knows, because it must be. She cries out to the three in one, closes her eyes tight and sees what has always been there -
Hilda, trotting after Zelda with wide eyes and open palms - a harrowing pushed too far, not to be spoken of for decades to come - a brutal fight, Edward slamming the door and Hilda rushing to take Zelda’s shaking hand only to be shrugged off - the moonlit clearing, Sabrina asleep in Edward’s arms, unaware of the deal her father is making - Hilda singing lullabies through tears that won’t stop - Zelda, guiding Sabrina through a simple spell, unable to hide the pride shining through her and finding that she doesn’t want to - the clearing again, and Sabrina is running, and it’s all falling apart, she was supposed to choose this for herself - standing in front of Leticia as Hilda says she’s moving out, the one loss she couldn’t possibly prepare for - all of them gathered in the house, Zelda seeing clearly for the first time and vowing to defend Sabrina at all costs -
- she sees all that they’ve shared, everything that has led up to this moment, this moment -
“Dark Mother, keeper of the key to the door between worlds, we summon thee - return our sister Hilda to the realm of the living and we will never forget you again!”
For an endless moment the silence echoes, awful and familiar.
And then -
Zelda is loathe to interrupt the fragile peace that has settled upon them. After it all her family is home, safe and together far from the clutches of Hell; even Sabrina seems inclined to let the dust settle, for once throwing her energy in the same direction as Zelda rather than against her.
The Order of Hecate is a slow-growing thing, undefined and unbound by the conventions Zelda had once adhered to so rigidly. Together they learn new magics and rituals, lean into powers that should be long-withered but instead burst into bloom at the first sliver of daylight.
Ambrose leaves with Sycorax for the riverlands, eager to immerse himself in new magic and even more eager, Zelda suspects, to flee his once-prison; Marie performs Tarot readings in the living room, guides Rosalind and Prudence through the motions of ritual dance, and gives Zelda new ways to chase away nightmares. Gryla enters the dollhouse, wipes clear the cobwebs of Faustus’ spell, and emerges with two more orphans - one the very girl she and Zelda had each claimed as their own. Now she is theirs, and Zelda once again holds her while she sleeps.
Hilda is happier than Zelda has ever seen her. It won’t be long before she leaves - this was never her dream, Zelda accepts that now. Hilda wants a cottage and a garden and someone with soft edges to match her own. More than that, she deserves it, the fact that it breaks Zelda’s heart notwithstanding; she thinks often of their time in limbo, her sister and their niece at her deathbed, and there’s a sweetness to the sadness.
Funny, but perhaps fitting, that she should understand this only now.
Life settles into a rhythm, and for the first time in her memory Zelda finds peace in it. There are threats looming, to be sure, and many questions outstanding, but for tonight there’s just one - the one that’s been waiting on her lips since Sabrina returned weeks ago.
“Sabrina,” she says - then pauses, unsure how to ask. She sips her whiskey instead, licking dry lips. Sabrina leans back in her chair, clearly fighting a yawn; Zelda had been the only one awake when she’d returned from Harvey’s, and now it’s nearly 1 AM.
“Sabrina,” she begins again, not wanting to lose her nerve. “When you went to - to keep your promise.”
Sabrina straightens, eyes suddenly wary. “Yes?”
Zelda swallows. “Lilith. Did you see her?”
Sabrina nods slowly, clearly unsure what answer Zelda is seeking. “Yes. She was there.”
Zelda nods - she’d said as much. Lucifer, Lilith, who needs them? But - “Did the Dark Lord - punish her?”
Sabrina’s face softens in understanding. “I don’t know, Aunt Zee,” she says quietly. “She was with him, and she seemed okay. They have a deal, I think.” She doesn’t quite meet Zelda’s eye as she says it, but for tonight Zelda finds that she doesn’t want to push.
She keeps replaying that moment in her mind - the moment she turned Lilith away. She doesn’t regret it, exactly; it’s hard to regret anything that has brought them to this moment. Their powers intact and enhanced, their enemies defeated, a new coven built on the ashes of the old. Her family safe, Sabrina kissing her cheek as she heads upstairs.
But - she wonders.
Perhaps Lilith had truly never heard her. In the little time they’d spent together she’d certainly never acted like she knew anything about Zelda - her focus had been entirely on Sabrina, and that in and of itself is enough to twist Zelda’s stomach. She had helped them in the end, yes, but the danger she had led Sabrina into, the pain she had caused…that would be reason enough to mistrust her.
A wild card, Zelda had called her, and if that wasn’t the understatement of the century. Powerful yet power-hungry, fearsome yet fearful, and the Spellmans had been subject to her whims too many times for Zelda to risk allowing this particular queen onto the game board.
But at the heart of it all is another question, the true question, which not even Sabrina could hope to answer - if you heard me, where were you?
Zelda is a spiteful creature. Spiteful and petty, easily forsaken.
Spiteful, petty, and wounded - but healing.
“If you can hear me now,” she says quietly into the silence of the kitchen, “I offer what strength I have to spare, and freely. I offer it to any and all that may be in need of it, and with it the knowledge that should they seek it, they shall find safe harbor here.”
Be safe, she thinks. Be strong.
She prays, and hopes that someone is listening.