By request in the December talking meme: director’s commentary on Persephone’s Waltz!
AKA my 70K-word Madoka Magica longfic, in which Homura is…much closer to the edge than in canon. Close enough that “kidnap Madoka and lock her in a basement for the next month” starts to sound like a good idea.
Spoilers through the end of the fic (and through the PMMM series) follow!
There’s a whole subgenre of “one character keeps another locked in a room indefinitely” psychological horror stories. Emma Donoghue’s Room is a recent-ish standout. We read John Fowles’ The Collector in one of my high school English classes.
So for a long time I had the vague desire to write some darkfic in that vein. Even came up with about a thousand words of it for Jon/”Stephen” — but the full-length fic never clicked. (Pretty sure I never decided what kind of end it would be moving toward.)
Then I fell hard for Madoka Magica, and eventually figured out that the premise would work perfectly for a MadoHomu story.
Because of the way canon works, there’s even a built-in endgame. Homura doesn’t want to keep Madoka captive forever, just long enough to make it past Walpurgisnacht without contracting.
(All this was waaaay before the release of Rebellion Story. Nobody had any idea that canon was going to pull a magically-fueled, open-ended, still-a-cliffhanger-five-years-later version of the premise.)
Research & resources
The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.
She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
—Louise Glück, “The Myth of Innocence“
If you’re writing a non-silly fic, and you want a cool evocative title, the thing to do is go read a bunch of poetry. Search for relevant keywords and themes, see what turns up.
(That’s how I got “You Cannot Shut The Windows Of The Sky” [His Dark Materials], “Night Kept Chain’d Below” [Colbert Report], “Into The Empty Sky” [also Colbert], and “All Her Original Brightness” [Colbert, daemon AU].)
For this one I got on a real Louise Glück kick. Go read “October” for the perfect evocation of how haunted and disoriented Homura must’ve felt after one too many rewinds.
Didn’t use a direct quote for the title, but between “Persephone the Wanderer” (source of the fic’s opening quote) and “The Myth of Innocence” (above), I figured I wanted something Persephone-related.
It was just plain “Persephone” for a while, which wouldn’t be very memorable or searchable, but I didn’t have any better ideas…until “various disconnected references to dancing” started turning into a recurring motif. Added it to the title, then played it up a little more in the narrative from then on, culminating in the big reconciliatory waltz scene at the end.
On a more down-to-earth level, the Puella Magi Wiki was a godsend. A few links I kept on hand the whole time:
100 Questions for Madoka, providing lots of useful mundane everyday-life trivia (e.g. she’s not picky about food, but she likes hot chocolate, sakura-mochi, shaved ice, sweet potatoes, and apple pie). Also, her thoughts about getting married one day: “Would be nice if I can find a cool husband that resembles my Mama.” Hmmmm.
Which characters call each other by what name/suffix, more useful details.
The sequence of events in one month’s timeline. Supplemented by this handy lil’ text-only chart in my notes file:
If I’m writing a chapter and end up with a chunk of text that doesn’t really fit, but that I do like in general, it gets relocated to the notes file. Maybe it’s a whole scene, maybe it’s just a good line or two that could turn out to be useful later.
(On shows directed by Mike Schur, it turns out the writers’ room has the same file, and they call it “the candy bag.”)
Some things never get worked back in, but I don’t actually delete the file after the fic is posted…which is why I’ve kept all this around, without ever touching it, since February 2013.
Tipping over the whole candy bag, here and now!
Stray bit of musing from a Sayaka-POV section:
She could outdo Madoka for conversation speed or energy any day, but she was so much less competent at putting her beliefs into the right words.
On the run with Mami’s notebooks, Madoka shares some exposition with Sayaka. Probably cut because there’s nothing here that the readers wouldn’t already know.
For one, Mami almost never worked with other puella magi. There would be brief mentions, references to the effectiveness of unfamiliar weapons or powers, but except for Sakura Kyoko, none of the names appeared more than once or twice.
For another, she couldn’t find any information attributed to “Kyuubei” that was (technically, as far as she understood it) untrue. Just incomplete.
“If there are only a few magical girls in any area, how can there be so many witches?” she asked, snuggled up next to Sayaka in bed with both of them sitting against the headboard. “There would have to be a lot of puella magi making contracts and then running out of magic fast. But if that was happening all over the place, some of the veterans would have noticed, right? Wouldn’t more people know what was going on?”
“They probably aren’t all the original witches,” said Sayaka, without looking up from her reading detailing Mami’s muskets’ capacity and versatility (and the fancy attack names she’d come up with for all the different variations). “I bet that’s why.”
“Not all the original…? What does that mean?”
Sayaka blinked at her. “Akemi never mentioned that one? Witches keep familiars around in their barriers. But the familiars can sneak away, and if they run around on their own long enough and feed on people’s despair for a while, they can grow up to be a copy of the original witch.”
“Oh,” said Madoka sheepishly. “She didn’t…or rather…there was nothing like that in Kaguya Super Contract Z.”
When they get back in contact with their parents, here’s a whole tangent I didn’t go down.
“Hey, what day is it?”
“Tuesday,” replied Madoka, without even having to think about it. Weeks of meticulous calendar-tracking without being able to use any natural rhythms for guidance had apparently left their mark on her too.
“Hitomi goes straight from school to piano lessons to tea ceremony on Tuesdays,” said Sayaka. “But after school on Wednesday she doesn’t have to do anything…except catch up on her Tuesday studying, of course. And, um, Kyousuke has physical therapy Wednesday early afternoons. On a good day he’s back in his room by four.”
“Do you think we should try to call them too?”
Sayaka jostled her with a quiet shrug. “Dunno. Not if it’s risky for them. But if anyone besides our parents deserves to hear from us, it’s those two.”
“I don’t know Hitomi’s number,” admitted Madoka. It was in her phone’s contacts, for all the good that did. She didn’t need to point out that she didn’t know Kyousuke’s; she had known him as a friend of Sayaka’s but never been personally close.
“She emailed it to me when I got my new phone last summer,” said Sayaka. “I could look it up.”
She produced Mami’s phone, in its normal form, and unlocked the screen. Up popped the contacts list, with a dozen impersonal entries (doctor, dentist, bakery, landlord…), and Hitomi’s name now sitting neatly in the middle.
Little tangent from when they’re on the run and hiding under storefronts. It wasn’t going anywhere, but it sure is very Madoka.
“This is the store where Mama got my colored pencils,” remarked Madoka. “Not this exact one, but this chain.”
“Mmm,” said Sayaka.
“They’re amazing quality. The kind that should be used in a real sketchbook…by a real artist.” Madoka sighed. “Even if all I have is a school notebook, and I’m not very good yet, they make me want to try my hardest, you know?”
Snipped from a Homura-POV section:
just let me protect you this time please let it work
Post-series alternate ending
Und kann ich dir was zu Gefallen thun;
So darfst du mir’s nur auf Walpurgis sagen.
Thy wish be on Walpurgis Night expressed;
What boon I have, shall then be given unto thee.
—Goethe’s Faust (tr. Bayard Taylor)
Some readers asked how the story would’ve gone if Homura’s plan had actually worked…and I put down enough notes to write a little AU-spinoff bonus fic, but then never got around to writing it.
So here’s that!
I don’t believe Sayaka would have given up, or been deterred from wishing to find Madoka…unless she died before she was able to. Alternately, Homura could’ve killed her right afterward.
In that case, I think Madoka would have started clinging to Homura, but more out of desperation than healthy trust (even if she came to believe Homura’s explanation of magic 100%). In her time alone she would get increasingly frayed around the edges — more incidents like the one where she snapped and started throwing things — so she’d grow even more dependent on her “social time” with Homura.
Eventually there would be cuddling, with Madoka curled up in Homura’s lap and quietly freaking out while Homura hugs her and feels distant and guilty. (“But it’s for your own good.”)
Assuming she survived past Walpurgisnacht, Madoka would come out severely agoraphobic, unable to deal with large groups of people, and with bonus trauma from learning about Sayaka’s death. Homura meanwhile would be bluescreening on the whole “and now it’s over, how do I cope with dates after May 1, fatal error, cannot cope” dilemma.
They would pass themselves off as both victims of the same kidnapper, get treatment together, but be severely co-dependent and unable to adjust for a long time. Maybe never, in Homura’s case, since she can’t lean on Madoka for support, and in fact has to handle the knowledge that she broke Madoka pretty severely in order to save her. I think she would fall to despair before recovering, which would hold back Madoka’s progress even more.
In the case where everything happens like it does in the fic up until the very end, and then the glass doesn’t fall…
They’d pull the same deception. Madoka would be reacclimated to normal life more easily, slow but steady. Homura in this scenario has even less mental togetherness, but her mood would be a lot easier to keep stable, since she would have the influence of a safe, alive, mostly-unbroken Madoka to remind her that it wasn’t all for nothing.
Madoka would eventually go back to school, while Homura would live with her family: not coherent or present enough to return to normal life, but not violent or dangerous, and mostly able to care for herself, so they wouldn’t have to commit her. I don’t know if anything sexual would develop between them — their therapists definitely wouldn’t like it — but I bet when Madoka grew up and moved into her own place, Homura would go with her.
And one last thing: a note for a bonus comic I somehow never drew.
Post-end omake: the version where Homura keeps dumping new people in the basement, and finally defeats Walpurgis by stuffing her in there as well XD