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“What are you doing with your life, Em?”
I paused to consider the question, and more importantly, the person it came from. My older sister Cassia, her bright red hair escaping from the messy bun she’d shoved it in, leaning forward to feed mashed banana to her two-year-old daughter, who’d managed to get it in her hair.
I was beginning to get sick of being asked that by friends and family, who’d decided that at twenty-six, it was high time for me to ‘settle down,’ get married, and have children. Never mind the fact that I’d only just established my career, and I was in no hurry to throw it away.
“Auntie Emilia!” My eldest niece barrelled into the room. “Mum says I’m getting my wand soon, are you making it?”
“I hope so.”
“What do you think it’ll be?”
Sophia Potter had been asking me this since I first started studying wandlore. I had always managed to hold her off with the mantra “The wand chooses the wizard, Sophia,” but in truth I didn’t know enough about her to make a convincing guess. Sad, considering I’d watched her grow up for the last eleven years, but now I was beginning to form an idea.
“Unicorn hair core,” I told her. “Bet you five Galleons.”
“You’re on!” she said enthusiastically. “Mum, how much money’s in my Gringott’s vault?”
“Enough to cover a bet with your auntie,” Cassia responded. “But not enough for you to waste on useless things when we get to Diagon Alley.”
I also predicted she’d be in Ravenclaw – something my mother backed me up on, though Cassia and James would have none of it. Cassia’s latest explanation of why Sophia would definitely be Sorted into Gryffindor was because she, being the only child with black hair, could pull off red where her siblings couldn’t. I told her she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for reasons.
Cassia wiped the remains of banana off Amie’s face, setting her on the floor and busying herself in the kitchen. “Staying for dinner, Em?”
“Is Albus coming?”
“He should be, I told him to.”
“Has he proposed yet?” she asked casually.
“No, and I’d turn him down if he did.”
“What?” I frowned. “I’m not ready for marriage, you know that. Besides, I shared a last name with you for eighteen years, I’m in no hurry to do it again.”
Cassia shrugged. “Your fault for choosing Al.”
“I liked him before you and James got together.”
“Are Auntie Emilia and Uncle Albus getting married?” Cassia’s second daughter Isobel asked innocently, appearing in the doorway.
“No,” I said firmly. “No, we are not.”
“But you should,” Isobel told me. “I want to be a flower girl. Sophia said you made her wand already, and that it’s like the Elder Wand and she’ll be unbeatable and I’ll have to do everything she tells me because otherwise she’ll curse me into oblivion.” Isobel furrowed her brow in confusion. “Auntie Em, what’s oblivion?”
Isobel’s eyes widened. “I don’t want to be cursed into oblivion!”
“I haven’t made Sophia’s wand, and it’s not going to be like the Elder Wand. You can’t make the Elder Wand.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then,” Isobel said firmly, and disappeared into the lounge. “Sophia! Auntie Em says you’re a liar!”
James and Albus walked in at the same time, Albus brandishing a bottle of wine. “Who wants a glass?”
“Not me,” Cassia replied, setting a pile of potatoes to peeling themselves. “I’m pregnant.”
“I thought you might be,” James said happily, slipping an arm around her waist and kissing her on the cheek. “That’s great news.”
Cassia’s pregnancy announcements had gotten more and more low-key with each child, but this one took it to a new level of matter-of-fact. Mind you, it was hardly suprising – I was so used to Cassia being pregnant I often forgot it wasn’t her natural state.
“What’s that now? Number seven?” Al asked.
“Better get started soon,” James said with a wink. “Not that you’ll ever catch up, of course.”
I choked on my wine.
“We haven’t…uh…we’re not planning to start a family any time soon,” Albus managed, clearing his throat.
“You don’t know what you’re missing, little brother.”
“DADDY!” Their twin sons, Christian and Ethan, came charging into the kitchen. “Daddy, Ethan’s being mean…”
“Daddy, Christian kicked me…”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Albus told James dubiously.
“You know, James has a point.”
I glanced up from my book to see Albus leaning against the doorway of our bedroom, running a hand through his hair like he always did when he was nervous.
“About what?” I asked suspiciously.
“Haven’t you ever thought about it?”
“You’re going to have to define ‘it’ a bit more clearly, Albus.”
“You know. Marriage. Kids. All that.”
“I’ve thought about it,” I replied, “But in the context of the future.”
“What’s wrong with now? We’re both twenty-six this year, we have stable jobs—”
“I’ve just opened my business, Albus, that’s not stable.”
“If not now, then when?”
“You sound like a child asking if we’re there yet. I’m not saying it’s out of the question forever. But for the next few years, while I get my work sorted out—”
“How long are we talking, Emilia?”
“I don’t know, however long it takes! Albus, there is one thing I’ve dreamed of being since I was eight years old, and that thing is not a wife or a mother.”
“Emilia, you’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to marry.”
“I feel the same, Al, but now’s not the time.”
He sighed, extinguishing the lights in the room and climbing into bed without another word.
Hogwarts letters had gone out recently, meaning things were beginning to pick up at work. It was my first pre-Hogwarts season running my own practice, and word had gotten out enough that people were beginning to come to me instead of Ollivander’s. I had no intention of putting them out of business – in fact, it was my old boss, Donovan Ollivander, who suggested I set up my own shop to cater for an increasing magical population.
My first eleven-year-old customer was, unsurprisingly, Sophia Potter. I took out the wand I’d made especially for her – beech and unicorn hair, eleven inches, springy – with my heart in my mouth. I’d guessed wands for customers before, but to actually make one especially was something I’d never done before, and I was regarding it as the ultimate litmus test for my skill and intuition as a wandmaker. Sophia didn’t seem to notice, but Cassia’s glance from the wand to me told me she knew exactly how much that wand meant.
I watched, resisting the urge to bite my nails, as Sophia took the wand from me and carefully balanced it in her hands. “Give it a wave.”
She did, and I could see by the smile spreading across her face that I’d been right, even before the wand emitted a shower of silver sparks. It was for this moment that I’d become a wandmaker – seeing the wand and wizard united and knowing that it was my work that had brought it about. I’d sold several wands in the shop before, and matched countless others to their owners at Ollivander’s, but it was a thrill that never went away.
Sophia turned to me, the question written in her eyes.
“Beech and unicorn hair,” I told her. “Eleven inches, springy. I’ll let you off that five Galleons.”
“Beech and unicorn hair,” she repeated in wonder, before turning to Cassia and beaming with pride.
I’d forgotten how much of a milestone the first wand matching was, but Sophia brought it all back again. It marked the beginning of her journey as a mature witch, separate from her parents and defined by her own ability. And by the plethora of emotions crossing my sister’s face, I knew she was realising the same thing.
“My girl, all grown up,” she murmured. “We’d better buy your Hogwarts books and robes as well, Soph.”
As they were leaving, Cassia turned to me. “You know what, Em? Keep doing what you do.”
I was kept pretty busy for the next six weeks as parents continued to bring their eleven-year-olds in for wand matching, but about two weeks before the start of the Hogwarts term things started getting crazy. I had ten kids through between opening and my morning tea break and was on a massive high when my best friend, Rose Weasley, dropped by.
“They’re talking about you, Emilia,” she informed me, tossing a packet of chocolate biscuits on the crowded table in the back room and helping herself to tea.
“Who’s saying what about me?”
“Everyone at work,” she replied. Rose technically worked for the Ministry, as part of the Potioneer’s Research and Development Centre, which meant she got to mix with a whole lot of academics and researchers from all disciplines of magic. “Sarah-Louise Dempsey from Worthy Wandlore has called you ‘the most promising new wandmaker since Garrick Ollivander.’”
“Seriously? Is that why I’ve had half the magical population of Britain through here in the last couple of hours?”
“Probably. You’re moving up in the world.” Rose took a handful of biscuits, settling herself on the edge of the table and leaning forward. “I hear your sister’s pregnant again.”
“When is she not?”
“Well, yeah, that’s true. I thought Amie would have been her last, though. I know the Prophet wants her to go full-time.”
“How do you know everything that happens in the wizarding world?”
Rose shrugged. “I have connections. I drink a lot of tea with a lot of people who have nothing better to do. And occasionally, people who do have something better to do but can’t get rid of me. Like you.”
“You are my pet limpet, Rose Weasley.”
“I do a good job of it.”
“Speaking of people who have better things to do,” I began, “Why aren’t you at work?”
“It’s infusing day, there’s not a heck of a lot to do. Do you need any help here?”
I peer round the door into the shop, where a couple of kids are already milling around, waiting for me.
“That’d be great. Can you handle the payment side of things?”
“As long as you come out for lunch with me.”
Things didn’t slow down in the shop until September 1, when there were few enough customers that I was able to clean the shop and even continue my research on new types of wand cores. For the past several decades, most European wandmakers focused on the “Garrickean cores,” named after Garrick Ollivander, who discovered them. Though there was no denying that unicorn hair, phoenix feather and dragon heartstring were powerful cores, I nevertheless believed it was too restrictive to only have the three, even if the range of wood, size and flexibility ensured few, if any, witch or wizard ever got the same wand as another.
“She’s gone,” a familiar voice said morosely from the doorway to my office, and I turned to see Cassia leaning against the wall, voice breaking on the last word as she burst into tears.
I glanced at the clock on my wall. Quarter past eleven. Of course.
“She’ll be back for Christmas,” I reasoned.
“How did you know what I was talking about?” she asked in a thick voice.
“Because it’s quarter past eleven on September first. Who’s looking after the other kids?”
“Come sit and have tea,” I suggested, patting the seat beside me and putting the kettle on.
“Thank you. God, I’m such an emotional wreck. I should be proud. How many mothers cry when their kid goes off to Hogwarts? Most rejoice.”
“She’s your first though,” I reasoned. “Cry your eyes out. Milk and two sugars?”
“Please,” Cassia sniffled.
“She know anyone at Hogwarts this year? Sophia, I mean.”
“She knows Paddy.”
“Little Patrick Lupin? He’s Hogwarts age?”
“Wow.” I frowned. “He didn’t get his wand from me.”
“He got his grandfather’s old one,” Cassia explained. “Teddy kept it for him.”
“That’s okay then.”
“You’re going to take it as a personal insult if any of our friends or extended family doesn’t buy their kids’ wands from you, right?”
Cassia reached for the latest copy of Worthy Wandlore and flicked through it. “Is this the one that says nice things about you?”
Her eyes skimmed Sarah-Louise Dempsey’s column and she looked up, thoughtful. “Feel like being interviewed?”
“What, by you?”
“Me, or someone else at the Prophet. I was going to tell you, but everyone’s been talking about your wands lately.”
“Rose already told me.”
“Well, yeah, Rose would know.”
“She also said the Prophet wants you to go full-time.”
“They’ve been wanting me to do that for a while.”
“Cass, when are you going to stop reproducing?” I blurted.
She arched an eyebrow at me, and I was reminded exactly how much she’d inherited from our mother. Though her disposition didn’t suit it, she could definitely pull off Mum’s contemptuous glare well enough.
“When are you going to start?” she countered.
“Not for a long time. If at all.”
“Don’t you ever feel like there’s something…I dunno…missing in your life?” She flailed a bit.
“No. I love your kids enough I don’t need my own.”
“Aw, Em,” she said, beaming. “You’re a sweetie.”
“Well, it’s true.” I grinned at her. “And I maintain Sophia will be in Ravenclaw.”
She threw a paperclip at me. “I hope your firstborn is in Gryffindor.”
“Now you’re just being horrible. At least Ravenclaw’s a neutral house…”
“Fine. I hope your firstborn is in Hufflepuff.”
“Well then, I just won’t have kids.”
“Does Albus want kids?” Cassia asked suddenly.
I fidgeted uncomfortably. “He may have mentioned it.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean, what am I going to do? He can wait.”
“Is he willing to?”
“He’ll just have to be. And before you go telling me I’m being unfair to him,” I interrupted, holding up my hand, “Considering it’ll be my career that’s disrupted by kids, not his, he can either suck it up or leave.”
“Is everything okay with you two?”
“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know.” I shrugged. “It feels like we’re moving in opposite directions, you know?”
“Quit with the fancy metaphorical break-up bullshit and tell me how it is,” she ordered. “Do you love him or not?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“Then hold onto him, you silly girl,” she admonished. “You’re not going to find a better man than a Potter.”
“You’ve never argued with James about kids, I bet.”
“Who are you kidding?” she asked incredulously. “We have six. I assure you there has been much arguing over the last twelve years.”
“Not about the existence of them.”
“He didn’t want Amie.”
“Once the twins were born, he thought we had enough kids. I disagreed.”
“What did you do about it?”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m not sure how to take that question,” she said matter-of-factly. “You saw me practically every day when I was pregnant with her. You met her for the first time when she was a day old. If you’re questioning the fact that I got pregnant, quite frankly, Emilia, I’m worried.”
“I was more meaning the fact you got pregnant to solve the argument about having more kids or not.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” she conceded. “But after that he decided he wanted a big family as well. And Amie’s a sweetie, so all’s well that ends well. I think she’s my favourite.”
“She’s my favourite at the moment. She doesn’t get into half as much trouble as the others and she’s most excited about the new baby. Harriet was my favourite last week. I like to rotate.”
“Is this your last, then?”
“Second to last,” she said firmly. “I decided ages ago I’d stop when I was thirty-five. I can still have another in that time.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
“Speaking of my children,” she said, “I should probably go rescue Ginny from them. Go home and talk to Albus, okay?”