Chapter 1 : Chapter I: Abandonment
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September 7th, 2075
House of Archambeau
The rain poured down, slashing at the windows with intent. Vicious winds howled through the trees, ripping foliage and creating carnage. In the distance a huge manor stood with only a few tiny squares of light to show for its inhabitants. A bolt of lightning fused with a telephone line and sent it crashing to the earth. The lights in the manor were extinguished.
“Julianna? Julie? Oh, please wake up!” Edith yelled desperately at the motionless body that she predicted was in front of her. Blindingly reaching out for candles, she edged her way round the girl's frame to grasp a sliver of worn wood. It came. She sighed with relief. Overhead, a roll of thunder sent a tremor through the house, reverberating through the many rooms.
“Typical for a bleedin' thunderstorm to 'appen at a time like this!” Edith muttered, exasperated. A bolt of lightning illuminated the bedroom for a split second. With time pressing, she conjured candles and focused on the young woman before her.
“Julianna, oh Julie ...” Edith sighed to herself, as the young woman suddenly convulsed in agonising pain. Julianna's eyes flew open and Edith could only watch in horror as her mouth opened to produce a scream of torture. Blood had started to flow freely from in between her legs, and sweat soaked her body. She gripped the sheets underneath her for dear life. Julianna gave the ageing woman a piercing stare, struggling to speak.
Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell unconscious once more, head lolling to the side.
Edith awoke from her fascinated stupor and set to work immediately, all the while cursing the heavens above. Julianna's condition was undeniable: her life was slowly ebbing away from the veins within. ‘Not if I can help it,’ Edith thought to herself desperately; she had known Julie since she was a little girl, and was not prepared to lose her. She swished and sliced her wand through the air, conjuring various forms of medical equipment to assist her with the birth, whilst frantically making sure that Julianna's condition did not deteriorate further.
Amidst the grim hubbub around the bed, a man climbed in through the unlocked window, his wand tip lit. The white light cast an eerie glow across his panic-stricken face, forming shadows that made him look lined and middle aged. However, as he stepped closer to the candlelight it was revealed that he was a young man no older than thirty.
“How is she?” He whispered agitatedly, eyes darting to and from Edith and Julianna who was currently drawing breaths in short sharp bursts. Edith turned round and threw her arms in the air at the sight of the man before her.
“Merlin's beard! Jeremy, you can't be 'ere!” Edith hissed at the tall figure standing before her. “If Julie's parents see you here, they will go bloomin’ mental. D’you want to ruin her even more?”
“Edith, you can’t stop me from being present at the birth of my own child.” Jeremy responded with a final edge to his voice. Edith sighed heavily and stepped away, and Jeremy ran to his beloved's side. The last of Julianna’s contraction was ebbing away and she opened her eyes.
“Jeremy...” Julianna said weakly, a small smile on her face as she saw the man she loved beside her. She reached out for his hand, and Jeremy took it, laying a kiss which expressed so much love and passion that Edith had to look away from embarrassment. She only turned back sharply when Julianna started to scream and retch once more. A single tear fell down Jeremy's cheek; all he could do was watch as Edith fussed and surveyed the beeping machinery.
“I didn’t realise a joyous occasion could bring so much pain and suffering.”
Edith clucked her tongue. “You'd be surprised at just what 'appens, young sir. I've seen plenty a woman scream louder than Julianna 'ere.” One look at Jeremy’s face, and her features softened. “Don’ worry. She’ll be alrigh’, she always is.” Edith paused to let her withered hand run down a sheet of facts and figures, all the while feeling more and more helpless. The point had been reached were all Edith could do was encourage Julianna to push as hard as she could and keep her breathing regular. Jeremy noted her disconcert.
“You’re sure, aren’t -”
The sound of voices in the hallway caused the duo to freeze, staring at one another like terrified statues. They both knew who was drawing ever closer: Lord and Lady Archambeau.
“Oh bloomin' 'eck! Jeremy, out with ye!” Edith managed to squawk before dashing off to fend off the Lord and Lady at the door. Jeremy cast a wistful gaze over to Julianna, who was looking at him in a forlorn manner. He tenderly kissed her forehead.
“Once all this is over, we’ll be a family together, Jules. Trust me. I love you.” And with a final stroke of her cheek, he climbed out of the window into the storm.
“'E's gone, thank the lord above. I managed to tell yer mother that you was too ill to see -” Edith said, but was cut off by a scream of pain. “Oh lord, it's time!”
Thirty more minutes of labour ensued, with Edith wondering fearfully whether the young woman would make it through the birth more than once. It was more than touch and go. Moans of pure pain were accompanied with tense moments and panic. However, when she heard the first cries of the tiny baby, she could not help but sigh with relief as she checked the gender and cleaned the beautiful baby girl up. After the necessary procedures had been carried out, Edith placed the child carefully in Julianna’s arms. She held her as if she were the most fragile thing in the world.
“She's perfect.” Julianna sighed happily, touching the baby's nose and smiling. She was exhausted, so exhausted, and just wanted to sleep. Her grip slackened slightly as she began to doze. Edith cleared her throat pointedly.
“I'm afraid I have to perform the spell now.”
“Oh, yes. Of course.” Julianna replied sorrowfully, waking up a little. She laid the tiny creature in the middle of the soiled silk sheets. Edith rolled up her sleeves and pointed her wand at the girl.
“Remember what happens, Julie? A green glow means that she's in the clear. It’s just routine,” Edith said, and Julianna nodded with confidence. “Now … ostendo futurus magus!”
The two watched with baited breath as an odd humming noise occurred, shortly followed by a blue light encasing the child's body for a split second before disappearing. A stunned silence sank over the expensive furnishings of the room, entombing the place with a fateful quiet.
“It can't be. No. Do it again!” Julianna ordered, staring at her daughter with overwhelming maternal protection. Edith looked horrified, mouthing “No,” again and again as if her words would change the poor girl’s fate. Through the extreme fatigue and aching, Julianna’s fear for her child grew stronger. She reached out and placed a finger lightly on the baby’s hand, whose fingers curled round those of her mother’s. Edith obliged and repeated the spell, but the same blue light was present. Julianna felt hot tears forming and streaming down her cheeks. “No! This can't happen! She's just a baby, Edith, SHE'S JUST A CHILD!”
“Oh God. I know lovey, I know.” Edith tried her best to consolidate a distraught Julianna, all the while her stony interior melting away when she witnessed the pure love Julianna showed towards her daughter. One thing was certain: she did not have the heart to turn in the baby to the Ministry.
The clogs in her brain started turning. An idea sparked.
“Julie ... Julie. Listen t’ me,” Edith said, grabbing her by the shoulders and forcing her attention. “This is a long shot at bes’, and I can’t begin to tell ye how much ye going to ‘ate me for suggestin’ it. But ... there migh’ be a way t’ save the littl’un’s life.” Julianna’s pupils were dilated with painkillers and tiredness, but she managed to focus on what Edith was saying. Another way? ...
“We ... we migh’ be able to ... well, d’you know of a couple who would be able te look after the littl’un, raise ‘er, and keep ‘er under the radar?” Edith flinched at the look of torment in Julianna’s eyes. She placed a hand on the young woman’s and squeezed it.
“You mean ... give her away? Away? I’ve only had her for ten minutes!” Julianna cried, looking absolutely miserable. Edith’s heart broke for her. To have something as precious as life and then to take it away was the worst possible thing to happen, especially to Julianna. She had suffered more than a lifetime's worth in the course of a year.
“I’m sorry pet, bu’ I think this is the only way.”
Julianna shook her head and refused to accept what was fast shaping up to be reality. Edith decided to leave the room for a moment and inform the Lord and Lady that Julianna was still suffering terribly. Her parents looked mildly concerned, but otherwise unaffected. She mentioned nothing of the baby being born and the reaction to the spell. Once she returned there was a look of sorrow and resignation on Julianna’s face. She had given in.
“There’s this one couple I’ve met a few times. Mid fifties at the time, they’d be a little older now. They were childless, and told me it was their greatest regret. They were so desperate for a child,” Julianna sighed, looking at the infant in her arms. Her grip tightened protectively over her. “I suppose they might have a place for her in their home.” A small part of her desperately wished they didn’t.
“Julie ... it's either ask this couple of yours to keep the chick, or 'and 'er over to the Ministry. I know which one I'd 'ave chosen if it were me.”
Julianna was torn, realising the full situation. Giving her first daughter away to a couple who may not want her at all meant that she would never see the beautiful bundle resting in her arms again. Taking her to the Ministry allowed her a visit every two years … but what they did there was unthinkable. She felt her concentration slipping and kept having to snap awake as her head nodded off. She was so drained she was feeling slightly delirious.
“I'll Apparate to their place.” Julianna said decidedly, gathering her thoughts and rising onto swaying feet. Edith steadied her, looking concerned.
“Are ye really sure tha’s a good idea, pet?”
“I don’t exactly have any other options,” Julianna replied with as much authority as she could muster. All she wanted to do was curl into a ball with her darling daughter and sleep, and she could be a mother, a wife to Jeremy, have a family ... but she had to do this for the sake of her girl’s life. “What are you going to tell my parents?”
“I'll declare the child as stillborn. They'll be overjoyed.” Edith said darkly. Her face softened. “Ye realise ye can’t come back, Julie.”
Sighing harshly, Julianna nodded. “I know. It’s not a hardship; I hate this place.” She looked around in disgust at the stuffy, upper class room. To her, it symbolised the oppression she had suffered from her entire life. She placed the baby on the bed again and hugged Edith fierecely, stumbling slightly into it from exertion. “Thank you.”
“Yer welcome. Good luck, my pet. We’ll see each other soon,” Edith whispered, a small tear at the corner of her eye as she turned away and left the room. Neither of them knew they would never see each other again.
Julianna took one last look at the room that had been her captivity for half a year. She picked up the life before her; the baby was asleep. With the greatest effort she had ever made in her life the lavish blue and gold décor faded away into nothingness and was replaced with a lamp-lit, suburban road.
Julianna nearly fainted from the sheer effort of Apparating. Her body felt weak and sore, and she fell to her knees. The baby woke up and began to cry. She attempted to rock her back to sleep but it made no difference. All that Julianna could do now that she was here was make sure that her baby was warm and secure before setting off along the passage, in search of the couple's house. The warm September night felt stuffy against her flushed face, but she pressed on. She wondered idly whether the couple would accept her ludicrous proposition as she staggered past several houses with identical green lawns and a driveway on the left side. The baby started to whimper softly, sensing her mother's agitation. All Julianna could do was whisper words of comfort and delve into the corners of her mind to remember where the house was. She had to stop several times to stop her head from spinning and to rest as the baby drifted into a light slumber. A turn of the corner and several rows later Julianna found the residence of Mr and Mrs Hart. She rang the doorbell several times, looking round fearfully as if the Ministry officials would find her any moment.
The door opened to show an aging woman with a kind smile, but she soon looked horrified when she took in Julianna's dishevelled appearance and the child in her arms. “Julianna ... oh my goodness.”
“Can I come in? I need to come in!” Julianna asked desperately feeling slightly hysterical. She dropped forward with exhaustion and Eleanor steadied her, supporting her weight and bringing Julianna into the house. She collapsed into a chair and looked round blearily.
The Hart's home was neat and tidy, an average suburban house. The photos on the wall all hung straight, and every surface was free of dust. They had obviously tried to blend in with the Muggle suburbs, but there were still a few signs of magic in the house. Eleanor called out to her husband, Gary, who came running to greet their visitor. His face fell when he saw the state of the young woman.
“Julie? What’s happened?”
She sighed and began her story. It took a full half an hour just to cover the basics, but Eleanor and Gary just listened, without any signs of prejudice or resentment reaching their faces. They did not believe in the ancient ways of blood and classes. The same could not be said for Julianna's family.
Julianna pressed on, keeping her voice as level as possible. She was slurring her speech slightly from lack of sleep. “This beautiful, beautiful joy arrived around an hour ago. I don't think I've ever felt so happy in my entire life.” She paused to look down and smile at her daughter, who was now asleep. Eleanor looked startled.
“You mean to say ... you Apparated so soon?! My goodness child, you need to be resting!”
“There isn’t time for that,” Julianna said sternly, returning to her story. The memory of what happened next was evidently portrayed by her body language, making Gary and Eleanor lean closer.
“Edith cast the test ... it was negative.”
Unable to hold herself together any longer, Julianna collapsed into tears, every sob smashing the couple's heart into pieces. Eleanor looked down at the baby; such a lovely child, so pure and innocent, should not be incarcerated and left to die at the hands of tyranny. There was silence from the couple for a few minutes.
“I take it you aren't wanting to hand her over to the Ministry.” announced Gary, who seemed to be in deep thought. Julianna raised her puffy eyes.
“Of course not. I simply will not allow it. The things they do there to those children are barbaric.”
“I understand, and sympathise.”
“But what can we do? We're just an average couple, no status or prestige -“ Eleanor began, gesturing wildly. It was an odd and dangerous situation, but she desperately wanted to help in any way she could.
“That’s exactly what she needs – an unsuspecting life. I know that what I’m asking is a huge undertaking, and will be dangerous for you and her ... but it’s better than her being taken to the Ministry. If you don’t want to do it, I’ll leave now.” Julianna whispered quietly, so the two could barely hear what she had to say.
“You want us to have her,” Eleanor stated, eyeing the girl thoughtfully. Julianna nodded.
“Well, this is a huge decision to make …” Eleanor said to herself, lost in her deliberation. At this point Gary piped in.
“Oh come on, Eleanor! We've always wanted a child of our own, and we have a spare room which I can easily fix up right now. We'd have to be careful when we do magic so that she doesn't see, but I don't have a problem with that. It’ll be hard, but I’m willing to do it!” Gary cried, taking his wife's hands in his own. His little speech seemed to do the trick. Eleanor turned to Julianna and nodded.
“We'll have her for you.”
Julianna’s relief was mingled with pain as she realised she may never see her daughter again. A small tear ran down her cheek. “I cannot thank you enough for this.”
“Well, we don't want that child ending up at the Ministry.” Eleanor stated, shuddering slightly. She didn’t want to find out any time soon what exactly went on in there – the rumours were bad enough. She gathered up Julianna's daughter in her arms and cooed. “Welcome to the world, little one!”
She was so tired, but Julianna stood back and smiled at the picture. Gary and Eleanor were both leaning over her daughter with a look of pure happiness and bliss completing the scene. They would make excellent parents.
“I can't see her again.” Julianna burst in suddenly. The couple looked immediately saddened. “You know what my family are like. And if the Ministry find out ... I’m going to have to go into hiding.” Gary sighed.
“We'll take good care of her, don't you worry.” Gary said, smiling warmly. He walked over and clasped Julianna’s hands. “By the way, does she have a name?”
“Yes. I wanted to name her Evangeline, Evie for short.” Julianna replied sadly. The knowledge that she would never see her daughter again was only just starting to sink in. She turned away from the sight of the new family, and started for the door.
“Good bye, Evie.”
With a final look back, she left and Disapparated.
Gary and Eleanor turned to one another. “What a night...” Eleanor could not help but look down feel sorry for the baby in her arms. “A Squib. Who would have thought it?”