Chapter 1 : I.
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Edie sat frowning in her living room, staring at but not reading the open book that lay across her lap.
The book in question had been a gift from the author; it was a limited first edition copy of A Strange and Eventful History: the Movement for Magical Equality, and a well-thumbed, well-treasured favourite. It had been published a couple of years ago, when she was just thirteen; and upon receiving it, she had consumed, within several consecutive sleepless days and with the solemn fervour of a teenage intellectual, all eight hundred pages of the weighty tome. But she had good reason to do so: not only was the book an iconoclastic magnum opus that had caused a furore among the academics for its daring subject matter and and persuasive logic, but it was also written by Constance Ackerley, a big-name scholar of magical history who just so happened to be her aunt, no less.
But for once she did not find the book absorbing, and she had unknowingly raised her eyes to gaze outside the window instead. For today - on this grey September day - she was returning to school, to her penultimate year at Hogwarts, and there was a lot to think about.
Like that perplexing situation with Winter. They had parted on bad terms at the end of the year, and she hadn’t heard from him since. Her pride (or was it cowardice?) hadn’t let her write to him, and she was apprehensive about seeing him again.
Her thoughts wandered to a more agreeable path - back to Romy, her closest friend and fellow conspirator, who, according to the steady inflow of letters, had spent the summer with her family on an archaeological dig on an island somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Edie had not failed to notice that Romy, once again, had sensitively expunged as many mentions of family as possible in her letters, and for that Edie was grateful.
But soon enough her mind returned, inevitably, to the envelope.
Where had she hidden it, all those years ago? Somewhere in her room, no doubt, for in her more fervent, less rational moments she had searched every other nook and cranny in the house. If only she were seventeen, and the Trace broken: a simple Accio would have done the trick.
But even if she did find it, what was she going to do with it? She was so flighty these days that she hardly knew herself. One day, she would decide (no second thoughts! let all consequences be damned!) to take the envelope with her to Hogwarts, where the approval of her more reckless friends would remove all internal doubts; the next, she would viciously berate herself for being so stupid, destructive - suicidal, even - and would convince herself that it was better to leave the envelope behind and play things safe.
At any rate, it just proved how restless she had been feeling lately. It was clearly time for Hogwarts, and everything it represented - she missed the tower-topped castle, the summery green grounds that stretched out far until they reached the Forbidden Forest, whose trees swayed with an ominous laziness even on the most brilliant of sunlit days; and, most of all, she missed that overwhelming sense of promise, of unending adventure, of discovery and excitement. Only at Hogwarts did she ever feel that her life could amount to something more than what was average, commonplace - only at Hogwarts did she ever truly feel magical.
Speaking of Hogwarts -
Edie examined her wristwatch. Damn it; she was going to be late. Where for Fawkes' sake was Loren?
Noticing the neglected book on her lap, she thought about attempting to read again but decided against it. How could she focus on Magical Equality when she was fretting too much about her own life?
She flopped back onto the sofa.
She had spent the last two days obsessively clearing up the flat, which admittedly had been in quite a state. There had been piles of unwashed cutlery and laundry and dusty books (she was a typical fifteen-year-old in many respects) and she had worked herself up to a frenzy. And now she was exhausted.
Cleaning stuff was worse than Quidditch, it seemed.
Her thoughts dissolved into a yawn, and then another, with a pleasant wave of drowsiness overcoming her. She tried to fight it off, but couldn't see the point of resisting...
And then she was gone, slipping seamlessly into a dreamless sleep.
She jolted awake. The book slid from her lap and onto the floor with a thud, and Edie blinked groggily. For one disorientating moment she wondered if she had dreamed the sound, but there was another loud rat-tat-tat, and Edie jerked to her feet.
It was the front door.
As she opened it, there was a swirling gust of chilly September air, and then - looming over her in the gloomy morning light - was her sister. Dressed in a pearl grey coat of an impeccably stylish cut, Loren looked as elegantly haughty as ever, and she stared at Edie down her long, finely shaped nose - inspecting her, thought Edie sourly, as if she were some unwanted faulty product that ought to be discarded.
"You're late," Edie said shortly.
That was probably as closest as she was going to get to an apology. There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Well, I suppose we’d better go, then," Edie said, her mouth twisting as it did whenever she was either embarrassed or annoyed.
She reached for her leather jacket, which she unhooked from the wall and hurriedly shrugged on. Her luggage was already piled up by the front door, and she looked about one last time, checking nothing was amiss, and turned to leave.
“My book!” she suddenly remembered, and made a vague gesture to her sister, who was still standing outside. “I forgot. Won't be a minute."
She sped down the corridor to the living room, where she could see that the book had fallen onto its side on the floor. She bent to pick it up, stretching her hand out in front of her, when a thought, not entirely welcome, struck her -
Envelope. The envelope.
She snatched up the book and swore. For a split second she stood in grim indecision, feeling as though Fate itself was presenting her with a momentous crossroads of insanely critical importance - and then she thought, to hell with it.
She was going to take the envelope with her to Hogwarts.
She skidded back around the corner and barged upstairs into her cramped bedroom, where she was greeted by a giant poster of the Holyhead Harpies and a bright blue Ravenclaw banner that was so immense it covered one entire wall and still had enough left over to trail on the floor. She stood for a moment in the middle of the room, trying to recollect where it was that she had concealed the envelope all those years ago.
Duck-egg blue, with an odd insignia stamped in one corner; crumpled corners; dubious contents. Edie tried to force her memory back three years. She would have been clutching that envelope in her hands, standing in exactly the same spot that she was at now, except that at the time she'd have been wondering where to hide the blasted thing. Her eyes strayed to the floor.
She crouched down and checked the loose floorboard under the bed, but there was nothing there apart from a stray sock and a scruffy Remembrall, which she picked up and inspected. At her touch, the glass of the sphere clouded and swirled, shifting from a smoky silver colour to a deep blood-red. Edie stuffed it into her jacket pocket.
She stood up. Her foot tapped nervously of its own accord; her sister might be looking for her to see why she was taking so long.
So - the floorboard had clearly been too obvious. Three years ago, being the overly cautious thirteen-year-old that she used to be, she’d have tried to find a more appropriate hiding place; she would also have considered the poetic justice of things.
In which case - oh, yeah, she thought stupidly. Her idiot memory.
She went to her desk and opened the drawer. The wood inside, directly above the compartment, had split into a loose flap over the years, allowing for something small and fairly thin to be hidden in the crevice between the layers of wood...
And voilà, there it was. She carefully tugged the envelope free, and then held it to the light. Everything accounted for. With her heart in her mouth, and suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat, she pocketed it.
Edie ran back down to the front door, where she found her sister staring at a painting that hung crookedly next to the coat hooks on the wall.
“Take your time," Loren said, rather snidely. "Did you get everything you need?”
“Yep,” said Edie, raising her book in answer, and hastily crammed it into the carpet bag, avoiding her sister's gaze.
The deed had been done; it was final, now, irreversible. Exactly how momentous her actions were, how much they decided her fate - only time would tell.
The girl and her sister walked outside into the bleak September day.
A Strange and Eventful History: the Movement for Magical Equality has been adapted from the title of an actual book, A Strange Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain which is written by Edmund Dell and (quite obviously) belongs entirely to him.