Chapter 1: Prologue
Ashley Magnus had always known that her family was different. She lived in house full of ghouls and her mom was really old. Like, super old. Way older than even Andrea’s mom, who was 54. Ashley didn’t have a dad, either, but she did have the Big Guy, who looked after her when her mom was out of town. She had a brother, Henry, who wasn’t really her brother and who was also a werewolf, but they didn’t really talk about that. Last year, her mom had sent him to boarding school in England. At the time, Ashley had thought it was weird. What was wrong with the high school in Old City? She knew her mom had gone to boarding school too, but she never really talked about it. There were a lot of things they didn’t talk about. Now Ashley knew why.
Ashley Magnus had always known that her family was different, but it had never occurred to her that she might be different too. The day before she got her letter, her mom had sat her down and explained everything: Ashley Magnus was a witch.
“Seriously, Mom,” Ashley had rolled her eyes, “you’re not funny, you know.”
Helen had sighed. She’d looked upset, and a bit unsure, but she’d taken a stick out of the inside pocket of her jacket – a wand – and turned her paperweight into a canary.
“What the fuck?!”
Her mom had softened, then, and told her everything. She spoke about some evil wizard dude called Voldemort, about the war, about the ‘boy who lived’. “You’ll meet Harry,” she said, and then, quietly, almost to herself, “he’s got Lily’s eyes.” Once ‘the war’ was over – a war that apparently everyone who wasn’t a witch or wizard or whatever had failed to notice – her mom had moved permanently to the Old City Sanctuary.
“Why?” Ashley asked, sensing that this was somehow very important.
“Things were different then,” her mom said. “The wizarding world was in disarray and we – ” she paused, as if reconsidering her words, “…it wasn’t safe.”
“But it is now?”
Her mom sighed. “Magic is always dangerous, Ashley. But that’s something I didn’t want you to learn before you were old enough. I didn’t want you to grow up... in the shadow of a war. Your father -” she closed her eyes, briefly, before continuing, “your father died in that war and he was…” She took a shaky breath and Ashley thought she looked like she might cry, “he was…on the wrong side.”
Ashley stared. Logically, she knew it shouldn’t matter. Her dad had been on the losing side in a war which, until half an hour ago, she hadn’t even known about. But still, she felt her chest tighten, and her pulse raced.
“He was on the same side as … Voldemort?”
Her mom nodded.
“He killed people?”
She nodded, again, blinking away tears.
“People you knew?” she asked, tentatively, but the sinking feeling in her stomach told her that she already knew the answer.
A tear slipped down her mom’s cheek, and she swiped it away with her shirt sleeve. “A great many.”
Oh my god. Ashley rounded the desk and flung herself into Helen’s arms.
“Why?” she whispered into her mom’s neck.
Helen kissed the top of her head, and rocked her like she had when she was five years’ old.
“That’s a question I keep on asking myself.”
“Magic isn’t some sort of party trick, Ashley.” Her mom looked up from the book she’d been reading, “Besides, I’ve already told you that underage witches and wizards aren’t allowed to do magic outside of school.”
Ashley huffed. What was the point in being a witch if you couldn’t do cool stuff like turn the radio on without getting up. Or change the channel on the TV.
“But everyone else will already know magic.”
She knew that she was whining, but it wasn’t fair.
“There will be plenty of students with non-magical parents,” her mom answered calmly.
But you're a witch! Ashley yelled in her head. Now that she’d had a couple of days to get used to the idea, she couldn’t believe her mom hadn’t told her before now.
“Couldn’t you at least show me some more spells,” she pleaded, “I promise I won’t try to do any on my own. Please, mom.”
Her mom sighed, closing the book that was in front of her and pushing it to one side. When she motioned for Ashley to take the chair next to her, Ashley grinned.
“Alright, let’s start with a basic summoning spell.”
Her mom took out her thin brown wand before lifting it into the air, and giving it a little flick, “Accio A History of Magic!”
Ashley watched, awestruck, as the heavy book slid out of its place on the shelf on the other side of library and soared across the room, landing softly on the table in front of them.
“That is so cool!”
Helen couldn’t help but smile at her daughter’s enthusiasm. It was one of her favourite spells too. Simple in its elegance, not to mention incredibly useful when one was doing research (though, as she and James had found out one evening long ago in Oxford, ill-advised when using potentially explosive substances).
She felt a pang of guilt for not sharing this with Ashley sooner. But she’d wanted her to have a normal childhood - or as normal as possible, at any rate. If she was being completely honest, it was the questions she’d dreaded, the inevitable questions that were sure to come now that Ashley knew who her father was.
When she didn’t use magic, Helen could almost forget the horrors she’d seen, could almost forget that she’d been engaged to the infamous traitor John Druitt who was responsible for so many deaths in the Order, that she’d unwittingly shared his bed, even as he passed information to the Dark Lord himself; almost, but not quite. Most of the time, she felt like she didn’t deserve to.
“Can you summon other things?” Ashley persisted, unaware of the dull ache in Helen’s chest, “Like, from other rooms?”
Her daughter’s excited curiosity made Helen yearn for days gone by. She missed those early years of discovery. Of course, Helen herself had always been surrounded by magic - and back then, there had been very few restrictions on the use of magic by minors.
“It tends to be more difficult to summon things that are farther away,” she explained, “but yes, it’s possible, with practice. What about a cardigan from your wardrobe?”
Ashley gave her a look that said, boring. “How about some ice cream from the kitchen?”
Despite herself, Helen laughed. She would never regret her daughter. “Nice try, my darling, but it’s almost dinner time. I could summon a pack of cards so we can play a round or two of snap?”
Ashley looked unimpressed, “Snap’s for kids.”
“Oh?” Helen said, “You won’t want to try exploding snap, then.”
She was sure she had an old pack somewhere that James had sent her, for old time’s sake.
“Exploding snap? Cool!”
Helen felt lighter than she had in some time. She could make this work. Ashley was a good person. She had raised a good person.
“Accio Exploding Snap!”