It's Christmas, Zora's favorite holiday. Why? Because there is so much food, more food than she could ever hope to eat, piled high and neverending. On top of that, Christmas usually means she gets to visit her magical family members, a rare treat. Then, of course, there are presents, too.
But magic itself seems like the best gift of all. She doesn't live with magic in her day-to-day. She goes to a normal school with normal friends, and her dad has a normal job. But Zora's mom works at the Ministry of Magic. She's a judge, and Zora is proud that she helps put away bad witches and wizards. Her mother is beautiful, fair, and kind. And so, so special. Not even because she is everything to Zora, but because she's a witch.
She wasn't sure what that meant when her mum first told her, but Zora has come to understand that being a witch means that her mother can cast charms and enchantments, transfigure objects, and see otherwise invisible places. She can disappear and reappear at a moment’s notice. Using petals from their rose bushes, she can weave ornate and flowery crowns for Zora with just her wand. She repairs broken toys when Zora cries with loss. Her mother makes magic wonderful and, not living in the magical world, that makes it all the more special.
So, on days like today, Zora tries to soak in as much magic as she can. She stares at the moving photographs in her uncle's hallway for hours, watching the little people make faces, even walk in and out of frame. She watches a broom sweep by itself in the hall. She gazes into the too intelligent eyes of the owl perched on the mantle.
She’ll always be awestruck, she’s sure of it. She thinks it's nothing short of a miracle, and she has so many questions. She peppers her older cousin, Cal, with an endless barrage of them, morning, noon, and night.
Are unicorns real? Can you turn that lamp into a frog? Are there love potions? Does Uncle Jorah work at the ministry, too? Why does it make that crack sound when adults disappear? Are all spells charms? Are all charms spells?
When Cal tires of her nonstop interrogation, he finds ways to shut her up. He tells her about terrifying creatures or powerful magic. For instance, Cal told her about the Memory Charm over the summer, and she was oddly horrified.
“Obliviators wipe and modify your memories,” he’d said.
What if someone had used it on her? What if her memories weren't her memories at all? It makes her worry that one day she will wake up and forget all about magic. She thinks that might be the worst thing that could happen to her.
Until today, that is.
Because right now the mahogany dining room table they'd been eating at only moments before is split in two. Plates lie smashed. Food is strewn against the red wallpaper in yellows and oranges and greens. Her mother had pushed her, too hard, under the fallen tabletop, and Zora crouches there, her hands over her ears. She doesn't know what's happening. One second they were eating, and the next, everything is chaos.
She squeezes her eyes shut when the whole room shakes in a deafening chorus of explosions. She hears voices pitch in high, strained screams. She feels spells rip through the air like bolts of lightning, colliding like titans. The ground moves, unstable and unnatural, an earthquake unrelated to the tectonic plates she just learned about in school.
She's never seen magic do such horrible things. No one had told her that it could be used to destroy.
Her eyes shoot open when she feels an urgent hand wrap around her bicep, and then she's being carried from the room. It's Cal, and his hair is singed and frayed, a far cry from its earlier polished gleam. Blood is streaming from one of his ears, she can feel it warm and wet, as she buries her face into his collar.
She wants to ask what's happening, where is her mother?, but she hears Cal's father scream, and she loses her courage.
"The lab, Cal!" Uncle Jorah says, and Cal lurches forward, trying to move fast.
Zora is too confused, too shell shocked to understand. She clutches Cal's neck, which is tense, the muscles coiled. Cal looks different than he did when Zora was younger. He's large now, with broad shoulders and defined muscles. Zora is still small. Cal calls her a twig.
He pitches down a flight of stairs, almost stumbling when they reach the bottom. He raises his wand, incanting "lumos" quietly. Zora wants to ask what that means, but her question is answered when his wand tip alights, emitting a soft white shine.
He sets Zora down, and she doesn't know what to do. Outside of the wand’s glow, the lab is dark and black like a nightmare. She has never liked it down here, it has always felt claustrophobic. There are desks and cabinets and file boxes everywhere. They feel crowding, as if eager to trap her in.
But Cal doesn't seem bothered, scrambling to a work table. He says "where is it, where is it, where is it" over and over, and she only wishes she could answer him.
"What's happening?" she asks timidly. She hears shouts close by, but Cal doesn't notice, throwing open drawers frantically. “Where’s mum and dad?”
"I—" he starts to say, turning to her, but his eyes flick upwards and something red and bolt-like hits him hard, square in the chest.
He flies backwards as if struck by a car, into the work bench that then crashes into a wall. Glass shatters somewhere, followed by the heavy rumble of wood splintering.
Zora is terrified. She's never seen Cal be anything but graceful and athletic. She's sure he's never been knocked off his feet in his life. She takes a step forward, but she thinks she smells something burning, and she looks back at the stairwell. She looks up.
A figure in black is standing at the top of the stairs, hood drawn, face obscured. Smoke billows into the room from behind him. Zora thinks it's a man, she doesn't know why, but his wand is already raised, moving towards her. She doesn't have time to hide, but her mouth opens in muted protest, a silent scream. The figure's wrist flicks and all of Zora's muscles clench. Her legs snap together, her jaw seizing shut.
She's frozen to the spot, teetering uncomfortably on her heels, hoping she doesn’t fall flat on her face.
"Good girl," he says, descending the stairs.
Zora tries to move, but she can't. Something is wrong. He's done something to her. But the figure doesn't seem interested in her any longer, waving his wand and muttering several incantations in a low growl.
Then, he sucks in a breath. It sounds excited, triumphant. He drops his hood, and Kara can see the profile of his face.
He has long brown hair, spotted with gray. His beard is neat and trimmed. She thinks he looks familiar, but she’s not entirely sure. He crosses to a wall, moving his wand over the brick in a series of practiced motions. It reminds Zora of her and her best friend's secret handshake. He watches, still as undisturbed water, while a small, golden safe appears out of thin air.
Zora would gasp if she wasn't paralyzed. She'd be amazed if she wasn't so scared.
He reaches out to touch the safe, to claim his prize, but when his fingers make contact a bright crimson light swells. He hisses, and Zora sees the skin of his fingers turn a shade of coal black, withering. He grabs at them with his other hand, muttering anti-curses, but it doesn’t seem to be having any effect. Then, there is a creak on the stair, and the man spins on his heel, wand brandished.
She can't turn her head as he moves, hiding behind her. All she can see is Cal's father standing above them, wand pointed in turn. There is blood on his shirt and trousers, plumed in different shapes and sizes. He takes in the sight of Zora, frozen in the middle of the lab, and he pauses, looking stricken. She wants to call out to him, but she can't.
Instead, Zora feels hot breath on her neck, a wand tip at her ear. She can't move, but her muscles burn with the desire to run. A deep voice says,
"It's too late, Jorah. I've found it."
Her uncle descends the steps slowly, wand still raised, face a mask of sorrow, anger, and fatigue.
"Open the safe," the voice demands.
"No," Jorah answers, standing in front of them, Zora between them.
"I'll kill her."
"You didn't have to do this, Lionel," Jorah says, his voice breaking. Zora can see he's noticed the splintered desk where Cal lies, crumpled. She feels something wet, a tear slip down her face.
"It’s not over, yet,” the man replies, voice silkier and smooth. “There’s no need for you to die, too.”
"You killed my wife upstairs,” Jorah replies through gritted teeth.
Kara swallows. Her aunt. Her mother’s twin.
"We can work together," the man continues unfazed, voice slippery like a snake. Zora feels the press of the wand hard at her temple, an unspoken threat. "You heard the prophecy. That kind of power… we could share it."
“We don’t even know what it does, how it works.”
“Not yet,” the man says, deep and cool. “That’s why I need you.”
Jorah's wand hand trembles, torn between concepts that Zora couldn't possibly conceive.
"Alright, then," she feels the wand raise.
"No!" Jorah shouts, dropping his wand, his only defense. It clatters on the ground, and Zora wants to cry out, to tell him to fight.
"You can kill me,” he says. “Just not the girl. Not Cal."
“Gladly,” the voice replies, arrogant and mocking. "Avada Kadavra!"
A jet of dark green light blasts by Zora's cheek, blowing her blonde hair back. It hits her uncle near his heart and he buckles, eyes open. She tries to scream, but tears only come hotly, her breaths ragged. The man rounds her side, staring down at her uncle's body.
"I suppose my Lex is bright enough to figure it out, anyway," he sneers.
He grabs Jorah's limp arm with his good hand, dragging him towards the safe.
Zora watches distractedly, filled with an acutely warm sensation. Her chest rises and falls more sharply, she can wiggle her toes. The man's back is turned, so he doesn’t see Zora realize suddenly that she can move. He doesn’t see her eyes fall to her uncle's discarded wand. She crouches low, quiet and catlike, to pick it up.
When the safe opens with several loud clicks and metallic groans, he doesn’t hear Zora dart to Cal, who's rousing from unconsciousness, his feet shifting. She shoves the wand into his hand, and his fingers curl weakly around it.
"Wha—?" he starts to say, eyes fluttering open and focusing on Zora.
The man turns at the half spoken word, a green vial of potion in his palm. Cal sees the movement, sees the man, and then sees the lifeless form of his father.
Cal shouts a curse first, the man fumbling for his wand with his withered fingers. He manages to dodge it, but the curse rebounds off the safe, hitting the vial in the man's open hand.
It explodes in a blinding white flash, and everything goes black.