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“Unnie Emmy!” At two and a half years old, my niece Charlotte has her own adorably unique way of saying my name. 

“Hello my beautiful girl!” I exclaim, reaching out to catch the toddler up in a hug as she comes barrelling down the hallway towards me.  I pick her up and cuddle her close, planting kisses on the top of her head.

“I miss you Unnie Emmy,” She smiles at me, all dimples and wide eyes and perfect golden curls, her chubby little arms around my neck.

“I missed you too angel,” I say, kissing her again on her forehead.

Six year old Jack is slightly more reserved and smiles at me shyly as I lower his sister back to the ground.

“And who is this young gentleman standing before me?  Surely this isn’t Jack?  You’re so tall and grown up!” I exclaim.

“Hello Auntie Emily,” He says slowly and clearly, as though determined to prove that he is grown up and can speak with a greater depth of skill than his sister.  I crouch down to hug him, planting just one kiss on his soft cheek.

“Hello there little sister,” Owen wraps me up in a big hug once I’ve straightened up, lifting me right off my feet.

“Hey big bro,” I grin, kissing him on the cheek too before moving to my sister in law, who has just walked in the door behind her husband.  “Nat,” I beam as we embrace. 

“It eez so good to see you Emily,” She replies, her French accent tickling my ear.  She kisses me on both cheeks and then scoops Charlotte up in her arms.  “Leetle Charlotte ‘as been asking about you since we left ‘ome yesterday.”

With the addition of my brother’s family, Mum and Dad’s house is soon buzzing with activity and preparations for Christmas celebrations.  The children help Mum decorate gingerbread biscuits with coloured icing and little silver balls before Owen takes them outside to build snowmen and play with our family dog, Astro.  Natalie and I catch up over hot chocolate in front of the antique fireplace in the sitting room and one evening after dinner, we all gather to decorate the tall pine tree that Dad has brought inside. 

Christmas Day is overcast and snowy, but inside the house it is all brightness and cheer as the children delight over their gifts and the stockings stuffed with goodies from Father Christmas.  By late morning, more family has descended upon the house and the rooms are filled with the smell of turkey and vegetables roasting away in the kitchen.  The anxiety and depression I had experienced only days earlier seem a distant memory, and as we sit around Mum’s antique mahogany dining table, eating until we are almost bursting and laughing at old family memories, I can almost forget the disastrous events that led to my early departure from Hogwarts.  Almost.

After lunch, my cousin Claire and I decide to take Astro for a walk before it gets too dark out.  Claire is the daughter of my Father’s brother, my uncle John, and is one year older than me.  We went to primary school together and though we grew apart when I went to Hogwarts, we are still good friends.  She’s a social worker and spends most of her time counselling disadvantaged young people at a local youth centre; she is a very good listener, which is probably why I found myself opening up to her about the incident in my fourth year class.  Of course, Claire doesn’t know that I’m a witch, and like the rest of my extended family, she thinks I teach history at a Scottish boarding school, but with a few omitted details, I was able to explain the main points of the situation.

“So the headmistress took over my classes and sent me on holidays early,” I conclude my story as we start a lap of a nearby park.

“Have you told your parents about this?” Claire asks.

“I haven’t told anyone,” I reply.  “Until now.”

“And it’s never happened before?”

“Not like this,” I say, stopping so Astro can sniff the trunk of a large tree.

“But something else has happened?” see what I mean?  Claire is a good listener – she doesn’t miss a thing.

“I…I’m just…”  I sigh and walk across to the playground.  There’s a set of swings, and I sit down on one.  Claire follows and sits on the swing next to me.  “I’m sad Claire; all the time.  I don’t enjoy teaching anymore, my students seem to always be so bored in my classes, and at the end of the day I don’t want to see anyone, I just want to curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep.”  A few tears sting my eyes and I wipe them away roughly.  Claire reaches over and holds my hand over Astro’s leash.  “And this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Cedric and…and…other people like him.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes, Astro, sitting at my feet, rests his head on my knees and looks up at me sadly. Eventually, Claire speaks.

“I think you should talk to someone Emily, not just me or your headmistress, but a professional.” She’s staring at me earnestly, and whilst her gaze makes me feel self-conscious, I can’t deny her words are somehow comforting.  They are a call to action, a plan of attack that I could possibly follow.

“A professional?” I ask.

“A doctor, or a counsellor.  But someone you’re not related to,” I raise an eyebrow at her and she smiles.  “Not that I don’t love you, but it’s sort of a conflict of interests to treat your own cousin.  Just think about it, ok?”

I pull my cloak tighter around my shoulders as I stare up at the small, unsuspecting cottage-come-healer-office.  The thatched roof is covered in a fresh blanket of snow, as is the small front garden.  The front door is painted a friendly shade of duck-egg blue and I assume the same paint has been used on the window boxes that hang from the two windows on either side of the entrance way.  There is a small sign hanging to the left of the door which simply says: Heather Jensen, Healer.

After our conversation in the play park, I gave Claire’s advice some serious consideration. I realised that a muggle doctor or therapist wasn’t going to be any use because I couldn’t explain everything to them about Hogwarts and the war and Cedric; so on Boxing Day I wrote to St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital in London, asking for a list of healers that might be able to help me.  I had thought it might be a little while before I would hear back, but the next morning I was woken by an owl tapping on my bedroom window.  The administration office at St. Mungo’s had sent me a list of healers that deal with ‘emotional and psychological effects of magical incidents and accidents’.  There were eight healers on the list, one of whom operates out of Hogsmeade, so it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Which is how I have ended up standing in front of Heather Jensen’s office on the day before New Year’s Eve, absolutely frozen with fear.  Claire’s idea of talking to someone had seemed really good, right up until this moment when all my doubts have suddenly ambushed me.  What if she’s mean?  What if she doesn’t believe me?  What if she can’t help me?

Taking a deep breath, I force myself to push  openthe white painted, iron gate and walk up to the blue front door.  The door knocker is shaped like an owl, which makes me smile and gives me the confidence to knock three times, albeit quietly.  I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, maybe someone who looked like McGonagall or Madam Pomfrey, but when a woman of about thirty-five with long, curly, blonde hair and friendly blue eyes opens the door, I’m slightly taken aback.

“Emily?”  She asks in a sweet melodic voice that reminds me of birds singing; I nod mutely.  “I’m Heather, please come in out of the cold.”

“Thank you,” I say shyly, walking into the narrow entrance hall.  Heather leads me down the hallway to the last room on the right.  Inside is a modern looking glass-topped desk and three squashy armchairs set around a coffee table.

“Please, take a seat.”  Heather indicates to the armchairs.  “Can I get you something to drink?  Tea, coffee, pumpkin juice?”

“Tea please,” I reply and with a wave of her wand, Heather conjures up a tea tray with a china teapot, two cups, milk, sugar and a plate of biscuits.  It takes several minutes for Heather to go through the process of pouring the tea, during which she chatters away about her collection of antique teapots that she has been collecting since she was a girl.  By the time I’m settled in my armchair with a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit, I feel as though I’m sitting down for a chat with a friend.

Oh wow, she is good!

Heather moves to her desk and picks up a clipboard and a quill.  She hands them to me and I notice there is a form on the clipboard.

“Would you please fill this out for me Emily?” She asks kindly.  “I just like to have some basic information about my clients before we begin.”  I take the quill and parchment and begin filling out answers.  Name, date of birth, marital status, blood status (optional it says, though it still surprises me), medical history.  Heather sits silently, sipping her tea as I write.  Once I have finished, I hand the clipboard back to her and she looks at it briefly before placing it on a small side table next to her chair.

“So in your letter you said you work at Hogwarts?” She asks, smiling at me. 

“Yes, I teach Transfiguration.” I reply.

“That’s very impressive, I imagine Minerva McGonagall wouldn’t let just anyone teach her old subject.”  My cheeks suddenly feel warm at this comment, but if Heather notices, she doesn’t say anything.  Instead, she conjures up another clipboard with parchment attached, and an ivory coloured quill.  “I like to take notes when talking to clients, would that be alright with you?” She asks kindly, and I just nod, once again lost for words.  “Do you enjoy your work?” Heather asks, continuing with her former line of discussion.

“I…well…yes,” I stammer.  “I do enjoy it,  but it’s very challenging, and…” my voice trails away as I watch the movement of Heather’s quill, her hand skating across the parchment even though she barely takes her eyes off me for a second at a time.

“And?” She prompts.

“And…” Suddenly I feel ungrateful that I am complaining to a healer about my job.  It’s a good job and I should be proud to have it.

“I’m not surprised you find it challenging,” Heather says when it becomes clear I don’t know how to finish my sentence.  “When I was at Hogwarts, I never understood how the professors got our homework back to us so quickly.  He was a grumpy old thing, but Professor Snape must have spent every night in his office correcting essays, because we always had them back by the next lesson.”

“Sometimes it feels that way,” I smile, thinking about the old potions master.  Despite the fact that he scared the daylights out of me at school, since Harry Potter had written that series about Snape for the Daily Prophet, I had developed a much deeper respect for the man who had given everything up to help save the world from Voldemort – including his own life.

“Perhaps you could tell me why you decided to come and see me, Emily,” Heather’s voice breaks through my musings and I look up at her again, a small but genuine smile on her face.  I take a deep breath and try to arrange my thoughts.

“Well, just before Christmas, there was an incident in one of my classes.” I begin.  I try to explain the situation as best I can, stopping only once when I am explaining about Cedric and I can feel the words getting caught in my throat.  Heather’s quill continues its pattern back and forth across the parchment, but she rarely looks down.  She is listening to me, and it seems to make me braver somehow, less afraid to share.

“That sounds like a very frightening incident,” Heather says, her hand pausing while she speaks.  “I’m not surprised that it upset you.” Heather pauses for a moment, looks down at her notes and then meets my eyes.  “I agree that it sounds as though the incident in your classroom brought up some very painful memories, but it seems to run deeper than that.  Emily, as a muggle born witch, I am curious about your experiences during the war.  Would you be willing to share that with me?”

“I suppose,” I say, my heart rate picking up at this new line of questioning.  Heather gives me another one of her small, perceptive smiles.

“It’s alright Emily, we don’t need to go in to it now,” She says and automatically let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding.  “But I would like to discuss it in the future.”  She lays her clipboard and quill on her lap and folds her hands over the top, smiling across at me kindly.  “I am very glad you came to see me Emily, it was very brave of you to do so.”  I nod stupidly, looking down at my knees nervously.

“There are few areas of Muggle medicine that surpass our own level of treatment,” She continues.  “But the area of emotional and psychological injury is one such area.  It is unfortunate, but the second Wizarding War has brought this oversight to light, and what you are describing to me is not uncommon or unusual.”  I look up at her, surprised and yet relieved at her words.  “It is also very treatable.”

“Treatable?” I ask, my voice barely a whisper.

“Yes, though not with a potion or a spell I’m afraid.  I can recommend several calming and sleeping draughts to help you in times of high stress, but the only way to truly deal with these issues is through regular emotional therapy.” Heather’s face is more serious now, but her eyes have not lost their compassion.  “I would like to meet with you regularly Emily, to help you to work through the depression and anxiety you are experiencing.” 

“Depression?” I say.  It’s a word that Claire uses a lot when discussing her counselling work and it surprises me to hear it come from a Healer’s mouth. 

“Yes,” Heather says gently.  “Emily, it is obvious to me that you are very depressed, and you also seem to be exhibiting signs of what Muggle doctors call ‘Post Traumatic Stress’.”

“What I’m feeling has a name?” I ask, and suddenly my eyes are brimming with tears.  I wipe them away, felling stupid at such an emotional reaction, but I’m just so relieved that Heather is taking this so seriously.

“Yes it does,” Heather replies, summoning a box of tissues from her desk and handing them to me.  “And with your permission, I’d like to help you overcome it.”

I leave Heather’s office feeling lighter than I have in weeks, months even.  I’m still not sure what Heather’s ‘emotional therapy’ is going to look like, but for the first time in a very long while, I am filled with a sense of hope, and a determination to face tomorrow.

“Emily!  You came!” Michelle wraps me in a big hug as I step inside her house.  It is light and airy inside with an open floorplan and modern fixtures that are at complete odds with the traditional façade of the building.  “Come in, come in,” She beams, taking my arm and leading me through the entrance hall to a large, open living area at the back of the house.  A bright, airy, country style kitchen runs into a dining area, and through an archway on the right, I can make out a large sitting room.  There’s music blaring from somewhere, and everywhere I look, people are talking, laughing or dancing.  A tall guy with spiky, light brown hair approaches us as Michelle and I enter the throng.  He looks vaguely familiar, but then again so do about a third of the people at the party and I assume it’s because we were all at Hogwarts together at some point.

“Em, this is Anthony,” Michelle says.  “My husband,” She adds proudly, smiling lovingly at him.

“Hey Emily,” Anthony smiles at me, extending a hand.  “Michelle’s told me a lot about you.”

“Likewise,” I reply, shaking his hand.  I realise it’s the first word I’ve spoken since entering the house.

“Can I get you a drink?” Anthony asks.  “Michelle made her Mum’s famous Pumpkin Punch.”

“That sounds lovely,” I smile as he pecks Michelle on the cheek and makes his way over to the kitchen counter that seems to have been set up as a makeshift bar.  “I love your house,” I compliment Michelle.

“Thanks,” Her smile widens and I realise just how proud she is of her life here.  “We bought it when we moved here to run the business, I wasn’t too keen on living with Anthony’s mum!”  We both laugh at that, just as Anthony returns with two glasses of punch.  “It was pretty old and run down but we did a bit of rebuilding and modernising.  I’m rather adept at painting spells now, you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time I need some painting done,” I laugh, taking a sip of my punch.  I cough as it burns my throat.

“Sorry, I should have warned you!” Michelle gasps, though she does look like she’s trying not to laugh.  “It’s pretty strong.  I mean the base drink is pumpkin juice, but it also has firewhisky and redcurrant wine.”

“Not to mention a touch of conjured flame,” Anthony snorts.

“It’s fine, it’s good,” I gasp, finding it hard not to laugh myself.  “I just wasn’t expecting it to be quite so…”

“Flammable?” Anthony suggests, and we all start laughing.

Michelle and I chat for a little while, but eventually, both she and Anthony answer to hosting duties that cannot be ignored.  I get myself another glass of punch, even though it is incredibly strong and wander around the rooms, taking in the party.  I spot a few familiar faces, even nod hello to the odd person here and there, but before too long, I find myself growing awkward.  I don’t know anyone here, not really, and I seem to have forgotten how to talk to strangers.  In the back of my mind I note the oddness of this, I used to be so good at talking to new people that for a while I was sure my mother was terrified I was going to get myself kidnapped.  I let the thought drift away though, it makes me feel uncomfortable when I consider how much I have changed from who I was before the war.  I find a blank space of wall and press my back up against it, wishing I could just blend into the background; I’m sure that I must look as awkward as I feel. 

All around me people are talking and laughing.  A space in the middle of the sitting room has been cleared as a dance floor and about two dozen people are moving to the music.  The sound is blurring together and I’m finding it hard to breathe.  I glance down at the almost empty glass of punch in my hand as the noise of the party seems to blend with another party, one from ten years ago.

“We won!  I can’t believe we beat Gryffindor!” I squeal as Patricia and I make our way back up to the castle, arm in arm.  We pass a group of second year Gryffindors and a small red-haired girl gives me a dirty look.  Giggling, Patricia and I skip away.

“I do feel bad for Harry Potter though, do you think he was very badly hurt?” Patricia asks as we catch up with Kate Peters and Sophie McKellan, our other dorm mates.

“They took him up to the Hospital wing, Pomfrey will fix him up in a heartbeat,” Kate says.  “Meanwhile, how fantastic was Cedric?  The way he caught that snitch…” She puts her hand on her heart and gives an exaggerated flutter of her eyelashes, causing us all to giggle.  We laugh all the way to the common room, where some of the seventh years are already setting up for a party.

“Please tell me we have chocolate cake,” I say, peering over the shoulder of Mary Cauldwell who is arranging a few trays of food on one of the study tables.  I see a plate of chocolate cake and sneak a slice before anyone can stop and go to join the other girls on one of the sofas.  Someone puts a record on the old gramophone in the corner and I perch myself on the arm of the sofa, singing along quietly to The Weird Sisters.

“You’re in a good mood,” Sophie laughs.

“It’s a party, and a victory celebration at that, why wouldn’t I be?” I grin.  “And I have chocolate cake.”

“You know what Em’s like, any excuse for a bit of fun,” Patricia teases, but before I can retort, a cheer goes up from the common room entrance way.  The Quidditch team appear, greeted with slaps on the back and shouts of congratulations.  The four of us stop our conversation to watch with pride and happiness.  It’s not just that we won the match, but we beat Gryffindor – that never happens! 

“Do you think they got butterbeer?” Sophie asks curiously, and we fall back into comfortable conversation as the conquering heroes move further into the room.  I half listen to the girl’s talk of O.W.L prep, but I can’t help singing along to the record when the next song starts.

“Nice singing Em, you should write us a team song,” I look up into the smiling face that matches the new voice.

“Cedric!”  I exclaim, throwing my arms around his waist.  “Brilliant job today, you are a bloody superstar.”

“Thanks Em, but you know if Potter hadn’t fallen off his broom…” Cedric shrugs as he drapes an arm over my shoulder.

“Oh pish posh, you did a great job, accept it,” I grin.  Cedric just smiles but doesn’t argue any further.

“Do you ladies want drinks?  I heard someone say that the house elves had got us some butterbeer,” He moves back into the crowd to find us some drinks and Sophie practically swoons.

“He is so sweet – and gorgeous!  Em, why did you break up with him again?” She asks and I give a derisive snort.

“Cedric and I didn’t break up, because we were never a couple.  We just went to Hogsmeade together a couple times last year,” I shrug.

“And you snogged too,” Patricia says, and I lean over to slap her arm.

“You snogged him?” Sophie and Kate gasp in unison.

“Twice,” Patricia grins, holding up two fingers.  She leans away before I can slap her again.

“Trish!  So much for keeping secrets,” I try to sound annoyed but I’m really not all that upset.  A new song begins, a faster one this time and I jump off the sofa, grabbing Patricia by both hands.  “I love this song!  Come on girls, it’s a party, let’s dance!”

“You know they’re pretty sturdy walls, you don’t need to hold them up.” I look up, startled out of my reverie by a vaguely familiar voice.  The guy standing next to me is only slightly older than myself.  He’s dressed in muggle jeans and a button down shirt with the cuffs pushed up.  His brown hair is slightly too long, as though he’s overdue for a haircut, and there’s a smile on his lips.  He’s not unusually tall, but I’m so short I have to look up to meet his green-blue eyes; eyes that I spent many an hour at Hogwarts daydreaming about.

Timothy Briar. 

It’s odd, but since my renewed friendship with Michelle, I hadn’t once thought about the fact that her brother was Timothy Briar, the boy I had a huge crush on for the better part of three years.

That was until about five seconds ago when he walked up and spoke to me and, I suddenly realise, he’s probably expecting me to speak back to him.  I open my mouth, but I can’t seem to make the words form.  Fortunately, Timothy seems to realise he’s taken me by surprise and offers me his hand.

“Timothy Briar,” his name leaves both our mouths at the same time, and Timothy’s confident smile turns to a look of surprise.  Before I can stop myself, I take his hand in mine and shake it firmly.

“Emily Morgan,” I say.

“Emily Morgan?”  His eyes suddenly register understanding.  “You were in Hufflepuff, right?”

“Yeah,” I nod, slightly disappointed that he hardly remembers me, but then again he barely noticed me when we were at school, so why would he remember me almost a decade later? 

“Yeah, I remember, you were the year below me.  You were friends with Cedric,” My stomach drops about a foot at Cedric’s name and I just nod.   I glance down and realise I’m still holding Timothy’s hand.  I let go and drop my hand to my side, blushing.  I lower my eyes to my almost empty cup and Timothy’s eyes my follow mine because the next thing he says is, “Can I get you a refill?”  I look up again and he’s pointing at my cup.

“Oh…um sure,” I nod, handing him my cup.  His hand pauses on mine and he leans in close to whisper in my ear.

“Don’t disappear while I’m gone.  I can see it in your eyes that you want to run away but I want to talk to you some more.”  He pulls back and takes the cup, winking at me before turning to make his way through to the kitchen.

“Ok,” I mutter, a few seconds too late for him to actually hear.  My heart had started beating faster than normal when he leaned in to whisper, and my skin is still tingling where his breath had touched my neck.  All these years later, and Timothy Briar can still reduce me to a puddle of nerves.

“You didn’t leave,” He says with a smile when he reappears a few minutes later and hands me the fresh glass of punch.

“How could I, when you made such a specific request,” I tease, surprising myself as the old Emily resurfaces for a second.

“Well when I first noticed you across the room, you were leaning against that wall as though you were hoping it would swallow you up and you looked like you were heartbeat away from apparating right out of the room!” Timothy grins and I feel myself blush again.

“I don’t really know many people here,” I admit.  “Michelle and I only reconnected recently and –”

“You’re the Hogwarts professor!” Timothy exclaims suddenly, cutting me off.  “Sorry, I interrupted you, that was really rude of me.”

“That’s ok,” I hear myself laugh.  “And yes, Hogwarts professor – that’s me.”  My voice sounds surprisingly light.

“Transfiguration, right?” Timothy looks genuinely interested and before I know it, we are deep in discussion about work and Quidditch and family Christmases and everything else that people talk about at parties.  It seems like only minutes have passed when Anthony comes by with a tray of full champagne glasses, warning everyone that it’s nearly midnight. 

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t make a run for it?” Timothy grins at me as the radio presenter announces the ten second countdown.

“I’m glad I stayed,” I agree with a smile, and I genuinely am.

“Happy New Year!”  Everyone cheers at the end of the countdown, and the room erupts with laughter, noisemakers and a few Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-Bang fireworks, which explode over our heads.  Everywhere I look people are hugging and kissing and wishing each other the very best for the New Year. 

“Happy New Year, Emily Morgan,” Timothy says and I have just enough time to smile at him before he leans down to kiss me on the cheek.  Before I can respond, a firework explodes above us and purple sparks flutter down, turning into confetti as it hits my hair and shoulders.

“Happy New Year, Timothy Briar.”

AN: Thanks to everyone for your brilliant reviews :) 

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