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The Banshee of Clan O’Kennedy

Midsummer was a merry romp. Round and round they ran round the fairy rings, the tiny lights of will-o-the-wisps whirled through the air, and the wild, feral music of the sprites and free elves twinkled against the Irish stars – those stars the Irish said always shone clearer than English ones. The last centaurs in Ireland reveled for their one night of yearly frivolity, plucking Bowtruckles from the trees and knitting them in knots, and mischief and cheer was had by all.

All were merry, save for the banshee.

She was a gaunt figure who seemed to hide in the darkest parts of the evening, and even the stars cast their light away for fear of illuminating her sallow skin, stretched across her bones like fading parchment. For long years, she belonged to the family who finally lived in the smallest dale, in a cottage which had grown up over the years. She was the ghost of the fairy revels, lingering as the sun set, her shredded black gown waving in the current.

She was the banshee of the magical clan O’Kennedy, and all feared her mournful keen.

She had climbed to the tallest tower at Ballintotty castle in nearby Tipperary, where it stood for hundreds of years, and she had wept with the wind for the lost king and his lordly sons whose heads were cut from their bodies in the bloody battles against the English, their armor distributed as tokens among the victorious, gnashing army. The lady of the castle and her daughters had heard the banshee’s cry, and joined her in the lament, for they knew when the notes of her scream echoed across the fields and trembled the rocks in the river that one of their clan was soon to die. She had wailed from the river as she washed the chain mail and tunics of the sons of the clan who were to die in that bloody battle nearly four hundred years in the past, when at last the brave Irish had fallen beneath the yoke of their Eastern demons at the Battle of the Boyne. The song of the banshee had trickled through the river, danced in the patterns of the rain, and spectral blood ran from the phantom clothing, staining her hands alone.

She had sung ten months in the past, the night before the old whiskered grandfather puffed on his brown pipe for the last time, when he waved his wand to create dancing fairy lights for his delighted grandson. And she would sing again tonight, at midsummer, for one of the last O’Kennedy boys of the most royal line of High King Brian Boru was to die.

They were magic boys and girls who remained in the small cottage close to the fairy ring. Suspended between two worlds, the elfin music ringing in her ears and the laughter of the wizarding family echoing from the cottage, the banshee waited. She could not have put into words what compelled her to sing, but perhaps it was a building up inside her frail, spindle-like ribs, an expanding of her wrinkled lungs inside of her waterlogged chest, making it difficult for her to breathe. Perhaps her skin grew a little gaunter with each death through the centuries, as she became closer to being less a fairy woman and more a tendril of smoke moving against the river’s flow.

The family’s magic was a mystery to her, but she knew that she was a creature of the magical world, less than human, more than element, doomed to outlive all of the wizards and witches of her clan, though she alone was cursed to sing of the death of each one. The fairies who romped and whooped round and round the fairy rings and mounds, who drank sweet wine from acorn cups and wore gowns of fur and lace, could not know the banshee’s lonely curse.

There were stories about a certain witch with a hairy chin who had banished the banshee in Bandon down in County Cork. But there are whispers among the fairy folk that one cannot kill a banshee – not a creature who foresees death, who guards the family’s dead. One cannot drive a banshee away from her clan: she will follow them, even the poor Irish folk turned to skeletons during the Famine, dispersed and delivered around the world. She appeared in the rivers in the old colonies, in the Saint-Lawrence river in Canada so close to where hundreds of Irish refugees died in squalor and dirt. She sang in the sprawling, hot city of Dallas, Texas when a very grand and famous descendant of the clan was killed. One who is smoke and voice cannot be driven away. And so they say that truly, the last of the Bandon banshee’s clan died, and so she wasted away into the river, her hair becoming weeds, her skin crumbling apart to be nipped by the fish. There is nothing heroic in banishing that.

The young O’Kennedy woman, a sandy-haired firecracker, married a non-magical man, and so her wee family took on another name. Midsummer saw the two little sons playing on their broomsticks in the garden as the dusk finally began to settle in. The banshee felt the cold water flood up her thighs in the river, and though she was not quite tall enough to touch its bed the current lifted her along as she floated towards the cottage, her face pale and ghastly in the setting sun.

As the eldest boy laughed and shoved his brother, she began her song. Midsummer bloomed about her but the O’Kennedy descendants heard nothing but her cry, and looked up in fear. The smaller boy screamed – a curious contrast to her lament – as he saw the ghostly woman floating in the river, her dark hair floating about the current where she had once bathed the bloody armor of his ancestors.

He screamed, and the banshee’s crooked heart ached for his pain – the pain she had seen thousands of time before. She wept for him – she longed for the deliverance of the family’s grief. But the lonely creature could do nothing but foretell it.

The next day, the boy’s brother died when his magic exploded out of him during a jest, burning down the little cottage when his Muggle father and magical mother were over the hill. The boy ran back to rescue the family cat, leaving his young brother outside. Both cat and boy perished in the magical blaze.

The boy was left without a brother, and he never spoke of him again, not when he went away to that magical school across the Irish channel, leaving behind his homeland and his brother’s bones, like so many of his clan before him.

But the banshee is not held back by water and air.

And the small boy will fear the banshee, the spirit of the O’Kennedy clan – indeed, when he is thirteen, he will meet a Boggart in a classroom at school, and it will take the form of the pale woman standing in the river, her cry piercing through his heart. He will see her, amidst the jeers and screams of his classmates, and he will, with firmly bridled fear, make a mockery of the figure by taking her voice away. He will look with bitterness upon her memory, and like many of the Irish, will carry forward his hatred for her.

And two years after he graduates, the night before he hunts and duels one of the last dark wizards of the war, she will find him in London. She will stand in the Thames, her face pale and skeletal against the city lights.

Fear and hatred aside, the banshee will cry for Seamus Finnigan’s death all the same.

Author's Note: Thank you for reading. This was written quite quickly for the House Cup Event Three Prompt One, which called for writing about a magical creature and how they aren't necessarily dark. Though the banshee is portrayed in canon as a fearsome creature, including being Seamus' boggart in POA, I took some liberties to combine explanations for this fear in canon with fun Irish lore - in canon, Seamus doesn't have a brother, but it never says that he didn't have a brother who died young. Hopefully this portrayed an interesting new side to the poor banshee - if there are suggestions for improving the story, I would love to know! :)

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