As I unpack my trunk in the dusty, dingy room above the shop where my uncle, two brothers and two sisters live, I feel the slight dread of not knowing where my future will lead.
I'm of age now and done with school, so finding work and avoiding trouble should be my first worries, but it ain't just me I have to worry about.
I can't let the babanod grow up here for much longer -- it's eaten them and me for three years already.
We live in Knockturn Alley, the street off of lovely Diagon Alley where all of the things your decent witches and wizards won't meddle in are sold, bought, traded, or just plain found.
In my uncle's shop is sold potions ingredients,
and because this is Knockturn Alley they're not normal ingredients: poisons; live creatures; contraband that he (Uncle) said if I ever told someone about he'd hex me for 7 years straight.
He also threatened to feed me on only cold gruel if I sold anything cheap, 'cause once I was all moved in those three years ago,
he was leaving me at the counter to haggle and sell while he went off to the pub for drinks, or Borgin's to try and buy even more nasty supplies to bring back to his own business.
I should be honest when I talk about the things we sell -- they're rather compelling.
It's a bit exciting to know that the fungi you're holding (with a handkerchief that's been charmed to keep the nerves in your hand from suddenly burning and losing all function) are one:
that bloody dangerous, and two: can put you on the Ministry's list of "Most Dark and Dangerous in Illicit Magical Trade". Some of the things that the Ministry comes up with!
As interesting as my uncle's business can be, me and the kids need our own place to live. It's just too... well... dark in this alley.
Ninety nine percent of the people who come through this place are just trying to get their business done, do their shopping -- however ill-intentioned it may be -- and go home,
but that one percent that's not so good is too noticeable for any decent body to want to raise four little ones here.
I've been followed by a hag who wanted my fingernails (taken from a living witch or wizard,
they're more useful); groped by warlocks both drunken and sober; sang at by more drunken warlocks (some ditty with lyrics like "I once had a lass with a nice round ass" and it got
even nastier) and I've even seen duels that ended up in the Prophet!
One time, a curse missed its intended target and hit an old wizard who was just trying to get home with the flesh-eating slug repellent he'd bought! The poor old grandpa! I hope he lived.
I go into the smaller room across the hall where the boys sleep and of course Llon's trunk is sitting wide open on the bed he and Afon, who's only three, share.
I see his rumpled up belongings and I know he scrambled to find his wand as soon as he got up here; I hid it in his trunk as soon we boarded the train to come back for his
first summer holiday (and the rest of my life) so he wouldn't try any last minute jinxes.
Sometimes I'm amazed at how easily he obeys me,
then again his most vivid experience with a female relative other than me is of Mam throwing him outside at night -- all night -- so she could drink and have a shag with that big warlock
she came home with. He was nine, I was fifteen and we were all lucky that it was spring holiday so's I was home.
I don't know how they found out, but when the Ministry officials who deal with family problems came a'visiting two days later,
I was able to convince them to let the kids remain at Mam's house so long as I was allowed to be there, courtesy of the school and a satisfied Ministry witch.
I had to write and beg Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore himself to let me skip a few weeks. I remember feeling quite touched when the first two came to visit, a Ministry witch in tow.
I don't think Dumbledore even considers his students well-being outside of Hogwarts.
Professor Snape was my head of house -- good ol' Slytherins looking out for each other -- and I distinctly recall the feeling I had when I greeted him and McGonagall at the door that he'd
been waiting for something like this to occur. You get that feeling when he looks at you sometimes -- that he knows things about you.
I had expected McGonagall to be much less kinder than she actually was -- more grave and pitying. She was certainly that way with Mam; "Eira, what have you gotten yourself and your family into?!"
Snape mostly sat all stiff in the chair I'd offered, his spidery black eyes glancing everywhere they could, taking in my raggedy siblings,
Mam's wan expression and the Welsh words doodled haphazardly on our cottage's stone walls.
Words like cariad, 'love' which had a bright pink heart drawn beside it, and calon which had an arrow pointing from it to the rosy heart.
Witch, Welsh and Slytherin. That's me. Even my name is Welsh, though my dad is English (obviously, my surname is Burke after all). Branda -- bran dda -- raven good; Good Raven.
I have a middle name that isn't Welsh at all, though -- Patreva.
Something Latin like what so many of our kind in Britain have -- names like Draco, Severus or my tad's name, "Nicander" which may actually be Greek. It's fancy and magical sounding.
I'm the only one of my parent's brood with any name like that -- something about a Naming Seer who suggested it for me, but they never went back for their other four kids's names.
The younger ones have a Welsh name and that's it. I like Welsh names quite a lot, though. Some of the names wizarding parents give their children are too -- well -- 'ostentatious' is a good word.
Snape and the quiet little Ministry witch with the clipboard came to a decision; I could stay at home with Mam and the kids while the school year continued as long as one: Mam
wasn't bringing her "gentlemen friends" home anymore, and two: I would take remedial lessons in all core classes the following school year.
"Of course, you will receive some lessons by post this spring and over the summer, miss Burke." McGonagall can be so caring, sometimes.
"Your head of house has stated that you are among the more reliable students at Hogwarts, miss Burke."
The little Ministry witch hadn't spoken at all to me, only to Mam and to my professors, but now she was gazing at me with what I believe was meant to be a placating, if somewhat sharp, look.
"He says you are quite skilled in his potions class as well as in mentoring the younger students."
The look on Professor Snape's face suggested this was meant to be unspoken.
I've never had problems with Snape; he's certainly a terror to many (okay, most) students,
but he's only ever had clipped praises or short orders for me to teach the first years how to behave without their parents around to guide them and comfort them and all that.
A lot of the prefects were shite at that kind of thing.
Life at Mam's with the kids was alright for awhile -- could've probably gone quite tolerably if she hadn't gone off to the Leakey Cauldron and met some bloke who took her to his flat
in wherever-the-hell-it-was. Whatever they did in those six days she was gone, it was bad enough that he went to Azkaban, but not interesting enough for the Daily Prophet to report on.
Mam got off, but us kids had to go live with the only relative who was willing to take us -- Tad's second-or-something cousin whom he'd done business with before Mam had to kick him out: Mr.
Donius Burke, purveyor of dark and illicit potions ingredients since 1974.