Melody is falling again.
She slices through clouds, the velvety touch of water clinging thick to her eyelashes.
Gusts blast her as she drops, lace hem of her dress rippling with the crosswinds. The zephyr is so strong it pushes the storm away, slick fuzz of precipitation sliding from her skin, the valley below revealed. The air tastes like rain. Electricity thrums through her veins like the promise of a light show. The field is green-tinted-silver, lakes and faraway mountains awash in pearlescent hues. It’s a full moon tonight—only a full moon will do. For a moment Melody is suspended, hanging beneath a canopy of cosmos, a brilliant stroke of stars and planets and comets.
All the wind in the world rushes inside her, lungs ready to burst.
Then, she screams.
It’s a sound of pure joy, pitched as high as she is in the sky, childlike and full as she plummets to the earth. Melody laughs, holds out her hands, fingers splayed to cut through the gales. Her broomstick returns to her in an instant, the familiar weight set into her palm, polished wood smooth as clouds. Melody swings it under her knees, not more than a hundred feet from the ground. Her fall cuts short.
Side-saddle on the broom, the wiry ends of the brush don’t prick her ankles. A tremble from the back of the brook, and Melody risks a glance—she smirks. “What’s wrong?”
“I hate it when you do that,” Poppy deadpans, tail twitching. Claws unsheathed, the tops glint in the moonbeams, points sunk deep into twigs. Her amber eyes are round as the sun, whiskers trembling.
Melody giggles, reaching back to pat the cat’s head. “I thought you liked flying during the full moon.”
“I like flying,” Poppy corrects, “when it doesn’t involve free-falling nearly twelve thousand feet.”
Melody hops the last few inches to the grass, Poppy leaping into her arms. Melody flicks her pink nose. “Don’t meow yourself hoarse. It’s not good for your pretty white fur.”
“I’ll decide what’s good for me, thank you very much. I’ll decide what’s good for you, too, actually—I was your mother’s familiar and now I’m yours, and as far as I’m concerned that makes me responsible for turning you into a successful young witch. This dropping through the sky is unseemly.”
“Relax! Flying and falling go hand-in-hand.”
“I do so hope you won’t act this recklessly next week.” Poppy nestles her nose into the crook of Melody’s arm as she walks across dewy midnight grass. “It’s against coven law for me to aid you while you’re doing your apprenticeship. Unfair advantage. Makes witchlings too comfortable. They turn themselves into salamanders later.”
“Yes, I’m aware, Poppy. I don’t need a babysitter. I’m nineteen.”
“And I’m nineteen-hundred. I would argue all humans need a babysitter.”
Melody holds her breath as she crests the hill, the sparkling city laid out like an airport runway. Lights twinkle like fireflies reflected in a dark lake and, if she closes her eyes, the distant timbre of cars and machines and the pulse of every soul thrums below.
A moment, suspended.
The city is alive.
Melody’s broomstick floats by her side as Poppy’s jowls stretch back in a yawn, revealing all her sharp teeth.
“No more than you. I wouldn’t say no to my bed by the fire, however. We’ve a long journey ahead of us tomorrow, and you still need to pack.”
Melody shakes her head, puffs firmly tied atop her crown. She starts down the path to the sparkling lights. “Any theories who my partner is? For the apprenticeship?”
“I have an inkling.”
“You won’t like it.”
Melody laughs. “So long as it isn’t Ursula, I frankly don’t care who it is.”
--- --- ---
She’s quite smug, standing tall with her hands clasped on the cherry-red handle of her suitcase. Long, silky ropes of hair sweep over one squared shoulder. Ursula reflects every aspect of a respectable, polished young woman, from the points of her heels to the tips of her gloves. Ursula’s radiance is blinding. Melody wonders how she’s even real.
The warm summer afternoon bathes Ursula’s midnight skin in sparkling, golden light. Melody compares it to her own—russet. Nice. Pretty, her mother used to say when pulling her tight-wound curls into buns. Like autumn clay.
Still, Ursula’s painted smirk is a direct attack, and no one ever accused Melody of taking disrespect lying down. “Great,” Melody says. “I get to spend the next three years huddled over a cauldron with you.”
“Good to see you too, sweetie. Say, weren’t you the last in your year in earth magic?”
Melody grits her teeth.
“And you requested to serve your apprenticeship under Madame Celeste? Huh.”
Melody could just turn her into a frog. Poppy’s not-so-subtle cough snaps her from her haze. Poppy leaps from her perch in Melody’s arms and trots to the points of Ursula’s heels. “Good morning, Ursula. A pleasure to see you.”
“Good morning, Poppy. Garnet’s missed you. She talks about you often.”
“Garnet’s here, I assume?”
Something crimson lifts from the folds of Ursula’s dress; a diamond-shaped head, patterned with rhombuses, gleaming like precious jewels in the light. Two jet-black eyes protrude from either side of her head, matching tongue lolling from her mouth.
“Poppy! How good to see you again.” She draws out the ‘s’.
Poppy’s whiskers quiver—she’s pleased. “Garnet! A pleasure, old friend.”
Ursula’s familiar slithers to the ground like a ribbon pooling at their feet. Her long body twines around Poppy, ruby on snow. Poppy purrs, and Garnet lets out a satisfied hiss.
“We’re never going to get there if we don’t leave now.” Melody taps her broomstick to her shoulder. “Whenever you’re ready, ladies.”
“Garnet, we can catch up when we arrive at Madame Celeste’s. Melody is right, of course, we ought to make haste before the rains catch us. It’s a long flight to Blackberry Thicket.”
Ursula pops a hip and her braids sway. “Let’s go, then.” Her eyes flick to Melody. “Try not to fall too far behind.”