A stormcloud bursts.
A river of rushing water cuts through earth on its path to where she stands, atop a dune melting into mud. The ground is mush between her toes as the river swallows her, the desert and sand dissolve, and what’s left is a kaleidoscope of memories, colors, shapes.
Hazel—how could she have forgotten Hazel—smiles at her, holding her hand as they wind through city streets. She always had round eyes, the same shape as their mother’s, and smelled of jasmine and daisies.
It’s a perfume so inherently Hazel, a combination that could be for no one else, and she wore it every day. To Melody, jasmine and daisies are tantamount to Hazel, a part of her identity. She was always wrapped in soft, clean linens with sunshine in her hair, which she wore as natural as the earth beneath her feet. Hazel was more than an older sister—to Melody, she was a friend, a confidant, a piece of her heart. Hazel’s straight smile and round, round eyes haunt her now. Melody’s fingers twitch for Broken Hearts Brew.
“What—what did you do?”
“It’s not healthy to mourn like this,” Ursula says, reaching for Melody’s hand. “You’re delaying your pain, and it’s building and building because you never let it out. You never allowed yourself to grieve.”
“That is not your decision to make!”
Ursula flinches away from her, but the memories don’t stop—hospital walls, gray and cold, the harsh smell of chemical cleanser and surgical gloves. Her mother, crying, when she thinks no one is watching. Hazel’s deep, rattling coughs that kept Melody up at night, reminding her nothing was okay, that behind the best smile she put on her face for her sister, she was terrified.
A potion her mother ordered, pressed into Melody’s palm as she stared at Hazel’s empty bed. She uncorked the bottle, tilted the brew past her lips, floral notes exploding on her tongue, and then—
“Why,” Melody gasps, eyes watering, “why would you make me remember this?”
Ursula’s expression is horror and regret. “Melody, I—I was trying to help you.”
“I wanted to forget! This, this isn’t helping me, it hurts, it hurts so much—”
“This isn’t healthy, Melody—Hazel was your sister, and I know it’s hard, but that brew was numbing your pain by blocking her out completely. You didn’t even know who she was! Melody, there has to be a better way.”
“No!” Melody stumbles away from Ursula’s offered hand.
It’s like the gates have lifted, the dam cracked, and she’s swallowed up by the flood. All the pain compounds onto her shoulders, heavier and heavier until it’s crushing her, amplified by a rush of emotion—memories—tears. It’s more than she can bear.
Melody dashes into the trees. Ursula calls for her, but her voice is a dead echo between Melody’s ears, lost in the rustle of pines and the roaring in her skull. They aren’t far from the cottage and Melody can’t risk answering to Madame Celeste. When vine-covered stone peeks out from the leaves, Melody lifts her hand. The rush of magic is hot on her skin, blood boiling in her veins as her broomstick—Hazel’s, it belonged to Hazel—races from the open window of its own accord. The polished wood handle lands in her palm and Melody is shocked at the heat the broom gives off. It’s searing, burning into her skin. Melody recognizes this feeling—the broom is afraid.
She blinks. Poppy stands on the windowsill, spiders-silk whiskers flat against her face, sharp eyes narrowed with alarm.
“Melody? What’s wrong?”
The tears overtake her, then. “My sister. Hazel.”
Poppy leaps from the sill, weaving between stems of the garden on her way to her master. She bounds into the air, a flash of pink paws, and Melody catches her, holds her tight against her heart, sobbing into Poppy’s moonbeam fur.
“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. What do you remember?”
“Everything, I—Poppy, it hurts so much—”
“Hush, Melody. Let’s go inside, I’ll ask Madame Celeste to make you some tea.”
“No, I can’t stay here another minute.” Melody swings the broom under her knees and it lifts her from the ground, points of her heels grazing the forest floor as she hovers over the moss-covered twigs and rocks. “I’m going home.”
Poppy twists in her arms. “Melody, you’re barely a month into your apprenticeship; think about what going home now will mean. You won’t be allowed back, you might not be granted another apprenticeship at all! The coven won’t look lightly on this.”
“I need to go home, Poppy,” Melody says. “I want to see my mother.”
“Melody, it’s dark outside, leaving now is—”
“Are you coming with me or not?”
Poppy’s teeth flash as her jowls quiver, her pupils shrinking to slits. “Be careful,” she warns, climbing from Melody’s arms onto her perch at the back of the broom. “Of course I’m coming with you. Of course I am.”
Melody doesn’t wait a beat—she soars straight up, into cool air, a hint of rain slicking her arms. Clouds gather overhead, swirling in a mass of cotton-gray and black, obscuring the moon. Melody’s heart drums in her ears, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.
Memories continue pouring into her head, overwhelming her. Hazel, sitting in bed, a large tome on her lap. She’s pale but smiling. She points to her broom—Melody’s broom.
Will you take care of it for me?
Hazel’s standing in the kitchen and faints, unbaked dough in her hands knocking the bread pan from the countertop. It’s how their mother finds her later, and Melody meets them at the doctor’s office after school.
Two, maybe three years, if we monitor closely. No magic can save her now. I’m sorry.
They’re children playing in the field, years and years ago. Melody is seven, Hazel no older than twelve. They jump on her brand-new broom together and take off into the sky, arms linked. When they’re close enough to touch the clouds they fall, screaming as air rustles around them, filling their lungs. At the last second, Hazel swings the broom under their legs, and they drift the last hundred feet to grassy ground.
See, Mel? Flying and falling go hand-in-hand!
Hazel dies just before the first snow. She won’t make it to the winter holidays, the doctor had said, so Melody prayed winter would never come. Her heart may rip in two. Beneath her hands, the broom quivers. Her head may split—it’s too full. The broom dips, then evens.
“Melody!” Poppy yowls from the back of the broom. “Melody, something is wrong. You should land, something isn’t right!”
“I have to go home.”
“Melody, your emotions are too strong for the broom right now! If you aren’t careful—”
But it’s too late. There’s a blinding flash, a deafening crack; lightning, so close tingles race over her skin, a hair shy of burns. Her heart leaps into her throat. The broom drops.
Melody is falling again.
In some ways, she isn’t afraid. Hasn’t she fallen a thousand times before? Hazel showed her this, the thrill of wind roaring all around her, the chill of rain as she slices through clouds and plummets toward earth, gravity as her chaperone.
Melody remembers her sister, ever the shining star—beautiful, kind, understanding. She used to take Melody to the field above the city on warm summer nights, when the dizzying scent of lilacs hung like fog in the atmosphere, and wove daisies into her hair. Hazel loved daisies. She’d put them everywhere in their small townhouse, decorate with them, make perfumes with them, even bake with them. Melody can remember the delicate taste of paper-thin petals against her tongue, in a pastry or seeped in herbal tea. It’s what hits her hardest, having forgotten the taste of daisies. It’s on her tongue one last time, and it reminds her of Hazel.
The handle of the broom slips from Melody’s fingers and the pointed tips of pines race toward her. She won’t break her fall this time.
Poppy’s voice, urgent. Melody twists midair to find her, but Poppy is falling, too. Wind gusts through her white fur. Another crack of lightning and thunder, and when the stars fade from Melody’s eyes, a woman with hair like silver reaches out for her, robes of spider’s silk and diamonds flowing around her ivory skin.
Her eyes are amber—the same shade as Poppy’s.
“Melody,” the woman cries with Poppy’s voice, “take my hand!”
Melody’s fingers slide against Poppy’s palm, and the forest floor greets them like an old friend.