To call it nostalgic to be back would be an understatement. And bittersweet at best.
‘Mostly bitter though…’ Claudia concluded as she studied the shop-window in front of her. The years that had passed had surely made her grow, but her mind seemed to have slipped backwards. Her eyes were as cold as ever, and it was as if nobody had ever even started to melt the walls around her heart.
To be sent off to Beauxbaton for the last two years of her studies, and be completely cut off from her previous life at Hogwarts, seemed to have had the effect that her family had wished for. Nicodemus had been right when he said that there is no better prison than your own mind; she was trapped. Now not only by the rules, that she couldn’t even see the lines of anymore (as if there was nothing but them in the world), but now also by responsibility and law.
How many years had it been since she’d set foot here? Five? The two years in school, and then all the time in France with the new family… And what a family to boot! By now she might legally go by a different name, but she would never stop being Claudia Ripper, that’s for sure. Not when the alternative was that…!
Claudia closed her eyes and tried to block out all the noise from the street behind her. Diagon Alley was as bustling with life as ever. She could barely hold back a smile at how many times she’d imagined this so many years ago. She would come here, for whatever reason, and he’d be here. He’d of course still be taller than her, and even if she knew that logically his voice and appearance must have changed slightly by the years she couldn’t help but to picture him just the same. He would call out her name, she would easily spot him in the sea of people, she always did, and he wouldn’t even hesitate before holding her like before… No questions, no excuses, no truths… Because in that dream of hers she knew him, knew that she actually was special and that he never moved on, even if it had only been a silly school-crush. He would be who she had seen him as back then…
But reality was different. It was sitting on front of her on the bench, two pair of eyes watching her curiously as she forced back the tears before they managed to slip through, so she could open hers and meet theirs. One pair remained curious as she took a shaky breath, while the second smiled at her, and the owner of them raised his tiny arms to her with a “Mofthe!”
How there could be two living creatures in this world who could make her smile like this was a mystery to her. But just like he could have asked anything of her back then, so could this boy now.
Lifting her son up from her husband’s lap she sighed happily at his giggling and at how she right away had to untangle his tiny hand from her hair. And while the man packed up everything he’d pulled out of his bag to entertain the child with she gently pressed her forehead against the boy’s and gave him a serious look.
“James, promise me you’ll be more selfish than your stupid mother. That you will ask me for everything you want so I can help you get it, no matter what it is. Because you have to be happy. Just promise me you’ll try to be happy…”
Her voice ended in a broken whisper as she held him close again and tried to calm herself, all while feeling how he got a hold of one of her curls again. Maybe nobody would know who she was when she wore her hair down like this and not in pigtails anymore…
But thanks to the child she could at least let go. She couldn’t live for the past and dreams. It would lead to nothing, and all she would be was bitter for it. She had finally found a new centre for her life, her own little universe. But this time it wasn’t she who was being held tenderly, it wasn’t she who got to hear the sweet words she barely dared to believe. This time she was the one to protect, to hold a life in her arms. Now she was the wall. Now she made the promises, and this time she would make sure all of them were kept.
Claudia didn’t even notice the people in the crowd who seemed to recognize them, never saw the man with Asian features who had even stopped to stare at her as if he right away knew who she was. If she heard his voice when he called her name she wrote it off as a part of a lost dream. She didn’t see his face when she smiled at her son, nor did she notice how James gave the man a toothless grin (with half of his tiny hand in his mouth) over her shoulder when she left with the boy’s father in tow.
It would take years before she heard from him again…