“Why Claudia Dubois, upon my word, don’t you look divine.” Fifi Tennenbaum swept towards Claudia in midnight blue robes with her hair piled so high on her head that magic was undoubtedly involved. She was covered head-to-toe in a generous sprinkling of glitter.
“Thank you.” Claudia did not bother to return the compliment. Fifi Tennenbaum clearly thought she looked spectacular, and equally clearly did not care for the opinions of others. Claudia admired that about her, even if she was otherwise eccentric.
“And there’s your handsome fiancé!” Fifi air kissed them each in turn, then stage-whispered to Claudia, “These Fontenot men are some of the best looking wizards I ever laid my eyes on.” She winked at Nathaniel, then abruptly turned and fluttered away, crowing, “You two love birds have fun, now!”
“Always a pleasure, Mrs Tennenbaum,” Nathaniel addressed the spot she’d been occupying a moment earlier.
Claudia graced him with a smile. It was New Year’s Eve, and she finally felt able to relax in public. The beginning of the festive season had not gone quite so smoothly; society was less enjoyable when every person in it regarded her either with pity or disgust (except for Jordan Williams, who regarded her with well-placed fear). Still, unlike last year when she had been obligated to attend winter events with her Dubois grandparents, this year Claudia attended the Christmas Eve ball and the New Year’s Eve celebration as Nathaniel’s guest. The Fontenonts had always been pleasant to Claudia. Now they were welcoming and attentive, too.
“You really have it all,” Maggie sighed at the Christmas Eve ball last week. Her coral dress robes were adorned with an absurdly large poppy, ruffled on her shoulder. Maggie batted the fabric petals away from her chin. “A fortune and a Fontenot. You’ve outdone us all, Claudia.”
Claudia forced a smile. “It’s true,” she said. Above the water she glided like a swan, all elegance and majesty, basking in achieving the goals she - and society - had set. Beneath the surface she wildly kicked her way through belonging to a disinherited family, wrestling feelings she should never have had for Connor that still lingered even when she stood beside Nathaniel, the insecurity of not knowing how she would pass her time after graduation, and determinedly attentending these events while knowing vicious ignorami could spring their wands on her any moment she stepped away from the crowds. “Not everyone gets to be as lucky as me.”
By midnight on Christmas Eve, however, Maggie’s insight proved more accurate than Claudia’s own estimates: it seemed she drew a gaggle of young witches in her wake. Girls she’d seen grow from toddlers to adolescents who’d recently embarked on their own magical education wanted Claudia’s opinion on anything from which spell books were most useful to where she bought her robes. She advised on makeup application brushes, how to get grass stains off satin shoes (and next time, to put an imperturbable charm on them before wearing them outside), and whether the new song by Sonia Sonata was worth listening to.
When she arrived as a guest at the New Year’s Eve celebrations, Claudia’s fan club was already waiting for her, with their pureblood parents looking on disapprovingly. How dare their delicate offspring cavort with a girl whose brother was queer? Claudia was sure to bestow the onlookers with her most supercilious smile.
“I’ll leave you to your minions,” Nathaniel teased. He kissed her hand before he let it slide from his. Claudia enjoyed how her skin tingled beneath his touch.
“I’m so honored to see you all again,” she said to her adoring followers. “So tell me, who here ever feels like she has to do things she really doesn’t want to do, just because it’s what other people want?”