As a young girl, Queenie much prefers to stay home, where her sister’s familiar inner voice soothes her with a never-ending background of inane, harmless little thoughts, than to brave the streets and be assaulted by hundreds upon hundreds of worries and fears and angers invading her head until she can’t tell them from her own.
Even a trip to the grocery store becomes a nightmare.
The first lesson she learns is that it’s wrong. She learns that, in other people’s heads, she’s that strange Goldstein girl and the pretty one, what a pity she’s so shy.
Well, at least they think she’s pretty. She said thank you to a compliment that hadn’t actually been said out loud, once, and the resulting awkwardness taught her – lesson number two – that perhaps it’s best not to talk at all, unless she really needs to.
Except to Tina. Tina doesn’t mind if she gets her head and her mouth mixed up sometimes, so she doesn’t count.
But Queenie can’t stay cooped up in the house forever, and so (that’s lesson number three) she learns that going out and facing the crowds is a necessity. And she does, kicking and screaming a little less each time, but Ma and Pa always get her ready to go into town with a deep, weary sigh—because they know she suffers from it, but also because they know she’ll come back with questions, questions they can’t answer.
Lesson number four: when you can read minds, innocence never lasts long.
While Tina is busy asking why the sky is blue, Queenie reduces the room to silence by asking what, exactly, the man next door has been doing with his pretty secretary and why he thinks his wife will be mad at him for it.
And then dragonpox comes, and the hurt will never, ever go away, because with Tina’s grief echoing her own, climbing back up from that deep, dark place is twice as hard. Just when she thinks that maybe her pain is going away a little, it’s her sister who thinks about it, and it feels as though Queenie will never smile again. They try to keep each other happy, because even without Legilimency, Tina can’t stand to see her like that, which only makes her sadder, which affects Queenie in turn, in an endless cycle of renewed tears that they stop by sheer force of will. They pull through, as always, somehow, but things are never quite the same.
When her acceptance letter to Ilvermorny comes along, Queenie tells herself she’s excited, because she’ll get a wand, and she’ll get to learn proper magic and be with Tina instead of having to stay home and miss her.
But as it turns out, there are more lessons to be learned at Ilvermorny than Charms and Potions.
Ilvermorny means people, people all around, all the time. It’s not that she doesn’t like people on principle, but it’s just too much, and she breaks down soon enough, having to tearfully excuse herself from class with the first of many splitting headaches.
Worse than that, she quickly makes a name for herself as the one who’s pretty, but stupid, and it secretly infuriates her—you try to stay focused on your own work while everyone else is doing it as well, never quite knowing if your answer is your own or someone else’s, or even right or wrong.
She learns, eventually: another lesson is that certain people are best ignored altogether, or they’ll only make her potion explode if she does what they’re doing, while others can usually be trusted to be thinking along the right lines, and she does better if she listens to them. Suddenly, she’s not quite so behind in her classwork anymore, and life is smiling at her for the first time in too long.
But that doesn’t last either. Her next lesson is about envy, because a single person can’t be pretty and good at the same time, so picking the answers out of other students’ heads is clearly against the rules and should be punished, even when she can’t help it. (She checks a big, dusty rulebook that looks as though no one’s touched it since Isolt Sayre, and there isn’t a rule like that.)
Her grades suffer from her teachers’ suspicion, and the ‘pretty airhead’ reputation is back in full force. Good thing it’s Tina, and not her, who already has her life all planned out and is throwing herself into academic excellence with all she has because the Aurors will take nothing less. Clearly, she’ll never amount to much of anything if she’s only ever average at best, even when she swears she didn’t cheat.
Queenie’s first childhood crush is on Professor Wilkinson, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s handsome, even if the other girls think it’s just because of that and she’s content with letting them believe it.
Professor Wilkinson, it turns out, used to be an Auror, and he’s a powerful enough Occlumens to keep her out. She looks at him, and she gets nothing. He scares her at first, because she’s never met anyone she couldn’t read before and he’s an unknown quantity, but then his mind becomes an island of peace in the chaos of the classroom, and he’s so different, so blissfully quiet, that enjoying the reprieve turns into something more. He lets her down gently when she finally dares sneak him a card on Valentine’s Day, and she tiptoes into the Thunderbird dorms to cry herself to sleep next to Tina that night, but the lesson she draws from that is that time heals all wounds.
‘Healing’ is a word she’d really rather not hear for the rest of her life if she can help it. It’s not the visits to the literal Healer that bother her—in fact, the school’s infirmary is one of the few places that are a little less full of background noise, and the nurse soon learns that a little respite is better than a potion for her kind of pain.
No, it’s the fact that being in Pukwudgie, the House of healers, means she’s constantly surrounded by people intent on fixing her, on making her normal, on getting her out of her shell—although, frankly, she suspects she’s blaming it on her Sorting just to find something to be angry at, but it would be the same anywhere. They don’t know she’s created that shell for them, not for herself, that the less she associates with them, the less chance she has of learning something best left unsaid.
But even that is a lesson she learns sooner or later: smile, ask questions you already know the answer to so people aren’t scared, be nice. Being nice is laughably easy when you know what people want before they say it, and there’s something to be said about making people happy—another thing she learns is that if she surrounds herself with happy people, she’s a little happier too, like the moon reflecting light from the sun, as the Astronomy teacher said.
So she keeps them happy, no matter how tired she is at the end of the day, no matter how badly she just wants to hit the pillow and let her dorm-mates’ dreams lull her into sleep. A pretty face helps her on the way to becoming the little social butterfly they want her to be, even if it’s just on the surface. They think they’ve healed her, fixed her, and their job is done. They’re happy, and Queenie takes her scraps of happiness from that. She thinks she’s finally found a balance, until trouble starts again.
There comes a time in every girl’s life when her body starts changing, and for Queenie, it’s not just her body, it’s the thoughts of everyone else around her. Little by little, she goes from being the pretty one to being kept awake at night by the bombardment of lewd mental images she’s had during the day. She can’t make her way to her next class without feeling the boys’ eyes glued to certain budding parts of her body as she passes, she knows exactly what they’d like to do to her in some abandoned classroom if they could, and it’s so clear in her head it’s very nearly as though they’d really done it.
Oh, she uses it to her advantage from time to time, she’s not above that—she always knows who’s willing to carry her books for her or help her with a difficult assignment in hopes of a ‘reward’ that never comes.
But the lesson she learns from it is that all boys are the same, that they only want that, and while the other girls are staying awake in their dorm to share secrets about their first kisses and blushing furiously at the height of impropriety they’ve committed, Queenie’s had quite enough experience of that in her head already and has no great wish to try the real thing.
And so ‘Queenie’ becomes ‘The Ice Queen’, causing bitterness wherever she goes from boys who can’t have her, and she thinks she doesn’t mind at first, but it gets lonely, up there on her throne. Desire becomes anger, lust turns into spite, and even if they don’t dare throw the word at her where a teacher might hear, their minds speak it clearly enough, and it certainly isn’t witch, although it rhymes nicely. She cries about it the first time, and the second, and the third, but then Tina tells her a No-Maj story she’s heard from who knows where about a fox and some grapes, and she finally smiles again and learns not to care. Much.
But then the next lesson comes, and it’s of a different kind. Things are changing out there, and Queenie dearly wishes she could stay at school over the holidays, when it’s deserted, not because she’d get to keep her wand on the grounds, but because she doesn’t want to be plunged back into a world that’s gone to war, with No-Maj mothers mourning their sons, and the memories of those who made it back, memories that give her nightmares full of so much noise and so much blood. Without ever buying one from a street vendor, she learns that war is even worse than No-Maj newspapers say, that war means going to Europe hoping to make a difference and, once there, finding out that there really isn’t much glory in seeing your friends die like nameless animals in the mud.
Eventually, school ends, but that doesn’t mean her lessons are over. Making ends meet is a lesson she learns along with Tina—they find a place of their own, with a hopelessly old-fashioned landlady with a strong Italian accent that throws her off a little, a lonely, bitter old woman who doesn’t seem to notice that the world is finally licking its war wounds and running headfirst into the shiny madness of a new decade. She has a job, even if it’s not a glamorous one, and life is good. Maybe.
At MACUSA, she learns yet another lesson: how to be invisible without a spell or an expensive cloak. Queenie is quite sure they’d notice if she suddenly stopped showing up, as she’s the one who always knows how they like their coffee and tea before they ask, and a nice cup of joe can change a person’s day, but down in the bored hopelessness of the Wand Permit Office, sometimes she feels as though they were looking through her rather than at her. Some of them don’t even know her name. She’s just the pretty girl with the coffee, and she learns not to mind. She becomes a permanent, smiling fixture bringing what little light she can to the dusty dreariness of endless paperwork, for her own benefit as much as theirs, and the days go on, one by one.
Until one day suddenly stands out among all others as the day Tina gives up her precious career for a good cause – please, tell me it was a good cause, her mind screams as she comes home in disgrace, desperate for a scrap of reassurance and approval that she’s only too glad to give – and joins her in the bowels of the Magical Congress, where everyone finally learns both their names for the price of one, because it would get confusing otherwise. Some still refer to her as ‘Blondie’ and ‘coffee girl’ in the not-so-secret of their minds, but they mostly get it right.
The budget tightens, but they get by. Cooking charms have always been her forte, and she’s always the one who finds the best recipes that are both scrumptious and cheap.
And then they come along, and it’s the craziest couple of days Queenie can remember.
And maybe one of her lessons was wrong.
Maybe one man is different.Strange, how it took a No-Maj, of all people, to teach her that particular lesson.