stars, hide your fires
The phrase reminded James of an event several years earlier, and he quickly tried to push that memory to the back of his mind. “It happens to all chemists,” he answered a bit shortly.
The sound of zipping backpacks and scraping chairs began partway through James’s demonstration and he looked up in dismay as his students began to file out silently. “Wait, I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet –” he started in confusion, looking through dark blue eyes and lab goggles as the students left without another word. “Nothing even caught fire yet!” Most of his students pretended not to hear him as they left, and finally James lowered his vials back to the lab bench at the front of the lecture hall and breathed out a sigh of annoyance when he realized that it actually had been time for his students to leave.
A few lingered around his lab desk at the front, asking about due dates and exam grades which he answered quickly, and he was just beginning to erase all the mechanisms he’d drawn on the chalkboard when a voice interrupted him.
James turned at the sound and then frowned over at Edgar, bespectacled and a little bit eager, standing right in front of the lab bench. “Did you have a question about the lecture?” he asked the young man as he continued erasing the board. “I have a lot of exams to finish grading, so if it’s something lengthy, I’ll need you to drop in during my office hours instead and ask me then.” Really, he just couldn’t be bothered to redraw all the mechanisms and diagrams that he was in the process of erasing — even when doing something that he was passionate about, James was notoriously lazy. Besides, he still had to pick up his children from their mother’s that day, and he wanted to make sure that he’d finished his work by that time so that he could spend more with them.
“Not about today’s lecture, actually, Sir. I had a question that was more about your demonstration.”
James turned quizzically back to the student. He’d only gotten two steps into his demonstration that day before it had been interrupted, but he wasn’t too surprised. The young man in front of him seemed to a passion and affinity for chemistry that seemed lacking in many of James’s other students. “Go on.”
“Ammonium dichromate,” Edgar nodded at the chalkboard. “That’s what you were about to light on fire to show us how it solidifies, right? It’s pretty cool.”
Despite his focus now on getting back to his office and finishing all the grading that he had to do, James found himself smiling. “It is, yeah. If I’d been able to finish the demonstration, you would have seen it happen.”
“Does that happen a lot? Are you familiar with a lot of explosive reactions?”
“Well,” James gave a small shrug, “I do work with a lot of chemicals, I know which few can be pretty reactive. You would too if you’d studied that chart of reactions that I wrote on the board last week,” he added somewhat accusingly.
Edgar shrugged off his concern and leaned closer to the lab bench, lightly tapping on the beaker that held the powdered ammonium dichromate that James had been working with. “Have you set things on fire before? Ever caused a reaction between two reactants without realizing it?”
The phrase reminded James of an event several years earlier, and he quickly tried to push that memory to the back of his mind. “It happens to all chemists,” he answered a bit shortly, “Stay away from the chemicals, Edgar, they’re volatile and you’re meant to be wearing goggles if you’re working with them.”
Edgar didn’t move, his gaze eager and seemingly fixated upon the beakers and vials in front of him on the lab bench counter. He didn’t ask another question, and James put down the chalkboard eraser and turned somewhat awkwardly to the man. “Er, do you have any more questions? If not, I’ll need to go.”
“When I asked you that question, you didn’t answer me. You didn’t say if it had happened to you.”
James shifted. “It doesn’t really matter now, does it? Anyway, I really have to run. Oh, I still mean to change your assignment on your last exam to account for the extra credit, so remind me of your surname before I go, Mr….?”
Edgar turned his gaze upward to him, and suddenly the resemblance flashed through James’s mind and he was reminded of another scientist with glasses just like those, who’d worked alongside him for years before he’d stolen his work and met an accidental but untimely demise at James’s hand. The young man’s next words confirmed it for him. “Edgar Cornwall, Sir. I believe that you were acquainted with my father. My late father.” He flashed a pearly-white grin.
James’s dark blue eyes widened, “I didn’t mean to –”
He never finished his sentence. Edgar Cornwall lifted his hand and revealed the wand that he’d been hiding in his pocket the entire time he’d been in the muggle university, and blasted it toward the chemicals on James’s desk before turning on the spot and apparating away.
The professor didn’t have his wand on him, and the flames immediately blocked his escape. He couldn’t bring himself to be overly sentimental in his last few moments, to think of his children or his siblings, of Cecily or Cordelia or Freya or even his mother for longer than a few seconds. His last thought was that this was a fitting end, that he was finally paying for his mistakes if Azkaban itself hadn’t been enough to atone for them.
And James Major finally burned out.