A/N: ~looks sheepish~ Hey everyone! Long time no see, eh?
So… in all honesty, I have no excuse for this disgustingly long wait. I just lost my muse for this story and couldn’t find it again. But I’m back (for the moment) and hopefully have created something worth… well, something. I won’t say much else, if only because there isn’t much to say – just happy reading!
I expected all sorts of fun to happen that day, mostly involving Oak and James hunting me down and forcing me back onto a broomstick. Connor and I were just leaving a surprisingly enjoyable breakfast (yes, I said enjoyable) when Professor Alendria appeared, looking concerned beyond my belief of her being able to.
I couldn’t help but stiffen in worry as she approached us at a near-sprint. This was a woman that had given me the overall impression of owning the universe – when something happened to make her realize that it wasn’t hers, my instinct told me that there was hell to pay.
But she didn’t look like she wanted to kill anyone quite yet. When she caught sight of the two of us clambering out of the kitchens, a flood of relief stormed her face and she approached quickly.
“Miss Riley!” She cried, clutching at a stick in her side. “There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“You have?” I asked at the same time Connor piped, “‘We’?”
“We being the rest of the staff and me,” she said, finally catching her breath. “Elaina, Headmaster Longbottom said that he needs to meet with you immediately.”
I flinched and turned to glance at Connor, worry popping up to line the corners of my eyes. He looked almost as perturbed our instructor as he nodded for me to go ahead… as if I needed his permission.
“Of course,” I said, looking back at my Transfiguration professor. “Lead the way.”
She did so at a break-neck pace, her heels clicking and my sneakers scuffing. As we rushed through the halls, I took a deep breath and asked, “What is it? What’s happened?”
“Our Headmaster wouldn’t say. He just said that it was vital that you come to him as soon as possible.”
I swallowed thickly and suddenly wished that Alendria would move faster, could run more quickly. Somehow, we made it to Longbottom’s office without her breaking one of her spiky little heels, and when we did she uttered some nonsensical password and gestured for me to go up.
Courtesy almost fled me as I gave her a nod of thanks and vaulted up the stairs, not even breathless. My mind began to swirl, coming up with all sorts of terrible things he would have for me – another sighting of the beast, or something that had experienced its awing power?
The door was open, so I didn’t bother knocking. Instead, I leaped inside and looked around, quickly spotting Longbottom at his desk. He wasn’t working on anything, or even reading something; he sat with his fingertips pressed together, observing nothing in particular over the folds of his hands. He flinched at my appearance, however, and said, “Miss Riley.”
Before I could even ask, he was talking, reaching for something on the corner of his desk. “I know that you are curious. I thought… that you might want to see the headlines for tonight’s Evening Prophet.”
My eyebrows arched before I could stop them, barely resisting the urge to scoff. He had me panicking because of a newspaper?
But when I took it and saw what he wanted me to read, my blood ran cold.
“INFAMOUS HUNTER OUT OF ACTION”
“What?” I gasped, looking down to the picture beneath the print.
My father was lying in a hospital bed, looking gaunt and bandaged. As his image moved, he winced and turned his head to the side, trying to shy away from the camera’s glare.
“Oh my God,” I whispered hoarsely, almost to horrified to read on.
Almost. My eyes darted down and raced along the lines, absorbing the information too quickly.
Daniel Riley, age forty-two, was off hunting a feral Macagrosa in the swamps of New Orleans when he was attacked from behind. Feral Macagrosas are known for their shark-like attraction to blood, and when it is spilled it draws them in. He was inches from being completely devoured when he managed to Apparate to a bar he commonly frequents. He was taken to St. Mungo’s, but had been released to his home in the morning as long as he allowed his friend to live with him until further notice in order to help him.
“Oh my God,” I repeated, suddenly finding my legs unable to support my weight. I collapsed into a chair, my hands shaking so violently that the words on the paper became unreadable. “I-I have to go to him. Headmaster, please!”
Longbottom continued to study me, watching, waiting, until he said, “Before I allow you to leave, you must come up with a cover story.”
“A cover story.” I repeated dumbly, staring ahead.
“Yes. You seem to have created an effective one for your reason at Hogwarts, so you need to have another for why there is a very famous monster hunter injured and why you were forced to rush to his side.”
For a long second, I couldn’t think of anything but flying to my father’s side, wrapping my arms around him and making everything better. But I wasn’t the kind of person who struggled under pressure; it didn’t take me a minute to inhale a deep breath and pluck the perfect lie out of my mind.
“Did you know that my father has an uncle who is rather famous?” I asked, finally meeting the Headmaster’s worried expression. “He has a daughter – my cousin – who is studying abroad for some reason. He lost his wife too.”
“Your family has bad luck when it comes to women, doesn’t it?” he asked dryly.
I shrugged. “That’s the best I have, sir.”
He thought about it for a minute before nodding, rising to his feet and lighting a fire in his hearth. I leaped up and reached for the container of Floo powder he offered me, glowering when he held it out of my grip.
“You must stick to this story, Elaina,” he said severely. “And you can’t stay with him.”
I looked him straight in his brown eyes, struggling not to blink so he wouldn’t be able to call me on my lie. “Of course,” I said. “I’ll come back.”
How could he honestly believe me? If my father was lying, injured and in pain, could Longbottom think that I would leave him there?
Obviously, he did. He handed me the Floo powder and I dumped a generous amount into the fire, screaming our address and leaping in after it.
I almost didn’t notice the discomfort of traveling, so distraught was I. In what felt like seconds, I was stumbling out into my kitchen, calling, “Daddy!”
I hadn’t called him ‘daddy’ since I was seven and broke my first bone.
“Ella?” His voice was hoarse, pained, but there was some barely restrained emotion in it too – relief?
“Dad!” I was running before I regained full control over my limbs, almost falling flat on my face as I vaulted around the counter and into the living room.
He was there, sitting in his chair, covered in bandages, and just looking like the saddest creature I had ever seen. I didn’t regain my composure in time to stop myself from throwing my arms around him and burying my face in his chest. My father didn’t flinch, wince, or even hiss – he just wrapped his arms around me and whispered my name into my ear, stroking my hair.
Every emotion I had felt over the past few weeks came rushing back, filling my throat, making me almost sick. I refused to cry in front of my father, but the onslaught made it impossible to talk above a whimpering burble.
I remained in his arms for longer than I could ever remember being there until, finally, I gently pulled away and shifted my weight until I was sitting on the footstool that he rested his legs on. “What happened?” I breathed, not trusting my voice for anything louder.
He smiled faintly and brushed my bangs out of my face, answering in his own whisper, “You’re hair is different.”
“It grew. That happens to hair.”
He smirked and nodded, leaning his head back. “You’re wit hasn’t changed.”
“But my vocabulary grew. If you thought you could swear, you should hear the people I live with.”
His chuckle spoke for him and I smiled at the sound, glad that he was still able to laugh at all. “What happened?” I repeated.
Dad shrugged, but the motion made him wince. “I got stupid. I’m used to having someone covering my back – used to you having my back. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have, and one of the stupid buggers sneaked up on me.”
I smiled shakily. “You sound so nonchalant about it.”
“This isn’t the first injury I’ve had, and it won’t be the last.”
“Dad, you were in the hospital.”
He reached out and took my hand, his fingers reaching up to stroke the crescent of tooth marks that I had sustained just days before going to Hogwarts. “I wasn’t thinking when I Apparated to the bar. I was thinking about your mother, not logic.”
I felt myself stiffen, my eyes widening as he smiled at me. “I miss her Ella. Even more sense you’ve left. You are so much like her, it was like having her here again, just a braver, more instinctive version. She didn’t have the killer intuition that you did – she was taught as much as she could be, but she wasn’t like you.
“But you’ve changed – don’t! Don’t try to deny it!” He held up a hand to restrain my inevitable retort. “You’ve changed in a good way. You’re more like your mother now – you’re softer somehow, like her. You’ve been my Ella for so long, I guess it’s only right that you become your mother’s Elaina.”
“Dad, I’ll always be you’re Ella.” I insisted, twisting my arm so I could grip his hand. “Always.”
Dad chuckled. “No, you won’t. Some young lad has caught your eye, hasn’t he?”
I fought the blush that threatened my cheeks, managing quite well with it for long enough for me to say, “Dad, this isn’t about me. It’s about you.”
“Of course it’s about you! Ella, you’re searching for a beast that is unlike anything I’ve seen before! We need to talk all about you and what you’ve discovered!”
“How could you say that? Dad, you’re all torn to hell! Besides… there isn’t anything more to tell since I last wrote you about it.”
He shot me a doubting look and shook his head. “Don’t lie to me, Ella. I’m your father.”
“I know Dad. I know.”
He started to sit up and I lunged forward, trying to make him sit. “Dad, you’re hurt! Don’t!”
He chuckled and waved me off, reaching to the side for an old cane someone had dug up for him. It took him a full minute to work himself into a standing position, and then he started to hobble across the room to one of our many bookcases.
“A creature this size, leaving odd footprints, with a shroud of soot and fire eyes? This is not something that you would find in ordinary books.”
“I know. I was trying to get a pass to the Restricted Section at school, but Longbottom’s taking forever. Maybe Arcel would have something?”
Dad shook his head as his hand rose, his fingertip running along the worn spines. “I’ve been checking every now and then, and I have him on it too. There’s nothing out there, Ella. If there was any record of this creature before, it was so long ago that people didn’t dare write it down.”
“Then what are you looking for?”
“I have something better than a book from the Medieval Ages. Something that you will appreciate. Something that’s been rightfully yours sense your mother died.”
Instinctively, I touched her dog tags, stroking them gently. He started to fumble with a huge tome, a book that was almost thicker than any of the others, and I jumped to my feet. Rushing over, I took it and followed him as he made his slow way back to his chair, placing it on the footstool before him as I waited.
He settled back in and smiled sadly. “Flip the front cover open, dear.”
I did and froze. Because a large, deep box had been cut out of the pages, leaving enough room for a small leather journal with the image of a complex tree stamped into its front. It was tied closed with a long strip gold and red silk, the knot as intricate and beautiful as any I had seen.
“What is it?” I gasped, longing to stroke its soft cover.
“Your mother’s diary. The one she started keeping the day we met, holding every secret, every monster, every cure, and every moment of our lives. And you’re the only one who can read it.”
I looked up, my eyes wide. “What do you mean?”
“Surely, Ella, you know that your mother was a brilliant woman. That knot can only be untied by you – it won’t slip off, no matter how hard you pull; it won’t cut, no matter what knife you use; and it certainly won’t burn, no matter what kind of fire. She made it so that her innermost thoughts would belong to two people – you and her. Go ahead and touch it. It’s yours now.”
Hesitantly, I reached out and picked up the book, holding it in my hands. It felt warm, soft, like something that had traveled the world a hundred times just to find its way home.
“Oh,” I breathed. “Dad… oh…”
He nodded. “I don’t know what’s in there, but… something tells me that it will help you more than you expect it too.”
“Even if it doesn’t…” I bit my lips as unexpected moisture prickled my eyes, my head shaking of its own accord. He reached out and held my forearm as tightly as he could in his crippled state, his wedding band still encircling his ring finger.
“You should go,” he said softly.
I flinched. “What?”
“My buddy will be back from the store soon – I sent him off for beer – and if he sees you… well, problems will come up.”
“But I can’t just leave you! You’re hurt, and – “
“Ella. What was always the rule when we were on a job?”
I swallowed and clutched the book to my stomach. “Do the work, even if it means leaving someone behind.”
“Exactly. And we’re not in a church, fighting a bloodsucker or anything. I’m here, and I’m safe. You can visit me later, but… just not now. Go back to school and do whatever it is that you’re doing. You’ll do fine.”
I wanted to dispute this, but Dad’s tone left no room for discussion. I rose to my feet and tucked the diary inside of my shirt, bending down to peck his cheek. “Love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, Ella. Write me if anything happens.”
I sighed and rose, walking towards the kitchen. “Need anything before I jet?” I called.
“Just for you to give me some space.”
I rolled my eyes and found some Floo powder, measuring some out. “Take any meds the healers give you, all right? And don’t be brave – if you need something, ask for it.”
“Get out of here, Ells. I’m tired of you already.”
I snorted and threw the powder into the fireplace, shaking my head. “Professor Longbottom’s office, Hogwarts.” I paused, calling one last, “Goodbye!” over my shoulder. “I love you!”
I was stepping into the fire before he could respond, the rush filling my ears and the spinning enough to make my stomach roll. The trip seemed to take forever, especially with my father on my mind – how was he supposed to make it without me? If this happened on a job just a few weeks after I left, what was going to happen by Christmas?
He’d probably lose an arm or something.
I shuddered as I popped into Longbottom’s office, somehow landing on my feet for once in my life. I glowered at the headmaster as he started to rise, shaking my head.
“You came back,” he said simply.
“I came back. And now I have to find my friends before they miss me.”
“You weren’t gone that long.”
“Yeah, but like you said – I have to build my story, don’t I?”
“You must stick to your character, Miss Riley.”
“I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it this time, does it?”
“Don’t strain yourself.”
I sniffed and spun around, marching to the door and slamming it closed behind me for good measure. Stupid Longbottom – he didn’t know anything.
I pressed my hand against the book hidden between my skin and my shirt, praying with all of my might that there would be something inside that would make all of this worth doing.
“All right Ella, are you ready for the next one?”
I rolled my eyes, glowering down at James. “I would be much more ready if you stopped asking if I was ready! James, the snitch isn’t going to tell me that it’s coming towards me – I have to learn to be prepared un-prodded!”
He paused anyway, tossing the golf ball up and down before he finally threw it into the air. With a whip of his wand, he sent it flying through the air in the opposite direction from where I hovered.
I shot towards it, flying over James’s head and out across the lake. My reflection shadowed me as I closed in on the little white ball, my hands reaching out in preparation…
I knew I had it before I even felt it, my finger closing around the thing and pulling it back to my body. I spun around and slowly made my way back to James, dropping the ball back down to him.
“Good one, Ella!” he called, clapping his hands a few times before snatching the golf ball out of the air.
“Thanks,” I said, swerving around above him. The noon-day sun was high overhead, beating down on my back as if it was trying to chase away the cold the air brought. James moved the ball around in his hands for a few seconds, singing with an oddly pleasant voice as he shot it back out across the water.
“November has tied me, to an old dead tree… get word to April, to come rescue me…”
I flew faster, pushing my broom harder as I tried to leave my thoughts behind me. I hooked my fingers around the ball again, sighing and rolling my eyes before making my way back to James. “Why don’t you give me a challenge?” I asked, skidding to a stop overhead. “God, I’m tired of all this pussy-footing around.”
“Excuse me for trying to make sure you get used to everything before I move you on to the next step,” he snapped, summoning the ball from my hands.
“Oh, don’t get angry – you know you’ve been too nice.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
I dropped a few feet so that I was close enough to touch his hair with my foot if I wanted too. “James, we have less than three weeks until I have to be in the sky against people who have been there for years. We don’t have time for me to get used to anything right now.”
He pursed his lips before nodding, tossing the golf ball experimentally. “You’re right,” he said. “You have to learn to expect the unexpected.”
I hid my triumphant smirk. “So you’ll send me something fun this time?”
“You could call it that.”
Before I could get a better grip on my broom, he hopped up and grabbed the top of my shoe, his other hand reaching up to grip the fabric around my shins. I screamed as I toppled sideways, falling off and into his waiting arms.
“James!” I squawked, wiggling in discomfort as he beamed down at me. “What was that for?”
“I said that you needed to learn to expect the unexpected, didn’t I?”
“In the air, not in real life!” I scowled at him as he shifted my weight slightly, helping me nestle into a more comfortable position.
“Lighten up, Riley. Breathe a little.”
“I don’t want to breathe. I want to stand on my feet… or sit on a broom.”
“Well, unfortunately, I’m currently not allowing that.”
He laughed and spun me around in a circle, making me shriek and throw my arms around his neck. “Because this is too much fun.”
“We want Ella to be a good flier, James, not vomit.”
We both flinched towards the new voice, only to relax when Annalie approached in her usual demure way. We didn’t have to speak to feel the relief that it wasn’t P.J., or Oak; both of those situations would hold all kinds of unnecessary consequences.
“I’m giving her motion-training,” James said smoothly, lowering the arm that held up my legs to I could slide from his grasp. “You know, so she can do barrel rolls and whatnot.”
“As much as that is appreciated, I think it would be better if she actually did barrel rolls instead of just having you dance about with her.”
“But twirling is so much fun!”
I took a cautious step away from him, calling my broom back to me with a snap of my fingers. “James has a secret dream of becoming a ballerina,” I told Annalie with a private wink, making her laugh.
“I knew it all along!”
“Damn!” James shook his head in shame, hiding his face with his fingertips. “I was hoping that it was a secret!”
“James, you’re about as subtle as a yellow elephant,” I said, my eyebrows arching pointedly.
“I can be subtle if I want to be.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Anyway!” Annalie piped when James started to pout. “Ella, there’s a message for you from Longbottom. It’s sitting on your bed, but I thought I would let you know. Also, Wiggin told us that we weren’t allowed to work you so hard. The past couple of nights have been too extreme. He’s putting a cap on how much time you’re to be in the air – nine o’clock, at the latest.”
“Oak is going to be pissed about that one,” James muttered, shaking his head in almost-worry. “He’s already panicking about you being so fresh.”
“Well, I guess we don’t have a whole lot of a choice.” I sighed and straddled my broom once again, letting it lift me up into the air. “Come on James, throw me another – and give it a little curve or something.”
Annalie decided to stay to help James run me ragged, the two of them eventually playing a game of mid-air monkey in the middle in which I was permanently stuck. I still caught almost everything they threw my way, save for one that James mistakenly sent to the bottom of the lake. I glared at him for that one, barely managing to stop my dive in time to hurtle after it; he laughed nervously before tossing another.
At nine o’clock sharp, when the sky had gone black and the moon had risen to be our own natural light bulb, Wiggen appeared on the edge of the lake and gestured for us to bring it in. I handed him my broom and wandered back inside with James and Annalie, my arms wrapped around both of their waists to support my wobbling legs.
It took a while for Annalie to ask the question I had been bracing myself for, but that didn’t make it any easier to lie when she asked, “Did you see the paper tonight?”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve been with James since one this afternoon.”
“Well… P.J. saw it, and she has some questions for you.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Some… well, rather insulting ones, quite frankly.”
I let my brow furrow as I looked at James, his face wearing the same quizzical expression as mine. “What’s going on? What was in the paper?”
“I’m not supposed to tell you. P.J. wants to act like she’s a part of the Spanish Inquisition or something.”
“Come on Anne,” James moaned, rolling his eyes. “You can’t have Ella go in there without warning her first. What if she slips up something that isn’t her fault?”
“Then we have to listen to P.J. gloat for the next eight years.”
“Exactly. I don’t think that I could survive that.”
I laughed before I could help it as we turned the corner on a staircase, slowly making our way up to the common room. “Just tell me the general topic.”
“It’s about a headline in the paper. Someone who shares your last name.”
I made myself stiffen, concern evident even in its falsehood. “Who?”
I gasped, looking at James for some kind of support. “That’s my uncle! He’s a monster hunter?”
“What happened to him? What’s wrong?”
Annalie relayed the story in the paper to me, watching my outer distress grow greater and greater. I made them move faster, trying not to laugh at myself as we finally burst through the common room door; it was so theatrical that it was comical.
“I need a quill and a piece of parchment!” I told James, letting him peal away from me in order to find it. P.J. and Oak started towards us, but Annalie shot them a hasty, “Not now,” and they both paused.
“What’s going on?” P.J. asked sourly, crossing her arms over her chest.
“It’s her uncle.”
“You told her!”
“What was I supposed to do – would you have rather been the one to tell her?”
P.J. sulked for a minute as Oak surged forward, pressing his hands against my shoulders soothingly. “He’s fine,” he said. “Like the paper wrote, he was released into the care of a friend.”
“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write to him! !hen my mom died, he help put our family back together. I have to!” I looked at Oak with a desperate expression, watching him nod.
James arrived with my paper and a quill and I wrote a quick, almost nonsensical letter questioning my uncle's health. I addressed it to our apartment in London and took a mad dash to the owlrey, a sprint that all of my friends joined me with.
After it had vanished into the night, I sighed and let them lead me back to the common room. I spent the rest of the evening in a ‘state of disarray’, staring at walls with concern and requiring any questions directed at me to be said twice. All in all, I thought it was a rather impressive bit of acting; no one, not even P.J., called me on anything.
When the others started to retire, I stayed in the common room, resting my elbows on the arm of a couch and staring at the fire. Annalie gave me a hug as she passed, and Rhyad gave my arm an encouraging squeeze. Oak held my hand for a minute before leaving, making James, not to be outdone, kiss my head as the two of them vanished to their dorms. P.J. left without a single glance in my direction, which I suppose was more than I would have gotten under other circumstances; I wasn’t about to complain.
When they were all gone, I reached into my bag and pulled out my mother’s diary. I ran my fingers over the image in the leather, my fingers brushing against the knot keeping it closed as I took a steeling breath. Then I began to work at the strings, pulling and watching as the whole thing unraveled in my hands. It barely took a few seconds for it to fall off, lying over my legs like a blanket.
It took more courage than I had anticipated to flip open the cover of the book and stare down at the first ink-spotted page. It wasn’t a part of the book, though; it was a piece of tissue-thin paper, folded multiple times to fit her journal, and waiting with my name on it’s front.
I picked it up and carefully unfolded the page, the crinkle of old parchment like music to my ears. I took a deep breath as I looked down at it, my mouth dryer than any desert.
My Dearest Elaina,
I am not sure how to start this. Saying that I love you is obviously at the beginning of the list, but an apology is also necessary.
I love you. My sweet, I love you so much – more than I think I have ever loved anything. The first time I held you in my arms I knew that you were perfect, and that can’t have changed over the years.
So now the apology. Elaina, I am so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it – if I had known, I never would have gone. But it happened, and now you can blame me for your troubles. The fault is mine that you cannot use wands, that your magic comes from your hands.
This journal of mine will guide you through my life and let you know what I did to cause your… rarity. It is after you finish that you can decide whether or not you can ever forgive me for turning you into a person who will always be separate from your peers. I do love you, no matter my mistakes; I love you, I love you, I love you, my dear, perfect child.
Forever yours, should you chose,
I blinked rapidly, trying to clear away unexpected tears. Strangely, my mind wasn’t clinging to the fact that she had just admitted to somehow causing my strange power.
It was holding on to how she had said that she loved me.
I pressed the open diary to my chest and closed my eyes, pretending for the briefest moment that I was a normal girl missing her normal mother in a normal world.
Than I recovered myself and looked at the thick, parchment pages, flipping to the first word-covered one and preparing myself for a long night.
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