Author's Notes: The first three chapters introduce the reader to the main character, Ellie Winterbourne. Snape doesn't appear until chapter 4. Feel free to skip to chapter 4. I won't be offended. ;-)
This story is set about three years before the Harry Potter series begins.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling, not me.
Chapter One: Introducing Ellie
At the end of the garden, behind Mrs. Manning's prized rose bushes, Ellie lay on her stomach with her legs swinging in the air. She was enjoying the cool breeze that was blowing gently against her face. She picked a nearby daisy from the grass and began to pluck out the petals.
"Eleanora! Eleanora where are you?" a voice from the house shouted. Ellie sighed. She was tempted to stay where she was, the bushes shielded her from view from the house, but she knew that eventually Mrs. Manning would come looking for her and she would save herself one scolding at least by coming when she was called.
Ellie stood up reluctantly, and brushed the stray grass strands and traces of dust and dried muck from her clothes and hurried towards the house. When she came around the rose bush she saw Mrs. Manning standing just outside the patio door, her arms folded and tapping her left foot. This was not a good sign. When Mrs. Manning adopted this stance, it usually meant that she, Ellie, was in trouble.
She hurried up the garden to the waiting Mrs. Manning and stood before her, waiting to hear what it was she had done this time. She didn't have to wait long.
"Where have you been you silly girl? I've been calling you! Mr. Stone is here for your lesson."
"But I came as soon as you called!" Ellie protested indignantly.
That was the wrong thing to do. Mrs. Manning's eyes narrowed, and she glared at Ellie. Ellie gulped. Now she was in for it.
"I won't take any insolence from you girl," Mrs. Manning began, wagging her finger at Ellie. "I look after you out of the goodness of my heart when no one else would and I expect some respect! All the money I've thrown away on you! Who gives you a roof over your head? Who puts food in front of you? Who buys clothes for you?"
As Mrs. Manning uttered the last part of her sentence, she looked Ellie up and down and then screeched.
"Child, what on earth have you been doing? You're filthy!" Mrs. Manning said angrily.
Ellie looked down at her clothes guiltily. There was a patch of muck on her jeans from where she had been lying on the ground. She looked back up at Mrs Manning.
"Sorry," she said meekly. Mrs. Manning stared at her for a moment and then sighed.
"Just like her mother," she muttered to herself, but Ellie's sharp ears caught it.
"Really?" Ellie asked, curious. It wasn't often Mrs. Manning would speak about her mother.
"Get in to your lesson!" Mrs. Manning told Ellie, ignoring what she had said. Ellie sighed and did as Mrs. Manning said. There was no point in pushing Mrs. Manning to tell her more. Ellie had learned long ago that it never got her anywhere.
Ellie greeted Mr. Stone with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Mr. Stone was alright. He called her "young lady" a lot but he said it in a nice way, not like the way Mrs. Manning said it when she was in trouble. Sometimes when Ellie did really well in her work Mr. Stone would give her a bar of chocolate. Mrs. Manning didn't approve of children eating chocolate (it rots your teeth!) so Ellie would stuff it up her jumper until she could smuggle it off to her room. Ellie had once questioned why chocolate would ruin her teeth but it was okay for Mrs. Manning and her friends to eat chocolate cake when they had their garden parties, but Mrs. Manning had berated her for her rudeness and banned her from watching T.V. for a week.
Mr. Stone had been coming to the house everyday to school her for almost a year – ever since the "incident", as Mrs. Manning called it, at her old school. It happened when Martha Jones and Elizabeth Proudfoot had been teasing a new girl at school – Bethany Smith. Bethany was small and shy, a perfect target for Martha and Elizabeth. Ellie had discovered them in a classroom throwing wooden blackboard dusters at Bethany. Ellie had rushed to Bethany's defence at once, but then found herself on the receiving end of the dusters. She had to hold her hands over her head as the dusters rained down on her. She felt really angry, and wished that Martha and Elizabeth were the ones being pelted with the hard wooden dusters instead. Suddenly she noticed that nothing was hitting her anymore, and she heard Martha and Elizabeth screaming. She put her hands down and saw that the dusters were being flung at Martha and Elizabeth. She looked around, but there was no one throwing them. It was as if the dusters were doing it themselves! Martha and Elizabeth ran screaming out of the classroom, and the dusters followed them up the corridor, hitting them on the head repeatedly. Ellie followed them out into the corridor and watched, amazed. The two scared (and bruised) girls ran into the headmaster of the school, Mr. McDonagh, and immediately the dusters fell to the ground and lay there motionless.
Of course, Martha and Elizabeth told Mr. McDonagh that Ellie had attacked them and thrown the dusters at them. Mr. McDonagh had called in Mrs. Manning. When Ellie protested her innocence and insisted that the dusters had attacked Martha and Elizabeth all by themselves, Mrs. Manning jumped up, horrified.
She grabbed Ellie's arm and hauled her out of Mr Mc. Donagh's office, proclaiming that Ellie would never set foot inside the school again. Mr. McDonagh was confused and tried to reason with Mrs. Manning, but she wouldn't listen. She was true to her word. Ellie was not allowed to return to school, and instead Mr. Stone came to teach her Maths and English and History, and everything else that was appropriate for a ten-year-old girl.
Ellie didn't miss school that much. She had never made that many friends. She kept to herself mostly, apart from when she came up against Martha and Elizabeth. It was nice not to have to see them again. Sometimes though, Ellie wished some of the nicer girls from school would call in to see her. Someone like Lisa Jenkins or Emma Walsh, or even Bethany Smith. But nobody came, so Ellie was stuck with Mrs. Manning.
Mrs. Manning was a very old lady, from Ellie's perspective anyway. She was in her seventies and had long grey hair that she pinned up neatly in tight bun every day. She wore thick glasses that covered her brown eyes. She was tall, thin, and bony, especially her hands, which Ellie had felt the back of more times than she could remember.
Ellie tried to be good, but Mrs. Manning had very strict ideas about children's' behaviour. She had once been a nanny to Ellie's mother and Ellie got the impression that she didn't much approve of her mother. Mrs. Manning did not like to talk much about Ellie's family. Ellie knew that her mother's name was Claudia and that she had died shortly after Ellie was born, of what Ellie didn't know. Her grandparents had taken care of her when she was a baby but they had been very old and they both passed away when she was little. Ellie had been left all alone in the world with no one to care for her. That's when Mrs. Manning came along and rescued her from the orphanage, or at least that is what Mrs. Manning would say from time to time anyway. Ellie had wondered why her father had not taken care of her after her mother's death but when she had asked Mrs. Manning about this Mrs. Manning had snorted and muttered that maybe if Claudia had been more forthcoming her father would have taken care of her. Ellie didn't quite understand this but when she questioned Mrs. Manning further Mrs. Manning had barked at her to be quiet and never speak to her of that subject again. Mrs. Manning had however given her a photo of her mother, which Ellie treasured more than anything in the world and kept in a frame beside her bed.
Ellie thought she looked a lot like her mother. She had blonde hair and blue eyes like her. Ellie often talked to the picture of her mother when she was feeling scared or upset. She never dared to tell anyone else this though.
"Do you understand Eleanora?" a voice said, snapping Ellie out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw Mr. Stone looking expectantly at her. Ellie blushed. She hadn't listened to a word he had said. She felt guilty. Mr. Stone was always kind to her and it wasn't fair to daydream during his lessons. She hesitated slightly, and then asked him if he could repeat what he had said because she was confused. She hoped that Mr. Stone would accept this and not realise that the reason she was confused was that she had spent the last half hour lost in her own thoughts. Thankfully, Mr. Stone nodded his head, and patiently began to repeat the lesson.
After Mr. Stone had left, Ellie had to do her chores. She had to mop the kitchen floor, dust the downstairs rooms, polish the silver in the cabinet in the living room, and air out the upstairs rooms, which Mrs. Manning was always complaining were musty. Mrs. Manning was tending to her plants and bushes in the garden. Tending to the plants and bushes generally meant having a look over them and noting what ever work Ellie needed to do to keep things in shape, and then having a snooze in one of the lounge chairs in the garden. Ellie didn't mind this work too much. Mrs. Manning was very old and was too frail to do it all herself. The one thing Ellie had nothing to do with was Mrs. Manning's prized rose bushes. A woman came specially to see to them. Mrs. Manning was afraid that Ellie might ruin them. Ellie wasn't insulted by this. The bushes had very sharp thorns growing on them as well as roses. She didn't fancy being pricked by one of them.
Days like these were generally how Ellie's life went on. Occasionally Mrs. Manning would take Ellie out for a treat to the cinema, to the zoo, or out shopping for new clothes. Mrs. Manning could be very strict and often grew impatient with Ellie, but she could also be nice too. When Mrs. Manning went out alone and left Ellie with Mrs. Dunne who lived across the street, she always brought Ellie back a present. Even though sometimes Ellie didn't like Mrs. Manning very much (usually when Mrs. Manning was yelling at her for getting her clothes dirty or for not washing the windows properly or for asking silly questions) she was grateful to Mrs. Manning for giving her a home. Ellie had heard stories about orphanages before and she was definitely glad that she didn't have to go and live in one of them.
On a sunny July day, just one day before her eleventh birthday, Ellie was bored. Mrs. Manning was having a meeting with her committee out in the garden. Ellie wasn't sure exactly what the committee did beyond gossiping and drinking tea, but Mrs. Manning had shooed her away into the house anyway so she wasn't going to find out today. She lay on her bed for a while, looking at the picture of her mother when an idea suddenly struck her. She wasn't sure where the idea had come from; it just appeared in her head. Ellie had never really been in the attics, two stories up from her bedroom. There was nothing up there but a load of old junk, but looking at the picture of her mother, Ellie wondered if maybe there were other photos of her mother up there, or even some of her things. Mrs. Manning usually forbade Ellie to go up there, but she was out in the garden entertaining her friends, so she would never know.
Ellie crept up the flight of stairs to the next story of the house. At the end of the landing was a door that led to the staircase up to the attic. Feeling a thrill of excitement at this sudden adventure, Ellie raced along the landing, yanked open the door and rushed up the stairs.
When she reached the top, the room was dark. Sunlight streamed in from two windows, one at either end of the room, and in a few moments Ellie's eyes adjusted to the light and she could see. She looked around. The room was very dusty. Sheets covered interesting looking lumps. Ellie pulled the nearest sheet to her and a cloud of smoke enveloped her. She coughed and sneezed. She waved the air in front of her, trying to settle the dust, and eventually she could see properly again. A chair lay under the sheet. It was old looking, and reminded Ellie of something she had seen in an old castle that Mrs. Manning had taken her to visit once.
Ellie moved on, looking under other sheets to see what else was in the room. She found more chairs like the first one, and an old table, but finally she found something more interesting. Lying near a window was an old looking chest. She tried the lid, hoping it wasn't locked, and to her delight, she found that the lid began to lift up. It was heavy, so it took most of her strength to heave it open, but after about half a minute, she managed it.
She looked inside and saw lots of old looking bits of yellowish paper with writing on them. She picked one piece up and found it felt stiff and rougher than normal paper. She looked at the writing to see what it said. She was surprised to see that the papers were old letters. It wasn't bright enough to make out everything that was written on the papers, but she could make out the names at the bottom: Jonas Winterbourne. That was her grandfather's name. She was very curious now. She picked up some more of the papers, meaning to take them back to her room with her and take a closer look at them. Under the papers, she found a book. It had a black leather cover and it was big. She pulled it out and opened it. Her heart leapt. This is exactly what she had been looking for! It was a photo album. She flipped quickly though the pages, but the poor lighting made it difficult to see. She was torn between wanting to run back to her room immediately to look at the photo album or to keep looking through the chest. She decided that since she was here she might as well check to see if there was anything else of interest in the chest before rushing off. She began to dig deeper. She found another book and dragged it out. On the front, she could make out the word "diary". This was very interesting. She added it to the pile she was taking back to her room.
All that seemed to be left in the chest were more papers, but at the bottom, her hands felt something soft. She pulled it out. It looked like a dress of some sort, or maybe a coat. It was black and long. Curious, Ellie decided to take this with her too. Gathering up her pile, she gingerly made her way to the stairs, afraid of tripping and scattering her newfound treasure everywhere. She descended the stairs carefully, and made her way slowly across the landing, down the other staircase and into her room. She shut the door behind her with her foot and dropped her pile on her bed to examine it.
She tossed aside the black garment and made a beeline for the photo album. Settling herself down on her bed, she opened the first page. Staring back at her, she saw pictures of a man and a woman who had obviously just gotten married. Ellie smiled at their happy grins, but her smile faded quickly as she realised the smiling people in the photo were waving at her. Ellie snapped the album shut quickly, dropped the book on the bed and leapt up, her heart pounding. She stared at the book, her eyes wide open. After a moment, she felt silly. She had been imagining it. People in photos don't wave at you. It was all the excitement getting to her head. Feeling rather foolish, she picked up the album again and sat back down on the bed. She opened the album, this time at the second page, and looked at the pictures. This time it was the same couple but standing in front of a statue. They were waving again.
Ellie looked away from the album, closing her eyes. She gingerly opened one eye and looked back at the photo. The people in it were still waving at her. Okay, she had officially gone crazy. She looked at the other photos on the page. They were mostly of this same couple, sometimes alone and sometimes with other people, and all the people in the picture were moving. Some were waving; some were putting their thumbs up. Occasionally a person would be bobbing their head from side to side with a huge grin on their face. As Ellie went through the album, she came to pictures of a baby. In some pictures, the baby looked like it was crying, in others as if it was laughing. There were lots and lots of pictures of the couple with the baby. Eventually the pictures showed the baby getting older, turning into a toddler, and then into a child. The couple in the picture were getting older too.
Ellie came to some pictures of the couple and the child (a girl Ellie had finally realised) and started. The girl, now older, looked like her! It hit her in a flash – the girl was her mother, and the couple must be her grandparents. She had seen pictures of her grandparents of course, but only of them as an older couple, not young like they were in these pictures. How were they all moving in these pictures though? It didn't make any sense to Ellie.
Ellie continued to look at the photo album until she came to the last page. The album was quite big so this took a long time. In the last few pictures, her grandparents had become recognisable to her. They had begun to look the way they did in the pictures she had seen of them. Her mother looked to be a bit older than her in the last pictures, a teenager. The pictures in the last few pages were very curious. Ellie's mother was wearing a black gown-like item and grinning madly. There was a patch of some sort on the gown, but Ellie couldn't make it out. When she had looked at all the pictures Ellie closed the album over carefully. She was still confused about the moving figures in the photo, and the strange thing her mother had been wearing. She looked idly around the room, and her glance fell on the black garment she had found in the chest. Ellie looked back at the closed photo album and then back at the black garment. Could it be the strange thing her mother had been wearing?
Ellie jumped up and shook out the garment in front of her. It looked a lot like what her mother had been wearing. The patch was there and everything. She looked closely at it. It looked like a crest. The edges were golden and there was a lion on it. Underneath was the word "Gryffindor". Gryffindor, was that someone's name? Why was it sown on to her mother's clothes?
She tried the garment on. It was a bit big on her. She had to scrunch the sleeves up to see her hands. She looked at herself in the mirror and laughed. "I look like a witch!" she thought to herself, remembering some Hallowe'en costumes she had seen before. All she needed was a pointy hat and a broom. Perhaps that's what this gown thing was then, a Hallowe'en costume that her mother had worn.
As Ellie was admiring herself, she heard Mrs. Manning calling her name. Ellie suddenly panicked. If Mrs. Manning caught her with all of these things, she would be furious. She hastily took off the gown and grabbed the photo album, the unread diary and the letters. She stuffed everything at the back of her wardrobe. She noticed her clothes and hair were a bit dusty so she brushed herself down quickly, and then went downstairs. She received a scolding from Mrs. Manning for taking so long, and then was set to work, making sandwiches and cutting slices of cake for Mrs. Manning's garden party. As Ellie worked her mind went back again to the strange photo album. For a wild moment, she considered asking Mrs. Manning about it but she quickly dismissed this idea. There was some mystery going on with that photo album, but Ellie would have to figure it out for herself.