Elaine looked her fill of Carrick Manor, with its backdrop of the sea in midsummer. The view would have to last her a long time; where she was going, she wouldn't be waking every morning to the smell of the ocean and the cries of seagulls. The manor sprawled across the cliff top, its strangely angled wings and odd half-towers showing grey in the morning light. Elaine remembered fondly the times she had spent here in her younger years, leaving the house in the morning and refusing to come back in until all the light had gone from the sky. It was funny that now she had grown and was being forced to leave the house, she did not want to do so. Finally, she turned to her parents and said "I'm ready."
Two days and countless hours spent on a broomstick later, Elaine and her father touched down at the edge of Inglewood Forest, the closest they could get to their destination by air. Her father turned to her and said, "The path should be somewhere around here. Muggles can't see it. It's one of the protections put on the place over the years." It was because of the countless protections on the ancient family estate that her parents had sent her here. Wizards had lived there for centuries, through dangerous times and peaceful ones alike, and the protections the place had amassed were, admittedly, impressive. Her parents had reiterated the point over and over: She would be safe here. Safe from the wrath of the Death Eaters, safe from the shadow of war. Elaine told herself she wasn't being a coward, hiding out here while her parents fought. Her skills had never been suited to dueling or defense.
"Aha!" came her father's voice, triumphant. "Here's the path." He beckoned her over, and she saw a narrow trail, half overgrown with brush. He set out on the path, levitating her luggage before him. Following her father's crunching footsteps, she looked around her with awe. She had never been in a forest like this before. Sure, Hogwarts had the Forbidden Forest, but she had never been inside it, as it was just that: forbidden. Walking under the high, leafy canopy, she felt a sense of peace steal over her. She had lived by the ocean all her life, and she knew the caprice, the unpredictability of nature. But here everything seemed to move slowly, as if removed from time. She jumped when her father spoke again. "I think you'll like Wildwood," he commented over his shoulder. "It's ancient, you know, it was old in Merlin's time—plenty of history there. My father used to take us down there every summer; studying that place was his lifelong hobby. He's where you got your love of history, I expect—you certainly didn't get it from me or your mum. Not to mention the murals are amazing. You'll love them."
"Did he write down what he learned, your father?" she asked, curious. It was true that under any other circumstances she would have jumped at the chance to explore this place. History and art were her great loves, and the place was steeped in both. To think, it had stood since Merlin walked the earth! Merlin had been so long ago that he had become a legend, almost considered a myth by many.
"He did, but I have no idea what he did with his notes. If I knew, I would have given them to you. Maybe you can make your own notes," he suggested. Elaine knew he was trying to soften her towards her virtual imprisonment. Sure, she would be allowed to go to the nearest village for groceries, but otherwise she had been told to stay put, something she resented. However, she did allow herself to consider her father's idea. She would certainly have nothing else to do, and it would be fun. Her father didn't seem to think it would be selfish of her to enjoy herself while he fought. Maybe she would do just that.
Presently, the path widened, and as they came around a curve, Wildwood Hall rose up before them. Elaine stopped, staring. Wildwood was no vast palace, no confectioner's creation of a house. Its grandeur stemmed from its obvious age, the solidity of the well-worn sandstone, as well as the element of surprise that came with its positioning. The forest had covered it well up until its sudden appearance in their line of sight. Dappled light fell across rosy stones, lighting the fantastical carvings around the windows and door and glinting off the diamond-paned windows, which must have been a relatively recent addition. The door itself was made of what looked to be a very sturdy, very thick slab of dark wood, studded with blackened nails. As she approached, she noticed that the carving above the door depicted a shield, with a tree and three bells on it.
"The de Hautdesert coat of arms," her father said, letting her bags settle to the ground. At her questioning look, he elaborated. "They're the ones who built the house, you know. The Carrick family only acquired it a couple of centuries ago." He laughed at her expression. "I say 'only' because the de Hautdeserts had it much longer." At this he reached out with his wand and tapped the door with it, saying, "Open to a child of Madeleine." The door sprang open with a certain eagerness, and Elaine jumped backwards, startled. "Come on," her father said. She obeyed, and her father compelled the luggage to follow with a flick of his wand.
When Elaine looked up, she found herself staring again. The room in which they stood was a small anteroom, bare but for a coat rack next to the door. On the far wall was one of the murals her father had mentioned. This one depicted an apple tree against a creamy yellow background. It exuded a sense of summer; Elaine could practically feel the sunshine on her skin. "That one always bothered your grandfather," her father said pensively.
"How so?" she asked, surprised.
"Well, most of the artist's murals had some sort of meaning to them—even if he only put a cluster of bells in. But my father could never, for the life of him, figure out what he meant by painting an apple tree."
"But isn't there a tree on the coat of arms?" she asked.
"There is, but it's an oak. An apple tree is something different altogether."
He led her through the house, lighting his wand when necessary, and stopped in a narrow hallway. "I think you'll like this room. I used to come in here when I wanted to be alone, when I was younger." He opened the door, and Elaine wondered whether she would ever stop being surprised by the wonders Wildwood offered. For here, covering all four walls, was a mural that showed the sea roiling and heaving in the midst of a tempest. It looked so realistic that Elaine thought for a wild moment that she could feel the spray from the plumed waves and the wind screaming in her face. Such was the magic of this artist's work, she realized suddenly. Even without his wand's help, his paintings seemed alive.
"You can have a less scary room if you like," her father said, seemingly taking her expression as an indication of aversion. "There's one my cousin liked that has a meadow."
"No, no. I love this room!" She turned around, staring at the wall behind her, and saw that caught in the throes of the storm was a ship of some sort, lit brilliantly by a bolt of lightning. "It's amazing," she breathed, turning back to him. In his smile, she saw understanding.
"The room had the same effect on me," he said. He set her bags down next to the door and said, "Well, I guess I'll be going."
"I'll see you to the door," she said, feeling a little panicked.
As she followed her father back to the door, she tried to convince herself that he would be perfectly fine, that he and her mother would come out of all of this safely. But wasn't that the reason they had sent her here? It wasn't safe out there, not even for people like her who were merely close to those who fought. For two who resisted Voldemort daily, the danger was enormous.
But she must not assume the worst. It might all come out fine. Voldemort wanted fear; if she spent all her days indulging her worries, she would not be worthy of being the daughter of such brave people. But she was not a fighter. She wasn't brave. It was hard, immeasurably hard, not to show her father that she trembled inside as she hugged him fiercely at the door.
Was there a place in history for worrywarts? For those who never fought, who stayed at home fretting over their family? No, of course not! she thought. It's the strong, the brave who make history. The heroes.
A/N: Thanks to my lovely beta Iris for…well, for being awesome and editing this.