Chapter 1

"Laury! Dinner's ready!"

Sighing Laury put down her thick, leather-bound book and sat up.

"Coming mother!" she shouted downs the stairs, very much like a thundering troll. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate her mother only that she was starving and not looking forward to whatever concoction her mother had stewed today. Her mother was an artist, a fantastically good painter. But, to put it bluntly – she couldn't cook. Or clean or really do the motherly things that one might think that all mothers would be capable of. Laurel O'Neil believed that people should do what they were best at and in her mother's case all kitchen doors should have a sign that banned her from them.

However her mother was a free spirit and did whatever took her fancy – ignoring Laury's advice to avoid the hazardous kitchen by cooking every evening without fail. Sometimes they might not eat until 10 at night if she got distracted at the studio, but they would eat as a family the food that she had cooked. This rule (The Rule) had come about in the summer when she was seven. Her father was still low down in the ministry and came home late and got up early. Her mother slept in late and came in later after a long day (and night) in her studio in London. And Laury would do her schoolwork in the house and play with the muggle kids across the road. Their schedules didn't collide and they led parallel lives. And Laury's mother (Julie O'Neil) was not having it. She'd grown up in a big family in a small house and so naturally missed feeling over crowed all the time. Therefore the Rule was born. It was really the only rule in the whole house. But when Julie's mind was made up there was no changing it – sometimes a blessing and a curse.

Laury gazed around her tiny room, for what it lacked it size it made up for it in wackiness. The walls were painted an eggshell green with the ceiling slanting strongly. The window was also heavily slanted – framed by two green polka-dot curtains with the best view onto their half-acre garden. From there you could see the half built tree house that her father had given up on and the Wendy house that he hadn't. You could see the meticulously planted flower beds with every colour of the rainbow that her mother had planted but long given up on and left to grow wild. And strewn around the lawn were the remnants of her childhood games - Skipping ropes, buckets and spades.

Her own tiny four-poster bed was on the left of her small room. It had an orange and pink bedspread (her favourite colours) in a mesmerizing pattern of zigzags and swirls. At the foot of her bed was small chest of draws that held all her clothes. Just below the window a desk was jammed. The worn oak of the desk was drowned by a sea of parchment and quills. Her prized peacock quill that she had gotten for her last birthday lay on the top. The entire right wall of her room was covered in shelves of books. Some slightly not straight shelves. Some slightly too straight shelves. But they were covered from head to toe in books. She had inherited a love of books from her father – a love her mother just couldn't understand but accepted anyway. Whenever the conversation strayed to books and/or reading she got this happy glazed look on her face that you couldn't help but smiling at.

The most obvious thing about her room though was the paintings. All the walls that were not covered in books were laced with intricate and beautiful paintings of flowers, and birds and butterflies. Her father had enchanted the flowers to sway and the butterflies' wings to flap. But the most magical thing was the birds. They woke in the morning and fluttered 2D around the walls. During the day they would sometimes fly off, but they would always reappear before she went to bed – she couldn't sleep unless she knew all of her birds were there.

Sighing again she stood and dawdled to her bedroom door. When the door creaked open she jumped back like a startled deer.

"Ellie! You have got to stop doing that!" She exclaimed at the small house elf looking up at her.

Yes they have a house elf. They weren't mean people or really rich. They didn't like the idea of slavery. And so their house elf was the most spoilt (and loyal) in the country. They bought her before they bought their house because Thomas O'Neil thought he'd starve to death before they could afford their own house. She cleans their small, 2 bedroom cottage like it was the Malfoy Manor. Cooks the residents' two feasts a day because of course Julie cooks dinner. She was a very grateful house elf – she had an easy life compared to many of her kin who cleaned had to whole castles before breakfast. She was a curious elf, with much free time. Therefore she decided to educate herself. And probably made herself the only House elf in England who can read and write. Her secret was uncovered when Mr O'Neil came home from work early to find the small elf curled up on the squishiest armchair in his study/library as close to the fire as she could get, reading a book three times the size of her head. He nearly passed out with shock. For two reasons, one: she was reading and two: that her frail arms could support such a book. For if you've seen a house elf's head you would understand the enormity of the book. He had laughed manically for one minute straight while Ellie's eyes like glass orbs showed her emotions. First of fear for being found out – that only lasted a second because she knew that her masters would not care, secondly confusion at his reaction and finally concern for her master's health for it could surely not be healthy for one to laugh for so long. After his laughter died he promptly went and sat down onto the rug beside the armchair which she'd high jacked and then questioned her on the book and her opinion of it. The O'Neils' were certainly an eccentric family but theirs was a home filled with love and acceptance. When the Julie had learnt of Ellie's secret they decided on a new job for her. It was a job that would fill up her free time and be the most difficult job they could ask of her. Of course she accepted happily. For the job they asked of her was to home-school their only daughter Laurel O'Neil. Ellie enjoyed spreading knowledge so much that she learnt her sums and French so that Laurel would miss no primary school experiences.

"I is sorry, miss. But your mother wanted me to come and get you as you were taking quite a long time...She though maybes your were ignoring her call" she smiled a small impish grin.

"Well not ignoring her, that's too strong of a word..." She tailed off and then "I'm coming now, thank you Ellie" At hearing Laury's words Ellie snapped her fingers and with a loud crack! she was gone.

Laury hurried down the small, winding, staircase of doom, bashing her elbows several times. She didn't care though because she would rather have bruises than get onto the wrong side her mother At the bottom of the staircase she took a sharp left and ended up in the kitchen. Although it was nearly 8 o'clock, the summer light was cascading in through the open windows onto the round dining table. A petite door next to the Aga leads to the pantry where all their food is stored and although the O'Neil's' were a traditional magical family, Julie had insisted on a fridge.

A vase of wild flowers from the garden completed the picturesque kitchen.

"Dad!" Laury had just spotted her father, who was setting the table. "I didn't hear you come in! Why didn't you find me?" Her excited expression turned to hurt.

"Well sweetie, your mother told me you were reading and so I didn't want to pull you away from your book. Can you pass me the spoons?" Thomas stated.

"Well fair enough. But I wouldn't have minded." Laury conceded opening a draw and pulling out four completely different spoons and then subsequently laying them on the table. "What's for dinner mum?"

"Spaghetti with a homemade tomato sauce. It has potatoes and peas in it." She replied happily "I have a good feeling about tonight" After a few minutes of pointless chitchat a timer went off. Looking rather flustered Julie squeaked:

"It's ready!" She grabbed a colander and threw it in the sink. Then she turned to face the big, boiling vat of spaghetti with a determined expression on her face.

"I can't watch!" Laury groaned and covered her eyes. She could imagine the boiling water flowing all over the floor and quickly pulled up her legs.

"Glad to see you have faith in me," Julie snickered as she rounded on the big pot. Grasping the handles in her little hands she lifted it and unsteadily sped to the sink almost falling forwards with the weight of it. The pan made a huge clang as it landed on the ceramics of the sink and a few waves of water gushed over the sides and made a puddle on the floor. Laury peeked between her fingers and then lowered her hands.

"It could have been worse I guess." She smirked, "But now you've got to strain it" Julie made a 'humphf' noise and then started to slowly tip the water into the colander. The water kept gushing out but the spaghetti was nowhere to be seen.

"Errm, Julie, are you sure you put the pasta in?" Thomas asked uncomfortably

"Yes of course I did!" she snapped back viciously. "Do you think I'm stupid?" Her husband visibly shrank back.

"It wouldn't be the first time" Laury piped in. It earned her a steely glower from her mother.

"I had a good feeling about tonight..." Julie trailed off miserably. Then they were all quiet for a minute contemplating the mystery of the disappearing spaghetti. A crash almost as loud as the pot on the sink snapped them to their sense. All eight eyes in the room flew to the sink. A garbled, burnt mess had fallen from the base of the pot onto the colander in a perfect circle. Which Laury soon figured out was the spaghettis' corpse. Her face fell as she realised that she would have to eat it.

"Did miss forget to stir?" Ellie asked kindly.

"No, no. Of course not. It's supposed to be like this" Julie responded quickly once she had recovered from the shock of it. Instead of serving it with tongs she opted for a big knife and a chopping board. Slicing the remains of the spaghetti into four equal quarter-circles and scraping off the worst of the burnt spaghetti she placed the lumps into pasta bowls and then slathered them with a good helping of sauce.

One by one the occupants grudgingly took a bowl and sat down in their place and began shovelling the food into their mouths. In Laury's opinion the potatoes where too squishy and the peas were too hard. And the pasta...we won't even go there.

After an uncomfortable silence Julie admitted awkwardly "Us muggles live all the time without magic. We seem to get by alright without it. But I can't cook a meal without setting off the smoke alarm."

"I wouldn't worry about it, mum. S'not as bad as last week when you attempted lasagne." After getting no reaction she tried again rather tactlessly "You're a painter, mum. A good painter. If you were a chef you'd be good at cooking. But you're not, so that's not a good career choice for you. You can't say I didn't warn you..." Julie laughed at the hidden insult and didn't become offended or try to scold her. She knew it wouldn't make a difference to her ten year old daughter. She was who she was and nobody could change her. Not the healers or ministry officials. She was different but nobody could or ever would change her.