The eve of Constance's eleventh year was an ordinary day filled with ordinary events. She had no idea, not even an inkling, that the next day would change her life. Her unruly raven hair was splayed across her pillow as she lay in bed. She looked to the horizon and waved out the window to the oak tree that stood a short distance away, admiring the way the newly christened leaves sparkled in the burgeoning sunlight. Summer always had been her favorite season.
This morning, however, Constance noticed something in the oak tree she had never seen before. There, halfway into the tree amidst the branches, sat an old brown owl. Having a modicum of scientific intelligence, Constance assumed the bird to be asleep. She had never had a chance to observe one this close before, so she was determined to get a better look. Sliding the covers off of herself she slipped to the window and opened it, trying to see the owl through the limbs. Sticking her head out of the window and focusing on where she'd seen the bird, Constance determined that yes, in fact, an owl sat in her tree. It was carrying, most curiously, an envelope in its beak. Being a reasonable girl, Constance could not figure out why on Earth an owl would be out in the daytime, let alone with an envelope in its beak. This mystery made her determined to investigate her findings.
She made her bed, heaving the blankets on and straightening them with quick strokes of her hands, smoothing any wrinkle she found. Then she raced across the hall into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Shuddering at the prospect of trying to tame her wild black hair, she was content at the moment to drag a brush through it a few times and tie it up into a ponytail on the top of her head. Then she ran back into her bedroom, dove into her closet, and emerged again in a pair of denim shorts and a tee-shirt. It wasn't until she was halfway down the stairs to the kitchen that she heard her parents stirring. It must be seven-thirty. "Constance Barrows!" her father bellowed jovially, "come give your mother and father a hug good morning!" Constance stopped. This was a tradition. Every morning her father would wake her with his greeting and she'd run into their bedroom, throw herself on the bed and welcome the day talking to and hugging the people she loved most.
It was in the spirit of tradition that she turned and bolted up the stairs and back down the hall to make her way to her parents' room. Of course there were more interesting things on her mind this morning, like finding out why an owl would carry an envelope and where it could have come from, but tradition is hard to break. Constance threw herself into the waiting spot on her parents' bed. "Good morning mother, good morning father. It's a lovely day outside, isn't it?" She remarked. She hugged her mother close, kissing her alabaster cheek which was dotted with freckles. Then she turned and kissed her father's cheek, laughing at the way his would-be whiskers tickled her chin.
"Up so soon, shortcake? Dressed, too? What's the hurry?" her father teased. Constance looked to the window and out into the yard but couldn't see the owl from her vantage point.
"Nothing father, I'm just eager to start my day, I suppose." She slid off the bed and made her way to the door.
"Don't be in too much of a hurry, shortcake." she heard him call after her before rising himself to get ready for the day..
She noticed, not for the first time, how little she looked like her parents. In fact, one might not think they were related at all! Her mother was fair skinned, freckled, with bright copper hair and sparkling green eyes that lit up when something caught her interest. Her father held tawny locks, shimmering blue eyes and an easy smile. Constance herself possessed raven black hair and almost gray eyes. She was tall, wiry, with none of her mother's charm or her father's natural humor. This thought never bothered her before, but as she descended the stairs again with the sound of her father's shower in the background, she suddenly felt a heavy pit in her stomach. As quickly as it came, the moment passed. The instant she thought of the owl again the pit was gone, not to be thought about for the rest of the day. Her shoes couldn't be tied fast enough, and she practically flew out her back door toward the tree. Much to Constance's disappointment, the bird was nowhere in sight, having fled for some unknown reason. Discontented with the conclusion of her morning's enigma, she sat at the tree's base and contemplated the different possibilities.
Lost in thought, enough time elapsed for her mother to call her to breakfast. Shaken from her thoughts, Constance rose and went to the kitchen where her mother sat a huge platter of pancakes on the table. Constance took her place on her father's left and poured herself some orange juice from the pitcher in the center of the table. "You'll be eleven tomorrow, my darling. Have you thought about what you'd like for your birthday?" Her mother was beaming as she heaped a stack of pancakes onto her daughter's plate. Constance grabbed the syrup and thought about the question at hand. Many things came to mind, nothing very appealing at the moment. Constance was generally a contented child with acres of land to explore and plenty to do and see.
She still hadn't formed an answer when her father walked in, freshly shaved and in his suit for work. "And what are my two favorite ladies talking about this morning?" he asked playfully, his arm circling his wife's waist as she stood at the griddle. Her mother shooed him to the table and he sat in his usual place at the head of it, helping himself.
"We're only talking about what Constance wants for her birthday, George." Her father formed a mock look of surprise.
"Is that tomorrow? I forgot all about it!" Constance laughed in spite of herself, her father did this every year.
"You did not! I know you remember!" She cried, giggling and lifting a forkful of pancake to her lips.
"Well, I do believe you're right shortcake. I did remember and it just so happens that I got you something rather special to celebrate." Amusement turned to curiosity instantly as Constance bounced in her chair. Her father always gave the best gifts.
"What is it? What did you get me?" Her mother finally took her place at her husband's right.
"Yes, George, what did you get her?" Finishing his coffee, George rose.
"Never you mind, MaryAnn. Why don't you and Constance go out today and do something nice and then we'll have a family party tomorrow after work."
With that he was gone and Constance and her mother sat in relative quiet, eating their breakfast.
"Why don't we go down to the city and try to find you a special new outfit? Your break from school will be over soon and you'll want something nice to wear when it's in session again." Constance smiled and nodded. Such mother - daughter days were something she looked forward too.
"Can we go to the pet shop too and visit the puppies?" she asked, knowing her mother would say yes.
"Of course, dear. And we'll go to Chance's Ice Cream Shoppe before we come home, but don't tell your father." Her mother winked at her, as if ice cream were a big secret. It was a fun game she played with her mother at times so Constance winked back. She knew father wouldn't care about ice cream, it was just fun to think she had a special secret that only she and her mother knew.
While Constance cleared the table and washed the dishes, her mother went upstairs to dress. Constance mused about the owl again and mulled the whole thing over in her mind. Still, she found no reason why an owl would carry an envelope. They couldn't be efficient messengers, could they? Owls only travel at night and who would be awake to receive it? Wiping the last crumbs from the table, her mother came into the kitchen, dressed in a tailored red dress.
"The kitchen looks beautiful, my love. On with your shoes! Now hurry, go!" Constance ran and soon she was in the car with her mother driving off toward the city.
"Everything changes for you tomorrow, my dear. Yes, being eleven is a lot different from being ten." Constance thought her mother almost sounded sad but she piped up.
"Yeah, I'll be a lot bigger tomorrow!" The countryside passed as they sped along the highway. Trees rose and fell in a perfect rhythm. Her mother was oddly quiet. Constance sank into her own thoughts of puppies and parties, cake and presents. What had father gotten her that mother didn't know about? Furthermore, why had mother sounded sad about her being eleven? What was going to change?
These thoughts circled in her head as she and her mother pulled up to the huge shopping mall. "We're here!" her mother sang out as she parked the car in an empty slot close to the entrance. They spent hours shopping for just the right clothes and finally settled on two pairs of pants and three blouses. Mother made joke after joke in Chance's as the waitress delivered the "Birthday Special" ten scoops of different flavors with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and lots of cherries. It was impossible to finish but fun to try! By the time they got home and started cooking dinner, Constance had forgotten all her gloomy thoughts.
When she heard her father pull up, she bolted from the kitchen and out the side door to the garage. Father was peering at the sky with a bewildered look on his face. "Ruddy birds," he muttered before hearing her approach.
"What was it?" she asked, hugging him. "Nothing sweetheart, only a stupid owl. Darted in front of me when I pulled up. It's alright now. No worries." He picked her up and carried her inside, setting her down in front of the half set table. "Something smells delicious, MaryAnn." He sniffed the air before she blocked his way to the food. "That wouldn't be beef stroganoff, would it?" he asked, licking his lips.
"Indeed it would George, so go wash up. It'll be done any moment." Constance's stomach rumbled happily. Beef Stroganoff was her favorite food and mother always made it for her the day before her birthday.
It wasn't until everyone was seated and Constance had taken her first bite that she began to hear the scratching at the back door. Before long, mother and father heard it too.
"What on Earth? George?" Her father got up and looked out the back window at the door.
"It's a blooming owl, MaryAnn. It's scratching at our back door!" Her mother laughed, getting up for herself.
"Surely not, George. What would an owl want at our back door?" She stopped short when she gazed out the window for herself. Constance bounced up and down in her chair again. Maybe this was her mysterious owl from the morning.
"Is it brown, mother, with an envelope in its beak?" she asked.
"Yes, but how did you know that?"
"It was in my oak tree this morning. Only, it left before I could get a closer look at it. I think it just wants to deliver its mail."
"But whoever heard of an owl postman, shortcake?" her father piped in, scratching his chin in contemplation. Constance got up and opened the door. The owl backed up a pace or two and then laid the envelope at her feet before taking to wing again.
"Well I'll be jiggered." her father whispered as she came back into the room. "Who's it for, shortcake?" he asked, reseating himself. She turned over the letter and saw the address in perfect gold script.
To Miss Constance Barrows
1454 Westminster Rd.
"It's for me, father. Who could have sent it?" She was so engrossed with studying the letter that Constance didn't see her mother and father exchanging looks.
"Maybe you should open it, darling," her mother urged gently. Constance turned it over and broke the red wax seal bearing a coat of arms with four symbols. Inside was a sheet of yellowed parchment, something to which she was not accustomed. With trembling hands, for this was a bigger mystery than her dear owl friend in the tree, she unfolded the paper and began to read.
My Dear Miss Barrows,
It is with great pleasure on your eleventh birthday that I, Albus Dumbledore, bid you welcome to the Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the hope that you will join us for the fall semester. I have eagerly awaited sending you this admissions letter since I first learned of your eligibility. An owl will be along tomorrow with a list of supplies you will need and where to get them.
Please do consider attending this fall. The people you shall meet and the things you will learn will be beyond imagination. You are a very special girl.
Headmaster, Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry
Constance fell silent as there ceased to be new words to read. She read and reread the letter in her hand, disbelieving of the contents within. Witches didn't exist in her world, least of all in a school. Silence pervaded the room until her mother broke it with a choked sob. "George!" she cried, her face buried in her napkin. Tears stained her white cheeks.
"Now, MaryAnn, we knew this would happen eventually. She has a right to be there, it's her gift." Father's head was in his hands and Constance couldn't figure out why they reacted this way.
"This is a mistake, right? Mother, witches don't exist, do they?" Still refusing to put aside the letter, Constance reread it for the tenth time. Her mother didn't answer. "Father?" she queried, her throat suddenly feeling tight like she might start crying herself.
"Shortcake, why don't we go into the living room and sit down for a minute. There's something that your mother and I need to tell you." To Constance, that usually meant she was in trouble. This time, however, she didn't think anyone was in trouble. A knot formed in her stomach which also swam with nervous butterflies, though she didn't know why.
Her mother was still sobbing when they all sat on the couch. Father pulled her close and heaved a deep sigh.
"Constance, this school, Hogwarts, is a real school. You are a real witch." The statement hit her like a ton of bricks.
"But it can't be. You and mother always told me witches were only in fairy tales."
"I know, shortcake. We were trying to protect you. We hoped that no one would be able to find you out here."
"But you and mother aren't witches, are you?"
"No, we're not magical. Constance, you see, your mother and I…" Her father trailed off. Constance was sure his next statement would have been important and she was beginning to be afraid, but oddly excited. Mother had calmed down long enough to stop sobbing.
"Constance, your father and I…we're not your birth parents."
"Constance, you were actually my sister's daughter, but she died when you were a baby, so we have raised you to the best of our ability."
"You mean? But…that can't be…mother?" She looked desperately at her mother, willing them to take it back. Everything she knew in one night was proven to be a lie. Her mother only held her close, silent.
"We knew your mother was a witch, Constance. She was admitted to the school at eleven years old, just like you are. I know how you feel. She always went off to that school every fall and didn't return until summer. She never really talked about what she did there, but when she graduated she went to work for something called the Ministry of Magic. Before long, she was pregnant. I tried to stay in her life but then one night we found you on our doorstep with a letter from you mother. Later the next day an owl came with a newspaper clipping about an explosion that killed a bunch of people. Something about a Harry Potter and Peter Pettigrew and a He Who Must Not Be Named, whoever that is. Your mother was one of the people killed in the explosion, so we raised you. Never knew who your father was. She never said in her letter. It's alright though, shortcake. You don't have to go to that school if you don't want to."
"What…what was my mother's name?" She felt surprisingly numb and piteously overwhelmed.
"Her name was Liliana. She was beautiful. I have a photograph of her in our bedroom. Would you like to see it? It was taken just before she was killed." Constance nodded, dreadfully curious with all this new information to digest.
Father got up, leaving Constance with her mother clinging to her side. When father returned, he handed her a rather large photograph. In the photo a woman, clearly far along in pregnancy, was smiling and waving at the person taking the picture. She had long raven hair and glowing gray eyes. Her smile seemed to light up the picture. The curious thing about the photograph was that it moved, the figure within and the trees behind her. They moved as if in a video.
"What's happening, father? Why does it move?" Her father shrugged, smiling painfully at the picture of his sister.
"It's a magical photograph, Constance. All pictures move like this in the magical world."
Constance could take no more. She got up off the couch and turned to her parents, both, in their own way, trying to deal with what had happened. Constance didn't know whether to feel excited about the thought that she might be a witch, or scared about going to a new school where she would know no one, or angry at her parents for not telling her sooner. Too many things swirled about in her head until she felt like she wanted to scream. Today she had been so excited to turn eleven and now she wished she could stay ten forever. "I'm going to bed. I'm tired." With nothing more, she left the living room and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She climbed into bed, forgot her pajamas and to brush her teeth, and laid there.
She wasn't sure when she got to sleep but she awoke the next morning with dreams of owls and magic and moving photos still fresh in her mind. It was past eight. Her father hadn't called for her. Her mother hadn't made breakfast. A rustling sound beckoned at her window and there stood an owl with another envelope in its beak. Almost dreading it, she opened the window and the owl hopped from the windowsill to her bed, dropping the letter next to her lap. It hooted softly, reassuringly, as it sat preening itself. Apparently it expected a reply. Constance picked up the envelope, once again seeing the perfect address in gold script. She stroked the owl's soft head as she opened the letter. This one appeared in bolder script than the last.
Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry Supply Checklist
-First Year Students Only-
Underneath were things that she hadn't even heard of or wouldn't have thought of as school supplies. The next sheet was a list of books like Basic Potions and Brews and Defense Against The Dark Arts (there were dark arts?) Lastly, there was another note from Albus Dumbledore.
Don't feel discouraged if you don't know where to get these things, my dear. The semester isn't until the fall and I imagine you have a lot to handle. I'll send someone for you the day before the train leaves for the school. He'll help you pick out all you need from Diagon Alley and escort you to the train. Please give my regards to your parents.
She went to her desk and penned a brief reply saying that she wasn't sure if she would be attending but she was grateful for the help. She was very diplomatic for an eleven year old and hoped Professor Dumbledore could appreciate that. She'd never met the man before and was really struggling with the whole idea of magic in general. The owl made a small sound once and then took the letter. He hopped out onto the window sill and then took to flight. In spite of herself, Constance raced to watch him fly, laughing at the beauty of it. Then she closed the window and sat on her bed again, thinking.
She was of two minds about attending the school, because to her it was a key to her past but it was also away from everything she'd ever known or loved. Still, there was no mention of her father in any letter and it bothered her not to know. What if he was alive, still, and might be able to tell her more about her mother? He might be able to speak of their time together and tell her all about the magical life her mother had had. He might wish to know about her life as a child, not knowing about magic or about him.
Anger boiled up inside of her, fast and red hot. She picked up the closest object she found, her notebook, and threw it against the wall. It made a dismal thump before falling to the plush carpeting. She felt no better and now stared at her notebook slumped over, rumpled and awkward looking. She sighed and got up, making her bed and dressing. She brushed her teeth and listened for sounds of movement in the house. She heard something in the kitchen and followed the sound.
What she found was her mother. MaryAnn was washing a few dishes in front of her, absently rubbing at a glass with her white cloth. It looked to Constance that the rag was now almost dry and her mother wasn't really paying attention to what she was doing. After a few minutes of leaning in the doorway and watching, her suspicions were confirmed. She walked in and tried to fake a happy smile for her mother who seemed just as distressed about this as anyone.
"Good morning mommy!" she cried brightly, moving to wrap her arms around her mother's waist. "Where's dad?" MaryAnn started, dropping the glass into the basin of soapy water and crying out as a wave of water overcame the sink to splash upon her skirt and Constance's arms. She moved away from her daughter and hastily grabbed a towel, swiping futilely at herself before sighing and handing the towel to Constance. After a while she laughed at her misfortune though it looked to Constance like she'd rather cry.
"I'm sorry darling! You startled me!" she excused, fussing with the dishrag to recover the spilled liquid. Her bright green eyes lacked their usual luster. "Happy Birthday, my love." she said quietly, "Your father's gone to work. He'll be back at dinnertime." Constance's face fell, tears lacing her gray eyes. Her mother crossed the room to hold her, stroking her hand down her cascade of black hair, murmuring soothing words. They were all facing a bit of an emotional crisis and MaryAnn sympathized for her daughter who had the toughest decision of all to make.
"Mommy, do you think Father will still love me if I look for my real father?"
"Oh, darling, how could we do anything but love you? You are our little girl and nothing will ever change that. Surely, we wanted Liliana to stay with us but life isn't always fair. No matter what you decide, your Father and I will always love you."
Constance buried her face into her mother's apron, grateful for the solid comforting presence of the woman who'd loved her for her whole life. One question, at least, was answered. Too bad the rest were spinning through her head.
"I wonder what Father got me for my birthday." she mused softly, more to herself than to her mother.
"We'll see tonight now, won't we?" her mother replied. "Why don't you go play outside right now and let me clean up this mess?"
As she made her way out the back door another owl swooped down to greet her. This one was devoid of missives and landed on the railing of the back deck, hooting its salutation. She gave only a cursory glance over the creature, too lost to pay much attention. It clicked its beak and hopped onto her shoulder, content to be a silent companion.
She walked with it over the yard, settling nowhere for very long. The owl hooted softly into her ear and took the short flight to the oak tree. She followed, settling in the shade under the tree, laying on her back and staring through the green crown of leaves.
"What should I do?" she asked the owl who nestled its head under its wing. It made a soft clicking sound again, signaling its dismissal of her questions. Apparently the emotional turmoil of a eleven year old compared unfavorably to the nocturnal nature of her feathered confidante. She was not comforted.
For a long while she simply lay beneath the large oak tree and stared up at the pretty shafts of sunlight dodging the green leaves to fall to the ground. A breeze blew and despite the warmth of summer, she shivered.
"I wish I could talk to Headmaster Dumbledore." she said to her sleeping companion who, for his part, stayed silent. "No matter what decision there is to make I have to make it in two weeks. That's when school starts again."
Not a happy thought. She couldn't imagine leaving her family. She didn't want to imagine leaving her home. But the promise of adventure and finding out more about her father… now that, to her, might be worth the loneliness. And if she didn't like the school she could always choose not to go back the next year. It was reasonable, right?
Certain she'd change her mind a million times before she left, Constance had her decision made for the time being. Confident in that knowledge she closed her eyes and imagined the light coating her with good luck. She imagined a father who longed to see her and a world she'd always been told was myth. She was a witch, and a good one at that. No warts or pointy hats to contend with, just a list of books and a wand.
"Lunch darling!" her mother called from the back porch. At least she sounded like she was in a better mood.
Constance blinked; she didn't realize she'd been dozing. Sure enough, the sun had shifted indicating hours had passed as opposed to the minutes she thought. Looking up, she saw the owl still asleep where she'd left it. "Some help you are," she murmured softly, not expecting a reply. She didn't get one.
The table was silent most of the way through lunch. Both she and her mother ate across from one another, turkey sandwiches and a sliced apple. She felt the weight of her mother's thoughts and focus. Everything felt more uncomfortable and she felt like she was, naturally, the root of the problem. "Why won't you smile, Mother?" she asked softly. At this innocent question, her mother lost the hazy look in her eyes and blinked. It was as if she had just awakened, having been asleep all morning. She smiled cautiously.
"Oh, it's nothing, darling. I'm happy, I promise. Have you decided what you want to do?"
"Would you be terribly upset if I went?" she replied, looking hopefully at her mother for any signs of how to feel about the decision. Her mother's eyes flickered sad for just a moment before she smiled again, this time to express bravery.
"It'll be a great adventure for you, darling," she reasoned. "And you'll still come home for summer, right?"
"I'll miss you and Father, though," she mourned softly.
"We always miss those people that give us the most comfort. If ever you want to, you can come home. I'll do anything I can to make sure of that."
Hastily, her mother rose and rushed around the table. Kneeling, she gathered her little girl in her arms and held her tight. The shocked little girl just held her mother in return. Her mother did just tell her it was ok to go to this school, didn't she? Feeling more resolute, she nodded to a self-posed question and pulled out of her mother's arms. She looked at the woman, who looked nothing like herself, and finally understood why that was. An ache formed in her heart and this time refused to let go so easily.
"I should let Professor Dumbledore know, shouldn't I?"
Her mother nodded and said nothing, fearing voice more than actions. Numb, her daughter stood and walked out of the kitchen. She made her way to her bedroom and wrote a letter to the Headmaster of Hogwarts. It was short and to the point and expressed the angst of her eleven year old soul.
I thought it over and I think I will be attending Hogwarts in the fall. Mother promised me that if I wanted to come home, I could. I don't think I am magical, Professor. I've never even believed in magic until I got your letter and saw a picture of my mother. She went to the school and I'd like to know her. Will you tell me about her? I'll be waiting for the person you send to help me. Thank you.
Satisfied with what she wrote, she folded the piece of paper and taped it shut. Checking out the window, she ran outside to the tree and looked up to see if the owl was still there. It was, head tucked under it's wing. She pushed the paper into her pocket and grabbed a lower tree branch. Swinging upwards, she slung a leg over the branch and heaved herself up, climbing until she sat just underneath the bird. It woke in her efforts and stared, wide eyed, at her. It hooted softly.
"Mr. Owl," she began. "Can you understand me?"
The owl blinked, clicking its tongue at her softly. After a long time, it hopped over to her and almost nodded. Constance's smile grew bright as her feathered friend ascended onto the girl's arm. She looked down at it and fished the note from her pocket.
"Can you take this to Professor Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts School?" she asked again, wonderingly.
The bird didn't so much as reply as startle her. It plucked the paper from her hand and took to wing so suddenly she gasped and almost fell from her perch. Screaming, she reeled backward and caught a branch to steady herself. When she looked over she saw what she had gripped, in fact, was air. This time she screamed again and fell from her branch, landing on the ground with a dull thud and a grunt.
The wind was knocked from her with one whoosh of air and she looked up into the sparkling emerald of the leaves struggling to draw breath. Fear and panic rushed through her body and mind as she couldn't breathe. Little red dots swam before her eyes. She gasped and struggled to flatten herself against the ground, concentrating only on drawing breath. After excruciating minutes of painful breaths and paralyzing panic, she was able to breath a little deeper. Air was drawn in more easily and she closed her eyes, willing the fear to pass.
She crossed her hands over her chest and hugged herself while she tried to steady her breathing. After a while she ventured to sit up and found her back hurt a little but she was in reasonably good shape. With a trembling motion, she rose to her feet. Once up, she looked around and then back up to check that she had been holding onto thin air. Sure enough, she couldn't see any branch protruding where she'd been. For the first time since she'd been presented with the idea, Constance began to believe that she might actually be magical.
She didn't mention it to her parents. It would only worry them. By the time her father got home from work that night she'd almost forgotten about the incident completely. When his car pulled into the driveway she ran to greet him as she always did, throwing her arms around his torso and squeezing him tightly. Tonight he held her for the longest time before gasping out with a laugh, "You keep squeezing like that, Shortcake, you're bound to squeeze the life right out of me!"
She let him go and stepped back. "What did you get me for my birthday, dad?" she asked, very excited at the idea of presents.
"All in due time, kiddo. All in due time. Where's your mother?" He walked into the back door. "MaryAnn!"
She appeared in the kitchen's doorway, questioning in her eyes. "What is it, George? Dinner's almost ready."
"Our little girl only turns eleven once. Perhaps we ought to give her something special."
The confusion didn't quite subside but MaryAnn disappeared into the kitchen for a minute only to reemerge, wiping her hands on her white apron. "We may as well, dear. What did you have in mind?"
Her father gestured to the front door, indicating that Constance should go out first. She did, confused and excited. "What is it?" she asked, dancing around him in a wide circle. The stars twinkled overhead, emerging in the hour after sunset. They all walked along the short sidewalk toward the driveway. In it sat Mr. Barrow's car. In the backseat was a very large item that she couldn't quite make out. She trotted off toward the blue car as her mother let out a warning "George?" in a tone she rarely heard.
"We may as well, dear. It's hers." her father answered as she pulled open the door. An old traveling blanket covered the gift and she pulled it off to reveal an old mahogany trunk. "It's a trunk." she said with obvious disappointment and tugged at it to free it from the car. With all the buildup she'd expected a pony or something equally as impressive instead of an old trunk.
Her father pulled it from the car and set it on the driveway in front of her. "It's not the present I had in mind, shortcake, but you can hardly care for a puppy when you're off at school for most of the year. Besides, I expect you'll have an owl or a cat soon enough."
"But I'm allergic to cats." she reminded him, kneeling to open the giant thing in front of her without being told to do so.
"Then you'll have an owl, I expect. Your mum, Liliana, had an owl."
"Lili..." she mulled the name over again in her mind before her father interrupted.
"Liliana. She hated to be called Lili or Ana. Whenever I wanted to tease her I'd call her Lili."
"This was my mum's?" she asked quietly, pulling the last latch open.
"Yes. It was hers when she went to school. It's got her initials carved into it and all of her school things inside."
Constance lifted the lid and gazed over the pile of her mother's possessions. It was still strange to think of a woman she'd never met as her mother and yet looking at these things made her feel close to the woman somehow. She lifted the first book in the trunk. "Introduction to Potions." it said in gold script. Opening it, she found her mother's notes in the margins of the pages, each one in precise script. She read one aloud. "Wait until potion boils before adding the moirad root for added potency." Not knowing what a moirad root was she closed the book and put it aside while her parents stood in the background. Her mother fretted behind her, twisting her apron in her hands back and forth again.
The next thing she took out were her mother's robes. They were plain and black with the crest on the breast pocket that said Ravenclaw beneath it. "What's Ravenclaw?" she asked.
"It's a house you get sorted into at the school. It was your mother's house."
"Will I be in the Ravenclaw house?" she asked softly.
"I don't know, to be honest, Shortcake. It's not my world you're moving into. It's your mother's. When she was among them, she didn't talk to us much. We never knew who your father was and didn't discover she was pregnant until she sent that photograph I showed you. We tried for years to find him but apparently he was Liliana's last large secret."
"So all of this is mine now?" she asked, picking up another book. This one was about magical plants and their properties.
"Your mother was something of a plant wiz." her father commented softly. "She was great with making potions, so I was told."
"Oh." the little girl couldn't think of anything else to say. Her father handed her an envelope. "This is the letter that was with you when you came to us. It's from Liliana. Your mom."
With trembling hands the girl opened the letter. It was yellowed with time, written on what looked like parchment or vellum. She had no idea what to think of it, an actual letter from her mother. In neat and flowing script she read what might have been her mother's final letter to anyone.
Things have gotten unstable in this world. Someone really evil has tried in his own way to change things to his liking. He's been committing crimes for months while I've been investigating him. I'm afraid now, for myself but mostly for Constance. I have no choice but to leave her with you and MaryAnn until things have been resolved. Please take good care of my baby until I come to get her. I know you will. You are my only brother and I love you.
"Mag?" she asked quietly, looking up at her father. He nodded, there were tears in his eyes. "Her middle name, Magdeline. Only I called her that on special occasions."