Gwen happily tapped her feet in rhythm with the music playing on her MP3 player. The song was called "Spring", which she mused was a perfect contrast with the current weather. It was a typical New Hampshire day - a bright shade of gray with a pitter-patter of rain on the concrete around her. The sun furtively poked out from behind some clouds, then quickly hid itself.
A wrinkled piece of paper sat on the table in front of her. A letter from her husband. It was soft and worn from many readings. She sipped her latte and held up the letter.
I received your missive by courier earlier this week. The regular post is not in service whilst school is on holiday. I was gratified to hear you are continuing with your studies over the vacation.
Iris Academy is essentially dormant. My lesson plans are complete, so I have wiled away many afternoons catching up on literature.
You inquired which music I enjoy most. I appreciate many composers, but if I had to choose, I most prefer Vivaldi. You might take pleasure in his set of four concertos called, "The Four Seasons". It is among his most popular works.
I must conclude my letter for now, a teachers meeting is approaching and I have a series of errands to run. I shall write more next weekend.
Gwen gently refolded the letter, gave it a gentle squeeze and returned it to her pocket. School had been out for several weeks, but the time moved slowly. She wished she had a picture of her former professor and present husband. Details about him were already difficult to remember; the way he smiled when he would chuckle quietly, the rich tone of his voice, and how the fire could light up in his eyes when he was passionate about something.
"Hey, Gwen!" a cheerful voice called.
Gwen jumped up to see her friend Jun jogging over. Jun swooped her up in a tight hug.
"It's so good to see you again! It's been forever, sister."
Jun always referred to Gwen, and all close female friends, as 'sister'. Gwen being an only child, liked the nickname and returned it in kind. Jun was tall and slim, and although she possessed predominantly Japanese characteristics she had a unique look that was all her own though; some Korean, a little Cherokee, and a splash of Anglo-Saxon.
"It's good to see you, too!"
As they sat down at the table Gwen noticed Jun slip a brightly colored bag with tissue paper out from behind her. Jun set the bag in front of Gwen with a proud grin. "Happy Birthday."
"Hey, my birthday's not until next week. And you didn't need to go to through all the trouble," Gwen said as her cheeks flushed from the attention.
"It's no trouble for my sister. I haven't seen you in forever, stranger. And besides, I'm a responsible, financially independent, member of society. Meaning I make decent money at my job. ...And get a good discount to boot. Now, open it, open it!" She clapped her hands in excitement.
As Gwen dug inside of the tissue paper she removed a bottle of perfume and a small kit of make-up. Gwen laughed a little. "Trying to make me into a girly-girl?"
Jun gave her a mockingly, stern look. "I've known you for four years, Gwenievere Ford. And not once have I seen you wear make-up or perfume. So, I thought to myself maybe she just doesn't have any. Well, now that's been rectified, I expect to see a letter from school telling me how you've been beating them away with a stick."
"Thanks Sis, I have actually wanted to use something like this on the rare occasion."
"Yeah, no problem. So, catch me up on everything. What's new in your life?"
Gwen had been thinking about how to answer that very question for a few days. Parts of her life had to remain secret from old friends and family. Recently she had completed her first year at Iris Academy. A school for those gifted in magic. Keeping magic a secret from the human world was something the magic community took very seriously. Anyone breaking that law would have their magic stripped and memory wiped. The subject of her marriage, and especially its circumstances, were off-limits.
"What's new? Well..." she said in a conspiratorial whisper, motioning Jun closer.
Jun leaned in.
"The truth is, I'm not actually attending boarding school."
"What? Where are you going?" asked Jun.
"I'm secretly attending... Hogwart's School for Witchcraft and Wizardry! And you wouldn't believe it, but through a series of strange events, I accidentally married the potion's master, Severus Snape!"
Jun leaned back in her chair, laughing. "Joker."
Gwen chuckled. "Boarding school is really nice. In movies it gets a bad wrap, but I like it. I made some nice friends."
"That's good, I was concerned. I thought it might be like being in a military school. So, is it like a normal school? Library, clubs, dances?"
"Well, we have a library but it's pretty small. My roommate Virginia started a sports club, which my other roommate Ellen and I, both joined. It's a lot of fun. Then there's drama club and choir, but I'm not a fan of standing in front of a crowd."
"You still haven't answered my question about dances."
Gwen rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out. "Yes, there are dances. No, I didn't go to the dance. Satisfied?"
"Oh come on, you're in the prime of your life. You mean to tell me you don't have your eye on anyone?"
Gwen could feel her cheeks burning.
"Ah-hah, there is someone," Jun said, placing her chin in her hand and looking at her with interest.
"Well, sort of... but we're honestly not dating." 'Well,' she thought, 'it's technically true... we're definitely not dating.'
"So, you like him... obviously. Does he like you?"
Gwen sighed a little, "That is the million dollar question."
"Ah." Jun paused then said, "Well, if he doesn't sweep you off your feet soon then he's a dummy who doesn't deserve you," and gave her a supportive smile.
"Thanks, Jun." It was nice to talk to an old friend, even if details were off-limits. Jun had a knack for saying just the right thing. Gwen felt a weight lifted, being able to talk to a third party about some of the things going on in her life.
The two talked for awhile longer until the sun began to set and Jun drove her home.
"I'm glad we got to catch up. It's a shame I'll be out of town next week, I wanted to celebrate your seventeenth birthday with you."
Gwen shook her head. "It's no big. I'll eat a piece of cake for you. Have fun on vacation!"
"Alright, I promise I'll sip a tropical drink on the beach for you!"
Gwen waved goodbye from the front porch, and turned to enter the house, but stopped abruptly. She could feel a pair of eyes following her. Her spine tingled and a shiver ran through her body. She could sense blue magic at work. Someone was scrying her, and, she sensed, had been doing it for some time. She stood completely still, a cold sweat forming on her back. As soon as she raised her hand to form a shield, the eyes were gone, and she was alone on the porch.
She had no idea who would want to spy on her. For now, there was nothing she could do about the encounter so she tried to put it out of her mind before entering the house.
Inside her parents were watching TV. Her father hit pause and turned to Gwen.
"Welcome home, honey. Did you have fun with Jun?"
Gwen plopped down on the couch next to her mother. "Yep. We had lots to catch up on. She's doing well managing a store in the mall. What are you guys watching?"
"Some old episodes of Columbo," her father replied.
Her mother pointed at Gwen's bag. "An early birthday present?"
"Jun gave me some make-up and perfume."
"Oh dear," her mother said. "Is it time we had the talk?"
Gwen's face fell. "Uhhhh... the talk?"
"Oh you know, about the birds and the bees," her mother replied.
Gwen felt her stomach do a flip. She briefly wished she could use a Teleportation spell to escape her parents.
Her mother laughed. "Oh sweetie, I was just kidding. You should see the look on your face. I know you learned the facts at school."
Gwen heaved a sigh of relief and poured herself a glass of water with the pitcher on the coffee table.
"However, I would be remiss as a mother if I didn't tell you to be careful, now that you're a young woman. I come from a different generation, but, I think you young people should wait until marriage."
Gwen choked on her water at the mention of marriage, but managed to avoid spitting the water out.
Her mother patted her on the back. "Are you alright?"
"Fine, fine," she said in a nervous voice reaching to sound casual, "I think I'm going to head to bed though. Love you guys!" After a quick hug with each of her parents she scurried upstairs to her room.
"Love you, too," her father said, laughing at her discomfort and hasty retreat.
"Sweet dreams!" her mother called out after her.
Once inside of her room she let out a sigh.
"'Wait for marriage' she says..." Gwen shook her head.
She took a pair of pajamas out of her dresser. They were white with a faded blue floral pattern, and her favorite pair. As she pulled on the short-sleeve top she reflected on her vacation so far. It had been nice. At school she had felt like she was growing away from her parents and her old life. Spending the last several weeks at home, she hadn't exactly reconnected with her family. There were too many secrets between them, as her parents were under the assumption that she was attending a boarding school and not a school for magic. But it felt like they had established a new connection. A sort of understanding that they loved each other, despite their now separate lives.
Gwen stretched out on her bed and stared out the window. Only 150 miles away, her husband might be starring at the same sky.
'I wonder what he's thinking about right now?' Gwen rolled up on her elbows. 'He's an enigma. Intelligent, passionate... and extraordinarily hard to get close to. His temper is fiery and quick, but he's also a gentleman at heart. And then there's his pride...' Gwen finally rolled on her back and stared at the ceiling. 'January 26th... exactly a year and a day from when we were married... the last day we're required to stay married to complete our contract to protect me from the manus that nearly devoured my soul.'
That day was ingrained in her memory. Magical runes had littered the floor of the room in a blue glow where Hieronymous lay unconscious. A terrible, blue spirit above him. It had deceived her into thinking it meant to kill him. She had blindly jumped into the circle of magical runes, past the protective warding. It didn't take long for it to grab her by the throat and gloat at her naivety. Luckily Professor Potsdam had appeared at that moment and convinced it to spare her because she was "sworn" to become part of the family it protected... the house of Grabiner. And once an oath was sworn by a witch or wizard, nothing could undo it. The penalty was the same for exposing magic; all magic stripped and memories permanently removed.
'January 26th...' she thought, 'On that day, what will he say to me?'
On the last day of school, she had told him her feelings. He had actually kissed her, though not in a passionate way, and suggested they write to each other. But did he see her in a romantic light? Or, did he look at her and see a student with a crush. She hoped for the former.
She wasn't sure when she had fallen asleep, but she found herself dreaming of Iris Academy. Her footsteps echoed in the dark halls, dimly lit by patches of moonlight. It was peaceful. As she breathed in the cold air, she let it fill her lungs with its chill. Then, suddenly, something was wrong. She knew it in her bones before she heard it. A noise. It was nearby. She walked down the dark hall and the noise became louder. It was someone screaming, muffled behind the door in front of her. Blue light spilled from beneath it. Her stomach felt sick with fear and she hesitated for a moment, as she reached for the handle. Bracing herself, she grasped for the door, but before her hand could touch the knob, the door swung open wildly on its own and inside... The screaming was suddenly amplified, the sound coursing throughout her body. Hieronymous was collapsed to his knees, screaming in pain, blue runes spinning beneath him. An all too familiar sinister laughter came from above. The manus floated there, larger than life, his booming, bass laughter deafening her.
She sat straight up in bed screaming, her clothes drenched in sweat. Hieronymous' voice was still ringing in her mind. As it echoed she could hear the panic. His voice... she hadn't dreamed his voice at all! She recognized the Far Speak spell.
She flung the covers off of herself and summoned all of her strength. She had never tried a spell this difficult before. She had no idea if it would even work... but she was running on pure fear-driven-adrenaline. The words left her mouth so fast she couldn't even comprehend them, but it still felt too slow. Her hands moved through the signs in a blur. She finished the incantation, accenting the last word as hard as she could, throwing all the force she could into the spell. Her eyes glowed softly blue in contrast to the black room, and then she was gone.