The light filtered in through the sheer curtains, its warmth spreading across the bedroom and onto the bed on the opposite side of the window. A young girl with a mop of long, curly blonde hair groaned and turned over away from the sunlight in an attempt to get a few more moments of shut eye before Mrs. Teale would be pounding on her door ready to start the day. Sure enough, not a minute later, there was a hard knock coming from the other side of the door.
"Swan! Get up! Now!" Mrs. Teale shouted.
Mrs. Teale was the keeper of the orphanage. While she wasn't exactly a cruel woman, she was strict and very short-tempered. If you did what she told you to do without question, everything would be just fine. But if you didn't do as she commanded right away, you would be punished. Mrs. Teale also did not like anything out of the ordinary. Any disruptions of the order kept within the orphanage would put you on her bad side. And that was the side that little Emma Swan had found herself on for quite some time now.
For as long as Emma could remember, she had been in and out of foster homes, each time returning to this same orphanage. The reasoning of why she had been sent back time after time was something Emma could never really explain. Strange things just always seemed to happen around her. She even wondered at the thought of whether or not she, herself, had been the one to cause some of the mysterious events, often entertaining the idea that she was somehow magical.
That's silly. There's no such thing as magic, Emma would tell herself. Magic only exists in silly fairy tales and those certainly aren't real.
But Emma still liked to pretend that magic and the lands in her fairy tale books were actually real. In fact, she'd had a recurring dream for as long as she could remember that she was the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. She would often find herself thinking of how wonderful it would be if they were to one day show up and take her away from the orphanage, blaming their separation on some crazy curse the Evil Queen had cast upon their family.
She would give anything to have that all happen, especially on a day like today - her birthday.
Her bedroom door flew open, banging against the wall.
"SWAN! UP! NOW!"
Mrs. Teale's harsh voice rang in Emma's ears as she heard the keeper stomp away down the hall. She sat up groggily in her bed and rubbed her eyes.
"Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me," she sang sadly to herself as she climbed out of bed and got ready for the day.
Before she left the room, Emma picked up her favorite blue crayon and drew a picture of a birthday cake, smiling slightly as she wrote out the number "11" boldly. For some reason, she felt that this was going to be a special day, though she didn't know why. Her lack of friends meant that none of the other kids were going to know what day it was and Mrs. Teale was certainly not going to acknowledge the day. Not in a good way at least.
"Emma Ruth Swan! Get your little ass up here now or you'll have no dinners for a week!"
"Coming, Mrs. Teale," Emma called back as politely as she could.
She took one more look in her dingy mirror and sighed unsatisfactorily before leaving her closet-sized room and walked up the stairs from the basement.
She had been banished down there after her sixth foster family had sent her back to the orphanage with the crazy story of finding Emma playing with a ball of fire. Emma couldn't deny the fact that she held fire in her hand, but she also couldn't explain how she had done that. All Emma could say was how a candle had fallen off the coffee table and she didn't want it to burn the house down so she caught the fire before it hit the carpet. She couldn't explain how she had done that. She just... did.
Grasping the door handle at the top of the stairs, Emma swung the door open into the kitchen where she found the other kids cleaning up the dining table; she had already missed breakfast.
"Well, it's about damn time," Mrs. Teale barked. "Help Sarah with the washing, Emma."
Emma nodded, seeing a look of distaste from the brown-haired girl standing at the sink cast in her direction. She walked over and looked at Sarah, who was quite a bit older than her, for some sort of direction of what she should do.
"Don't just look at me," she said, curling her lip with disgust. "Grab a towel and dry these."
Without saying a word, Emma picked up the raggedy dishcloth and began drying.
It was a beautiful day outside, Emma observed as she looked out the window above the sink. The sky was so clear she could make out the flags flying high about Fenway Park.
Her mind started to wander aimlessly as she continued to dry the dishes. She pictured herself being taken to a baseball game by her father, but instead of them being dressed in their usual prince and princess attire, they were decked out in Red Sox gear. Emma smirked as she imagined her father carrying her in his strong arms into the stadium.
"What are you smirking about?" Sarah demanded. She glanced out the window to see what Emma was looking at and laughed. "No one is ever going to want to go to a game with you. You're a freak, Emma!"
Emma surpressed her desire to cry at Sarah's hurtful words even though she new they were true. She was different. Emma was quite different and honestly, she could't blame the rest of the orphans for not befriending her.
Putting the last of the dry, semi-clean dishes away, Emma shuffled over to the week's chore chart to see what her tasks for the day were. She let out a heavy breath of air that flipped the curls in front of her face when she saw the list.
Emma Swan: scrubbing toilets, dusting game room, mopping upstairs.
It was definitely not going to be a special birthday. These chores were going to take her all day, which meant she wouldn't have any free time to play outside in the nice weather or sit in the grass and read one of her storybooks. With another long sigh, Emma headed to the closet full of cleaning supplies and grabbed a pair of gloves and the brush for the toilet.
The morning passed slowly. No normal kid would've wished for their birthday to pass by quickly, but this just proved once again that Emma Swan was not anywhere near normal. She finished up the toilet scrubbing before having a quick lunch and had now moved on to dusting the giant game room.
As she was cleaning the top of the toy bin, something caught Emma's eye out the front window. She peeled her eyes, but couldn't see anything so she walked closer to the window and peered out. Though the window was covered in dirt and grime, Emma couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. She turned around and walked back to the toy bin, but not before glancing back out the window one more time.
"Swan! What are you doing?" Mrs. Teale asked sharply causing Emma to jump.
"Oh, um, nothing," she said. "I just thought I saw..." She trailed off trying to think.
"...something." But she was almost sure it was a someone and not a something.
Mrs. Teale marched to the window and pushed her face so close to it that her nose nearly touched the glass. "There's nothing out there you silly girl," she concluded. "Now get back to work!"
"Yes, Mrs. Teale." Emma continued to dust the toy bin as Mrs. Teale marched out of the game room.
Finishing the cleaning in the game room took her longer than expected because she was constantly distracted by the window, glancing up at it every other minute in hopes that she would see whatever it was that she saw before. By the time she had finished, Emma had convinced herself that her eyes had played a trick on her and she had just seen the bushes out front move in a peculiar way.
Not long after Emma had moved upstairs and begun mopping the floors, the doorbell rang. Emma and Lucy, another girl who had been cleaning alongside her upstairs, stopped when they heard the ding-dong of the bell. No one ever rang the bell unless there was company to be expected, which it was not today. This was a stranger.
Emma and Lucy looked curiously at each other and moved to the top of the landing that overlooked the front door. They watched as Mrs. Teale, a confused look on her face, strode to the door and peered out the peephole at the visitor. Her face became even more scrunched up with mystery as she unbolted the lock and opened the door.
The two girls craned their necks to try and get a look at the person on the other side of the door, but Mrs. Teale hadn't opened it all the way so their view was blocked.
"Can I help you?" Mrs. Teale asked politely, though completely puzzled as to why this person was ringing the doorbell to the orphanage.
The raspy voice of an old man came filtering into the house.
"You are Mrs. Teale, keeper of this orphanage?"
"Excellent," the man exclaimed. "I was hoping to visit with one of your residents."
"Miss Emma Swan."
Emma's eyes bugged out of her head at the mention of her name and she felt Lucy's head turn curiously towards her, but she didn't look over at her. She was too busy anxiously awaiting the first glimpse of the man who had come to talk with her.
Why would a stranger want to speak to me of all people? she asked herself. Doesn't he know I'm a freak?
Mrs. Teale turned her head around and peered up at Emma, an unsettled look on her face.
"Emma," she called up to her. "There's someone here to see you." Mrs. Teale stepped aside and opened the door widely, allowing the stranger to enter.
A tall, very thin man wearing a strange black cloak walked across the threshold. His silver hair and beard were so long they could've been tucked into his belt and his nose was long and crooked; clearly it had been broken on more than one occassion. His brilliant blue eyes pierced her green ones as they gazed up at her through his half-moon glasses.
"Hello, Emma," the man said pleasantly. "My name is Professor Albus Dumbledore."