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Chapter 1: it certainly does love you
“There is in every true woman's heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” -- Washington Irving
Before this, there was an earlier time – a time of prosperity and youth, a time of gaiety. You remember it, or at the very least remember the stories. You see it play out in the blazing hot darkness pressing in on you through weak, reptilian eyes. The scenes, vestiges of what-once-was, float around you, slipping in and out of focus like eyes in a Foe-Glass. Power and grace, your own breed of greatness, were once your life-blood.
A young girl, beautiful in her porcelain skin and raven-black hair, stands in the centre of a dusty shop. The gleam in her dark, almond-shaped eyes is bright enough to illuminate the dim room. Truly, it puts the enchanted lamps to shame. An elderly man, with crazed eyes and wild hair sets a delicate rod of exotic wood into her slender hands. Fig, unicorn hair, ten inches, well balanced and good for charm-work he tells the girl in a voice far wiser than the universe itself. A warmth spreads up her arm. The planets pause in their orbits, and the sun explodes into a shower of tiny bronze stars. There is no question: She was made for magic.
She is familiar in the way of a distant cousin or old friend – Cho, her name is. And oh, does magic love her. She is a talented thing, this Cho, and a fierce competitor.
Balanced over the large belly of a pewter cauldron, her head is lost in a cloud of intoxicating mist boiling off of the simmering liquid. Lavender, gold and cyan – sleeping draughts, complex antidotes, and liquid luck – hold prized seats on the palette of her brewing repertoire. The need to paint and craft with the full chromatic scale drives her knife blade as she crushes rat spleens and snake fangs. As night falls and the contents of the cauldron cool, long after her written assignment on the uses of dragon's blood (its uses to strengthen potions, clean cauldrons, control fire temperature, preserve reactive ingredients, and act as an elixir are of a particular interest to her) is penned, her own desire to learn pushes her nose into tomes written by potion masters of old.
Seated on the slender handle of a well-polished broomstick, she dips and darts across the sky in pursuit of a miniscule glint of gold. Her trajectory, speed and velocity are critical. One hundred and fifty points, the outcome of a match, and the potential to bring the Quidditch Cup home to a house bedecked in blue and bronze are contingent on her understanding of physics. The ability to manipulate its laws and principles does not come as naturally to her as do academics, and so she practices. She has never been afraid of hard work. Plummeting through the air, her hands close around the prize, and she checks her wristwatch – twenty-seven minutes, not nearly good enough. Though the light is fading from the sky and the moon is beginning to rise up over the tree tops, she lets it go and restarts the timer. Again.
Perched beneath the vaulted stone ceiling of the classroom, a sleek-feathered swallow preens itself where, only a moment before, a tiny thimble had sat. The incantation of the Transfiguration spell still buzzes behind the girl's teeth, and the power of the spell tingles along her wand-hand. It is plain that this is an impressive piece of magic – nods of approval ripple through the classroom of studious perfectionists, but she is not satisfied. Holding her finger out to the bird, no ‘Accio’ is needed to collect creation to creator. Studying the creature with a critical eye and a determined will, she knows that tomorrow its beak would be a touch blacker and its breast-feathers a touch fuller.
Be it the challenge of a project in progress, the freedom of an endless sky, or the constraints of a dank dungeon, the world is this Cho-girl’s playground. It is a wealth of contests waiting to be overcome and beaten down.
You blink, dragging rough lids across polished eyes. If once you were, you are no longer that girl. Those times are lost to swirling forms and waning memory. The cruelness of life, of the world and all its cynics, has assured you of this. But rather than fade away into the nonexistence of all those not great enough for the pages of history, you curled up and hid yourself away behind thick, leathery walls. Here, you wait. Sustained by the heat of fire and the nutrients of brandy, you bide your time until, with the strength of armoured plates, you can spread your wings and take to the sky. There, amongst the clouds, you know that you’ll be beyond the reach of the ghosts that have stolen your vitality and pinned you to the brick hearth. Each of these ghosts has a name, and sends your pulse whirling like the haunting lights of a Sneakoscope.
The first is the ghost of rejection – a Chinese Fireball by the name of Ma.
Thirteen is too young to be without a mother’s guidance, but that doesn’t stop her from storming out of the quaint home in a fiery rage. She had never wanted any of it – the move to England, the back garden lined by delicate orange flowers, the responsibility of a family – she cries as she haphazardly collects things from shelves and drawers throughout the small house. In her haste, she leaves behind all photographs of the young girl who had inherited her same petit frame and rounded cheekbones. She says many things, all horrid and hurtful about the man she had thrown her life away for, but there are two specific phrases, five simple words, that never cross her lips. And so, without a ‘Good bye’ or an ‘I love you’, she leaves for good.
The second is the ghost of loss – a pair of Common Welsh Greens by the names of Cedric and Amos Diggory.
Sixteen is too young to feel like a widow, but that doesn’t bring life to the limp limbs and still chest lying in the cool, blue-green grass at the opening of the Maze. His father rushes the field, grabbing his son from the arms of the other, even younger boy. The world clangs to a halt as a look of realization passes over his face – his boy, his own flesh and blood is dead, murdered. The look of anguish on his wrinkled face hits the spectators like a volley of arrows on the wind. His cries pierce their hearts. Never again would he watch his son take to the sky in a flurry of canary yellow robes or rove through the woods in an expression of father-son camaraderie. He was robbed of these things by a flash of green light and a whispered ‘Avada Kedavra’ in the night air.
The third is the ghost of judgement – a Hungarian Horntail by no singular name.
Seventeen is too young to understand the insensible loss associated with war, but that doesn’t quiet their gossip. They’re protective of their Triwizard Champion, their Boy Who Lived, and so they watch him with sharp eyes, and guard him with their harsh words. They do not see the attempt to gain understanding, the hope for commonality. No. They only see the tears and the weeping, and so assume there must be some devious motive afoot. Theories spread like wildfire, twisting and polluting minds with every whispered word. Before long, their whispers sound like shouts and sting like Blast-Ended Skrewts.
Despite robbing you of everything the Cho-girl once was, despite clinging to your eyelids in sleep, and leering just outside your vision in waking, you hold a sliver of gratitude for these three ghosts in your heart. It is they who initially drove you to madness, to the ancient magic that wraps you in the leathery shell around you. It is they who operate the bellows feeding your fire, they who maintain your supply of brandy. And when you finally hatch, it will be they who serve as your first conquest. You feel a surge in the fire’s heat and your limbs stir beneath you.
It is time.
With a great thrust, you break through the shell made of all of your past sorrows and stand upon the earth. You are a vision of greatness – all power and grace. You are one of a kind, your very own breed of dragon – an Animus Chopacis. Rows of metallic blue and bronze scales guard every inch of your body. Your arms and legs are slim, built for quickness and not power, and your neck is long and elegant, almost swan-like. You gaze out through obsidian, almond-shaped eyes. The whole wide world is waiting for you to explore and conquer it. Spreading your great wings, you take to the sky in pursuit of rejection, loss and judgement. They do not stand a chance.
Amongst the clouds you smile – years from now, naturalists will still be studying your majesty. Magic, it seems, certainly does love you.
Author’s Note: A thank you to Missy and Rachel for looking over this for me, to Gina for her help, and to Arithmancy_Wiz for answering my question on my interpretation of one of the challenge prompts. Animus is latin for 'heart' and pacis is latin for 'of peace', thus her dragon breed roughly translates as Cho's Heart of Peace.