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Chapter 1: I
Sighing loudly, I rolled onto my left side, gazing out from my position on the comfortable lounge chair in the sunroom (that ironically was dull and dreary, a typical overcast English day) in the direction of the foyer. The freshly polished rosewood floors gleamed in the little candlelight that shone upon them, causing the timber to look more like rippling water than solid wood. A copy of the Daily Prophet that I had been reading earlier on was no longer lying on the ground; it now sat folded neatly on a nearby mahogany table, beside a blue vase full of daisies. The house elf, Tully, must have tidied during the day whilst I was lightly sleeping.
"Melanie?" the voice asked, a lot closer than before while I ground my eyes with my knuckles, trying to wake up before my solitude was interfered with.
"Yes?" I replied, groaning as I sat up from the comfortable lounge, smoothing my shirt out in the process.
"Ah, there you are, dear. Quick, rush upstairs and get changed – Aunt Jacqueline and Uncle Hamish are arriving for dinner in five minutes!" I rolled my eyes at my mothers retreating back as she rushed to tell me her news before bustling away to the kitchens, no doubt to check everything was satisfactory for dinner. I sometimes worried about my mother, she never seemed to sit back and relax. She was always fussing and worried about this or that, though the things she worried about really shouldn't have bothered her.
With another tired sigh, I managed to pull my sleepy body up from the lounge and trudged my way to the staircase that led upstairs to my bedroom. My hand ran along the mahogany banister as I lifted one weary foot after the other and began to climb. The cool, smooth surface of the banister was friendly to the touch, causing a small smile to spread over my lips as I reminisced in memories of sliding down it as a little girl, only to be caught by my father before I fell and hurt myself.
I didn't mind that my aunt and uncle would be stopping by for dinner, not at all. I just wished I'd been given more notice, despite the fact I'd been told several times today by both my parents that Jacqueline and Hamish were coming. We had gotten along well for as long as I could remember. They constantly spoiled me rotten, though I never really complained as they had no children of their own, even though they'd been married for twelve years. I was five at the time of their wedding and got to be the flower girl. I still had the dress, somewhere. No doubt it was hidden within the depths of my wardrobe, slowly collecting dust like much of the other clothes found within it.
The five minutes I'd been given seemed to vanish into thin air a lot sooner than they should have. I heard the shout from downstairs from my father that our guests had arrived whilst I was attempting to change my shirt, brush my long brown hair and apply light makeup, all at the same time. Needless to say it was disastrous. Mascara got where it shouldn't have, my shirt was done up near my shoulder and my hairbrush got tangled within my long tresses. It took another few minutes to detangle myself, and I once more set out to do what I had been while I got ready, just at different times.
The beautiful wood and gold cuckoo clock that sat upon one of my bedroom walls let its presence be known to add to my frustration. The little red robin popped out of its small, beautifully decorated home, tweeted shrilly, and then ducked quickly inside again. I rolled my eyes, half tempted to pick up a large fluffy pillow from my oversized bed draped in browns and reds and throw it at the mocking bird, but thought against it. I didn't think my father would be too happy if I broke one of our family heirlooms that he had inherited from his parents when they had passed away.
"Melanie!" My father's voice ran through our large manor house, making me jump slightly. I threw down my hairbrush (scattering bits and pieces from the mahogany dresser to the floor in the process) and glanced quickly at my reflection in the enormous floor to ceiling mirror that stood alongside my bed. Hair looked decent. Clothes were clean and tidy. Smeared mascara was now removed from my pale skin. Mission accomplished.
My aunt and uncle had always been very kind to me, tonight was no exception. As the five of us sat outside in the fresh night air now that the clouds had lifted slightly, Uncle Hamish and Aunt Jacqueline, or as I liked to call them, Hammy and Jackie, were telling my parents and I about their latest trip to France. They went nearly every year as they owned a nice townhouse in Paris that overlooked a lovely park, full of well kept bushes and trees, with vines of jasmine and bunches of lavender scattered throughout it. The smell from their bedroom window was glorious. I had been to stay with them a few times in the past, and as beautiful as it was, I knew my place was here on my home soil.
I sat listening quietly to their conversations, silently sipping the glass of bubbling tawny champagne that Jackie insisted I try (it was brought back from France, after all). My mind was miles away from their conversation, though. I was watching the wind blowing softly through the leaves of the large oak trees that surrounded the immaculate lawns and pebble paths that spread out before me, one feature blending seamlessly with the next. There was a large fountain as the main feature located directly before me, central to the entire garden. Little white pebbles lined the paths leading to it; short mongo grass lined the pebbles, keeping them all in place. The water running swiftly over the painted white fountain splashed heavily into the pool at its base, waiting to be recycled through once more. I sat in a daze, trying to watch one section of the water rush from the spout, located within the twisted branches of the large concrete tree, over the two lovers beneath it's canopy where they stood wrapped tightly within the others arms as if they were dancing together in the rain, and drip down from the bottom of their clothes into the vast pool of water surrounding them. Needless to say I was having no luck trying to focus completely with the spray flying everywhere distracting and confusing me.
"Melanie," Jackie said quietly as my parents and Hamish got involved in other conversation, of which I had no real interest in following or joining in with. I broke my gaze away from the fountain before me and turned to look at my aunt with a small smile upon my lips. She was sill only young, thirty-two years old, ten years younger than her brother Patrick, my father. Jackie still shined with radiance and love for everyone and everything that affected her life, and always managed to make those near her feel better with her infectiously bubbly personality.
With a warm smile she began to speak. "Melanie-" she always insisted upon using my full name, despite nearly everyone else opting to call me Mel instead "-are you excited about your last year at school?"
A large grin fell upon my lips, nearly large enough to break my face in two, causing Jackie to chuckle pleasantly. "I am," I said honestly, though my chipper smile soon faltered as I thought about the other side of the story, the side that made me feel like I wasn't ready to leave yet, that I wanted to stay at Hogwarts forever instead of having to face the big, bad world all by myself. "I want nothing more than to finish school and travel with Sharny wherever the wind takes us, though at the same time..." My voice faltered and I looked down at my hands resting lightly upon my thighs, though I quickly looked back up so she wouldn't think I was being rude, despite the fact I knew from the look in her eyes that was the last thing she thought.
"You don't want to leave because it's your home, isn't it?" Jackie asked, understanding written upon her warm, rounded features, helping to reassure me that everything would be alright. I nodded in reply to her last statement, my long brown hair tumbling lightly over my shoulder in the process. Jackie smiled and gently pushed it back behind my ear so she could see my face clearly, as she liked to put it whenever she did this. Looking at Jackie always reminded me of looking at a mirror that doubled my age, with a few alterations to suite the very few differences in our appearances. We both shared dark brown hair and the same straight, thin nose that we had inherited from the Connelly family line, though where she had large, happy brown eyes, I had bright, alert blue ones that neither my mother nor father possessed, as theirs were both brown, too. I guess I was just lucky.
"I'm sure you will do just fine this year, Melanie," Jackie said sweetly as she lowered her hand from my face and held her arms out, wishing me to give her a hug. I placed my half drunk flute of French champagne (which I wasn't very fussed on) upon the table and allowed Jackie to hold me tight in her slender arms for a very long time, once more tuning out of the conversation taking place with the other adults she had joined in with. I was quite content to stay where I was, once more trying to watch the water running over the statue to no avail as I was held tight in Jackie's arms, feeling happy, safe and loved.
Hamish and Jackie left late in the afternoon, long after dinner had ended, so late in fact that the sun and all its rays had long since fallen beyond the horizon and the dark chill of night had swept its way over the countryside. My parents had joined them both in the comfortable sitting room under the warm embrace of the fire, drinking whiskey and champagne and talking about things I couldn't understand due to them being on one side of a thick wooden door and me being on the other in the cold corridor, trying to eavesdrop upon their conversation to see if I was mentioned at all. It took under five minutes for my interest to waver before I found myself back up in my bedroom, finishing off my copy of The Daily Prophet that I had fallen asleep reading earlier on in the day.
The candle by the deep armchair in my bedroom flickered wistfully in the zephyr floating in through the open glass doors that led out onto the small balcony facing the west. The long, thin, white drapes that hung before the glass danced merrily, never seeming to lie straight and still. I had long since put my copy of the Prophet back down upon the floor and instead decided to sit and watch the candle flickering, back and forth, back and forth, until there was no more wick to burn and the room was cast into darkness.
With a contented sigh, I rose from the depths of the large white lounge and crossed the room to stand outside, gazing at the stars. I did this every night, staring, gazing dreamily at the sky, looking at all the different stars and never being able to count them all. My father and I used to do this together when I was younger, though it had been years since it had been the two of us stargazing, and not just me.
So much had changed over the years. I was no longer the shy little girl I remember being. I had well and truly grown up, and yet sometimes I felt like I would do anything to turn back time, to a place where I was small enough to ride upon my fathers' shoulders and laugh happily at the butterflies I would try to catch. I hoped sometimes that I was small enough to sit upon my mothers lap, waiting for sleep to come while she sang softly, trying to lull me into a peaceful slumber. I was far too big for all that now, though as I wrapped my arms about my body for warmth, I sometimes wished that I wasn't.
Nights chill was starting to cause goose bumps to rise all over my arms and legs. I pulled my thin, lavender coloured dressing gown tighter around my body as I walked back inside, the cool night air sending a run of pleasant shivers down the length of my spine, prickling the small hairs on my arms and the back of my neck. My arms were folded tightly across my chest, hands tucked in snugly either side as my bare feet traipsed across the cool tiled ground, guiding me closer and closer to the soft splendours of my comfortable bed. My right hand slipped away, reaching for the handle of the door leading back inside when I heard the faintest hoot sound, drifting closer towards me over the light gusts of the wind.
The faint sound caught my immediate attention, causing me to stop in my tracks and turn around. I scanned the bright night's sky, gazing over the tops of the large oak trees, noticing the sparkling water of the fountain from the bottom of my range of vision, and finally saw the source of the sound, flying over the bright surface of the moon. I held out my left arm, my dressing gown hanging limply from it, swaying gently in the breeze.
I flicked my fingers slightly, moments before a large black eagle owl landed upon my hand, digging his dull orange claws firmly into my flesh to stabilise himself. His matching coloured beak held an ashen envelope firmly within its grasp, the gleaming emerald ink portraying my name in fancy sloping writing as clear as anything in the moonlight. The owl, named Feardorcha, turned his smooth head of feathers to face me, his hollow black eyes glinting cruelly in the moonlight, sending a shiver down my spine that had nothing to do with the cool night air.
"Hello, Feardorcha," I said timidly, watching as the bird titled his head a little, giving me a piercing gaze. He'd no doubt been on a long flight to deliver his message, the one I was removing from the tight grip his beak held upon it. Without giving me the chance to think about sending a reply, Feardorcha took flight, heading back home to his master.
I stood in silence, clutching my letter in one hand and slowly lowering the other from where it was still remaining held out before me so Feardorcha could land upon it. It seemed to take no time at all before the owl became only a pinprick in the distance, one of which I was struggling to watch until I finally blinked and he was gone. Sighing, I lowered my gaze, my long hair tumbling over my shoulders as I turned over the letter. The emerald ink caught a glint of the moonlight and seemed to sparkle as much as the light reflecting off the fountain had earlier on. I smiled, recognising instantly who had sent the letter even if I hadn't known the bird. There was no mistaking the one responsible for the fancy, slanted writing written upon expensive parchment that held my eyes captive.
With a small smile I wrapped my arms about my body tighter and continued my path inside where I proceeded in shedding my dressing gown and slipping deep under the covers of my warm bed. I placed the unopened letter upon the bedside table and rolled over, gazing once more at the stars outside with a faint smile gracing my lips.
Whatever Draco Malfoy had to say, I could wait until the morning to find out.