A/N: French is used throughout this story. See the bottom for translations.
Ava Godfrey never had a mother. But she wished that she did.
Ava snuck through the house, which was still confusing to her with its seemingly infinite halls and stairwells, even after three months. But she knew some things about her new home at least.
She knew which floorboards and steps creaked, and she knew which ones were rough and unfinished and prone to jabbing splinters through her socks and into her feet. Those lessons has taken only a few days to learn.
Mastering the shadows and dark nooks took a bit longer; she was too used to heavy cloud cover and towering trees that blocked out the moonlight. But she managed, plotting careful courses around the pools of light that came through high arching windows.
It was a game of course. She never needed to worry about being seen or heard, after all, she could hide herself from human senses with a thought. But it was a challenge and it was fun.
She walked the same path as she had the previous night, and the night before that, and the one before that.
Out of her bedroom through the adjoining bathroom, then turning right.
Weaving through the study, dodging scattered books and pools of moonlight.
Up two floors, taking the main staircase.
Then stealing through darkened hallways again, until reaching the library.
Into the library, up its back stairs into the reading room, then out to the halls again.
Finding the hidden staircase, and going up the last three floors.
And then freedom.
Ava shut the trapdoor to the spiral staircase behind her and perched beside the chimney. Body still tense with adrenaline, she let out a silent, controlled breath to calm herself. It was quiet on the rooftop, the only quiet she got each day, and she would never dare to spoil it with her own noise.
When her heart slowed and steadied itself, she turned her face to the stars and smiled.
This was her nightly ritual, perfected over years. The stars were different in this world, yes, but they were still beautiful and willing to subject themselves to her storytelling.
She never told her stories aloud, but the stars still heard. That’s why Ava liked them.
But this night, she was interrupted before she could even begin.
She darted around to the other side of the chimney, heart pounding and muscles coiled again. Peeking around the bricks, she looked for the speaker. But no one was—
“Ava, what are you doing?”
The girl threw herself forward, away from the voice that had crept up behind her.
She skidded down the shingles only to be caught around the waist and yanked away from the edge. She struggled, but found her arms pinned as she was pulled into a tight embrace.
"Ava! Par la grâce, ma chèrie! Faites attention!"
Recognizing the woman at last, Ava abruptly fell limp.
"Désolée," she muttered meekly into Elise’s chest.
Elise sighed, and Ava felt it through her entire body. Elise said, ”Ce n’est pas ta faute. I startled you. I am the one who is sorry.”
She released Ava then and stood up on the rooftop, taking Ava by the hand and leading her back to the crest of the roof. The pair sat there together, Ava avoiding Elise’s searching gaze, and let the silence fall over the night again.
Finally, Elise asked, “Ava. Why are you up here?”
The girl hesitated for a moment before saying simply, ”Les étoiles."
“Oh?” Elise looked up at the scattered specks of light.
“Yes.” Ava still refused to look at the woman.
After another moment of silence dragged out, Elise gently touched Ava’s wrist. “Will you look at me, ma chèrie?”
“Then will you tell me about the stars?”
Ava thought for a moment, then shook her head firmly, her long snow-white braid smacking against Elise’s shoulder.
Elise caught the braid and untied the ribbon holding it in place. The clumsy braid, done by a child’s inexperienced hands fell loose quickly. Elise gathered the silk-smooth strands between her fingers and parted them neatly before beginning to plait.
Only then did she ask, “Is there are reason why you will not?”
Ava didn’t answer until the braid was finished and tied off again. But she did answer, in a voice little more than a whisper.
“I do not know them.”
Elise’s brow furrowed. “You do not know who?”
"Les étoiles. They are different than my stars.”
Elise was silent for a moment, before offering carefully, “I know these stars. I can teach you, if you wish?”
Ava finally glanced over to her, eyes bright and hopeful. “Yes?”
Elise laughed, saying, ”Bien sur ma chèrie!"
The girl nodded decisively. “Then yes.”
Elise scooted down the roof slightly and lay back, gesturing for Ava to do the same. Lifting Ava’s hand, she guided it to trace a pattern among the stars.
"L’Aigle." She loosened her grip, just a bit, and said, “Now you.”
Ava twisted to look worriedly at her. “Now me?” she questioned.
“Your turn,” Elise hurried to clarify, “Do what I do.”
Ava gave a slow nod before settling herself back down on the roof. She drew the constellation as Elise had, and repeated, ”L’Aigle."
"Oui!" Elise said excitedly. “Now—” she traced another set of stars— ”la Lyre."
They continued on, mapping the stars, until Elise finally told her, “That is all that I know. The library has books on the stars and they will change with the seasons.”
Ava nodded, looking satisfied. ”Merci. It is good to know them. The stories are better if I know them.”
“Stories?” Elise asked.
“Yes. That is why I come to see les étoiles. They listen to my stories.” She paused, then added, “They are good listeners. Better than my stars. My stars argued.”
They lay there for a while longer, before Elise tentatively said, “If you would like another listener, I would like to hear your stories someday.”
Ava took a moment to respond, finally whispering, ”Merci. I will remember.”
Elise smiled before sitting up and stretching. “I am tired, and you should sleep also. Come.”
Reluctant, Ava stood and turned toward the trapdoor. “Yes. We should sleep.” She paused before carefully hugging Elise, and saying, ”Merci, Mademoiselle Elise.”
Out of Ava’s sight, Elise’s smile was sad, ”Bien sur ma chèrie."
Translation Glossary: (listed in order of appearance)
maman — mom
Ava! Par la grâce, ma chèrie! Faites attention! — Ava! By the grace, my darling! Be careful!
désolée — Sorry
ce n’est pas ta faute — It is not your fault
les étoiles — the stars
ma chèrie — my darling
Bien sur ma chèrie! — Of course my darling!
l’Aigle — the Eagle
oui — yes
la Lyre — the Lyre
merci — thank you