A Bad Birthday
Desperate times calls for desperate measures. This was the principle followed by Aria Collins and her mother. Ever since Aria was born, they had been in hiding. They would move so often that Aria barely had time to make friends or get used to her surroundings. Her mother did not want to risk being found by what she called "the bad men". She never told Aria who these men were, only that they wanted to take Aria from her. Her mother would teach Aria at home instead of letting her go to school like other children her age. It was not out of worry that she could not make friends. Aria was a very outgoing girl who always had a bright outlook on life. Her mother kept her in the house due to Aria being a witch.
Both Aria and her parents could do magic. They were nothing like what muggles, the term for non-magical people, portrayed in movies or television shows. Real witches and wizards did not have green skin or gnarled hands though they could fly on broomsticks and brew potions in cauldrons. They were capable of performing all kinds of spells and charms. All young wizards and witches had difficulty in controlling their magic. When they reached a certain age, they were sent to wizarding schools to get proper training. Her mother was unwilling to risk Aria accidentally setting a muggle school on fire. Though she showed an eagerness to practice magic, her mother refused, telling her that she needed to be a bit older. Late at night, Aria would secretly take her mother's wand and attempt spells that she read in some of her old school books.
Aria and her mother were currently living in a small house in London. They had moved there a month ago after one of the bad men discovered their flat in Bristol. Aria was sitting in the kitchen, watching her mother bake cupcakes for her eighth birthday. As one of her presents, her mother let her get her own wand at Ollivander's. It was 10 inches and made of oak with a phoenix tail feather. Her mother promised to start giving magic lessons. Aria helped with mixing the batter. Her mother grabbed the wooden spoon.
"Not so fast, Aria. You'll get it all over the counter"
A barn owl flew through an open window, landing on the counter. There was a letter tied to its leg, along with a small pouch. Her mother took the letter and put five bronze knuts into the pouch. The owl left through the window.
"It's from your father"
Aria opened the letter, excitedly. Every birthday, her father would write to her. Aria did not know much about him. He had been sent to Azkaban prison a week after she was born. Her father used to work for the British Ministry of Magic as one of the Minister's advisers. He and her mother were also part of a special organization called the Order. They helped fight in a war against a dark wizard. Her mother once told her that the bad men worked for him. The dark wizard had disappeared a few months after Aria's first birthday but his followers were still being captured by the Ministry. Her father got framed for the murder of a Ministry official. The dark wizard had planted evidence against him and he was thrown into Azkaban for life.
After his arrest, her grandparents on her father's side cut off all contact to Aria's mother. They never approved of her because she did not come from a wealthy pureblood family. Her mother's parents had been murdered during a war with a different dark wizard. Because he was so in love with her, her father had broken his arranged marriage to another woman. While Aria found it romantic, her grandparents were furious. They refused to even meet Aria, seeing her as a reminder of her father's betrayal.
With her father's arrest, they struggled to make ends meet. Though she had a job as a healer, her mother had to leave it to protect Aria. Their only income came from Aria's aunt. She could not give much since her grandparents threatened to get her fired from her high position in the law department at the Ministry. Her mother did not mind, telling Aria that money did not matter as long as they had each other.
Aria looked at the letter from her father. When she read his letters, she liked to imagine what he would be like if they met. Though she was a spitting image of her mother, she had her father's smarts and fearless spirit. Her mother remarked that he could face ten full-grown giants and act like he was fighting small kittens. Another thing that Aria inherited from her father was a certain magical ability. He was able to create portals out of any objects to travel to different magical lands. The portals could even go back in time, quicker than any time turner. It was a very rare skill that few wizards possessed. His stories about his adventures to these lands are what first drew her mother to him. Aria could create these portals herself but only for a few seconds. On her third birthday, her father sent a necklace with his letter. It had a pendant with a symbol of three intertwining circles. The necklace belonged to him and he explained that it would help her with creating portals.
Her mother flicked her wand to make the time on the oven go faster. She turned to Aria.
"Did your father wish you a happy birthday, sweetheart?"
Aria nodded. "Why is he still in prison? He didn't hurt anyone"
"I know that. It was a very stressful time and he could not prove his innocence. Someone controlled him with a spell to place him at the scene of the crime"
"Why did that man hate him?"
"It's a very long story, Aria. The important thing is that he cannot hurt us…and I am sure that soon enough, your father will be released from Azkaban. Aunt Elyse is working on his case and going to Fudge every day. Don't fret about it. You should be happy on your birthday"
"I just want him here"
"So do I. I miss him very much"
Once the cupcakes were done, Aria decorated them with frosting. Her mother took one with blue frosting from the pan. She put a candle in the shape of a star on top of it. Closing her eyes, Aria silently wished that her father could be with them. She blew out the candle. Her mother smiled. Suddenly, the kitchen shook wildly. Aria gripped the counter.
"Is that an earthquake?"
"Aria, go to your room. Pack your things and put on your shoes"
"Do as I say. Wait for me there and do not let anyone in unless it's me"
Her mother hurried her out of the kitchen. Aria went upstairs to her room. She put her belongings in a small plaid backpack. The backpack had been charmed by her mother to fit anything, no matter the size. As she tied her sneakers, she heard a knock on the door. She got off of her bed.
"Yes, sweetheart, it's me"
Aria opened the door. Instead of her mother, she saw a man in long black robes and a strange mask. The mask had slits for the eyes and mouth. Aria stepped back, holding onto her backpack. He entered her room.
"You'll be coming with me, little girl"
She chucked the backpack at him, knocking him into the wall. The man fell unconscious. She ran downstairs. Her mother was surrounded by more men in the same robes and masks. A hand grabbed her hair roughly, tilting her head back. She looked up to see a tall man with cold grey eyes under the mask. He pointed his wand at her neck.
"This must be your daughter. What's her name, Clare?" he asked as though it was a casual conversation.
"Please let her go" she pleaded.
"Answer the question or I cut her pretty little face"
"Aria. Her name's Aria"
"Such a lovely name…and such power at her age. He will be pleased"
"He's dead. You're delusional"
The other men snarled at her mother. Aria struggled against the man's grip. His wand pressed into her skin. He told her mother that Aria was promised to some dark lord. Her mother argued that they never made that deal.
"Aaron promised her to him. She was meant to be his when she was born"
"No. He just wanted to snatch her for his own twisted schemes"
"It was foolish to run all these years. He will return to power and little Aria will be waiting for him"
"I won't let you take her!"
She could hear her mother fighting. Jets of light passed over her head. The man chuckled. He flicked his wand. Her mother let out an ear-shattering scream. He moved Aria's head down. Most of the intruders had been knocked out by spells. There were only two left, including the man holding Aria. Her mother was on the floor, panting and clutching her side.
"Your mother must pay for her insubordination. You no longer have need for her. This is what happens when you defy the dark lord"
The other man pointed his wand at the back of her mother's head. Shouting a spell, he hit her with a jet of green light. Her mother crumpled to the floor, an empty expression on her face. Aria waited for her to get up but she did not move. Tears filled her eyes. She had nowhere else to go. Aria never met her Aunt Elyse. Her mother mentioned that her aunt already had five children and Aria doubted she would take in another one. Aria did not want to put her in danger. Those men would think to check her aunt's home if she ran away from them. Her grandparents would most likely give her over to the men without a second thought.
"A pity to spill pure blood but your mother deserved it. You will be where you belong soon"
Aria stamped hard on his foot and elbowed him in the stomach. He let go of her, groaning in pain. She ran out of her house, not bothering to look behind her. A jet of light struck a nearby tree, splitting it in two. She clutched the pendant of her necklace, twirling it. A small portal formed in the ground. Quickly, she jumped into it and landed in a dark alley. She was in the shopping district, only a few blocks from her home. Those men knew what she looked like and could easily spot her. She snuck into a children's clothing store. Going over to the boys' section, she picked out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. A woman was helping a young boy pick out jeans. Aria noticed a wand in her purse, which was resting on a chair. Taking the wand, she went into a dressing room. She was not foolish enough to use her own wand. The Ministry would find her immediately due to the Trace, a spell that monitored all underage magic.
After changing her clothes, she looked at herself in the mirror. She thought of spells from her mother's books. Pointing the wand at her golden blonde hair, she used a severing charm. After a few minutes, her hair, which used to be long and wavy with loose curls, was now short and disheveled. She ran her fingers through her hair to make it even messier. With another spell, she altered her facial features slightly, such as the shape of her nose and lips. The only parts of her to remain the same were her blue-green eyes and the freckles that sprinkled across her nose. She could barely recognize herself.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures"
Satisfied with her new appearance, she returned the wand to the woman's purse. She blended in with a family leaving the store to avoid paying for the clothes. As she walked down the street, she saw a park. Aria was unsure of where to go. She had no one to trust. From what her mother told her, those bad men were employees at the Ministry. If she went there, one of them could snatch her. She kept seeing her mother's death and that man's cold grey eyes in her head. As she worried about where to sleep, a ball rolled into her leg. She picked up the ball. Two boys ran over, glaring.
"That's mine" said one of the boys, rudely.
"Here. You must have dropped it"
He took the ball while the other boy shoved her to the ground. The boys sniggered.
"Look at him. He's a little midget"
"I'll teach you to mess with us"
A teenage boy walked over to them. He reprimanded the two bullies. They went back to a group of children her age, who were waiting by a bus.
"Are you in the camp too? I don't recognize you"
"What are you doing out on your own? Where are your parents?"
"I was just walking around"
The boy looked at her, suspiciously. "Well sorry about those two. They need a good knock on the head"
Aria continued through the park. Her eyes widened seeing a poster with a picture of her. It claimed that she had run away from home and to call a number in Wiltshire. She ripped the poster and tore it into pieces. Leaving the park, she spotted the posters all throughout the town on store windows and light poles. It started to get dark. She stopped in front of a run-down apartment building. A sign in the window read 'Apartment for sale: Room 4B'. She entered the building. Finding the room, she opened the door. The apartment was very small with a tattered couch, a bathroom, and a kitchen area. She laid down on the couch. Opening her backpack, she took out her father's letter. There was a photo attached of him with her mother holding a baby Aria. She teared up, looking at her mother. Clutching the picture, she fell asleep in the abandoned apartment…