She took a deep breath, and stepped up to the podium. No, wait. Back up. Sorry, that's getting into things half-way through, or at least at a major climax, and stories should begin at the beginning. In this case, the beginning is the first day of the new school year...
"You've really got the hang of that levitation charm, huh Raven?" Madeline Hatter asked her friend as they walked together across the bridge to Ever After High. Maddie's luggage was tucked away inside her hat (physics had nothing on a Wonderlandian's hat), but her friend had had no such logic-distorting ways to carry her belongings. Nor were there any convenient wheels.
Her magic – sometimes unstable and still just at the beginner level – had its limits. Despite the sometimes-nature of her magic though, there was a faint purple glow of magic around both the trunk and its owner's hands. Consistent levitation, achieved! As well as that, everything inside the trunk was closer to doll-size than person-size. Re-sizing, she could do. Most of the time. Within certain limits. Beginner level.
"Yeah," agreed the purple-haired girl with a shyly proud smile. "Dad let me out of a few things so that I could get in more practice time with the more practical, day-to-day magics, rather than just the things that Madam Yaga teaches in History of Evil Spells."
"Still taking that class this year?" Maddie queried cautiously.
"Maybe," Raven replied with a frustrated sigh. "I mean, even if I don't ever use them myself, knowing how they work, and how to counter them, that's useful knowledge. I just... I'm sick of everybody treating me like I'm so evil," she supplied air-quotes, which thankfully didn't upset her levitation spell on her luggage, "just because my mother was. Ugh. It's not fair!" she exclaimed, frustrated, and barely kept herself from banishing her luggage by accident. If she did that sort of thing in a fit of temper, there was no telling where it might end up. Or in what condition.
"No one thinks you're evil," Maddie comforted her friend, a hand on her shoulder and a gentle smile on her face. "That's just crazy talk. Bulululu!" she added, making a silly face to hopefully cause her friend to smile.
It worked. Raven even giggled a little bit.
"Well, I guess the daughter of the Mad Hatter would know crazy when she hears it," Raven allowed, only to look up at the imposing visage of their school's great front doors, and sigh in despondency once more.
"Will you stop with the worry-flurry," Maddie instructed, and poked Raven in the shoulder before she headed up the front steps. "Everyone at school loves you."
Raven reached the top step and the open doors a couple of beats behind her friend. Her arrival was, regrettably, noticed.
"It's Raven Queen! Run!"
"She is evil!"
The front hall cleared with stampeding feet, bleating sheep (Bo-Peep's daughter was attending this year) a few abandoned books, and some loose sheets of paper left drifting down in the wake of those who didn't dare take the time to secure their things before fleeing.
"See, they love you," Maddie said, determined to ignore all evidence to the contrary.
"Thanks for trying, Maddie," Raven said with a sad smile, "but I think the whole Legacy Day thing this year means my mother's reputation will overshadow pretty much everything I do for a while."
Legacy Day came around every year, and the whole school – and quite a few graduates as well – attended. Only those students in their Junior Year – like Raven and Maddie – were actually called upon to sign the book though. It would take way too long if the entire student population had to sign it every time, after all.
"You may be right," Maddie capitulated. "Well, never mind that for now. We've got to get our room assignments, put our things away, and get to morning class-" Maddie's wrist watch rang out an alarm. "Yay! Tea-time!" she cheered, and pulled from within her hat a chair and a table already laid with a full tea set, including a teapot full of hot tea, a plate of teacakes, and a sugar bowl with sugar cubes.
Oh, and Earl Grey the dormouse, who squeaked a bit.
"Why yes, this is a new dress," Maddie agreed.
Raven laughed softly, and waved farewell to her friend, silently indicating that she wouldn't be staying for tea.
It turned out that there were some room assignment mix-ups, with some roommate requests having been misplaced, room assignments that could be considered 'traditional' because parents of students had roomed together, others that were similarly considered so (even though they weren't) because of the stories that the students were expected to live up to, and staff recommendations for or against certain students rooming together. Students were presently being told to leave their luggage (named, of course) at the front office. They were only to keep with them those things they would need for the day ahead. The janitorial staff would deliver student property to dorm rooms, and teachers would hand out room assignments to their students at the end of the last school period.
Any dissatisfaction and re-shuffling would have to happen after having spent a night with whoever they ended up being assigned to room with.
"Thank you," Raven said as she accepted the name-tag for her luggage. "Can I please register again my preference to room with Madeline Hatter or Cerise Hood this year?"
"I'll make a note," agreed the administrative staff troll who was effectively guarding all the luggage until room assignments were sorted out.
"Thank you, again," Raven said, and with her luggage named, grabbed out her satchel, pencil case, and a couple of exercise books for first-day classes, just in case they were needed.
It was unlikely that they would be needed before lunch though, as the school had scheduled no classes for the morning of the first day of school. There were a lot of students who had to come in from further afield, and so the first half of the day was given over to just processing all of the arrivals, making sure everybody had their time-tables for the term, making sure that new arrivals got the tour, and letting returning students catch up with each other before their classes started back.
Raven decided to just stake out a corner of the castle-teria until the bell sounded for the beginning of classes after lunch.
"Hey," a voice called softly.
Raven looked up, and smiled.
Cerise Hood, famously the daughter of Little Red Riding Hood, was in much the same boat as Raven. No one ever, ever talked about her father. No one except for the two of them, and only to each other. It had been an accident that Raven had found out. Late in their Freshman year, Kitty had somehow found out… not quite the entire truth, but had a bit of a hint towards an inkling, and had been making insinuations to Cerise in a not-quite-private setting.
Raven had overheard at the time, and had offered a non-judgemental ear.
Confidences had been shared. Kitty might have been able to guess something, but Raven was the only one that Cerise had told. Likewise, Cerise was the only one that Raven had told who her father was. Even Maddie didn't know, though Raven talked about her father to her friend, it was always in vague terms, and she certainly never named him.
"Hey Cerise," Raven said, and shifted over to make room for her friend at the table. Not that she needed to, as no one else had dared to sit anywhere near her, but the motion was invitation. "Did you have a good holiday?"
"It was great," Cerise answered. "The whole family together for six whole weeks."
"And how's the, ah, other side of the family?" Raven asked delicately. To anybody listening to their conversation who didn't know, Raven could have been asking about the other branch of the Hood family – Robin Hood, his son Sparrow who was in their year, and so on – rather than those members of Cerise's direct family who were on the other side of the story.
The Badwolfs. Her father and elder sister.
"They're okay. Dad's going to be able to keep an eye on things at this end all the time now of course, which is both great and not," Cerise said, a wry smile on her lips.
"And your own personal nemesis?" Raven checked softly.
"If she picks her grades up, Ramona will be back at Ever After High sometime this year," Cerise admitted. "So I can expect her to pick on me a bit when she gets here, if she does, but once she gets it out of her system and settles in properly, she'll be cool."
"Well, I'm glad for you," Raven declared sincerely. Softly though, even with the space everybody was giving her, it wasn't a conversation either of them wanted to attract attention to.
"Thanks," Cerise said. "What about you? I noticed you had, uh…" she looked over the immediate surrounding area. "The entire table all to yourself, and a buffer of half the next one as well, even when you're right at the far end."
"Che," Raven sighed in disgust. "Yeah. It's the inherited reputation of the Evil Queen, and I get that people fear her, even if she mostly just makes me angry, but I really don't get why that has to transfer to me when the worst that I can remember personally and purposefully doing was the time I tried flushing my parents wedding rings down the toilet."
"You…" Cerise bit back a giggle. "You seriously did that?"
"I was seven, hated the mother I had no actual memory of, and Dad caught me before I could," Raven admitted. "Everything else, before and since, was on normal bratty-kid levels, yanno?"
"Yeah," Cerise said with a chuckle. "Hey, I'm gonna go grab some lunch while the castle-teria is still actually serving. You want me to get you anything?"
"I'm good," Raven said, and gestured to her empty lunch tray and used cup.
"Okay," Cerise answered, and with a wave, wandered off to pick up a tray of her own.
"Hey Raven," another voice said, around about the same time as Cerise had reached the back of the line for food.
Raven turned in her seat to see who had dared to approach her this time. Turned out, that was almost the choice word. Dexterous Charming, middle child of the three Charming Triplets, Daring and Darling being the other two. Raven didn't like to say it, but she was pretty sure that giving your kids alliterative names was a form of evil. Neither of their parents had been on the less-than-good side of things though. All three Charmings were expected to do good things. Darling would be expected to be someone's damsel in distress rather than a hero, but good things all the same.
"Hi Dex," Raven answered.
"You look gourd, I mean good," Dexter stammered. "I- I don't even know what gourd is…"
"Pumpkin," Raven supplied easily. "Well, a pumpkin is a type of gourd anyway. Uh… I'd offer you a seat, but apparently this year I'm evil," she said, and for the second time that day did air-quotes to emphasise the word further. "To sit with me you'd have to be pretty –"
A flash came from the other end of the castle-teria, causing more than one student to drop their trays as they tried to shield their eyes. Dexter flinched.
Raven took a breath to make sure she wouldn't make the obvious slip.
"– Brave," she finished, as Apple White and Daring Charming descended the stairs, arm in arm and playing to the crowd.
"Uh… this too shall pass?" Dexter tried.
Raven smiled at the dark-haired Charming, but couldn't help but notice that, over his shoulder, Apple and Daring were getting closer. It would be better to stand to meet them.
"Raven," Apple greeted, as though she were already a queen and addressing one of her less intelligent subjects. "How's every enchanted thing?"
"Apple White," Raven returned as neutrally as she could. "Good to see you. Hi, Daring," she tacked on.
"I have to warn you," Daring opened, rather than actually return the greeting, "don't stare at the teeth. Just got 'em whitened." He proceeded to smile, showing them off – thankfully in the other direction, as his doing so caused another flash of light.
Two of the next generation of the three little pigs got an instant tan, and the third looked to be a bit scorched. Or possibly over-done, as he'd gone to take a bite of an apple at just the wrong moment, making him resemble a roast pork dinner, as uncharitable as that might be.
Mercifully, their interactions were to be cut short, as the bell finally rang, signalling the beginning of classes in earnest.
"Oh oh! There's the bell," Apple chirped, twitching happily where she stood like someone had tickled her in the small of the back. "Time for Good Kingdom Management. Raven!" she called, preventing the other girl from simply leaving. "What's your first class?"
Raven pulled her timetable out of her satchel, having not actually looked at the thing yet.
"History of Evil Spells," Raven said, just a little unhappily. She was in two minds about actually continuing the class, after all.
"Oh, that is so perfect for you," Apple said. She meant it too.
One of the many things that annoyed Raven about Apple – and oh, there were so many things – was how Apple assumed that because of who Raven's mother was (Evil Queen that poisoned Snow White) that Raven herself must be and love all things evil. Raven had a bit of a temper, yes, but having a short fuse over certain subjects did not an unequivocal villain make.
Most of the student population of Ever After High wore clothing that befit their status as, well, whoever they were. A lot of them were royalty of one flavour or another, others were nobles but not quite royal, most had lineages that could be traced back for generations – lineages that the students were, in general, very proud of.
They also tended to wear accessories in-theme with their stories and/or their names. Briar Beauty wore clothes with thorn patterns, Apple White had her apple purse, Madeline Hatter was never seen without a hat on her head, however large or small, and so on. Some were more obvious about it than others, but they all did it.
Even Raven, with her small spiked crown in her hair, and the feathered cowl she wore over her shoulders, conformed to this somewhat odd standard.
There was, however, such a thing as taking it too far, and what she found when she entered the dorm room she had been allotted… was very much taking things too far.
"Welcome home, Roomie!" Apple chirped.
"Nice joke, Apple," Raven said, hoping more than believing it to be just a joke.
"It's not a joke, Raven," Apple corrected. "Since you're such an important part of my story – you poison me, I fall asleep -"
"- The prince wakes you with a kiss, blah blah blah, yada yada, I know," Raven interrupted. "So?"
"So! I asked Headmaster Grimm if we could live together," Apple revealed with a subtle toss of her hair and a pleased, if somewhat sly, side-eye. Slyly pleased didn't last long though. Bright beaming smile and big, big Bambi eyes came in quickly. "- and he said yes! Isn't that enchanting?"
Raven felt her shoulders slump against her will, and braced herself for one night in the same room as Apple White. She knew there had been mix-ups with room assignments earlier in the day, and that she could apply for a different roommate in the morning. She just had to get through this one night.
Then again, with Headmaster Grimm being the one to approve this particular room assignment, Raven's chances of getting out of it were slimmer than most other students would have to worry about.
"Oh oh oh!" Apple said excitedly, and got right up in Raven's personal space. One hand even settled on her shoulder. Probably an unconscious action to keep her from bolting.
Regrettably, all of Raven's stuff would have been sent up to this room, so just running for it wouldn't work in this case.
"You are going to love rooming with me," Apple informed Raven. Sincerely, but still. "I'm thoughtful, and beautiful," she brushed at her masses of pale golden hair to emphasise the point, "and I sing the most wonderful songs about woodland creatures!"
With a delicate clearing of the through, Apple moved away from Raven to more clearly reveal the line-up of doves on her windowsill. Another, with a flower in its beak, appeared just as Apple started singing.
"Oh, the doves love to fly, and the hares love to burrow~"
"Move along, move along," Raven shooed the birds away. "Nothing to see here."
"And!" Apple exclaimed happily – dear sweet fairy tale, there was more? – "I already decorated your half of the room!" She turned around and clapped excitedly, eager for Raven's reaction to her interior design efforts.
See again the point made earlier about taking things too far.
By 'decorate', Apple meant that she had covered half of the room in a dark wallpaper, supplied a bunch of mirrors with black, gothic-looking frames, similarly black furniture, with purple upholstery or linens where appropriate, and there was even a purple head holding up a distinctly uncomfortable-looking headpiece. It could even be termed an 'evil crown'. Probably the whole look could be termed 'evil' by the naïve, rather than just 'gothic' and 'uncomfortable'.
"Isn't it just the evilest? I knew you'd love it!" Apple said happily, clearly mistaking Raven's horror for awe.
If it turned out that Raven really did have to spend the whole year rooming with Apple White, then it was going to be a long year. Still, she set that thought aside, took a deep, bracing breath, and asked carefully –
"Where did you get all this stuff?"
Mostly, she wanted to know if she would get in trouble for destroying school property if she set it all on fire.
"I bought it for you," Apple answered easily. "I admit that the sales clerks were confused why I wanted some of these things at first, but when I explained what I was doing, they understood."
"So…" Raven started slowly, "this is… mine?" she checked.
"Okay then," Raven said with a sigh. She'd endure it as it was for one night. That was the rule with gifts. Use them once, at least, in a time and place where the giver could see, then it could be replaced or transfigured. Besides, she might still be able to get away from Apple, and it would be too much trouble to change all of it right now, at the end of the day, when all she really wanted to do was go to sleep. "Thank you," she added, because she was a princess (the evil-ness of her mother notwithstanding), and her father had raised her to have good manners.
"You're welcome!" Apple chirped.
"Hi," Raven said to the woman working the school office's front desk. "I'd like to register a complaint about my room assignment and request a change of roommate."
"What seems to be the problem?" the office troll asked dully.
"My roommate had decorated my side of the room prior to my arrival last night, is neither of the people who I had requested to room with, and traditionally Ever After High has kept our two lineages as far apart as possible during schooling years," Raven supplied.
All true. Even the part about Ever After High keeping the Whites and the Queens well away from one another. It wouldn't do for a White to be corrupted to evil by becoming friends with her supposed-nemesis, or for a Queen to find herself unwilling or unable to poison the next Snow White.
"And she sings first thing in the morning," Raven added with a grimace that did not, at all, have to be faked.
Apple thought highly of her singing voice, and yes, she could hold a tune fairly well, but it wasn't anything Raven wanted to listen to first thing in the morning. Actually, it wasn't anything she wanted to have to listen to ever. Apple's singing voice was… well, it was. It wasn't really anything inspired or amazing, and (as she had demonstrated the previous evening) if she had any kind of way with words, it didn't translate over to writing song lyrics.
Her animal magnetism as a princess, plus her status as Queen Snow White's daughter, had a lot of people overlooking how mediocre her ability to actually sing anything worthy of note. It certainly wasn't Apple's voice that had the animals flocking to her.
Privately, Raven was pretty sure it was actually Apple's perfume that had the woodland creature population so enthralled.
"Not a morning person, Miss Queen?" the office troll asked sympathetically.
"Not so much that I can endure mediocre singing first thing," Raven answered firmly.
"If your request for a change gets approved, we'll let you know by lunch," the office troll promised as she tapped away at her keyboard. "That will give either you or your roommate time to move your things after the Legacy Day Rehearsals this afternoon."
"Be aware though, if you don't like whoever you get this time – and it might still not be whoever you asked to be roomed with – then we won't rearrange things a second time. That is even if we can shuffle things around for you this time."
"I understand. Thank you again."
Apple had gone with Briar after morning classes, the two of them wandering around off school grounds. Raven had (miraculously) gotten approval to move her things, and had taken shameless advantage of Apple's absence to do so with impunity.
She had also immolated the 'evil' décor that Apple had high-handedly gifted her with, rather than move that lot out. The wallpaper had been stripped away too, revealing just plain wood, which suited Apple's new roommate just fine.
Moving Cedar's furniture in had been easy enough with the well-practised levitation spell, and help from Cedar and Cerise. Cedar had been very understanding about Raven not wanting to room with Apple for both personal and family reasons, and hadn't minded being asked about moving her things when she'd only just unpacked. Cedar Wood, bless her splinters, was not only honest, she was genuinely kind-hearted and concerned with the substance of things, and not just the look of them.
And the substance of this particular issue had been that Raven was genuinely unhappy, and her roommate seemed unable (or possibly even unwilling) to recognise that.
"Oh, uh, and watch out for Apple's enchanted mirror," Raven warned as she helped Cedar make her bed. "I accidentally made it not have to compliment Apple this morning when she ducked out to borrow a necklace from Briar."
"How do you do that by accident?" Cerise questioned from where she was unfolding and hanging Cedar's dresses into the wardrobe.
"I was trying to get a little extra curl in my hair this morning with magic, but I missed. That bit of magic bounced off my mirror – or rather, the cursed, evil mirror – that Apple gave me, before it hit hers," Raven explained with a slightly sheepish smile. "It blew a raspberry at her when she got back."
"Does she know it was you?" Cedar asked, just a little concerned, "because I cannot tell a lie, and if she asks me if I know what happened…"
"I told her straight up and apologised," Raven said with a nod, "so, yes, she knows. I think she was more upset that I was apologising, actually. Anyway, she's ordered a new mirror, but it won't be here for a few days, so until then, she's going to have to deal with a mirror that might not tell her what she wants to hear. And might blow raspberries at her."
"Okay then," Cedar said with a smile. "So… I think that's all my things. Now we just have to move you in with Cerise, which, um, Raven? You kinda destroyed all your furniture?"
"I destroyed the furniture that Apple bought for me, because she's so very thoughtful and just knew I'd love an evil-themed room," Raven corrected dryly. "All of my furniture is actually shrunken down and in my trunk."
"You can do that?" Cerise asked.
"So cool," both friends agreed.
Also a lot less evil-looking than Apple would have thought suitable for the future villain of her story. In fact, it looked –
"Can I say it's masculine?" Cedar asked, "because… it kinda is."
The furniture had been painted coal grey, then deep green, and then distressed. The lines were simple, the decorations looked kind of like eggs – and not the wings-spread black birds that had been all over the gothic-black furniture that Apple had gifted. There were no purple linens in Raven's luggage either.
She had enough trouble co-ordinating her wardrobe with her hair. She wasn't going to co-ordinate her bedroom with it as well. Green was a colour that she found relaxing, and according to her father, the bedroom was a place a person was supposed to be able to relax. Can't sleep if you're not relaxed, after all. So, green it was, and she liked the distressed look. It wasn't very Royal, maybe, but she was more than just the crown on her head.
"Well, I haven't exactly had a lot of great motherly figures in my life," Raven said with a wry smile as she got out the very un-royal-looking, but really comfy, tartan flannel sheets.
Cerise had a good laugh when she saw them, as well she should, since Raven's bedclothes matched Cerise's shirt.
"Oh, please tell me your bedroom at home looks as ridiculous as this," Cerise begged with a wide grin.
"That is a secret known only to me, my father, and the maid who cleans my room and washes my sheets," Raven said with a smile. "Nah," she continued, giving up the joke. "I've got a proper, princess-appropriate bedroom set back home with boring-looking sheets. This is from the holiday house that's just my and my dad's secret."
"Secret holiday house?" Cedar queried.
"Should you be telling us about it then?" Cerise pressed.
"It's not a secret that we've got one," Raven corrected, "the secret is where it is."
"Oh," the other two girls hummed in understanding.
The students in their Junior year at Ever After High were all gathered for the Legacy Day Rehearsals, just to make sure that they had some idea of what they would have to say when Legacy Day was actually upon them. No one liked the idea of embarrassing themselves in front of the whole school (and a few parents as well), because they didn't know what to say when the time came. Not that it should be hard, but it never hurt to make sure.
And, of course, there was process and procedure. A certain order of things. They'd only sat through one Legacy Day before, and it was at the beginning of their previous school year. There was no reason for them to remember exactly how it had gone. So, instructions from their headmaster.
Apple was just about bouncing in place, she was so eager for what was coming. There probably wasn't anybody else in the whole school who was as excited about their destinies as Apple was for hers. Really truly seriously, no one in the whole school.
Raven almost felt bad about having moved out of their previously-shared room without even saying anything about it. A sad, unhappy, or even just disappointed Apple White was a hard thing to face, sometimes.
"So, when your magical key appears," Headmaster Grimm instructed their year group as they all stood, arrayed along the rear of the stage and the top portion of the stairs leading up and down from said stage. He held in one hand, an ornate but small key that would be a stand-in for the magical key he had just mentioned. "You will stand, shoulders back, and declare your destiny to the world!" he finished, and proudly raised the key he was holding to the sky. "Have I made myself clear?" he checked.
"Headmaster Grimm," Raven spoke up, raising a hand, "but what if -"
"No questions?" he cut her off with a smile. "Good."
Raven frowned. She did not appreciate that at all. Being cut off, being ignored, being dismissed, as if anything she had to say was unimportant or not worth listening too unless what she was saying was what the other person wanted to hear.
"We're going to practice with this entirely reasonable book of school rules," Headmaster Grimm continued, and two of the next generation of Three Little Pigs hefted the frankly large book onto the podium, their third following behind. "Who will go first?"
"Ooh! Me! Me! Me! Mm, ah! Ooh! Ooh!" Apple answered eagerly, hand stretched into the air as she took excited half-steps forward. She sounded a bit like a monkey, with the ah ooh ooh noises she made. Not that anybody called her on it, of course.
"Step right this way," Headmaster Grimm said as he offered her the key, and bowed to her when she took it. "My future queen," he added as she walked passed him to the podium.
"I am Apple White, and I pledge to follow my destiny as the next Snow White," Apple recited to the array of empty chairs that were being set up, ready for the ceremony at the end of the week.
"Perfect," Headmaster Grimm complimented when she had left the podium and returned the key to his hand.
"I know," Apple agreed with a sweet smile and an almost depreciating tone, as though she were being humble in her admittance of (or agreement to the assessment of) her perfection.
Briar Beauty went after her friend, all three of the Charming siblings – though Dexter and Darling, were less convinced of their destinies than their eldest sibling, Daring. Maddie also took her turn, as did Cedar (who stumbled on the technicalities of her destiny), and Hunter (who got heckled by his squirrel Pesky), before Raven stepped up to the podium for her turn to practice pledging her destiny.
"I am Raven Queen, and I pledge to follow my destiny as… um…" Raven hesitated. "I have a question."
"What is it?" Headmaster Grimm demanded unhappily.
"What if I don't want to take the pledge?" she asked.
Jaws dropped, and gasps went up all around.
"What? It's just a question!" Raven defended.
"And here's your answer," Headmaster Grimm said, his tone ominous as he closed in and loomed over her. "If you don't sign, then your story ceases to exist."
"Ceases to exist?" Raven repeated, amazed. Quietly hopeful too, because if there was no story of the Evil Queen any more? She wouldn't have to fulfil that role. Ever.
"She has to do it!" Apple started up desperately from where she'd been watching, excited to see Raven even practice promising to play her part. "I- I mean, if she never poisons me, then I'll never fall asleep, and I'll never get kissed by my prince –" she shook Daring's lapels for emphasis on that point before she released him. "- and I'll never become queen, and I'll never get my Happily Ever After!"
"What will happen to me?" Raven asked quietly.
"You will cease to exist," Headmaster Grimm declared. "Poof."
Never before had such a simple word caused Raven to flinch, but that one did. She was all for the story of the Evil Queen vanishing out of existence, but herself? She kind of liked living.
"Now Raven, erase that dangerous idea from your head," Headmaster Grimm urged, more gently than before, but still unwavering. "Continue."
"But, Headmaster Grimm –"
"Poof! Poof!" he reiterated urgently, making a 'poof'-ing motion with his hand right in her face.
"I have to go," she decided, and slipped around the school headmaster to make her way down the stairs, through the school, and every short-cut she knew of to get her out to the Enchanted Forest for a bit of quiet time and breathing room away from people.
Besides, it was nice to get some reinforcement that she also had some of that princess-y animal magnetism that Apple showed off so much. As soon as she sat down on a convenient log, a magpie came to land next to her, and a squirrel (not Hunter's pal Pesky) was running up to her feet.
"Raven!" Cedar called when she spotted the other girl heading down the halls towards the castle-teria for breakfast.
"Cedar, hey," Raven answered with a smile. Then grimaced as she guessed exactly why Cedar was chasing her down first thing in the morning. Especially after the previous day's Legacy Day Rehearsals. "How's Apple?"
"Upset that you requested a room-swap," Cedar said, and started counting on her fingers. "That you might not sign the Story Book of Legends, that her Happily Ever After is in doubt, and that her mirror told her – and I quote – well how would I know if you're fairest in the school? It's not like I get to see anybody else to make a comparison with, do I?"
"Her mirror said that?" Cerise asked from beside her, a faint chuckle in her voice. "Wait, what did she even ask it?"
Raven cleared her throat, and did her best impression of Apple White, as per her memory of the other girl the previous morning before classes.
"Magic mirror, so smart and cool, who's the fairest in this school?" Raven recited.
"Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't asking that kind of question something the Evil Queen did in the Snow White story?" Cerise asked, confused.
"The story is so old, there's so many slightly-different versions of it now, what with all the generations of Snow Whites… but yeah," Raven agreed. "The whole poisoning is over vanity, though it was briefly a power thing, uh, in my great-grandmother's time. Then it moved back into the popularity contest thing with my grandmother, who was the first Evil Queen to attend Ever After High, since that was when it was built. My grandmother and Apple's grandmother apparently got into their story because they both liked the same prince... and of course everybody these days remembers my mother and the current Queen Snow White and their massive rivalry thing… which brings us to today."
"Wow," Cerise said, impressed. "You can remember all of that?"
"You mean, your own fairy-tale history wasn't what your parents read to you at bed-time?" Raven countered with a raised eyebrow.
"Not really," Cerise denied, and looked over at Cedar.
She shook her head.
"So… has your story changed a lot over the generations?" Cedar pressed, curious.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Raven confirmed. "One of the early Snow Whites, her prince didn't even kiss her to wake her up. Actually, a few of the early Snow Whites weren't woken by a kiss from their prince, but this one, I think, was the best. She was being transported in a glass coffin, presumed dead, and the cart her coffin was on hit a bump, right? And she just coughed up the piece of apple that had been stuck in her throat, and woke up."
"Completely true," Raven promised. "Of course, when she got married to her prince, she invited the queen who had poisoned her to the wedding, and forced her to wear a pair of iron shoes, hot off the forge, and dance in them."
"Ouch," Cerise said with a grimace.
"That does not sound like something we'd hex-pect from a Royal these days," Cedar agreed, cringing from the very idea.
"It killed her," Raven supplied blandly. "Well caused her death. Burned her feet off, then infection in the burns, and of course she was ostracised, so nobody helped her…"
"And you're being told this for bed-time stories as a little kid?" Cedar demanded, incredulous.
"No one wanted to tell a little kid outright that their mother was the Evil Queen, and my mother wasn't around to tell me herself, so… well, yeah," Raven admitted with a shrug.
"Raven Queen, please report to Baba Yaga's office," droned the school speaker about half-way through her Muse-ic class.
"Excuse me, Professor Piper," Raven apologised as she got up from her seat and packed her notes away.
"Of course, my dear," he agreed with an easy wave. "Just be sure to revise song numbers three and four in your practice book for your throne-work tonight."
"I will," she promised, and slung her satchel and her guitar over her shoulder. Her locker was between Baba Yaga's office and the Muse-ic classroom so she'd be able to stash her stuff quickly on the way.
"Madam Yaga?" Raven called when she reached the old witch's office. "Is everything –" she rounded the curtain and saw who-all was waiting for her. "- Ooo-kay."
"Raven, take a seat," Madam Yaga bid her with a gesture toward the only vacant chair. "As a faculty adviser, it's my job to speak with the, um…" she trailed off and glanced over at Headmaster Grimm where he was lurking at the back of the room.
"Troubled students," he finished for her, a frown on his face.
"What?" Raven asked, confused. "I'm not troubled…" she denied. Only, wasn't she? She did have a lot of questions that she wasn't getting answers to, and she definitely had issues with her mother, and her legacy, that weren't being addressed. They definitely weren't being resolved either. Maybe she was troubled. Still, she was pretty sure that this wasn't a counselling session to help her. "Um, well, not in the way I think you mean, anyway."
"We're here to get you back on the right path," Madam Yaga said, only to quickly correct herself with a nervous laugh and a glance to Headmaster Grimm. "The wrong path. I'll let your friends explain," she said, drifting a little away on her floating seat, as though that would allow her to distance herself from what she had been roped into by the headmaster.
"Raven," Apple started, "I adore you, but, like, the other day? You cursed my mirror, and this morning you spilt ever-lasting black ink all over my new dress."
"Both of those were accidents," Raven protested instantly. "I was really sorry, and apologised something like fifty times. For each of those."
There had been a collision between classes. That Apple was clean of ink now proved that she had gone and gotten changed. Or one of the many fairies in the school had used it as a chance to practice their magic in order to get it out.
"You're not supposed to apologise!" Apple complained. "You're evil!" she said with a smile on her face, as though trying to encourage her that being evil was a good thing, and Raven should stop trying to be otherwise.
"But what if I don't want –" Raven began to protest.
"Raven," Headmaster Grimm cut her off, "you're here to listen."
Raven folded her arms, barely resisted the urge to demand if she would be listened to in turn afterwards, and finally sat down. She might have been pouting.
"Briar, would you like to go next?" Madam Yaga prompted.
"Everyone," Briar started as she stood up from her seat, "I've set up a bungee jumping platform on the East Turret –"
"Briar," Madam Yaga interrupted sternly. "Hocus-Focus! Maddie?"
"I think Raven is wicked awesome just the way she is," Maddie asserted, with Earl Grey in her teapot nodding along.
Raven smiled at her friend, grateful.
"And you didn't tell me we were here to be-hassle her," Maddie added sternly to their headmaster, frowning up at the man. "You said we were having a tea party."
"Yes," Headmaster Grimm allowed. "I lied. We haven't heard from Lizzie Hearts," he tried, as only one of the gathered students had said anything like what he was aiming for with this little meeting.
Lizzie, of course, gave the expected default answer for the daughter of the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland.
"Off," she started, and one of the playing cards in her hand slipped up to be more visible than the rest. Incidentally, the queen of hearts. "With her head!" With a neat flick of her finger, the card was sliced through by an invisible force, and the separated piece fell to the floor.
As the collected personalities clashed – Baba Yaga scolding Briar for her lack of focus, as well as for setting up an unauthorised bungee jumping platform, Briar defending herself, Maddie muttering about tea parties and not be-hassling her friends, Headmaster Grimm applying to Lizzie for something more definitive and useful than an order for beheading, Lizzie actually more interested in taking tea with Maddie, and Apple alternating about worrying about her destiny, and frustration that Raven was apparently deviating from hers – Raven took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down.
Yes, she could just stand up, push out some magic, and demand a halt to everybody's actions – but that was her temper trying to get the better of her. Raven knew better than to do magic while in a temper, even if it was really tempting sometimes. It always went wrong somehow when she did that.
"If that's all, may I please be excused, Madam Yaga?" Raven requested.
"No that's not all!" Apple protested, having heard Raven's polite enquiry, even over the general babble. "Why did you request a different roommate after I got approval for the two of us to live together this year?"
"I thought I was here to listen, not answer questions?" Raven queried, a very faint smile trying to push through. It would be nice to be listened to, rather than ignored. She wasn't exactly sure she was thrilled with the subject matter though.
"That is true," Headmaster Grimm agreed, "but as Miss White asked, I hardly think you can refuse her."
"Madam Yaga," Raven appealed. "I find myself in a distressing conundrum."
"What conundrum is that, Raven?" the senior faculty member asked kindly, and floated over.
"If I answer the question that Apple asked me, then I'll almost certainly hurt her feelings. I don't particularly want to do that, but it would be in line with what is hex-pected of me, that is, to be 'evil' and 'cruel' to the next Snow White. On the other hand, if I refuse to answer Apple's question, then it will also be taken as mean-spirited, uncaring, and therefore 'evil', and again, focused on and against Apple," Raven explained carefully and clearly. "What should I do?"
"Which of these two perceived evils is the lesser, and which the greater?" Madam Yaga asked back, rather than just telling her student what to do. She was a teacher, after all. "Which set of actions would, in the long term, be better and worse for yourself and those around you?"
Raven took a moment to think about it, then nodded.
"Thank you, Madam Yaga," she said first, then turned to Apple, who sat waiting – not quite patiently – for her question to be answered. "Figure it out for yourself," Raven told her firmly, and stood from her chair. "Maddie? Lizzie? Shall we have that tea party?"
"Yay!" Maddie cheered, and hopped out of her seat.
Lizzie nodded regally, and stood as well.
"Wait! Raven!" Apple called after her.
Raven paused and looked over her shoulder.
"If you really can't think of anything, I did have to give reasons at the office," she offered, before she continued on her way.
"Raven?" Cerise called as she entered their dorm room. "You in here?"
"Hey Cerise," Raven answered tiredly.
"You okay?" Cerise asked, and sat down on the edge of her roommate's bed.
"I really don't think that I can sign the Story Book of Legends, no matter what anybody will think of me for it," Raven decided. "Sorry, I know it's got to be worse for you."
"It's actually fine," Cerise corrected with a shrug. "Annoying, stressful, but fine. My parents played their parts, then got married after. Ramona didn't tell me what she saw when she signed the Book last year, but she told me not to worry about it, so I don't. She's my big sister, as well as my big-bad, and I trust her. We'll probably just play our parts when the time comes like our parents did. It's just keeping the family secret in the meantime that's tough."
"But you'd rather not have to, right?" Raven checked.
"Yeah, I'd rather not have to deal with Ramona somehow swallowing me whole and Hunter getting me out with an axe to her stomach," Cerise agreed with a wry smile. "But like I said, I trust my big sister, and I trust that she's got some kind of plan for when we're both out of school. Or if she doesn't, then our parents probably do."
"So, I'm the most stressed about signing the Book," Raven surmised with a huff. "At least, that I know of. There's probably other kids in our year, or in the year below, who are just totally freaking out."
"Maybe," Cerise agreed, "but you're the only one Headmaster Grimm gave the 'you will go poof' talk to."
"Do you think it's true?" Raven wondered.
"No," Cerise answered bluntly. "But if it will make you feel better to ask a teacher…?"
"I think all of them would agree with Headmaster Grimm, even if it wasn't true," Raven grumbled, and shifted so that she was sitting on her bed next to Cerise, rather than lying on it. "No offence to your father, but, yeah. You should have seen how nervous Madam Yaga was with Headmaster Grimm watching over her shoulder when I was called in for counselling as a 'troubled student'."
Cerise chuckled as she imagined it.
"On my dad's behalf, none taken. Dad knows he's got to walk the line with Headmaster Grimm," she said. "But you know what? I'll ask him if he could point us to someone who would definitely know for sure, and wouldn't be worried about offending the headmaster."
When Cerise caught up with Raven at lunch time the next day, she had grabbed Maddie and dragged her along with.
"So, okay, I've got a lead, but we're going to need Maddie's help to translate," Cerise said with a wide grin.
"Lead? On what? And why do you need me to translate something?" Maddie asked with a delighted giggle.
"On whether Headmaster Grimm was telling the truth at the Legacy Day Rehearsals," Raven supplied.
"Oh! The whole if you don't sign then you and your story will disappear 'poof' and you will vanish into oblivion," Maddie recalled as she followed along. "You know, if that's a thing, then it's gotta hurt."
"We don't know if it is true though," Raven reminded her friend.
"But we're going to find out," Cerise asserted. "Thing is, the person who'd know has been cursed with a babble spell, and only speaks in Riddle-ish."
"Riddle-ish!" Maddie cheered happily. "I love speaking in Riddle-ish! I suppose that's what you'll need me to translate?"
"Yeah," Cerise agreed. "Come on, the way to find this person is through the library. There's a secret passage that leads under the school."
Through the secret passage, down a whole lot of stairs (and after a certain point, a whole lot of old, rickety ladders) the question of just who they were going to meet was finally asked.
"So, uh, who's down here?" Raven asked. "And are you sure they'll know about the whole… 'poof' thing?"
"Oh yes," Cerise said with certainty. "Giles Grimm will definitely know. Whether we can get a definite answer from him though…"
"Riddle-ish is not an exact language," Maddie agreed.
"Thankfully, we don't need to be able to speak it," Cerise said, "just have someone who can understand what he says," she added, and with a dramatic wave of one arm, Cerise drew the attention of her friends to the cavern that they had finally reached.
It was lined with roots from the trees above, books, scrolls, maps, and other academic paraphernalia. In the middle of all of it stood the man they had come to see.
His hair was wild, his coat patched, his socks mismatched, and his old grey high-tops had broken laces. He was, nevertheless, Giles Grimm.
"Feathers and friends, together alone," he greeted them.
"He says 'hi'," Maddie clarified.
"Mr Grimm," Raven said respectfully as she approached the elderly gentleman. "Is it true that if I don't sign the Story Book of Legends on Legacy Day that I'll… disappear?"
"The king who sings with pages of sky fears too much the dawn that rises with lies," Giles answered her.
"That sounded a lot more complicated than a simple 'yes' or 'no'," Cerise commented.
"He says that something is wrong with the book," Maddie explained, "and that even if you don't sign, your story will continue."
"Okay, so, not actually answering what I asked, but that first part? That's concerning," Raven said firmly. "Something is wrong with the Story Book of Legends?"
"Pages and chapters and bookmarks abound, but when can freedom truly be found?" Giles asked with a heavy sigh. A gesture from him also caused one of the magical frames to be filled with an image of tied up scrolls.
"He's talking about the Book, and I really ought to write this down," Maddie declared, pulled her hat off, and turned it upside-down. "Hold please," she requested of Raven. "I know I've got some parchment in here somewhere!"
"No, no, I'm sorry to distract us all from the very important matter, but I still haven't actually gotten an answer," Raven said firmly. "Mr Grimm, will I disappear if I don't sign?"
Giles Grimm smiled through his beard and moustache, lay a kind hand on Raven's shoulder, and shook his head.
"I don't think that needs translation," Maddie offered.
"Thank you," Raven breathed with relief. "Okay, I'm reassured. Which leaves… what happened to the Story Book of Legends, and," she added sharply before Giles could go on to give a Riddle-ish answer, "how do we go about breaking a babble spell?"
Analysis of the answers that Giles had given them ultimately led Maddie to believe – and, when she shared the transcribed Riddle-ish with her fellow Wonderlandians, they all agreed – that the way to break the babble spell was hidden within the Greater Story Book of Legends. As opposed to the more conveniently sized Story Book of Legends that they were supposed to be signing shortly.
That one, Raven's mother had stolen and hidden somewhere.
"Did he say why?" Raven questioned, as their rapidly-expanding group poured over the Riddle-ish transcript.
"Not quite, but he does say why it was never found," Lizzie supplied, and pointed to a section. "According to this, after the cover and beyond the book, no more to take, but only to look."
"What's that mean?" Blondie asked, popping up behind them.
"Blondie?!" Cerise yelped. "What are you doing here?"
"A good reporter always knows where the story is," Blondie asserted, "even if I don't know what it is yet."
"Oh, we've got two," Raven offered with a smile, an idea forming. She was sick of being pressured into signing the Story Book of Legends. Sick of being treated as not worthy of consideration because of one half of her parentage. Both things could be stopped right here and now, with a few judicious words to Blondie and her Mirror Cast. "Which one do you want?"
"Are both of them true?" Blonde checked first.
"Oh yeah," Cerise confirmed, catching on to what Raven was getting at.
"I dare say that one of these could even be classified as urgent news," Lizzie offered carefully.
"Urgent?" Blondie pressed eagerly.
"The Story Book of Legends is a fake," Raven revealed.
"No way," Blondie denied.
"According to Giles Grimm, yes, it absolutely is," Maddie countered.
"Giles Grimm?" Blondie repeated, shocked. "As in the brother of Headmaster Grimm who no one has seen for as long as most of us have been alive?"
"The very same," Raven confirmed.
"Tell me everything," Blondie insisted, then held up a hand to forestall them. "No, wait," she requested, and pulled out her mirror pad.
Around the school, the mirror net and students mirror phones lit up as Blondie began her broadcast.
"Breaking news! It seems that in the lead up to Legacy Day, a group of students have discovered something utterly shocking about the Story Book of Legends! Miss Queen, talk to the mirror," she instructed and turned her mirror pad around to face Raven.
"Okay, so we haven't found out everything yet," she started, "but it turns out that, before my mother the Evil Queen was trapped in the Mirror Realm, she stole the Story Book of Legends and hid it somewhere. She left a fake in its place, and that, rather than the true Book, is what everybody has been signing since."
Maddie waved her hand at Blondie to indicate that she had something to add to the report.
Blondie obligingly turned her mirror pad to face her.
"Which means that Headmaster Grimm's dire warnings of if you don't sign, your story disappears 'poof' and you will vanish into oblivion," Maddie dramatically re-enacted, "are false and scare-mongering."
"Oh my," Blondie said, shocked again as those implications sank in. "Of course, they must be, or a whole lot of people would have gone 'poof' already." She turned her mirror pad back to facing herself. "Well, you heard it here first, folks! I guess the search for the true Story Book of Legends is on! This is Blondie Locks, signing – oops, pardon my pun – out!"
She clicked off her mirror pad.
"But that was only half the story," Cerise said with a frown. "What about Giles Grimm?"
"If I can get an interview with him, that would be better," Blondie asserted.
"I'll take you down to meet him," Maddie offered.
"I should like to meet him also," Lizzie added.
"Oh hey," Raven said, as something occurred to her, "no one ever said what after the cover and the rest of that bit meant."
"It means that the Evil Queen wasn't satisfied with being evil in only her own story," Kitty quipped with a purr and a smile. "She wanted to go further," she added, and the smile slipped away as she shared a sad look with her fellow Wonderlandians.
"She tried to take over Wonderland," Lizzie confessed. "It's why we're here, rather than back home."
"I am so, so sorry," Raven apologised at once. "I had no idea."
"It's not your fault," Kitty assured her.
"Perhaps, one day, you might be strong enough in your magic to lift the spell that your mother cast over our home," Lizzie suggested, "but we will not hold you responsible for the actions of your mother. Especially not when your first act on learning of it was to apologise. As for the Evil Queen, her efforts and ambitions are why she was trapped in the Mirror Realm."
"Which is actually a bit of a nuisance to us Wonderlandians as well," Kitty admitted. "We're used to having the option to travel by mirror, but with your mother literally trapped there? Well, it means that no one is going in or out."
"Sorry again," she said.
"That one is on Headmaster Grimm and his brother, actually," Lizzie corrected. "They're the ones who trapped her there."
Despite the way Blondie's Mirror Cast went viral among the student population of Ever After High – and got more than a few hits from beyond the school grounds as well, with more viewers watching the shocking broadcast every minute – Headmaster Grimm had assured everybody that Legacy Day would go ahead as usual.
Since 'as usual' included students signing their names to a fake Story Book of Legends, then yes, it probably would.
The hunt was on around the school for the real Book though. Not that anybody had any guarantees that the Evil Queen had hidden the Book on school grounds. A lot of people were pretty sure it had been one of the last things she did before being imprisoned, and so suspected that she still had it with her. Others thought the place to look would be her evil castle, but no one could seem to remember where that had been.
Others still denied that the Book in question was a fake, and asserted that it was all a trick by a few students to try and get out of having to sign on Legacy Day.
Headmaster Grimm was particularly vocal in expressing that opinion whenever he was questioned on the matter.
"I am Apple White, daughter of Snow White," Apple said as she approached the podium, and doves briefly perched on her outstretched arms. "And I am ready to pledge my destiny!"
As a firm believer in and lover of her prospective eventual Happily Ever After, Apple had agreed to go first when asked. She believed Headmaster Grimm when he said it was the real Story Book of Legends, and she wanted it enough that whether it was true or not, the magic worked.
A little golden key appeared in mid-air, and Apple was able to place it in the lock of the book and turn it. The cover changed to reflect her story, then flipped open. Pictures were briefly seen on the turning pages before another mirror appeared in the air before Apple, a final image of herself as a queen. An image that Apple loved instantly. Not that she got to appreciate it for long before the mirror turned into a feather quill. A quill she quickly took hold of, and still beaming, used to sign her name in the Book.
"Next we have," Headmaster Grimm announced as Apple stepped back, blowing kisses to the applauding crowd, "Raven Queen."
They went up grouped by story, as near as could be figured out. Some people seemed to appear in more than one, after all.
With a heavy sigh, Raven stepped up to the podium, and her appearance set the crowd to confused, surprised, murmuring. She didn't look anything like any of them had expected her to. Not just the lack of chains – which would have signified her lack of eventual Happy Ending had she been wearing them – but there were no bird skulls, no spikes, no massive standing up collar, and most startling of all? No black.
Raven was dressed simply in a lilac gown. No frills, no ruffles, no embroidery or feathers. Her crown encompassed her head, rather than sitting on top of her hair like a fascinator, but it was still a much simpler thing than any of the other crowns being worn by her fellow students. It was silver, with seven evenly spaced points, the largest of which was centre front, and they got thinner and shorter towards the back. It was also the only thing holding back her long purple hair, which flowed freely down her back.
"I am Raven Queen," she announced. "And I am not ready."
Despite her voiced reluctance, a little key with a purple gem appeared before her, just as a similar key had done for Apple. There was no hand to catch the key when the magic that made it could no longer hold the item aloft. It bounced off the book, down to the floor – and the giant hovering mirrors (which had been set up to give the audience a clearer view of the faces of the students who were signing) tracked its fall. The key shattered in a tiny swirl of white fire. The mirrors cracked, but thankfully didn't all-out shatter, and went dark.
The book remained closed, and unsigned.
"So, the key may have gone poof, but I didn't," Raven declared.
She turned to face the two who had stood behind her. Apple White, who was visibly devastated, and Headmaster Grimm, who was just as visibly angry.
"I didn't disappear," Raven informed him, to just make sure he'd got the point.
His frown deepened, but he didn't say anything.
Apple, however, was not so impeded.
"How could you be so... so selfish?" Apple demanded, clearly distraught, and a booing started up, aimed at Raven, from those who supported Apple in all things.
It was selfish. To want something better for herself, to want a happy future for herself and damn the consequences... yes, it was selfish, but being selfish was a natural thing, and was not inherently wrong. This was the sort of selfishness that nearly everybody was guilty of to some degree – that sentiment of I want to live and be happy was selfish, but it wasn't evil. Apple's own wishes and dreams of her Happily Ever After never certainly considered the consequences for others.
And Raven wasn't going to apologise for this. Especially not to Apple, who wanted the same thing for herself – at Raven's expense.
"You want me to be 'evil', Apple?" Raven demanded quietly. "Okay, here's me being 'evil'. I deny you your fairy tale. I will not poison you. I won't speak to you if I can help it. To me, you do not exist."
Apple, and the gathered school population, gasped in shock. Some horrified, others impressed, a few were even pleased.
"What? But... but..." Apple stammered, blue eyes wide and just a bit fearful.
"I have more important things to think about than your happily ever after," Raven said coolly. "Or pandering to your ego. I have my own life to live, and I'm not about to define who I am based on who I am to you. You're just not that important to me."