Chapter 25: No one says NO to Mother

》Spring of 1987 《

The shadows danced on the tunnel wall as Jack swung his lantern to the rhythm of his stride. As he turned the corner, he saw hag Rhine walking in his direction with a white goat leading the way. He stared the hag right in her black soulless eyes. The goat's bleat distracted him, and he momentarily lost eye contact. Right at that moment, Rhine extended her gnarly fingers in his direction. Staring her down again, he moved away from her reach and scraped his arm on the uneven rocky wall. She licked her lips and smiled, revealing only two bottom teeth. He kept walking backwards to keep an eye on her until she disappeared from view.

He didn't understand why the hags had been acting so strange lately. They kept sneaking glances at him as if they were waiting for something. Elsa said she didn't notice anything weird. Was he just imagining it?

As he got closer to his destination, he slowed down. He didn't want to go in, but there was no fighting this. No one said 'No' to Mother.

Every spring, Mother returned with the same plan—to teach them better control over their winter magic. He actually liked how little time she spent home during winter. It gave him a chance to play, do whatever he wanted, be himself, but then each year, winter would end and Mother would come back with the same project: more lessons, new challenges for him to fail.

It wasn't helping that he seemed to always disappoint her. He never learned how to create ice, and Mother finally accepted that his powers would always be different from his sister's, that he would always be the weaker twin. He thought that it would mean the end of the lessons, but no. Mother still called him in.

'Be strong this time,' he thought.

He had been repeating this to himself the whole winter. He promised himself that no matter what Mother said or did, he was not going to cry so she couldn't make fun of him. He would never let her words get to him again. He believed in himself. He could do this.

He stopped by the arched doorway, recognizing the strange symbols carved into it. He couldn't read them but knew that they marked the training chamber. He reluctantly knocked and went in, hoping the lesson would be quick.

Mother sat on a large stone bench which was carved to look as if it was a throne covered by icicles. In the winter, she made herself a real ice throne but the rest of the year she had to settle for this imitation. It was draped with a large brown and white pelt. It reminded him of one of the goats he'd seen in the pasture room a few months ago. He felt sorry for the poor animal.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Sit."

Mother was young again. Both Elsa and he wanted to know how she did it, how she made herself young every spring. He overheard hags talk about it among themselves, jealous of her. Mother had guarded this secret for many winters, long before the twins were born, and wouldn't make an exception for anyone.

He dared to look her in the eye to judge what mood she was in, but it was hard to tell today. She appeared bored. He supposed her mood would be determined by how well he did. No pressure.

She pointed at a small box placed on the ground and he shuffled to it unenthusiastically.

"Did I say shamble like an injured sloth? Ugh. What have I done to deserve this?!"

He sped up and sat down cross-legged obediently. This was not a good start to the lesson.

While Mother's side of the room was illuminated by sets of candles melting on plates, the center of the room was rather dark so he set his lantern on the ground next to him. It always made him feel a little better when there was a light source close by.

"What's a sloth?" he asked.

"When will you get it in your head? No. Questions."

Jack stared at a crack on the floor, afraid that if he looked at her again, she would get even angrier. He knew, of course, that she hated questions, but sometimes, he couldn't help himself. He was curious. What could a sloth be? Was it a breed of goat? Maybe it had short legs and that's why it was slower. Why was it injured? Maybe it was trying to jump over the fence but couldn't because of the short legs. He imagined this sloth to be a slow, short-legged goat that was less jumpy than the other goats.

Mother crossed one leg over the other and rearranged her gown so it would elegantly fall around her. She sure liked to prove how beautiful she was, but he didn't know why she tried so hard. She was surrounded by hags. It didn't take much to look beautiful around here.

"Your sister was able to complete the task in front of you last year already. I am anxious to see how much she's improved this winter. What have you accomplished?"

Jack inspected his fingers and picked at a piece of skin that was sticking out. Elsa had replicated Mother's ice throne this winter. Her creations were becoming very accurate and very impressive. He was never going to be as skilled as his sister, but he learned something new by accident. He wondered if it would be enough to impress Mother and get her to say something nice.

"I learned a new trick," he said and a tiny hope flickered in his heart.

She leaned back in her seat and ran her slender fingers through the shaggy fur. He flinched, thinking how much better the goat would have preferred to be stroked when it was still alive.

"If you could not disappoint me at least once, that would be most refreshing."

His mouth felt dry and now he wished he hadn't said anything. She was expecting something big, but his trick wasn't anything like that. She was probably going to laugh at it. She never liked anything he had ever done.

"Is that what you wanted to show me? How you can sit and do nothing?" she drawled. "That's not new. I've seen you do that trick plenty of times."

Jack took a long breath in and out and braced himself. He had to do it. Mother was waiting. He looked at the ceiling, focused on specific points of the uneven rock surface, and willed for tiny freckles of frost to form there. He held onto them for a few more seconds so they would properly shape and let go. The tiny frostflakes slowly floated down, mimicking falling snow. He did it! A small smile crept onto his lips.

He'd been perfecting this trick all winter and took him a while to get it right. At first, the flakes were too large and fell down too fast. If they were too small, it didn't look like snow. He had to strike just the right balance of size for this to work.

Mother had shown them real snow. Every winter, she would make it snow in a large cavern so they could see what winter looked like. They loved it. It was the best playtime they ever had. She promised that if they were good students, one day she would take them with her, and they would create a massive blizzard together. He would love to see what they looked like. They sounded exciting. But would he ever be a good enough student to deserve a trip outside?

Mother stood from her throne and approached him. "Do it again."

He repeated the steps and more frostflakes floated down from the ceiling. It wasn't as nice as Mother's snow and lasted only for a few seconds before they all fell down, but he thought it was cool. He was happy with himself for having figured it out.

She held her hand out and caught a few flakes.

"It's not snow. You're using frost?"

He nodded in response and tried to judge her reaction but her face didn't betray it. He wasn't sure if she approved of his method or not. Was she pleased that he learned something new on his own?

"You got my hopes up needlessly then," she declared and went back to sit on her throne. "You're supposed to grow your powers, not invent tricks."

Jack picked at the skin of his cuticle absentmindedly, pulled a little too hard, and a sore spot developed. No, he wasn't a good student today. He never would be good enough. It would be so cool if he could make real snow. Mother would be impressed. But how? Even Elsa didn't know how to do it.

Mother released a long exaggerated sigh, recrossed her legs, and continued her instructions fast and mechanically as if she had said them many times before.

"Let's just see how far behind your sister you are. This task is an exercise in speed and accuracy. When you lift the lid of the box in front of you, you will have to act fast as it will try to get away. Use your magic to catch it and kill it."

Jack wondered what she could have meant. He understood that by using his magic on plants, he could kill the life inside them, but he never had to catch them. He knew better than to keep Mother waiting, so he lifted the lid of the box. It contained something he had never seen before. He put his hand inside and very carefully pulled it out because contrary to what Mother said, it wasn't trying to get away. He gasped, finally recognizing what it was. It looked very similar to a drawing in Elsa's book. The colors were different, but it had to be it.

"It's a butterfly," he said, full of wonder.

"And you're a genius," Mother said, but her tone sounded like she meant the opposite. "Now, kill it."

The butterfly had black wings, long antennae, and skinny legs. It stood on his finger with its wings folded up. He couldn't believe how pretty it was, so delicate and pure. And then, it opened its wings. On the other side, they were a blast of colors, red and blue and yellow, a stark contrast to the different shades of grey which surrounded him. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

And then a realization hit him—it moved, it was alive.

His body became as rigid as the cold stone he sat on. Mother wanted him to kill this defenseless creature. He brought his finger up to the hairy body of the butterfly and it flapped its wings slowly.

Was it scared?

He had to obey Mother.

There was a drop of blood on his finger from when he pulled on his skin earlier. Did butterflies have blood? Did they feel pain? What would it feel when he used his magic on it?

He had to do it. Mother was waiting.

While the butterfly couldn't speak, he felt as if it was begging him to not do it. Maybe he was only imagining it, but he knew deep down that it wasn't right. He didn't have a right to end its life. Why did Mother want him to kill this innocent animal? What would that achieve? He already knew how to use his frost. Why should he use it on this poor creature? What kind of lesson was this?

"Why?" he asked.

Mother's sigh sounded like a growl.

"Questions. Always questions. It's so simple, even you should be able to understand. Kill. It. It would be easier if you could freeze it like your sister can, but really, I don't care how. If you can only produce frost, then frost it until it dies."

Jack could feel a shift in his mind. It was as if a lantern that was always dark had finally been lit up. A thought that he never dared to have occurred to him—he didn't have to do everything Mother told him to do.

He slowly raised his eyes and looked straight into hers. "I won't."

Mother's face changed from the previous look of annoyance to a blank mask. "What did you just say?"

No one said 'no' to Mother. He gulped. He just did. 'Stay strong. You can do this,' he told himself, and the lantern shone brightly within him.

"I won't kill it," he repeated.

Mother's stare alone was capable of unleashing his worst nightmares on him, but he did not look away. He knew deep down that no matter how angry it made her, this was the right thing to do.

"Who do you think you are?" she said quietly and it sounded scarier than if she had yelled it. "What do you think you are? I did not labor all those years with you for my enjoyment. You exist to follow my directions. If not for me, you wouldn't exist at all."

Jack felt tears sting in his eyes but refused to let them come out. He would not cry in front of Mother. 'Be strong,' he told himself again. He knew that his magic could kill, but just because it could, it didn't mean that he should use it like that. He would never kill life.

"You can't make me do it!"

The room was so quiet, he could hear a pulse in his ear. He disobeyed Mother. He was in so much trouble. What punishment would she give him?

She rose from her throne and stared down at him. Her tone was sharp like a blade, each word cutting into him, making him flinch. "Insufferable brat. An embarrassment to my name. I should just be done with you right here, right now. If not for your sister…"

Her words were harsh but didn't affect him as much as they would have in the past because he knew that he was right and she was wrong. Knowing that gave him the strength to not cave in no matter what threat she used on him.

She swiftly glided up to him and grabbed him by his shirt so that her face was only inches away from his. She tilted her head like she was trying to make a difficult decision. "Hags keep begging me to give you over to them. I always refuse their requests, thinking that their vile hands are unworthy of my children, but you might be an exception."

There was a strange look in her eye. Whatever she meant about hags, it sounded like he would be separated from Elsa and that would be the worst thing in the world. He couldn't imagine how to live without his sister. She was the only good thing in his life.

Out of nowhere, Mother started laughing as if giving him to the hags was a punchline of a joke. She smoothed out the shirt she had wrinkled as if she suddenly cared what he looked like. She was thoroughly confusing him with this mood change. Laughing was meant for funny moments, but she didn't look like she was having fun—she still looked rather scary.

"But fret not, child," she continued in a softer tone, "it's not today. One day you will get a chance to be useful to me. In the meantime, I don't even want to see your face. Get out of my sight."

"Yes, Mother."

He left, grabbing his lantern in one hand, and hiding the butterfly in the other. As he walked to his chamber, the little critter flew away. He hoped the pretty little thing could find its way out. This was no place for such delicate creatures.

The closer he got to his chamber, the more he started to realize that this wasn't a place for him either. Mother's words kept ringing in his head. She didn't accept his refusal to kill. He hadn't seen her this angry since… he couldn't remember. Most of the time, she was just annoyed with him, but this was different. And why did she laugh? That wasn't like her.

He walked in, closed the door, and sat on his bed. Elsa was playing with dolls she made out of rope. The rope was tied at the end, that was the head, and the tip of it was spread out to resemble hair. He didn't know how she always found ways to create new things out of old things. She was good at that just like she was good at everything else.

He observed her as she played, hoping her imaginary world would bring him comfort, but it didn't. Instead, all of his worries piled up on top of each other. The hags wanted to take him away. Mother was probably right now thinking of a new way to punish him. And she would keep forcing them both to do bad things. No matter how much she insisted on it, he wasn't stupid. He knew that this wasn't the end and he hadn't won that argument. And she already admitted that she had put Elsa through the same exercise last year. It hurt to think that his sister was forced to kill animals for Mother, and there was nothing he could do to stop her.

He pulled up his knees and hugged them. He was scared of what would happen next, and he'd had enough of feeling helpless like this.

"What's wrong?" Elsa asked.

He was strong until now, but now that she asked him, he couldn't stop the tears anymore. "Elsa, I can't do this. I can't do any more lessons with Mother. She wants to make us do bad things so we would become like her."

"We won't."

"How can you be sure? She keeps forcing me. I'm afraid… Elsa, we are like her in so many ways, it could happen. And I can't. I don't want to turn into a monster like her."

"You won't, Jack. You are nothing like her."

"But what about you? She's doing it to you too, isn't she?"

It angered him that Mother had already started the process of turning his sister into a replica of herself. He couldn't imagine a world where Elsa was no longer the gentle sister he knew but a cold and heartless monster. Who was he kidding, he wasn't safe from that fate either. Would he have the strength to disobey Mother again? Would he recognize every wrong lesson?

Elsa sat down next to him. She still had her rope dolls in her hands and they limply laid on her knees. He wished he could be a doll and live in Elsa's imaginary world instead of this one.

"I'm scared to disobey her," she said quietly.

He knew that. Elsa wouldn't use her magic against animals on her own. It was all because of Mother.

They sat on the bed together. He didn't know what to do or how to change their fate. He wished there was something he could hope for, but there was no one who could help them. They only had each other.

Jack sniffed. "I don't want to live like this. I can't, Elsa. I can't anymore."

Elsa set her jaw. She had one of those serious looks on her like she was thinking hard, and then she smiled. "We'll run away."

"How?"

"We'll find a way. We'll run away and we'll grow up to be who we want to be, do what we want to do. We will not become her."

Jack wiped his eyes and tried to imagine if it was possible. The outside world was a mystery. Mother would sometimes disappear for days, so did the hags with their goats, and they'd return with things that couldn't be found within the mountain, mysterious objects he didn't even know names of. If only they only found the right tunnel, they could escape.

"Don't worry, Jack. If Mother can somehow get outside, so can we. We just have to search for a way out thoroughly. Together."

He took her hand and sealed the promise. "Together."

》present time《

Jack woke up with a start. The remnants of the dream lingered on his mind. It was a memory of the day when they decided that they had to escape from their mother. He often wondered if Elsa really wanted to run away or if she only did it for him. She didn't have as much of a problem with Mother as he did. Would she have been happy to stay? Well, maybe 'happy' wasn't the right word. Mother wasn't a loving person, but at least, she treated Elsa well, rewarded her, and praised her. Maybe Elsa would have found some form of happiness eventually.

No. He shouldn't question their decision to escape together. Elsa was definitely happier now than she ever was there. She had friends and access to more books than she could read in her lifetime. This school and this life were perfect for her.

It was time to get ready for another school day. Merlin was already up. Colin covered his head with a comforter. Jack never knew how much he wanted to have friends before he met them. The thought of losing them made his chest feel tight. How long did he have left with them?

Yesterday's argument with McGonagall hung over his head along with the question: What now? What could he do to prevent getting kicked out of Hogwarts? The whole reason why he ran away from Mother and dragged his sister along was to avoid being forced to do what he believed was wrong. But history was repeating itself. There were practices at this school he didn't agree with, that were plain wrong. He didn't escape Mother's wrong teachings just to fall into wrong teachings elsewhere. But this time, he didn't want to run. He had many reasons to stay. Two of them were right here in the room with him.

"Rise and shine, you two," Merlin ordered. "It's a brand new day, and I have a feeling it will be a good one. We're going to the Great Hall right now."

"I had such a strange dream," Colin said, yawning. "I lost my cat and was looking for him in the woods. I couldn't remember his name, so I called him by my dog's name. How do you forget your pet's name? But you know what's weird? I don't have a cat."

Jack wished he had dreams like that, but all of his usually centered on Mother, either memories or cruel products of his imagination. Would there ever come a day when he was no longer scared of her? Or maybe it wasn't her he was scared of. Though he tried to not think of it, he still feared that no matter how far he ran, he couldn't escape his fate and would turn into a monster just like she wanted.

"I just remembered," Colin mumbled and clutched his covers tightly, "I need to finish up homework. I'll catch you guys later."

"No," Merlin said firmly and threw the covers off of Colin. "You are getting up. Bring the homework with you. I'll help you finish it. We need to get there immediately."

"Why?"

"Well… I'm really hungry, and I need you there with me."

"Why?"

"Just come with me. Are you my friends or not?"

They made their way to the Great Hall, but instead of sitting in their usual spot in the middle, Merlin steered them closer to the staff table. He seemed to look for a specific spot with a specific view but wouldn't explain why. Instead, he grinned wide and rubbed his hands together as if he was anticipating something. He was usually a pretty serious guy so this behavior was odd. Jack had never seen him so eager before.

"What are you so excited about?"

"Me? Nothing specific. I guess, I woke up excited. I can't wait to see what the house-elves prepared for us this morning. Maybe there's porridge today. I love a good porridge."

"You're excited about porridge?"

"Yeah. You're not?"

Jack shook his head and decided to ignore the strange behavior. He had more important things to worry about than Merlin's giddiness.

There were very few students in the Hall. At the staff table, the huge gamekeeper was already seated along with Professor Sprout and Professor Dumbledore. Colin got started with his homework, and Merlin helped him out.

The first food started to appear on the table, and Jack stabbed a stack of fried tomatoes with his fork. McGonagall was going to join the other staff soon. He would ignore her for now. He couldn't bear to think about her and their argument.

More students and staff started to arrive and he expected the Hall to become louder with the noise of talking and clanging of silverware, but it was subdued. Everyone was still shaken up after Halloween.

Jack put an elbow on the table and supported his head with his hand. The food didn't taste right today. He wasn't kicked out yet, but he knew that he wouldn't last in this school much longer. They were going to kick him out and not for the reason he feared before.

He didn't tell Elsa what happened yet. She sat at the Ravenclaw table and chatted with Luna, looking happy. At least one of them would get to continue this experience. Where would he go? He had nowhere to go and couldn't imagine living somewhere alone.

"Jack, is something wrong?" Merlin asked, and Jack couldn't even muster a fake smile.

"You're not eating porridge," he pointed out to deflect attention from himself.

"Oh, yes. There it is!" Merlin put his other plate to the side to make space for a tureen. He kept glancing at the staff table as if he was waiting for something. "So, tell me. What's bothering you? And don't say that it's nothing. You're a bad liar anyway."

Jack cough-laughed at that. Bad liar. Right. How about this little bit where he wasn't even human? What would his friends think if they knew what he was capable of? Would they accept him or treat him like a monster?

"Nothing much. But there's a chance I might be getting expelled."

"What?" both Merlin and Colin exclaimed.

Saying the words made it sound even more real. Maybe he should stop talking, he didn't want to think about it anymore, but now that he started, his mouth didn't want to close.

"I only got here. I can't believe I'm getting expelled for who I am and not for what I am…"

"What are you talking about?" Merlin asked.

Jack took a long breath in. He shouldn't have said that. He needed to stop saying what he was thinking. On the other hand, Merlin usually had pretty good advice to offer. Maybe he would understand.

"McGonagall is pissed at me. Remember how I get in trouble when I open my mouth? I did it again."

"What did you say?"

"Well, she demanded to know what I was thinking, wanted to adjust my attitude or something. And then, I don't know, I told her what I was thinking, which was what she asked for." He ran a hand through his hair a few times, messing it up. "Why do people ask to hear your thoughts if what they really want to hear is their own opinion and not yours?"

"Jack, what did you say?"

"Transfiguration is unnatural."

Colin choked on his bread, took a swig of his drink, and coughed. "I'm okay."

Merlin shook his head and turned back to Jack. "I imagine that got her angry."

"No. That wasn't it. She was trying to change my mind about it. Somehow, the conversation included rodents, and she thought I called her a rodent. I didn't. I don't even remember what I said."

The corner of Merlin's lip lifted as if he found it funny. "What did she do?"

"Points from Gryffindor and detention."

"That's not the end of the world. It sounds like she already punished you. You're not getting expelled."

"But Merlin, the thing is, nothing changed. I don't want to argue with her anymore but that doesn't change the fact that I still think the same way. It's just wrong what they want us to do in that class. I refuse. I won't do those spells. I won't be able to pass Transfiguration, and they will kick me out."

"Maybe that's not the only way." Merlin pointed his spoon at him but then his eyes widened and a smile formed on his face. "Uhm, We'll discuss this further. Oh, look at that. Snape is here. Doesn't he look peachy?"

They all looked at their Potions Master, who was making his way to his usual seat close to the Slytherin table. He seemed even more gloomy than usual.

Colin ducked his head. "He looks like he's in a bad mood. Do you think he still remembers yesterday?"

"Don't worry about him, Colin," Merlin said and appeared to be excited again. "Hey, what do you think he'd look like in pink robes?"

Jack snickered, watching the clad-in-black professor. Snape pulled out his chair and sat down. Immediately, the chair broke under him, and he fell down along with plates and cups that toppled on top of him.

Colin laughed out loud along with several other students but then shut up immediately, seeing that Snape rose with a murderous look on his face. Everyone in the Great Hall was now watching the staff table and whispers were passed around.

Snape said a spell they couldn't hear. The chair put itself back together, and he sat down, now slowly and carefully. Within seconds, the chair broke again with the same result and a few more laughs sounded in the Hall. Snape got up promptly and looked like he would curse the next person to laugh. The noise died down again. Everyone was watching, waiting in silence.

Snape waved his wand angrily and the broken chair flew against the wall where it shattered. He pulled a vacant chair from the seat next to him and sat in that one. That chair broke too, sending his feet in the air above the table. This time, the whole Great Hall boomed with laughter, including some of the staff.

Snape stood and glared around viciously, but this time, the laughter did not die down. Even the Slytherins were going at it. He raised his chin high and stomped out of there.

Colin was bent over the table and was laughing so hard, he had to take a break to breathe.

"Hide your chairs," Fred Weasley, said out loud. "Snape's got a new superpower."

"You mean, he's the Amazing Chairman?" George asked.

This put Colin back in a laughing fit along with the other Gryffindors. He finally calmed down and wiped tears out of his eyes. "Oh, guys. This is the best day ever. I needed this laugh."

"You're welcome," Merlin said with a toothy grin.

"What?" Colin leaned in and whispered, "Did you do something to his chair?"

"No, no, no, no. I did nothing to his chair, but I did drag you here early today, didn't I? So we got to see it and not just hear about it."

"You're right," Colin said and clapped him on the shoulder.

"So, now, if any more Slytherins bug you in his class, just remember how ridiculous he looked when his feet dangled in the air."

Colin smiled broadly but then pouted. "Merlin. How I wish I had my camera! Can you imagine if I had captured the whole thing? All three," he started to chuckle again, "broken chairs?"

"Oh, dollops!" Merlin smacked the table with his fist playfully. "That's a shame. Maybe next time."

Over at the staff table, the teachers were whispering to each other and were as amused by Snape's chair problems as the students were. Professor Flitwick fixed the last chair Snape used and carefully lowered himself to sit in it. The chair did not break. He got up and walked back to his seat while pursing his lips. Professor Sprout got all giddy and tried it too. The chair had no problems. It seemed to be a Snape-only issue.

Then, Jack's eyes fell on McGonagall, and he remembered his predicament. He was dreading his next Transfiguration class. Maybe he could skip it, just not show up, fake being sick or something. He just didn't want to face her.

"I didn't forget about your issue, Jack," Merlin said. "Tell me more about what's going on."


A/N: The twins' mother has her own story - The Well of Youth. The flashback scene you read here has her POV in Chapter 5. Check it out for a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on here.