Chapter Four//epilogue

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The Gift

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"…have no idea how much we appreciate your offer…"

Thalia recognized the soft, hushed tones of her mother's voice, and opened her mouth to acknowledge it.

No sound came out.

"Wait, I think she's waking up!"

Her father's voice, too…

Thalia forced her aching eyes open. Immediately, sunlight blinded her, though she recognized the stark white of the infirmary walls. She was lying in a bed with the fuzzy outlines of her parents leaning over her.

"M-mom...? Dad?" Her voice was a croak. Her tongue felt like a rug and her throat ached painfully. She blinked her eyes clear them of their haziness.

Her mother was staring down at her with tears in her eyes and a watery smile on her face. The sun was shining on her dark auburn hair, causing it to glow golden. Her father, still sitting was grasping her right hand tightly. Both of her parents looked drawn and weary with dark circles under their eyes.

For a long moment, Thalia couldn't remember for the life of her what she was doing in the infirmary and why her parents were there.

But then Abernethy's words echoed inside her head once more, and she recalled her abrupt and cruel expulsion from the school.

"I'm sorry," rasped Thalia finally.

Her mother shook her head, still smiling. "Why? You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetie."

"I-I'm no good as a witch," explained Thalia. "You must be dis-disappointed…"

Her mother looked as though she was going to cry, and her father squeezed her hand tighter.

"We couldn't be more proud," said her father.

"You're a fantastic witch," soothed her mother, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

But Thalia could hear a lie when she was told one, and feeling quite miserable, she closed her eyes once more.

"I must agree wholeheartedly with Oliva, of course," spoke a new voice quite calmly. "You are, in fact, quite the extraordinary witch, Thalia."

Opening her eyes, Thalia was greeted with the sight of a tall, pale, willowy looking man. He wore curious glimmering robes of emerald green, and a scruffy tweed cap atop his head. A large silver moustache and beard dominated the majority of his face, and the white line or a scar slashed across his left brow and eye. She could see that his iris was a milky white – blind.

He stepped forward to stand at the foot of her bed, and he clasped gnarled and wrinkled hands in front of him. "Indeed, Fineas Abernethy owes his life to you. If not for your brave actions, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have perished. Your courage, Thalia, is both exemplary and injudicious." The man favoured her with a kind smile.

For a moment she was truly confused. Then it rushed back to her quite suddenly, and she felt both sick and relieved. She recalled her excursion to visit Faust, then setting him free where he then proceeded to exact revenge on the Headmaster. But she'd stopped him: she'd stepped in front of his spell…

That explained her headache, as least.

"How long have I been…?" Thalia paused. Unconcious? Sleeping?

"One day," supplied the elderly man. "Just long enough for me to receive a letter summoning me here, and for young Mr Konstantin to recover from his ordeal."

Thalia's heart jumped in her throat. Something else needed explaining.

"And where's Faust?" she demanded, perhaps interrupting the elderly man as he opened his mouth to properly introduce himself. She supposed it was rude, but she was quite anxious all of a sudden.

Her parents exchanged identical looks of worry, but the elderly man stepped up to the foot of her bed and smiled down at her.

"Mr Konstantin is quite alright," spoke the man, his hair and robes glowing brilliantly in the sunlight. "He is sitting under the large willow tree at the far end of the grounds, mulling over his unavoidable errs."

Relief like no other flowed through Thalia and she suddenly felt well enough her to sit up. A new energy had seized her and could not be banished. Dizzily, she began to climb out of the bed, though her parents protested loudly.

"I must!" exclaimed Thalia, setting her feet on the floor. She felt surprising normal considering, and headed for the door without another word.

"If I may keep you one moment longer…" interrupted the old man once more.

With her hand on the doorknob, Thalia turned to look at him.

"You may want a robe if you're to be running about outside," he supplied, though most kindly.

Looking down at her pale pink pyjamas, Thalia blushed hotly and nodded in agreement. The old man smiled, and with a flick of his wrist she had been donned in a set of dark green robes over her pyjamas. A set of matching slippers were on her feet. She stared at them in surprise before thanking the man hurriedly and slipping out the door.

It was very clearly lunch, Thalia realized as she rushed down the many sets of stairs leading up to the infirmary. For the most part, she was able to ignore the many stares and whispers as she passed. When a surprised Claire called out to her as she passed, though, Thalia was forced to wave her off with a bright smile.

"Later, I promise! I'll talk to you later!" she called back over her shoulder, and continued to run.

Thalia burst out onto the grounds, squinting against the bright sunlight. Her eyes found the familiar willow tree and the equally familiar figure sitting beneath it. Perhaps he was purposefully distancing himself from the rest of the school or perhaps they were whispering of him like they were of her. Nonetheless, no one seemed to be occupying his half of the field.

She wondered how many students knew the truth of what had happened.

The contents of her stomach morphed into butterflies as she slowed her pace and walked slowly towards Faust. Inexplicably, her eyes took in his form with a ready greediness, searching from afar for any signs of damage or injury.

Indeed, she was so focused on him that she nearly tripped over her own feet twice, and by the time she was close enough to see the frown tugging at his lips, she was slightly flushed in the face and her knees felt like jelly.

Faust glanced up as she approached. Mild surprise and panic registered on his face. He stood quickly, dusting off his robes and running a hand through his shaggy dark hair before daring to meet her eyes.

They stared at each other for a long moment. A small smile grew on Thalia's face, but Faust remained solemn.

Without a word, he averted his eyes and moved as if to leave.

"W-wait!" shouted Thalia a bit louder than necessary.

Faust froze stiffly, his eyes fixed on the ground.

Unable to rid herself of the urge, Thalia rushed forward and threw her arms around his form, pressing her cheek into his shoulder. He smelled of fresh air and dewy meadows, and a smile formed on Thalia's face.

It faded just as quickly when she noticed how stiff and unresponsive Faust had become as she hugged him. She pulled back to look at his face. His normally handsome features looked as though they were carved out of stone and dark smudges had been painted under his eyes.

She recalled the old man's words and felt a pang of unease run through her.

"Are…are you alright?" asked Thalia, suddenly under the impression that he hadn't escaped as free of damage as she had. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Faust shook his head resolutely, though closed his eyes tightly as if in pain.

Worried, Thalia took a step back from him. "Then why aren't you talking?"

Faust's eyes snapped open and he fixed her with a terrible stare. He seemed to find her unbelievable, or something repellent, and she took another step back.

"I almost killed you!" he shouted suddenly.

Stunned, Thalia could barely find the words to respond. "B-but you didn't! I'm fine!"

"That doesn't matter!" raged Faust, looking very livid. "I meant it at the time, that's that what matters!"

Thalia's ears were ringing, and she couldn't help but be affected by his anger. She narrowed her eyes at him. "Then why aren't I dead!?" she demanded hotly.

Her own shout seemed to have stunned Faust out of his rage, and he looked very defeated for a moment.

"Because…" He paused and closed his eyes for a long moment. Then, sighing heavily, he opened them and reached forward to take her left hand gently in his own.

He held it palm up and seemed to concentrate on it for a long moment. Thalia tried her best to keep still.

She was very surprised when, at the centre of her palm, a small ball of sparkling light formed from seemingly nothing and hovered there. It disappeared just as quickly, and she felt it zinging up her arm and shoulder and into her chest. It ached, and she pulled her hand from his in discomfort. She fisted her hand and pressed it to her collar, as if doing so would relieve the ache. She looked up to Faust, not understanding.

"That's where I transferred my magic into you," whispered Faust hoarsely.

Thalia started in surprise, and Faust pinned her with an intense stare.

"You were going to die…because of me," explained Faust. "So I gave you my magic to stop…to stop you from dying…"

Thalia was in awe. "But…how - but why – what about your magic?"

"I still have it," said Faust ruefully. "Just not as much."

With that said, he moved as if to escape her presence once more. Thalia wouldn't allow for it, though, and grasped his forearm gently to stop him. He looked at her with a furrowed brow, but she merely smiled at him.

"That means that you saved my life," informed Thalia.

"I also tried to kill you," retorted Faust immediately.

"But you couldn't help it!" parried Thalia quickly. "You were overtaken by magic…I forgive you, Faust, because you saved my life." She stared up at him unwaveringly, determined to overpower his shame with her gratitude.

Faust began to redden under her scrutiny.

"Ah! Miss Mole, Mr Konstantin!" greeted a now familiar voice, causing them both to start.

They turned to regard the elderly man. He wore a long tweet coat that matched his cap over his green robes, and was walking towards them, one hand clasped behind his back while the other gripped a gnarled, old, wooden walking cane.

"And who're you?" demanded Faust rudely.

The man merely smiled, though, stopping several feet away to regard the pair pleasantly.

"My name is Lycurgus Dooley. I am, if I do remember right, Headmaster of Coinercoven Academy of Magical Studies."

Thalia and Faust stared at the man in surprise.

"I am here, of course, to offer you both positions of study at my school. In light of the recent events that have taken place here, The Ministry of Magical Education, Headmaster Abernethy and myself have both agreed that a change of scenery would do you both good," announced Dooley.

Thalia couldn't help but interrupt, feeling quite bewildered. "But, sir…I don't really have…" She cut herself off, suddenly unsure.

Dooley was smiling. "Yes, you do have a considerable amount of magic now, Miss Mole – not to say that you didn't before! This school, however, was simply not the place for you to learn how to control it." His gaze switched to Faust, who stood rigidly beside Thalia. "You as well, Mr Konstantin, would benefit from some better thought out lessons."

Faust glared at Dooley, clearly unwilling to trust the man.

Dooley favoured him with a genteel smile, his eyes twinkling in the sun. "I assure you the methods at my school are decidedly different than those you have encountered here…" He seemed to aim these words at both. "It was regrettable that Fineas chose to take such a detestable course of action….but as the outcome was mostly more favourable than not, it can be put in the past, can it not?"

Still glowering, Faust nodded stiffly.

Nodding back, Dooley continued pleasantly. "I will depart, then, and give you both an amount of time to stew over my offer. Good day to you both." He departed with a swirl of his cane and robes, strolling off with one hand clasped behind his back.

The two stood in silence a moment before Thalia turned to Faust.

"What happened to Abernethy?"

Faust seemed distant. "In the infirmary. He's fine, though…only a few scratches…" he answered absently.

Nodding, Thalia looked down at her hand grasping his arm and let go quickly.

"I should go," announced Thalia, smiling weakly. "I'll leave you be now…you – we h-have a lot to think about."

Thalia backed away, sparing him one last glance before turning to leave.

A small yet quite noticeable tug in her chest stopped her just as quickly, though, and she turned slowly to look back at Faust.

He was smiling. Thalia wasn't sure that she'd ever seen him smile so brightly before, and it caused the butterflies in her stomach to reawaken. With a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, he moved forward to meet her. He reached quickly: clasping one of her hands in his own and lifting the other to her cheek.

Thalia went red, as he was staring at her like he'd never quite seen her before, and she was quite trapped by him.

He moved forward, the movement causing Thalia to stiffen with anticipation, squeezing her eyes shut.

The first touch of his lips on hers was warm and drained all the stiffness from her bones.

He was hesitant for the first moment, his hand light on her cheek and his lips barely brushing hers. Then he gathered more courage, and kissed her again, more boldly, tilting his head just right…

Thalia more or less melted into him.

A tingle of joy started where his lips caressed hers spread throughout her body. His hand slipped from her face into her hair, and his own shaggy mane tickled her forehead slightly. He was warm and insistent, dragging the kiss out and forcing her to bear a bit of her soul to him.

She was shaking when he pulled away. With eyes half lidded, her mind lingered on the feeling of his perfect lips against hers.

"I'll find you later, Thalia," said Faust.

The words barely registered with her, and she watched with a muddled brain as he favoured her with a cocky smile before strolling away with a newfound arrogance in his step.

Thalia snapped out of her daze very suddenly and pressed her hands to her hot cheeks, both embarrassed and elated. Her heart was pounding with pleasure within her ribcage, and she could still feel a phantom impression of his lips on hers.

"I suppose…" began Thalia to herself. "that I should pay a visit to Claire and Leandra…and perhaps tell my parents the good news...oh, and think about Professor Dooley's kind offer…"

Thalia took one last look at the giant willow tree before floating blissfully back towards the school. There was no doubt in her mind what her or Faust's decisions would be concerning Professor Dooley and Coinercoven Academy.

She looked forward to a fresh start.

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