A/N: The first chapter has been tweaked a good bit.

The Illusionist

02

I still had the covers pulled over my head when my alarm went off the next morning. The sheets were white; stark and pristine, like everything in this house. I didn't want to get up. It wasn't that I was afraid of attending Hawthorne Veritus Prep; I knew what was coming. I knew the work would be harder and the students themselves would have a different air to them, but what I really hated was knowing that things would never be the same again.

I got up slowly, shut off the alarm clock, and slipped into my robe before shuffling downstairs. With a yawn I entered the kitchen, where Danielle, one of the staff, stood at the dishwasher.

"Good morning," I said, fidgeting with the sides of my robe. A draft crept through the room.

"Morning," she returned as she delicately stacked glasses on the top rack. She glanced up at me. "Your father wants you to have breakfast and quickly get ready." Her attention turned to the dishware again. "He's waiting for you in the car."

"He is?" I frowned as I grabbed a banana from the fruit basket that sat in an impossibly picturesque manner on the marble counter.

She nodded and confirmed with a low, "Mmhm".

"Thanks." I fussed with the banana a bit before going back upstairs. It peeled easily and I took a bite as I came to my room again. I hadn't had to personalize it - Dad had done that for me. Off-white walls and a crisp white carpet. Everything was some shade of white, which I didn't mind, because I liked the color.

The window was frosted over with condensation and I wiped away a spot with my hands. The air outside was still and looked chilled. I chewed for a few moments, watching the traffic inch through the busy street. There was a traffic light that hung just at the edge of my visibility. Yellow flashed.

I finished the banana and set about getting ready for school. My uniform was hanging on my closet door and I swiftly changed into it. The skirt was pleated and plaid - gold and purple. I hated patterns, but the color combination was decent. They were the school's colors. Decadence. The blouse was white, and I slipped on both the coordinating sweater and blazer.

I ran a brush through my hair and fixed it into a ponytail, pinning my bangs back with a white clip. Mom had given it to me when I'd graduated from the eighth grade two years ago.

Less than five minutes later, I exited the lobby and was greeted by the valet. Dad's black sedan was already pulled up to the entrance. The door was opened and I slipped inside, sat beside him. The driver shut the door and hurried into the front seat.

"Good morning," I said to Dad, setting my bag beside me. It was the one he'd bought for me a couple days ago, to be used expressly for school.

"What have you done to your hair?" he asked, his gaze fixed on it.

I tried to keep the surprise from showing. "I'll fix it when I get to school," I mumbled.

"You need to grow it out so you can wear it properly." The car lurched into motion; I settled into my seat, squeezing myself into the corner. "I'll take you to a stylist this week to see what can be done in the meantime."

I gave an obligatory nod and stared out the window.

"Today's a big day," he said open-endedly.

My focus stayed on the window. "Yeah."

"Did you meet anyone interesting last night?"

"Felicia," I said automatically, then paused, hoping he'd pick up the conversation from there. He didn't. I fidgeted with the strap of my bag. "She seemed nice." She had, but I wasn't sure whether it was genuine, or just a polite front. "And her friend, Ethan," I added, for good measure.

"I'm glad you got along with them. You'll be seeing them often."

I looked over at him. "Really?"

Something like satisfaction settled on his features. "Our families often do business together."

"Oh."

Silence reigned for the next several minutes as the car made its sluggish way to the school. The traffic was thick, and all the waiting made me antsy. I wasn't really nervous; it was the first day of the school year, so it wasn't like I was going to be the only new one.

Dad was expecting me to make lots of friends and become a socialite or something. As much as I didn't like disappointing him, I knew this was one thing that I just wasn't capable of. He'd learn this eventually, but in the mean time I'd give a go at it. More friends could never hurt.

My left leg had fallen asleep by the time we'd arrived. Dad sent me off with a few more mini-lectures and I headed into Hawthorne with a slight limp, which I hoped no one would notice. I'd forgot to ask him about the flower - to ask if he'd been the one who put it there.

Disappointed in myself, I spent a few minutes glancing down at my class schedule and up at the numbers on the halls. The classes were easy enough to figure out, but my locker - that was another story. I figured if I just found the freshman hallway, I'd be okay.

The walls were lined with a continuous, straight row of framed pictures, and after passing them by for a while, I finally stopped to look at a few. They were pictures of previous students; alumnae. I scanned over them, searching for a familiar face or name. Dad had attended, after all.

My eyes came to a stop when I spotted a familiar name on a black and white photo. I looked at the picture, let it sink in.

Four men well into their adult years stood, perfectly posed and dressed in clean-cut suits. They were each smiling. I read the caption below.

Dennis Yardling, Timothy Prentiss, George Mazur, and Matthew Sammet. April 22nd, 1928.

It was the first time I'd ever seen my great-grandfather. The first time I'd seen anyone from my dad's side of the family, actually. Mom had never brought up the subject, and I'd never thought to ask.

Once I'd cast an imprint of the image into my mind, I continued on down the hall, wove through other students and sidestepping someone who chose to tie their shoe right in the middle.

I wandered a few corridors before finding my locker. This row was black. I'd never had a black locker before. I spun the dial and it opened easily, then sorted through my things and shoved what wasn't needed into the bottom.

The bell rang, suddenly, and my head jerked up. Students scurried around; shoes squeaked against tile. I clutched my books and rushed to find my first class.


The first three periods went by smoothly and when lunch came around, I ducked into the bathroom and took out my cell phone. I leaned against the wall, scrolling through my new messages as another girl entered. She glanced at me, then stopped in front of a sink and began primping.

There were half a dozen calls from my friends back home, plus some texts, all inquiring as to how things were here in New York. I didn't want to tell them how I was doing. I hated it. I'd never cared for this kind of life, and I never would. Mom knew that and that was why she'd moved us to Ohio in the first place. We just weren't cut out for this.

And look where she ended up.

"Um..."

I glanced up to see the girl looking my way. She smiled when I met her gaze.

"Cell phones aren't allowed, you'll get reprimanded," she said, her smile dropping slightly.

"Oh, thanks." I flipped the phone shut and slipped it into my pocket. Pushing off the wall, I went over to the sink beside her and tugged the elastic band from my hair. "Are we allowed to have lunch off-campus?"

An unsure look crossed her face and she gave a weird nod-shake. "Only if you go two months without demerits," she said after a moment, hesitantly. "So since this is the first day... no."

I smoothed down my hair and attempted to make it look presentable. The way Dad would want it. "Thanks."

She left, and I messed with my hair a bit more. Once it was as good as it was going to get, I left the bathroom and followed the cues that led me to the cafeteria.


After seventh period let out, I still had my classes to go to at Welstrum Conservatory. It was only a few blocks from Hawthorne, which explained why so many students attended both.

I waited at an intersection along with a group of other students wearing purple and gold. My attention went to the cars that raced down the streets, and I wondered how many pedestrians got hit every year. Between overzealous drivers and the traipsing students, the number was probably pretty high.

The light changed and the mob of students inched forward like ants running through molasses.

The next few blocks progressed slowly as a slew of men and women in business suits took to the sidewalks. I squeezed past a few, gripping my bag tightly, and tried to go around others when possible.

I hadn't seen Felicia or Ethan at all throughout the course of the day. I figured they weren't in my grade. They looked older. At least, too old to be freshmen.

The walk to Welstrum was nice, as I needed time to sort my thoughts. I didn't like too many new things at once, although it was inevitable because of the move, and everything else that had happened. So long as I had a few seconds to breathe every now and then, I'd be fine.

At the next corner, the conservatory came into view. It was an imposing structure that dwarfed other buildings for blocks. It was modern, and the entrance was far from grand, but still held a sophistication and intimidation that I was sure it prided itself on.

A boy with manners held open one of the large front doors as a group of girls sifted in and I was among their ranks. My hand tightened on the strap of my bag as I took in my new surroundings. The interior was the complete opposite of the exterior. Here, it was warm and inviting. The floor was coating in a thin burgundy carpeting and the walls were paneled with an orangish wood that was ornately carved in key areas. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, dangling past thick rafters, and provided the sole lighting. They cast strange shadows on the ground that mixed in with those of the students that were filing through.

I found the office and after a short introduction they gave me my materials and directed me to the main auditorium for my first class. Music Theory.

The auditorium wasn't even close to being filled to capacity. About two dozen students milled about within, clustering to a group of seats in the front center. I mumbled a greeting to a few that acknowledged me and found myself a seat in the row just behind them. Sighing, I set my bag down in the seat next to me and sat down.

Absently, I threaded my fingers through my hair as I allowed my gaze to skim over the room. It was just as beautiful and intricate as the foyer. There were lead work windows at the entrance, on the high walls, with designs etched into them. Rays poured through them, glinted off metal and refracted. It was odd, because all day it had been cold and gray. It seemed too late for the sun to suddenly come out of hiding.

A charmed laugh rang out, met my ears and I looked towards the source. There was a crowd of boys gathered up front, near the stage - an array of different uniforms. A couple were laughing, and one was pointing at another. Their words dulled before they reached me but I carried on watching anyhow. One of them, a blond, stood with a slouch, hands in the pockets of his Hawthorne uniform. His voice was the loudest.

I spent the next eight minutes observing various people, each in turn until they either grew boring or I was afraid I'd get caught staring. I feigned interest in one of my stiff new textbooks as the blond boy meandered down the aisle, in the middle of an exchange with someone in the front. I snuck a glance. He wore orange sneakers that clashed with not only his uniform, but everything else in the room.

He took the seat behind mine and gave a heavy sigh.

"Got a quarter?"

I glanced over my shoulder at him, unsure if he was talking to me or not. A grin flitted over his lips.

"You got one?" he asked, sitting forward abruptly so I flinched.

I paused, shook my head. "No, sorry."

"Then how about that clip?" He pointed at my head and I unsconsciously put my hand to it. "Don't look so freaked out, I just want to show you a magic trick," he said quickly, amused.

"Oh." The tension lifted from my mouth and I took out the clip, handed it to him, and rearranged my bangs.

"So here it is, in my hand, right?" he said, in a casual, mundane way that usually didn't accompany magic. I gave a nod. "Now keep your eyeballs peeled, yeah? 'cause it's quick." He hesitated, his eyes considering me for a moment, and then he snapped his fingers. "See? Gone." He opened his palm; it was empty.

"So where did it go?"

He gave a shrug. "Anywhere you want."

I wrinkled my nose. That wasn't very impressive. "So can I have it back?"

"But you already have it." One eyebrow cocked skeptically and I watched as he stood, indicated my stack of books in the seat next to me. The clip was there, and he picked it up. "See?"

"So you're a magician?" I asked as he handed it to me.

He sat down again, leaning back. "Virgil Yardling: Master Illusionist." There was a grandeur to his tone.

"I'm Lillian," I said, fidgeting with the clip. "Lillian Mazur."

He let off a knowing nod, tilted his head to the side. "I couldn't make it to your pop's little shindig last night, but a friend of mine did. She said she talked to you for a while." His eyes fell over me. "Said you were a peach."

I put the clip in my pocket. "Felicia?"

He nodded again and propped one elbow against an arm rest. "Are you really Ryan's kid or is he your step-dad?"

Weights tugged at the corners of my mouth. "Has he been saying he's my step-dad?"

"No - I dunno," he started, stopped, as if thinking over his words. "It's just weird that all of a sudden he has a daughter."

The weights won, but only briefly. I shifted in my seat. "Yeah, I guess that would sound weird."

"Guess he was trying to keep you all to himself."

I grimaced. "That's... disturbing."

His brow raised. "You don't like him much?"

"I've lived with my mom since I can remember."

"Your mom, huh?" His look turned thoughtful. "Let me guess - that's where the black hair comes from. Your dad's a ginger."

I gave a nod, but something felt off. I didn't want to talk about my mom. Not to someone I didn't know.

He seemed to notice my change in demeanor. "Class starts in a minute, so I'd start getting your things out if I were you." He indicated my bag.

"Thanks." I turned around in my seat, sat forward, and dug out my things. Dad had made sure that I was more than well prepared. I fished out my textbook and notebook and fished around for a pencil. As I did, I could hear the other students rustling around, taking their seats. Someone filtered through the row behind me.

"Hey babe." It was Virgil's voice. A girl answered, and I didn't look up.

"That was the longest red light I've ever had the displeasure of encountering," the girl said with a sigh, and there was the sound of her sitting down.

"That's what you get for going to St. Bella's." A seat creaked. "You should transfer already."

She scoffed. "In your dreams."

It carried on, and I drowned out their voices as a stern looking man entered the auditorium. A hush fell over the room as he made his way to the stage. I rearranged my books needlessly on my lap and waited for the lesson to begin.