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When she gets up, it's the first thing on her mind.

 

Raven is not a morning person; she never has been. If anyone wakes her up earlier than noon, she'll be in a foul mood. She can tolerate it during school because at least Apple wakes her up with her singing and not an alarm clock, but she's always groggy and tired and grumpy for a hour after. 

 

But this day isn't a typical day.

 

In typical storybooks, if the main character has something on their mind, they forget it in the morning before it crashes into them like a tsunami onto land. But Raven's life is not a typical storybook, and her mother is the first thing she thinks of. There was no time to wake up, no time to rub sleep from her eyes, no time to check her phone, no time to throw a pillow at Apple to get her to sing quieter, because before she even has the chance to breathe, her mother creeps into her thoughts.

 

When she untangles herself from her sheets, albeit reluctantly, it's all she can think about. While she brushes her hair and puts on her routine makeup, it's all she can think about. When she steps into her closet and pulls on her dress and tights and heels, it's all she can think about. Apple drags her out of their room and starts up a conversation about something random in the halls to distract her, but she isn't paying attention because her mother is all she can think about.

 

For the first time, Raven actually doesn't want to visit her mother. She plays tricks and mind games and plots evil schemes and tries to convince Raven that what is wrong is right, and maybe sometimes in the past it would pull at her heartstrings and almost, just almost, work, but she's finally starting to put her life together, and she knows her mother will try and ruin it. People have been trying to ruin her life for so long, whether her own mother, the other children in elementary and middle school, Apple, or whatever fate watches over her. But now, she can walk into a room without people cowering into corners and sit at lunch tables without people scrambling to get away, and she has peers and acquaintances and friends, and there's not a chance in hell that her mother can mess it up for her.

 

No matter how much her heart clenches or her stomach drops because all she wants is a mother who will be proud of her.

 

Apple and her part ways when she stays behind to get a latte and Raven forges ahead because she's on a schedule. She tries to hide her anxiety by holding her arms close and attempting to act natural. Students flock around her quickly, asking for help with small challenges in their lives, and she's confused for a second because why would anyone want help from her? But then she remembers her magic and her gleaming, golden signature on the fancy page, and she swallows down the part of her that never wants to touch magic again in order to help whoever has a problem.

 

But she can't be there to help everyone unfortunately, and she has a place to be by a certain time, so she rushes through her new duties and tries to shamble away, but the crowd follows her, and it builds even more the closer to school she gets. She knows Headmaster Grimm will be displeased with her if she's late, and she can't even imagine what her mother would say (she doesn't think she wants to) so she makes a decision and beelines for the Headmaster's office.

 

She's stopped by a few friends on the way, and out of the kindness of her heart and a bit of fear that if she doesn't, she'll lose them, she helps them as she goes. Cedar comes to the front of the crowd behind her and asks for help with a splinter, which Raven doesn't know how she got because she's made of wood, but she waves her concern off and reminds her of how it's no problem (it is), and fixes Cedar's hand with a flick of her wrist and a sideways glance at the crowd behind her. To her surprise, Daring approaches her and explains about his teeth. She doesn't faint or swoon like all the other girls because frankly, she doesn't care, and she wipes the soot away with a spell. Blondie comes over next with a shattered Mirrorpad, and she tries not to think about her mother's mirror as she repairs it and scrambles down the stairs.

 

She fails at the not-thinking part, and she hopes no one can tell.

 

People swarm around her at the bottom of the steps, and their shouting starts to give her headache and even more anxiety than she had before. She doesn't like shouting at all; it sets her on edge and reminds her of the days everyone was against her. She puts up her hands and says, "Okay you guys, as much as I would love to, I can't do spells all day--"

 

Though she wishes she could, because then she wouldn't have to face her mother. 

 

She spots Apple through a gap in the crowd, and for once she's glad to see her in the morning (not that she hasn't been glad to see Apple before, but she's usually too tired in the morning and her constant singing doesn't help). She calls her over.

 

"Hi Raven!" Apple exclaims with a wave, and she bounds over in her typical grace.

 

"I'm so late!" Raven frets, because she is, even if it's only by a minute or two. "You-know-who is gonna have an epic meltdown!"

 

Apple giggles a little, and she wonders what there could possibly be to giggle about, and she shoos Raven away. "Go, go, go, go! I've got this."

 

"I owe you one, Apple," Raven replies, because the crowds are hard to deal with and she admires how Apple can keep them under control. She doesn't stick around long enough to hear what Apple has to say next because she's so late, and her heart and mind argue about whether to sprint to the Headmaster's office to avoid a lecture or to take as many detours as possible to avoid going at all.

 

She passes Lizzie, Maddie, and Darling along the way, and Lizzie empowers her by wishing her good luck and Darling offers advice she already knows, and their encouraging words give her new determination. She doesn't forget to thank them as she leaves.

 

She cracks open the door to Headmaster Grimm's office, and he immediately stands and holds out a clipboard and pen. She's been through this process a million times: sign the paper, be reminded not to touch the glass, walk up the stairs, speak to her mother, and leave. It sounds simple, yet it's so complicated in practice. 

 

"Now remember," Headmaster Grimm reminds her, "keep away from--"

 

"The glass. I know, I know," she interrupts, because she's heard the same thing over and over it's engraved in her mind and if he keeps her for a second longer she might turn her back on the stairs and run out of the room.

 

(She's done that before. A few times, actually.)

 

She takes a deep breath once she passes through the bookshelf. Her biggest necessity while visiting her mother is going to be breathing, because she'll need to calm down and try not to cry or pass out or both, and she goes over her breathing technique in her mind.

 

Four seconds in. She walks through the hallway.

 

Seven seconds held. She reaches the doors of the tower.

 

Eight seconds out. She yanks them open.

 

A dragon greets her with a fiery blast and a roar, but she isn't deterred. She holds her arms out and coos, "Nevermore!" Her dragon shrinks to more of a child size, and she cuddles her close and scratches her affectionately under the chin. "Who's a good dragon?"

 

She purrs at her, almost like a cat, and Raven offers a sad smile. "Don't worry. I can't handle mom."

 

She can't. But she doesn't say that.

 

She climbs all the stairs, which takes a lot of work, but Raven's done it so many times she hardly notices her legs aching anymore. She reaches the top of the tower, a room with a window and a few cabinets around and on the far side, a glowing full-length mirror with a jewel on the top and a queen inside. Raven stands in front of it.

 

Her mother appears within the glass, her hair sticking up like it was caught halfway in a spell, feathers on her shoulders sticking out, and cycling on a bike that isn't moving. Only her face is visible within the limited streak of light.

 

"Raven!" She exclaims, and Raven's hand shoots up almost instinctively, as if she wanted to block a blow or cast a spell. She turns it into a wave.

 

"Hi, mom," she responds, and the words feel strange on her tongue since she's not used to saying them.

 

"I've been waiting forever after," she says, and Raven stops herself from saying it's only been a year, and the queen teleports off the bike and reforms so she's standing in the mirror. "How do I look?"

 

She knows her face falls. Part of her had been holding onto hope that her mother would ask about something that actually mattered for a change rather than about herself as usual. "You look great, mom."

 

"How's school?" She asks, because they both know that her school life in the past has been horrible at best, and for once, Raven is glad to talk about school. She has friends and great teachers and people don't scream when they look at her, and she could ramble about it to her for hours because no one else has the time to listen or understands.

 

"School's great, actually," she begins, preparing to go into a spiel about how she got to dress up with the other girls for Thronecoming and how she went around with her friends at the fair and how they went to Wonderland and shelved the Storybook of Legends and she finally got people to see past her prewritten destiny and see her instead.

 

"Have you been a bad girl?"

 

Her heart sinks. Of course her mother wouldn't care about how she went to a True Hearts Day dance or performed in a talent show or sat with Cerise and Maddie and Darling and all the others at a huge table for lunch one day and chatted about things like classes and crushes like they're supposed to, or all the other happy moments she's had that Raven cherishes because they're the only happy moments she's ever had. She only cares about the grim details and if she squashed anybody like a bug (which of course she didn't). 

 

"Well... I..."

 

"I know you've been using your powers for good, helping others," her mom states, and Raven has to actively restrain herself from taking a step backwards. Her tone puts Raven on edge, though part of her knows her mother can't actually do anything (she thinks), and the queen dramatically turns around and puts a hand on her head. "Where did I go wrong?!"

 

"Things have changed, mom," Raven reminds, because they have changed a lot, more than she could ever know. "It's now like when you went to school here. We can choose our own destiny!"

 

"I know one thing hasn't changed. It's better to be feared than forgotten."

 

Raven sighs, because she knows what her mother wants to hear. "It's true. Everybody fears you." 

 

She takes it like a compliment. "Thank you! Get me out of here, and I'll show you the way. We'll rule side-by-side. We'll take over Ever After High, together."

 

Together. She feels her heart speed up and her breath get shorter. Raven usually wouldn't be so riled up by her mother's words, after all, they're pretty much pleas for freedom, but she stops that time. Together. 

 

"It'll be a great bonding experience. Like shopping only, world domination."

 

They both know Raven would never hurt her friends in any way. They both know she's too good for that. Deep down, she imagines her mother knows that whenever Raven comes up the stairs, she's not going to get out. They established that in one of their first visits, one of the first ones Raven managed to go to on her own, when they sat on either side of the mirror and Raven said she'd never let her go and the queen said she didn't expect her too and her mother put her hand on the glass and Raven had sobbed for hours afterwards. She always pleaded with Raven anyways, but they both know it's hopeless.

 

Nothing about that changes, but they also both know how passionate Raven is about doing good and choosing her own path. They know that she doesn't like to put her foot down but she will for the freedom that comes with choice, and they both know that they're not going to ever get to do anything together.

 

Raven's heard stories of the other girls' parents. Briar complains about her mother's sleeping habits but perks up when she can talk about a party they had at her castle. Maddie brings Raven to her dad's tea shop and they sit in a backroom on floating chairs and try to balance their homework on the wobbly desks. Cerise talks about her family in hushed tones, but she smiles fondly every time she can tell a story about her dad stealing tarts and her mom and sister and her chasing him down. Apple doesn't tell stories about her mom often which Raven can respect; if she had good stories, she would want to hold them close to her heart and her heart alone. But Apple has talked about her mother's good deeds and how she taught her makeup and how they bond over lists and management.

 

But Raven's never had any of that. Her "home" is cold and dark and lonely and deprived of life, and her dad and her go outside a lot just to get some fresh air but there's always an underlying air of tension because they're both afraid of what she's supposed to become. She likes to babysit the cook's children but it only goes so far because in the end, they're afraid of her too. She's sick and tired of people being afraid of her because of her mother and how they all have happy families and she doesn't and they all have happy endings and she doesn't, and why do they deserve happiness and she doesn't?

 

"Take over the school?" She exclaimed. The idea appalled her. Why would she ever want to hurt her friends and peers and teachers and have people live in fear of her? Why would she ever want to stop the track her life is going on when it's just started going up instead of down? Why would she ever want to do that? "Why would I want to hurt my friends?"

 

She turns back to her mother, an itch in the back of her mind to prove herself, because all she's ever had to do is prove herself, and even after she proved herself she still has to prove herself to even more people, and she shouldn't even have to prove herself because it's her own mother and her own mother is supposed to love and care for her but she never has. Her own mother is supposed to be there for her and hold her close and guide her but all her mother has ever done is manipulate and lie to her. Her own mother is supposed to understand but she doesn't and no one does, and Raven is sick and tired of constantly proving and proving and proving herself over and over and over again.

 

It's not the fact that she has to prove herself that riles her up because she would do that time and time again if she had to. It's that fact that she shouldn't have to. She shouldn't have to fight and fight to get to take one class out of five that she'll actually enjoy when Briar or Ashlynn-Ella could waltz in and change their entire schedule if they wanted. She shouldn't have to fight to sit at a lunch table with one other person when Holly or Blondie could ask to sit with one person and end up sitting with twelve. She shouldn't have to fight to be able to speak with someone about the direction of a classroom when Daring can walk into a room and ask for anything and girls would trip over their feet to give it to him. She shouldn't have to fight to be happy when Apple and all the other royals get it handed to them.

 

She shouldn't have to fight for people to see past her mother and see her. Raven knows she is good, she's known it in her heart since she was six, and she knows her mother is evil. Her mother is cunning and dishonorable and inimical and so, so terrifying, and after years of her life spent sitting alone at tables and doing projects by herself and having people run away when she gets too close and having people try to tell her who she is, she can't fathom why she would ever want to live a life of fear.

 

"Don't you get it? I never want to be like you!" She shouts, and she knows her eyes glow and her hands catch fire and her voice grows deeper because she can feel herself pushing out her anger and changing it into flames, because she wants nothing more to tear the tower and the mirror apart and burn it and forget it ever existed. She wishes destinies didn't exist and her mother didn't exist and that she could just be happy, and more than anything she wishes her mother would just understand. "I want to choose my own happily ever after!"

 

She screams the words, but they don't sound loud enough, and her magic crackles throughout the room, knocking over cans and and pierces through the walls, and she knows she can stop it and that she should stop it, but she doesn't want to. She just wants her mom to hear her voice, understand her point, and hold her close and tell her everything is alright. She wishes her mom would do something, anything, just because she wanted to rather than because it benefits her. She wishes she could come up to the tower and sit in front of the mirror and tell her mom all about her friends and school and how she got to take classes in Wonderland and how she danced with Maddie and Cerise and how Apple wakes her up every morning with a song and every little good memory she had but she knows she can't and she can never have that, and she knows that her mother is only trying to get her angry, and she just wants to be happy.

 

"Let out that aggression. Go on! Hit the glass, Raven!"

 

She's not sure what exactly snaps her out of it, whether it was her mother's words or Nevermore jumping in front of her, but her fire cuts off and dies out, and her mother screeches at the baby dragon, who runs away and hides in a bucket of paint, and she doesn't feel angry anymore. She's not sure what to feel anymore, but she knows no matter how much she screams and complains and unleashes her magic, nothing is ever going to change. She's not going to get her destiny by going into a rage, and she's certainly not going to find happiness by releasing her mother.

 

"Nice try, mom," she sneers. She steps closer. "You want me to break the mirror." She laughs, but it's not happy or joyful like it usually is. She laughs, and it's dark and sadistic and mocking. "You're not getting out that easily."

 

The queen chuckles as well, and she can almost picture them giggling over how funny the situation was, except it wasn't funny at all and neither of them are laughing in the same way. "Can't blame an evil queen for trying," she says, and Raven bites back a reply.

 

"Ahem!" She hears from behind her, and Headmaster Grimm stands by the stairs, pointing at them. "Visiting hours are over!"

 

Part of her doesn't want to turn away. Part of her wishes that she could pull up a chair and chat to her mother about what normal teenagers chat about, or that she could bring up food and have a picnic with her mom in the mirror like she did one time when she was younger, or that she could rant more about her destiny and her choice, but she knows she can't. No matter how far she reaches out, she'll never get to hold her mother's hand. No matter how many excuses for her she makes, her mother is still trying to manipulate and use her. And no matter how much she wants it, Raven will never have a family.

 

So when Raven turns away and walks down the stairs, she makes another decision.

 

She doesn't return next year.