featherxquill: (Birds sunset)
[personal profile] featherxquill
This is just a little something I wrote a while ago. It was the beginning of a story that never did get finished (maybe next year) that I had already cut from the fic for being too tangential. I kind of like it on its own, though, so I thought I might post it just in case you guys do too.

Title: How to Catch a Unicorn
Characters: Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, a unicorn
Rating: G
Summary: Patience and respect (also, apples)



Pipe smoke curled lazily in frigid air, the flickering edges of dawn beating against the sky. The grounds of Hogwarts were blanketed with snow, and the Durmstrang boat bobbed gently on the lake. Snow was insulating; the dawn eerily silent, the burgeoning day still and heavy, full of potential.

Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank tapped the end of her pipe and snorted. Bollocks. The world was always poetic with the day’s first hit of nicotine.

Willa wasn’t quite sure why she was there. There had been an owl from Minerva an hour ago – a cranky, overtired bird at the end of its nightly schedule, no doubt rousted from its perch by an overly demanding Filch who didn’t know or care that owls had sleeping cycles, too. Hagrid ill, it had said. Can you take over Care of Magical Creatures for the next few days? Willa had replied, Of course. Both of them brief in the early morning, and now here she was, wondering what to do with herself.

When the pipe was spent, she tapped the ash out into her palm, then watched as it tipped over her fingers, falling like snow until it landed atop the brilliant white and smeared it grey. She tucked the pipe into her pocket, made a mental note to clean it later, then headed inside to find Minerva.

By the time the students had finished their breakfast, Willa knew the story. She had seen the article, and she had a fair idea of how Hagrid would deal with it (she suspected it would give him a terrible headache, and not help much). She couldn’t help but be astounded by Minerva’s foresight at having her copy of The Prophet owl-delivered hot off the press, this year, because Merlin knew what might have happened if Hagrid had learned of the article from a spiteful student.

One look inside the crates by the hut and almost having her eyebrows singed off told her all she needed to know about Hagrid’s most recent lessons. She left the skrewts writhing in their tubs and gave her first class – seventh years, mercifully – free study time as she trudged off into the forest.

The Forbidden Forest, Willa knew, was not named on a whim – though honestly, calling something ‘forbidden’ only enticed teenagers, didn’t it? – but she was an experienced beater of underbrush, and one would have to be an idiot to wander into acromantula territory, so blatantly signposted by abandoned webs large enough to be bed sheets. Centaurs, she knew, would leave her be even if she managed to miss the strong urine scent and brilliant red ore colour they used to mark the trees on the outskirts of their claimed areas, because one couldn’t miss those for long, and centaurs did not usually challenge women and children.

It was a unicorn she was looking for, though, and in that area she was expert.

Unicorns were not difficult to track. They were shy animals, unlikely to trespass in the territory of creatures nastier or more intelligent than they, but they enjoyed grazing in areas not far from water. Aside from their dietary staple of grass, they had a fondness for the damp bark that could be torn from marsh trees, and adored a particular type of phosphorescent lichen that coated rocks and trees in damp areas. The lichen never digested properly, which meant that one always knew unicorns were close when one came across mounds of foul-smelling, sparkly horse shit.

Tracking them was easy. Catching them was another story entirely. Willa slipped her hand into her pocket, hefting the smooth weight of an apple in her palm. She’d filled her jacket with them as she’d passed through the Great Hall, half expecting that Hagrid’s lessons would be entirely unsuitable to anyone who wanted to still have all their limbs intact at the end of the day. Once she found the telltale signs of unicorns in residence, she sought out a log to sit on and settled herself down on it.

Patience. The apple gave a crisp crack as she took a bite from it. There wasn’t any virtue more valuable when it came to catching unicorns. Patience and a few tricks up the sleeve. She ate the apple slowly, deliberately, letting the smell of it permeate the air. Her wand slipped down into her palm and she twisted it in her hand. Light bloomed at the tip, a spark shooting off into the air. Willa caught it, suspended in the air, then let off another coloured burst and froze it in place as well.

She took another bite of the apple and worked on her light show, abstract bursts that curved and glimmered even as they hung before her. She heard a twig snap in the trees, but did not turn. Shy, unicorns were, but curious. Another arc of light, and then another, and then she sent them into orbit above her head, a rainbow swirling around her. She turned her chin, just a little, and there it was.

A young mare, she was, not yet magnificent but certainly pretty, with a brilliant silver coat and her horn still growing in. She stood with one hoof raised, poised for flight. Willa took another slow bite of the apple and affected not to notice her. At the same time, she let the circle of light lift, expand, and saw the unicorn raise her head in wonder and step forward. Willa tossed the half eaten apple onto the ground, pitching it a to a distance that would not frighten the animal. The unicorn's nostrils flared and she stepped forward, nosing the fruit before plucking it off the ground.

Apples. They loved them. Willa slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out another, this time dropping it closer. Cautious step followed cautious step, curiosity pulling the unicorn closer. The second apple crushed between her teeth and the lights spun around her. Willa slipped her hand into her jacket again, this time holding the apple in her hand and offering it from her fingers. One step, another. Their eyes met. The mare's were large and dark, cautious, but Willa held her gaze. I will not hurt you. She meant it. The unicorn took the apple from her fingers, stood chewing, watching. Willa lifted her hand. A moment of hesitation, silent consent, and then she let her fingers touch the mare's nose. The unicorn pushed back against her hand. Willa gave her a scratch.

Her wand hand twisted again and the lights pulled inward, twining themselves into a spell and solidifying into a shimmering rope around the mare's neck. She shied, suddenly bound, but Willa was ready for it: on her feet in an instant, wand hand maintaining control of the spell that pulled the mare, gently but firmly, back to the ground. The mare shook, eyes rolling in fear. Willa stepped underneath the budding horn and laid her hand on the unicorn's throat. "There, girl," she murmured, close. "I won't hurt you. I won't take your freedom." A few more sounds, affirmative nonsense. Words didn't matter half as much as tone, as intention. The unicorn didn't know words, but she understood comfort and she understood respect. Willa apologised for her deception, the mare forgave.

They shared another apple on their way back to the grounds.






Edited to note: It does feel kind of like the beginning of something, doesn't it? Ah well. Hey, if anyone has any ideas and fancies continuing and reposting it, round-robin style, do feel free. I don't think I've ever seen old lady round robin before.

Date: 2010-11-28 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cranky--crocus.livejournal.com
I truly loved this story. (: Wilhelmina + unicorns are one of my MTPs [many true pairings], I think. :Þ Lovely!

Wish I had the time to round-robin it, but it's November and I also wouldn't know where to take it. But it's beautiful and I hope it ends up somewhere!

Date: 2011-01-03 04:23 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-11-28 01:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miss-morland.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed this, and I think it stands well enough on its own as a missing scene.

Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank tapped the end of her pipe and snorted. Bollocks. The world was always poetic with the day’s first hit of nicotine.

Ha! Love her down-to-earth practicality. *g*

Date: 2011-01-03 04:25 pm (UTC)
ext_6725: (Green dragonfly)
From: [identity profile] featherxquill.livejournal.com
Thanks! And hee, i'm glad you liked that line. It was like she spoke to me, after I wrote that first descriptive sentence: telling me to stop waffling and get on with it *g*

Date: 2010-11-28 04:34 pm (UTC)
tetleythesecond: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tetleythesecond
Oh, this is beautiful! It could be the beginning of something, but it stands on its own just as great. It's a full story, and I love it when we just get a feeling that there is more to come but it's not spelled out.

Love her interaction with the unicorn, too. I'd do heel and down and you name it for her.

And I agree to the line Miss Morland quoted. So very Willa.

Date: 2011-01-03 04:26 pm (UTC)
ext_6725: (Stock thistledown)
From: [identity profile] featherxquill.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed! :)

Date: 2010-11-29 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] therealsnape.livejournal.com
Great story! In a way, it feels like a completed one, just one that has a lot of untold backstory.

And Willa's way with the mare is so perfectly IC!

Date: 2011-01-03 04:26 pm (UTC)
ext_6725: (Stock tree)
From: [identity profile] featherxquill.livejournal.com
Thank you! :)

Date: 2010-11-29 03:16 pm (UTC)
ext_6368: cherry blossoms on a tree -- with my fandom name "EntreNous" on it (Default)
From: [identity profile] entrenous88.livejournal.com
So enjoyable! I like what you've done with this moment in time and this characterization.

Date: 2011-01-03 04:27 pm (UTC)
ext_6725: (Midnight dreams)
From: [identity profile] featherxquill.livejournal.com
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed :)

Date: 2010-11-29 04:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] celta-diabolica.livejournal.com
Lovely! You gave me a real sense of her character, her cleverness and pragmatism.

Date: 2011-01-03 04:27 pm (UTC)
ext_6725: (Birds sunset)
From: [identity profile] featherxquill.livejournal.com
I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the comment :)

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