“And the country was saved. Maximillian Grey brought back the riches he and David had found within the mountain’s tomb. In return, our family was gifted this house to make our home in. The magical theorem branch of the Guild was dedicated to David, which is still called the Fox track today.”
I finally looked up. My dad’s figure was outlined by the blazing fire of our fireplace. I found him looking upon me, a proud twinkle dancing in his eyes. I hunched over a little more, hoping against hope he wasn’t planning on pulling me into the spotlight with him. Beedle zoomed towards me, making it only harder to hide myself. I relented by catching him in my hands, stopping his buzzing. As I did, my dad reacted with a surprised gasp, frowning at me for my rather inept way of grabbing Beedle. I shrugged. I wouldn’t have grabbed Beedle if he’d been intangible or if dad hadn’t allowed his familiar to make such a fuzz about me. Beedle’s presence melted away in my hands as he finally became intangible and phased out of my grasp. Flying back towards dad, he became tangible again – evident by the sudden sound of his buzzing – and made one full circle around dad’s head before landing squarely on top of him. Dad continued as if nothing had happened.
“So remember. It was a Grey who found the mountain’s tomb, survived the challenges and returned with the fortune to save our country. The rulers might have forgotten, but we have not! After all. You should never underestimate a Grey!”
The story ended with cheers, laughter and the clinking of glasses and tankards. The name Maximillian was chanted by the small gathering of people. I smiled only half-heartedly as they came to clink their glass or tankard with mine. The story of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather - or something along those lines - was a favourite during the Night of the Summoning. And thus, I have heard it every year for as long as I can remember. Usually, I'd enjoy it. I would sit in front as dad would tell the story in his low baritone, my cheeks red from the heat of the hearth and in my hand my long forgotten cup of tea. I would croon as Beedle would try his best to act out the parts of our ancestor’s familiar. The fact that said familiar was a lizard, did not deter Beedle from doing his best. Mom’s moth familiar Honey would often aid him during the story. I would mutter along with dad, repeating every word. Just how I now mouthed the words he would say as the clamour quietened.
"As you know, Maximillian left clues to how to reach the mountain’s tomb. And it all begins with…"
My fingers had already made the signs on the ground in front of me. Had I done so on paper, it would have looked like the same one dad was holding up. A magic circle that differed from conventional circles in two ways. First, at the spot where an elemental glyph was usually drawn, was an unknown symbol. I’d never learnt it at school, but according to dad it was an ancient symbol of lightning. The second difference was that this magic circle had another ring, encapsulating the whole spell. According to my teachers, that usually disturbed the magic, making the magic spell inert. However, the Grey spell as dad called it, would only work if drawn this way.
He placed his hand on the circle, pouring mana into it. The sigil lit up and disappeared, before creating a bright flash. I’d already turned away, knowing it would come. When the flash subdued, I looked back to see lightning curling around dad’s hand, with which is drew a crescent moon in front of him. It hung there for a second before fizzling out. It was a neat party trick, but much like everyone else in my family, I didn’t know what it meant. When I was younger, I’d often theorized with Max about what it might mean. I’d still thought about it before going to sleep. I just didn’t want to tonight. Especially not because it was the only lightning spell us Grey’s could do with a 100% success rate. The thought of that made me only queasy.
However my uncles, aunts and cousins didn’t share my sentiment. Instead they cheered again as they raised their drinks once more. I didn't bother to look up, instead swirling what little remained of my own tea. As I said, I usually enjoyed the Night of Summoning, but only because it was never really important. It never revolved around me. I forced another smile as Peter, my dad’s only brother, sat himself next to me. His dung beetle came up to me over the table, rolling a cookie made by my grandmother. I saw him reach for me and before I knew it, his hand was tussling through my hair.
"What about you? Already an idea of what you will Summon tomorrow?"
I frowned. Everyone knew it was impossible to predict the creature you would summon at your Summoning Ritual. The only thing you did was pray to Aether you would summon at least something. Or, I should say, that was the thing my family did. Other people rarely worried, and probably dreamed and boasted they would get a familiar fitting for their family. My family has only produced pathetic familiars for generations. The last one who summoned anything with a skeleton was my ancestor Maximillian. After that the only thing my family had been capable of Summoning were insects. Which have grown more and more disappointing as time went on. Nowadays, our familiars didn’t grow bigger than two adult fists. Most children managed to Summon familiars that size. Only Max had managed to Summon something better. He had a catfish. Still sad, but infinitely better than a bug. It was at the very least already as big as Beedle. You'd think that would have given me hope. That I was also dreaming of Summoning a familiar with a skeleton. Who knew, maybe even with fur as I used to pretend when I was younger. But, my brother was better than me. He was smarter, more dedicated and kinder.
I weighed my options. Telling my thoughts to my uncle wouldn't have an effect. It wasn't like he was really interested in me. He just wanted to be certain I wouldn't outdo his daughter, who Summoned a butterfly last year. I didn't get a chance to reply when May, my dad’s older sister, came up behind my uncle.
"Oh, I bet she will have a lovely bumblebee," she said as her own fly familiar whizzed past her.
"Nonsense, she'll be a beetle Summoner, just like her father!" Peter replied, hitting me far too hard on my back.
"And why would that be? Look at her, she is smaller than her brother, father or mother, and a tad lazy from what I've heard. Very much unlike Max."
"Max is a special case. He got a fish after all! But no, I am certain Zephyra may surprise you and Summon a proud member of the beetle family."
This. This was the reason I disliked tonight's Night of Summoning. My family wasn't particularly known for being flattering. And didn't shy away about telling each other the accomplishments - or lack of - to their brothers and sisters. My brother Max, the only one since the 'great' Maximillian Grey to summon a familiar with a skeleton rather than a chitin shell, was the prodigy. None of our cousins managed to reach the grades he had. This got him the title of wonderchild in the family. The thing was, they didn’t know that Max always studied himself to tears. I'd caught him several times crying on his desk, with books open and paper thrown all across his room. Crying to his fish Remus, who could only form bubbles to make him feel comfortable.
This facade was something he kept up for everyone. That was the whole reason the family couldn't help but compare him to me. I wasn't much different from my three oldest cousins in terms of grades in school. Like them, I barely managed to pass each year. But they already had jobs and worked hard to make everyone forget that they were little better than me during their younger years. Much like what their parents did. Only my last cousin, Clara, who was one year my senior, was working hard to match Max in his grades and follow him to the Guild. She'd been less than thrilled when she Summoned a butterfly, but she'd made it into the Guild the same time Max did. The only difference being that Max had taken three years to be allowed into the Guild, whereas Clara had managed that immediately after graduating school. Which made her a favourite of our family and on par with Max’ status. And she was the last one anyone expected to be able to go.
"I think Zephyra will have a cat."
For a moment, silence fell. Our humble living room, now packed with a total of fifteen people, became dead silent as we all turned to Max. Without me noticing he'd come up behind me and stood proud and tall with the bowl containing Remus in his right hand. I looked up at him, my eyes wide. He grinned at me. That stupid grin of his. When we were younger and neither of us had a familiar, we would make up stories of which one we would get. Max had always hoped for a bird, as usually scholars would Summon familiars like that. I wanted a cat. Not because of whatever prestige they would give. Before I went to school I couldn't give a rat's ass about it. I just wanted a cat because I understood them. They could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted and anyone that annoyed them would be clawed at. That was life. And also a secret.
Laughter burst out from Peter, with soon everyone following up. It was a ridiculous idea. No one in our family aside from Max and his namesake had ever summoned anything remotely close to an animal with fur. That would mean a lot of potential which I had never shown. I knew that. Of course I did. My grades proved as much. But I hadn't realized that - until now - I'd been harbouring hope that I still might have been able to Summon one. I glared up at Max. At least now he was no longer smiling like a jackass. He looked almost aghast at our family. You would think that after spending almost nineteen years with them, he'd know them by now. I got up and stomped out, barely hearing my parents call for me.