Adélaïde had a knot in her stomach as she walked through the quiet corridors. All classes were over and most students were either at the library or at their respective clubs. She was in the latter situation. It was Tuesday evening, and she was about to meet the school's newspaper staff, her new colleagues.

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Although she'd read the few issues that had come out since the start of term, she didn't know anyone who worked there. They were older students, last years usually, as the staff hadn't changed for a while.

It felt weird being the new girl all over again. At least when the year started she'd had Judith. And now, not only was she alone, those people were expecting something from her. Work. Good work. Even though the stakes weren't actually high, she still felt pressure to do good. Especially after she had met Matthew the other day. He was so formal in the way he introduced himself and told her about her admission to the journal. It didn't feel weird at first, because he had such a statuesque presence. But when she thought back on it, Adélaïde realised it hadn't felt like talking to another student, but to an employer. It felt much more official than a simple school club. She couldn't help but wonder if the whole team would be like this.

Her resonating steps slowly muted as she reached the door. Room 308. She stoped in front of it and read the bronze plake.

The Hearthstone Chronicles, Newsroom

That newspaper must be a corner stone of the school. That plake looked like it had been there for a while. She wondered how far back the paper had been created. Actually, how old even was the school?

'Stop procrastinating, Adi. Just do it. Like a bandaid.' she thought.
Taking a deep breath, she clenched her fist and rapped on the door three times. Nice. That was firm, commanding.

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“Come in!” she heard from the inside, slightly muffled.
She turned the handle but when she pushed the door, it stopped half way. She pushed a little, but it wouldn't budge.
“Oh, shit! Sorry!” she recognised the voice.
A big, dark hand pulled violently on the heavy door, and it opened completely.
“That door's a bit capricious, it does that sometimes,” Matthew smiled at her apologetically.
She smiled and nodded.
“Anyway, welcome Adélaïde. Everyone, the new blood is here!” he called.

The room was smaller than what she'd imagined, but it was comfortable. There were two desks with a typing machine and a lamp each. One under the window, facing the door, and one against the right wall. The only sitting furnitures were comfortable armchairs, but distressed and faded. The rest was nothing but overwhelmed bookcases, and books and papers scattered in different corners. Also a few balls, an unfinished game of chess abandoned on the floor amongst papers, dirty cups next to a coffee machine... It was clear teachers didn't come here often and the students were given complete freedom.

Adélaïde decided she liked the place.

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Two other boys were there. Both dark-haired, one was sitting on the floor with a couple boxes in front of him in which he was rummaging some papers. The first thing Adélaïde noticed when he looked up were his slanted eyes and the friendliness in his smile.

The second boy was sitting in an armchair and barely looked up, focused on the book he was holding. He had a bulky frame, but his square glasses gave him the presence of an intellectual.

“Does the new blood have oestrogen this time?” the question came from somewhere in a corner of the room, before the two boys had any chance of speaking.
“Lucy, you were at the meeting. You approved the decision. Don't tell me you already forgot who we chose,” Matthew chuckled.
“Oh yeah, maybe.”
A wild orange cloud burst out from behind a shelf. Adélaïde barely had time to identify a face within that cloud before she was grasped by two strong arms.
“Finally another girl!” Lucy exclamed as she crushed the dark-haired girl against her generous chest.

The girl was tall and athletic. Adélaïde also noticed she was wearing a white t-shirt instead of the regulated button-up, probably to accommodate her breasts. She'd also adorned her uniform with a flowery, silky scarf tied around her neck, and star-shaped dangly earrings.
“Don't scare her away, Lucy,” said the boy in the back.
“I won't! I'm just being friendly!” protested the redhead, “And she doesn't look like a scaredy-cat to me,” she turned to Adélaïde to assess her, “Right?”
“I can take it,” she retorted.
“Lucy.”

girl, beautiful, and hair image Image by 𝗔𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗱

The other boy had finally looked up from his book. He was now watching Lucy intensely above his glasses.
“Manners?” he continued.
“Ah yes! Of course! My name is Lucia von Rittersdorf, but call me Lucy,” she finally offered a hand.
“Adélaïde de Broglie, pleased to meet you,” Adélaïde smiled, and she meant it.
The asian guy got up and extended a hand as well.
“I'm Hank Lee, welcome to the team,” he looked her in the eyes and had spoken gently.
Then it was the armchair boy's turn.
“My name is Patrick Mather.”

“Well, I guess you've pretty much met everyone, then,” Matthew continued, hands in his pockets. He looked much more laid-back than the first time she met him. He had taken his trench coat off, unbuttoned the top of his uniform's shirt and rolled up the sleeves. But his gaze was still just as piercing, and Adélaïde felt uncomfortable whenever he looked at her. When he looked into your eyes, he seemed to know more about yourself than you did.
“So, how about we tell her about the work we do here?” suggested Matthew, “Lucy, you start. You've got a Debate thing after that, right?”

“Oh my god, you're right!” she kissed him on the cheek, “What would I do without you! Please, Adélaïde, sit down!” she pulled an armchair to her.
“You can call me Adi, if you want. Adélaïde is a bit pretentious.”
“Fine, Adi!” Lucy smiled, “Well to be quick, I take care of the Sports column and I bring the snacks. I'm part of the Track club, so I'm close to everything happening in the sports area of the school...”
“Wait, you're part of the Newspaper, Debate, and Track clubs?”
“Well yeah. I also wanted to join Fencing, but these dummies got in the way,” she complained, slapping her boobs.

Adélaïde couldn't believe the energy of this girl. And here she was, wondering if she'd be able to balance homework, her play and the newspaper.

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“Anyway,” Hank started talking. He had taken back his place on the floor, “I take care of the Alumni collumn, ever read it?”
“Of course! So you're the one who interviews former Academy students?” Adélaïde actually liked that column. The interviewees could have very different and unusual career histories, from architects to scientists or painters.
“Yeah!” he smiled, his eyes sparkling slightly, “But it takes a lot of research beforehand, in the archives, so Matthew usually gives me some help with that.”
“Officially, I'm in charge of the Events column,” Matthew picked up. He was now leaning against one of the desks. “But theater, choir or dance representations are pretty punctual in the year, and the culture scene outside of the school is fairly calm, so I have time to act as head of journal.”
“But that doesn't mean he's the boss of you,” intervened Lucy.
“Yeah, you can tell him to fuck off if you want,” added Hank.
Matthew laughed.
“Or not,” Patrick retorted.

He had fallen back in his armchair.
“I take care of the Career column.” he stated flatly.
Adélaïde nodded awkwardly. Nevermind Matthew, Patrick was the real stickler of the group. She remembered the couple of columns she'd read from him. Until now, the careers and studies he had presented were Trader and Lobbyist, which had made her think whoever wrote that column would've been great friends with her dad. Her instinct seemed to have been correct.

“Well, I've got to leave you guys!” Lucy jumped from her seat, “I'll see you all, uhm...” she thought for a second, her eyes searching in the air, “...at some point in the future,” she concluded, “Bye Adi!”
“Bye Lucy!”

Hank then offered her a cup of tea, which she accepted, and Patrick dove back in his book. She turned to Matthew and asked him what it exactly meant that he was the Head of journal. He told her he was basically the one to hand the finished prototype of every issue to the publisher. Therefore, he was also in charge of making sure everyone was on schedule.
“But don't worry, we really work as a team,” he reassured her, “If you have a problem, or you feel like you have trouble keeping up at some point, don't hesitate to ask for help. I'm not here to crucify you on every occasion.”

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A chuckle came out of Patrick. But he didn't even look up from his book, so Matthew ignored him.
They chatted a little more, Adélaïde sipping her cup of tea and Hank going back to his research. After a while, Patrick reminded Matthew they had laundry to do, which told Adélaïde they were roommates, and they left.

But she didn't feel like leaving yet. This meeting had been surprisingly nice, and she loved the atmosphere of the newsroom. So she looked for an excuse to stay, before realising it was right in front of her.
“Do you need any help?” she offered as she turned to Hank.
“Uhm, sure!” he answered with a smile, “But I'm afraid it's not always interesting.”
“It's fine! I have nowhere to go really.”
“Alright, then...” he handed her a small pile of files, “I'm looking at some archives of students from around fifteen years ago. If you could select some profiles, anyone who has a story that you would find interesting. The school usually keeps track of their students' achievements once they graduate. Or at least, the ones who agree to it. Which is a surprising amount of people,” he leaned in as if in confidence despite the fact they were alone, “It's crazy the number of people who actually loved Hearthstone.”
“For real?” she wondered dramatically. She tried to imagine the kind of people who, although the school was't all bad, would thrive in such a disciplined and overworking environment.

“Oh yeah,” he laughed, “The ones I interview are somehow ecstatic to be in the school's newspaper.”
“Guess nostalgia does crazy things to your brain.”
“You bet,” he chuckled again, “Oh, and try to focus on women's profile. I've only interviewed men since the beginning of term.”
They started working in silence, reading course guidance sheets, squeaming through CVs, even finding some newspaper articles. Of actual newspapers. The silence was comfortable, and despite Hank saying it could be boring, Adélaïde enjoyed herself. She liked having a peak in people's lives like this, however that may sound.

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“Well, this is odd...” Hank suddenly broke the silence.
“What?” she looked over to him.
He had an old picture in his hand. The paper was a bit torn and used, but when she looked over his shoulder Adélaïde realised it was nothing but a school year group photo.
“I found this lost in one of the files, but this isn't a photo of the years we're looking at,” Hank explained, confused, “It doesn't belong here.”
“Are you sure?”
“I just looked to see if I could find the file of anyone in the picture, and I'm pretty sure I didn't recognise them in any mug shot.”
“Can I have a look?”

He handed it to her. She first tried to find a date somewhere, to no avail. Then, she skeemed the rows of students. She had pretty good face memory and hoped she would recognise someone from her pile.

One of the faces made her stop. On the right of the second row from the top. A face she'd seen a million times.
Her father.

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He was young, of course, but there was no doubt in her mind. She'd walked past her father's younger face every time she entered or left her appartment, back in Paris. In the vestibule, her parents had hanged a picture of themselves from when they first met.

What the hell was that now? Her father had been to Hearthstone? How come he never told her?

Her first thought was a vision of her parents exchanging a strange look. The first time she mentioned Hearthstone after Judith told her about it. What did that look mean? And why didn't they tell her that her father had been there? Was it the reason they were so reluctant to accept her transfer?

“Adi, you ok?”
Hank got her out of her thoughts. She'd visibly froze on the spot. She tried to shake herself up and be more casual again.
“Uhm...” she cleared her throat, “Yeah, yeah... It's true, this is strange,” she looked at the picture again, “Maybe it just...got mixed up?”
“Probably...” he trailed off and took back the photo, “I'm curious now. I'm gonna try and find what year that was in the archives. There's a special room dedicated to school photos.”
“And you have access to that too?”
“Of course! The Chronicles have access to pretty much all the archives. That's the policy of the school, to reflect freedom of the press.”
“First time I hear about this school reflecting freedom,” she joked half-heartedly, still shaky from her discovery.
“Haha! I know!” he chuckled, “I'll also take a look at the Hall of Fame, to see if those guys won a trophy or something.”
“Would you mind keeping me updated on what you find? I'm curious too, now.”
“Sure!”

On the way back to her house, a thousand thoughts went through her head. But none of those thoughts went anywhere. Mostly, she realised the school probably had more secrets than she might have guessed. Or was it her family's secrets? She had no idea. Her mind was a mess.

She couldn't get over why her parents hadn't told her anything. Why hide something as trivial as the school her father went to? Why would it be such a taboo?

Now that she thought about it, she didn't know much about her parent's past. Even her extended family had been something of a mystery. She never knew her paternal grand-parents. Her father had told her he'd had a fight with them a long time ago and they no longer talked. And her father had been an only child. Only her mother's family was still around. And even then they'd never been close.

She suddenly felt exhausted. First it had been Miss Brealynn's watch, then the mystery of Corey's vigilance, and now this.

She'd had enough. She needed to talk to Judith.

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