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By the end of October, Willow knew that something was wrong.  Almost everyone else in her class was able to perform simple magic, but she still hadn’t been able to do much more than shoot colored sparks from her wand.

On the Monday after the Quidditch game, Willow was asked to report to the Chancellor’s office instead of going to her Care of Magical Creatures club after classes ended.

“Hello, Willow, please sit down,” said the Chancellor as he gestured toward the two wingback chairs that faced his desk.  Willow sat down, remembering several trips to the Principal’s office at her nomaj school.  This is probably not going to be good.

“It’s come to my attention,” The Chancellor began, “that you are having some trouble keeping up with your classmates in a few of your subjects.”  He looked down at a list on his desk. “Let’s see...Alteration, Thaumaturgy and Alchemy, but there’s nothing to be concerned about at this point in time.  Typically, we have a couple of students who have some challenges with their wands, but it seems this year, we have quite a few more than usual.  In other years, we added additional lessons over lunch or after classes, but this many students warrants a special class.”

So now I’m in special education, she thought, trying to imagine how much more abuse would be heaped on her when it was found out.  Awesome.

“We’ve rearranged your schedule,” the Chancellor continued, “temporarily of course, to help you and your fellow students get caught up.  This will provide you with a little more one-on-one attention, and I’m sure you’ll be right as rain in no time.”  He handed a piece of parchment over to Willow, and she leaned forward to take it.  She hoped he didn’t notice that her hand was shaking as she took her new schedule.  He smiled at her and asked “Do you have any questions for me?”

Yes!  Willow thought.  Why won’t my wand work?  What’s wrong with me?  Am I going to get thrown out of school?, but she shook her head ‘no’ and looked out of the window instead of looking the Chancellor in the eye.

“Very well,” he said, standing up and moving toward the door.  “You’ll begin your revised schedule starting tomorrow.  Good day.”  He opened the door and Willow stood up to go.  Leaving the Chancellor’s office she saw the blonde Featherpenny boy who everyone teased over being poor waiting to go next.  His knuckles were red and scabbed and he was staring down at them, not looking up as she walked by.

While she was walking back to the Hammersmith homeroom, she looked over her new schedule.  Tuesdays and Thursdays were the same, but on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, her Alteration, Thaumaturgy, and Alchemy classes were moved around.  She now had Remedial Alteration in the morning, followed by Remedial Alchemy which ran right through lunch and she didn’t get a lunch break until one o’clock.  This was followed by Remedial Thaumaturgy in the afternoon.  It’s not like I can hide this, she thought, her last hope evaporating.  I’m sure they’ll notice when their favorite target doesn’t show up to lunch anymore.

She stopped at the bottom of the staircase leading up to Hammersmith tower and stared up to the domed ceiling eighty feet above.  I really don’t want to go back up there right now, she thought.  The first thing they’ll do is start asking me questions: why were you called away?; why do you have to go to remedial classes?; why are you even here since you stink at magic?  She needed to be somewhere else - anywhere else - so she could be alone.

Willow went to the manticore pen because she knew that nobody would be there; the others tended to stay away from animals that hunt and eat humans.  She sat down by the wall toward the end by the manticore’s hut.  I might be magical, but I obviously don’t have what it takes to fit in here.  I can’t do magic, I can’t make friends...this sucks.  Tears started running down her face and she dreaded the conversation she would have to have with her mom later.  

As she sat there, her sobbing was interrupted by a strange sound like a small motor.  It took her a moment to realize it was coming from the other side of the wall.  Standing up, she could see that the manticore had come out of its hut and had curled up on the other side of the wall from her like a large cat and had started purring.

“Oh,” Willow said as she wiped the tears from her eyes.  “It’s just you.”  She looked in at the manticore.  “I don’t know if you have a name,” said Willow, “but I think I’ll call you Corey.”  The manticore looked up at her with its human-like face, but didn’t stop purring.  “Corey, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here at this school since I stink at magic,” Willow continued, “but at least I know I can come visit you and not be graded or judged or jinxed with extra ears for an afternoon just because I’m wearing a stupid badge.”  

“Do you believe in karma?” she continued after a moment, not expecting an answer.  “It’s like every bad thing that I’ve done in my entire life has all come back to me in the last two months.  I’m sure I deserve some of it, but getting hit all at once is too much.” 

She stared at him for a few moments, looking at the light brown fur covering his cat-like frame and staring at the contrasting black exoskeleton of his long curled scorpion tail.  How are you even possible? she wondered.  What sick combination of creatures made you?  How much power would a witch or wizard have to have in order to create something like you?  She shivered at the thought.  

Willow stayed there for the rest of the hour talking to Corey instead of what she would have normally done in Care of Magical Creatures club; which was mostly cleaning up poo.  As she got up to go get her bag and make the bus, she called out to the still purring creature.  “I have to go now, but I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” The manticore blinked at her and watched her leave without making a sound.  As she made her way back to the school, she wondered what she was doing.  There's definitely something wrong when my only friend is a monster that would sooner eat me than look at me.



The following Wednesday’s Remedial classes were awful.   Mr. Puterschmidt didn’t say how bad the Remedial Alteration class was out loud, but Willow thought his characteristic blinking seemed even more agitated than usual by the end.  Not one of the seven students in the class could turn the pencil into a quill.  After an hour’s effort, Lily, the Featherpenny seeker, had managed to get the eraser to sprout feathers, but that was about it.

All seven of them transitioned to Remedial Alchemy, where they were joined by two more Suncorn boys.  Willow had just been over to talk to Lily about the Quidditch match she had watched when the teacher entered.  It was not Mr. Holmes, their regular Alchemy teacher, but instead was a tall woman in her late thirties with dark eyebrows and blonde hair.  

“My name is Mrs. Black and I’m just as unhappy to be in this class as you are,” she announced in a strong british accent before she had even made it to the front of the room, “so I want all of you to work harder than you have been, pay attention to detail, and ask questions if you don’t know what you’re doing.”  She reached the front of the classroom and turned around to look at them.

“Right, there’s nine of you, so we’ll work in tables of three.  I don’t really care what house you’re in, so you three,” she said, pointing to Norbert, Incheon and a Murgatroyd boy.

“You three,” Mrs. Black said, pointing to Willow, Lily and the Featherpenny boy who Willow knew as the unsorted one who was always getting teased about his family being poor.

“And you three,” Mrs. Black concluded, pointing to Lef and the two Suncorn boys.

“We’ll start with a simple restoration potion on page eighty-seven of your books and I’ll be around to figure out where you need help,” Mrs. Black announced.  Everyone stayed frozen in place as if her voice were a stunning spell.

“Well?  What are you waiting for, let’s go!”

At this prompt, Willow turned to her bag to pull out her cauldron, but the Featherpenny boy had already put his on the table and was working to start the fire underneath.

“Oh, thanks.  I’m Willow by the way.”

“Sibelius, but I go by ‘Sib’.”  He turned to Lily.  “The fire needs started, but I stink at it. Can you git it goin’?  Willow smiled and thought to herself.  At least I’m not the only one who can’t start a fire under the cauldron.

Willow couldn’t have picked a better table if she had tried.  Sib, who had a thick West Virginia accent, paid attention to every detail and even saved their potion when he stopped Willow from adding a yellow jelly baby, when it should have been a cinnamon jellybaby instead.  Lily was the only one of the three of them who could pass off a spell, and even this took every effort of will she had.  By the end of the class, they had a decent potion, or at least more decent than the black tar generated by Norbert’s table, or the stinky green slime that formed in Lef’s cauldron.

When the bell rung, marking the end of the double period, Mrs. Black spoke to them after vanishing the contents of all three cauldrons.

“That was not the worst class I have ever had, but it was quite a long way from good.  You all need to do a better job of paying attention to detail.  I’ve given out homework for Friday to those who need it.  Good afternoon.”  At that, Mrs. Black walked past them and out of the classroom door.  Charming, thought Willow as she put her things back in her bag.  A regular Mary Poppins.

Willow walked out of the class at the same time as Lef, who was fuming.

“Those idiots!” Lef raged out loud.  “They didn’t pay attention to anything and were busy making fart jokes the entire class.  Because of them, I now have to write twelve inches of parchment on the difference between ‘yellow jelly babies’ and ‘cinnamon jellybabies’.  I better not get stuck with them for Remedial Thaumaturgy.”

As they headed off for their late lunch, Willow couldn’t help but notice that of the nine students in this potions class, four of them had been the ones who were unsorted at the beginning of the year.

Once in the banquet hall, Willow automatically gravitated towards Norbert as the only other Hammersmith and the others did the same, dividing up to four different tables by house.  There was very little conversation.  

 

That night, Willow’s dream returned. The American Indian was in the woods and Willow could see him through the leaves.  He turned to the side and took a great glowing bow off of his arm and started speaking to her.

...I have come in search of you.  I am the Hunter.  Avada Kedavra”.  With the last words a glowing arrow formed in the drawn bow and was shot out, waking Willow up.

She woke up with those two words on her mind.  Avada Kedavra?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Why would I dream nonsense when everything else was crystal clear?  She decided that she would ask someone about it when she got to school, wondering if maybe she had heard it in a lesson.  She drifted back into an uneasy sleep.



“Avada what?” replied Miss Mercana to Willow’s question.  

“Kedavra,” said Willow.  I thought maybe it was a person or a place that I overheard somewhere.  But it doesn’t really matter.”

“I’ve never heard of it, but if anyone would know,” said Miss Mercana, “it’s Mr. Zolock.  Give him a try.” 

Thanking her, Willow left Care of Magical Creatures and headed off to her next class.  Since she didn’t have History of Magic that day, she had to wait until classes were over to go and see Mr. Zolock in his office.  



At the end of the day, she traveled up the south stair to the teacher’s offices and found the one with Mr. Zolock’s name on it.  She knocked and walked in after Mr. Zolock called for her to enter.

His office looked like a miniature version of the main library, with books stacked from floor to ceiling along three walls and windows looking out over the gardens on the fourth.  A fire was blazing in the fireplace, but it was only comfortably warm in his office.  Mr. Zolock was sitting in a wingback chair next to the fire instead of behind his desk.

“Willow, hello,” he said.  “I was just reading some nomaj history...fascinating subject.  What brings you up here today?”

“Hello Mr. Zolock,” Willow said.  “It’s just that I heard a name and I was wondering if you might be able to tell me who or where it is.”

“Well, I can try,” Mr. Zolock responded.  “What is it?”

“Avada Kedavra,” said Willow.

“Good heavens!” he said, nearly falling out of his seat. “Where in the world did you hear those words?”

Shocked by the reaction, Willow told the truth - not having time to come up with a cover.  “I...I dreamt it,” she said.

“Now, I don’t believe that for a moment,” Mr. Zolock responded.  “You must have heard that from someone, but nobody has taught that in...why it must be over twelve years now.

“But who is it?” Willow pressed.

“It’s not a person, it’s a curse!” Mr. Zolock cried.  “A horrible curse!  A killing curse! Why anyone would ever mention those words is beyond me, but you must promise never to utter them again to anyone for any reason, ever!”

“Okay!” Willow responded, more shocked and disturbed than she was before.

“Now who was it that said it to you?” Mr. Zolock asked again.

“I’m telling the truth, sir.  Nobody told me.”  Willow was pleading now.

“Well, I understand why you’re covering for whoever mentioned it,” he said.  “They could be in some serious trouble.  Dark magic has been banned for over a decade and the penalties for using it - even mentioning it - would be truly severe.  Make sure you tell them when you see them next.”

Willow left Mr. Zolock’s office in a daze.  How could I have a dream about dark magic that nobody has heard of in twelve years?  How is it even possible to dream something that you don’t know?  And why am I dreaming about an evil American Indian wizard when it has nothing to do with...anything, really.

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