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September 4th, 1971

 

               “This is a highly unusual request, Miss Wardwell...” Dumbledore paused as he peered down at the letter before him before returning his eyes to hers,” Not only have you arrived with no advanced notice, an unregistered wand, days after classes have begun, but your bloodline has been absent from Hogwarts for over a century and were presumed extinct.”

               Hortensia’s jaw clenched. It seemed the journey to this cold, damp shore was only the beginning of the resistance she would be facing. The winds of fate were not at her back for this venture, and she took a deep breath as she silenced thoughts of bad omens and superstition. It simply did not matter. Straightening her spine, she stared directly into Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes and said, “the Wardwells survive in me, Headmaster, and it is my birthright to be taught within these walls. Their magic flows in my veins, and from what I’ve read, Headmaster, you have housed much worse than me under this roof.” His eyes widened as her tone sharpened while she spoke, and Hortensia knew how close she was to being denied admission. It was a risk to mention those rumors of a rising dark wizard that Dumbledore himself taught, but so much relied on this moment and overheard whispers would have to do. He couldn’t turn her away, could he? If the sparse information, her island received was correct than his guilt would be her way in.

               “You aren’t lacking in conviction, Miss Wardwell, that is certain,” Dumbledore replied with a frown, “but Hogwarts and the students within its walls are my responsibility as Headmaster, and I would not see them jeopardized.” His gaze deepened, and Hortensia felt pierced by the icy blue of his eyes. What would he see as he peered into her? A bead of sweat ran down her neck, and she knew he was searching for a lie, searching for signs of violence or bad intentions. The steel in his eyes retreated, and Hortensia stopped herself from sighing in relief.

               “Hogwarts will not turn its back on you, Miss Wardwell. However, you seem to have arrived a few days into the start of term. I know that you are anxious to be reunited with your belongings and look in need of a proper night’s sleep, but there are some administrative matters we must attend to,” Dumbledore peered up to one of the many portraits surrounding them,”Dippet…Dippet!,” the image of a sleeping wizard started to stir, grumbling as it was awakened, “I need you to summon Deputy Headmistress McGonagall, and the other three heads of house to my office at once.”

               Dumbledore turned his attention back to Hortensia after the image named Dippet disappeared from his portrait, “He was the headmaster before me, you know,” he gestured, “in fact, all these portraits are of my predecessors. I like to think I’ve brought something new to the office, even if it is only candy.” With a tentative smile, Dumbledore reached into his desk drawer and set a crystal bowl of gleaming yellow candies on the desk between them. With delicate silver tongs, he plucked two pieces from the bowl, and gestured for her to put her hands out, “Now I will warn you, these are very sour, but if you soldier through a delicious sugar center awaits you.”

               As they waited he continued to explain the curiosities that littered the office. Hortensia gasped when he brought her the cage that was standing behind him the whole time. In the very bottom lay a sleeping phoenix chick within a pile of ash, just reborn.  The Headmaster was ushering her towards a series of glass shelves and cases when a rapt sounded on the door. It opened to reveal a tall, terse woman in emerald velvet robes buttoned high on the neck. A matching hat sat upon her head with a lone pheasant feather jutting from the ribbon at its base. Hortensia was relieved she had spoken to Dumbledore before meeting this McGonagall and wondered if she would have been allowed to see him had she intercepted Hortensia first. 

               When the other three, Professors Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn, arrived Dumbledore went to the bookcase looming behind his desk. Hortensia took a seat once more and the professors crowded around her to watch as Dumbledore lowered a very old, musty, leather hat onto her head.

               HA! What is this? Two sortings in ONE year?... Hortensia’s eyes widened as the deep voice boomed in her mind.

               No, girl, I except that I’m not what you expected….Even with ALL that reading you did on this place… The Sorting Hat continued to chuckle at her nerves. No, she had heard of songs and limericks being performed but not a door being opened into her mind with her thoughts and feelings free to read. She heartbeat sped up, and she wondered if the Professors could hear her thoughts too.

               Hortensia Wardwell…where do you belong? Worried about your thoughts being open to me…YES?...Hmm…Slytherin would be a good place to practice that mask you wear. But is it YOUR mask?...or has it been tied onto you…What is it you seek from this place? What has brought you to our castle? Knowledge? Of course…To learn the ways of the wand…Then it must be…”RAVENCLAW!” She lifted the Sorting Hat off her head as soon as its decision was made.

               “And for your information, MISS Wardwell, I only perform ONCE a year, especially not on such short notice,” the Sorting Hat declared as she handed it to Dumbledore, “I imagine you’ll be eagerly awaiting my piece next year now, won’t you?”

               “You grace us all with your presence, my friend,” Dumbledore said as he returned the Sorting Hat to rest. Hortensia couldn’t help but smile at their banter, and decided she might like the Sorting Hat, but only if it wasn’t on her head and in her thoughts.

               “Well Miss Wardwell, this is where we part for the evening. I leave it to your new Head of House, Professor Flitwick, to conduct the administrative necessities, give you your class schedule, and show you to your common room,” Flitwick motioned for her to follow out of the room, and she gave them each a nod as she exited.

               “Albus Dumbledore! Do we even know who this child is or who could have sent her?” Hortensia overheard McGonagall begin as she pulled the door shut behind her. That was to be expected, she reminded herself, and vowed to put an end to the Scottish woman’s suspicions.

               The climb to the Charms classroom made Hortensia’s calves burn and her already exhausted body want to scream. Thankfully, Professor Flitwick’s short stride didn’t push her over the edge. He chattered away about this portrait, that ghost, the moving staircases, and warned of the punishment and disappointment she’d face if she ever stepped foot in the Forbidden Forrest. When they reached his office inside the Charms classroom he easily found a first-year schedule and asked her to take a seat. Hortensia watched from her chair as he climbed a sliding ladder to retrieve a bronze scale from one of the numerous shelves and cabinets reaching up to the ceiling. Almost every surface in the office had an enchanted object busy at work, and she jumped when a teapot rushed from behind her to pour her a cup. She waved the milk and sugar dishes that danced in the air at her away.

               “Your wand, if you please, Miss Wardwell,” Flitwick said as he climbed the small stairs into his chair and turned to set the scale on the desk between them. The teapot hurried to pour its master a cup, sugar and milk flowing to his regular preference as Hortensia reached into her robes for her wand. This wand, which was so new and unwieldy to her, was her ticket into this world of magic and she reluctantly placed it on the scale before her. Professor Flitwick reached for his tea and took a sip as the clinking sound of gears filled their silence. Hortensia saw the look of reverence and glee as Flitwick watched the device in front of him work despite the patina forming on its surface which indicated its age, and lack of use. A bell chimed within the scale as a slip of paper was produced from a slot Hortensia hadn’t noticed originally. 

               “Black Walnut, 14 ¼ inches long, Aegean Thunderbird feather core, and unyieldingly firm. How fascinating, Miss Wardwell. I have never heard of Thunderbird feathers being used as wand cores before. Certainly not by Ollivander,” Hortensia stared blankly, not recognizing the name. When she realized that Professor Flitwick was waiting for a reply she yawned to remind him of her exhaustion.

                “Oh, yes, on with it,” he muttered and cleared his throat, “I, by the power of the Ministry of Magic, Notary of Magical Artefacts, do bind and submit this wand to the laws maintained by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and agreed upon by the Wizengamot,” Hortensia balked. What laws was her magic being shackled by? With multiple flourishes and figures, a purple chain shot from Flitwick’s wand, wrapping and sinking into the wood of her wand, “Alright, I believe our administrative business is completed Miss Wardwell, let me show you to your rooms.”

               She barely heard him speak while she stared at her wand and blinked when he gestured for her to pick it up. He walked her out of his office, the classroom, and into the hall. Her wand certainly didn’t feel any different. She ran her fingers down it again and again, and every carving and grove was still there. It was silly not to have read the laws of her new home, and Hortensia chastised herself for leaving this glaring gap in her preparation.

               Professor Flitwick parted with her at the entrance with the enchanted knocker. Mercifully, he opened it, saving her from its riddle until after she had some rest.  Hortensia couldn’t help but pause to take in the blue and silver splendor, marble bookcases carved into the tower wall, and giant glass orrery hanging in the middle of the room over a spiral staircase down to another floor. Tables filled the nooks between the bookcases, littered with notes, quills, and books waiting to be shelved. Directly across from the entry stood a marble woman, her stance exuding confidence and a smile betraying her curiosity. Rowena Ravenclaw’s statue had its own alcove with a porthole window that bathed her in the moonlight.

               Her legs were pleading with her to find the first-year bedchamber, but Hortensia was captivated. She had fallen in love with the common room immediately. She closed her eyes and listened to the wind rushing around the tower rattle the windows, she breathed the leather of the books and plush armchairs in deeply before opening her eyes again and bit down on her tongue to silence her scream.

               A mournful translucent face peered at her, seeming to have been studying Hortensia while her eyes were closed. Her hair cascaded in tangled curls down her back, adorned with a glittering net of jewels shining ghostly silver. Her gown was once beautiful, Hortensia was sure, but this was a torn garment belonging to an older age of corsets and petticoats. She had read about the ghosts of Hogwarts and willed her tongue into ceasing its throbbing.

               “Hello Miss, my name is Hortensia Wardwell, and I have just been sorted into Ravenclaw,” Hortensia waited for a reply, but none came, just that constant examining stare. Hortensia began to turn, thinking it best to leave the Grey Lady to her musings while she slept when she heard a soft voice.

               “You are not what you seem, Wardwell...” Hortensia snapped her head around to look at her, “Coming here will bring unforeseen consequences, and your pile of lies will drown you if you let it grow too large,” Hortensia opened her mouth, ready to beg an explanation, but the Grey Lady had already turned, pausing to look at the statue of Rowena before disappearing through the tower wall.

               Hortensia’s heart was beating. Was the Grey Lady headed to expose her as a fraud, too nefarious to be allowed to remain? This day was taking its toll on her, and the strain of it all seeped back in over the adrenaline and paranoia. Her feet dragged underneath of her and she slowly ascended the stairwell leading to the female rooms. Professor Flitwick had told her she would find a door with the number one inscribed on it, but as she looked along the corridor she saw two through seven and then another stairwell she had to overcome before she could sink into a mattress. The beds in the room had their navy and silver brocade curtains down, and Hortensia tiptoed over shoes, books, and trunks before finding an open bed with her trunks at the foot. She breathed a sigh of relief as she collapsed onto the feathered bed and pulled the curtains shut before sleep took her.

 

 


 

 

               Hortensia awoke to what felt like wet sandpaper gliding across her cheek. She opened her eyes and raised a hand to pet Sander, her black as night familiar. His yellow eyes gleamed at her and he nudged his head into hers. She was relieved he had found her in this enormous castle but had no doubt of his ability to track her down whenever he chose. Sander had entered Hortensia’s life during one of the worst storms the island had of the century. There were 33 lightning strikes in her village that night, numerous branches fell, and trees were uprooted. During all the thunder and lightning that night, and rain pounding against the walls of her home, she had heard a mewling. A sad, pathetic meow sounded three times before the ten-year-old Hortensia had thrown herself out of bed and into the storm. She had just found the pitch-black kitten under an ancient walnut tree when lightning had struck it. The trunk had split and started to fall towards them when she had raised her hands and screamed. The falling tree flew back 20 feet that night and Hortensia had run back inside, trembling, with the kitten still in her arms. Strained from the energy so much raw magic demanded, Hortensia had collapsed as soon as she passed the threshold. That night had bonded her and Sander, and she never questioned how she heard him through the storm.

               Sander nuzzled closer and almost suffocated Hortensia when he draped himself over her neck. She sputtered and coughed, and promptly forced him off her as she sat up.  Sander only woke her up when she had overslept, so she rubbed her eyes and opened the curtains enclosing her bed before she convinced herself to sleep the day away.

               “Oh, good timing, I was moments from waking you. I know it may be considered impolite, but I wouldn’t want to risk missing breakfast or sleeping through your first Charms lesson. Flitwick might be our head of house, but I don’t think he’d tolerate a Ravenclaw missing classes, and I can’t very well stand by and watch you lose us house points, can I?” Hortensia took a deep breath as she took in the young witch before her. Sleep still tugging at her brain, she just nodded as the girl continued to chatter, “I’m Amelia Bones, by the way. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

               “Well met, Amelia. My name is Hortensia Wardwell,” she managed to croak out. Thankfully her bedside table had a pitcher of water and glass resting on it, and she quickly gulped down the water. Amelia shuffled her books around and pretended to be occupied while she obviously waited for Hortensia to change into her robes. Hortensia fought the embarrassment when she realized she was still wearing her clothes from the night before and how dirty they looked. She placed her palm on the lock of her trunk and waited for it to click open in recognition.

               “What a neat lock! I’ve seen ones that only open by blood, but none from touch so easily. I’d say you did wandless magic if it wasn’t beyond some of our strongest witches and wizards let alone a first-year,” Hortensia ignored the comment and retrieved her plain black robes, noting that Amelia’s had already been tailored to their house, “Oh, robes are usually hung for the house elves to alter to fit our houses the night of the Opening Ceremony. I guess you’ll have to leave them out tonight.”

               “Could you point me to the lavatory, Amelia? I’d like to wash my face and freshen up,” Hortensia asked and moved to the door Amelia pointed to at the back of the room. She turned the cold faucet on, and plugged the sink, stripping down as it filled. She leaned over the basin before her and splashed the icy water on her face. Feeling finally awake, Hortensia looked up at the mirror before her. Her chestnut curls had tangled in her sleep, and she sloppily pulled the knots out of her hair by hand. Her bright green eyes were bloodshot and stared back at her behind crusted dusky lashes. Deep olive skin covered her high cheekbones and straight nose, smooth and sun-kissed from summer. After a few more adjustments she looked decent enough to leave the dormitory and awake enough to face her curious roommate again.

               Hortensia and Amelia exchanged pleasantries at they made their way down the many staircases between Ravenclaw tower and the Great Hall. They talked about both of their cats, and Hortensia genuinely looked forward to meeting Amelia’s hairless sphinx. She learned that Amelia was from a pureblood family whose members had been Ravenclaw Prefects for multiple generations. Hortensia took stock of Amelia as they chatted, watching her eyes flit from one person to the next, trying to take in every detail of her surroundings. Hortensia had a feeling all of this was noted mentally, that Amelia wasn’t a witch that soon forgot the details, and she admired that. She didn’t appreciate the probing questions, and subtle interrogation Amelia was conducting, however, and kept her at bay with questions about Hogwarts.

               Hortensia managed to satiate Amelia with stories of the landscape of her native island, the thunderstorms that raged throughout the summers, and the distant branch she belonged to in the pureblood Wardwell dynasty. Amelia, to her credit, did probe as to why she wasn’t raised in England, and Hortensia was thankful for being spared the need to lie further.

               Breakfast was almost over when they had arrived, and Amelia rushed her to the Ravenclaw table. Not surprisingly, it was the emptiest, as most of the students liked to be early for their lessons, according to Amelia. They sat across from a boy with disheveled shoulder-length hair in a pale shade of blonde who was stirring together a mixture of breakfast foods. He smiled up at them as they took seats and poured syrup over the mashed mound of eggs, sausage, toast, and beans.

               Amelia cut him off before his food-filled mouth could fully open, “Good morning, Xenophilius. May I introduce you to our newest housemate, Miss Hortensia Wardwell, she arrived late last evening. Hortensia, this is Xenophilius Lovegood who truly pushes the bounds of Ravenclaw creativity.”

               Hortensia grasped his outreached hand firmly and smiled at the far-off look in his eye. She couldn’t blame him, sometimes she too got lost in her daydreams and the ceiling above them provided perfect material. It seemed, however, that he lived in his most of the time.

               “Well met, Hortensia. You aren’t the witch I saw ride in on the storm last night, are you? Bolting along with the lightning?” He said with eyes that suddenly turned sharp and clear as they bore into her eyes.

               Before she could think of a reply, Amelia had beaten her to it, “Oh Hortensia, you mustn't pay attention to everything Xeno says. We’ve played together since we were toddlers and the things he’s come up with over the years would earn him a Golden Quill award.”

               Xenophilius continued to stare, growing Hortensia’s uneasiness until he finally broke back into his foggy smile. They hurried to finish what was on their plates and left together to return to the towers for their Charms class. Hortensia was sad to leave the Great Hall, she barely had a chance to the ceiling and stained glass, but she knew the importance of starting out on the right foot.

 


 

 

               Professor Flitwick was calling for the students to take their seats as they arrived, and she noticed the sea of scarlet robes across from her. Gryffindor students were known to be risk-takers Amelia whispered to her from the right as Xenophilius explained that it was due their particular attractiveness to Wrackspurts on her left. She had never heard of Wrackspurts but put them out of her mind as Flitwick cleared his throat to begin the lesson.

               Hortensia had tried using her wand several times before leaving for Hogwarts, with no success. Each attempt resulted in bursts of uncontrollable sparks and flames or the absence of any result at all. When she held her wand in her palm she could feel her magic pulsing under her skin, refusing to be channeled through the wood. It had caused much chiding by her Grandmother, and irritation at her own shortcomings. She wasn't even sure if the wand could work since she had made it herself from the same tree she had found Sander under. Hortensia had hoped that the lightning strike and the raw magic shot into it would have imbued it with some magical ability. It had taken months to get books to the island on wandmaking and convince the walnut to take the Thunderbird feather core. Now, she didn't know if she would be able to get a new wand if her amateur attempts failed. 

               Professor Flitwick paced the length of the classroom, lecturing and demonstrating proper grip and posture. None of it cleared her blockage, and she swallowed her envy as she felt warmth radiating from Xenophilius’ wand to her left.  

“Miss Wardwell, you must treat your wand as an extension of yourself, not as a twig in your hand,” Hortensia’s face warmed and she closed her eyes to avoid seeing the looks on the students around her, “breath slowly, inwards and outwards. Now, picture the wand merging with you, your energy reaching out to its tip flowing smoothly, thrumming in time with your heartbeat.”

               Hortensia focused on her breathing, tuning out the chatter sounding from the Gryffindors in the benches across from her. Her heartbeat slowed, and she felt her magic thrumming alongside it, eager to be unleashed. The urge to let it out, revert to the natural magic of her grandmother, grew to a roar. That magic was as easy as breathing but unrefined, and trying to corral it into the wand felt too forced. It bucked and fought her will, like a stallion being broken, and she ground her teeth together in effort. 

               The sounds of teasing grew, and she could hear boys snickering and muttering, but couldn’t make out their words. Once again shoving the embarrassment from her mind, Hortensia pictured the trees that littered her home, their deep roots reaching from within the earth to the sky above, leeching energy from both. She imagined her arm was a root, extending from her shoulder to the tip of her wand. Like the root taking up water, so too would this wand pull the magic from her veins.

               A minute passed as she focused on her visualization, and just as she was ready to give up and open her eyes to the ridicule that awaited her, she felt a trickle leak into the wand. The black walnut seemed to stiffen as the magic dripped into it, but Hortensia did not open her eyes to gaze at it. A deluge of magic seeped into the wand, and she hummed at the rush of energy. Nourished, the magic spread, feeding blooming branches in her mind.

               A gasp from across the room and loud clapping broke her concentration. Blinking multiple times, Hortensia looked down to see an olive branch on the desk below her wand. Shocked, she looked to Professor Flitwick.

               “My, my Miss Wardwell, conjuring in your first lesson! Ex-cell-ant focus and determination. Ten points to Ravenclaw,” Flitwick clapped and cheered before returning to correcting others’ form and attempts at basic wand-wielding. Now that the focus was off her, Hortensia peered across the room to see just who she would be calling her classmates. Shining auburn hair and jade eyes lingered on the olive branch before her, with nothing more than appreciation. Her face was kind, and she could see the passion that lurked under the redheaded witch’s surface. No, this was not someone who would tease other students, but rather encourage them. Crumbling paper turned her head quickly, and she knew she had found the boys who had been laughing.

               Four of them were whispering to each other, but she could only see the faces of the two facing her. Two heads of shaggy dark hair leaned in toward the others from the back row of seats. When the shadows of passing clouds shifted she noted that the boy with the longer, black hair had a slightly crooked smile that brimmed with mischief, and dark eyes that hid behind heavy eyelids and thick lashes. His chin was slightly upturned like he had been looking down his aristocratic nose for years. His companion had truly unruly hair, that was so dark you could only see the chocolate notes when direct sunlight hit it. Wire-framed round glasses adorned his nose, and Hortensia instantly decided that no eleven-year-old should be that self-assured.

               Class ended, and Hortensia almost slammed into the door frame when those Gryffindor boys shoved past her on their way out. One of their companions muttered a barely audible excuse as they barreled through the door, his toffee hair thin and straight on his head as he kept his eyes on the ground.  Shy was an improvement on obnoxious, she supposed.

               Amelia and Xenophilius chatted easily as they made their way to History of Magic, and Hortensia took in their comfortable friendship. She had been the first child born into the coven in 25 years, leaving adults as her only source of friendship, and even Sander had become even closer to her than her grandmother in a year. The two Ravenclaws in front of her teased and joked, and she nodded and smiled when Amelia slipped next to her to tell a story about Xenophilius getting poison fireleaf in his underwear. Hortensia couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy as if she was on the outside looking in at something that would never be hers. She wasn’t here to make friends; her grandmother had made that very clear before she left, but Xenophilius’ braying laugh pulled her out of her thoughts as they reached their next classroom.

               Hortensia was relieved to see that they shared History of Magic with Hufflepuff as she filed into the front row alongside Xenophilius and Amelia. As students settled into their seats Hortensia scanned the bookshelves covering the walls. They were littered with ancient tomes and parchment scrolls. The windows lining the top of the ceiling bathed the room in a warm light as dust danced in the sunbeams as students shuffled past. Soon the room had settled and Professor Binns began lecturing on the origins of magic.  It was amusing to hear the English folklore and muddled tales that had been passed down through the ages, and pride grew in her for her preserved heritage. In fact, Binns barely referred to the first magical social structure – the coven and even insinuated that it was primeval and rudimentary. Hortensia’s pride bristled as Professor Binns continued to praise feudal magic, listing sorcerer kings, and lords that brought “order” to magic users during the middle ages. Her anger grew as the lesson continued and Binns went on to demean the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. She desperately wanted to call out in disagreement, to defend what Binns called lesser, but this would please her grandmother. If a ghost who had lived and researched for hundreds of years didn’t know that covens still existed, then hers was safe.  Spending the rest of the lecture scribbling jabs at Professor Binns in the margins of her notes made the time pass quickly, and Hortensia softened at the chuckles they received from Xenophilius as well as the glares from Amelia.

               Lunch passed quicker than Hortensia would have liked. She didn’t think she would ever tire of the ceiling’s dynamic scenes each lovelier than the last. It felt like the sky, not just an image, but as if a piece had been bottled. She couldn’t wait to see it storm.

               Unknowingly, Hortensia had released the monster in Amelia when she asked if they’d show her to the library to study England’s magical law. With ease, Amelia led them straight to the section dedicated to codes, patents, and bureaucratic procedure and loaded Hortensia’s arms with three impossibly thick volumes. Xenophilius took the other two and Hortensia made straight for the nearest table before her arms gave out. Clearly, Amelia had become familiar with the section in her first two days at Hogwarts.

               “Here’s the thing, Hortensia,” Xenophilius began as he gently deposited the books onto the table, “Amelia worships these codes and bylines, but they’re garbage. If you ask me, we haven’t left our feudal system, and these laws are just distraction to satisfy the masses into compliance.”

               “Xenophilius Lovegood, how dare you! The Wizengamot is the successor of the Wizard’s Council, the very reason the international magical community came together to ratify the International Statute of Secrecy! We wouldn’t be alive if our ancestors hadn’t protected us from Muggles,” Amelia whispered viciously back at him, “Don’t besmirch the name of great wizards to convert Hortensia to your ludicrous way of thinking, you’re a Ravenclaw Xenophilius, you’re better than that.”

               “And who has served on those councils and in the Wizengamot since its formation, Amelia? That’s right. The very lords and kings of long ago, who have passed their pureblood perversions down generations along with their seats in our government,” Hortensia hadn’t expected retrieving a set of the current laws and regulations would be this controversial, and neither Ravenclaw was going to retreat. Their debate shot back and forth, and Hortensia could barely keep up with her limited knowledge of their government. She did manage to usher them out of the library, and past a scowling librarian who wasn’t happy to check out bickering first-years.

               The concept of purebloods made no sense to her, and the anger it caused in people less so. In her coven members could be born to ancient lineages, or stumble in off the streets if the hum of magic was in their veins. Diversity and adaptation were prized amongst the coven, and her mission at Hogwarts was proof of their drive to ensure they kept a sharp edge. For the first time, Hortensia thought Xenophilius had made a convincing argument.

 


 

              

               Fourth-period potions class brought Hortensia face to face with the house the Sorting Hat had almost chosen for her, and she was immediately grateful its mind had changed to Ravenclaw. The tension that hung in the dungeons classroom was palpable. Clever eyes glinted across the room towards her, and she knew they were registering her as an unusually late addition. Yes, it would have been a labor keeping her true intentions hidden as a Slytherin. Not wanting to make eye-contact, Hortensia busied herself with organizing her copy of Magical Drafts and Potions and parchment on her desk. She had read through its contents twice since its arrival in her room the afternoon her grandmother had told her about Hogwarts. Learning that not only were there other magic-users outside of the covens she had met but that there even a school dedicated to them, was a shock for Hortensia. Isolation was all she had known up until that point, and the books were her only way to change that. Magical tomes were in no short supply in the coven, but nothing so modern or straight-forward.

               Potions were made constantly on the island, but they lacked discipline and precision laid out by Arsenius Jigger in her first-year text. Yes, the coven brewed with the phases of the moon, but also with the weather around them. Ingredients did not have these fixed meanings either. Instead, Hortensia had been taught to gather her ingredients symbolically: rose thorns for lovers scorned, or cicada wings to bring about a change in self. She had been taught to collect every tooth, scale, bone, and feather she had come across to build her stores from the age of seven. There were many similarities in their medical potions, and Hortensia was eager to compare their products.

               Chairs scraping on the stone floor brought her out of her reverie, and he hastily looked at Amelia for an explanation, “Slughorn wants us to promote intermingling between houses, we’re to pair off with a Slytherin,” Hortensia’s pupils widened as Amelia made a beeline to one of the few Slytherin girls left unpaired. Hortensia hastily gathered her supplies before getting up to survey the room. Even Xenophilius had found his partner and was already setting up their cauldron. In the back of the dimly lit classroom, a boy with straight black hair sat hunched over with his eyes fixed firmly on the book in front of him. His hair formed curtains in front of his face and sheened with oil in the shaking candlelight. It seemed they were the last to be paired, so she reluctantly left her table by the porthole window’s watery light and made her way to join him. Placing her satchel down next to him finally broke his concentration, and he quickly shut the books cover before she could see which potion held his attention. The leather binding his book was smooth and worn from use, and a few of its stitches were frayed. Its cover illustration differed from the copy Hortensia possessed, and she wondered the differences his older edition contained.

               His eyes narrowed when he saw her eyes lingering on his copy, and she thought she saw his cheeks flush behind his slick hair before his lips turned into a sneer. Hortensia’s jaw clenched as she once again took out her book, parchment, and quill. She turned to introduce herself when Professor Slughorn called everyone’s attention and began lecturing. His face was locked onto Slughorn, refusing to look in her direction. Perhaps remaining strangers would be the best course of action if this was how he behaved.

               While informational, Hortensia thought that the bulk of Professor Slughorn’s lecture was blatant bragging. She had little interest in his famous pupils but made sure to mark down every comment Slughorn made on the ingredients and procedure for the Wiggenweld Potion they were to brew. She used Dittany often as it flourished on her island home, but Moly was grown only by her grandmother after being eradicated from the island millennia ago. Hortensia rarely saw its healing properties used on the island, and as cautioned often at the ill effects it had on the coven’s magic. Her grandmother, as High Priestess, alone carried the responsibility of handling it in times of emergency and now Hortensia was using it in her first Potions class. She made notes of other ingredients she had never heard of, and the differences in uses of those she knew. The boy next to her covered his parchment in quick, slanted lines and added his own annotations it seemed.

               The lecture and demonstration carried on with plenty of tangents on graduated quidditch players until Slughorn turned them loose to collect their ingredients from the classroom stores. Without speaking, her partner went for the first half of the list while she gathered the rest. Hortensia carefully measured each item precisely to the written weight and placed each in its own smaller jar. The witches in her coven all began using measurements when brewing at age seven but quickly learned to measure on intuition. Infusing the potion with intent and emotion was the key to its strength at home, but here order dominated. Lionfish spines were next on her list, and she grabbed a handful from their jar. It was strange to her that they hadn’t ground them, as that was the only way she had seen them used so she found a mortar and pestle and pulverized the brittle striped spines before measuring the powder. All that was left was to grab the Moly and return to her table, but her grandmother’s warnings played in her head. Students were finishing gathering what they needed, and she didn’t want to delay her already unhappy partner. She had seen her grandmother heal an elderly witch with it, and it hadn’t killed her. If she didn’t try the potion, she convinced herself, she’d be fine.

               The boy was waiting for her at their station with a look of irritation and indignation. Setting her ingredients down with as charming a smile she could manage, she extended her hand towards him.

               “Pleasure to meet you, my name is Hortensia Wardwell,” she said as her hand remained untouched between them, “and it looks like we are to be partners for the year.”

               “Obviously...” he intoned as his dark eyes bore into hers, “I am Severus Snape, and let me assure you I have no use of an assistant especially not another daydreaming Ravenclaw.”

               Hortensia stared back at him in cold silence. Her face betrayed none of the anger that flared in her at his arrogance. An assistant? As if this first-year was deigning to work beside her. Perhaps these methods were foreign to her, but there wasn’t a chance he had brewed more potions than her. No, this miserable boy would eat his words by the end of the year.

               “Well, Severus, are we going to get started or glare at each other for the rest of the lesson?” with her chin held high, Hortensia began assembling her cauldron, “I, for one, am here to brew a potion.”

               She didn’t look to see if her reply had garnered any response from him and lined the ingredients up in order of when they should be added. She wouldn’t admit it to him, but she was pleased he had separated the various additions of Salamander’s Blood they’d be making. She had either said the right or wrong thing, and they got started. He had insisted on stirring when she had brought her spoon up towards the cauldron, grabbing it from her hands. She wondered if he noticed the symbols carved along the handle, or if he felt the thrum of magic within its wood. They continued like this in near silence, Hortensia handing him the next ingredient before he could ask for it. She waited to chop the enchanted-for-freshness Moly petals until the moment Severus needed them, not wanting its properties to seep out from the cuts and then grabbed the Lionfish Spine powder. So far, their potion had passed through every color transition successfully, and Hortensia could see the rigidity in which Severus stirred perfect clockwise circles.

               “What. Is. This?” He whispered sharply at her, venom in his tone, “Where are the Lionfish Spines?” His eyes scanned their bench in a panic, thinking that she had grabbed the wrong ingredient, before returning to her with burning anger.

               “I’m handing you the Lionfish Spines, Severus, so take them or get out of my way. It’s too late to grab any more ingredients and we both know it needs to be added before the solution is ruined,” she didn’t know if he’d release her spoon as he clenched it in anger, but he moved from the cauldron, releasing it.

               “If my potion is ruined I will be sure to tell Professor Slughorn of your incompetence. I’m sure my Head of House will reassign me to someone at least semi-capable,” Severus jeered at her.

               Hortensia had no idea if she had ruined their batch of Wiggenweld, but she’d rather follow her instincts than give in to his admonishment. Holding her breath, she added the powder. Emboldened by the lack of explosion in the face, she gripped the carvings and submerged the spoon in her potion. Hortensia poured her energy through the wood into the potion, as she tried to gain a sense of its progression. Professor Slughorn had said that the Wiggenweld potion both healed and strengthened its drinker, and there was plenty of power churning in their cauldron. She stirred, building up the currents of power in the solution to their peak, and smiled as it turned a glowing shade of turquoise. Her smile broadened when she saw the puzzled look on Severus Snape’s face.

                                                                                                                                      


 

               Before he could speak Professor Slughorn’s call to stop working boomed through the classroom. With a flourish of his wand, dead plants appeared at each workstation. He called the class to the first table, where Amelia Bones and a very pale Slytherin girl sat anxiously. Their potion was the desired turquoise but not as bright as the one Hortensia and Severus had produced. The dead plant regained some life but still looked in desperate need of water. They continued inspection of each pair, with Slughorn providing hints to what might have gone wrong during each group’s attempt. She saw Severus grin slightly when the group before them turned their plant into ash when their violet potion was applied, and while she wouldn’t smile at someone’s failure, it did soften the blow if their mixture were to backfire.

               “Severus, oh yes, your mother Eileen managed her way through Potions. Got out on the other end didn’t she, another fine Slytherin graduate. Well, let’s see what you have,” Hortensia was not surprised when Slughorn peering into their cauldron, overlooking her entirely, “Positively luminous, Severus, I dare say you are a natural.”

               Hortensia cleared her throat loudly.

               “Oh yes, very well done dear girl, you have chosen an excellent partner,” Slughorn said absently as he filled a vial with their potion before tilting it so that one drop fell onto their plant below. Bright green spread through the wilted brown vine before them as it shot up to climb the dowel in the pot. Leaves sprouted as the vine wove itself tightly up the support, and blue-trumpeted morning glories with white stars in their centers blossomed along its length. The growth continued, luscious growth blocking the dowel from sight until an expanding root burst the ceramic pot in two.

               “My goodness, this might be the most potent Wiggenweld I’ve seen brewed, and by first-years? Bright futures, I’d say,” Slughorn focused his praise on Severus, but thankfully included her as he awarded their houses ten points each, “Now be a dear, Miss Wardwell, and bring this plant to Professor Sprout with a large vial of your solution, I’m sure she will enjoy its effects, and I’ll send the rest to the Hospital Wing while I talk to Severus about his method.”

               Like that, she was dismissed with the rest of the class as Slughorn held Snape back to ask what HE had done to achieve such a potent mixture. No, it must have been impossible for Slughorn to imaginer her as the responsible party when a fine son of Slytherin was before him. She scooped the roots and some dirt back into half of the ruined cauldron and filled a vial while she listened to Slughorn pitch himself into a fever talking about the natural inclination Slytherins had towards Potions. Casting Severus one last scathing look, she set off.

               Thankfully, Xenophilius and Amelia had waited for her outside of the classroom. She had missed the first day of classes yesterday, and Herbology had been among them.

               “We thought you might have trouble finding your way to the greenhouses so we thought we’d stay back for you before we headed to dinner,” Amelia said kindly as she began leading them, “and you earned  us house points on your first day of classes, so it didn’t seem right to leave you behind.”

               “What a potion, Hortensia!” Xenophilius cheered at her, “What’s your secret? Or was Slughorn right and Severus is the reason for your success?”

               “If given his way Severus would have spoiled the potion running to get new Lionfish Spines instead of using the ones I had crushed, but mercifully he got out of my way,” Hortensia relaxed into her smug pride and was relieved that the Hogwarts didn’t surpass her coven in all everything. Xenophilius gave her a wide smile and began telling them about the troll of a Slytherin that practically threatened him into doing all the work. Amelia seemed to be the only one that wasn’t miserable with her Slytherin counterpart, but it didn’t sound like she was getting much help from her partner either. So much for Slytherin’s natural ability in Potions.

               They dropped her off at the greenhouses before continuing onto the Great Hall for dinner, promising to save her a seat as they left laughing. Amelia and Xenophilius were great balances for each other, but sometimes she wondered how their opposite natures didn’t drive them apart. Hortensia found Professor Sprout pruning potted roses as she entered the greenhouse. She quickly explained the broken pot and handed Sprout the vial of her Wiggenweld Potion.

               “The dead plants I gave Professor Slughorn for his lesson were from first-year classes yesterday,” Sprout spoke with a beaming smile on her pink cheeks, “but from the look of this Lazarus, no plants will fear your touch. Thank you for bringing me some of the potion responsible, you must have a natural inclination for the subject. I know just the sapling that could use a boost of strength to get it started, but I’ll warn you, our new addition to the grounds shouldn’t be observed too closely if you don’t want the willow to whomp you to death.”

              

               “As for those morning glories,” Sprout continued, “let’s get them re-potted and sent to your rooms before we miss dinner! I heard the house elves mention custard tarts today, and I will not let Dumbledore devour them all this time.”

               Hortensia followed the jubilant professor to the potting bench and packed soil around a new trellis. Professor Sprout pointed her want at the vine clinging to the dowel and cast, “Erecto,”
the vine straightened itself out, growing high in the air before the dowel could be removed. After Hortensia moved the plant to the new pot and covered its roots with soil, Professor Sprout guided the vine through the trellis with her wand before vanishing it. With a smile, she said goodbye to Sprout and hurried to dinner.

               She was almost to the end of the East Corridor when someone grabbed her arm making her gasp. Whipping her head around, and her arm out of the hand that held it, Hortensia’s eyes found bottomless dark eyes glaring at her.         

               “Wardwell, we need to talk.” Severus’ jaw was tight when we spoke to her, and she had a feeling that her dislike for him would grow by the end of the conversation, “You got lucky, there’s no way you could have known that grinding the spines would increase the potency of the potion, and you risked an explosion by trying.”

               “Impossible as it might be to believe, Snape, you aren’t the only one who has had a go at magic before starting here,” Hortensia snapped in response, “I hope you enjoyed telling Slughorn how you came up with the brilliant idea to grind the spines. He must be eager to know you now that you’ve proven yourself so clever. Did it bother you at all to take a witch’s idea for your own?”

               His eyes grew even darker as his brows furrowed and fist clenched at his side, “You really are an imbecile if you think I would steal your work, Wardwell,” Severus said before storming past her and into the great hall. Unconvinced of his integrity, he was a Slytherin, she made her way to Ravenclaw’s table with a sour look on her face.

               Despite multiple attempts at interrogation, Amelia Bones never got an answer as to why Hortensia had arrived at dinner annoyed to the point of silence. In fact, Hortensia barely responded to any of their conversations. Instead, she focused on the duck on her plate, and the mountain of mashed potatoes in the bowl before her. Professor Sprout had been right about the custard tarts, but only crumbs remained on the dishes they occupied before she got there. When Xenophilius and Amelia got up from the table Hortensia followed silently up the moving staircases to Ravenclaw Tower.

               Xenophilius’ suggested they get started on the Charms assignment they had been given that morning, but there were no open tables in their common room as the entire house had also decided to get an early start on their work. Amelia and Hortensia wished Xenophilius a good night and continued on to their dormitory to spread their books out atop their beds.

               They studied until the other girls in their room drew curtains around their beds to block out their candlelight before Amelia gave up and went to sleep. Hortensia sighed in relief and quietly moved to the trunk at the foot of her bed after she heard Amelia settle. Taking its lock in hand, she willed it to open silently. She dug to the bottom of the trunk until she found a black velvet cloak that looked like it could swallow up light. Closing the trunk, her curtains, and draping the cloak over her shoulders, Hortensia slipped out of the dormitory.

               She crept down the dark corridor towards the Astronomy tower with ears straining to hear any approaching footsteps. It was foolish to be out of bed after hours when she had barely been in the castle a day. There was no way that McGonagall would let her talk herself out of trouble, and she knew Dumbledore hadn’t taken his eyes off her just yet. Hortensia had forgone shoes to keep her footsteps silent, but the cold cobblestones leeched heat from her soles. A chilled wind whipped through the spiral stairwell leading upwards in the tower and pulling her cloak closer did nothing to shake the cold.     

               As she ascended the tower wind began to howl and rumblings of thunder echoed between the stone walls of the rising turret. Hortensia had made it to the top of the Astronomy tower when a boom shook the windows around her. She lowered her hood and stepped out into the electrified air.

               A glowing image of her grandmother paced along the balcony with indifference gazing down from her high cheekbones. Dark storm clouds swirled around them blackening out and blocking Hortensia from seeing anything other than the plasma figure before her. She had seen her grandmother send messages on the wind and rain before, heard her voice boom along thunder, and shape lightning by will but there was no getting accustomed to the eerie blue-white glow or way it made her hair stand on end.  Her grandmother’s image stopped pacing and reached both arms forward with palms turned upwards. Hortensia quickly stepped forward, hair and cloak whipping as gusts of wind slammed into the castle, and clasped the arcing current reaching for her.