First Time’s A Charm
Grimalkin Academy: Kittens #1
Excerpt: Second Time’s A Curse
Also by Laura Greenwood
Other Books by Laura Greenwood
About the Author
© 2019 Laura Greenwood
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All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise – without prior written permission of the published, except as provided by United States of America copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the email address; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Visit Laura Greenwood’s website at: www.authorlauragreenwood.co.uk
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Cover Design by Vampari Designs Formatting by Gina Writes Words
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First Time’s A Charm is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Things might be easier if I could stop conjuring kittens every time I attempt a spell.
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I used to be good at magic. That's how I got into Grimalkin Academy in the first place. Then I was dared by my friends to try a spell way above my abilities. Now, the end of year exams are coming up, and I need to find a way to stop my magic going haywire all the time or I'm going to fail.
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At least matters of my heart are easy enough...for now.
Like everyone my age, I spent my eleventh birthday hoping for a welcome letter delivered by owl. Even as a witch, it was disappointing whe; n it didn't come. Of course, that's because witches and warlocks don't go to magic school...they go to university instead. And we get accepted just like humans do: with an email.
Reading the line in front of me for what feels like the thousandth time, I sigh in frustration. It doesn't make sense. At all. Not for the first time, I find myself wondering why I'm here.
"Hmm?" I respond, not looking up as Daphne walks into the room. I may only have known her since term started, but we'd bonded straight away. I've never clicked with a friend quite as quickly as I did with her.
"Dinner's nearly ready if you want to go."
I shrug but don't look away from my spellbook. "I need to work out this spell."
Daphne sighs. "If you haven't worked it out already, you're not going to in the next hour. Come get something to eat and look at it with fresh eyes after. You know it'll be better for it."
I know she's right, but something in me doesn't want to admit it out loud. Maybe because I doubt even food and a break will make this spell any easier for me. It doesn't make any sense. I've been able to do magic since I was four years old and my parents gave me my first child-wand. Yet here I am at an academy for magic and can't seem to make anything work for me.
"They have tacos."
Oh damn. She knows my weaknesses just as well as I do. And she's not afraid to use them.
"Fine. But if I find out you lied about the tasty Mexican food, I'll..."
She laughs off my threat before I can even finish it. "Put an enchantment on me?" she suggests, waggling her eyebrows.
"Are you mocking me?" I fake gasp, clutching my hand to my chest. How dare she fake-use my problems against me. It's like she knows the exact way my brain works.
"Only a little. But I'm not lying about the tacos. There are all the toppings you can dream of."
"I'll take you at your word. Let me grab my coat." I get up and slip on my shoes just as my stomach begins to rumble. Okay, I probably do need something to eat then. Going with her is going to be the right decision.
"Have you heard about the new guy?" she asks as we walk down the corridor and away from my dorm room.
"No." But then, how would I? She's the only friend I have and everyone else stays as far away from me as possible so they don't catch my magic-less state. I might as well have a sign on my forehead about it, considering how quickly everyone seems to have picked up on my status.
"He's supposed to be the hottest guy you've ever seen..."
"And that's all we know about him?" The amusement in my tone betrays my true feelings. If we don't like being objectified by men, then we shouldn't be doing the same to them.
"Apparently. I haven't seen him yet but he's joining class this month."
"Aren't three hot guys enough for you?" I tease her, forgetting for a moment that Heath still refuses to talk to her.
She laughs bitterly. "More like far too much."
I let the conversation drop. In the few weeks since Heath broke her heart, she's finally started to mend and I don't want to mess with that.
"Right, dinner?" I ask.
She nods. "Time to de-stress and stop thinking about magic for a couple of hours."
"Whoa… a couple of hours? How long does it take you to eat tacos?"
"I heard the new guy is having a party..."
"I don't think that's a good idea." My lack of magic hasn't exactly made me popular, and I don't want to push that by showing up to a party I don't have an invite to.
Our conversation is ended by the two of us entering the dining room. Sure to her promise, the smell of Mexican food fills the room.
"Seems you're avoiding being cursed," I say.
"I'm glad for it. You'd probably only end up cursing yourself instead."
I scowl. Even though I know she's right, I don't like being reminded of it. Something is wrong with my magic and I don't know what it is. I need to find out before exams start though.
We get in line, loading up our plates with the delicious looking food. It seems that everyone else is thinking the same, as the queue only seem to grow behind us.
Cade waves at us from a table at the other side of the room. At least we'll have somewhere to sit in the packed cafeteria. Normally, I go down to the shared kitchen and make myself some basic food. It's cheaper and quieter than this place. But tacos are special. They deserve a trip into the belly of student life.
Relief floods through me as I notice Ryan's absence. Knowing my luck, I'd manage to spill taco sauce on myself and he'll never look at me with anything less than disgust ever again.
"How's it going?" Cade asks as Daphne sits next to him. He looks like he wants to put an arm around her shoulder, but doesn't. They're still in an odd place after he told her he likes her.
Even so, a pang of jealousy goes through me at the sight. Not because I want Cade. I just want something like that.
"I persuaded Mona to come to the party..."
"She didn't," I respond instantly. "I'm going back to my room to study."
"You need to come have fun, Mona." Cade flashes me a smile. "It's good to let loose sometimes."
"Please come to the party?" A pleading look fills her eyes.
"Fine. I'll go, but if I end up with a hangover tomorrow, it's completely on you."
"I promise you won't end up hungover," Cade promises.
"I hope you're not making promises you can't keep," a new voice interrupts.
My heart skips a beat.
I hastily take stock of myself. Am I presentable? Do I have sauce on my chin? I hope I look okay.
No. I need to snap out of this. He's my best friend's brother. And I'm eighteen. That's far too old for this kind of crush.
"Nope, I'm talking about Mona. She's worried she'll get taken advantage of if she goes," Cade shrugs like he can't see the disapproving look on Ryan's face.
"That's not what..." I start to say, before realising it's completely pointless. They've clearly decided they want me to go with them, and won't stop until I've agreed with them.
"That would be a shame." Ryan looks right at me and I do my best to focus on something other than his attention. I don't want my crush to become obvious.
"Then come with us and make sure she doesn't," Daphne suggests.
He turns his attention to her and I take the opportunity to shake my head, hoping she'll get the message to stop talking. She doesn't know how I feel about her brother, but even so, she should listen to me.
"Alright then, I'm coming to the party with you," he announces.
I groan inwardly. The last thing I need is for him to see me while I'm in party mode. The moment alcohol comes anywhere near me I'm a hot mess. I don't even need to drink it to feel the effects half the time. It's just embarrassing.
"Just leave me alone when you do, yeah?" Daphne tells him, a twinkle in her eye.
"Fine. I'm just there to protect Mona," he insists.
"Did it strike either of you that maybe I don't need protecting?" I look between the twins.
They exchange looks and burst out laughing.
Great. I'm going to a party I don't want to go to, with a crush that thinks I need babysitting. What can possibly go wrong?
I can hear the party from way down the corridor, causing my nerves to go haywire. Why did I think this was a good idea? Oh right, Ryan.
I sigh. I really should get a handle on myself where he's concerned. I don't think Daphne will take kindly to me crushing on her brother.
"Hey, mate!" Cade calls and slaps the host on the back.
Men. I'll never understand them. As far as I know, Cade barely knows the new guy. I don't either, I haven't even seen him before.
But I look him up and down now. My mouth goes dry. Daphne's right, he's one of the most attractive guys I've ever seen and I don't know how to process that. He's never going to look at me twice. I don't blame him, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near myself either.
"There's beer on the table in the kitchen, nothing fancier for the ladies, I'm afraid," the new guys says, a wide smile on his face as he takes in Daphne and me.
Well, probably just Daphne. She always stands out with her bright pink hair and dorky but cute glasses. She's just what smart guys want.
"Beer's good with us," Daphne announces.
"Not the time, Mona," she mutters under her breath.
I almost roll my eyes, but hold back. I've never been a big drinker. Even if it's legal to drink at eighteen, it doesn't mean I want to. Though maybe one wouldn't hurt.
"Sure, beer sounds good," I say softly.
"Awesome," new guy says. I should learn his name. Then again, this is probably going to be our last interaction with one another, I don't think there's much point drawing things out when I don't have to.
Daphne drags me into the flat and towards the kitchen. It has the same layout as ours, which is reassuring. Seven private bedrooms, one large communal kitchen, and a couple of shower stalls and toilets for the flat to share. I make a mental note not to use the bathrooms if I can help it, I'm sure the seven guys who live here aren't the tidiest.
There's a plastic cup of beer in my hand before I quite know what's happening, but that's okay. With the number of people here, it might be better if I drink. I can hear the whispers already. They call me Mona-No-Magic, even though that's not fair. I can do magic, just not very well any more. I'm still not sure what happened.
"See anyone you like?" Daphne asks, leaning against the fridge.
I shook my head, keeping my eyes as far away from Ryan as I could. The last thing I want is for her to catch that slip, though now I'm trying not to look, my eyes seem to be more drawn to him than ever. The open shirt he's wearing makes him look super suave, more than it should considering he's only eighteen. Maybe it's just being away from home for the first time and getting used to academy life. I have no idea, and I don't want to think about it too hard.
The beer is colder than I expect, but I like it. This way, it feels much less trashy and like I'm at a dorm party. This really isn't my thing, I'd rather be back in my flat studying.
"I haven't seen you around much," new guy says, coming to stand beside me.
I look around for Daphne to rescue me, but she's disappeared off into the throng of people. I didn't even know the flats could hold this many.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," he says.
"I'm not," I promise. "I just don't normally come to these things." I give him an uneasy smile. Not intentionally, but it's the best I can manage.
"I'm not exactly popular," I mutter.
"I think I'd remember seeing you, even if you're not popular."
I scoff. "Trust me, I'm memorable."
"I've only been here a week," he says.
"Ah, I'm sure you'll get to know about me soon."
"Hopefully I'll have a class with you." He takes a sip of his beer, so I do the same. If I'm going to have a slightly awkward conversation about why he'll remember me, then I'm going to take the fortitude beer will give me.
"Hopefully you won't," I mutter too quietly for him to hear.
"Do you like it at Grimalkin?"
What's with all the questions? I don't think I've ever had this kind of bombardment before.
I shrug. "It's not what I thought it was going to be." That's a fair assessment. I never imagined magic would become difficult for me. I've been a natural my entire life. At least, according to my parents, I have. I can feel the difference in my magic since getting here though, and that's what convinces me that something is wrong.
"I know what you mean."
"I need to go find my friends," I blurt out, starting to step away from him.
"Won't you tell me your name first?" he asks.
I open my mouth to respond, not knowing if I actually want to answer or not. I'm confused, that's for sure.
"Mona, are you alright?" Ryan asks, placing a hand on my lower back.
I long to lean into his touch, but I know I shouldn't. He's not my boyfriend. He's barely even my friend.
"Yes, I'm fine," I respond with a weak smile.
"Is this guy bothering you?"
I shake my head. "He was being perfectly lovely." I smile at the new guy, even if my nerves are starting to show. It isn't his fault I'm wary of people. Far from it.
"He better be." He brings two fingers up to his eyes, then points at the new guy in the universal I'm-watching-you gesture.
I try not to laugh, and just grimace instead. I must look comical. Now neither of the guys will want to be friends with me. Which is fine. I don't need them. I have Daphne, I don't need anyone else.
"I need to go check on the music," the new guy says. "I'll see you around, Mona."
The way he says my name sends shivers down my spine. I don't think I'd ever be that kind of girl, but here I am acting like one.
"What was that about?" I ask Ryan, giving him a look that I hope comes across as stern, but probably falls very short.
"You looked like you needed saving." I can tell from his expression that he's telling the truth. And that he realises he might have overstepped.
"Thanks, but I don't need rescuing." I push past him and go in search of Daphne. My heart is pounding in my chest. I like Ryan. I find him attractive, sweet, and all the rest.
None of that matters if he's going to treat me like a wilting flower. I'm my own woman and no one is going to get in the way of that.
My head feels a little fuzzy from the beer. All of my good intentions flew out of the window about two cups ago. I don't want to admit it, but I'm actually having fun and the party atmosphere is starting to catch up with me. Which means lots of beer.
"Mona… come and play." Daphne waves me over, a crazed look on her face. She's had even more of the beer than I have and clearly is in the mood for some fun.
I stagger over, eager to see what they're doing. I might not join in, I can't forget I'm not wanted by most of my classmates, but that doesn't mean no fun. I'm going to make the most of the last party I'm ever going to be invited to.
"What are we doing?" I ask as I sit down next to her. I cross my legs, noting that's what the rest of the circle are doing. "Please tell me it's not spin the bottle?" Considering Ryan is part of the group, I doubt it. It's not the kind of game Daphne would play while he's around.
"This." She holds her wand up to her face and closes her eyes. Moments later, her nose turns bright yellow and elongates. She opens her mouth and a weird quacking sound comes out.
The rest of the people around us burst into giggles. I have to admit it's fun, though it does seem kind of dangerous, what if one of them gets stuck with the facial features of an animal?
Daphne points her wand at her face again, putting it back to normal and at least assuaging some of my fears about that.
Someone else goes next, growing a mane and roaring like a lion. I'll admit, it's impressive magic and easy to get caught up in the laughter. By the time Ryan grows a trunk and causes all kinds of mischief with it, I'm almost on board.
"Your turn, Mona," one of the girls says.
I gulp down my nerves. It doesn't feel like I should be doing this kind of thing with the way my magic is acting, but I also don't want to be the one who chickens out and doesn't join in.
Daphne shakes her head at me, but I ignore her. My palm sweats as I close my hand around my wand and bring it out. I'm going to prove I can do magic once and for all. I point my wand towards my nose and think about a cat's face. I don't even like cats that much, but there's something fun about the way they twitch their noses and their whiskers move. It'll be fun for the rest of the group, and doesn't feel like it'd be too hard.
I close my eyes and concentrate on the image I have. Please, please, work.
A small jolt of magic travels from my hand to my wand and hope blooms within me. It's nowhere near what I used to experience when I did magic, but it's more than I've had in recent weeks.
I open my eyes, expecting to see the others laughing at my new face. Except they're not. Each one of them is wearing expectant expressions, as if they're still waiting for me to do something.
"It hasn't worked," Daphne whispers to me.
I sigh. "I'm sorry everyone, maybe it's best to skip me."
There are grumbles around the circle, but I ignore them. Learning how to do that has saved me a lot of heartache recently. They move on and continue playing the game, but I don't miss the sneaky glances they're sending my way.
Ryan takes the attention away by transforming his face into that of a dog and licking the person next to him.
A short giggle escapes me, and he turns his attention to me with a wink. A blush I don't intend flames to my cheeks. I don't want Ryan to affect me as much as he does.
I sit back and watch everyone else, enjoying the way they're interacting with one another despite the fact I can't join in. After five more minutes, they seem to forget that I can't do what they can. At least that's something, it makes me feel like less of a freak.
Daphne's face lights up as she smiles at me. I don't want to ruin this for her by telling her I'm not as comfortable as she is. She's my best friend and she's having fun for the first time in weeks, I'd be a terrible person for pointing that out.
I just have to hope that this changes the way my classmates see me. Though I do doubt it. One day, I'll be okay with being an outsider. But I doubt it's going to be tomorrow.
It isn't better. I can hear the whispers as I walk into the room and take my seat at the back of the class. I'm glad we don't have to stick with the same seats we chose at the start of the year, then I'd be at the front and really have everyone's attention on me. Certainly not what I want.
I do wish Daphne had this class with me. Or even Ryan. Just someone that had a friendly face.
"Hi," a male voice says.
I twist my head, surprised to find the new guy sat next to me.
"Hey," I squeak. How did I not know we're in the same class? If he hasn't already heard about my attempt at magic during his party, then he'll know soon enough that I can't do much magic.
"We never got to properly introduce ourselves." He gives me a winning smile.
"You know my name," I point out.
"Yes, I do. Mona, wasn't it?"
I nod. He knows as well as I do that he has my name right. "You probably don't want to be seen talking to me though," I add hastily. I won't have him ostracized for doing something as simple as talking to the wrong person.
"Yes, you said that last night too, why is that?"
"I...my magic works badly," I whisper.
"I'm sure that's nothing that can't be solved with some extra tutoring, maybe I can help you?"
I snort. Why would he do that? He doesn't know me, even in passing. And it's not like I come with many other benefits. There's no ancient family name behind me, or particularly popular friends either. "I don't even know your name."
"Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners, I'm Caspian." He holds out his hand, and against my better judgement, I take it.
His touch is strong and reassuring, but I don't let our hands linger together too long. That could mean disaster if the wrong person saw it.
"Nice to meet you again," I murmur.
Our conversation is cut short by the teacher rapping on the board, desperate to bring the unruly class to attention.
"Good afternoon, everybody. If you'll just settle down, then we will begin with the lesson."
I gulp down my nerves. No matter how he thought of me before, Caspian is about to learn the truth about how bad my magic actually is. And I don't think he's going to like it. No one does and there's nothing I can do about it unless I can somehow manage to fix what's wrong with me.
"Today, we're going to be learning how to produce a feather with nothing more than a thought," she announces.
Groans sound around the room. I'm not surprised, most of us have been able to do this kind of thing for years. Though I doubt I'll still be able to do it. I hope she doesn't expect me to try it.
She taps the board again. "I know many of you will be able to perform such a simple spell, but I need to access your abilities. You will be conjuring them as I walk around the class. You may begin."
I scowl. She thinks it's as simple as giving us instructions and saying go. Maybe she's new to teaching this year. That's the only way I can make sense of what's happening. Even I wouldn't be stupid enough to tell a room full of eighteen-year-olds that they should just start waving their wands around and do magic.
"Aren't you going to try?" Caspian asks after a couple of minutes of me not doing anything.
I shake my head. "It's not worth even attempting."
"I'm sure it's not that bad," he counters.
I raise my eyebrows, but ready my wand despite that. I focus on picturing a feather in front of me. Unsurprisingly, nothing happens. Though there is a slight zing in my hand, as if some magic is trying to make its way through my wand.
Turning to Caspian, I shrug. "Trust me, it's not worth trying."
"Miss Black, when you're ready," the teacher asks as she reaches my desk.
Titters follow around the room, as they do every time the class is reminded of my existence.
"I-I don't think this is a good idea," I murmur, straightening down my lab coat, grateful we even have them. It'll make whatever mess I make that little bit easier to deal with.
"Rubbish, you've been learning as long as Miss Robinson and she managed to produce a feather beautifully." She indicates towards the perfect golden feather suspended in front of the even more perfect Miss Robinson. Blonde hair, blue eyes, big boobs...she's everything most women want to be. Including intelligent.
"Come on, Miss Black. I don't want to have to fail you..."
I sigh. There really is no getting around this.
"Feather light and pure as snow, to me let it show," I mutter the spell to myself, hating every moment of this. Technically, I don't need to say the words to make magic work, but given my predicament, it may help.
To my surprise, something actually happens and a small puff of smoke fills the air. I cough, trying to clear my lungs of the acridness.
Even before it clears, I know I've done something wrong from the giggles in the class.
There, on the desk, is the cutest grey kitten I've ever seen. It wasn't there before, and yet here it is, looking as bewildered as I feel.
"That's not what I asked for, Miss Black," the teacher observes, as if I’m not aware of that myself. "Let's try again."
I sigh and think of a feather, knowing I'm not going to get away without at least trying again, though I can tell it's not going to work. This time, there's another zing of magic, but it's quickly followed by a puff of grey smoke billowing up into my face. Ah. Oops.
The teacher purses her lips as she looks me up and down. "I don't think that will do, Miss Black."
"No, Miss." I glance down, trying to avoid the embarrassment.
A small meow drew my attention to the kitten in front of me. Oh. It doesn't seem to be going anywhere, shouldn't it have disappeared by now?
"You need to pull your act together if you're expecting to pass, Miss Black." There's more than a hint of disapproval in her voice, and, as much as I don't want to admit it, a big part of me hurts over it. I don't want to be a disappointment to anyone, and it feels as if I'm heading that way.
"Thank you for the advice." The second the words leave my mouth, I regret them. They're far too harsh and I shouldn't talk to a teacher that way. We don't really have detention here, we're too old for that, but it happens sometimes. Daphne still hasn't stopped talking about her awkward forced detention with two guys though.
"Make sure you take it. If you practice hard you might be able to scrape a pass." She turns up her nose and walks further into the class.
Unbidden, tears spring into my eyes. Hastily, I wipe them away, hoping no one else can see them. The last thing I need is to be humiliated for crying as well as for failing badly at magic.
"That's not a feather," Ivy Robinson sneers, coming over just so she can poke at the poor thing. "I bet you don't even know how you made it."
"I think it's a him, not an it," Caspian says, picking up the kitten and turning it over.
Purrs come from the creature. It clearly likes him, which is something at least. I've never had a cat and don't even know where to start with him. Assuming Caspian's right that's what he is.
"What does it even matter? It's just proof that Mona can't do magic like the rest of us can."
Her words sting, but only because they're true. I don't want to be this bad at magic.
"It didn't used to be like this," I whisper, not knowing why I bothered.
"You mean you used to be worse?" Ivy sneered. "Did you hear that, Camilla? She used to be even worse at magic." She sniggers as she looks at her best friend, yet another one of the perfect specimens we can only wish to be. The only comfort I have is that I know it takes them a lot of time, effort, and makeup to look that way.
"That's not what she said," Caspian counters for me.
Warmth floods through me. I don't know why he's being so protective of me, but I kind of like it, even if I know Ryan won't. Uh oh, here comes the guilt. Ryan isn't even my friend, never mind my boyfriend. A girl can have more than one crush at once. Right?
"Ooh, she's got herself a boyfriend," Camilla taunts, though I can hear the hint of jealousy in her voice.
I look around for the teacher, desperate for her to put a stop to this. She should do, we're still in class and have her lesson to pay attention to after all.
She glances my way, even going as far as meeting my eyes, but then looks away.
Great. No help from the staff then. She's going to act just like the mean girls because of my magic and there's nothing I can do about that. What a great feeling.
"At least he knows she didn't use a love spell on him." Ivy's mouth twists into a cruel smile and I try to let it fly over me. She isn't worth my trouble.
"I wouldn't do that anyway," I counter. "I don't need to trick someone into loving me." The words come out as more of a snap than I intend, but the amused smile on Caspian's face says I haven't gone too far.
"Are you implying I need to?" she asks.
"You're the one who said it." This confidence isn't like me. Or it is, but it's more like the me I used to be and not the me I've become since studying here. This place was supposed to better me, and yet the opposite seems to be happening.
Ivy looks like she wants to slap me, but doesn't dare to.
The teacher glares at us. "Are you causing trouble, Miss Black?"
I shake my head.
"I think you are."
"Get out of my classroom, Miss Black, and don't come back until you're more prepared to learn."
I swallow the lump in my throat. Did she seriously just say that? I don't want to be the girl sent out of class.
"I mean it." She stares at me, the hostility seeping into every part of my being and eroding the confidence I gained from confronting Ivy.
Without saying a word, I grab my bag and storm towards the door, letting it slam shut behind me. The moment the lock clicked, the floodgates within me open, and the first sob escapes me. I don't mean to, but getting thrown out of class like that is humiliating. And it's only made worse by the fact the teachers here are supposed to help me get better not demotivate me completely.
I stumble down the corridor, glad that everyone's either in class, or off studying. No one's down here when they don't have to be. I turn a corner into a narrow alcove and sink down against the wall, letting the tears flow freely.
I look up through my blurry eyes, only partly horrified to see Caspian standing there with a squirming kitten in his arms.
"You forgot him," he says, holding the kitten out towards me.
"Thanks?" I wipe my nose with my sleeve, aware that it probably looks awful, but not even caring. I'm beyond that.
"Do you have the stuff to look after him?" Caspian asks softly as I take the kitten from him.
It's fluffy. And soft. And it purrs when I touch it, as if it's happy to see me. Suddenly, my tears don't seem as important as they had moments before.
"No," I answer Caspian's question, realising I've waited a little longer than I should have. "I've never had a cat before," I admit.
"I grew up with one. I still miss her sometimes." He slides down the wall and sits next to me, before reaching over and petting the kitten.
"I'm sorry you couldn't bring her."
"That's okay, it seems like I'll have a cat I can visit now."
I chuff in amusement. "After my display in there, you're still interested in talking to me?"
"Maybe I just want you for your kitten."
Even I'm surprised when a smile cracks over my lips. "Thank you."
"For only being interested in your cat? Or for not making the obvious crude joke I could in this situation."
I giggle, there's no denying that had crossed my mind too. "For being nice to me."
"Aren't people usually?" He ruffles the kitten's head, receiving an extra loud purr for his efforts.
"They're not mean. Not like Ivy was. But they normally talk about me behind their hands. They think I don't know. Or maybe they do. I'm not sure. But other than Daphne and her brother, no one really talks to me."
"The pink haired girl?" he checks.
I nod. "Yes."
"Is it pink for a reason..."
A snort escapes me. "It's to make her look like less of a nerd. Her words, not mine."
"Does it work?"
"You tell me. What was your first impression of her?" Inwardly, I curse myself. Why am I shifting his focus to my best friend? Here's an attractive guy being nice to me and I'm not even trying to take advantage of it. Maybe people are right and I really am a bit clueless.
"That she has nothing on you." He reaches out, as if to move a stray strand of my hair away.
"Mr Peters?" a voice interrupts sternly.
I turn to tell the person to go away, only to stop in my tracks when I see the colour of the lanyard around his neck. Great. We've been caught by a staff member. Not that we're doing anything wrong, but it still complicates matters.
"Shouldn't you be in class, Caspian?" he asks, a little less stern this time.
"I was just helping Mo-Miss Black."
The new man nods. "I'll take it from here. You should get back to lessons."
Caspian grimaced, as if he wants to argue but not daring to. I can understand that. We might not be in school any more, but that doesn't mean teachers have lost their authority.
"I'll see you later, Mona," he says instead, getting to his feet. The long lingering look he gives me fills my heart with warmth. But I don't let myself dwell on it too much. That's just a fast way to end up heartbroken and I'd like to avoid that if at all possible.
"Why don't you come to my office?" the other man says.
I get to my feet, at a complete loss for what else to do. I can't really tell him no, even if I want to.
I swallow loudly. I don't like the idea of having to do what someone else says, but at the same time, I don't feel like I'm in a position not to. I don't even have proper access to my magic to protect myself.
The kitten squirms in my arms, seeming a little less at home with me than it had with Caspian. No, that he had. I can't forget he's a boy cat. My lack of magic is no doubt risking my place here as it is, I can't go getting into trouble too.
"Tea?" the man asks. "Or would you prefer coffee?"
"Tea, please," I answer, in a slight daze. I'm not sure what's going on right now. All I know is that I'm sat in a teacher's office with a restless kitten on my knee and apparently we're making chit chat about tea. Today took a weird turn.
"Here you go." He puts a mug down on the table in front of me. "Would you like anything for him?" He nods towards the kitten.
"I-I don't know," I answer honestly. "I made him by accident about half an hour ago."
"Hmm, what to give to a magical kitten," he muses.
"Exactly." A small laugh escapes from me as the kitten ventures forwards, using my knee as a way to get to the table.
He jumps up, approaching my mug cautiously as if he doesn't know what to expect. Though I suppose he doesn't. He's not very old. He reaches a paw out to touch the mug, then jumps away from it, a shocked expression on his face.
"Are you keeping him?" the man asks. I really should find out his name, but it feels kind of rude to ask, particularly when we're already in his office.
"I suppose it's traditional in the stories for a witch to have a familiar," I respond. There is something very cute about the kitten, even if I've never had a cat before, or the desire to own one.
"Is becoming a stereotype part of your life plan?"
"Yes. The broom should arrive next week. I'm just disappointed they didn't offer next day delivery," I deadpan.
He chuckles and takes a sip of his own tea, reminding me of my own.
"I'm sorry to take you away from your work, sir," I say eventually.
Shock flits across his face. "I'm not a sir."
"But you are a teacher." I point to the lanyard around his neck.
"This?" He holds it up to check. "I'm Miss Feathertop's teaching assistant. I'm doing my doctorate here."
"Oh. And this is your office?" I look around properly. Without the assumption this is a teacher's office, it's a lot more apparent he's a student. Mostly because of the stack of empty plates off to the side.
He notices where I'm looking and shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting company."
"No need to apologise. But why did you bring me here?" I ask, feeling braver now I know he's not going to damage my chances at graduating.
"You looked upset, and Mr Peters really did need to get back to class."
"But I didn't?"
"You have tear tracks on your cheeks."
"Maybe they were tears of joy." Though I'm not convinced he'll believe that.
"May I be blunt, Miss Black?" he asks.
"If you are, then I think it'll probably be better if you call me Mona." And only part of me is saying that to try and find out what his name is. It seems rude to keep referring to him as his gender, even if it's only in my head.
"Alright then, may I be blunt, Mona?"
Ah, damn, he isn't falling for my plot. Not the best start.
"If they were happy tears, you'd have told me to f-off and leave you alone."
A weird chortling sound leaves me. "I'd never have been so rude. I thought you were a teacher," I point out.
"You can call me Mr Smith if you'd like."
Ah, bingo. Just the answer I'm looking for. If he's telling the truth. "Is your surname really Smith?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. I don't know why I feel better, but something about being in his company makes me feel lighter. I certainly don't feel like I've just been thrown out of class because my magic doesn't work right.
"Is yours really Black?" he threw back.
"Is it short for anything?"
"Black? I think it's just the colour." Though how my family came about such a generic name, I'll never know.
"I meant Mona."
"Oh. Right. It's short for Monica, but no one calls me that." I shrug. I'm not sure why my parents bothered to give me a longer name, they've always used Mona too.
"It's pretty though."
I shrug again. "It's just my name." I pause for a moment, trying to work out if it's rude to just come right out and ask him his. "What do I call you? Or would you prefer me to use Mr Smith?"
He squirms in his seat a little, not unlike the kitten was doing when it was still on my lap. I wonder what it is about my question making him uncomfortable, but I don't ask."
"Thomas," he replies.
"Do you shorten it?" Even as I ask, I know the answer will be no. He looks like a Thomas, not a Tom, or worse, a Tommy.
"My sister does it to annoy me. But no, I don't normally shorten it."
"It suits you."
"Thanks." He takes a sip from his tea, reminding me that I have mine.
I lean forward to grab it, only to be interrupted by the kitten pushing his head under my hand. "You and I aren't going to get along if you get between me and tea," I warn him.
"Meow." It's so high and squeaky that I find my heart melting a little.
Great. I came all this way to study, and instead, I'm just going to become a crazy cat lady. I suppose there are worse things, though right now I can't think of any.
"He really is cute," Thomas says, admiring the fluffy grey thing that's taken a liking to the tassels of a bookmark and is batting them with his paws.
"He is," I admit. "Am I even allowed to keep pets in the dorms?" I muse, realising another implication of magically conjuring a kitten.
"Didn't you look into that before you made him?"
I shake my head. "Like I said, it was an accident. I was actually trying to make a feather." Just like with Caspian, it doesn't actually feel bad to tell Thomas about my magic. More like I'm telling someone I can actually trust and who won't use the information against me. I hope I'm right. If I'm not, then this could have some dire consequences for me.
"That's some powerful magic there," he observed.
I snort. "Or the opposite. My magic has pretty much stopped working since I arrived here."
His eyebrows knit together. "Stopped working?"
"I wouldn't say I was ever the most talented person in the room, but I could certainly do straight forward spells. Then I came here..." I sigh. Talking about this isn't fun, even if Thomas is putting me at ease. "I don't know what happened, but within a day of being here, I could barely do anything with magic. This is the first time I've accidentally made a kitten though." I should feel guilty. I've brought something into this world that I shouldn't have and now I need to look after him. Not that it's the poor kitten's fault.
On his part, he doesn't seem bothered at all as he potters around Thomas' desk. I hope he doesn't break anything.
"Did you do anything that first day that you think led to this?"
"Not that I can think of. I left my parents, found my room and unpacked. I didn't try to do any magic until later in the day, and then it already failed."
"Hmm." He strokes his chin in a way I only thought TV villains did. It seems like twenty-something-year-old men do the same. Unless he is a villain, but I very much doubt that. Everyone knows those kind of people don’t really exist.
What does that mean? I wish people would say what they were thinking out loud instead of doing it all privately. Maybe it's a weird thing for me to want, but it'll solve a few issues, that's for sure.
"Penny for your thoughts?" I stand up even as I'm speaking and lean across the desk to pick the errant kitten out of a ball of wool he's found.
Thomas coughs, and it takes a moment for me to realise why.
"Sorry." I brush down my skirt with my free hand, the other one being full of kitten is a bit of a problem.
"You don't need to be sorry, I just...it's hard not to look."
My cheeks heat up, and I'm glad I'm not someone whose blushes are normally noticeable. At least, not according to Daphne they aren't, but she might just be trying to make me more comfortable. I wouldn't put it past her.
"Please tell me what you're thinking," I ask weakly as I retake my seat. Part of me wants to run away, but I'm too interested to hear his thoughts on why I'm like I am.
"I'm just wondering if there are some kinds of tests we can do to determine what's wrong."
I hug the kitten to my chest, to protect him from whatever Thomas is suggesting.
"Oh no, not on him. Potentially on you and your wand though."
"Is it safe?" I ask, relaxing slightly.
"I don't know." He stands up and looks through the bookshelf behind him, clearly knowing what he's looking for even if he's trying not to act like it.
"You've not done this before?" I ask.
"Actually, I'm doing my thesis on illness with magic," he responds. "Situations a bit like yours have always interested me. It's why I'm studying them now." He turns around and drops a book onto the table between us, being careful not to scare the kitten in the process.
The creature is growing on me by the second, even if he has a mischievous streak. As if to prove my point, he stands with his hind legs on my knees, and his front paws on the edge of the table, as if he too wants to look at what we're doing. The whole image is nothing short of cute. I wish I could get my phone out of my bag without disrupting him. He's being totally picture worthy.
"Mona?" Thomas prompts.
"Oh, sorry. What did you say?"
He smiles, putting me back at ease after my little stint of ignoring him.
"There's a case like this reported a hundred and fifty years ago. Without the kitten, but other than that, it's exactly what you describe." He pushes the book towards me and I scoot closer to the desk. The kitten climbs onto the table, clearly not wanting to be subjected to me moving beneath him.
"Ebenezer?" I echo what I read. "I've heard that name somewhere."
"A Christmas Carol, maybe?" he jokes.
I give him a wry smile. Amusing though his answer is, I recognise the name from somewhere else entirely, but I can't put my finger on where. "I'd remember if it was from a book."
"Maybe if you work out where it is, we might have some ideas of where to look next for a cure."
"You think I'm curable?" I don't even feel bad for the eagerness that enters my voice. I want to be able to do magic again. It's so restricting not being able to.
"I think you should be." He stands up straight and rubs the back of his neck.
"Whatever it is you want to ask, just say it." I lean back and cross my arms, waiting for the question I know is on his mind, even if I don't know exactly what it is.
"How did you..."
"My brother-in-law makes a similar gesture when he wants to ask my sister something," I admit.
"Oh." He chuckles uncomfortably.
I don't let it get to me. I need him to actually voice what he wants to say or we won't get anywhere with this.
"I was wondering if you'd let me use you as a case study for my thesis," he mumbles.
I raise an eyebrow, not knowing what the best way to respond to that one is. Oddly, I feel a lot more confident in here than I have during most of my time at Grimalkin. Unless I'm alone with Daphne. I'm going to put it down to Caspian paying attention to me first, then Thomas not judging me for my lack of magic either.
"We'll try and work out what's wrong with you as we go, I'll just write it all up as I do so I can submit it." He rubs his hand around the back of his neck again, clearly it’s some kind of nervous tick he has going.
"Will that be permitted?"
"You're an adult, it's only your permission I need."
A laugh escapes me. "I meant from the examination board."
"So?" I prompt when he doesn't respond immediately.
"I don't think it'll be a problem. But I'll run it by my advisor next time I talk to him."
"I thought you said you were working with Miss Feathertop?"
"As an assistant, yes. But she's not in charge of my thesis."
"I guess I'll find out about that if I get that far in my education." I hope I do. Not that I want to be a doctor of anything. That's not part of my life plan. Though at this point, I'm not sure what that plan really entails beyond surviving.
"I'm sure you'll do more than survive. You seem to be a very resourceful young woman."
I have no idea what to do with his compliment but am saved by the ring of the bell.
"I need to go meet my friend," I murmur.
"Can I have your number?" he blurts. "So I can text you about my thesis?"
I can tell from his voice that he wants it for more than that, but I don't question it. I want to give him my number for exactly the same reasons he wants it. Plus, there's the added advantage of us maybe figuring out what's wrong with me.
I lean in and scribble it on a spare bit of paper, before standing and scooping up the kitten. "Use it wisely, Mr Smith."
"I intend to," he whispers. There's a chance I wasn't meant to hear it, but I did. And it left a content smile on my face.
My time here at Grimalkin looks a bit less bleak after this afternoon.
"What are you going to call him?" Daphne asks as she scratches the grey kitten's chin.
He seems to like it, as he pushes himself further into her hand.
"Call him?" I echo.
"He needs a name."
Oh. Right. A name. I have no clue what to say to that. I don't have any pets and have never gone through the naming process before. What happens if he doesn't like the name I pick for him? Will he hate me for good?
"Mona?" Daphne prompts.
"I don't know any good cat names," I respond honestly.
"What about Rhubarb?"
"As a name?" I frown at her, wondering if she's joking.
"It's one of the most popular cat names in the world," she informs me.
"How do you even know that?" Who spends their time looking up what people call their cats? Huh. Okay, that does sound like the kind of thing people would do.
"I've been looking into cat names ever since we started looking for the spell to turn into cats," she admits, a slight blush colouring her cheeks and matching the pink of her hair. "I didn't know if my cat form would like the name Daphne, so it was better to have backups."
"You looked up alternative names for yourself?" I'm asking a lot of questions, but I feel the situation warrants just that. It's not every day that your best friend tells you she looked up cat names in case her magically induced cat shifting side wants a different one. The funniest part is that they haven't found the spell yet anyway, so she doesn't need a name for her cat side.
"Alright then." I look back at the kitten. Actually, he kind of does look like a Rhubarb. It's a cute name for a cute kitten. "Rhubarb it is."
But if I can avoid it, I'm not having the name a pet dilemma ever again. One kitten is enough for me.
"How did you make him again?" she asks.
I sigh and take out my wand and swish it around, not sure what my aim is with it. "You know the stupid feather spell?"
"I tried to do that."
"And you made a kitten from it? That's kind of cool." Her face lights up, like she wants to try it herself.
"I don't think the spell actually makes kittens," I say with a sigh.
"Still, I want to try." Her wand waves back and forth, and moments later, tiny feathers flutter down from the ceiling, coating my entire room in a layer of them.
"Was that really necessary?" I ask, shaking my sleeves and letting the feathers fall away from me.
Rhubarb is having a whale of a time as he bats at the feathers with one of his paws. At least he's easy to entertain, that's a saving grace. I still need to work out all the rest though. What do I even feed a kitten? And is he different because he's magical? So many questions that I have no answer for.
"I was hoping for a kitten." Daphne flops onto my bed, a real pout on her face. Even so, this is the happiest I've seen her since her vampire slammed the door in her face. I'm sure he'll forgive her eventually, but it's not been an easy path so far.
"I have one." I point at Rhubarb.
"Of my own," she points out.
I consider offering her Rhubarb, but I really don't want to. I may not have set out to get a kitten of my own, but he's growing on me by the second and I want to keep him.
"Do you know what the rules about keeping pets are?" I ask, picking up a particularly large feather and dangling it in front of Rhubarb's face.
His eyes go wide, and he begins to chase it. My heart swells several sizes. How can one creature be so damned cute?
"I don't know how they can tell you to get rid of him," she responds. "You made him with magic at school, in front of witnesses..."
"I know, but Thomas said..."
"Thomas?" She sits up straight, clearly more interested now there's a guy involved. Saying that, there's a note of something I can't explain in her voice.
"Yes. He's doing his doctorate. He took me back to his office and..."
Daphne wiggles her eyebrows. "His private office?"
I throw a pillow at her, but she catches it deftly, not in the least bit fazed by my slight violence towards her.
"Nothing happened." I remember how it felt to have him checking out my ass though, even if my skirt mostly covered it.
"Hmm. Why don't I believe you?"
"I promise, you'll be the first to know if something does."
"So you want something to happen? Seems like my little Mona is growing up." She clutches her hands across her heart, being far too dramatic than the situation actually needs her to be.
"No, that's not what I meant," I protest.
"Yeah, yeah. But I have to wonder one thing?"
"Hmm?" I pull a textbook from my bag and dump it on the desk. I have homework to do before tomorrow regardless of whether or not my room is occupied by my best friend. Or covered in feathers.
"Where does this leave your crush on Ryan?"
My blood runs cold. How does she know about that? I've never mentioned it to her. Or to him. Or, well, anyone.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Please, you're about as obvious as a stripper at a hen party." Amusement shines through every word, but I don't know where that leaves me. Do I deny I have feelings for her twin brother? Maybe it's time to come clean about that one. Not that I think she'll do anything about it.
"There's nothing between us." I sit on my desk chair, swivelling back and forth. I don't know why they put these things next to desks, they only make me procrastinate and not actually do any work.
"You don't know that."
I laugh bitterly. "If there was something between me and Ryan, one of us would have acted on it by now."
"Are you saying he likes me?" My heart beats against my chest, anticipation and confusion both warring within me.
"From the way he acts, I'd say yes."
"Oh, so he hasn't actually told you." I try not to let my disappointment show.
"Of course he hasn't. For one thing, he's my brother. And for a second, we're not in primary school anymore, we don't do the so-and-so said they like so-and-so thing."
I cross my arms, more annoyed that she's right than anything else. "You say that like Cade didn't tell you he liked you," I point out. Even if her brother's best friend isn't the guy she wants to give her attention, it's still flattering for him to have told her. At least, that's what I'm choosing to believe.
"Not the point."
I sigh. "Ryan and me is a bad idea. Our friendship is too important for a start. I don't want to mess that up because of a silly crush on your brother."
"And here was me thinking the two of you could fall madly in love with one another and I'd get to keep you as my sister-in-law for the rest of my life." She genuinely seems to like the idea, which is odd. Maybe I should have spoken up earlier.
"I plan on being in your life forever anyway," I counter.
"That's not a no on Ryan..."
I sigh. "I don't think it's a good idea to go down that path. It'll only end in heartbreak."
"Hmm." She doesn't seem convinced, but also doesn't contradict me. That says it all. Ryan and me isn't something that's going to happen. Now, or in the future.
I let my gaze stray back to the kitten playing in the feathers. I can see Rhubarb in my life for a long time to come. We'll be a dream team. The witch and the cutest familiar ever.
Eventually, she says goodnight and heads to her own room, no doubt to do the homework she's been set. The course load is definitely bigger than I expected when I first came here, but I appreciate the distraction from my magicless situation.
I set about working on my essay, ignoring Rhubarb as best I can. He seems happy to keep playing on the ground, so it seems okay to just leave him there. At least he's happy. That's a good start.
My phone vibrates, the sound of it rattling against the table making me jump. Sometimes, I swear it's louder than if I actually had a ringtone.
A smile spreads over my face as I think about Thomas. I didn't think he would text so soon. I grab it from the desk and check my messages, only to find Caspian's name flashing on the screen. Huh. My smile doesn't fade though, and I reply instantly. Maybe that makes me look too keen, but I don't care. It's fun to think the popular guy is even remotely interested in me and I'm going to make the most of it before he figures out how much of a loser I really am.
My knife slips through ginger root, slicing it to the perfect thickness for the potion we're making. My Grandma taught me how to brew potions, and thankfully, this skill hasn't abandoned me with the rest. As far as I know, I'm the top of this class.
The cauldron fizzes as I drop it in, emitting the most delicious smell imaginable. I know that's the point of what we're brewing, but it still takes me a moment to get used to it.
"Excellent work, Miss Black," Professor Clay observes as he walks past me, sniffing my cauldron. "Needs a bit more work, Mr Chambers."
Ryan scowls at his pot in response, but doesn't say anything. Once the professor moves on to another table, I can give him a helping hand on the sly. Except that I can't. I need to avoid any possible contact with him or I'm only going to confuse myself even more.
I stir my potion, watching it turn from a dark blue colour to a more striking turquoise.
"What's this one supposed to do again?" Daphne whispers, tucking a strand of pink hair behind her ear.
"It's supposed to help you work out what you want the most," I respond quickly. One thing I've never worked out about this class is whether we're allowed to talk or not. Normally, it's pretty clear, but the moment the cauldrons and ingredients come out, everyone seems to go silent.
"I know a few people who could use this."
"Yeah," I agree, only my thoughts won't stray from the fact I might be one of the people who benefits from this kind of potion. I clearly need help deciding what I want.
Actually, not true. I know exactly what I want. It's my secondary wants which are a little less clear, but I'll deal with them in time.
Ryan's pot begins to vibrate, a vile green smoke rising from it, filling the room with the stink of unwashed socks.
I wrinkle my nose. He needs to get that under control or we're all going to leave the room smelling awful.
"Mona, little help here?" Daphne prompts as she drags Ryan's cauldron off the heat.
I sigh. I'm trying to stay out of his way so I don't confuse myself, but I can't very well ignore the fact his potion is about to explode.
"Here." I push the rest of my ginger root towards him. "Peel it and drop the rind in. I'll get some chilli seeds," I instruct, already heading towards the storeroom.
"We're not making a curry," Daphne mutters.
I snort but otherwise ignore her. Potions is probably the one subject she's not good at. It's not worth explaining they're not cooking chillies. At least, I don't want to eat them in my food. They'd blow my head off, and not in the metaphorical sense either.
Pulling the jar off the shelf, I head back to my friends.
"You really are going to put a chilli in there, aren't you?" Daphne asks.
"Yep." I grab the biggest one I can find. Ryan's potion is getting more dangerous by the second, he's going to need all the help the seeds can give him.
And then probably some more too.
I wish I had time to clean my knife first, but it's only had ginger on it so far and that's already in Ryan's pot. Deseeding the chilli takes a minute at most, and I barge through them all to come face to face with the monstrosity he's been brewing.
"Do I even want to know?" I ask him.
He shakes his head. "This isn't my strong suit," he admits sheepishly.
"You don't say," I mutter as I scrape the seeds in.
The smoke flickers in front of us, wisps of it smelling sweet like they should, but the rest still reeking of socks. Not the best combination. But that left me with the dilemma of what to try next.
"Don't put anything else in that pot," I warn the twins. From experience, I know the two of them will try anything once my back is turned. Their parents must have had a handful when they were small.
I search through the store cupboard, hoping to find some inspiration. This is where it might have been useful for us to have some more theory lessons before diving straight into the potion brewing. But I like making things with my hands, I'm not going to complain about the teaching methods too much.
"What to put in it?" I ask myself as my hand brushes over a jar of newt eyes. I grimace. That's a slightly less savoury part of potion making, but I don't have any control over what ingredient does what.
My thoughts are interrupted by a loud bang from the main room. "Oh Ryan," I sigh. And not in the dreamy-want-to-make-out way either.
I abandon my search for something that will help his potion. There's no point in me doing that now and we all know it.
It takes about thirty seconds for me to realise our bench is almost completely destroyed. At least Daphne has my notebook in her hand, only a small amount of potion covering the corner of it.
Professor Clay waddles over, the alarm visible even through his bushy beard and moustache. "What's happening here?" he asks hastily. "Miss Black? Is this your doing?"
"I was only trying to fix it," I admit, looking down at my feet and shuffling from side to side.
"It's my fault," Ryan says. "I think I put too much wormwood in the initial mix."
The professor sighs. "At least you know what you did wrong. Clean up this mess, all three of you, and you won't need to be marked down on this."
I close my eyes and count to three, glad to have got away with just a bit of cleaning up to do. The relief disappears the moment Daphne and Ryan pull out their wands.
The rest of the class are starting to stare, and I know I have no choice but to do the same. At least I have a few spells in mind from helping Mum clean the house. If it decides to work, anyway. If not...well I'll sort that out when I make a mess of things.
I wave my wand over the grey sludge on my part of the desk. I don't know what Ryan did to make his potion go quite this wrong, but it really is something spectacular.
A short zing of magic flows through me and into my wand. That's a good start.
Or it is until the tittering starts from the students around me.
"Can I have this one?" Daphne asks, and I instantly know what's happened.
Sure enough, I look down to find a kitten perched on top of the blissfully clean desk. I suppose it's a step in the right direction if I'm able to do the magic I intend to, even if I do randomly produce a kitten in the process. This one is ginger, with eyes not quite as big as Rhubarb's but still cute.
"No, this one's mine too." Though I need Caspian to tell me if it's a boy or a girl. Not that it matters, I'll call it Ginger either way.
"That's some interesting cleaning, Miss Black," Professor Clay observes.
"The bench isn't covered in sludge any more?" I suggest weakly.
"That is true. I hope you're having that looked at." He nods towards my wand.
"I am," I say softly, hoping the rest of my classmates can't hear me. At least Ivy isn't in this class. That would just be bad luck on my part. She already has it out for me, I don't need her to see me producing more kittens by accident.
"Good. Then I suggest you take the animal somewhere safer than here."
"Yes, sir." I scoop up the kitten even before I've finished speaking.
Daphne stuffs my notebook into my bag and hangs it over my shoulder.
She smiles weakly, as if she doesn't know what to say about my whole situation. I don't blame her, I wouldn't either if I were in her position. Maybe she didn't believe I'd just conjured Rhubarb out of nothing yesterday until now. Another thing I don't consider her fault. Magic backfiring to the extent of conjuring kittens is something no one would actually believe.
"Sorry, Mona," Ryan mutters quietly.
"Not your fault," I respond, giving him a weak smile that I hope goes some way to reassuring him. Or maybe I'm freaking him out instead and he won't want anything else to do with me ever.
That seems more likely.
I slip out of the lab and head down the hall, not too sure where I'm going until I'm in front of Thomas' door. I raise my fist to knock, already worrying that I'm overstepping by coming around when he isn't expecting me. Equally, I don't know where else to go, and he has promised to help me get a handle on my situation.
Maybe the cats are a clue. Though maybe not.
I rap on the door, but don't get an answer. Shifting from side to side, I try and work out how long to wait for. Class will be over soon and students will fill the halls again on their way to their next lecture, or to study, or whatever else they do in their time between lessons. I can't say I've spoken with enough of them to be completely sure.
There's no option but to knock again. Well, that's a lie. I could also give up, but I don't really want to, and only partly because I want to know about my condition. The rest of me just wants to see Thomas again.
I check my watch, knowing I only have a few minutes of peace before the bell rings. With a grunt of frustration, I abandon my position outside the door. I need to get away from here before someone sees me with the kitten and starts asking questions I don't want to answer.
At least my room is safe. Or it should be. For all I know, Rhubarb might have destroyed it while I've been gone. I hope not, but I've never had a kitten before and don't know what their destructive powers are like.
Hopefully, he'll have been a good boy and not ripped anything to shreds.
I shuffle on the bed, propping myself up on my elbows so I can watch the two kittens play on the floor. They're chasing one of my slippers around, and making me very glad I never wear them. By the time the two of them are finished, I'm sure there won't be any of them left.
A knock sounds at the door, drawing me out of my little kitten loving haze. I don't know what it is about them, but I'm captivated. At this rate, I'm going to start thinking I somehow imbued them with a love potion.
"Coming," I shout, wondering who it can be. Daphne would just have walked in. She has no respect for personal space, something I definitely expect from having a best friend.
I pull the door open and blink a couple of times.
"Can I come in?" Caspian asks, his voice rasping through me and making my heart do a weird somersault.
"Erm, sure. How did you get into the flat?" As far as I know, the front door has a lock on it just like my bedroom does.
"Your friend let me in. She called me Thomas." He frowns.
"That's Mr Smith," I say. "I told her he was helping me with the kitten situation."
"Ah, that makes sense. So, may I? Or would you prefer to have this conversation in your doorway?" The words should sound sarcastic, and yet they don't. I think he probably would have this conversation right where we're standing if he thought it'd make me more comfortable.
"Come in, but watch out for the kittens," I warn.
"Kittens? As in more than one?"
I sigh. "I made another one in potions," I admit.
"That only gives me more questions."
I chuckle. "I was cleaning up my friend's mess. Or trying to."
"Ah. Do they have names?" He sets the bag he's carrying on the floor, and both kittens run straight over to it, sniffing and pawing at the plastic.
"The one from yesterday is Rhubarb. The ginger one is, erm, Ginger." Now I'm telling someone, it seems like a stupid name. And one that's far too obvious.
"Was one of the ingredients you used today ginger by any chance?" he asks.
I nod. "I think that's why it came out this way."
"You don't know if it's a boy or a girl yet, do you?" he teases.
I hang my head in shame. "I don't have the first idea about where to start." And my online searches just led to me staring at cat memes for three hours. Hardly productive research.
"Luckily for you, I do. I brought you everything you need."
Instead of answering, he dug into the bag and pulls out what looks like a cushion. He places it in the corner next to the radiator, and both kittens plough into it.
"They really like what you brought."
"They should, everything is designed for kittens." He hands me a book from his bag.
"A beginner's guide to kittens?" I read the title to him.
"You said you didn't know anything about them, it seemed sensible to start at the beginning."
"I'm not going to lie, you may be on to something there." I sit down on the floor and cross my legs, aware of how low down it makes me compared to him. I hope he gets the message and sits with me, it could be awkward if not.
Thankfully, he does, and our knees brush against one another as we sit side by side.
"What else did you bring?" I ask.
"Not much. Some toys, kitten food, a food and water dish. Just the stuff you need to get started."
"Thank you," I whisper. "I don't understand why you're doing this, but thank you." My hand almost flies to my mouth in an attempt to shove the words back in, but I refrain. I don't want to draw any more attention to what I'd said than I have to.
"Maybe I saw a pretty girl in need and I wanted to help. Or maybe I really like cats. Or, there is this remote possibility that I'm just a new guy here who wants to makes friends rather than be the odd one out."
"And your choice of friend is a girl who magically creates cats when she tries to do magic?" I raise an eyebrow.
Rhubarb chooses that moment to come up to the two of us and jump about. I think he wants to play, but I'm still learning his mannerisms, so I'm not entirely sure about that.
Caspian isn't phased, and picks up one of the toys, moving it back and forth so the stuffed mouse on the end wiggles about in front of the kitten.
"Is that a mouse on a stick?" I ask, completely forgetting about my other question.
"Yes. And as for making friends with a girl who conjures cats...I think there's more to people than what they can and can't do. Just because your magic does this, it doesn't mean I shouldn't be your friend. Nor does it mean we won't get on well. I'm more interested in you than in your magic, Mona."
My heart swells in my chest, though I try not to let it get too big. I don't want to lose rational thinking.
Rhubarb pounces on the mouse, looking victorious even if I suspect Caspian let him have it.
"We should get them collars," he says.
"I wouldn't even know where to start looking for them. Where did you get this stuff from? And how much do I owe you?" I ask, already disappointed in myself for not asking that sooner.
"Next day delivery is a wonderful thing," he teases.
"Wait, you ordered all this yesterday?"
He nods. "But mostly as an excuse to come talk to you."
"You have my number, why not just ask if you could come over?"
He shrugs. "This felt more personal. I want to get to know you, Mona. And not over the phone."
Oh wow, I've found a rare one. I should try and keep him around. Especially if he's going to forgive me my eccentricities already.
"You still haven't told me how much I owe you for the kitten stuff," I prompt. I don't want him to think I'm just using him to buy me stuff. That's not a good way to start a relationship.
Oh. Look at that. I don't need a potion to tell me what I want after all. Apparently, the attractive new guy is what I'm after.
"You don't owe me anything."
I open my mouth to protest, but shut it again when he shakes his head.
"You can repay me by agreeing to come to a party with me tomorrow night."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea." I glance away.
"Oh, I'm sorry, was that Ryan guy your boyfriend?"
I can't stop the laugh that escapes me. "Far from it. He's my best friend's twin brother."
"You say that like it's not possible to be in a relationship with someone in that position."
I know he's just trying to sound me out, but it's kind of weird to talk about this with him.
"I don't have a boyfriend," I say instead of addressing his comment about Ryan. That has too many complications attached, and whatever my feelings, I don't want to lie to Caspian. That feels like a bad way to start whatever this is between us.
"Okay, so come to the party with me?"
"I'm not really a party person."
"You seemed to have a good time the other night."
Huh. I suppose he's right. Other than the failing at magic in front of others part, I did have a good time. And even the magic part wasn't too bad. I'm used to being in that situation now.
"Alright, fine, I'll go to the party with you tomorrow."
"You make it sound like such a chore," he teases.
"Spending time with you isn't," I murmur as I watch him play with Rhubarb again.
I look around for Ginger, hoping the other kitten is alright. I find her sleeping on the cushion Caspian brought with him.
"I'm thinking about Ginger as a girl," I admit to him, changing the subject completely.
"Probably because she is one," he points out. "When they're a bit bigger, you might want to keep an eye on them or you may end up with kittens that you didn't conjure magically."
I grimace. That sounds messy and not at all like something I want to deal with.
He leans back, his hand brushing against my knee and sending tingles through me. I need to be careful tomorrow night or I'm going to end up falling hard and fast for this guy, even if I do still have a crush on Ryan.
"Who else will be at the party?" I ask.
He shrugs. "I'm new here, I don't even know many people's names. I only get invited because I'm new and people want to suss me out." He doesn't seem as bothered as I'd be in his situation.
"Do you move around often?"
"How did you know?" There's no confrontation in his voice. He seems like a very even-tempered guy, something I can appreciate under any and all circumstances.
"Just a guess from the way you're talking. If you don't want to tell me, it's fine, I just thought..."
"I can't expect to get to know you if I don't let you get to know me too." He smiles at me, driving home that there are no hard feelings about the subject. "But yes. Dad's in the military. We moved every few years. I know I'm lucky to be in an age where I can just text the friends I left behind, but..." he trails off and looks away.
Feeling brave, I place my hand on one of his knees and squeeze lightly. "Just cause you theoretically know something is true, it doesn't stop you still feel the pain," I point out.
"Did you move about too?"
I shake my head. "I never really had any close friends until I came here though. I'm not sure why. Maybe I just didn't feel settled enough."
"But Grimalkin is different?"
I look at him, trying to work out what my true answer really is. "Yes. I think Grimalkin is going to be the kind of place I can finally find people to call my own."
And I hope he's one of them.
"Do you think this is okay for a party?" I ask the kittens, smoothing down the black skater skirt of my dress. Its nothing fancy, but I think it makes me look good, and that's all that matters really. If Caspian is going to go to all the trouble of actually taking me to a party, then I'm going to make sure I look good on his arm.
All the kittens do is make little meowing sounds. I should have known they're no good when it comes to fashion advice. At least they know how to look cute.
The knock I'm expecting cuts me off before I can double guess my clothing choices. It's just as well. If left to my own devices, there's a chance I'll just keep changing outfits all night and never actually get to the party.
"Come in," I call.
The door opens slowly, no doubt to give me chance to tell him no before he actually gets here.
"You look beautiful," Caspian says the moment it's fully open.
"Thank you." I shift from side to side, not knowing what else to do with the compliment.
"Can I come in and say hello to the kittens?" he asks.
"Of course, sorry. Can I get you anything? A drink?" A kiss? I don't say the last one aloud, but I'm wondering if that's what he expects from tonight. So far, he's been a little too good to be true. But then, he might be a genuine guy who I'm suspicious of for no reason.
"I'm okay, thank you." He strides into the room and towards my bed where the two kittens are currently perched. "No new kitten today?" he asks as he scratches Ginger's head.
"There's still time," I mutter under my breath. "I haven't tried to use my wand today," I admit louder.
I still go for it just as often as I used to. It's a hard habit to break when magic is the answer for everything, but I know I can't risk doing too much magic. Having two kittens is going to be challenging enough, I don't need more of them cluttering up the place.
"Are you ready to go?"
I nod, not wanting to say anything aloud in case my nerves get the better of me and I blurt out that I'm nervous as hell and don't really want to go at all. That's not the best way to repay his kindness. Especially when Ginger and Rhubarb are loving his gifts.
"Perfect. Do you have a jacket?"
Relaxing slightly, I let out a laugh. "Clearly you've never dated a Northern girl before. We don't need jackets." I leave the room, hoping he'll catch up. And that I have everything. Other than my phone, some money and my keys, I don't need anything anyway.
"So this is a date?"
Oops. "Isn't it?"
"I wasn't going to call it that, but mostly because I don't want to freak you out."
"Yes, I like that option. Let's use that one," I say hastily.
"Even though you already used the d-word?" He chuckles lightly.
"We're going to pretend I didn't, and both go through with tonight pretending that we don't know the other one thinks it's a date," I inform him as I lock my bedroom door. Thankfully, the kittens seem to be the well behaved sort and haven't ruined anything so far. Leaving them alone doesn't seem too risky all things considered.
"Your wish is my command." He holds the door open for me to slip through.
We chat away on our way down the halls, mostly about nothing in particular. The weather mostly. I think. It's hard to tell because I'm so lost in the haze of having someone like Caspian next to me. I'm still not too sure why he actually wants to spend his time with me, but I suppose it will become apparent in time. At least, I hope it will.
Just like with Caspian's party, I can hear the music long before we arrive at the flat hosting it. I've never felt so relieved to have a quiet group of girls sharing my living space. Even now I seem to have progressed to going to parties, I like peace and quiet far too much to want to have to listen to it.
"Who's the host again?" I ask.
"No idea. My flatmate told me about it."
"And they don't mind that we just show up?" I check for people around us, hoping one of them will have the answer I'm looking for, even if I don't know what that answer is.
"I think that's just how parties work. People show up, have a good time, no one knows all the people who were there, and that's fine with everyone else."
"Huh." Never really being a party person, I'll admit to having no idea about any of this.
"Want me to go get you a drink?" he asks.
"Do you mind if I just have water for now?" I don't want to peak too early in the night and cut my time with him short.
"Of course," he promises, already disappearing into the crowd.
I should have asked Daphne to come. Maybe I can text her now and see if she's about. That way if Caspian gets waylaid, I don't have to be on my own.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it's a good idea. I pull out my phone and start typing a message to her. Thankfully, there's a flat number on the door that helps me know where I am so I don't have to tell her that I'm at a party but she has to find it herself.
I pause. Should I ask her specifically not to bring Ryan? He has no idea that I know how he feels, but that doesn't mean I won't feel awkward. Why did Daphne put me in this position? It's bad enough I have a crush on her brother, but she knows about it? That's even worse.
"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in?" a familiar voice drawled.
"I think you'll find I walked," I threw back, enjoying the moment of shock on Ivy's face when she realises I haven't just shrunk away in fear because she said something. Mean girls are the worst sometimes.
No. Not sometimes. All. The. Time. And the worst part is they never know when to stop. Or when they're beaten.
"No one invited you." Ivy puts her hands on her hips, thrusting her cleavage forward.
"You do realise I'm not male. Those don't work on me." I look pointedly at her boobs, then meet her gaze head on.
I can see from her face that she's struggling to come up with a retort. No doubt I'm not reacting the way she expects. But honestly? I'm done with how she treats me. Up until the other day, I didn't care. But there was no need for her to get me kicked out of class just because I didn't do a spell quite right.
"You're trouble," she hisses at me.
I shrug. "Quite possibly, but right now, there's nothing you can do about it," I point out. "I'd run along, if I were you." I feel like a bitch just saying these things. Seriously, how do people go around constantly being mean all the time? I feel icky and it's only been the past five minutes for me. That's just ridiculous.
An arm slips around my waist, pulling me close and reassuring me in a way I don't expect. "One water," Caspian whispers in my ear, handing me the plastic cup.
"Thank you," I respond, a little breathy.
"Are you normally that savage?" he asks. There's a hint of something I don't like in his voice. It might even be distaste.
"No. She really got to me the other day in class, and when she came over, I kind of lost my patience. I'm sorry, I'm not normally like that." Shame fills me as I consider how much of a bitch I just was.
"That's okay. I doubt she's hurt by it," he says, but I can still hear the unease in his tone. He's really not happy with how I was right then. To be honest, neither am I.
"There she is," Ivy says, re-arriving and pointing a finger at me.
"What'd you say to my girl?" the big burly man behind her demands.
Uh oh. She has a magic jock with her. They're even worse than normal jocks. At least, in my experience they are.
"I told her to leave me alone," I say evenly.
"That's not what she told me." Everything about the guy in front of us says gym bunny. He verges on being intimidating, he's that big.
"I paraphrased," I admit. Ignoring him, I turn to Ivy. "I'm sorry I was mean, you caught me at a bad time."
Her face falls. I don't think that's what she wants from me, but with witnesses around, I don't think she can ignore it.
"No harm done," she sing-songs. "How about a game?"
Oh no. I don't like where this is going. Last time I played a game at a party, I made a fool out of myself.
"Mona, want to play?" There's an evil glint in her eye that I don't want to think about too much.
"Sure." I don't feel like there's any other response for me to make. I don't want to seem hostile in front of everyone else here and get myself a bad reputation.
"Great. Let's set up for truth or dare," she announces, to be greeted by a lot of cheers.
"What have I gotten myself in for?" I mutter.
"I don't know," Caspian responds. "But I have a bad feeling about it."
"Me too." The twisting in my gut isn't going away until I'm back in my own bed, but it's too late to think about that now. I just have to play the game and try my damned best not to fall for any of her traps.
Easier said than done.
I roll my eyes as two girls I don't know end the kiss they've been dared to share. I don't have a problem with two women kissing normally, only when they're being dared to do it by men. It just doesn't sit right.
This whole game hasn't sat right though, and I haven't even had my turn yet. Neither has Caspian, who is still sitting quietly to my left waiting for it to come around to us.
"Caspian, your turn," Ivy announces loudly, standing up and walking around the middle of the circle. She's been getting progressively drunker as the game goes on. Probably because there are more people playing than I expect. It's silly of me to have even entertained the notion that we've grown out of childish games like truth or dare.
"Uh uh," she contradicts. "The last one was a dare, so that means you have to go truth."
He sighs loudly, probably because he's aware it's more about her wanting to give me a dare than hear a truth from him. "Fine. Truth."
"Why did you arrive late at Grimalkin?" she demands.
My eyes widen. Why is she asking him something so private? I get that it's part of the game, but some things should still be off limits, and something like that definitely should.
"I was travelling." He looks her dead in the eyes as he says it, as if daring her to ask more than that.
If anyone were to ask me, I'd say it's a waste of a truth to ask something like that. Of course, no one is asking me, so I suppose it doesn't matter.
Ivy and Caspian face off against one another, and I have to wonder if there's something else going on there. Not that I think Caspian is into her, but maybe she wants him for herself. There's got to be something more to her dislike of me than my lack of magical ability. That's really none of her damn business.
"Who's next?" her jock boy-toy drawls.
Ivy finally pulls her eyes away from Caspian. "It's dear little miss Mona's turn now. And I think it's a dare."
I don't point out that she knows it's a dare because she planned it that way. There's no point. I just have to hope she doesn't ask me to do something magical, though I have no doubt she will. The whole point of this game is to be cruel.
Not wanting to face this sitting down, I climb to my feet, meeting her mocking gaze. She's not going to get the better of me over a game. "What would you like me to do?" I ask her, trying not to let my nerves be known. I've no doubt she's going to try and get me to do magic. The whole point is to humiliate me. We both know it. So do half the people here.
Her mouth twists into a calculating grin, and I know what's going to say.
"Make a feather," she says slowly to a chorus of laughter from her friends.
My stomach twists into a knot, even if it's exactly what I thought it was going to be, it doesn't mean I'm not nervous.
"Got it." I take out my wand despite knowing this is a bad idea. But I've already seen one girl do a forfeit, and I have no desire to let Ivy pick something even worse for me to do.
With a flick of my wand, I think about the way Daphne coated my room in feathers the other day. I don't know if it'll work, but if she wants a feather, I'll give her lots. The familiar zing up my arm gives me reason to hope and I look around, surprised to find that there are feathers everywhere, just like I planned.
Ivy's face is sour as she wipes away the feather sitting on her nose. "Fine," she mutters.
The urge to do a sarcastic bow fills me, but I resist. I don't want to look too petty. Instead, I turn back to my seat.
"Oh, Mona?" The note of gleeful torture is back in the other girl's voice.
"Yes?" I ask, turning back to face her. Mum always told me to be strong in the face of bullies. Not that I think Ivy is one. She's just a spoiled little mean girl who doesn't like me, I won't give her any more power than that.
"Don't forget your kitten." She points to the floor where, sure enough, a tiny black kitten with white socks and patch under his neck is picking his way through the feathers.
I sigh inwardly. At least my magic is doing what I want it to. Kind of. It just happens to come along with some side effects, which is problematic, but a little less so than it had been a week ago. Progress is always good.
Just like the other two, this kitten has no problem being scooped up and carried around. I may even go as far as thinking the magically created kittens like it.
I sit back down next to Caspian, trying to ignore the stares and whispers I'm subject to. While the kittens themselves aren't a problem, these are.
"What are you going to call him?" Caspian asks.
I shrug. "I was out of cat names with the first one. Do you want to name him?" I hold out the black and white kitten.
To my surprise, Caspian takes him from me. I didn't think he would, given we're in company. It's one thing to be okay with this in private, quite another in public.
"I think he looks like a Felix," he says decidedly.
I cock my head to the side, looking at the cat. "I think you're right." But that also makes no sense at all. How can a cat look like a name? But Felix fits this little guy.
A group of girls off to the side is still whispering and giggling, getting louder with every moment.
"How can she call herself a witch when she's malfunctioning like that?" one of them asks.
I grit my teeth, knowing it's better if I don't respond at all. It's none of her business what I call myself, or what problems I'm having.
Caspian rubs a hand on the small of my back, calming me down faster than I expect it to.
"Thank you," I whisper.
"You're welcome. Do you want to stick around or would you rather go back to yours?" he asks, keeping his voice low and intimate, but probably mostly so other people can't hear what he's saying.
"That sounds rather suggestive," I respond, a small giggle escaping at the end of my sentence. Apparently, I'm channelling Daphne right now and am going with innuendo.
"That's not what I meant," Caspian says quickly. "I promise, I didn't mean anything other than going back and playing with the kittens, maybe have a drink. Chat a little..."
I place a hand over his, which is quite impressive given he's still holding a kitten. "I know what you meant. And yes, I think I'd like that." It certainly beats staying here. I'm sure Ivy has more plans to humiliate me, and as much as I find the kittens cute, I don't need to do more magic and create another kitten. Three is enough to look after.
The easy answer is not to bow to peer pressure, I know that. And yet, that's easier said than done. I can pretend I won't give in and do more magic all I want, but deep down, I know I'll cave. More than anything, I like doing magic. And this is a good reason to show off. Except that it's not because my magic isn't working right, but that won't stop me.
We get up and ready ourselves to leave. People are coming and going despite the big game of truth or dare going on, so I don't think it'll matter too much, especially now the attention is on Ivy's next victim.
"I should stay and give her an awful dare," I mutter, staring at the other girl. She really is perfect. Except that she's a bitch and roaring drunk.
Caspian chuckles. "We can, if you want."
I shake my head. "I wouldn't know what to dare her with anyway. This game is supposed to be fun, not used to torture people." And therein lay the difference between Ivy and me. She's hurt people, me included. And I refuse to stoop to that level.
"Where do you think you're going?" she demands as she notices us heading for the door.
"Home," I respond sweetly. "I've come to your party and participated in the required embarrassment, now I'm going back to my room. Caspian's coming too." I shouldn't add the last bit, but I do, enjoying the look of unadulterated anger on her face.
We don't wait for her to respond, that would be pointless when I don't think she's going to.
"Why has Ivy suddenly taken such a big dislike to me?" I muse the moment we're in the hallway and not surrounded by other students.
"She hasn't always been this way?" he asks, putting an arm around me as we walk and pulling me closer to him.
I go willingly, enjoying the comfort he's bringing me.
"No, it only started in the past week or so." Actually, it started right around the time I began spending time with Caspian, but I'm not about to tell him that and freak him out.
Maybe Ivy has a crush on him or something. Hopefully, they're not exes. One of them would have let it slip if that's the case. It would be a pretty dickish move of Caspian not to tell me in the first place, either.
"So, what do you want to do when we get back to my room?" I ask, not realising how it'll sound until the words are out of my mouth.
"We can watch a movie?" he suggests. "Lady's choice."
"How gallant," I joke. "I'm going to find the girliest chick flick in existence and make you watch it."
"And here was me thinking you'd make me watch Cats."
"For research purposes, obviously."
I chuckle. "I'm not a fan. Now The Aristocats..."
"Great film," he says. "I used to watch it loads as a kid."
I chortle. "And I had you pegged as more of a Bugs Life kind of guy."
"That's one of the Pixar classics. So underrated."
The rest of the stress from being at the party fades away. I'm glad he's holding Felix so I don't have to.
"Change of plan. No chick flicks for you," I announce. "We're having a Disney marathon instead." And I'm excited about it, even if it seems like an odd thing to do with someone I'm dating. Or at least, someone I think I'm dating.
"Alright, but I have one condition?"
"You let me run down to the shop and get some snacks first." He sounds like he's already decided that's what he's doing.
"Only if you get me some iced tea," I counter, digging through my bag and pulling out a fiver to give to him. I'm not making the assumption he'll automatically pay for things, that's incredibly unfair of me.
"Thanks." He takes the money and shoves it in his pocket. "Any other requests?"
"Depends, do you like nachos?"
"Oh good. Get the stuff to make nachos then." I can nip down to the kitchen in my flat and make us some that way.
We pause as we reach the entrance hall of the academy, and he hands me Felix.
"I'll be up in ten minutes." He leans in and presses a soft kiss to my cheek.
I melt. Figuratively, though if he does it again, there's a chance it'll become more literal.
"Stay safe," I say to his retreating back. I hope he doesn't hear me though, what a lame thing to be caught saying to someone. "It's a wonder he's interested at all," I muse aloud, even if the only person who can hear me is Felix.
"Yes, I agree, let's get back to my room and you can meet your new friends," I tell him, wondering whether or not the kittens I've made are actually related. I won't know without doing some kind of DNA test, and that just sounds expensive. "Guess I'll just have to wonder about that one," I tell him.
I think I'm going crazy. This isn't the first time I've talked to the kittens as if they'll answer. Maybe it's normal, but then again, this is me. From experience, I know it's probably something weird.
"Where are we going?" I ask Thomas as he strides down the corridor.
"To the library."
"That's the other way." I point over my shoulder. I spend enough time researching various things in there, I know where it is.
"Not that library. The other one."
"There's another library?" I keep pace with him easily. This is one of the times I'm grateful for being on the tall side, it means I have legs long enough to keep up with his brisk pace.
And those legs look great in a skirt. Not that I'm wearing one today. I don't want a repeat of last time.
"Grimalkin has six libraries."
I blink a couple of times. "Six?" I'm tempted to pull up the digital map of campus they send to all first years, but refrain from it. I've studied the thing enough to know there's only one library marked on it.
"Yes. The one everyone uses, the advanced library, the restricted one, and the one that only the upper-level staff are supposed to know exists." Which raises the question of how he knows about it himself.
"That's only four."
"There's two in the vampire part of the academy. I've never been to those ones."
"And which one are we going to now?" I ask, already knowing the answer deep down.
"The one we're not supposed to go to." He turns his head as he speaks, revealing a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
"I'm a first year, I've only been told about one of them anyway," I point out.
I swallow down my nerves. As much as I don't want to admit it, I'm apprehensive about breaking the rules quite as much as that. Though I'm not sure what will happen if we're found. In all likelihood, we'll just be thrown out of whatever room we're found in and nothing else will happen, but I don't want to risk it. My parents would be so disappointed if I get thrown out of Grimalkin, even if they'll pretend they won't be.
"How do you even know where it is?" I ask as we turn another corner. We're in a part of the academy I've never been to before, but that doesn't mean anything. I've not been at the academy long enough to have explored much, and this corridor appears to be empty. Not high on the priority list at all.
"I may have accidentally overheard some teachers talking about it while I was in my second year."
"And you just found it from what they said? That either makes you incredibly smart or them incredibly stupid."
"Or both." He grins devilishly.
"What are you hoping to find in the secret library?"
He comes to a stop even as I'm asking the question.
I roll my eyes. Why are men so literal sometimes? I know he wants answers, that's why anyone goes to a library. Unless it's to make out in the back of it, but really, there are better places to go. Like a dorm room for one.
"Why are we standing in front of a suit of armour?" Though really, I want to know why it's here in the first place. I haven't seen any more about the place. I imagine so that they don't get drunk students stealing weapons and accidentally hurting someone with them.
"What better way to hide the entrance to a secret library."
"You mean what more cliché way," I mutter, examining the suit for anything I can pull down. If we're going for clichés, then that's the way to open the door and get inside.
There's something off about the suit. It doesn't look like I expect one to. After a brief pause, I realise it has a tail. Slipping to the side, I reach out and tug on it.
For a moment, nothing happens, and I worry I'm making a fool out of myself by trying to pretend I know what I'm doing. Just as I'm about to ask Thomas what I did wrong, the grating screech of stone against stone fills the air.
"Total cliché," I mutter.
"But at least that helps us get in there," he points out.
"Equally, it doesn't keep it very secure from people like us," I respond.
"No, but at this point, I'm not complaining about that. After you." He gestures towards the new hole in the wall.
"How do I know it's not booby trapped?" I eye it up warily. If one cliché is true, then there's a chance that more of them are too, and I don't want to lose a foot looking for a book. Especially when I still don't know exactly what we're looking for and why.
"It wasn't last time I came," Thomas assures me. "Why don't we go in together?"
I nod. I don't want him to think I'm too scared, but at the same time, I am a little bit, and I don't want to go in there alone.
The two of us step forward and through the arch, which turns out to be more like a tunnel than a doorway.
"Are we just going to leave it open for anyone to come across?" I ask, glancing over my shoulder. That seems like a quick way for a secret library to become not so secret after all.
Thomas shakes his head. "There's another suit of armour on the other side that will close it until we're ready."
Right. Great. Sealed inside a secret room no one knows about. That sounds like the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
"Does anyone know we're here?" The temptation to get my phone out and text Daphne is strong. Or Caspian. Just so someone knows where I am.
"I guess not? You told your friends you were coming to meet me though, right?"
I nod. Though Daphne will assume I meant the normal library and not this one, especially because that's what I thought I was telling her myself.
"Are we looking for anything specific?" I'm certain the answer is yes, or we wouldn't be here in the first place, but apparently, Thomas needs a bit of prodding to actually answer some times.
"This." He pulls his phone out and shows me a picture of a green leather-bound book. Symbols decorate the spine in what I suspect is real gold.
"Got it. Any idea which of these shelves it'll be on?" I gesture towards the six huge bookcases that look like they've been carved straight out of an oak tree. Each. They're beautiful, stately, and more than a little bit intimidating.
"No idea at all. It might not even be here. But this is the best place to start looking for it."
"Right," I mutter.
"I'll take the bookcase on the right and meet you in the middle?" I suggest, not wanting to admit my original comment came from sarcasm.
"Got you," he announces, going off to his side of the room and starting to browse.
I sigh, and start looking at the books on the right. When Thomas text me to say he thought he'd found some kind of answer to my problem, I didn't expect to end up in a library searching for a book.
I run my fingers across the spines, enjoying the feel of old leather beneath my skin. There's something so satisfying about old books, and I can't even put my finger on what it is. The whole room smells of them, filling me with a sense of calm and peace that I haven't had in the past couple of weeks.
A lot of the titles are in languages I don't know, some of them are probably even forgotten ones that hardly anyone speaks anymore and we need magic to translate. Even then, it's only possible to translate something magically if you know how to speak the language in the first place. I think it comes down to the way magic works. We have to be able to imagine what we want in order to create it.
There's a few that are in English though, and the titles kind of weird me out. There are several books that appear to be about necromancy. I don't even know if that's a thing these days. Of course, there are rumours that necromancers are completely different from us witches and warlocks, but I've never met anyone who claims to be one, so I don't know for sure.
"I've found it," Thomas calls, excitement filling every word.
Despite myself, I smile. I'm glad he found what he's after. I'll be even happier if it has some kind of answer for me in it.
I head over to where he's sitting, noticing that he's already made one of the tables his own with a mass of books open to various pages.
"How often do you come here?" I ask, taking a seat opposite him and looking at some of the titles. At least three of them are in Gaelic, which must mean he knows how to speak it, or is just very efficient at using a dictionary. I think the former is far more likely given he's studying his doctorate here. You have to be well rounded in several subjects to even be offered a place.
"Most days. I don't like how crowded the other libraries get." He shudders, as if thinking about it is enough to repulse him.
"Have you ever been caught?"
He shakes his head. "I came close once, when I was leaving. I'm more careful about it now and make sure I time leaving and arriving while everyone is in class. Or when others are likely to be at dinner."
"Smart." I can see how that helps him remain undiscovered. "So, what is it we came here to find, and does it help?" I don't want to be rude, but I definitely do want to get to the point. There's really no point pretending we're here for anything else.
"I was in class the other day, and my professor mentioned a woman from the sixteenth century who came to Grimalkin and then discovered she couldn't use her magic. She was called Madeline Blackburn, if it rings a bell for you?"
"No." I can safely say I've never heard the name before in my life.
"Anyway, I recognised the name, but couldn't work out where. Then it hit me, it was in one of the old doctor's notebooks I'd read after finding them here. It's taken me a couple of days to find her, but here she is." He turns one of the open books around and points out where the woman's name is.
"Why would they keep doctors' notebooks here and not in one of the other libraries?" I ask, scanning the page and trying to make sense of what I'm reading. It doesn't sound like she conjured kittens when she tried to do magic, but the rest of what she went through sounds eerily familiar.
"Some of these are the original copies, I believe. They don't want them falling into the wrong hands. For others, I think it's a matter of subject."
I cock my head to the side, wondering what he's talking about.
"Look at the treatment," he suggests.
My eyes flick to the bottom of the