Corina Payton tailed behind her father’s footsteps as they made their way down the long hallway. A young lady, barely sixteen, Corina considered herself very lucky to be able to accompany her father on his duties as a recruiter for the Bell Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry where she herself would return to as a pupil this autumn. Her father, Connor Payton, was more than happy to bring his daughter along, for as a younger witch, she often had better luck relating to the potential students than her father did. One of the main issues that Mr. Payton had to deal with was speaking to parents who, up until meeting the father and daughter, had no idea that magic or the Wizarding world existed.
As a Muggle-born himself, Corina’s father excelled at his work. In fact, it was he who was responsible for a lot of the reforms that the Bell Academy had made in the acceptance of children from Muggle families. It was her father who made sure that the Bell Academy sent these children their letter two years before they were actually old enough to begin attending.
Yes, Corina was very proud of her visionary father. And she felt very honored that she was able to assist him in his work. She was especially excited to accompany her father on this particular excursion.
“This way, please,” the boarding school matron called out over her shoulder, leading them up a flight of narrow stairs.
Corina could hardly contain her excitement when she learned where they would be going today; an actual Indian boarding school! She had never seen a real Indian, except for in photographs and in books, and she most certainly never imagined she would ever be attending school with one. It had never really occurred to Corina whether or not Indian Wizarding children attended school at all. She supposed there might have been a few attending at Hardscrabble Creek out in the west, but as far as she knew, most Indian children stayed and learned magic within their tribes and with their families. It kept their own cultural traditions very much alive, but it did very little in preparing them for any sort of contact with white wizards.
Now, however, times were different. The United States government had now taken a far more active role in overseeing the education of Indian children; to the point where they were all taken away and placed in boarding schools far from their native homes. Not even Wizarding children were exempt from these laws and the Department of Magic cared little about what happened to these children…at least until they were old enough to begin attending school. Oddly enough, though, this sort of arrangement worked out very well for recruiters such as Mr. Payton. Now that he no longer had to explain why the Bell Academy existed to the children’s ignorant parents, all he had to do was go to the Indian schools themselves—where the children would be gathered in bunches instead of spread all over the wilderness—and convince whoever ran them that it would be in certain children’s best interest to transfer to the Bell Academy. According to other recruiters he had spoken to, it wasn’t a very difficult task. As long as the Indian children were attending lessons somewhere, the former schools, and the United States government, didn’t care where they were doing it.
Actually arriving at the school in and of itself had been a chore. They had travelled the journey from Georgia to Pennsylvania by Floo, but that was where Wizarding methods of transportation had come to an end. From there, Mr. Payton and his daughter had had to hire a carriage driver to take them the remaining hundred miles to the Indian School. It had certainly been exciting at first; it was Corina’s first time taking Muggle transportation for anything. However, the novelty of it wore off quite quickly, after the third time the carriage wheel hit a trench and the Paytons hit their heads against the roof.
But at long last, they finally arrived at the expansive grounds of the Indian school, disguised in their Muggle clothing, each of the Paytons taking turns pulling at their tight-fitting, uncomfortable material. It actually became something of a game to fidget with their clothes without their guide noticing.
“The primary classrooms are down this way,” the matron said, leading them further into the maze of hallways and staircases.
As they walked further into the halls of the Indian boarding school, Corina couldn’t help but be overcome with a strange feeling. Granted, Corina had never seen a Muggle school before, but she was certain that they were supposed to be like this. The whitewashed walls were completely bare, aside from boldly written rules on sheets of yellowing paper; rules that made it seem as though the children here were enlisted in the military as opposed to boarding school. Corina had yet to see any children since she had arrived at the school. In the entryway, there had been two older girls on their hands and knees scrubbing the floors, but she couldn’t be certain whether these girls were students or just maids, especially since she was unable to see their faces and they were dressed in the typical ‘help’s’ dress of dark dresses and white aprons.
The school had a scoured and sanitized appearance; the wood floors gleamed as though they were scrubbed daily. Then, remembering the young women in the entryway, Corina thought to herself that they probably were. Nothing about this building offered the feel that it was home to any children. Corina had to keep reminding herself that this was indeed a school.
Suddenly, the school matron stopped in front of one of the doors lining the hallway, though there was nothing about it that seemed any different than the dozens of others they had already passed. “Ah, yes. Here are our nine-year-olds.”
A small barred window in the upper half of the door peered into the classroom. Inside the room, at rows of desks sat twenty or so little Indian children; boys on the left, girls on the right. The boys sat dressed in cottons shirts and trousers; poor quality, but no different than a person might see a white boy wearing. The girls wore ugly dresses of shapeless white cotton, and their hair was chopped short, though large white bows in their hair attempted to dress up the hack job that had been performed on their thick locks. They were all staring up at a stern woman pacing across the front of the classroom, a wooden pointer being waved about in her hand.
“Would you like to sit in on the class?” the matron offered, taking out a ring of keys. “You and your daughter may sit in the corner if you promise to do you observations quietly.”
Corina’s father nodded enthusiastically, and Corina took a tighter grip on the official school documents she was carrying for him. As the matron turned the key in the lock, Corina found herself becoming more confused and even more suspicious. Why on earth would a classroom door be locked?
Once they actually entered the classroom, Corina’s unsettled feelings only grew. In many ways, the room she stood in resembled any other primary schoolroom. There was a chalkboard with the letters of the alphabet posted above it. The sparse walls were decorated with a few photographs of American presidents and framed writings, but otherwise bare. No childish drawings, no color, nothing remotely joyful whatsoever. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would create this sort of environment to educate children.
The woman teaching the class was ugly. Corina knew that was a horrible thing to think about someone, but she could honestly think of no other words to describe her. She had a thin face, with her cheek bones protruding out at sharp angles. Deep lines creased alongside her mouth, eyes, and at her brow in the manner of someone who had the misfortune of aging far too quickly. Her hair was tied up in a highly unattractive bun, and her dress of burgundy muslin just hung on her wiry frame, held in place by the buttons that went all the way up to her throat. Every so often, she would take the hickory pointer in her hand and smack it against the surface of one of the desks, if for no other reason than she seemed to feel like it.
Corina couldn’t help but feel an immense dislike for this woman, and she didn’t even know her and had no clues as to her character.
“Now,” the woman said as she began patrolling down the aisles of desks, “who can tell me the name of the author of the Declaration of Independence, who later became the third president of the United States?”
“Paul,” she snapped turned her attention down towards one of the boys, “why don’t you tell us?”
The poor boy stared down at the surface of his desk and stammered in the matter of a student who had no idea what the correct answer was, but was stalling for time so they would not have to admit it. This sort of tactic, however, was met by the teacher bringing hickory stick down hard against the surface of the desk. Every student in the room jumped, leading Corina to suspect that the stick was not just used to hit the desks.
“The answer, Paul Crooked Walk!”
“I don’t know!” the boy confessed, nearly on the verge of tears.
The teacher made a huffing sound under her breath and the hickory stick went back to her side. “Alright, then,” she replied, shifting her attention over to the girls. “Martha, maybe you can tell us.”
As the class of children sat at newfound attention, Corina found herself paying special attention to the girls in the class. On the surface, one could never really tell a Muggle child from a magical one, especially when they were all dressed exactly alike. No matter how hard Corina stared and squinted her eyes, she could not pick out anyone special among the group of them.
“Which one is her, Father?” Corina asked in as hushed a tone as she could manage.
Unsure, Corina’s father leaned in and whispered to the matron, “Which one of these children is Annie?” Scanning across the brown faces, the school matron finally pointed out one of the young girls among the dozens of children.
Annie sat in the front row, in the last aisle, right up against the window. In many ways, she was no different from the other dozen girls around her. Her hair was shorn short, she wore the same shapeless frock, but she did seem somehow more agitated than the rest of her classmates. While all the other children held themselves at a sort of bored, yet frightened attention, Annie’s eyes darted all around the room, keeping aware of everything that was happening at every moment. Her fingers tapped anxiously against the surface of her desk. In general, the little girl was highly agitated, far too much so to be natural for a child as young as she.
The school matron approached the teacher and whispered in her ear, the woman’s lecture trailing off as she began to pay attention to the words being murmured into her ear. The Indian children who had been only paying passive attention to the class’ visitors up until now leaned over the surface of their desks in curiosity. Even the jittery little Annie Two Moons finally seemed to be drawn in by the exchange.
“Children, please take out your pens and work on your compositions,” the teacher instructed before moving to the front of the classroom to join the small gathering of white people.
The class of children reached into their desks, extracting fountain pens and composition books, though they all seemed to keep at least one eye on their teacher, who, in turn, kept one eye on them.
“Mrs. Caulden, what is the meaning of this?” she hissed under her breath so that her students wouldn’t hear her.
“Miss Deem,” the school matron, Mrs. Caulden, whispered, still trying to keep her tone somewhat lighter than the younger woman in front of her, “we have some visitors here to speak with one of your students.”
The teacher, Miss Deem, raised an eyebrow and stared at the schools two visitors. “You don’t say?”
“Yes,” Corina’s father proceeded to introduce himself. “My name is Conner Payton. I’m here to speak with one of your students, Annie Two-Moons.”
As though the girl had heard her name, even though it had only been a whisper, her head snapped up to stare at Corina and her father. Her gaze was intense, as though the black eyes behind them were somehow older than their nine-year-old owner.
“Why,” Miss Deem sneered, “on earth would you want to do that?”
“Mr. Payton and his daughter are representatives from their school in Georgia. The Bell Academy, wasn’t it?”
Corina and her father both nodded in unison. “And they were hoping that they might be able recruit her for their school. If all goes well, Annie will be able to begin attending in less than two years.
“They were just hoping that they might be able to speak with her a bit before they made their decision.” The matron’s eyes were now drifting back over to the seated children. What sort of child could be so horrid that they could not be trusted to their own devices for one minute? Corina found herself thinking.
“How long will you be keeping her for?” Miss Deem asked impatiently as she too glanced back over her shoulder at the students scribbling away at their desks.
“I don’t know,” Corina’s father replied testily. “It will be for however long we need her.”
Still, the hard-faced teacher did nothing to call Annie over. “The children will be leaving for their vocational exercises in less than fifteen minutes.”
Corina suddenly remembered the girls she had seen scrubbing the floors in the entryway, and she could only imagine what sort of unpleasant activities ‘vocational exercises’ might entail.
“Oh, I’m sure that missing the first few minutes of her exercises will not prove terribly detrimental,” Corina’s father said, trying to keep his tone light.
And still, nothing was done on this Miss Deem’s part.
“Our children are kept on a very strict schedule,” the teacher continued to argue. “As an educator yourself, you much surely understand how important structure is for developing minds…and we especially have our work cut out for us here, trying to instill strong moral character into our pupils.”
Corina’s father inhaled deeply and tapped his fingers against his forearms. It was clear to Corina that her father was running out of patience.
“With all due respect, Miss Deem,” he said coldly. “I am here in the hopes that Miss Two-Moons might show an interest in attending the academy I am employed by. Excuse me if I care very little about the lessons she has here!”
The teacher’s eyes widened and her lips puckered into a tiny dot. It was clear that she had some very biting comment circling through her mind, but as an educator herself, she was obvious well-aware that anything said in front of a group of small children was going to be repeated at least a thousand times before the day was done.
“Annie!” the woman yelled sharply over her shoulder. The little girl jolted in her seat and her pen fell to the ground.
“Put your school things away! These people need to speak with you!”
Hearing the teacher speak, one might think Annie was somehow in trouble because of the presence of Corina and her father. The little girl walked in an odd sort of shuffle with her hands clasped together and her eyes on the floor. Even once she herself joined the group, she still kept her eyes on the floor.
“Maybe we could speak out in the hallway?” Corina suggested. It was clear that the little girl was uncomfortable, and being called to the front of the class in front of all her closest friends could not be helping. Of course, if Annie’s classmates were like any other children in the world, they would likely rush straight to the window so that they could see the exchange anyway, but at the very least, it might offer Corina a chance to prove that she and her father were not the enemy.
Once again, the matron took on the role of guide and led the tiny group out the classroom. Still, the little girl, Annie, maintained her shuffling walk with her face pointed down towards the floor, but Corina could see her eyes peeking up through her fringed haircut. The matron leaned over to shut the door behind them, and Corina was shocked to see that the classroom of students did not run immediately for the door.
“Annie,” the matron knelt down to speak to her, “this is Mr. Payton and his daughter, Corina. They’ve come here because they want to talk to you.”
“Say hello!” the teacher snapped, causing everyone in the group, not just Annie, to jump.
Once the shock faded, the little girl offered a very low, very proper curtsy. “Mr. Payton. Miss Corina.”
Although Corina was still somewhat unfamiliar with Muggle greetings, she too offered a low curtsy, which the teacher and the matron both met with patronizing looks. Corina quickly rose back up to her feet, wondering what it was she could have possibly done wrong. Corina’s father, however, took a much more practical approach and shook the little girl’s hand.
“Miss Deem,” he then said to the schoolteacher, “I believe my daughter and I can manage from here. But I believe that you have a classroom full of students who need you.”
Instead of offering anymore snide remarks, Miss Deem instead seemed quite glad to return to her classroom, where she could continue on with her day, uninterrupted, with one less child to worry about.
“Is there an empty classroom that we may speak in?” Corina’s father asked the matron. “Privately?”
The school matron appeared quiet unsure of how to respond to the request. It might have seemed like an odd request coming from anyone else, but Corina and her father could hardly discuss Wizarding business with the Muggle woman peaking over their shoulders.
But for any reservations the woman might have had about the request, she led the tiny group down the hallway, past more indistinguishable doors, finally stopping at one of them before reaching for her ring of keys.
“Here you are.” The matron showed them to the classroom door, another one of the brass keys unlocking the latch. “The students of this classroom are studying vocation at this time of the day, and you will have plenty of privacy.”
The matron said the word privacy as though it were some disgusting word, or as though Corina’s father wanted it so that he might do something awful to the girl. But if that was truly how the woman thought, why did she even seem willing to leave the little girl with them at all?
“Well then, I will leave you to your discussion.” The woman spun around on her shined shoes and then moved as though she couldn’t get away fast enough. As though she didn’t want to bear witness to anything that might happen.
“After you,” Corina’s father insisted. The little Indian girl appeared shocked, as though she could not believe a white man had insisted on opening the door for her. Maybe little Annie was afraid of his intentions as well.
“Please,” Corina heard her father say once again.
Bravely, almost defiantly, the little girl held her head high and stuck her chin out boldly. Corina could not tell if this was an Indian reaction, or something she had picked up from the time she had spent with her white schoolteachers. The little girl was the first to step into the empty classroom with Corina and her father close behind, Corina’s father closed the door with his wand, which he had been keeping concealed in his sleeve ever since they had arrive at the Indian boarding school.
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