Chapter 15 : Ruffled Feathers
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Liam had little extra time to pursue the meaning of the dream of the red dragon. It took all his effort and concentration to keep up with his school work.
His Formal Magic classes, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Transfiguration, were all one long struggle for him. As much as he tried, he couldn't seem to form the easy connection with Hexwood's wand that the other students seemed to enjoy with their wands.
Though he wanted to do well in all his classes, it particularly galled him to struggle in Transfiguration. This class was taught by Professor Meadows, his Head of House, and he wanted to make her proud of him. Instead, at the start of the fifth class, he was one of only three students that had not made any progress in transfiguring his porcupine quill.
Professor Meadows lectured for most of the period. With a few minutes left, Liam was given one more chance to make headway on his project before having to turn it in. Most of the class was now taking their first crack at the next assignment, which was turning a piece of tinfoil into cloth.
In Charms, Liam had felt a hint of warmth in the wand, and the spells were starting to come easier for him. But here, he faced the logjam once more. The magic built up in his hand, he could see in his mind the result that he wanted, but the wand simply would not let it happen.
As the minutes ticked away, his frustration mounted, until finally, he reached the breaking point. He slammed down his wand and, with an angry scowl , held his bare left hand above the quill. He clenched his fingers as if squeezing an invisible ball. Suddenly, the quill began to blur and shimmer.
He pressed on, straining, as the quill lit from within, with a silvery white light, like starlight. Sweat formed on his creased brow as he forced the quill, now liquid metal, to take solid form again. As the eye formed in the tip, he let out a great gasp. He raised his hand and let the spell fall away, then slumped in his chair.
He was suddenly aware of the fact that the entire room was staring at him. He lowered his eyes, ignoring all of them. Professor Meadows strolled up to him and plucked the steel sewing needle off his desktop.
"Wren," she said curtly, "you really must learn to control your temper." Then, she was back at her desk, and all Liam had to show for his effort was a small strip of silver laid into the desktop. (He had, apparently, transfigured a small part of it as well.
When the bell rang, Meadows called out, "Study your notes, and be prepared to work on your tinfoil on Wednesday. Class dismissed." As the students began to rise and pack up their things, she added, "Wren, please, stay a moment."
Liam had yet to move. He was exhausted from his effort. Michael whispered, a bit too loudly for prudence, "She's not giving you detention for that, is she?"
Calliope swept passed his desk with her nose in the air. Right behind her was Sadie, who stopped, her eyes wide, a look of awe on her face. "How did you do that?" she asked.
"Don't know," he answered. "I just did it."
Sadie hesitated, then stepped aside and let some other students pass. Michael and Philip, too, had hung back. Liam stood up, but found he was stilly quite tired, and sat back down again.
Meadows said, "Would the three of you run along to lunch, please? I would like to speak to Wren privately."
Sadie flushed and hurried from the room. Michael and Philip reluctantly followed her. Meadows crossed the room and checked the hall to make sure that they had all really gone, before shutting the door behind her.
"You have loyal friends, Liam," she said. "It's a credit to you, how fond of you they have become."
"Thank you, Professor."
Meadows pulled her chair from behind her desk so that she could sit next to Liam. From a pocket of her cloak, she pulled a pincushion with four pins in it.
"As you may recall from my first lecture, we use the O.W.L. grading system here at Hogwarts. It is expected that most students will get at least an "Acceptable" on each assignment. Some of the students will receive a score of "Exceeding Expectations" for their work. A very few First Years will receive an 'Outstanding.'
"These four are my "Outstanding" sewing needles." She pointed to each in turn. "No Gryffindors amongst this batch. Just one Ravenclaw: Calliope's. Your friend Sadie, her's was still a little brown. Then, my two top Slytherins, Morwena's and Umberto's." She drew the last one from the cushion. "And this one is yours."
Liam sat up a little straighter. He wanted to protest that he shouldn't receive a higher score than Sadie or Philip, or anyone else for that matter, but he couldn't find his voice.
Meadows turned the pin over, rolling it between her fingers. "It really is remarkable. There's no defects whatsoever. You even have a good 'eye.' That shows attention to detail.
"What makes this even more amazing is that you performed this transfiguration without using your wand." She gave Liam a warm smile. "We had heard that you could do magic without using your wand, but none of us, the faculty I mean, had ever seen you do it.
"Now, my question is, why? Why attempt something as difficult as transfiguration without the aid of a wand?
"Franz, Professor Gregor, I mean, thinks that your affinity with your wand has been disrupted by the two duels that you've had with Cyrus Kane. My guess, however, is that the affinity, the natural relationship every wizard enjoys with his wand, was in your case never there to begin with."
Liam shook his head. "I never needed a wand to do magic at home. I always just used my hands."
Meadows pointed to the wand that still lay where Liam had slammed it down. "Where did you get that wand, again?"
"I got it from my uncle."
"But, you're Muggleborn."
"He's my great, great uncle." Liam recounted the story of Glyn Harkenborough coming to his house.
"That's where you got that ancient textbook Professor Sprout told me about! We wondered about that. Why didn't you replace these items when you were at Diagon Alley?"
Liam looked away from her, to the silver spot on his desktop. "I've got to make the money last. There's not much gold in that bag. Not seven years worth. And Patty's right behind me."
"Oh, you poor thing." Meadows touched his hand gently. "We're not ever going to throw you out on the street, Liam. You and your brother will have a place here, no matter what.
"As Professor Gregor has no doubt already told you, you will not advance in Formal Magic without proper wand work. Perhaps this assignment has shown you the reason why this is true. You completed this assignment superbly, but it pushed you to the brink of exhaustion to do it.
"A wand, Liam, takes your natural magical abilities, gives them focus, and amplifies them with its own powerful magical substances. That amplification is typically tenfold what you could do on your own. With some wands, it's even more.
"We wizards have a saying which I'm sure you've heard by now: The wand chooses the wizard. Your trouble with Formal Magic, Liam, stems from the fact that this wand didn't choose you. It chose your uncle long ago, but it didn't choose you. Before next fall at the very latest, you must go and get another wand."
"But the money!" Liam protested. "Wands are expensive, aren't they?"
"Yes, they can be." She touched his hand again. "Let us worry about the tuition and all that. You need to focus on becoming the best wizard that you can be. And that means, getting a new wand.
"I realize that you can't simply skip off to Diagon Alley this coming weekend. But over winter break, or at least, over the summer, you must make the trip."
"Okay," he said softly. "I promise."
"Come on, now. Let's get some lunch." She rose, and Liam gathered up his things, including his wand. The two of them walked down the stairs to the Great Hall together.
As they walked, Meadows said, "I had a very nice chat with your mother the other day."
"You did?" asked Liam. "When?"
"After your little tussle with Cyrus Kane. Typically, with that sort of thing, we send an owl. The Kanes, I'm sure, got an owl from Professor Gregor. But, with Non-Magical families, I do feel we need a more personal touch. So, I went down to see her."
"All the way to Biggleswade?" Liam asked, amazed.
Meadows laughed. "It's really not much of a problem for a grown witch like me. Anyway, I met your mother, your brother and your uncle. I told them how well you were getting on, making friends, and how your teachers, particularly Professor DeVere, have really taken a liking to you.
"Then, I told her about the incident. I said it was rough-housing more than anything else, and that both of you had gotten a stern talking to by the Deputy Headmaster. We consider the matter closed, but we do need to let the parents know about such things."
"Was my mum mad?"
"She was worried, but I told her that you were not hurt. Your little brother was quite convinced at that point that you had come out on top. It was all I could do to stop myself from saying that you had. Not that I'm trying to encourage you," she added. "Ask Archie about the ways Professor Gregor has to punish unruly students."
They were at the Great Hall, now. With a wave, Meadows swept past him and walked up to the staff table. Liam found a seat at the Hufflepuff table, which was now half empty, though Michael and Philip had both stayed and waited for him.
"It was nothing," Liam told them as he tucked into his food. "She just wanted to talk to me."
Over the next few days, Hexwood's wand seemed much more responsive. It was as if it had taken the threat of being replaced seriously, and started functioning again. But amongst the Hogwarts student body, the word was definitely out: there was a Hufflepuff First Year who cast spells with his hand.
"Wren is a House-elf," concluded Calliope. "He must have transfigured himself to look like a boy, but he's showing his true colors at last. I bet if we find a way to undo the spell, he'll have bat ears as long as my shoe."
"Shall I curse her for you?" asked Michael quietly. "I've been reading up on the Bat-boogey curse. I'd love to try it out on her."
"Leave it," said Liam. "We can't afford to lose any house points."
"We're in last place either way," answered Michael with a laugh. "What would it matter?"
One afternoon a few days later, as the boys headed for the stairwell for lunch, Lucida Guishar called to them. She drew alongside and said to Liam, "I hear you're still clinging to your Juvenile Magic. It will hold you back, you know. Formal Magic is so much more powerful, especially when you use a wand."
"That's what I keep hearing."
"Well, you keep hearing it because it's true."
He was fed up with the teasing and all the condescending advice. On impulse, he decided to make a stand. As she walked away, Liam called out, "Oi, Lucida!" She turned and looked back at him. "I bet you've got a fine feather quill pen in that bag of yours. You think you can stop me from getting it out?"
"You can't be serious."
"I'm perfectly serious. Everyone's saying how I couldn't do what I do against a trained wizard. Well, you're four years older than me." He stretched out his left hand. "Let's see what you can do."
She gazed back at him, incredulous. "You're actually challenging me, a prefect, here in the middle of the hallway."
"This isn't a duel, exactly," said Liam, with the wide roguish grin of his father's. "I just want your quill pen."
"You may have the nerve," she said tartly, "but you don't have the ability."
Liam closed his eyes a moment. In his mind, he could see the pen, a long white feather with a firm tip. Silently, he called it to him.
Lucida's expression turned from amusement to worry, to alarm, as the contents of her bag began to shift. She drew her wand and shouted, "Protego!"
The spell hit Liam full in the chest, knocking him back so hard that he stumbled. Only Michael's steady hand on his arm kept him from toppling over.
Lucida gave him an icy stare that reminded Liam strongly of her younger sister, then turned on her heel. Liam called after her. "Can't do magic without all that shouting? Pretty juvenile if you ask me."
Michael was wide-eyed. "I can't believe you mouthed off to a prefect and got away with it."
Liam shrugged, a mischievous grin still on his face.
Philip said softly, "But, she was right, you know. The Protego spell stopped you."
"Like Hell it did. Came right through the side of her bag as she raised her arm." Michael's laughter filled the hallway as Liam held out his left hand. There in his palm it lay, rudely bent and ruffled, a long white feather pen.
[Next up, Capture the Hat! Plus, more with Liam and Sadie! Please, spread the word, and, as always, thanks for reading! KJ]
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