“C’mon, we’re gonna be late!” Rosseau announced, glancing quickly over his shoulder towards the girl lagging further down the hallway.“

“I can’t get the stupid book back in my bag!” Lucy whined, fighting the enormous sandwich of pages as it tried to tip out of her bag, onto the floor. “Why are these things so BIG!?”

“Just carry it!” Rosseau aggressively whispered as he drew near the door to their temporary homeroom. Hearing the muffled voice of Professor Farland behind the it, his face turned frustrated. “It’s too late. He’s already started. I told you we shouldn’t have practiced that fire-spell one more time! ”

“Are you kidding?” Lucy joined in on the whispering, “That last try was the only one where I managed to cast it correctly.” Her breathing was heavy thanks to their canter over from the practice fields, and her forehead dirty from wiping the sweat off it so many times…but her smile was excited. She had gotten the hang of a pretty strong spell—Fire-shot.

Rosseau carefully nudged the door, taking a peek inside. “I don’t think we can get in without him seeing us…”

“I can take the heat, for you,” Lucy huffed through her deep breaths. “I’ll go in first, and when he’s dealing with me, you can sneak in and find a seat.”

“What? No I’m not letting you do that-“

“Too late!” Lucy laughed, pushing him aside and thrusting open the door. A part of her figured that Farland wouldn’t punish her, considering he was aware of her deal with the headmaster. But another part of her was just too excited to think clearly.  

“With the damage you caused…that spell was definitely cast the correct way.”

It was those words Cedric uttered yesterday which drove her to practice casting it last night, and again this morning. And after successfully performing it not ten minutes ago, she felt invincible.

“Lucy. How nice of you to be late.” Farland’s commanding voice bellowed, prompting the other students’ heads to turn and face her. “I hope you have a good reason for being so.”

Lucy glanced frequently between Farland and the other students. Okay, maybe she wasn’t feeling invincible enough for this. “Sorry…I, uh…overslept.” Lucy bowed her head in apology.

Farland gave an unimpressed stare. “So that wasn’t you I saw in the practice field while I walked over here?”

A collection of hushed giggles resonated through the rows of first-years.

“Uh…y-yes that was me.” Lucy submitted.

Farland let out a pitied sigh. “No matter. Take a seat so we can move on.”

“Yes, sir.” Lucy apologized, quickly moving to find a seat.

“You too, Rosseau.”

The young man Farland called out tensed up, still behind the door. He didn’t even have a chance to try and sneak in.

*  

The rustling of books and papers signaled the end of Farland’s homeroom lecture as everyone packed up to head to their next classes. Rosseau and Lucy tried hard to ignore the passing laughs and whispering comments of the other students as they exited. Still, it wasn’t too bad. It was more embarrassing than anything. And Lucy was still riding the high from her successful Fire-shot cast this morning.

“So are you skipping again today?” Rosseau asked.

“Yeah. Being there today is more important than ever, I would say. If it’s alright…I think I’ll head straight there.”

Rosseau paused for the briefest moment, contemplating asking her more about what she was doing at the library. But considering the inexplicable confidence she showed up with yesterday after being there, he thought it was best to just let her be. “Of course. I’m glad you seem to be getting something out of it. I’d be worried otherwise.” He smirked.

“Thanks. I’ll see you afterwards during break, probably.” Lucy smiled before taking her leave through the small door near the entry to homeroom which led out closer to the library. There wouldn’t be any need to hide at any point this time—she had a good ten minutes to get there now that she wasn’t accompanying Rosseau to Borden’s class.

Again, Cedric sat at the corner table of the library, the same trolley of books organized behind him.

“Hello~” Lucy hummed.

“Hey,” Cedric replied, as callous as ever…but at least this time he offered a fleeting glance at her alongside it.

“I practiced that spell again,” Lucy began as she took her seat across from him. “Last night and this morning. And I actually managed to cast it successfully just before homeroom! Though I was late because of it.” She said with a laugh.

“That’s good,” Cedric said, turning another page. “What will you do next?”

Lucy fidgeted nervously at the thought of her next statement. “Well…I was actually wondering if you had any suggestions…? You seem to know a lot. What do you think is a good spell for me to learn next?”

Cedric pulled himself away from his book to look her in eye.

“I-I’m not expecting you to help me learn it! I just thought you’d have a good idea on what I should learn next…so…” Her voice trailed off, hesitant.

“…I’ll try to think of one.” Cedric said, turning back to his book.

Lucy breathed a mental sigh of relief. She’d never felt so nervous in front of someone her own age before. He may have been a boy with a trolley of books, but his presence was so intimidating. And his reactions were so…indifferent…no matter what she did. But somehow he knew so much more about magic than anyone else their age—at least that was the impression she had developed. Even Rosseau—though he was smart and quick witted—never gave her a reason to believe he knew much about magic beyond what they had been learning in class.  

“Thanks.” Lucy said. It was the only word she could muster from her racing thoughts. But it was one of the most sincere thanks she’d ever given.

 

The students in Borden’s classroom were in the midst of settling in, waiting for their professor whom was almost always late to show up. Most of the students were chatting with their friends, but one girl in particular was staring focusedly at the empty seat near Rosseau for the third day in a row.

“She’s not here again…” Nora said, unamused.

“Probably too embarrassed after Farland’s scolding in homeroom this morning,” one of her friends said with a forced laugh, hoping Nora would join in. She didn’t however. Her gaze remained focused on the seat where Lucy should have been.

“This is the only other class we share…she’s definitely avoiding you.” Another girl commented.

“Perhaps,” Nora replied. “Or maybe it’s something else…”

“Like what?”

“You don’t think she could be studying a way to beat you in your upcoming match, do you?”

Nora smirked at the unbelievable thought. “Maybe not. But regardless of what she’s doing, I think we should should find out. It would be bad if a commoner like her starts thinking she can hide something from me.”

Nora stood up and gathered her things, heading for the classroom’s door. Her posture was grand, and her steps, graceful; so much so that several students in the room couldn’t help but take passing glances towards her as she exited. Her friends—closer to lackeys in her eyes—followed suit; moving with much less grace…and as they approached the classroom’s door the three of them were stopped by the sudden appearance of their Professor beyond its frame.

“Ah, Miss Straughtvern,” The old man spun his gaze around the hall he stood in. “I daresay you weren’t trying to leave my classroom so early…were you?”

The two girls behind Nora panicked, but still knew to better than to let it show. Nora herself was calm though, as most Elefrians were in the face of those who weren’t the same as them.

“Oh, Professor!” Nora spoke in her fake, bubbly tone again. “I know we shouldn’t be leaving, but I couldn’t help but notice that our dear friend, Lucy, has been absent for the past two days.”

“Oh, is that so…” Borden scratched his chin.

“Yes. And unfortunately she’s not here today either. I think she’s upset that we’ve been pitted against each other for our next match. We were just so worried that we wanted to bring her back and let her know that we’re here for her. And if you would be so gracious as to let us bring her back, we’d be ever grateful.”

Borden smiled proudly—his wise face clearly just for show. “My goodness. If you are not just the perfect embodiment of the spirit we try to produce in this Academy. Of course you may bring your friend back.” Borden began edging his way past the girl, into the classroom. “And remind me to write a letter of commendation for the three of you. The school board must absolutely know of your selfless actions.”

“Oh, thank you so much, professor. We’ll try not to be gone too long!”

Borden nodded happily before closing the door before them—the muffled sound of him calming the rest of the class down coming from inside. Nora let out brief but exhausted sigh, flicking her flawless, snow-white hair back pompously. Immediately, her bubbly smile became arrogant once again.

“Now then, let’s go find our dear friend, Lucy…”

 

“Why do you need to learn spells outside of your regular classes?” Cedric asked, catching Lucy off guard. He had been quiet for several minutes now, which she assumed was because he was thinking for a spell to recommend her…but a question like this was the last thing she expected.

“Uh…well” Lucy averted her eyes. “I’m competing in the Sorcerer’s Tournament, and I have an upcoming match on Saturday. And…well…me and my teammate haven’t been doing well so far. Actually, we haven’t won a single match at all.” Lucy gave a pitiful smile.

“How many matches have you had so far?”

“…four.”

“So then…if you lose two more…”

“Then…that’s it…”

Cedric hesitated, feeling sorry. “Well, there is always next year. You’ll have learned a lot by then. Very few first-years make it far in the tournament anyway…so you’ll naturally have a better chance in your second or third year.”

Lucy’s body tensed at Cedric’s words—a detail that didn’t go unnoticed by him.

“Y-yeah…” She stuttered, her fingers fidgeted with the corner of the book she had been reading. She wondered if she should tell him about the stakes she was facing in her next match. If she lost, there wouldn’t be a next year like he put. What could be the harm in telling him? Maybe if she did, he would feel sorry enough to teach her personally? Yes, she told him that she wasn’t expecting that kind of help from him; and for a while she herself felt like things would work out without it…but the truth was hard to ignore. If she wanted to have her best chance at beating Nora in three days she would need his help entirely.

But…it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to manipulate someone like that. Especially someone she barely knew. She could only ask for his help.

“Um…can I tell you something…?” Lucy asked, her gaze rested on the table between them. “I lied to you earlier. Well actually that might not be right way to say it.”

Cedric looked at her, puzzled.

“I lied to myself…thinking I was fine like this. Meeting with you and, hanging on any advice I could get. But the truth is…I need to win my next match and I don’t think I can do it without your help…”

Lucy lifted her gaze fully to meet Cedric’s—the confidence she received after their meeting yesterday embodied perfectly in her expression.

“I don’t know anyone else here who can help me, so please…please, teach me! If only for a few days!”

Lucy’s empowered voice echoed throughout nearly empty library. Nearly…except for a trio of girls who entered a few seconds ago, watching undetected from the main foyer.

“She wants to learn magic…from him?” Nora whispered, her eyes quivering with astonishment.

“Who is he?” One of her friends asked, worried by the reaction Nora gave.

Lucy, meanwhile, stared determinedly at Cedric—the only person she felt could save her from her predicament. The coldness of his expression hit her ten times harder; though she couldn’t tell if it was because of him, or her own nerves. She then flinched, seeing him sit up as if ready to say something.

“This was a mistake,” he said.

“Wh-….why?” Lucy’s voice cracked as she watched him begin to gather his things.

Cedric paused himself, averting his own gaze from her this time. “It’s…nothing you did. Just, trust me. It will be better this way.”

Gathering the rest of his stuff, he made his way toward the library’s exit without another word. Lucy couldn’t accept it though. Not being given such an inexplicable reason.

“Tell me why!” She shouted—the harsh scraping of her chair across the floor as she stood up echoed throughout the room.

Cedric stopped, giving an exhaustive sigh before looking back. It lasted only a moment, but Lucy felt like she saw the briefest glimpse of regret in his eyes.

“Why can’t you teach me?” She asked once again.

Nora’s group, meanwhile, kept hidden near the foyer.

“He’s going to come this way!” One of the other girls whispered, anxious.

“What’re we gonna do?” The other looked to her leader, helplessly. She was caught off guard, however…as she noticed that Nora looked so excited she was about to laugh.

“N-nora?”

The Elefrian girl kept her composure, however, and showed a cocky smile.

“It’s fine. We don’t need to be here after all,” Nora said, retreating from the wall and exiting through the library’s enormous set of doors that were skewed open by one of her spells. The two girls followed suit, completely dumbfounded as to what was happening.

“I can’t teach you…because…” Cedric began.

“Nora!? What’s going on? Who is that guy?” One of the girls said as they walked down the wide, cobblestone path leading away from the library.

Nora smirked. “Surely you heard the rumor, right? That one of them was attending this year? Sporting a pair of yellow glasses?” Nora said, almost disgusted. But still, her face let on that she was excited by the development. For Lucy to think he could teach her anything. It was laughable. The poor girl truly lived up to her nickname among the other students.

“It’s because…I’m…”

“That boy…he’s…”

“Magicless?” Lucy echoed, and then a wave of fear overcame her. A fear unlike any she had experienced before.