Lucy took a step backwards, accidentally bumping into the table behind her. She barely noticed, however, as her sole focus was on Cedric—his same cold glare, which she had become indifferent to, now put fear into her.

Magicless.

The word sent a shiver through Lucy’s body, for there were a few truths about that cursed title which everyone was taught from birth.

First, there was no such thing as someone born without magic. Second, the only way to lose it was to have it taken away from you after being judged by the governing council of mages. And last, the only crime heinous enough to warrant having your magic taken away…was to murder someone else with it. No matter how far you traveled and who you spoke to, it was something everyone knew—magicless equals murderer.

Lucy eyed the library’s exit behind the magicless in front of her. It was no longer a mystery why that Wigg’s boy ran away the day before. Somehow, he realized what Cedric was. She didn’t know how, but now her instincts were leading her down the same path. She had to get away from him, but her thoughts of escape were interrupted by Cedric taking a step towards her, causing her to flinch backwards.

“You think I’m a killer?” Cedric asked, his unfaltering gaze directed towards her. “Of course you do…why wouldn’t you.”

Lucy looked at him, confused but still fearful; and before her mind had a chance to explore either of those emotions, Cedric left towards the library’s exit. She watched him intently, the edges of his robe swaying with every step. She wondered what she should do if he turned back towards her—but he never did. He had left her alone, allowing her to release the breath she unconsciously held in.

Lucy collapsed into the chair behind her, bewildered by the unexpected development. To think she had been coming to meet a magicless for the past two days. She felt like a fool. It certainly explained why he was so different from everyone else. How was somebody like him even a student at Greidwhen? Did the Professors know? What about the Headmaster? Surely it was impossible for one of them to be accepted into a magic academy. What reason could he possibly have for being here?

Lucy pondered further. Maybe he wasn’t a student at all? That might explain why he was in the library during classes. But, no…he talked like he was one—he even said he was a first-year like her. He also knew so much about using magic, which raised so many more questions. However, amongst these, one question began to loom larger than any other. Why did he tell her?

It didn’t make sense. She knew that if it was her who bore that cursed title, she would have kept it secret with how hated they all were—!

Lucy’s halted that thought. Hate. Did she hate Cedric? Nonsense, how could she, she didn’t know anything about him. She was afraid, though, because he was magicless. He was somebody meant to be avoided.

“…”

Lucy’s expression hardened at that word. Avoided, just like she was in her own classes. However, she at least had befriended Rosseau; and if she ever went back home there would friends for her there as well. But here at Greidwhen, who would a magicless like Cedric have? The likely answer to that question put a heaviness in her heart.

But still, he was a murderer—a judged criminal. It was his own fault for doing whatever he did.

“You think I’m a killer?” Lucy recalled Cedric’s last statement to her. She dwelled on it for a long moment.

Was he implying he wasn’t a killer? Impossible. Killing somebody with your magic was the only crime punishable by having it taken away. But, then again…what if somehow he wasn’t a killer?

Lucy wrestled with her conflicting emotions and reasoning, and now she wondered if she was too quick to jump to her previous conclusion. She didn’t…couldn’t know the truth surrounding Cedric being a magicless. She couldn’t ignore that she knew nothing about it. And more importantly, there was something else that stood out to her about him. It was something she had noticed on that first day they met. That he was willing to meet with her…and willing to speak with her…which was more than any of her peers, save for Rosseau, ever offered her.

A new resolve inside her, Lucy began to pack her things into her school-bag. She still felt a tinge of fear for the position she was about to put herself in, but her desire to know the truth outweighed the ones telling her to leave it alone. She was going to find Cedric and ask him directly about his being a magicless. This had nothing to do with her upcoming match, nor her deal with the Headmaster. She only wanted to know the truth.

With a sling of the bag’s strap over her shoulder, she rushed outside to begin her search.

The campus was empty as Lucy saw from the steps of the library’s main entrance. Classes were still in session, and would be for almost an hour. It was going to be difficult to search for Cedric without being caught ditching class. But then again it should be hard for him to go anywhere without getting noticed too.

Where would she look, though? As far as she knew, the library was the only building that was empty during class except for the dorms. But if he had gone to there, she’d have no chance of finding him as the buildings had complex charms put in place to keep girls from entering the boy’s dorm and vice versa. Maybe if she went fast enough, she could catch him. But then again, the dorms were pretty far away. He was probably going somewhere a lot closer.

Lucy rubbed her temples, sifting through her extremely limited knowledge of Cedric to try and guess what he’d do. What did he enjoy? Reading textbooks on magic? Being alone? Lucy felt bad about that second one, but it was probably true. Though…he didn’t seem to mind her being in the library with him now that she thought about it, so maybe that one didn’t apply. No, in fact, if there was one person he wanted to avoid right now, it was probably her.

Lucy felt a thrill at what seemed like clever reasoning. So then where would he go to avoid her? She pondered again for an answer. A place where he could avoid her amongst all these lecture halls and classrooms.

“Wait a minute…” Lucy spoke to herself, surprised.

It couldn’t be. Did she ever mention it to him? She couldn’t remember, but it was her best lead, and she had to move quickly in case she was wrong.

Settling on her decision, Lucy trotted away from the library’s entrance, down its cobblestone path, and towards a familiar building. It was the one where her Totems and Diamets class was held. There was no way he would actually come here, right? As she entered and drew closer to her classroom’s door, the idea of Cedric being there felt more and more ridiculous. It was worth a shot though.

Carefully, Lucy opened the door a crack and peeked inside. Luckily it led into the back of the room, giving her a good view of the class and also lessening the chance of her being noticed. Dancing her gaze around the room, it didn’t appear that Cedric was there. She could see Rosseau in the middle row, and Nora’s group further behind him, but just when she was about to give up looking, she spotted a certain someone’s chestnut-colored hair in the corner of her eye. She couldn’t believe it. Cedric was there. She almost didn’t recognize him as he wasn’t wearing his glasses, but by his brooding expression it was definitely him. He was in the furthest row from the front, in the farthest seat down; which pretty much put him directly across from the door Lucy hid behind. The back row was typically empty, as Borden would haggle any students who sat too far away, but Cedric’s innate talent for being unnoticeable must’ve allowed him to take a seat there in the middle of Borden’s lecture.

Lucy felt proud that her hunch was correct. A little too proud, though, as she accidentally allowed herself to make a creepy, excited smile just as Cedric looked over and noticed her in the small crack of the open door. His eyes widened in horror—a reaction she wasn’t used to seeing him make. Lucy herself felt embarrassed but, rather than retreating, she propped the door open just enough to squeeze through and scurried into the seat next to him.

At this point, Cedric stared at her with an expression that could only be described as confusion towards her and worry for himself.

“What are you doing?” He whispered hastily.

“I was looking for you.”

Cedric flashed a surprised look before assuring himself that Lucy’s intentions weren’t good. “Do you enjoy antagonizing others?” He said, turning his attention back towards the front.

“Ugh! That’s not what I’m doing!” Lucy softly pounded the desk in frustration.

Sure.”

Lucy wanted to hit him, but of course that would have the opposite outcome she was going for. Instead, she took deep breath to calm herself down.

“I just want to ask you something.”

“Something offensive I’m sure.”

WHACK! Lucy punched him in the shoulder.

“Agh! What the hell!?” Cedric yelped, his volume a bit too loud.

“Will you stop being difficult!?” Lucy pestered.

“You think I’m the one being difficult!?”

“I only want to ask you a question!”

“Well good luck getting an answer out of-“

“AHEM.” Borden cleared his throat from the front of the room, startling the two kids. He eyed them both for a moment, but turned his attention back board, continuing his lecture. They both remained frozen, keeping their focus on the old Professor until it seemed like he wasn’t watching them anymore.

Lucy moved her embarrassed gaze downward, not wanting to catch the eyes of any classmates who were guaranteed to be looking over their shoulders at her. Cedric, meanwhile, let out a quiet but irritated sigh.

“Fine…ask what you want after class is over.” He stated. “But please just leave me alone after it.”

Lucy didn’t respond, but she was glad he was giving her a chance. Assured for now, she turned her attention to Borden’s lecture which seemed to be about the different materials magical totems could be made from. The information didn’t quite fall on her ears, though, as she was merely waiting for the moment his lesson would finish so she could talk to Cedric in peace.

It felt like an eternity, but the moment finally came when their professor dismissed the class just before the academy’s clock tower resounded thunderously on the hour.

Everyone began to pack their things and leave, save for Lucy and Cedric who remained where they were. Cedric kept his gaze fixed outside the window next to him, while Lucy awkwardly made and broke eye contact with several of the students as they passed by their row to get to the door. Amongst them was Nora’s group, who all stifled a teasing laugh upon seeing her. Lucy averted her eyes, wondering how much longer she would need to wait, until a familiar voice called out to her.

“Lucy? You’re here?”

“Hmm? Oh!” She exclaimed upon recognizing Rosseau who was already shuffling his way towards them.

“What happened to the library?” Rosseau asked, throwing a glance to the boy beside her that he didn’t recognize.

“Umm…yeah well some things happened and…we ended up here.” Lucy felt awkward, wondering if she was supposed to introduce the two boys to each other. “I’m sorry, but can you wait for me outside? There’s something we need to talk about alone?” She nodded her head back towards the boy behind her.

“Uh, okay?” Rosseau answered awkwardly. “Sure, I’ll just wait outside.”

Lucy felt bad as she watched Rosseau leave through the door along with the last of the students. By chance, it was closed by someone, leaving her and Cedric completely alone.

“I’ve never killed anyone…” Cedric said.

Lucy tore her gaze from the closed door, turning quickly to face Cedric. He wasn’t looking at her, though, and kept his gaze turned towards the window—focusing on nothing in particular.

“That’s what you wanted to ask, right?”

“…yes.”

Silenced passed as Lucy thought about what this meant, and what she should say next. She thought for a moment about asking why he was magicless if not for…well committing the one crime that led to one being so…but it didn’t feel right to ask that. No, there was something else she needed to say first.

“I’m sorry…for the way I reacted.” She finally said, looking shyly into her lap.

“It’s fine. You reacted no differently than anyone else would.”

Another statement that was difficult to respond to, Lucy thought. For some reason it made her laugh, though—a gesture which finally prompted Cedric to look at her.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Lucy put a hand up in defense—the awareness of how rude she was being, helping her to regain her composure. “It’s just that I feel like an idiot who can’t think of anything to say.”

Cedric’s looked surprised. Well, as surprised as someone who always kept a callous face could look. Still, he wasn’t annoyed with Lucy. He was simply at a loss for how to handle her peculiar reaction. For that reason, he didn’t respond to her laughter and, instead, looked away as a familiar regret began to rise in his chest.

“You really should leave me alone.” He said.

Lucy felt the lighthearted moment she accidentally created slip through her fingers. If Cedric had been mad, then she might have been able to come up with a response. But she could tell he wasn’t, and she was also starting to understand why he told her that he was magicless at all.

“Now then, I answered your question. So…” Cedric rose from his seat, passing behind Lucy who sat quietly without bothering to look at him. However, that did not mean she had nothing to say.

“If I don’t win my next match, I won’t be allowed to stay at Greidwhen anymore.” Lucy finally confessed—her hands on her lap clenched into frustrated fists. “I haven’t won any matches so far…I’ve never even so much as scored a point off the other team, it’s always been Rosseau.”

Cedric remained still before the closed door. His hand loosely gripping its knob as he listened to Lucy’s words.

“My grades are terrible. I don’t know any useful spells. And to top it all off, my next opponent is someone who hasn’t lost a single match so far. There’s just no way I’ll be able to win if I keep doing the same things.”

“…”

“If you’re trying to distance yourself because you’re worried that others will treat me worse…you’re too late because everyone already avoids me. It’s been that way since my first day here. So please, if that’s the only reason why you won’t teach me, then please reconsider!” Lucy pleaded.  

Silence fell between them as Lucy looked broken-heartedly towards Cedric, who still refused to turn himself to face her. He was thinking—about everything she had just confessed. He pitied her. He really did. But he already decided on his answer back in the library.

“I’m sorry,” was all he said. And before he could allow himself to hear another plea from the sorry girl behind him, he left—the door closing behind him with a harrowing thud.

Lucy didn’t move, she didn’t even know what to think right now. She only stared at the door in disbelief. Cedric had denied teaching her once and for all, and now she felt like there was truly no hope for her to win her next match.

No. She shouldn’t think like that. Learning from Cedric may have been her best chance at preparing to face Nora, but she could still try practicing by herself. She would just have to try harder, and not waste a single moment. She wasn’t going to give up. Not here. There wasn’t much time left in the current break, but she’d get all the practice time she could out of it. And after enlisting Rosseau too, that’s what the both of them did. And not just for this break, but even in the ten-minute gaps between classes—which eventually turned to twenty-minute gaps as they began to neglect arriving on time. The two of them had decided on practicing barrier-magic, as it was a major pillar in the matches and didn’t require much room to practice.

During their short sessions, Lucy frequently considered telling Rosseau about her deal with the Headmaster, but she still didn’t want to burden him. For now, she wanted him to remain in the good mood that her “sudden” motivation put him in.

At lunchtime the two made a sprint for the practice fields, reserving one so Lucy could continue to hone her latest fire spell. Her anxiety made the first few attempts nearly blow up in her face, but after calming herself she managed to start casting successful ones. Her casts were too slow for an actual match, however, and that’s what she decided to focus on improving until lunch ended—where she then went back to practicing barriers on the treks between classes. This continued throughout every spare moment the two of them found. And after all their classes had finished for the day, they returned to the practice fields—remaining there until late into the night.

“Okay, Lucy. I’m swamped.” Rosseau fell to the ground with, his breathing exhausted. “We’ve been at it, for six straight hours.”

Lucy remained standing, her own breathing much heavier than Rosseau’s. He was right, they had been practicing non-stop in the fields since their last class ended. But, even so, she didn’t want to stop. She couldn’t stop. Because any time not spent practicing brought her closer to the worst outcome.

“We can pick this up tomorrow morning.” Rosseau wheezed.

“Alright. We can stop.”

Letting out a final sigh of relief, Rosseau picked himself up. “You did really well, today. You’ve almost got that wind spell down. At this rate we can learn a few more in the next couple days and give Nora a run for her money.”

“…Maybe.”

“I think so…are you ready to head back to the dorms?”

“You can go ahead. I need to catch my breath.” Lucy said, plopping herself onto the grass.

“Alright. I’ll see you in the morning.”

With a final wave, Rosseau exhaustedly moseyed his way off the field, passing through the magic barrier that kept any spells from escaping the inside. Lucy watched as he strolled down the cobblestone path–dimly lit by the oil lamp posts alongside it—until he finally disappeared from view.

Assured that Rosseau was truly gone, Lucy stood herself up—struggling a bit to do so. Her body was sore, and she had used up nearly all of her available magic. But if the lights were still on, and if there was still some magic inside her to use, she was going to keep practicing.

Lucy again took her stance for the wind spell she had been practicing, staff in hand. It was her totem of choice for matches in the tournament. After a certain distance, wands became very dependent upon precision. Staves, however, cast much broader spells at the usual cost of traveling slower and consuming more magic. They did, however, double as a blunt weapon…not that she ever had the opportunity to use it that way.

Channeling her magic, Lucy braced herself for the thrust of the spell coming from the staff. It took her over ten seconds to finish channeling, and then a harsh burst of wind shot out towards one of the straw practice dummies at the other end of the field. Up close, the spell would certainly devastate an opponent, but after only a few meters the wind dissipated into a modest breeze as she could tell from the sway of the grass under it. By the time it reached the dummy, only the frayed ends of straw fluttered in the wind. Another failure.

“You’re holding the staff wrong.” Someone called from behind her. Immediately Lucy turned to see them, her eyes already wide upon recognizing the voice. It was Cedric, with his signature, dull expression.

“Hold the staff again as you had it.” Cedric ordered, snapping Lucy out of her racing thoughts about his sudden appearance. She fumbled with the staff for a moment, setting herself up for another cast as he instructed.

“Here,” He grabbed her hand that was furthest down the staff and forced it even further down. “Now bring this hand next to your hip with a slight bend in the arm, and extend your other arm out so the top of the staff is centered between your eyes and the target.”

Lucy continued to follow his command, and after a few more adjustments, her stance was completely different from before. It felt more powerful, as well as comfortable.

“Now, straighten your back, take a deep breath, and cast.”

Lucy gave Cedric a hesitant look, but obliged. She began to channel the spell again—transforming and churning it the way the book instructed. However, it was going much faster, and after only few seconds it burst from her staff and traveled across the field with a violent whirl. To Lucy’s excitement, it hit the dummy, and exploded it into a million pieces of fluttering straw.

Lucy couldn’t believe her eyes. The spell from their textbook that she and Rosseau had been practicing for hours…it seemed so trivial now. Was it really that simple all along?

Regardless of the answer, Lucy couldn’t help the smile that plastered her face as she turned to Cedric who was still taking in the view of the spell’s resulting damage across the field.

“Th-thanks.” Lucy stammered, her body trembling from excitement at the spell she had just cast.

Cedric, meanwhile, gave a rare, apologetic look to her before quickly averting it. Lucy got the hint, though.

“So…what brings you here this late at night?” She asked, a bit awkward.

“I was…just passing by on my way from the library.”

“Oh…I see.” Lucy said, not wanting to push him.

The seconds passed by as both of the stood in silence. It was a bit uncomfortable, but Lucy didn’t want to bother Cedric anymore than she already had. She could tell he was thinking, too, and that she should probably wait for him to say something.

“I saw you here earlier…after classes ended. You’ve been practicing all this time?” He finally asked.

“Y-yes. I mean…it’s all I can do, right?”

Cedric looked at her without reply.

“…I…I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have laid all my problems onto you. It wasn’t right.” Lucy added.

“Maybe…but if what you said is true, then I wouldn’t feel right just sitting by without doing anything?”

Lucy gave a hopeful look. “So then…do you mean…?”

Cedric looked her clear in the eyes. “If it really is a matter of you having to leave Greidwhen…then I’ll do my best to help you win your next match.”

Lucy’s heart leapt with joy, a dazzling smile showing on her face from the sheer happiness she felt. “Thank you! Oh, thank you so much!” She said, bowing her head several times.

“You…you don’t have to go that far.” Cedric awkwardly raised his hands in defense, prompting Lucy to instantly stand up straight as if she was now his pupil. Cedric sighed, wondering what he had just gotten himself into.

“So, what would be a good time to start?” He asked, thinking about tomorrow.

“Right now would be PERFECT!” Lucy shouted, jubilantly.

“What? That’s not-“ Cedric tried to say, but was too late to stop Lucy as she took the same stance he showed her earlier; casting another, brilliant wind spell out from her staff, blowing up another straw dummy at the end of the field.