Chapter 1: Intro to Witchcraft
Autumn leaves decorated the lawn, adding colour to grey statues and dry fountains. Red, orange and yellow danced before my eyes, vibrant under the warm sun. The Victorian building loomed over the front yard, so massive and imposing I thought it would swallow me whole.
An iron raven sat on the top of the gates and I slowly opened them, ignoring the judgemental stare coming from the bird. The gates creaked and screeched, dragging across the path, interrupted by rogue plants that grew through the cement. I always admired the plants that managed to do that, proving to us once again, that men were nothing compared to nature.
I fixed my silver hair and pulled down the sleeves of my dark red cardigan, hoping to disappear under the soft fabric. This was not how I pictured the rest of my academic life. Just like any girl, I dreamed of hot boys on campuses after high school, but I ended up here instead. Still, this was something I had to do. And spending two years here instead of five was a compromise I couldn’t pass on.
The driver left as soon as I exited the car, my dad was too busy to escort me to the Academy, so I had to settle for an impatient driver.
A quiver escaped from my lips as I walked down the path to the building, feeling the stares on my body even though no one was around. Leafless trees loomed over me, sending strange tingles through my spine. As I came closer, I realised the large building in front wasn’t the only one. A whole complex of buildings spread in front of me, all covered in stone, textured wall surfaces and trims decorated with detailed, stony flowers and shapes.
I forced confidence into my step, hoping to leave a somewhat good impression. Despite my cold exterior, I was actually quite nervous and frankly, a bit scared. Would they all recognise me and immediately know about my family? Probably.
I sighed and went for the actual door. A massive, iron pentagram symbol awaited above the doorframe, eerily looking down at me. The door creaked and opened.
A white-haired lady showed up at the doorstep, her hands crossed on her chest and a tight smile dancing on her lips. There was age on her face, the slight wrinkles decorated the corners of her eyes and lips. But the blue in her eye seemed eternal and the look she offered made me feel small. She was entirely dressed in black, from her turtleneck sweatshirt to her plaid skirt. Sternness radiated off her and being in her presence made me feel like I was in trouble.
“Jade Montgomery.” She said my name and a chill went through my spine. Her voice was melodious, but strong. One thing I knew how to recognise was power, and this lady possessed a whole lot.
“Yes, hi.” I stuttered, remembering to offer a hand, which she didn’t take.
“I’m Professor Lange, welcome to Hunt Academy.” Immediately, she turned on her short, elegant heels and disappeared inside. Grabbing my suitcase, I followed her, hearing the door close behind me with a thud.
Before me, marbled double staircase awaited, covered by dark red rugs that intercepted above on the small balcony. The tapestry on the walls was beige, decorated with portraits of people from another time. I looked over to the balcony, where a dark-haired boy stood, with his white shirt loosely buttoned and his hands buried deep in his brown tweed pants.
His icy blue eyes scanned me quickly, making me force a sly smile on my face under the sudden attention. He was gorgeous, in that smart-ass kind of way, which made me want to punch him in the face. The smirk on his lips was directed towards Professor Lange, who angrily marched to the stairs as soon as she saw him.
“What?” She asked, the frustration seeping off her.
“Bella concocted something strange and Philip’s hand began to rot. Again.” A small amount of satisfaction danced on his face while he talked, a part of him was glad this happened. I smiled mockingly, realising where the aforementioned Bella went wrong.
“You stole the herbs again.” Professor Lange nodded, the grimace that gripped her face making her seem older suddenly.
“Wasn’t me.” A mischievous twinkle appeared in the boy’s eye.
“Of course, it’s never you, Leon.” The woman turned to me, her face grim and serious. “Your room is in the western building, Leon can show you the way. Classes start tomorrow, I believe the first on your schedule is Demonology. Don’t talk to me outside of class. If you do, I’ll assume you are an irresponsible brat like Leon here.”
Leon’s face twisted as he looked at me, a condescending frown forming where there used to be a smirk. Professor Lange hastily walked up the stairs and disappeared behind the huge, lacquered wooden door. Leon’s icy eyes found mine, followed by a slight roll.
“I don’t want to be here either.” I said, trying to prevent his eye-roll from getting to me. This wasn’t my first time dealing with a jerk.
“Frankly, I don’t care what you want, but you’re stopping me from enjoying my day off, so I will try to do this as quickly and painlessly as possible.” His hands still in his pockets, he dragged himself down the stairs, never breaking eye contact. But just as he reached me, he walked past, not bothering to introduce himself properly.
I knew people here were posh, snobbish bastards, but I thought they were raised well enough to pay attention to trivial niceties.
I followed Leon through the long hallway on the right side of the lobby, covered in merlot-shade tapestry and dozens of portraits, some dating all the way back to the 15th century. Despite their age, all portraits were well preserved. The newest one was the portrait of our current Arch Mage, Balthazar, his black hair and matching beard came alive compared to the old, wrinkled men that decorated other portraits.
“So, Jade Montgomery.” He murmured after a while. I nodded, trying to catch up with him. I wasn’t short myself, but this guy reached clouds with his head.
“Does everyone here know who I am?” I asked. That was not something I wanted. There would be no one happier than me if I could just slide through this Academy, no one noticing me, no one paying attention.
“Doesn’t mean anyone likes you.” Leon murmured, smirking for himself. “You received the number of your room in your email.”
“Number 100 in the western building.” I said, remembering the email. Leon stopped in his tracks and leaned against the red wall, touching the portrait behind him.
“Incredible.” His voice was sardonic. “You’re already treated like a princess and no one has met you yet.”
“What are you talking about?” My heart skipped a beat, everything I feared was beginning to come true.
When someone had parents as high up the rank as mine, there was a certain level of accommodation offered to their offspring, whether deserved or not.
“Number 100 is a suite.” Leon’s smile didn’t falter, but the hatred underneath was apparent. I couldn’t help but feel bad, and a little angry. I prepared myself for this possibility before coming here, but somehow, I hoped I would manage to slip under everyone’s radar if I kept quiet.
“I didn’t ask for it.” I answered numbly, suddenly not in the mood to bicker.
“You didn’t have to ask for it, everyone knows you’re going to get special treatment.” Leon looked down his nose at me and I fought the urge to roll my eyes.
“Look, I neither have time nor desire to fight you on this. If you want to shut up and escort me, you’re very much welcome to do so, but if you want to be a pain in my ass, I suggest you leave.” I put my hands on my hips and plastered my best-practiced smile on my face. The edges of Leon’s icy eyes sharpened.
“Are the rumours true?” I recognised that voice, the ill-wishing, insolent satisfaction that rolled off this tongue was familiar. I winced at the question, but hid my nervousness quickly.
“What rumours?” I tried sounding neutral, but the slight stutter in my voice gave me away.
“Oh, you know very well what I’m talking about.” Leon proceeded to the wooden door that led to the leave-covered backyard.
The fountain in the middle was empty, surrounded by a stony path and the benches following the curve of the path. Students sat in groups, uniformly shooting glances in my direction as soon as I stepped out of the building. The first thing I noticed were the similar tattoos amongst groups. Some had dark blue patterns, circled with drops of water around them. Others had roots of threes and plants tattooed around their necks. The most mysterious group had small moons tattooed on their foreheads. The signs of belonging into a coven, based on the nature of their magic. Something like that was typical for older students. Leon waved to some of them. Their ugly stares made me feel exposed, vulnerable.
Suddenly, I missed my high school, I missed my friends who didn’t know who I was and who my father was. Simpler times juggled in my mind, when my only problem was whether I came on too strong to a boy I liked.
“Jade Montgomery, everyone!” Leon shouted, attracting the attention of even those that didn’t seem to care. I held my head high, knowing that stooping to his level would only make me look pathetic, but it was hard. Not only was my family extremely powerful in the community, but some nasty rumours surrounded us, as well.
“Extremely disdainful.” I murmured for only Leon to hear and walked through the crowd of stares. I wanted to look at them, I wanted to know the people I would spend the next two years with, but I stared ahead determinedly. Trying to ignore the whispers, I walked over to what I guessed was the western building. Another stony monster rising over us.
“So, are the rumours true?” Leon caught up with me, a proud smile on his face. He was most likely extremely satisfied that he managed to humiliate me on my first day.
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” I avoided eye contact under the pretence of looking ahead, in awe with the huge living room I found myself in.
The leather couches circled the Persian rug in the middle of the room, red and gold emerged from the rug, adding life to the entire room. The corners were occupied by tables and chairs, made of fine, lacquered wood and the crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling added a royal touch.
“The western building is the best. Only the richest live here.” Leon’s voice was still spiteful, but a bit of something else lingered behind.
“Where do you live?” I asked, still taking in the detailed embroidery of pillows on the couches and the rug. Walls were covered in beige colours, small flowers and plants drawn on the surfaces.
“Here.” Leon smiled.
“Oh, good to know you are mean to me just because you’re a douche. I thought you were jealous. Jealousy eats at the soul.” I murmured, lifting my eyebrow at him.
“Come on, princess, let’s get you to your room.” Leon said and attempted to grab me by my forearm, which I gracefully avoided by yanking my arm out of his grip.
We walked up the stairs and through the complicated corridors. Room 100 was on the uppermost floor and once we reached it, I was glad to see only three doors.
“This is you.” Leon knocked on the lacquered wooden door, with complicated carvings and an even more complicated lock. Knowing how these things worked, I placed my palm on the circle-shaped flat surface in the middle. The lock immediately began to rumble and screech and twist, opening in front of me.
The most glorious room awaited inside. The huge, canopy bed was in the middle, resting on the grey rug. Silver baldachins fell on the ruby sheets, seemingly made out of silk. Multiple pillows of different sizes decorated the bed, which invited me to sleep immediately. Under the window that overlooked the backyard, an oak table stood, with books neatly stacked on one another and a quill and ink waiting for my hands. On the other side, there was a door that probably led to the personal bathroom and a wardrobe, too big for me to fill it with stuff. Above me, a chandelier, just a bit smaller than the one in the living room, hung.
“Not bad.” I said.
“So, is it true?” Leon asked, still standing at the door.
“Which part?” I turned to him. I knew what he was talking about, but some part of me wanted to pretend that at least parts of my life were a secret.
“That your grandmother sold half of your soul to the demon for her own power and youth.” The coy smile he offered made me want to punch him in the face.
I debated how to answer, denying would be too simple and he wouldn’t believe me anyway. Admitting the truth would be the end of my possible social life. Rumours were best kept rumours.
“You shouldn’t turn the mandrake upside down.” I said, keeping my head high.
“What?” His puzzled expression was satisfying to watch.
“What you said earlier? How someone called Bella screwed up a potion and Philip’s hand began to rot. It’s the mandrake, you shouldn’t flip it upside down, it gets... offended.” I smirked, forcing all the superiority I might possess into my voice.
“How do you know that?” Leon’s frown disappeared in a second, but I caught it.
“Everyone on the first year should know that. It’s basics of witchcraft.” I smiled sweetly and without another word, slammed the door in his face.
All outside voices disappeared as the door closed, allowing me a moment of silence to reflect on the day. I fought against this school with all I had. I wanted to go to a regular college, meet normal people that thought witches and demons and magic were a thing of myths. Alas, my father decided I needed to learn how to defend myself first. Witches without covens were easy prey.
Reminded of my family’s past, I rolled up my sleeve, staring at the small pentagram star on my wrist. One of the points was painted black. It used to be empty, just like all other points. But after one night of fitful sleep and nightmares, I woke up to the point painted black.
Why it happened, I didn’t know. But gnawing in my bones made it apparent it meant trouble.