Almost a month later, Amelia stood with the other children on the platform to wait for the train that would carry them to the city of North Lake. She’d been told that she would start as a first year, though that didn’t seem the case with all the students. She was startled when two boys she didn’t recognize bounded up to her, grinning brightly.

“Hi, Amelia,” one said. He paused and looked at the other boy. “Brother?” he murmured.

“Amelia,” the other boy said, aggravation creeping into his tone. “It’s us; Emery and Miles.”

“Oh,” she said, looking from one to the other and back. “You – you look so different.” Then she looked around, wishing to change the subject. “Is Althea coming?”

“No, the tests said she had the wrong kind of magic so she’s staying her to be her father’s apprentice,” Emery explained. “She wants to be a healer, like him, and the school isn’t set up to teach that yet.”

“It’ll be so strange not to have her to play with anymore,” Miles said softly. He glanced back over his shoulder as their parents approached. “Dad, Amelia’s going to the school with us.”

Emery grinned and said, almost conspiratorially, “We’re entering as fourth year students. Next year we’ll specialize.”

“So soon?” Amelia whispered.

“That’s what those tests were for,” Emery said. “They were to determine what kind of magic you had and what kind of prior knowledge you had. We’ve been apprenticed to Dad since we were little kids. We’re nearly finished with all the preliminary stuff that you’ll learn as a first year.”

“It’s not polite to brag, Emery,” Mr. Ballard said in a soft but firm voice. Emery, immediately looked contrite and nodded. “No, children, the train will go through Piedmont but you are to remain in your car. Don’t disembark. You don’t want to miss the train when it leaves for North Lake.”

“Dad, what if… what if,” Miles paused and looked away, suddenly embarrassed.

“If you have an emergency, speak to one of the adults on the train – the ones in the uniforms. They’ll make sure you’re taken care of and don’t miss the train,” Mr. Ballard said. “The bus station isn’t far from the train station in North Lake. You’ll be able to take a bus to the school. Remember that you have to be there by five o’clock. Don’t be late or there’ll be consequences.”

“What sort of consequences?” Emery asked.

“Most likely demerits, Emery, but you don’t want to push your luck,” Mr. Ballard replied. “They might send you to bed without supper. Now, I know we couldn’t get all your supplies here in Lyroron, but you should have about an hour between your arrival in North Lake and when you’re due at the school. If you don’t dilly-dally, you’ll be able to stop at a magic shop and get the last of your supplies.”

“You have your list and the money we’ve saved?” Mrs. Ballard asked.

“Yes, Mama,” the boys replied.

They turned their gaze back to their father as he continued, “Be good on the train and don’t go to sleep. You don’t want to wake up and find you’ve missed your stop.”

“Nathaniel,” Mrs. Ballard scolded softly. “We’ll see you at the holidays, boys. Behave and study hard.”

“We will,” they promised as she kissed each of them on the cheek. She handed each of them a lunch bag and whispered into Miles ear before they bounded up onto the train. Amelia followed them and found a compartment quickly. She wasn’t at all surprised when the boys sat across from her.

“Didn’t your parents drop you off?” Emery asked. “They seemed thrilled that you could go the other night.”

“They are thrilled,” Amelia said. “They’re just too busy and grandmother dropped me off, but we said our goodbyes at the ticket booth.” She sighed and looked out the window as the train pulled away from the station. Most of the parents were waving at the train as it departed. She smiled as she spotted her grandmother in the crowd.

A soft sound caught her notice and she looked up to find Miles crying silently. “We’ll see Mama and Dad again before you know it, Mi,” Emery assured his brother. “Meanwhile we’ll be learning so much and having such a good time that the time’ll fly right by.”

“But – but Mama’s sick,” Miles argued as he rubbed at his eyes. “What if – what if she gets worse while-while we’re gone?”

“It’s going to be alright, Miles,” Emery whispered as he hugged his brother gently. Amelia noticed that he was rubbing circles onto the younger boy’s back just as her grandmother did with her when she was upset.

“Oh, is the little baby crying?” an oily voice said from the doorway. Amelia frowned and looked in the direction to find a familiar boy with dark brown curls standing there.

“Want a pounding, Charles?” Emery growled. “It sure sounds like it, from the way you’re talking.”

“But it wouldn’t be at all lady-like, would it?” the older boy teased.

“Keep talking,” Emery said, rising to his feet. “I wasn’t very lady-like when I wore skirts. In case it skipped past you, I’m not in a dress anymore.”

“Brother, Mama said to behave,” Miles warned.

“I’ll be have, Mi,” Emery said. “If I know Charles, the only thing I’ll need to do is defend myself.”

As if the words were a signal, Charles threw punch after punch, Emery ducked and dodged, allowing the older boy to strike the walls of the compartment instead of himself. Soon enough, Charles gave up with a growl and stomped off to find someone else to bully.

continued: here

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