Chapter 36: Vivi’s Summer

Andrea Shasta was a witch.

In fact, she was a very good witch. She specialized in Unseen magic, and received hundreds of owls a day from admiring witches and wizards.

But Shasta never talked about what she did for a living. She rarely talked at all, and none of her admirers knew she lived in the deep woods near tiny Scottsburg, Mississippi, a town that was barely large enough to warrant a spot on the map.

When Shasta did speak, she sounded like a character from a Mark Twain novel. Her deep voice slurred over letters and celebrated contractions. “Dat dis dat,” she would mutter, and that would be that.

She was tall, with ebony skin and ivory teeth. Her black hair was clipped close to her head, and today she wore a loose red dress that fell to her ankles.

Red was her favorite color, as of late. She was thinking in red, dreaming in red and even executing spells in red. She had a feeling that the color preference had something to do with a visitor she expected later in the summer, but she couldn’t be sure quite yet. She would know soon, though: today, Shasta was on a mission.

“Dem youngins, always a gettin’ demselves in da troubles,” she muttered to herself as she stalked through the red forest (At least, it looked red. At one point she was certain it had been green) in search of branches and twigs. “Dis’in is a goin’ ta be th’ death o’ me.”

She selected a serviceable log of white oak and hefted it over her shoulder. It might work, but she really wanted to find a good beech tree, or maybe even a black cherry tree. She eyed a nearby sweet gum tree speculatively, but decided that it would not serve her purpose this time.

She selected a few more branches before deciding it was time to head home. The sun was high in the sky, and she had business to attend to. As she walked toward her house, she hummed a tune to herself, happy to be in the woods and alone.

The house was an unsteady wooden structure that looked like it was sinking into the soft, swampy ground. It had green shutters, a black door and a red sign that read “Keep Out.” Inside, there was an old-fashioned cast iron stove and an ancient heavy bed on the first floor, and a workroom crowded with miscellaneous supplies on the second.

Shasta headed for the workroom as soon as she crossed the threshold. It took her ten minutes to find her crystal ball (“Da damned thing, where coulda’it be a hidin’?”), but once she found it she sank to the ground and stared in.

For a few minutes there was nothing to see. Then red fog began to cloud the ball, and Shasta leaned in, pressing her nose against the glass.

A scene began to unfold, slowly, like it was happening underwater. She watched a broom fall from the sky and smash into boulders below, and then she saw it again, the pieces laying silently in a closet. She cringed. The broom was her own creation, the Thunder Storm, and she had been quite proud of it.

The scene was changing now. It showed a girl, lying half-dead by a lake. Shasta cringed again. She knew the girl as well, though she didn’t remember her name. In the crystal ball, the girl’s aurora was tinged with red, but once it had been blue. Shasta had stumbled across the color from time to time when the girl lived in Scottsburg.

Indeed, Shasta had been relieved when the girl left for that school across the ocean. It was disconcerting to be constantly pulled into another witch’s aurora. If she wanted to be bombarded by sensation, she would have lived somewhere other than the Mississippi swamplands.

But now the girl was back, and it seemed that Shasta would have to do something about that, unless she wanted to keep seeing red. Even if she tried to ignore the other witch, she would end up in this neck of the woods, Shasta was positive. Unseen magic had a way of pulling people in.  It was an occupational hazard.

“Fine. I do da magic for her, and den I go back to unseein,'” Shasta told the crystal ball, and it glowed blue in tacit agreement.

So Shasta returned to her work, searching for broom materials, and muttering darkly about how visitors always complicated her life. She just hoped that the half-dead girl stayed alive long enough to find the house in the swamp, because if she died, Shasta was going to be seeing red for a very, very long time.

Vivi didn’t remember much about the trip home from Hogwarts.

In her wheelchair, she couldn’t travel like other wizards – no floo power, no assisted apparation, no brooms – so her parents booked a flight, rented a handicap accessible van and hoped for the best. The trip was a blur of stopping and starting, jostling down busy aisles, waiting in line.

At the end of it, Vivi ached. Her father carried her gently to her bedroom, leaving the wheelchair propped by the stairs. He tucked her in and touched her hair as she pretended to be asleep.

“Goodnight, love,” he whispered softly, sadly, mourning her loss with her. It was too much. When he left, Vivi cried.

The next morning she awoke to the bright Mississippi sun streaming in through the curtains and the smell of bacon wafting up the stairs. She was home, and for a moment, she didn’t remember what was wrong. But when she moved, the world came flooding back.

Gently Vivi eased herself up, scooting with her arms until she was leaning against the headboard. Then, she flung back the covers and looked at her legs.

They looked completely healed. She leaned forward and ran her hand lightly along her thigh, stopping to finger the scars that extended across her knees. They reminded Vivi of spider webs.

But outside of the scars, her flesh was healed. Seamless. No bruises, no broken bones. She could wiggle her toes a little and roll her ankles, but she still couldn’t walk. There was no good way to explain it. It might, Echo said, be a matter of building up her strength again. But then again, it might be permanent. It took a lot of energy to revive a person from death; maybe the little spark of life Echo reignited in Vivi was not quite strong enough to save her legs.

In a previous life, Vivi was an optimist, but the current circumstances seemed too dire – too impossible – to overcome. Maybe she was wrong to leave Hogwarts. She already missed Aiko dreadfully, and it felt like surrendering to leave before the end of term.

But the last few weeks at Hogwarts had been miserable. She was tormented by the sight of him around every corner, and the sight of him with Agatha. The betrayal was so deep and complete she felt as though she truly had been stabbed in the back with a sharp, crooked knife.

She could understand him leaving her, almost. After all, she had always known that he still had feelings for Agatha, no matter how deeply buried they were. And if he could have Agatha, why in the world would he want her? But the revelation that he had never loved her, that he had in fact plotted against her, was too much to bear.

Was she really that horrible, that he wanted to kill her?

The thought made her shiver, and a suppressed sob caught in her throat. It was so unfair. She had been incredibly, unbelievably happy, and now?

Now she wished that Agatha’s attempt at murder had been successful. It would have been easier that way.

Vivi tried to push those thoughts away. But violence, whether against herself or others, had a cathartic effect, and so she kept coming back to the death scenes. Over and over, she saw herself on the Quidditch pitch, dead. Sprawled across the Hogwarts staircase, dead. Dead…dead…dead.

She lay back down and focused on the soft down pillows and the swirls in the stucco ceiling.

Being home was easy. She could just lie back and try not think or feel, relive or regret. Maybe this was what she needed. To be quiet and still and alone, until the ache dulled and she felt whole again. Or, if not whole, at least not shredded into ragged stripes, like now.

But in the quiet, a nagging voice whispered her name.

Vivi, it said, You should have just died. Why didn’t you just die?

Vivi tried to ignore it, but it persisted.

He never loved you. He hated you enough to kill you. You should have just died.

I wish I had, Vivi answered it. You know that.

Vivi closed her eyes, giving up on distracting herself. In a moment her mother would climb the stairs and peek in, but Vivi would pretend to be asleep again. She wanted to be alone. She was done fighting the voice, done fighting her sorrow. Maybe the voice was right. No, it was right. But maybe it wasn’t too late…

Steps on the stairs. Her mother peeped in, but Vivi was still.

Three days passed. And still, Vivi refused to get out of bed.

“Vivi, honey, ya have ta get out of bed and come downstairs,” Cadence demanded. She shook her daughter roughly, trying to get something, anything out of her.

Vivi didn’t stir.

“Maybe we should take her ta the doctor Lawrence. This isn’t right. She was gettin’ better,” her mother wailed, looking at her husband in despair.

Lawrence stood in the doorway, frowning. Vivi had barely eaten or drank anything since she arrived home. He thought she would be better here, but she seemed worse. He didn’t think she was sick, though. It was more like just didn’t care anymore – like she had given up the will to live.

“I don’t think a ‘muggle’ doctor would be able ta help her, Cadence,” he said softly, coming to sit down on the bed by his daughter. He brushed the hair back away from her face. Her skin was hot and dry to the touch, like she had a fever.

“Wake up Vivi,” Lawrence whispered. “Come on honey. Come back ta us.”

But there was no answer. Something deep down inside his daughter was broken, and he did not know how to fix it. If it was just heartbreak, he thought he could have helped. But it was like that school had shattered her spirit too.

What could they do? What could he do? Cadence started to cry beside him, and Lawrence felt despair welling up in his throat. Not again. Not Vivi, not again.

On impulse he leaned over and gently lifted his daughter out of bed. She was light as a feather in his arms. Then, without thinking, he carried her out of the room and down the stairs.

“Lawrence?” Cadence called, but he did not answer, and she did not follow.

He walked out the backdoor into the summer sun. It was a cruelly beautiful day. The clouds above were white and puffy, floating across the sky like sheep at pasture. But Lawrence barely seemed to notice his surrounding. He strode through the high grass and weeds in the backyard, ignoring the brambles that pulled at his clothes.

At first he did not know where he was going. He just knew he should get her out of the house, into the summer sun. But as his feet turned toward a familiar gravel path, he realized he was headed to the lake.

Vivi had grown up fishing for bass in the water, swimming with her cousins, and picking blackberries along the shore. Some of her first memories were at the lake. Maybe if he took her there she would remember her life. “Please Vivi,” he told the lifeless form in his arms. He could feel her breath against his neck, and knew that was something, at least.

Soon he glimpsed the body of water through a grove of tall pine trees. He could smell the water: a clean, damp scent with an undertone of algae and mud.

He stopped at the edge of the lake and looked at his daughter’s face. What had they done to her at this wizarding school? He knew it wasn’t just the injuries. There was something more. Even when she was lifeless in the hospital wind, Vivi had never been this broken.

“Oh honey,” he whispered, smoothing her hair and sitting down against a pine, rocking her in his arms like when she was an infant. “Come on Vivi, this isn’t you.”

Across the lake a bird cawed a warning. But there was no other noise. Vivi lay still.

“Wake up now. Wake up.” He continued to rock her, humming a song he used to sing to her:

Hush little baby
Don’t say a word
Daddy’s gonna buy ya
A Mocking Bird…

The song caught in his throat as he looked at her. She was so gaunt and pale, like living death. “Please, Vivi. Please.”

Nothing. He was going to lose her again, she was gone already, his daughter was alive but dead in his arms. Where was Vivi? Lively, happy, playful, wonderful Vivi? Who was supposed to get married and have a family and grow old? And bury her parents? Not the other way around. This was wrong and twisted and sick.

Lawrence hugged her to him, pressing her against his chest like he could share his heart with her. He was gripping her so tightly that he thought he imagined it when she shuddered.

But then she shuddered again and let out a small, wounded sigh.

“Vivi. Vivi, wake up. Wake up, Vivi.” An urgent command now. “Come on baby, wake up.”

Nothing.

A moment passed.

She opened her eyes.

It was the second time in two months he had seen her wake up like this. The first time, she had come out of a coma. That was better than this time, because this time he could tell she did not want to wake up.

She shut her eyes.

“Vivi! No, Vivi, come back. Come back now. You have to come back.”

She sighed again, a small, defeated sigh, and opened her eyes once more. She didn’t speak, but she leaned into his chest. She could hear her father’s heartbeat, and it reminded her of her own, faint, pounding heart.

As her father held her, Vivi tried to make sense of her reality. The sun, the sky, the light all confused her.

Oh. Right, she thought, I’m still alive.

The thought came as a revelation. She almost believed that she wasn’t alive.

“It’s going to be all right honey,” she heard her father whispering.

Oh. He didn’t know. No, it’s not, she thought.

She didn’t feel alive. She couldn’t picture her future, and she didn’t want to think about her past. She was just there. Just…floating. In her mind she knew it was silly to give up on the world, but in her heart she still felt like she was falling toward a horrible end. It was better to die now and avoid the pain, right? Why wait just to die painfully later?

“You just have to wake up now. We’re so worried about you. We miss you Vivi. Don’t make us lose you again.”

Guilt flooded through her small frame. She hadn’t meant to hurt them! Oh, but of course she was hurting them. This unlife she was living hurt them.

She did not want to hurt them, but how could she go back to being the same person? How could she recover from this? From the realization that love is not real? That it was all a lie? She had lost faith in the world. Maybe the world had lost faith in her.

“Vivi. I love you, Vivi. Vivi, please.”

Her father was still murmuring into her hair. I love you, he was saying, over and over.

But if he loves me, love must be real, she reasoned with herself. She loved her parents. They loved her. Maybe that was real.

Slowly, slowly, she felt a little bit of the pain recede. She was not alone. Her father loved her. That love pricked her heart, and made her feel…maybe not alive, but not dead. She could smell his cologne and pine trees. She could smell the lake. When she was little, she loved this lake.

Leaning in closer to her father, Vivi nodded, once. All right. For him, maybe she could stay alive. For her mother, she would try. She couldn’t promise anything more. She couldn’t promise to be the unbroken girl they remembered. But she would try.

I’m sorry, she thought. I’m so sorry.

Lawrence held her head tight against his chest.  A nod. It was better than nothing. His daughter was still alive.

For Vivi, the next month passed in a blur. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her mom, learning how to cook and sampling the food. She also spent hours at the lake with her dad. Sometimes they would fish lazily from the bank or just stare at the water. Other times, they would take the boat out and drift late into the evening, until darkness drove them home.

Her parents kept her busy, but she welcomed it. Anything to chase her dark thoughts away.

Vivi started swimming in the lake, too, paddling furiously with her arms until she sank, and her father pulled her up. He always stayed nearby when she swam in the shallow water. Soon, she started to regain her strength. She still needed her chair most of the time, but she could walk short distances using a cane. Across a room or down the hall.

She tried not to think, much. Instead she focused on just being.

Then one evening, when Vivi wheeled herself into the kitchen, Lawrence looked up and smiled.

“Come on,” he said. “We’re going for a walk.”

Vivi gave him an odd look. “Or a roll, in my case,” she observed.

“No. A walk. Ya can do it. Come on.” He wheeled her chair outside and helped her stand up. It hurt, but she welcomed the pain. Pain was good. It meant her legs were still functioning.

“I’ll help ya,” he said, holding on tightly to her waist. They took a step. And then another. And then another.

And they walked, almost half way to the lake before Vivi collapsed, crying from the pain. Her dad carried her back. When they arrived in the kitchen, Vivi was as white as flour. Cadence glowered at her husband, but she didn’t object. So far, his intuitive parenting skills were proving far more useful on a broken-hearted teenager than her own.

The next day, they did it again. The routine continued until Vivi was walking around the house and the yard, gaining her strength back with each passing day.

Vivi tried not to question her miracle. Perhaps Echo had been right, and she just needed to gain her strength back. But secretly, she thought that explanation did not quite fit.

It took Vivi weeks to put her thoughts into words, but eventually she decided that she recovered because she wanted to recover. After all, when she first woke up in the hospital wing, she started down the path to a rapid recovery. She was sitting up and talking within two days, and took a few teetering steps to the bathroom on the third.

Then Avery broke her heart, and she relapsed. She couldn’t walk or talk, and she could barely feed herself. Her legs didn’t work because she didn’t want them to. She wanted to die. She wanted to die so badly that she fell into a self-induced coma, which she thought of as The Dark Time.

But her father woke her up from The Dark Time, she remembered why she wanted to live (or at least why she ought to want to live), and here she was.  In pain, but recovering. Alive, and willing to live.

After all, who was she, to end her own life? Not God or a demigod, but just a girl. And so she lived.

“Hurry up Vivs, I’m leavin’!” Lawrence yelled up the stairs, shaking his head at his only daughter. He needed to be at the store right now, but he knew Vivi wanted to go. She was going stir crazy inside of the house all day.

“Coming! Sorry,” Vivi called as she walked gingerly down the steps, gripping the hand rail tight. “I’m here.”

Lawrence stared. “Ya look nice,” he commented, but left it at that.

Vivi blushed. “I know it’s too much,” she muttered. She was wearing gray linen pants, a fitted white blouse and gold sandals. Her hair hung loose – it was long now, almost half-way down her back – and she had put on makeup.

“I thought I might see a movie this afternoon. It’s been a long time….”

“It has been a long time since ya did anything fun. Ya look good, Vivs. Come on.” Lawrence said, leading the way out to his truck, a tan F150.

He didn’t say it, but this was the first time he had seen Vivi look normal since the accident. The pants covered her scars and the makeup hid the circles under her eyes. She looked like a young woman. His heart filled with hope. Vivi was getting better. She was going to recover. He wasn’t going to lose his beautiful daughter after all.

Vivi followed him out the the truck, and let him help her in. She was silent for most of the drive to town, staring out the window and looking down at her recently painted nails. She was nervous that something would go wrong while she was by herself, but she was also eager to be alone for a little while. She wanted to do something fun without her parents – something normal. She wanted to be seventeen and frivolous.

So when Lawrence parked the truck, she waved a hasty goodbye and was off. Scottsburg, Mississippi was a small town, which in this case was both a blessing and a curse. Even Vivi could navigate it easily on foot, but it didn’t offer many options.

Still, the town had a quaint, preserved southern charm that attracted a few tourists, so there were a couple of neat little places to visit. There was an old fashioned movie theater and a thriving barbecue place. There were a couple of hole-in-the-wall restaurants that served up eggs, grits, biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

There was even a clothing boutique, which was where Vivi was headed now. First, though, she stopped to check the movie times. The romantic comedies were off limits, but an action adventure movie caught her interest, and Vivi bought a ticket for the three o’clock show.

Now, she thought, time to shop. While shopping and clothes were not one of Vivi’s priorities, she was a girl and enjoyed looking pretty from time to time. Comfort was important too, so she usually chose simple cuts in fabrics like cotton and linen. But today she felt adventurous.

Arriving at the store, she peered in the window and was relieved to see the right type of clothing – not men’s or older women’s, but tight jeans and cute blouses like muggles her age wore. She realized that it had been a long time since she went shopping. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight off of her already petite frame, and no longer knew what size she wore.

A bell rang when she stepped inside.

“Hello,” piped a chipper sales lady. Vivi winced.

Merlin I hope they don’t work on commission, she thought, and smiled feebly back.

“Can I help you?”

“No, no I’m just looking,” Vivi said, and moved toward the back of the store, browsing as she went. New jeans would probably be a good idea. A couple of shirts. A dress. Shoes.

She decided to try on jeans first. As she expected, her old size didn’t fit. She debated getting it anyway and then trying to gain weight, but she doubted that would happen any time soon. Her appetite had disappeared and didn’t seem to be coming back.

Oh well.

Next it was shirts. She tried on a few – the sales lady called them polos – but put them back. Next it was sweaters, but even the extra small looked baggy.

“They don’t fit,” Vivi sighed as she handed the shirts back to the sales lady.

The woman, who erred on the side of ‘pleasantly plump’ gave her a withering look that said clearly, And you’re complaining?

Vivi sighed again. She missed having muscle and feeling strong. Now she felt like a stick, or worse, a limp piece of spaghetti. It was depressing.

But she had to have new clothes, so she decided to just go for it. So when Vivi finally left the store, she carried a bulging shopping bag. In contained two pairs of jeans, one pair a dark wash, the other black. She also carried three new shirts, two sun dresses, a cardigan, a belt, and new ballet slippers.

None of the items, with the exception of the shoes and belt, fit. She had decided that the clothes would be her incentive to eat and work out, and while it might not be a good monetary decision, it would still make her mother very proud.

She dropped the clothes off in the truck and checked the time. 2:00. It would only take a few minutes to walk over to the movie theater, but since she had no where else to go, she headed that way. Then she noticed an ice cream shop and smiled. Time to fulfill her newest resolution.

It was cold inside. The sign advertised 50 plus flavors, but she didn’t feel like experimenting. She wanted strawberry ice cream – it had always been her favorite flavor. She got in line behind a tall man who looked a few years older than her. He had sandy brown hair, and was wearing blue jeans and a white polo. She looked away from him to stare at the ice cream, but a moment later his voice brought her back.

“Sorry to ask this, but is your name Vivienne, by any chance?”

Her head snapped up and she looked at him, startled.

“What? No. I mean yes, yes it is. Why?”

He pointed to the logo on his shirt. “I work for Lawrence. I think we’ve met, once or twice.”

She looked at him again. She vaguely remembered meeting his father’s eager protegee, once, a few years before. But it had been a long time. How had he recognized her?

“You father has pictures of you all over the place,” he said. “I’m Tanner, by the way.”

Oh. That explained it. The plight of being an only child.

“Vivi,” she said unnecessarily, shaking his outstretched hand.

It was his turn in line, so he paid for his ice cream, and then to her surprise, he said, “I’ll get hers as well.”

Now she felt bad ordering the triple scoop she planned, but he had offered, so what the heck.

“A large strawberry, please. In a cup. Thanks.” Strange, how awkward mundane things like this could be.

Please let me take my ice cream and escape
, she pleaded silently.

But there was no luck. He waited on her, and walked her out the door.

“You go to boarding school, don’t you?” He asked conversationally. “Home for the summer?”

“You could say that,” she muttered. No. They were not talking about her. “Where do you go?”

“Ole Miss,” he replied. He paused. “Are you okay?”

Vivi felt the blush spreading across her face, but she couldn’t control it. She walked too slowly to keep up with him. Stupid tall boy with stupid long legs. She was better, but she wasn’t perfect. She probably would never be 100 percent again. He slowed to match her pace, and she resented him for it.

“I’m fine.” Vivi stopped at the corner, looking across the street. “I’m headed this way.”

Tanner examined her quizzically, perhaps surprised by her hostility, perhaps noticing how gingerly she placed one foot after another, like a cat with tape on its paws. But whatever he was thinking, he didn’t share.

“All right. I should get back to the store. Nice to meet you, Vivi.”

“Yeah. You too.” Vivi felt a little bad as she turned away, but she was glad he was gone. Being around people, especially people her own age, was too complicated. It took effort, and she was already tired.

Crossing the street, Vivi entered the dark movie theater. She sat in the back and watched the film, and when it was over she walked slowly back to the truck, alone.

Shasta shook her finger at the crystal ball, snarling, “Dat won’t work! No, no, no!”

The ball glowed red, throwing an image of Vivi walking alone into sharp relief. Then the glow faded, and the ball went dark.

Shasta eyed it moodily, then stood to add wood to the fire. The girl was starting to interfere with her plans. None of her spells seemed to work quite right anymore, and every now and again she would get a sharp pain in her knees. It was annoying, being constantly bombarded by someone else. But that was the price of Unseen magic.

“T’ain’t no wonder I ama da only witch dat’ll do it,” Shasta sighed.

She had wanted to just make the broom and leave it for Vivi to find, but now she knew that would not work. Someone had to talk to Vivi.

She sighed again. “If ya want somethin’ dun right…” she grumbled.

So Shasta took down a cauldron, threw a handful of powder in the fire, and began to gather ingredients. She needed a summoning spell, and this time “Accio” wasn’t going to do the trick.

Two weeks after Vivi first met Tanner, her mother invited him over for dinner.

Vivi protested, but Cadence overrode her, saying, “It’s only polite, Vivs. He’s really been a big help ta your Dad.”

Vivi knew the comment was a nice way of saying that Tanner had picked up the slack at the store while her father was spending all of his time making sure she didn’t go off the deep end again, so she held her tongue and planned to suffer in silence.

She wasn’t sure what it was she didn’t like about Tanner. For a second, she worried that it was because he was a muggle, but she quickly dismissed that thought. No, it was something else. Finally Vivi decided she envied his normal life here in the States. No Black Wands, no possessed friends, no vindictive witches. Muggle life might not be a piece of cake, but it sure seemed like one compared to her last six years in the wizarding world.

Tanner arrived for dinner at 7 o’clock sharp. He sat on the porch with Lawrence talking about horses for a little while. Vivi could hear him through the open window as she sat the dining room table. The conversation was boring and intriguing at the same time; was this what normal people talked about?

Then Cadence announced dinner was ready, the men came in, and they all said grace.

“I never heard what school you went to, Vivi,” Tanner asked, breaking the silence as they passed food around the table.

Cadence shifted nervously, but Vivi was used to this question.

“Brackenwald. In Scotland. You’ve probably never heard of it,” she offered.

There was silence again, and Vivi wondered if she had said something wrong. But then her mother and Tanner started talking about the weather, and she let her thoughts wander. She thought about what she would do after the summer and where she would live. Maybe she would go to a muggle college like Ole Miss. In October she would be able to use magic unrestricted, so she could forge a high school transcript. Or she could try to get a magical job here.

“Vivi?” Vivi heard her name and blinked, realizing someone must have asked her another question.

“What?”

“Did you want to walk down to the lake? We’re starting a bonfire. I think your cousins might come…” Lawrence said.

“Oh, sure,” Vivi said. She hadn’t seen much of her cousins this summer. She suspected they were avoiding her, but she didn’t really blame them. Aunt Sally probably said something about strange things happening at the nutcase school. Sally was many things, but discrete wasn’t one of them.

“Tanner? Mind helping her start the fire? I’ll be down in a minute, have to take care of a few things,” Lawrence asked.

Tanner nodded while Vivi frowned, realizing she had been tricked.

“Well all right then, let’s go,” she muttered irritably. She stood up and headed for the door, grabbing lighter fluid and matches as she went. Tanner followed, his long, easy strides catching up with her within moments.

“Hey,” he said, “Hold up. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Vivi said.

“So you always act this weird?”

“No.”

“Then what did I do?”

Vivi stopped and sighed. “Nothing. Sorry,” she said, looking up at him. He was probably close to six feet: not as tall as Avery, but not short either.

Tanner raised his eyebrows.

“Just been a rough year. I haven’t been very nice to anyone, honestly,” she explained. It was hard to hate him when he was looking at her with big honest eyes, almost like he cared. And the guy had bought her ice cream, and helped her Dad. “How did you end up here? Working for my Dad?”

“I volunteer with the Wetland Reserve Program,” he said, adding, “Parks and Recreation major. I met your Dad while I was down here, so started working for him so I could stay and keep volunteering.”

Vivi wasn’t really sure what he was talking about, but she nodded like she did. They kept walking, at an easier pace now.

“What went wrong? With your year?” He asked, rekindling the conversation.

“Nothing. Everything. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

“Well,” Vivi said, carefully, “I got hurt. I…fell. Don’t ask me how. Anyways, I’m still on the mend.”

Tanner nodded. Arriving at the lake, they started the fire in silence. Soon a warm glow spread through the darkness. Vivi could hear birds calling in the distance, and she wondered if they were what he tried to preserve. She had heard a fair bit about wetlands and water birds, living this close to the coast.

They settled in to wait, swatting at the occasional mosquito and talking softly. Vivi found that it was actually nice to talk to someone different. Tanner didn’t know her past. He didn’t treat her like she might break, and he didn’t ask stupid questions about her life. Instead he asked her what she thought about things–music, politics, animals, Scotland.

They would talk and fall silent, talk and fall silent, until Vivi began to wonder what had happened to her father and cousins. It had been a good thirty minutes now, maybe an hour. She had lost track of time, but she didn’t really mind.

Vivi saw Tanner almost every day over the next month. He took her canoeing in the wetlands, pointing out the wildlife he worked to protect. They saw a movie in town, explored the countryside in his beat-up Jeep, and went horseback riding. There were picnics and trips to the beach. He taught her to drive a stick shift.

At nights, they would sit down by the lake, listening to the crickets and talking. Vivi would lean against him and pretend he was the first person she kissed. She wanted to love him; he was fun and charming and kind, and he made her feel good again. When he looked at her she felt pretty. When he touched her, she felt wanted. It was nice to know he was hers and hers alone.

And why shouldn’t she love Tanner? While Avery had been handsome in a brooding way, Tanner was handsome in a wholesome way. He was normal. This was a nice, normal life. This was someone she could love, who would love her back, and give her everything Avery never had. His heart, to start with. He could keep her safe. He made her happy.

I want this, she realized one night as Tanner kissed her gently and paused for a moment to look into her eyes. His were a warm, chocolate brown. I want love and happiness and security. More than magic, maybe. I want this.

“I’ve only known you a month and I’m running out of date ideas,” Tanner murmured, stroking her hair. He kissed her forehead, then her cheek, working his way down her neck. She shivered, though the night wasn’t cold. Tanner pulled her closer with one hand and brushed her hair out of her eyes with the other. He kissed her mouth again.

“It’s been a good month,” Vivi managed when he pulled away. She slipped her hands under his shirt, stroking his back. Tanner was too nice to try anything with her, but sometimes Vivi wished he would. She didn’t plan on saving herself for marriage anymore. If she had to lose her virginity to someone, Tanner seemed like a good choice. He at least would still be there in the morning.

She moved her hands slowly down his back and around to his stomach. She rested her forehead against his chest and looked down, cautiously undoing the top button on his jeans.

“Vivi?” Tanner asked. He took her face in his hands. “What are you doing?”

Her face fell. “Um, nothing. Never mind,” she whispered.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Tanner said softly. “Just…are you sure?”

Vivi smiled and kissed him again. Above, the stars twinkled brightly against the velvet sky.

The weeks passed, and Vivi grew stronger and happier every day. She could walk; she could run. Tanner loved her, and she loved spending time with him. She soaked up the summer sun and undivided attention. They talked about the future, and secretly Vivi began to think seriously about attending Ole Miss. This was what her life would have been, as a muggle. Maybe it was what it should have been, she thought.

But sometimes at night, in the dark, she wondered if she was doing the right thing. She was happy, but was was she happy enough? Would she always want this? Sometimes she worried that she wanted the love and attention more than she wanted Tanner. He was wonderful. He was perfect. But he never made her laugh until her sides hurt.

She tried to push those thoughts away. She shouldn’t compare him to Avery. It was like comparing black and white. They had nothing in common. And yet…life here in Mississippi was never quite as fun or exciting as she remembered her better days at Hogwarts. There was something missing.

She lay awake one night, thinking about Tanner and love and Mississippi and Hogwarts, feeling torn. She knew she could never have Avery again, but if she stayed with Tanner would she be giving up on the chance at something better down the road?

I’m only 16, she reminded herself, though she felt years older. She didn’t want to make a decision now, but the summer couldn’t last forever. Of course, if she did decide to go to Ole Miss with Tanner, she didn’t have to marry him yet. They had time. But she didn’t want to set herself up for another heartbreak. And she didn’t want to hurt him.

She rolled over, stretching her legs as the familiar pain rolled up her calves and into her thighs. She was much, much better now, but she still ached sometimes.

Then, for the first time in months, she let herself think about Avery. She remembered his smile. His black hair and eyes. How he was quick to anger, but also how he held her – like she was his heart. She had loved him. There was no question about that. The question now was whether or not she loved Tanner. At first she thought she did. But was she just rebounding?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, Vivi thought, agonized. In a way, her indecision was an answer. She had known she loved Avery. If she didn’t know, it must mean that she didn’t love Tanner. Right? But could she maybe love him later, when Hogwarts was an even more distant memory?

Tired of tossing and turning, and sat up and climbed out of bed. “I’m going for a walk,” she told the empty bedroom. No one argued, so she donned old blue jeans and a ragged cotton shirt and slipped outside.

The night was cool but not cold. She headed for the lake out of habit, planning just to walk there and back. She thought again of Avery and Hogwarts, and of the great lake where he had first kissed her. It had been their place, after that, or at least that’s how she thought of it. She pushed the thought away.

As she focused on the present, Vivi had a sudden, intense feeling that someone was watching her. She looked around, but there was nothing but grass and trees.

“That’s odd,” she muttered, but continued with her walk. She drew close to the water and stood on the edge, looking in the murky depths. The moon and stars, reflected in the water, looked back at her. As she watched, something else slowly appeared: a slow, pulsing red glow. She jumped and looked up at the sky.

The red light hovered low over the lake. As she watched it moved, gliding toward her. She backed away slowly. Her wand was in her room – Vivi never carried it anymore. Now, she wished that she did.

“Magic,” she said, “It has to be.” But where was the witch or wizard? What did they want? Was the light meant for her, or was it merely a coincidence that it appeared now?

She wanted to run but she felt captivated by the glow. It drew within five feet of her and stopped, still pulsing.

“Hello?” she asked. No one answered. But then the light blinked and moved away. “Did it just wink at me?” she wondered aloud. Against her better judgment she took a few steps forward, following it. “You are an idiot,” she muttered to herself. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

But Vivi was curious, and though the light was a fresh blood red, she didn’t feel like it meant her harm. She carefully skirted the edges of the lake, brushing past cattails and weeds to follow it. When she got stuck and had to backtrack the light would wait. When she drew too close it would dance ahead. Soon, it led her away from the lake and into the forest, but Vivi followed willingly. Maybe the light held answers for her.

It wasn’t long before Vivi realized that every tree and bush looked the same to her. She was still following the light, but without it she would be lost. She walked for what seemed like a very long time. Her jeans were covered in mud and her hands were crisscrossed with scratches from pushing back thorns. She was thirsty, and fear was beginning to settle in her stomach when she stumbled into a small clearing and realized the light had stopped. It waited patiently in front of a ramshackle cottage – really more of a shack. Vivi stopped too, and watched it.

“You’ve acome dis far, girl,” a deep voice called out from the second story of the cottage. “You’in might as well comeon in.”

“Who are you?” Vivi asked, her voice raspy.

“A witch.” The light went out, leaving Vivi in the dark.

Vivi hesitated. So the light was magic, and it had been sent by a witch. But why? She had come this far though, so she decided that bold was best and tramped in through the front door.

“Ya finally made it. I’m Andrea Shasta,” the witch told Vivi as she walked down the rickety staircase. “I’ve been waitin’ fer ya.”

“Why?” Vivi asked.

“Because ya need somethin’ from me,” Shasta said, remaining enigmatic.

Vivi just stared. Walking through the woods she had felt like she was in a dream. Now, reality came crashing back and she was suspicious. This was weird. She never should have followed the red light. “I do?” she asked at last, not moving beyond the doorway.

Shasta sighed. “I dun do th’ dark magic, Vivienne Moor, and I’m not about ta start now. Come in and sit yerself down.” Shasta turned without waiting for Vivi to obey her. She disappeared into another room, reappearing a moment later holding a long package. “Here.” She thrust the package at Vivi.

Vivi took it, taking a seat on the only chair in the room. Carefully she unwrapped the plain brown paper. Underneath it was the prettiest broom she had ever seen. It was long and light, with even twigs and a smooth shaft. The shaft was painted a dark red, and delicate gold lettering spelled the name: The Red-Tailed Hawk.

“Th’ hawk catches the sparrow as ya catch th’ snitch,” Shasta explained. “Ya needed a new one and I made it, like I made yer last ‘un. Ya can go now.”

Vivi started at her. “I can’t take this,” she said softly. “I don’t deserve it, and I don’t fly anymore.” She remembered buying her first broom and being assured that it was made by a master craftsman. But she had never known who. Now, apparently, she did.

“Ya do too,” Shasta hissed. “You’ll take it, and you’ll fly, and you’ll quit arunnin’ away from yerself. I’ve been awatchin’ ya Moor, and I know ya dun want what was agiven ta ya any more. But magic isn’t somethin’ ya can give back. Ya won’t ever be happy if ya can’t accept yerself as yerself.”

“I can’t go back,” Vivi whispered.

“Yes ya can. And ya better. You’ll regret it iffin ya don’t.”

Vivi looked down rather than meet the witch’s fierce black eyes. She traced the gold lettering with her finger, remembering what it felt like to fly. She would never be able to fly again,  of course. The very thought made her nauseous. But for her, the broom represented magic. Magic. A wand in her hand, a spell on her lips, the feeling of power rippling through her. Could she really give that up?

Suddenly she realized that she couldn’t. Magic was a part of her. She had never been a muggle; she had been born a witch, and she would always be a witch. Her parents and Tanner had given her back her life, but now it was time to live it on her own. She couldn’t run away.

“Thank you,” Vivi whispered. But when she looked up, Shasta was gone. Instead the red light had returned. It twirled in front of her, almost like it was waving for her to come on. Vivi picked up the broom and looked around the room once more. Then she followed the light home.

The rest of the summer flew by. Before Vivi knew it, a snowy white owl had arrived in her kitchen bearing her school letter. It hooted irritably at her when she trotted down the stairs in search of breakfast.

“Oh drats,” Vivi grumbled. “I guess I better have it then.”

She took the letter from the owl and read it quickly. It contained the usual: her class schedule, a list of required textbooks, and a list of recommended supplies. But across the bottom of the letter someone had scrawled:

I wanted you to have this, just in case. –E.M.

Vivi studied the initials. She guessed the owl was from Elionwy Mayvero, though it surprised her that the professor had remembered her.

The letter reminded Vivi that the summer wouldn’t last forever. Soon, she had to tell her parents and Tanner that she was leaving again. She had hoped to have a little more time. But since visiting Shasta she had been resigned to returning to school.

She folded the letter up glumly and stuffed it in her pocket. She was relieved that the decision was made—and she felt lighter now that she no longer wrestled with her conscience—but that didn’t make leaving Mississippi any easier.

“Today is August 15,” she told the empty kitchen. “I have two weeks.”

“Two weeks until what, baby?” Her dad asked. He was hanging up his rain coat in the hall. It was pouring hard outside, so she hadn’t heard him come in.

“Nothing,” Vivi said quickly. “Hi Dad.”

Lawrence paused in the doorway and watched her. “September first is in two weeks,” he mused. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

Vivi looked away.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Lawrence said. He sighed. “I can’t say I’m happy about it, but I thought ya might go back. It’s in your blood, isn’t it?”

“I don’t want to,” Vivi sniffed, her throat tightening. “I think I have to though.”

“Shh, Vivi.” Lawrence said. “You don’t have to. But if you need to, I understand.”

She nodded. “I have to tell Tanner.”

“All right. Take the truck. I’ll see you at dinner?”

“Yeah,” Vivi said. She got keys and a rain jacket, and then left the house to face the storm.

Driving through the back roads to his house, Vivi started to lose her nerve. She could tell him later. She might still change her mind. It felt so dramatic, driving through the rain like this to…to what? Break it off with him? Tell him it was over? She didn’t want it to be over. But if she was going back to Hogwarts…

“I can visit,” she said. “I’ll be back in a year. I don’t have to stay in Scotland. I just have to be a witch. I could be a witch in America.”

She tried to imagine telling Tanner that she was a witch, but the scene wouldn’t even play out in her head it felt so unnatural. She was near his house, but she kept driving to give herself more time to think. What would she say? “Well, there’s this thing called magic. No. Seriously.” What would he do? Would he still love her? How could he? How could he not?

She pulled into a long gravel driveway and turned the truck around. If she kept taking her feelings out on the gas pedal she was going to wind up in Louisiana.

Finally Vivi pulled into his driveway and put the truck in park. He met her at the door, his hair tasseled and a confused grin on his face.

“Hey girl,” he called, waving at her. “What are you doing here? I thought I was coming over later.”

“Just needed to talk to you,” Vivi answered, jumping down from the truck.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” Vivi stopped in the doorway and he pulled her into a hug. She buried her face in his shirt, breathing in his scent. He smelled like Old Spice, rain and lemons. She guessed that he had been washing the dishes. She liked his house: a little one bedroom place with fifty acres that he rented from a man in a retirement home. He wanted to buy it someday.

“Come inside,” he told her, taking her hand and leading her to the couch. He kissed her. She kissed him back. She didn’t want this to end—not yet. She knew she would not be happy if she stayed, but right now inside his little house, with the rain on the outside, it was hard to imagine that the world got any better.

“Tanner?” she asked tentatively. “I…have to go.”

“But you just got here,” he argued, beginning to unbutton her top.

“Back to Scotland,” she explained sadly. “I need to finish school. I don’t want to leave, it’s just—something I have to do for myself.

“Oh,” Tanner said. He looked at her. “I see.”

“I’m sorry, Tanner,” she whispered. This was even harder than she had expected it to be.

“When do you leave?”

“September 1st.”

“That soon,” he breathed. “I’m going to miss you Vivienne Moor,” he said, holding her tight. “But I’ll see you again, right? You’ll visit?”

“Of course. I’m gonna miss you too.” She felt tears on her cheeks. He wiped them away.

“Don’t cry. You’re not leaving right now, are you?”

“No…”

He started to unbutton her shirt again. “Good. I have plans for you.”

He kissed her and kissed her and kissed her, and Vivi smiled. She would be sad later. For now, she just wanted to enjoy the rest of her summer with Tanner. She wasn’t sure that he was the love of her life, but she did love him. These memories, she knew, would stay with her.

On September 1st Vivi hugged her mother goodbye. She loaded up the truck, and Tanner and her father drove her to the airport.

Then she hugged her father and kissed Tanner goodbye, doing her best not to cry. She only partially succeeded. Then they were waving goodbye from the gate, and she was going through the metal detectors. But instead of searching for her flight number, Vivi disappeared into the bathroom with her luggage. She waited until it was empty, then reached into her purse and touched the golden galleon.

She felt a tug behind her navel and suddenly she was spiraling back toward Hogwarts and the life she had once tried to leave behind.

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