Chapter One: Della Chapter One Della
DELLA DUPREE, PAY ATTENTION,” MISS Barlow snapped. “This is a history of magic class, and you’ve been staring inside your pocket for the last forty-five minutes.” She tapped her wand against her thigh. “So I’d like to know what you have in there.”
Della didn’t answer, although she wanted to point out that it hadn’t been for the whole forty-five minutes, only the last ten. However, she was too scared of Miss Barlow to say this. She thought about practicing the vanishing spell they had learned in potions class yesterday, but disappearing would only get her into more trouble.
“Well, Miss Dupree? I’m waiting.”
“A duck,” Della whispered, feeling her cheeks start to burn. “A tiny, baby duckling that doesn’t have a mother. He imprinted on me, Miss Barlow, and I have to keep him warm. I’ve put him under a sleep enchantment so he can rest,” she explained. “His name’s Pickle. He’s a common scoter duck, and it’s extra important to keep him safe because common scoter ducks aren’t actually common at all. They’re on the endangered list.” Della could hear Melanie Sloane and Cassie Watkins laughing behind her, and she shook her hair forward to hide her face.
“Pickle is it?” Miss Barlow narrowed her eyes. “And last week it was a turtledove with a broken wing called Flutter.”
“Also on the endangered list,” Della murmured.
“And before that, if I remember correctly, a bunny with a torn ear that you stuck back together with healing tape from the nurse’s office? Very expensive healing tape I might add, which we like to save for broomstick accidents.”
Della nodded, wishing everyone would stop staring at her.
Miss Barlow stalked over and stood beside Della’s desk. “You’re not even on the right page, Della,” she sighed, glancing down at Magic in the Middle Ages. “Perhaps if you paid more attention in class, your grades would improve.”
“I’m very sorry, Miss Barlow.”
“Do you even know what we’re studying?”
“How Ruthersfield Academy was started?”
“Yes, indeed, and I would have thought that you, of all people, would be interested in the founding of our great school,” the history teacher said. “Which as we all know was the first accredited school for magic in this country. Set up in?” She looked around the class, and the girls chanted back at her, “Twelve twenty-three.”
“By?” Miss Barlow held out her arms, and Della’s classmates chorused, with a sprinkling of laughter, “Della Dupree!”
Della winced, wishing for the twelve thousandth time that her parents had named her Isabel or Lucy or anything other than Della. But her mother had loved the name, so that’s what she had been called. In fact, as far as Della knew, she wasn’t even related to the original Della Dupree who started Ruthersfield Academy. There were Duprees all over Yorkshire and Lancashire, but the only witch Della was aware of in her family happened to be a potion maker called Agatha, four generations back, who had run a small magic shop on Oxford Street in London. “I mean we never actually thought you’d turn out to be a witch!” her mother often said. Although when Della amazingly showed signs of magic at five years old, turning her bathwater into lime jelly and floating out of the tub on an enormous green bubble, her parents were understandably thrilled. It had to be fate, they decided. As if calling their daughter Della had been a good-luck charm, since she’d inherited the magic gene at a time when fewer and fewer witches were being born each year. Except, in Della’s eyes, all she had inherited was the lifelong burden of being named after one of the world’s most famous witches. And it wasn’t an easy name to live up to.
She was nothing like that Della Dupree, who must have been brilliant and outspoken with a loud commanding voice. Probably fearless, too, Della reckoned, picturing her as tall and statuesque with a cloud of dark red curls. About as different from her own skinny frame and thin, pale hair as you could get.
“No more animals in school, Miss Dupree. I don’t care how endangered they are. Is that clear?” Miss Barlow said. Della nodded, wanting to point out that there weren’t any rules in the handbook about carrying animals around in your pockets, but she hated speaking up in class, with everyone staring and listening.
“I’m sure that’s why my eyes have been watering all day,” Melanie whispered to Cassie, but loud enough for Della to hear. “I cannot be around feathers.” Cassie gave an explosive laugh, which she turned into a fake-sounding cough.
“All right, calm down, girls.” Miss Barlow clapped her hands. “Your homework assignment is to come up with a short presentation for the class, written from the point of view of the great Della Dupree. This could be a letter, a descriptive passage, a monologue…”
“About why we like to rescue little animals?” Melanie Sloane asked innocently, making Della sink down farther in her chair.
“About what it was like for Della, growing up in the Middle Ages,” Miss Barlow said, giving Melanie a sharp frown. “Be creative. There isn’t a lot written on our founder, but I want you all to think about what it meant to be a witch back then. We know witches were feared and locked up, so how did that affect Della when she was your age? Were her parents supportive? Was she allowed to practice magic at all before Ruthersfield existed? What did her friends think? Put yourselves back in the thirteenth century and give me your best work, to be shared with the class tomorrow.” Loud groans could be heard, and Miss Barlow raised her voice. “Now pack up quietly, please, because I have a meeting to attend.” She swooped out of the room, obviously remembering she had left her briefcase behind, because a moment later it floated into the air and sped after her.
The girls shoved back their chairs and started to pack up their backpacks. Della saw Melanie and Cassie staring at Katrin Einarsdottir as she stuffed her history of magic book into an oversize floppy knitted bag made from gold and purple wool. It had long, knitted handles that she draped over her shoulder, and in a syrupy voice Melanie said, “That’s a lovely bag, Katrin.”
“Thanks,” Katrin said, not sure whether Melanie was being sarcastic or not. She had arrived from Iceland last year, and although she spoke excellent English, she sometimes found it hard to tell when people (particularly Melanie) were making fun of her. “My grandpa made it for me.” She looked a little sad, like she might be missing her grandpa, and Della wanted to ask if a lot of people’s grandpas knitted in Iceland, and how often Katrin got to see him. But her mouth went dry at the thought of talking to Katrin in front of Melanie, so she didn’t say anything.
“Did he knit you that wand case, too?” Melanie said, eyeing the woolly purple-and-gold cover for Katrin’s wand and trying to keep a straight face. “In case it gets cold? You probably have woolly broomstick covers in Iceland too, don’t you?”
“Broomstick covers?” Katrin looked puzzled. “I don’t think so.”
Cassie snickered, and Katrin turned away, realizing the girls were being mean.
“Do you think he’d make me one?” Melanie asked. “In the school colors, just like yours?”
“Or knit me a bow for my hat?” Cassie suggested. They were always making fun of poor Katrin—her clothes, her accent—or pointing out that no Icelandic witch had ever won a Noblet prize, the awards given out once a year for the most impressive advancements in witchcraft.
“She shouldn’t even be in Ruthersfield,” Melanie was always murmuring about Katrin. “It’s not like they don’t have witch schools over there. My cousin is an amazing witch, and she didn’t get into Ruthersfield because there was no room. But Katrin gets in. That’s so not fair.”
Della wished she had the courage to say something, to tell them to be quiet and leave Katrin alone. So what if she came from Iceland? Why did that give Melanie the right to be so horrible to her, making all those jokes about people from Iceland being stupid and wearing woolly ear warmers? But Della knew if she tried to speak up, Melanie would make fun of her, too. It seemed ridiculous that Melanie should have the power to decide who was going to be popular and who couldn’t have any friends. But the truth was she did, because Della and the rest of the girls were scared of her.
Della tried to send Katrin a look of sympathy as she slung her backpack over her shoulder. She always smiled at Katrin whenever she could and never minded being paired up with her in potions class. But Katrin had her head down, and not knowing what else to do, Della joined Anna and Sophie on their way out of the classroom, checking that Pickle was still safely tucked up in her pocket.
“I don’t know how I’m going to finish my history homework,” Anna grumbled. “I’ve got broomstick gymnastics after school, and it’s going to be a really long practice, because we have a big competition this weekend.”
“At least you’ve done your reading,” Della said as they walked across the great hall toward the cafeteria. “I’ve been so busy taking care of Pickle, I know absolutely nothing about the Middle Ages. Or Witch Dupree for that matter.” She couldn’t help feeling that Miss Barlow would expect her presentation to be extra good, just because she shared the same name as their founder.
“It can’t have been easy starting up a magic school when everyone hated witches so much,” Anna said.
“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” Sophie replied. “We all know witches are amazing!”
Della wished Miss Barlow had given the class another assignment. All this attention on Witch Dupree made her uncomfortable, as if people were looking at her more closely now too, silently comparing them. “But I do wonder what she was like,” Della murmured, curious to know if she had anything in common with the famous witch at all.
“Are you talking about Della Dupree?” Melanie asked, walking over with Cassie. “I bet she was off fighting dragons. Showing everyone how brave witches were. Not being all sensitive, carrying baby ducks around in her pocket!” Cassie giggled, and Melanie added, “I’m only joking, Della.”
Della smiled, pretending not to mind, which was what all the girls did when Melanie made fun of them: act like they weren’t bothered.
“How is Pickle doing?” Anna asked at lunch, taking a bite of shepherd’s pie.
“I’m not sure. He’s so tiny. I’ll feel better when he wakes up and starts eating.” Della prodded at a carrot on her plate, not feeling particularly hungry. “I really wish we had an animal-magic program here like they do at that witch school in Germany,” she said. “I watched a whole show on it last week, and it was so amazing. They feed abandoned kittens with unicorn milk, because it’s way more nutritious than regular milk, and they have these cobweb hammocks to rock baby birds in. There’s a phoenix that blows constant hot air in the room to keep the animals warm, and special enchantments to mimic their mothers’ noises. It’s genius.”
“Why don’t you talk to Ms. Cray about setting one up?” Anna suggested.
“Oh, she’d hate the idea. ‘Mucking about with animals is not an academic subject,’?” Della mimicked in her best headmistress’s voice. “Plus, you know she terrifies me. I avoid speaking to her at all costs.”
“Well, the girls would love it,” Sophie said.
“Not Melanie,” Della pointed out. “She’s allergic to just about every single animal there is.”
“Melanie’s not the boss of everyone,” Anna muttered as Katrin wandered down the aisle, looking for a place to sit.
“You should probably sit by the window,” Melanie called out sweetly. “It’s nice and cold over there. Like Iceland!”
Della glanced around, waiting for someone to say something. But no one did, and Miss Harding, the teacher on lunch duty, clearly hadn’t heard.
“She’s so mean,” Della whispered as poor Katrin found an empty table. Anna and Sophie nodded in agreement. “We should go and sit with her,” Della said, knowing they wouldn’t do this, but it made her feel better to say it.
“Then Melanie will turn everyone against us,” Anna murmured.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t against the rules, I swear I’d turn Melanie into the weasel rat she is,” Della hissed.
Anna paled and made the sign of the sickle moon above her head. “Don’t say that, Della, not even as a joke. You’d get sent straight to Scrubs Prison if you did such a thing.” And with that sobering thought the girls finished their lunch in silence.