Toadmila ran. She ran as fast as her legs would take her, as fast as the skirts of her uniform would let her. She shot spells over her shoulder, one by one, trying at first to contain, than to kill the spirit that was chasing her. Nothing worked. Where the wraith should have been screaming in pain, all it let out was a sinister laughter.
There were no textbooks for this. Ghosts were common enough, and easy to banish, but not a ghost that had been fed by prayers, hundreds of years of prayers. Toadmila thought she was going to trip and fall, or perhaps run out of breath and collapse, and the spirit would engulf her and burn her to death. She thought her entire life would flash before her eyes. But, as she kept running, only one memory burst into her mind, clear and bright as the summer morning when it happened.
It was her last year at the Academy, right before the exams. The students were sleeping a fitful sleep after long hours spent in the library the night before. Toadmila had gone out into the garden. She had no need to study. She had done that for years. What she needed now was to clear her mind, let all the knowledge settle, so that each piece of information would be easy to find on the day of the exam. She sat on the grass, studying the petals of a wild witch's-claw. She heard footsteps behind her, but didn't turn, hoping that whoever it was would ignore her. He didn't.
“I know a spell you don't know,” Augustus Lefroy said, lying down on the grass next to her.
“I doubt that, Lefroy,” Toadmila said coldly. She had studied every spell in the entire library, and she was certain that the library was complete.
“No, I know for a fact that you don't know it,” Lefroy said lazily, looking at her from the corner of his eye. “I know, because I'm the one who invented it.”
Toadmila felt her jaws clenching in spite of herself. The thought that one of her classmates could invent a spell grated her. Knowing that it was Augustus Lefroy, of all people, grated even more. She forced herself to shrug her shoulders, as if she didn't care.
“I can teach you,” Lefroy offered.
Toadmila's hands trembled. A new spell was something she could not resist. Lefroy jumped to his feet and took out his wand.
“It goes like this,” he said, drawing fantastic shapes in the air with the tip of his wand.
Toadmila studied him quietly. Suddenly, he grinned, and she realized she'd been mimicking his wand movements with her hand.
“Come on, Wartly, take out your wand and practice properly,” he said. “And you need to take aim on something. Let's try it on that tree over there.”
He pointed at a great oak, hundreds of years old, which stood alone in a corner of the garden. Toadmila forgot to ask what the spell would do. She got up, took out her wand, and practiced the movements she'd seen him do. He corrected her a few times, holding her hand and guiding it through the motions. It annoyed her more that if it had been a real teacher doing it, but it was his spell, and this was the only way to learn it.
“And now for the incantation to make it work,” Lefroy said, when he was satisfied with her wand movement. “It's 'Writhing wraith, wither, waste.' Say it three times real fast.”
Toadmila turned to stare at him.
“You made that up!” she complained, angry that she'd been tricked into practicing a spell that didn't exist.
“Of course I have,” Lefroy answered proudly. “It's my spell. Go on, try it.”
Toadmila raised one eyebrow. She wasn't sure this wasn't a prank. But for all his arrogance, for all his flaws, Lefroy was not a prankster. If anything, he seemed to lack a sense of humor entirely. She turned her aim to the old oak, deciding to try the spell after all. She whispered the incantation, matching each word to a swish of her wand, proud of herself for having figured out on her own that this was the way to do it.
“Writhing wraith, wither, waste! Writhing wraith, wither, waste! Writhing wraith, wither, waste!”
She half-expected the spell to fail and Lefroy to burst into laughter. Instead, the old oak exploded into a ball of flames that quickly spread through the garden.
She remembered Teacher Malbertha's words that day, after Lefroy had helped her put out the fire.
“You didn't just destroy that old oak, you destroyed its spirit.”
“Pity,” she thought. “The most destructive spell ever made, and completely useless. It takes too long to cast, too long to aim properly at a moving target. And what enemy would just stand there waiting for you to cast it?”