Uagadou School of Magic, East Africa
The Warbeck caravan landed in pops at the guest station two miles outside of Uagadou School of Magic’s campus. Campus was a diminutive word, in Blaise’s opinion, as it looked more like a small city of scholars. Hidden in the mountains, it wasn’t just a castle, a forest, and assorted buildings on the grounds. There were towering skyrises, bridges leading from one building to another, sprawling centers, and even roads that worked on three levels: foot and animal traffic, magic carpets floating in the middle, and brooms whizzing overhead. No magical community in Britain was as vast as Uagadou.
At Blaise and Desiree’s equally awed expressions, Desiderius leaned in to say, “Don’t tell me you thought it was going to be huts and clay?”
Neither said anything, ashamed.
“I get it, the sections on Uagadou in our textbooks are slim to say the least. On the continent, the information is readily available, but it shrinks smaller and smaller once it touches the ocean. Kind of like a Secret Keeper, except the land keeps its own secrets. Safer for the students that way too,” Desiderius said. He explained how the more he came (and the less he blabbed about Uagadou’s secrets) the more he could remember in other parts of the world. The magic was strong. He and Celestina walked with Blaise and Desiree, while Diahanna took the crew to set up.
“Mrs. Warbeck,” Blaise said, surprised at himself for directly speaking to her first, “do students here really love your music?”
“You can call me Gran, if you’d like,” she said. She laughed at his ashen expression, adding, “or Miss Celestina. I just don’t need you to be so formal. Especially away from the warden.” She winked at Desiree, who rolled her eyes. They all knew she meant Diahanna.
“Nana teaches here a few weeks a year,” Desiree followed up.
“Yes, I teach a singing course and a course on magical music theory. There are all sorts of ways music creates magic. I tried to tell Dumbledore it would be a worthwhile course, but he kept waving me away. Flitwick said he tried after I gave up, but still nothing. Perhaps now Minerva will allow at least a basic course teaching music. Flitwick can’t be alone with that little chorus for much longer, the art of music is drying up! None of our alumni have any talent!”
Blaise caught Desiree flushing, but her grandmother said nothing; she didn’t even give her the pointed look as her mother might have.
“So I go where I am wanted, Blaise. I teach a course here, but that is not why I am here today. Once a year, they have a Student Spectacular, a showcase from the students studying music, and I perform and give a little speech to kick things off!”
“I’ve never been able to come with her,” said Desiree, bouncing on her toes excitedly as they walked. “I usually stay with my granny Genie for this part of the summer.”
Blaise scratched the back of his neck at the thought of “granny Genie” and the letter he’d sent without telling Des. Now, however, wasn’t the time.
Celestina went off to rest in the quarters given to them by the school, while Desiderius took them around on a tour. He showed them why the city was so huge: it was the one globally accredited wizarding school in Africa, as well as the oldest, and it got students from all over the continent and the diaspora. It was constantly updating and changing as technology changed, as students from even further across the globe came and brought their expertise to the area.
In a place that had to teach so many diverse populations, it needed space to be a flexible and adaptable environment. Housing was in one area of the city. Students could choose their dorms, usually based on their area of origin, as sorting based on personality was a secondary feature done on the class level; there were nine class “houses.” The buildings’ primary magic was translation. There were spells baked into the concrete and the steel, set into the windows and lights, into the furniture, all to ensure that the students could easily understand each other. This meant Des and Blaise knew what everyone was saying, though they were aware they were speaking another language. It was like a vocal filter in English on top of the speaker’s native Swahili or Xhosa or Amharic.
Beyond that, there was a building for Potions study, they passed Charms lessons happening outdoors — the students were charming an elephant’s tusks different colors, the elephant stomping in a seemingly happy expression upon each color change. Transfiguration was forbidden against living animals, but students were transforming themselves into animals. Blaise was surprised when a boy, who reminded him a lot of Dean, transformed into a giraffe and galloped up the road from one building to another.
“He must’ve been late for class,” Blaise told Desiree, who giggled.
Desiderius looked at his watch — which switched from a clock dial to a scripted message — and said, “Your mother needs me. I’ll let you two find your way back. Mum’s performance is at 6pm, just be back by then.” And with that, he Disapparated with a pop.
“I didn’t even think about Apparating here. My brain gets onto school grounds and I automatically think you can’t do it!” Desiree said, scratching her scalp through her curls.
“Yeah, I wonder why the students don’t do it. Our friend the giraffe probably could have used it instead.”
“We don’t really Apparate here. Don’t you find it confining?” said a voice walking behind them. It was a tall dark-skinned man, darker than both Desiree and Blaise combined. Blaise rarely felt threatened about his looks — he knew he was definitely the most attractive boy at Hogwarts by far — but even this guy made Blaise feel like he could stand to take his appearance more seriously.
“What do you mean?” Desiree asked, her normal cheerful and curious self.
The man looked at Desiree and smiled, white teeth sparkling in the light of dusk. Blaise felt…weird about it.
“Being compressed into the air. Suffocating for seconds multiple times a day. Isn’t that kind of traumatic?”
“Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Is Apparition not popular here?” Desiree stepped a bit closer to the guy, as she did with anyone she was in deep conversation with — and that was nearly every conversation Desiree had. Blaise knew this about her but he, too, stepped closer, softly asserting his presence.
“It’s not. I’m Abdo by the way.” Abdo reached for a handshake, which Des took right away, smiling that way she did. Her eyes crinkled and her cheeks warmed. It irked Blaise.
“I’m Desiree Warbeck. This is my boyfriend, Blaise Zabini. We’re from Hogwarts.”
Blaise stared at the man’s hand, which had shifted to him, once he’d finished touching Desiree. After a brief second, he shook it but regretted it when he felt the dissipating warmth from Desiree’s grip still on the man’s hand. Blaise knew he shouldn’t feel threatened. Desiree had immediately and clearly identified him as her boyfriend. But the way Abdo quickly let his hand go and turned back to Desiree…
“I’m a secondary student here at Uagadou. I am actually studying magical transportation and hope to improve Apparition magic to make it less of an agonizing experience,” he said. He cocked his head as he looked at Des, her curls softy shining, her skin glowing in the evening light. “Warbeck? As in Madame Celestina?”
Desiree blushed, as she often did when someone made the connection. “Yup. We’re actually heading back to where her performance will be.”
“That’s great, I’ve been seeing her shows every year. I’ll walk back with you.”
Blaise suppressed his groan, instead grabbing Desiree’s hand as they turned from where they came from and walked back towards the show.
They kept up their conversation, with Blaise continuing to not participate. As they walked the campus, Abdo told them that many Africans didn’t like Apparition; it was a Western magic that had been introduced but wasn’t much welcomed. Apparition was tied strongly to wand magic and many African wizards didn’t want to be “shackled to Western Europeanism,” he said. He was clearly intelligent, both in his knowledge of the history of wizarding transportation but also in the laws and rules of magic. Blaise doubted he knew about anything as deeply as Abdo knew his stuff.
This bothered Blaise for the rest of the walk. It wasn’t just that Abdo was attractive and clearly flirting with his girlfriend — though, that was a problem he hadn’t been prepared to deal with. A few students had had crushes on Desiree at Hogwarts, but either he’d been able to glare it out of them, or Desiree softly expressed that she wasn’t interested. He’d never had to encounter it in person. But hearing Abdo speak so confidently, Blaise felt completely unprepared for the world. Nearly everyone in England graduated Hogwarts and went into the Ministry. Nothing particularly passionate was involved unless you were Percy Weasley and had a thing for cauldron bottom reports. But students who didn’t work in the Ministry usually ended up in passion careers, like Desiree and her baking or Dean and his plans for an art studio. Or they had a family business they could attend to, like the Warbecks. Even stinkin’ Potter had joined the Aurors. An easy choice for a jock Quidditch player and someone who defeated a Dark Lord.
But Blaise? What was Blaise passionate about? He was merely going to the Ministry because that’s what you did. And he was going to start his way at the bottom like you were supposed to — well, somewhere in the middle with his mother’s connections — and figure out his career trajectory based on where he excelled most. But was it what he cared about? Was he passionate about it? Not really. This needled at him while Desiree and Abdo led them back.
“I’ll see you guys later for the show,” Abdo said when they arrived, walking inside a large concert space. Plush chairs rose up higher than he could see. The ceiling showed the glittering stars of the night sky, kind of like the Hogwarts Great Hall. But probably not like Hogwarts at all, Blaise thought, looking at the large stage and even larger monitors that hung in the air, projecting the empty and sparsely decorated thrust stage. Large crowds of students settled into their seats.
Desiree reached to shake Abdo’s hand (first!) and Blaise watched as Abdo took her hand in one of his and clasped his other over hers. When he smiled, Blaise noticed that while they were very white, both his canines were crooked. Behind his lips, he swiped his tongue against the perfectly straight teeth of his own mouth and half lifted his hand to wave Abdo off. With his arm wrapped around Desiree’s waist, they walked towards the backstage entrance where they could already hear Celestina warbling in warm-up.
“Wow, he was so nice. I can’t wait to meet his friends.”
“You weren’t even listening, were you? He said we can hang with some other grad students at the event. It’ll be better than sitting backstage or alone in the VIP box while Mum and Dad work.”
Blaise disagreed, but left it alone for the time being.
There was a table full of snacks and finger foods on the table in the dressing room, which was great because Blaise hadn’t realized how hungry he was. He and Des grabbed plates and started filling them, grinning at each other at the chance at trying injera and sambusas. Blaise’s burst of good mood quickly dissolved when Diahanna came out and swatted Desiree’s hand as she added one more sambusa to her plate.
“Watch it, Des.” She said it dismissively as she marched from Celestina’s room to her own. A habit. Common. Blaise didn’t even get a chance to say anything about it. Desiree watched her mother disappear and snatched the sambusa back with a roll of her eyes.
“Doesn’t that bothe—”
“Don’t Blaise. Let’s just leave it, okay? For right now?” Des’ voice was unusually small. Like when he’d embarrassed her in front of the whole BSU. Blaise clenched his jaw, but once again said nothing. He’d tried to ask her about it the night she went out with her dad, but she’d said the same thing. It was getting harder and harder, however, for him to shake it off.
They sat at a table and ate in silence. Desiree humming softly, seemingly unbothered, while Blaise stewed over his uncertain future and Diahanna’s treatment of Desiree. Eventually, Des nudged his knee with her own and hummed louder. He recognized it as a song from the Wizarding Wireless that they both loved. He smiled at her as they cleared their plates. Soon it was time to head to the show.
But Blaise continued to have a bad night of it. Abdo sat next to Desiree, on her other side, and kept whispering things to her about Celestina. His friends were nice — one girl took notes because she was studying music and was looking forward to taking Celestina’s next course, another left them to take videos using a Muggle camera similar to that mousy haired kid at Hogwarts that always followed Potter around, but it floated not far from him. He moved his hands and at one point, merely his eyebrow, to get the camera to move around the stage like he wanted. Blaise felt self-conscious and kept subtly touching his wand, afraid it would suddenly vanish because it didn’t belong here.
Celestina finished her speech and gave in to the audience’s eager request for a song. After a few student sets, Desiree said goodbye to her new friends (they’d exchanged owl addresses, though the Uagadou students said they tended to use monkeys instead of birds), and they went backstage to meet with Celestina.
Desiree nudged Blaise again, a question in her eye. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he said shortly, scratching his nose.
“It’s just a lot of people. I usually have more…alone time.”
Desiree frowned. “Do you…want me to leave you alone? I barely talked to you all night as it is…”
“No, no of course not,” Blaise replied, biting away the snarky comment about her being more interested in talking to Abdo. She looked at him unsurely. “It’s just overstimulation. Lots of people, traveling a lot, your parents, all the friends you instantly meet. We’re just a little different is all.” He smiled at her and put his arm around her waist like he did earlier, pulling her close. She breathed harshly before leaning in.
“Just…tell me if something’s up, okay? We can leave whenever we want.” Blaise didn’t think that was true, but he continued to say nothing.
When they returned to the pavilion, they learned that they would be leaving Uagadou early because Celestina was going to record in the studio with some Jamaican students before her next stop on her tour.
“Oh! I think Lee is out there. We should visit him, Blaise!” Blaise smiled again and nodded distantly, Desiree’s boundless energy and enthusiasm steamrolling his disinterest in seeing one Lee Jordan.