Like everyone else in the Great Chamber, I fell silent as the Headmaster made his way to a wooden podium that had numerous tiny animals carved into it.
I was a little surprised when I heard the name of Uagadou's Headmaster. It was one I recognized from a small blurb in the fifth book, Babajide Akingbade.
He was the wizard who replaced Albus Dumbledore as the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW).
I had already decided I wasn't going to hold that against him. Akingbade didn't have any control over the idiots in the British Ministry of Magic. Someone had to fill the void when they foolishly decided to remove Dumbledore as Britain's representative to the ICW.
Of course, none of that may happen now. Already I have seen changes to the timeline. While they were small, I have noticed they were getting bigger. By the time the fifth book arrives, who knows how different things will turn out.
Not wanting to give off the impression that I wasn't paying attention, I turned my attention back to Akingbade.
I couldn't help but compare him in my mind to Dumbledore. They were both tall. But, where Dumbledore was tall and willowy, Akingbade had a little more meat on his bone. He looked very fit beneath his solid black robes.
I noted several other things about Akingbade that were both similar and slightly different to Professor Dumbledore.
They both wore hats, but Dumbledore's hat was long and pointy in the European wizard tradition. But, Akingbade wore a black flat-topped kufi with golden geometric patterns skillfully woven into the hat.
They both had glasses, but rather than the old-styled half-moon glasses that Dumbledore favored, Akingbade's glasses looked far more modern. And rather than having a long beard, Akingbade had a small goatee that was half-grey.
While they had a lot of similarities, they did have notable differences. The biggest other than Dumbledore's pale skin and Akingbade's rich dark skin was their age. You wouldn't know it by how he acted and the energy he projected, but Dumbledore was around a hundred and ten years old. In comparison, Akingbade was still in his prime and looked to be in his mid-forties.
I stopped focusing on my comparisons when Headmaster Akingbade began speaking in a deep timbre. "Students, it pleases me to no end that you have chosen to return to Uagadou and continue your journey. The Path to becoming proficient at magic is long and will require persistence and dedication."
Akingbade turned his attention to the section where the first years sat. He smiled at their eager faces as they took in everything.
"For you, my young first years, your journey has just begun. I urge you to take your studies this year seriously. The Path of magic is filled with many challenges. During your first year of study, you are exempt, but next year, you can expect your Path to be far more challenging."
Satisfied that they had gotten the message, Akingbade turned to the second-year students and said more seriously, "As for you second years, I hope you took my warning last year and put forth your full effort. Starting this year, you will face challenges, and I am sure you will rise to meet them."
Akingbade relaxed a bit and gave a reassuring smile upon seeing some of the nervous looks. "If anyone is worried about some of the challenges, remember there are those who you can turn to for help. There is a reason why we pair years together. The seventh with the second, the sixth with the third and the fifth and the fourth."
Akingbade scanned the room, making eye contact with the older students, "For your first few years, you received help from those older than you. Now it is your turn to give back."
Akingbade went on for a few more minutes, going over what would be expected from the students. Then, as his speech came to an end, he said, "Well, that's enough out of me. I'm sure you are all hungry, so let's get dinner started."
The feast that followed wasn't as grand as the one at Hogwarts. There were far fewer selections, but I have to admit the food was more than adequate.
When dinner was over, we were dismissed and directed to go to the dorms.
As we started pushing through the crowd of students, Cedric asked Omar, "Since you guys don't have houses, how do you separate your dorms?"
"There are four dorm floors," Omar explained. "The first years are at the bottom and have an entire floor to themselves, but the other floors are grouped like they are in the Great Chamber."
Cedric nodded and confirmed, "So, since you're in your fifth year and we're in our fourth, we will be on the same floor."
Omar nodded. "Exactly."
Seeing how everyone was headed to the many arch portals that lined the back of the Great Chamber, Anna remarked, "Do you guys use portals for everything? I've not seen a single staircase since we've been here.
Sanura spoke up, "And you won't find any. Each level of Uagadou is self-contained. The only way to move between floors is to use the portals."
Suddenly, I was reminded we were beneath a mountain. While I am sure the portals always work, I hope they have a backup plan.
When we got to the arch, Omar reached for a particular symbol. Looking at it closely, I realized it was a circle containing the numeric runes for four and five. Having gone through many portals, I didn't hesitate and went through the shimmering portal.
On the other side of the portal, I realized Anna, Alicia and Sanura were missing from our group.
Seeing my confusion, Omar explained without me asking, "They were taken to the girl's side. They have their own set of dorm rooms."
In a more serious tone, Omar added, "Oh, and before I forget. Whatever you do, don't try to sneak onto the girl's side."
"Why," I questioned.
Thinking of Hogwarts's preventive measures, I asked, "Will we set off a wailing alarm?"
Omar shook his head
"A barrier of some kind," Cedric guessed.
Once again, Omar shook his head before explaining, "No, you'll get teleported outside to the Path of Body."
Cedric and I exchanged puzzled looks.
Wanting to know more, I said, "You've mentioned the paths earlier when we were going up the mountain. But, you didn't explain what they were."
Omar hesitated for a moment but eventually shrugged, "I guess it doesn't matter if you find out now. The best way to describe the three paths would be to call them magical obstacles courses."
I tilted my head in confusion.
"How is that a punishment?" I asked. "That sounds fun."
"Maybe the Path of Mind and Spirit," Omar replied, shaking his head. "But, the Path of Body prohibits any form of magic."
I leaned back, utterly scandalized by the idea of not using magic. "No magic. That's…"
I struggled for a moment, trying to find the right word.
I finally settled on, "That's archaic."
"I don't know," Cedric thoughtfully said. "It could be fun."
I snorted and replied sulkily, "Maybe to you."
Cedric shot me a cheeky grin, already anticipating beating me in the Path. There was no denying that he had put on some muscle over the past year. And he also had outgrown me by several inches and was approaching six feet.
Feeling a bit rebellious, I muttered. "No magic. Hmph. We'll see about that."
"I wouldn't try anything," Omar warned. "Trust me, the Path is monitored. If you start using magic in any way, the course doubles in length. There have been students who have gotten stuck on the Path for hours."
As I continued to suggest possible ways to beat the system, Omar led us to our room for the year.
The fourth and fifth-year dorms were essentially located in a long hallway that ran in a circle. Half of the circle belonged to the girls, and a thick wall divided the two sections. Omar did show us the door that could be used to cross over, but after hearing about the obstacle course with no magic, any desire to cross was gone. Merlin himself couldn't get me to cross that line.
No magic. What are we, barbarians?
On the boy's side of the floor, everything was set up in a specific way. Fourth-year dorms were on the left side and the fifth year on the right. From the way the dorms were designed, I knew that there had to be spatial shenanigans.
I could see the logic behind the dorm grouping. Everything about Uagadou seemed designed to get students to interact with one another. Grouping the years differently every year ensured that students interacted with their fellow students, and it also fostered relationships with students from other years.
While I loved Hogwarts, I couldn't help but see the advantage of the system at Uagadou. A lot of what I had seen appeared to be designed to get students to cooperate with others. With students coming from so many different magical societies, getting them to interact when they were young only makes sense.
Although, not everything was as unified as it appeared. There seemed to be some pretty intense division coming from those who use wands and those that don't. The fact that they have different classes depending on whether they use wands is telling. If the school doesn't get a handle on things, I could see the schism growing wider as time goes on.
The dorms themselves were pretty spartan. There wasn't a whole lot in the rooms. Just a few small beds pushed up against bare walls and a few dressers. Seeing the dorms made me long for the Ravenclaw Tower, already I missed my private dorm and the Sanctum where I could pursue my studies in peace.
The following morning after breakfast, Omar and Sanura informed us that we had a meeting with Professor Balogun. He was in charge of the day-to-day problems of the fourth and fifth years.
Each group had someone like that. The closest comparison I could think of was Professor McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts. But, it wasn't an exact comparison because there were four of them at Uagadou.
My first impression of Professor Balogun was surprising. He was short, only a few inches taller than me. His skin was dusky, and he had a faded scar that ran from his left temple down to his jaw. Long dark hair mostly concealed the shark teeth that were dangling from his ears.
Any comparison to Professor McGonagall quickly faded from my mind. This guy looked like he belonged on Uncle John's ship. I had a feeling Professor Balogun was a Mchawi, the wizards who lived half their lives in the water.
"So," Professor Balogun briskly remarked as he sat down at his desk. "We need to go over your class selection for the year."
He pulled out a scroll of paper from his robe. With a snap of his fingers, the scroll unraveled and floated in mid-air.
"These are the classes that are available for your study. The core classes are required learning, but you are free to choose any number of electives. However, as you are no doubt also trying to keep up with your Hogwarts studies, I would suggest no more than two electives."
Chronicles of African Magic
Study of Runes
Path of Animagus
I quickly memorized the list and started making a mental list of the classes I would take. Honestly, the classes offered weren't that different from those offered at Hogwarts, but thats not a big suprise. Of course, some of the names were different, but they should be relatively similar. For example, Numerology was probably the Uagadou equivalent of Arithmancy, and Kawadia Learning was their version of Muggle Studies.
But, Ritual magic sounded new and exciting. Unfortunately, Hogwarts didn't teach anything like that. I couldn't help but think of Voldemort's return in the fourth book. That had to be a ritual of some sort. I had always wanted to know more about it, but I couldn't find anybody's information on rituals at Hogwarts.
I also decided to take Study of Runes and Numerology since I was already taking their equivalents at Hogwarts. I wasn't worried about Professor Balogun's suggestion about limiting the number of classes I was taking. I was well into my seventh-year studies at Hogwarts. By the time this year is down, I should have completed everything.
I couldn't stop a brief smile from creeping out when I noticed that Magical Botany was on the elective list. It looks like there will be no magical plants for me this year. That means I will only have to endure Herbology one more year before I can ditch it forever.
Finally, I turned my attention to the reason I had chosen to come to Uagadou.
"Professor Balogun, can you tell us more about the extra-curricular animagus class?"
Professor Balogun eyed me for a moment. "It's not a normal class," he explained. "There are no tests or exams. You simply attend until you successfully become an animagus. The class meets once a week, on Saturday."
Seeing the eager look on our faces, he cautioned, "Even if you take the class, there is no guarantee that you become animagi. Everyone's journey is different. Some manage it within a couple of months, but I've seen others take a couple of years."
Professor Balogun's warning went in one ear and out the other. Nothing was going to stop me from becoming an animagus.
After choosing our classes for the year, Professor Balogun issued us textbooks that we could use. One nice thing I noticed was our similar schedules. Other than ritual magic and magical botany, we would all be attending the same classes. Back at Hogwarts, there were never more than two of us in a class.
As we left Professor Balogun's office, Alicia asked us, "So what do you think our animagi forms will be?"
Briefly, the thought of my Patronus popped into my head. It was a red-tailed hawk. From everything I've read, while there were a few exceptions, there appears to be a connection between one's animagus form and one's Patronus.
I had to admit, the possibility of being a hawk appealed to me. Being able to take flight with a mere thought would be freeing.
Alicia interrupted my thoughts. With her hands on her hips, she bragged, "I'm going to be a lioness."
"You don't get to choose your animagus form," I corrected.
Alicia chose to ignore me, and she went on like I didn't say anything.
"I'm in Gryffindor," she explained with her childish logic. "And our symbol is a Lion."
Anna rolled her eyes. "You know, I never got why Grffindor's animal symbol is a lion. Why wouldn't you have a Griffin as your symbol? It's literally in the name"
Alicia, caught off guard, sputtered for a moment. "You… Well… Why doesn't your animal."
Alicia fell silent as she couldn't make the same argument against the House of Slytherin. Snakes pair well with the name, maybe because they sliver around.
Deciding to throw Alicia a rope, I weighed in. "The symbols don't have to match the founder's last names. Look at Ravenclaw. Our symbol isn't a raven. It's an eagle."
"Perhaps the four founders were secretly animagi," Cedric suggested. "And they used their animal forms as symbols for their houses."
"Maybe," I replied. "But I think it's more likely that the founders simply chose animals that embodied their ideals. For example, Gryffindor valued bravery, so he chose a lion. Ravenclaw used an eagle, representing wisdom, and Hufflepuff a badger, often underestimated, until provoked. And Slytherin…"
Anna narrowed her eyes when my voice trailed off.
"Gone on," she said dangerously. "What does the snake symbolize?"
"Creepiness," Alicia blurted out. "Ooh, never mind, it's sneakiness."
Sensing we were about to go rapidly off-topic, I quickly clarified, "Cunning. Snakes represent cunning."
"Cunning is just another word for sneakiness," Alicia sang.
Leaving Alicia to her fate, I turned back to Cedric, who nodded thoughtfully.
"You're probably right," he agreed. "Anyone who knows the truth is dead."
A thought went off in my head. Maybe the dead are exactly who could answer this question. The Grey Lady was the daughter of Rowena. And while we weren't blossoming friends, she and I had spent some time together, mostly bullying the Bronze Eagle statue in the Sanctum. But I bet she would know the truth.
I made a mental note to ask her when I got back to Hogwarts.
While Anna and Alicia were arguing the merits of Gryffindor and Slytherin, Cedric and I tuned them out. Once or twice a year, they bicker like 5-year-olds, so we were used to it.
By the end of everything, they will unite and agree that both Gryffindor and Slytherin are the best, then try to suck Cedric and me into an argument by claiming superiority over Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.
I gave Cedric our nonverbal sign we had set up for whenever we wanted to ditch the girls. Slowly we snuck away to find Omar. He had promised to show us how to find our classes so we wouldn't be lost.
Sorry for the shorter chapter. One or two chapters until we starting learning about animagi. Hope you enjoyed the chapter.