Maggie had been studying magic for two years, and had only learned three spells. All the other witches laughed at her when they remembered her at all. As most of them had already graduated and moved on to more specific studies, they didn’t remember her very often.
A new class of witches would start lessons in a few weeks, and the teachers had hinted, and then finally bluntly told her, adding diagrams and illustrations that floated in the air, that she would need to move out to make room for the new students. Maggie offered to commute or sleep on the floor and to stand at the back of every class so she didn’t take an extra chair. The teachers said that would just make everyone uncomfortable.
Maggie packed her suitcase and went home. Her broom still didn’t fly, so she strapped it onto her suitcase and started walking. It wasn’t long before a friendly-looking ladybug landed on her sleeve. Luckily, one of her three spells was a translation spell.
The teacher said that it shouldn’t work with animals, only human languages. They said that animal brains and animal languages are too different from human brains and languages. That didn’t make sense to Maggie. Language is an attempt to communicate, so it should be translatable.
Maybe it was her firm belief that it would work that made it possible. Or perhaps Maggie’s magic was just weird, just like all the other students said. In any case, she cast the spell, and could understand the ladybug.
“I’m thirsty and tired,” the ladybug said.
Maggie stopped and took out her map. She traced the road and calculated the distance. “At the rate I’m walking, I’ll reach the river in about an hour. If you’d like to come along, you’re welcome to stay right there.”
“That sounds nice.” The ladybug stretched its wings. “I’ll just take a little nap.”
Maggie kept walking. Somehow the sun seemed a little brighter and the breeze a little cooler. It was a beautiful day.
And then there was a crash of thunder, and dark clouds rolled in out of nowhere. Maggie whispered her second spell, and she was surrounded by an invisible bubble that kept out the rain. The spell wasn’t meant to be an umbrella, but it worked that way all the same. It was just in time, as the rain began to hammer at the outside of her bubble, making the sound of a hundred woodpeckers knocking on the roof at once.
The ladybug squealed in terror. “When I said I wanted water, I didn’t mean this much.”
“Of course not,” Maggie said. “According to my calculations, just two of these raindrops would be more than adequate.”
The ladybug crawled to her wrist. “Leave me here, on one of the trees. I can drink from one of the leaves. I think I like the look of this part of the forest.”
She chose a tree, and Maggie left her there. The ladybug told her a traditional ladybug luck charm. Maggie wasn’t sure that ladybug spells would work for her if witch spells didn’t, but she repeated the spell as she continued walking.
Moments later, she tripped over a turtle and ended up covered in mud. Sighing, Maggie cast a translation spell, and then used her third spell and cleaned off the mud. The turtle gasped.
He looked from side to side. “I can see! Whatever was covering my eyes is gone. Where am I?”
Maggie crouched down and looked at the turtle. “Are you lost? Where do you need to be?”
The turtle looked up. “I was at the river. And then everything was dark.”
Maggie smiled. “I’m going that way. I could take you there.”
“Thank you. The rain is missing you somehow, and I’d like to avoid it, and the mud too.”
Maggie picked up the turtle and kept walking. The turtle hummed a turtle walking song that didn’t have very many notes, but had lots and lots of rests. The rain cleared up just as they reached the river.
Maggie set the turtle on the bank by a big rock that he said looked familiar. She leaned against the big rock and ate lunch as the turtle taught her a little magic tune that would help her be calm even when things were difficult. Then she did some calculations using the position of the sun, the river, and the rock to help the turtle find his home.
She said goodbye, and whispered the ladybug’s luck charm as she left, hoping for good luck for both of them. She looked up, and saw a rainbow in the distance. She imagined it was right over her house. The rain eased up, and stopped by the time she crossed the bridge.
A wolf was waiting on the other side. She cast her translation spell and listened to his demands. Even though she knew humans didn’t believe he owned the woods, she negotiated a price to cross through them. The wolves believed they owned the woods, and Maggie didn’t see any evidence they were wrong.
In they end, they agreed she would give up seventy percent of her dinner, and spell the entire pack clean of mud and rainwater. Maggie’s teachers said the spell wasn’t meant to be used to dry things off, but if it cleaned off the water, then wasn’t that the same thing?
The wolves appeared out of the shadows and surrounded Maggie. She hummed the turtle song of calmness and stood tall and confident. When no more wolves appeared, she cast the spell and set most of her dinner on a fallen log.
The wolves parted to let her pass to get to the log. They watched her continue down the trail through the woods and didn’t follow her. The trail was muddy, and Maggie had to spell her boots clean often to get them unstuck when the mud was especially deep.
The wolf met her again at the end of the trail. Maggie whispered the ladybug charm and hummed the turtle song and kept walking. Just as she passed the wolf, he spoke.
“Why are you not riding your broom?”
“I can’t. I can’t make it fly.” Maggie frowned. “The spell just doesn’t work for me.”
The wolf looked at the broom. “It looks dead. Maybe your spells only work on living things. Cast the spell on yourself.”
Maggie cast the spell on herself, and she floated off the ground. “I’m flying!”
“Good.” The wolf nodded. “For my good advice, I’d like the remaining thirty percent of your food.”
Maggie gladly paid the fee and flew home. The rainbow led the way, disappearing just as her house was in view. Her mother was waiting in the doorway.
“Home already?” she asked.
“I learned that witches’ spells aren’t for me. I think I need to learn magic from the animals, instead.”
Decades later, Maggie’s magic school was attended by both animals and unusual humans. She was considered one of the most gifted witches in her generation. No one would have guessed that she discovered the secret to her success on the same day as her biggest failure. Maggie thought it might have all been due to ladybug luck. The turtle song and wolf advice might have helped, too.