At the center of a classroom(that was supposed to be locked up for the summer months), the contents of a cauldron simmered and seethed. But no more so than the slender, blonde figure who attended to the potion that was brewing.

How dare he? How dare he?! The youngest scion of the de Gramont family had been sweet, chivalrous, and biddable, eager to carry out her whims in accordance with the forms of courtly romance, playing the role of the devoted admirer with zest and smooth, practiced grace.

And that had been the problem, she'd realized, heartsick, after crying her eyes out in her bedroom. He'd had practice. Guiche had undoubtedly done this all before. To him, it was just a well-rehearsed game.

So she'd determined to move on from the pointlessness of romance, and had held her head high for the spring. At least everyone now knew him for what he truly was, and he'd have no further chances to toy with the earnestness of an innocent maiden.

Or so she'd thought, except that he'd also stayed at the Academy for the summer. He seemed to be training to join one of the mage-knight orders after he graduated. She'd had a moment of nostalgia and weakness when that one maid came to her, begging healing for Guiche, and he'd wasted no time taking advantage of her foolishness. Now he was calling on her again, full of sweet apologies for toying with her, for using the full effect of his mother's training to charm her without thinking of the effects on her heart.

Brimir help her, she'd wanted to believe him. To believe that he'd cared for her all along, that his behavior was nothing more than the thoughtlessness of youth, over-trained and not yet wise enough to gauge the intensity of his efforts. To believe that their stolen kisses had burned equally hot on his lips, in his heart.

And then he opened his mouth again and ruined it all, spewing out some foreign heathen filth about friends being able to share-

To-

The miserable misbegotten bastard just wanted a chance to sheath his dirk! He didn't care how rumors always seemed to start, no matter how circumspect students tried to be. It didn't matter to him that Water was always subject to lascivious speculation, that the pair of Line spells to restore a recently-broken maidenhead were some of the most common contraband at the Academy.

She knew them, of course. (And tried not to dwell on how she'd thought, butterflies in her belly, about how it would be only prudent to learn them quickly, the day she'd summoned her familiar, Robin, and her magic expanded to Line. Guiche's betrayal had been revealed the very next day.) And she knew how to brew Maiden's Balm, among many others. Her family wasn't rich anymore, not after they'd lost their legal monopoly over access to Lagdorian Lake. Dealing in contraband potions was very nearly her only source of spending money. And hers weren't ditch-water mixed with a pinch of spice imported from Romalia or Rub' al Khali, unlike some of the Third Forms who preyed on gullible First Forms.

And at least I have a real familiar. But that was part of the problem, wasn't it? The Zero had used her family's money to cheat, to hire some overgrown commoner from Germania to participate in a farce that had to have cost a truly spectacular sum to persuade the Academy to pretend to take it all seriously. And the mountain of lard had brought with him a philosophy of justified debauchery so outrageous it could only have sprung from Easterling heathenism. (Or a Gallian demagogue, but that sort knew their libertine arguments were blasphemous affronts in Brimir's sight.)

It was the Zero's pride that drove her to claim a false familiar, and it was that same 'familiar' who'd tainted Guiche with wicked notions of being able to ruin pure maidens and never having to take responsibility. Which dovetailed perfectly with his previous roaming ways. It was all she could do not to conjure acid to his face, and this time something stronger than the diluted lemon juice that was all she'd had available the last time.

But she'd held her temper, smiled neutrally at his words, bid him a fair day, and watched as he'd walked off. Because he'd clearly been making use of the gymnasium these last months, and had filled out nicely from the lankiness he'd suffered from as a First Form. Her eyes had resisted her command to look elsewhere, and had lingered on his legs and buttocks as he'd strode away. The butterflies in her belly were back, and it was all she could do not to imagine how his burning-hot kisses would feel on parts of her body other than her lips.

It was that Brimir-damned 'familiar's fault, that Guiche had been encouraged to hint so brazenly to her before they were truly reconciled! He'd have approached her with different words, she knew, if he'd not been tainted. Words that were legally-binding offers of betrothal, for that was the only true apology possible for straying after winning, then breaking, her heart. If he had so truly missed her these spring months . . .

Well, it would be wrong of her not to help him do what they both knew was right.

Spells cast by wand were only a part of magic, albeit a very popular part. Wands were special-made, a form of minor enchantment all on their own, designed to channel the structure of spells with relative ease. It took months, or even years, to learn to cast a spell without a wand. But, again, spells were only a part of magic.

The constellation of reagents that had consistent effects on the elements were part and parcel of the lore of the apothecary. But alternative reagents could be prepared with the same effects using more obscure and occult properties. Likewise, some spells required their own unique reagents, that often involved elaborate preparations involving those selfsame occult properties. And other spells, usually powerful, multi-element, and rare, might require their own unique foci to work, effectively eschewing the need for a wand. Yet others required specific occult properties in the environment, only working at certain times or places, or in areas that had been thoroughly prepared beforehand to match the required properties.

And then there were the spells that could not be cast with a quick phrase and a toss of the wand. Some could only be cast as rites and rituals, and others were nothing more than long prayers, sung for hours, to open the way for one of Brimir's own angels to manifest(although such were rarely invoked more than once a century, if that). Some had to be cast over and over again, at specific intervals. And in the hands of true masters of magic, some spells required nothing more than a mind focused by decades of training.

And some forms of magic were not spells at all. Lesser magical items like wands and other spell foci, or greater items like the trove of magic said to be held beneath the Academy, or the holy relics held by the rulers of the Blessed Realms. Or potions.

Potions combined aspects of reagent preparation, item enchantment, and ritual spellcasting. The various ingredients had to be gathered and prepared in very specific ways, and combined in very specific orders, and equal care had to be taken with the tools used(many of which, in the lab of an established mage, were prepared as foci, similar to wandmaking). A tyro's efforts resulted in spoiled reagents, wasted effort, and feeble results, but a competent potioneer like herself could count on her efforts to be rewarded.

And they would be. She was Montmorency Margarita La Fère de Montmorency, and it was her duty and, by the grace of Brimir, her destiny to rescue the fortunes of the family that had entrusted the honor of its name to her. No silver-tongued lout, however noble(or handsome – but she cut that thought off quickly), had the right to toy with her heart and tarnish her honor! Guiche would live up to the golden words he'd gifted her.

And the lying, cheating Zero, with her lecherous fraud of a 'familiar', deserved whatever distress happened to fall their way. They'd pushed her to this, and it was only fair that she push back.


A/N: I'm trying to write Montmorency as sympathetically as I can, given that she's decided to do something so horrible that even Saito was able to blackmail her by threatening to reveal it. How's that coming across?