Authors: Jack Simmonds
“Thank you,” I said taking the quite frankly humungous mug of hot chocolate.
“Told you it was good,” Tina smiled taking the cherry from the top of her teetering mountain of cream and marshmallows before eating it. The cafe was quiet, cheap and tucked away down a dark alley. The table and seats were strange, they were made of orange plastic. “It’s an imitation of a cafe on the
. They call it a
, don’t they Robin?” Robin nodded straight into his mountain of cream, and now looked like Father Christmas. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I am so glad I bumped into you guys. I was gonna go mad in that Inn.”
“So,” said Robin slurping his chocolate. “How did you get away?”
“Stole a carriage.” I grimaced. “Crashed it too, on the
Tina nearly choked. “You did
” she put a hand to her temple as if she was an exasperated parent.
“So did they say who the attackers in white at the wedding were?” I said.
Robin shook his head. “They don’t know, just said that it was a group that used to exist a long time ago or something. Didn’t really understand it.” I looked to Tina for a better explanation, but she shrugged.
“I was glad to get away to tell you the truth, treated me like a slave when I got back. Cleaning, scrubbing, sorting out stuff for the wedding. God knows what they would have done to me if there was no wedding,” I shuddered.
“Well, think yourself lucky…” said Robin. “I can’t talk about magic or anything to my parents, friends, no one.”
Tina sighed. “He’s an Outsider. It does strange things to Outsiders when you show them, or expose them to magic. Sends them
,” she said rolling her eyes round her head and sticking her tongue out.
I blinked. “Who was it who said if you show an Outsider magic then they
” Tina and Robin spluttered into their drinks.
“Perhaps it was someone having a laugh?” said Tina giggling. “To be fair, it’s not a bad allegory. It messes an Outsider up if they are shown it. Most can’t handle it. They call it
when you send an Outsider mad by exposing them to magic.”
“I dunno,” said Robin. “I mean I reckon my parents would understand if I told them. Outsiders are more open minded these days.”
“Where do they think you go all year?” I said.
Robin smirked. “A boarding school for talented young men to become spies for the British Government.” We all laughed heartily, which felt weird, my mouth wasn't used to it.
“How’s Ernie?” I said. “Where is he?”
“At home with Dad still packing, they both hate shopping!”
“So do I…” said Robin.
“Ah, but not
Tina said, throwing her arms wide. “No one hates shopping in Gnippoh’s. I seem to remember telling Avis at the end of last year that I needed to take him clothes shopping…” she winked.
There were more robes in this shops than I had ever seen in my life. “This is the place to get them. You could do with some more as well Robin, I seem to remember you grew out of last years,” Robin grimaced.
“Welcome to Ruben’s Robes!” called an excitable man coming around his desk. He had a pencil behind his ear and a big bushy moustache. “Right… Hailing Hall?” he said looking at me.
“Yes Sir,” I said and he nodded, his eyes scanning me all over before narrowing as he twisted his moustache, deep in thought. A notebook and pencil jumped into his hand as he began to write what I presumed to be measurements. After a few flicks through all the rails in the shop he stopped.
“Aha! Here we are. Just the right sized ever-changing robe… you’ll be a first year will you?”
“No! Second,” I said a little sourly.
“Second, right, well this should do you,” he handed me a long, brilliant robe. It felt heavy and as I touched it, turning bright blood red.
“Wow,” said Robin just behind me.
I was so glad I now actually had robes that would fit me properly, I wouldn’t look like a leprechaun anymore! Robin was measured and bought some robes that extended if, or as, he grew. Once we had our new robes wrapped, bagged and paid for, we moved on together and shopped. It was the best day I could have imagined. We went to Sordina’s Sweet Emporium which had sweets in jars all the way up a huge glass wall that reached high into the sky. It was so full of children and adults fighting for space that we had to take a few breathers outside before jumping back in. The sweets were alive! Robin got bitten by a jelly snake, before biting its head off. Tina got half attacked by a gnome as we left who thought she stole something — she promptly told it to sod off. And I bought the biggest packet of wriggly worm sweets in the world.
Later on we went to a clothes shop and I let Tina choose me some clothes, like I had a choice! She chose me a pair of smart jeans, a new white school shirt and a very fancy red and green tartan shirt — I was actually quite pleased with her choice, she was too, she kept gloating about it. “Oh you do look lovely Avis, you really do!” Robin rolled his eyes at me every time he heard her say that.
As the sun began to set we decided it was time to set off for Hailing Hall. At last.
A Crash in the Night
huffed and puffed up the hill to Hailing Hall. This time my bag floating behind me. I don’t know how I did it last year.
This time though, it was stuffed full of brilliant new stuff I’d bought from Gnippoh’s.
Our school was perched high on a huge canyon, with views all the way around Happendance, the nicest of all the Seven Magical Kingdoms. To the right of the track was a huge drop — Robin kept pointing it out to me. I wish he wouldn’t, I hated heights. The canyon spread right off into the distance for as far as you could see. Perched on the opposite cliff edges were some brave looking cottages, smoke rising slowly into the air, wavering in the haze of the summer sun.
We followed the flow of people up the hill from the train station, bags all floating behind our heads. Some, third years I think, were all playing a game of trying to hit each others bags down. One, a rather large boy, was complaining, “Oi stop it, there’s some things that could smash if my bag drops!”
“Why, what you got in their? Your Mum’s best china?” they all laughed.
The big iron gates opened wide revealing paradise. Huge, lush gardens greeted us and statues stood to attention smiling gleefully. Loud peacocks strutted around weaving in and out of the individual hedges shaped like magical creatures, who all bowed low. Carriages zoomed overhead and landed in the carriage courtyard. I smiled, at least this year I wouldn’t have a git brother to try and avoid at all costs.
“What are you smiling about?” said Tina.
“I was just thinking how good it is to be back!” We walked right on up that gravel path slowly together, taking it all in. Whoops and cheers filled the air as people bumped into their best friends again. The new first years quietly weaved through the crowd and collected silently in front of Magisteer Dodaline on the grass. She was a funny looking Wizard, with long grey hair tied up in a plat, with big baggy brown robes and a funny triangular brown hat. She didn’t like me, I just knew it, she thought I was responsible for the attack on my friend Hunter last year, which I wasn’t. The first years all sat around nervously, glancing around at us, they looked so small. Smaller even than me. I heard Tina go
David Starlight and some friends pushed past us laughing and joking, he didn’t even realise it was us. Robin and I didn’t like David Starlight, he was a show off and an idiot. His Riptide team, the Eagles, beat ours last year, well
is an understatement, they humiliated us. I shivered at the thought at having to play Riptide again, out of fright, not excitement. The school grounds was busier than I had ever seen them. Carriages zoomed over head, people hugged and laughed, statues bowed, ghosts — barely visible — busied about with carrying things around.
Straker was waiting for us in the Hall, smiling pleasantly, which was weird. Straker was a strange Magisteer, he wore an impeccable grey suit and appeared to have no neck. His skin was tight like a snake and his eyes blacker than the night. He was moody too. So now that he was smiling, it just looked weir
— I am not sure I saw him smile for the whole first year.
“Bags on the floor,” he quipped. “As they will be taken to your dorms.”
I dropped my bad next to Robin and Tina’s as the little parchment labels suddenly popped into the air with our names on, before the whole thing disappeared in a flash.
Tina nudged me in the ribs. “Ah! What is it?” I said. She was staring up at the roof. Robin and I followed her gaze. All around the hall was the usual armour and flags of all the different forms, the Riptide schedule and all sorts…
“I don’t see anything?” said Robin.
Tina huffed and pointed to each corner of the room. Now I saw them. On small plinths around the perimeter, and each corner of the high Hall were big eyes. It sent a shiver down my spine as I saw them watching us. It was literally a big eye ball. White and staring. They were new.
“They’re Occulus…” said Tina gravely.
“Never heard of it,” I said. Tina seemed perturbed by the big eye balls. But now all around the hall, others had noticed them too.
“Sir, Sir?” said Jack Zapper tugging Straker’s sleeve. “What are those eye’s up there?” the Occulus seemed to hear him, and leaned in for a closer look, causing a few people to whimper. Straker pretended to look up and tried to pretend he didn’t hear him.
“Come on, off to the Chamber,” he managed.
I turned to Tina. “Why do we have them?”
Her face was scrunched up with concentration as she thought. “Dunno. Dad never mentioned it. Bet you anything the Lily says they are for
our own protection
Straker pushed open the doors to the Chamber. Noise erupted from all around, the other five years above us were already in here causing an awful racket. There was much shouts of excitement, and fast garbled talking about their summer off. Robin and I gave a quick wave goodbye to Tina whose table squealed as they saw her, pulling her into a group hug. We walked slowly through the melee, over to the Condor’s form table and
it all returned to me… the smell of preparing food drifting up from the kitchens below, the burning coals, the feint flowery incense, and the centuries of old dust. The Chamber was a funny old room, it was huge, round and domed. The roof was brick and curved over like a big upside down fish bowl. All over the walls and ceiling were suits of armour, pictures of famous Witches and Wizards, flags, drapes, quotes, old Riptide kits, swords and magical regalia that had been donated by famous Wizards that had been schooled here over the years. It was stuffed full. Dangerously close to all this stuff hung fire brackets which blazed different colour light depending on the mood of the Chamber, as well as huge chandeliers that hung in mid air and dripped hot wax on you. I took a seat next to Robin, we were the first back on our table. “I’m starving!” said Robin rubbing his stomach.
“We just ate like three hours ago?” I said.
Robin smirked. “Well, Mum says I’m a growing lad,” he winked.
“Robin, I doubt you’ll ever stop growing, it’s gonna turn out that your of Giant lineage,” I said pointing to a picture on the wall of a Giant, sweeping twenty Wizards into the air.
He laughed. “It could certainly come in handy! I meant to ask you…” he said, his tone changing as he leaned in closer and whispering. “Have you found out anything about, you know, the whereabouts of…
Glancing around our table, there was a fourth year form and a seventh year form table nearest us. So I kept my voice low. “Not much, we’ll find a better place to…
,” I glanced around again to make sure no one could hear. “But, I did overhead some people at the wedding… they reckon he’s gone for good, they’re all terrified…”
Robin raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Nice, but er… what do your parents think about it all?”
“I don’t think they have yet. Knowing them, they’ll have a plan lined up.” They always do, trust me.
Suddenly a big booming laugh echoed around the Chamber. Robin and I looked at each other, we knew that laugh. Through the crowd bounced the larger than life Hunter.
“Here they are!” he boomed pulling us both into rib cracking hugs. “How ya been!?”
“Go—ood.” I managed with the little air I had remaining. He laughed again and ruffled my hair.
“Nice to see ya’ Avis…” his scars were still horrific, starting at his neck and working upwards to his temple like a shadowy rock face, they were deep and pronounced. Last year Hunter had been attacked by a demon, set on him by Malakai after we tried to trick the Eagles form and David Starlight. It was a horrible time, for everyone.
“Where’s everyone else?” said Robin.
“On the way now Robbie!” Hunter pointed, sure enough the rest of the Condors came pushing though the crowd and came to sit down on our table. I felt a trickle of nerves at seeing them again, we hadn’t been the best of friends last year and I really wanted to prove myself this time. I wouldn’t be shy, or nervous this year. For some reason, being a Blackthorn I feel like I need to prove myself more than anyone else, prove that I am not evil like the rest of my family.
“Hi Ellen,” I said coming to hug the clever, shy, be-speckled girl with long poker straight hair.
She looked up at me with big, bug eyes and seemed to recognise me, eventually. “Avis…” she said dreamily. “How’ve you been?”
This carried on for a while, I shook hands (very formally) with Graham who was tall, dark-haired and well mannered, he was from Scotland on the Outside and sometimes it was hard to tell what he was saying. Simon, his best friend shook my hand limply, he didn’t like me much and I shared his disapproval. He was short with blonde hair and a puffy face, big nose and snooty demeanour. I said a quick hello to Dawn too, as Graham and Robin hugged for they were quite good friends last year, especially when I was barred from the rest of the school and spent months in an old clock tower. Dawn was a very big girl and seemed to have got bigger over the summer. She was dressed in a big floral blouse that my Mother would have called a bath curtain, her hair was fair and shaped to a small bob. She always looked a bit gormless too, her mouth slightly open like she was waiting for someone to tell her to shut it. Jess and Florence waved at me across the table, they were best friends. Jess has the reddest lips and whitest skin you’d ever see, and would give Snow White a run for her money. Florence was very tanned with big dark freckles and long wavy ginger hair. I swear it wasn’t ginger last year. Joanna half waved at me shyly as she joined Ellen, her big bushy hair falling over her reddening face.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Hello,” said the boy who was taller than me and looked faintly recognisable.
“Hello?” I said confused. “Who are you?”
The boy smirked. “It’s me, Dennis.”
“No way?” It was too. Last year Dennis was a small, squeaky boy who hung around with the girls. Now he was taller than me, and had a voice deeper than Hunter’s. “What happened to you?”
“Dunno, voice broke I think. Anyway… good to see you again.” He took my hand and shook it, I nearly flinched as his hands were huge, they looked troll-like.
“Sure,” I said turning and tapping Robin as Dennis walked away. “Robin? Did you see Dennis?”
Robin laughed and nodded. “Someone must have put a growth Spell on him… no other explanation — he’s taller than me!”
Jake and Grettle, the two blonde Golandrian twins, took a seat at the table and shook hands, but refused hugs. Golandrian’s didn’t do hugs.
“Avis… ‘ow are you?” said Jake, whose English had transformed, the first time we spoke it was non-existent. He shook my hand with a strong grip. “Not goin’ to murder anyone ‘dis year ‘den?”
I laughed nervously. He had a dark stare that I couldn’t look at for long, it was hard to tell if Jake was joking or not.
“Attention all,” called a voice from the front of the Chamber, as noise and chatter barely died down. “I SAID ATTENTION ALL!” the voice boomed, magically enhanced across the Chamber.
Silence fell, as all turned to see the Lily standing proudly at the foot of the Magisteers table. He was a very charismatic man, dressed head to foot in white robes, his bald head shining, a short white beard glistening as if it had been dipped in glitter. He opened up his arms in welcome and everyone rushed to take their seats. “Welcome back one and all to another year at Hailing Hall. I trust you had a good summer off and recharged your batteries. Soon enough the new first years will enter the Chamber for the first time to learn and live here amongst us for the next seven years. I want you to be welcoming, pleasant and show them warmth and understanding. You will all remember what its like to be on the other side of that door.” The Lily glanced around once more, then nodded his big bald head at the Chamber door.
It opened at once and in piled the new first years. They followed Magisteer Dodaline who marched fervently to the front of the Chamber where they all turned and faced us, looking terrified. The Lily moved slowly around the staff table, smiling softly, his hands in prayer. “Welcome, welcome!” he called. “I am the Lily, your Headmaster here at Hailing Hall.”
And then, just as he had done when we were first years, he moved slowly along the line and looked at each terrified person in the eyes.
“At this school, we pride ourselves on our ability to learn the most sacred art of magic. Something denied to ninety-nine per cent of the world. You are the privileged ones, and I needn’t remind you of the great power that comes with these abilities. You are all very powerful people, in your own right, and together even more so. The fate of humanity is in your hands whether you like it or not. Many assume this means they have power over those less fortunate. But the true nature of man is not his ability to rule others but to treat those less fortunate exactly as they would like to be treated themselves.”
BONG! It came out of nowhere, scaring the life out of me. Robin laughed as he saw me nearly jump out of my skin. “Not funny…” I mouthed at him. A small pedestal grew from the ground as the poor first years took to the stage and announced their name and interesting fact. Robin was still laughing at me jumping, so I poked him in the ribs.
“H-hello my name is Glenda Compton-Campbell…” there was muttering in the crowd, then a woop from a sixth year table. It was Marshall Compton-Cambell’s sister. Marshall was well known as the top scorer in the Centaurs Riptide team. “And my interesting fact is that I can run a hundred and twenty boots in ten seconds.” Everyone clapped and
. Impressive, (if it was true).