Authors: Jack Simmonds
“What the hec’s a hundred and twenty boots?” said Graham. Simon tutted and told him it was what Wizards measured things by.
One by one, the poor things got up and announced their name and interesting fact. Half way through Ramid Kahn, the fourth year joker snuck through and lined up with them, and he just about managed to announce his name, the crowd who knew what he was doing in hysterics, before he was chased off the podium by a very angry Magisteer Mallard. Some of the names I just about recognised, brothers or sisters or even cousins of people who already went here. Like Duncan Herrald, brother of Ursula Herrald in our year — their descendant was the one who started the Herrald newspaper. There was Ingrid Bloaters little sister Margret Bloater, who looked identical to her — big and round, much like the name. Apart from that there was no one else of note, that I recognised anyway. No one that was going to give me a run for my money by being more evil than the Blackthorns. The first years took their new tables and settled down tentatively with their new forms.
The Lily stood once more, Robin licked his lips as it was nearly time for the food to come out. “Before we start our wonderful feast I had one more thing to mention. Some of you may have noticed the Occulus around the school. I am afraid these will be a permanent addition to our time here. The school councillors have deemed it necessary to aid the
security of the school
…” we all knew he meant Malakai. Tina was frowning and watching avidly. “Please do not try to tamper with them, they will alert us if you do. If you have nothing to hide it won’t report you. They are here for your protection, so please just pretend they are not there.” I smiled and glanced back to where Tina was, she caught my eye and nodded as if to say
I told you so.
After a huge dinner we walked back to our room together.
“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty…” said Robin who was counting as we tried to remember the way back to our dorm room.
Hunter rubbed his huge, round, full tummy and glanced at Robin. “What you counting Robbie?”
“Twenty-one… I am counting the amount of Occulus’s there are on the way to our dorm room. There’s loads… and don’t call me Robb—”
“What the hec are Occulus’s?” said Hunter as if he thought they sounded made up.
“Them,” I said pointing up at the big white eyeball watching us over its plinth in the corner of the corridor. Hunter looked around vaguely.
Jake cleared his throat. “It’s a watchers tool. They want to watch everything we do, like a fascist dictatorship. Means we cannot sneak out of bed, cannot go where we are not supposed to, not skip lessons, stay outside at lunch, because these things will see us and report back to the Magisteers,” he sighed. I never thought about it like that, what if I needed to go to the Library in the middle of the night like I did last year? Or go off to find something important? I wouldn’t be able to. An Occulus would spot me.
“What does it do if it spots you then?” I said.
“Wails…” said Jake. “We had them at my last school, just after the riots…” he and Gret smiled at each other. “They wail like a siren.”
“Freaky stuff,” said Robin who had stopped counting and was now frowning up at the Occulus’s with disdain.
The carpet in the hallway to our dorm had changed colour, from a bright first year turquoise, to a dark blood red. And the pictures of semi-famous Wizards, Giants and Magical creatures still lined the walls leading to our door. Inside, everything was the same, except the now blood red carpet. Seven beds were spaced equidistant around the room facing each other, laden with blood red top sheets. The tall brick fireplace now burned a welcoming orange fire, surrounding it were the three comfy couches that were unofficially known as our homework seats, as we always sat in them together to do our homework.
My bag was already on my bed, I undid the zip and pulled out the heaped mass of stuff which I’d piled in rather haphazardly. Next to my bed was a flimsy wooden wardrobe. Hanging up my clothes I realised how pointless it was, they were so crumpled. I should just leave them in the wash bag for the laundry ghosts now. I put my new clothes up on hangers, Tina was a good dresser, I was really pleased with my new clothes.
“Very flashy,” said Graham, pointing over at my tartan top. “Tartan eh, that’s my people’s spiritual pattern.” I laughed, but truthfully I didn’t know what he was on about. I put my pens and parchment in my similarly flimsy desk and lay on my bed to relax.
bed was bliss. Beds at home were so old and lumpy, whereas these beds at Hailing Hall were like sleeping on clouds, or unicorn feathers.
Robin was being fussy and folding his clothes just so and so while Graham laughed at him. Simon was very quietly trying to do a smoothing spell on his ever-changing robes and tie, but kept huffing.
“What’s up with you?” Hunter boomed.
Simon grimaced sourly. “Got a new channeller, but I am not sure if it’s working properly. It better be, cost enough…” I sniggered as I recalled Simon’s last channeller, a big pearl necklace, he’d probably begged his parents all summer to get him a new one. “Something funny?” he called across the room to me.
“Oh come on boys,” said Graham. “Let’s not start this again, you two will get on this year.”
Simon swallowed, but the sour look remained. “Yeah we will, as long as he promises not to try and kill any of us in our sleep.”
My heart began pounding, how could he say that? After even the Lily came out and said I was innocent? “That’s not fair Simon,” said Robin putting his neat pile of jumpers down. “You know Avis had nothing to do with that, it was Malakai.”
“Yeah, here’s the proof,” said Hunter, pointing dramatically at his face.
“Okay, okay!” called Simon, throwing his ever-changing robes into his wardrobe with a thud. “Just don’t like it, that’s all.”
Jake hissed. “You’ve never liked ‘im. You don’ even need an excuse. Just man up.” Simon was scowling and glanced across to me, I smiled, which wound him up even more. They had all stuck up for me, I wasn’t used to it.
“Well, what if I can’t do magic? With this faulty channeller?”
Jake threw his book down on the bed. “I don’t know, just tell Partington when we see him!” Simon sniffed after his telling off and walked out the door in silence muttering something about getting washed.
Robin turned to me when he left and pulled a face. “I don’t think your on his Christmas card list!”
“I know,” I said giggling a little. “I don’t know what I am meant to have done?”
“He’s just being a little girl because his channeller isn't what he hoped,” said Graham. “He’ll get over it.”
Magisteer Partington bounced into the classroom with a flick of his brown robes beaming around. “Hello! Hello! How are we all? Good summer I trust?” he moved around the table and shook each of our hands. He looked much the same, rosy red cheeks, square shaped head with a triangular brown hat perched on top, short receding brown hair and a kind face, pinched like an owl. “It looks like everyone made it through the summer,” he said silently counting heads.
I really liked Partington, he was genuinely kind and a patient teacher, which I supposed you had to be if you were tutoring first years. “Second year!” he clapped. “The best of all the magic years.”
“Really?” said Dawn greedily. “Why’s that Sir?”
“Well, not really… just an expression I use sometimes,” he backtracked. “It’s a good year, you’re using what you learnt in first year as a foundation to push on and learn much, much more, with many excellent Magisteers. Of which I shall announce soon, for you shall be going in partly
. They are not ability based, they are random classes so you’ll get to mix with other forms, which is exciting isn’t it?” he smiled round hoping we would too. A small gurgling in my stomach told me that no I wasn’t excited, I was nervous. Why couldn’t it just stay like this? I knew these people.
! Hunter sneezed the most gigantic sneeze your ever likely to hear. Poor Partington jumped for the door, Ellen’s glasses fell on the floor and Simon dropped his channeller which he was closely inspecting. “Well it’s definitely broken now isn’t it,” he muttered slamming it down and proceeding to stare upwards at the ceiling with a right face on.
“It’s the dust in here Sir,” Hunter sniffed, taking a big tissue that Partington made appear out of nowhere.
Partington wrinkled his own nose as he judged the dustiness of the room. “Yes, I suppose, it is a little… You know, I think the ghosts have forgotten to come and clean up here during the summer. Lazy so-and-so’s…”
I ran my finger along the table and thick grey dust came up. “Ewww,” I said, chorused by others around me who did the same.
“Perhaps they’re on strike!” called Jake waving a fist.
Partington waved his hands impatiently. “Doubt it. Anyway, don’t worry about all that now, I’ll get some ghosts up here soon to give it a quick once over. We’ve got a lot to get through.”
The room we were in was high up the middle and tallest school tower. Up about a hundred flipping stairs too, round and round in a spiral, it felt so high up you could literally feel the air getting thinner. Out the mullioned windows behind us encircled silent, white bobbing clouds. Messy piles of books teetered around the outside of the room, along with instruments under grey cloths that were indistinguishable. The urge had never taken me to see what they were.
“Hold on,” said Partington pointing at someone in between Dawn and Jess. “Who are you? You weren’t in this class last year.” I craned my head round to see who it was.
“It’s me Sir, Dennis?”
“What?” said Partington unconvinced. “You look nothing like…” he stopped. Robin and I nudged each other and laughed. So did the girls. Jess and Florence creased with laughter at Partington’s perplexed frown.
“It is Dennis Sir!” said Jess through giggles. “He’s just changed a lot over the summer.”
Partington stared for ages, until it became slightly uncomfortable, then he seemed to come to himself. “Yes, of course, of course you are… my goodness, how you young things change.” We laughed again, which eased the tension and poor Dennis’ embarrassment. “So your timetables…” said Partington reading from a sheet he now had in front of him. “Form is with me every morning. Monday morning’s you have Mental and Physical Training with Magisteer Simone—” he stopped as muttering broke out. Magisteer Simone was infamous for being the most evil Magisteer in Hailing Hall. She was very tall and wide with one eyebrow and was as mean as they come.
“Why her?” said Simon whining.
Jess and Florence dropped their heads too, they had a run in with Magisteer Simone last year. Whereas Graham, Joanna and Ellen shrugged at each other, they had no idea.
“Oh she’s lovely when you get on her good side,” said Partington.
Hunter slapped the desk. “Good side? It will take us all year to find that!”
Partington smirked slyly, before carrying on. “Magisteer Wasp will take you for your studies of the AstroMagical chart. Magisteer Commonside for Numerology, Magisteer Yearlove for Spell-craft, and myself for Riptide.”
“Riptide?” called Dawn looking into the ceiling. “I’d forgotten all about Riptide!”
“Of course Riptide!” said Partington enthusiastically. “It wouldn’t be Hailing Hall without Riptide. Oh and I am sure you’ll all be told soon but, just to give you a heads up, the way we play the games will be changing.”
“Changing?” chorused Jake, Gret and Joanna looking concerned.
Partington nodded fervently. “Yes. Back to the old ways, how we used to do it. Not sure if its all been finalised yet, so I can’t tell you anything, but of course I will. Now, the first training session will be in a few weeks when we have the stadium booked.”
“Sweet,” said Jake. “‘Opefully we will be better this year.”
“Here’s to hoping. Right, put your robes and ties on because we’re back down to the Chamber for the communal breakfast with everyone. Make sure you talk to the first years, make them feel welcome. I’m sure you remember what it was like for yourselves.” I certainly did — it was this time last year that my brother Ross had made embarrassing photo’s of my flash up on my robes for all to see.
Simon sidled up to Partington who was waiting by the door. “Sir, just before we go down can I ask you about my channeller?”
Mental and Physical Training, I wonder what that involved. Robin looked a bit sick, he said it sounded like we were going to be lifting weights and running. “I’m no good at all that sort of thing,” he moaned, beady eyes flickering with nerves as we trundled through the lower ground corridors towards classroom 27e on the west wing.
“At least it’s not a high up classroom, you got to think of the positives,” I said. “Those high up ones make me giddy.”
“True. But you just know this Magisteer is going to be a nightmare.” I couldn’t disagree with him, I knew she would be, just from the one experience of her. And her renowned reputation amongst all the other years, who’d told us that morning that she was a ‘
’. A little part of me felt that they were embellishing it, as half of the Jaloofia form regaled ours on the nightmare lessons with Simone.
The Jaloofia’s included a snooty lad called Fry Ferry, who reminded me of my brother Ross, who said: “If you don’t do what she asks, or she takes a dislike to you, she has a tendency to lock you in her spiky, sprat infested coffin for the night!” I shivered, I hated sprats (they are like rats, but bigger with red eyes and some say they have a modicum of magical power). Robin scoffed at Fry Ferry when they left and said he’d never heard such drivel in all his life. Hunter looked terrified as we walked to her lesson, his top lip wobbling.
Outside number 27e we waited. Robin, Hunter, Joanna, Ellen, Gret and I lurked nervously. The others were in another class, which Gret wasn’t very happy about — she was always moody without her twin brother. Another form appeared looking apprehensive in the dimly lit corridor.
“Is this the class with Magisteer Simone?” said a timid girl coming to face me in the grey light.
I nodded. “Yes.”
They all came forwards and lurked with us.
“Oi?” called a voice. “Where did you guys go?” this voice wasn’t timid or scared. Around the corner came a girl — the first thing I saw was her hair. It nearly lit up the dim corridor all by itself, for it was bright white, curly and fell down to her waist. But now she was frowning. “Why didn’t you wait for me?” she berated her classmates, who shrugged sheepishly. “Hello!” she said waving around at us all. “We are the Snares form with Magisteer Blackthorn.”
I blinked as my heart did a little jump. A part of me must of misheard her. “Who did you say your form tutor was?” I said.
“Magisteer Blackthorn,” she said confidently. “He’s new I think. Who are you?” I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t. My breath caught in my throat.
“He’s Avis Blackthorn,” said Robin and the girls face brightened.
“I see, how nice for you.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not nice,” I managed. “Do you know his first name? What does he look like?”
The new girl looked around at her classmates for reassurance. “Don’t know his first name… but he’s erm… tall, dark, confident, very clever, erm… he has nice skin and his eyes are dark?” she managed, shrugging at her lack of description. But I didn’t need any more, I knew exactly which brother this was after she said
it was the eldest of all my brothers, Harold. The one I was most scared of.
This must be a wind up? I leaned on Robin for support. Yes, it was a wind up that’s all, David Starlight had come to scare me to death by getting someone to tell me my brother was working in the school. The white haired girl looked at Robin for an explanation, but not before Hunter said: “They don’t get on. The Blackthorn’s are an evil family. But Avis isn’t evil, so he’s an outcast and they don’t like him.” The girl frowned, before the boy just behind her stepped forwards.
“Magisteer Blackthorn doesn’t seem that evil to me.”
“Yeah,” said the white haired girl. “He seems really nice.”
I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t. The shock had pulverised me. If it was true, then I was done for. I thought I was free from my family after Ross left last year, but now I had to deal with another — the cleverest, most cunning, out of all my family, except my parents. He’d come to get me hadn’t he? Come here to pull me out of school and take me home, let my parents deal with me.
Suddenly a great booming voice erupted through the corridor causing us all to jump. “LINE UP AND WAIT QUIETLY!” It boomed from a shadow in the alcove of door to the classroom. It was a big shadow, about three normal people wide and two up. Hunter was holding his chest, panting and whimpering in equal measure. Magisteer Simone came out of the shadows slowly and stared down at us. “Well, why aren’t any of you MOVING!” she blasted.
I jumped up and scrambled after Robin who’d made a bee line for a half-orderly line in front of her. She glanced up the line and smarted. “Did I say make the line in front of me? Make it by the DOOR!” She snapped. The line shuffled next to the door, images of being locked in a coffin made me submit to her barky commands. “And in we go…” I risked a glance at Robin who caught my eye and rolled them as if to say
a whole year of this?
The girl with the white hair in front of me was scowling, she did not look pleased.
We put our bags in a pile on the dusty floor and stood together in the classroom, which was grey and cold. Not as cold as Straker’s room, but cold enough to make me yearn for a jumper underneath my robes, in the middle of summer too. The walls, floor and ceiling were grey, it had no redeeming features, no blackboard, no books, no instruments, nothing. There were even cast iron bars over the one window in the room.
“Mental and Physical Training,” started Magisteer Simone slamming the door. “Makes a Wizard what they are. The best Wizards are the strongest. Fact. To be a Wizard at all you have to have tremendous inner and outer strength — that’s why most of you are hopelessly pathetic at magic, because you are weak, feeble, with no more mental strength in you’re molly-coddled lives than a Witchetty Grub. Your useless…” she was enjoying herself as she spat these words, I say spat, because I felt some of it land on my face from six feet away. She was really ugly, and I don’t mean that lightly. One bushy, bristly eyebrow went right across her brow which all but buried her narrow, beady eyes. Her skin was patchy and pock marked, her lips thin and taut, her body huge and suspended on tight, skinny legs. Her dress was even more weird, and added to the strangeness. Knee high boots, fastened tightly, with tight green trousers blended in no way with a tight brown and green collection of garments buttoned up to her neck. A black cane, or it might have been a whip also donned her right hand and she swung it round at opportune moments to emphasise her point, causing us all to duck. “I will work you hard, build the mental strength you require to be great. Of course most of you will fail and enter the world as another
like we need more of those!”