The Shifting Door

There are worlds within our own - the Shifting Door will take you there... Tommy Sullivan's life was normal enough, with his six brothers and younger sister. Forced to visit his Grandi at her creepy house, he finds a doorway that takes him to another world, where magic is real and nothing is as it seems. Normal goes flying out the window along with the goblin trying to eat him.

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9. Chapter Nine: The School with its Students

“Get up.”

Tommy groaned as his eyes fluttered open. Light was streaming in through the curtains across from his bed and howling wind battered against the stone walls of the castle.

He took a moment to get his bearings, groaning as his aching muscles whined in protest. A faint thrumming in his skull told him that his headache – or the block in his mind, keeping him from his memories– was still firmly in place.

“Do not make me ask again.”

He blinked, rubbing the morning crust out of his eyes, and peered around the room. It looked exactly the same as before, except for a woman who stood in the doorway, holding a basket of old flowers. He glanced at the vases beside him and noticed that the flowers were new. He turned back to her. Her foot taped impatiently.

“Er… hello,” he said sitting up in bed.

The woman – who only looked to be about thirty – rolled her eyes. “Yes.” She placed the basket on a nearby table and walked over to his bed briskly. She stopped at the foot and scrutinised him. Tommy wanted to squirm, but resisted, sitting up straighter. The lady nodded to herself and moved to one of the cupboards against the wall.

“Skinny,” she murmured, humming to herself, “and tall for his age. Probably the runt of the litter, too.”

Tommy felt indignant anger but held his tongue. One of those brothers – Blue or Red – had said something similar about him. What was it with the people who lived here?

“Here.” She thrust a pile of neatly folded clothes in his arms as she pushed a stray piece of inky blue hair behind her pointed ear. Tommy stared openly and wondered if she was an elf.

“These clothes will serve as your uniform,” she said in a clipped tone. Staring hadn’t been the best idea. “Breakfast starts at seven o’clock sharp and ends at a quarter past eight. First bell is nine. You have six classes in a day. Two in the morning, then a recess break; two more after recess and the final two classes of the afternoon are after lunch. Your classes are divided between the mundane and the magical. All attend mathematics, language, history, geography and science classes, with one physical education lesson every week and one health lesson. The rest are dedicated to the study of magic. You focus more heavily on magical theory. Before fourth year you get to select your own subjects. This is your schedule” – she shoved a piece of white paper in his hand – “you have fifteen minutes to shower and change.”

She had started to leave before Tommy discovered a rather major problem. “There isn’t a bathroom.”

The lady sighed like his mother did when someone acted stupid. “Through that door.”

He heard the main door shut and hesitantly moved into the bathroom. It was nice, as far as bathrooms went, with white tiles and running water. There was even a shower.

He dressed quickly, even going as far as to brush out his rat-nest hair. She was waiting for him when he was done.

“Good. Follow me.”

She was tall and Tommy had to take two steps for every one of her own.

“This is the only school that teaches sorcery within the territories,” she explained crossly, not caring if he could hear or not. “The only of its type in the entirety of Inside. Every child ever born, in both Inside and Outside, has magic. One in every thousand will have magic powerful enough to wield consciously. Very few are born with magic that they can actually utilise.” She gave him a look down her small nose. “You are from the Badlands, yes?”

“Yep,” Tommy answered quickly.

“This will all be new to you then,” she muttered, before returning to her lecture. “Furthermore, only a few of these children will survive past puberty. This is all due to the child’s biological reaction to the magic within them. The magic within each of us lies dormant during the early years of life, and when puberty occurs, the body will either reject the magic or change to fit it. You learn more about this in biology classes. Any questions so far?”

He had about a thousand and one.

The woman’s explanation of magic did make some sense, even if he couldn’t understand half of it and that’s he sounded like she was spitting out a dictionary. He understood the concept of Inside and Outside (and magic) a little better. It had also clarified a few things Dawn had told him. Why children from Outside, like him, stopped seeing the world of Inside when they grew up was one. Their bodies rejected the magic, so they stopped seeing and believing in it.

“What’s your name?”

The woman blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

Tommy realised his mistake immediately. “What do I call you?”

“I am Teacher Paedia. It is my job to make the transition for all incoming students easy, and to answer any questions they might have.”

He nodded, filing the name and her face away in case he ever did need help.

“I noticed that my timetable says I have anatomy as a class. But isn’t anatomy covered by biology?”

Teacher Paedia pursed her lips. They turned a corner and started down a flight of stairs. After descending two levels in silence, the woman finally said, “Anatomy refers to the study of all the creatures that inhabit Inside. Griffins, basilisks, rukhs, mockers, hydrae, imps, goblins, gremlins, redcaps, dwarves, pooka…”

“Thank you,” Tommy butted in quickly; worried that Teacher Paedia would keep going until she had mentioned every creature under the sun. He recognised a few of the species from fairy tales, fantasy novels and video games. There were a few he hadn’t even heard of. A rukh was one.

They walked on in silence. A few tapestries lined the walls in between the suits of gleaming armour and marble busts. Some portraits dotted the hallways and he recognised a few faces. Some of them looked like the dead scientists his brothers and mother adored.

Tommy was wondering what time it was when he heard a loud bell clang through the hallowed halls of the castle. A few heartbeats went by in silence, and then the doors that lined the corridor burst open.

Children entered the hallway in waves. All different shapes and sizes; some distinctly unhuman. He caught sight of a boy with bats wings, and a girl with a single eye. They parted around Tommy and Teacher Paedia, staring in interest as they chatted. The chat turned to whispers.

They were mostly high school age, though there were a few young girls who looked ten or nine. There didn’t seem to be many young boys; they were all older looking.

Paedia made frustrated noises as she snapped at the assorted students. “Shouldn’t you be getting to class?”, “this isn’t a side show!” and “I am this close to giving you a detention!” were her favourite threats.

When the last few students had disappeared, Paedia turned to Tommy with flushed cheeks and bright eyes. “Now, what class do you have now? I would hazard a guess and say that you are in one of the younger classes, correct?”

“Um…” Tommy glanced down at his timetable and blushed.

Paedia became fed up with him rather quickly. “Give it to me,” she snapped, snatching it out of his hand. Her eyes scanned the page quickly until she found the right lesson.

“Charms, level two, room 221.” She glanced at him. “Do I have to explain this to you as well?”

Tommy gulped. “That might help.”

She sighed at length. “Fine. There are seven levels in the castle, which is divided into two wings. In the middle of the castle is a courtyard. The West Wing is all the dormitories and private facilities, and Left is all the classrooms. Level two is divided between the first and second formers. Level three and four host the classrooms for third, fourth and fifth formers. Level five, as you just saw, houses the infirmary, laboratories and some other classrooms. Level six is specifically for the sixth and seventh formers, level seven for the seventh and eighth formers. Understood?” She didn’t even wait for his reply. “Nearly all your classes will be on level two. Level one has the dining room, the Main Hall, and the library.”

Paedia started talking about the library and Tommy tuned her out, looking around the corridor and what parts of the castle he could see. It seemed incredible, ancient and battered like it had seen battles, wars and sieges. He started imagining all the great battles that might have been fought, the weapons they would have used, like battering rams and catapults. He imagined soldiers with bows and arrows, knights fighting with swords. Then the images from the Tower started flashing in his mind, like one of the old projectors his dad sometimes used in his classes. He shivered.
They moved down another staircase and followed a matrix of twisting corridors before arriving at a huge door. Paedia paused and turned to face him, her skirts billowing around her.

“Charms.”

She pushed the door open with a flourish and Tommy found himself the centre of attention as fifty students turned to stare at him. At the front of the room a tall, hawk-like man with slim glasses glared.

“Teacher Paedia. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Paedia straightened, smoothing her skirts. “I have your new student, Teacher Aquilan. Tommy.” He didn’t remember telling Paedia his name or mentioning it at all. “I have a note from Master Dawn as well, addressing his late admission.” She pulled a rolled up scroll from her sleeve with a flick of her wrist and Tommy noticed the long stick belted at her waist for the first time. Her wand.

Teacher Aquilan nodded, flicking his own wand once and muttering a word in the strange language the pale boy had used. It translated in Tommy’s mind slowly.

~Come to me~

The scroll flew across the room and into his outstretched hand. He had to bite his lip to keep from gasping. He was glad he did – none of the students seemed all that surprised to see the magic at work.
Aquilan opened the scroll and his eyes flickered over it quickly. They widened behind his glasses and he looked up sharply, his hawk eyes settling on Tommy.

“You are Tommy Sullivan?”

Tommy hoped his name had been on the scroll, and that the teacher hadn’t just read his mind. “Yes.”

“Master Dawn brought you in from the Badlands?”

The students started whispering.

“I think so.” At Aquilan’s sharp look he hastily added, “If Master Dawn was the tall guy with the wings.”

Aquilan studied him with a heavy gaze. “Do you have a wand?”

The whispering grew louder until no one was really whispering anymore. The other kids seemed outraged, like Tommy having a wand was the most ridiculous thought in the universe.

“No. Should I?” Tommy raised his left hand to his tie – which Paedia had done for him – and loosened it, feeling a hundred times better. He wasn’t suffocating anymore. Aquilan’s eyes zeroed in on his bandaged hand. Tommy froze.

“Fine. Have a seat. Miss Soochi?” A girl with a shock of bright pink hair looked up. “Lend Mister Sullivan pen and paper. Mister Sullivan, sit over their besides Miss Soochi.” Effectively dismissed, Aquilan turned to Paedia. “I assume the boy has been informed?”

“I explained myself.”

This didn’t seem to pacify the birdman. Paedia either didn’t notice or didn’t care (Tommy thought she didn’t care) and left the room with a short bow. Tommy was left standing by himself at the back of the classroom as a hundred eyes watched him.

“Now, the art of charms is simple. They are usually minor or basic spellwork. Mister Sullivan.” Tommy looked up.

“Are you deaf, or did you just ignore my instructions to sit down besides Miss Soochi?”

Scowling, Tommy wove through the two-seat desks until he reached the girl with pink hair. She wouldn’t look at him, her dark face flushed with colour, as she scribbled furiously in her notebook. With Aquilan’s gaze heavy on his back, he disgruntledly sat down.

Aquilan continued with the lesson.

He waited.

The girl continued writing.

He started taping a rhythm on his desk as his leg jingled underneath the table.

The girl scratched her nose with her pen.

He groaned quietly.

The girl looked over at him through her fringe, saw Tommy watching her, blushed bright red, turned away, and wrote even faster than before.

Tommy smacked his lips together, propping his elbow up on the tabletop and cupped his cheek.

The girl had unsuccessfully snuck a few more looks his way when Tommy finally gave up. “Hi.”

Her hand jerked, sending a line of blue ink along her paper. Her head snapped up and she gazed at him with wide eyes, her mouth open in a little o.

“I’m Tommy. Who are you?”

The girl looked around the room, trying to see if there was someone standing in the small space between her chair and the wall. When she found no one, she turned back around and pointed to herself, as if saying: who, me? Are you talking to me?

“I’m Tommy,” he tried again, his patience disappearing quickly. He pointed to her. “Now it’s your turn. That’s usually how introductions work.”

She looked like a deer caught in headlights. She squeaked something that sounded like Lilac.

“Lilac? Is your name Lilac?”

“Y-y-yes,” she squeaked again.

Tommy nodded, managing to summon a small smile that made the girl blush even harder. He wondered what her problem was. “Could you please lend me some paper? And something to write with?”

Her eyes widened even further and she nodded rapidly, launching at her bag and rummaging around frantically. He heard her make a sound of triumph before proudly offering him a notebook and pencil.

“Thanks. I’ll give it back to you when I’m done and just rip out the pages I used.”

She shook her head. “N-no. You can k-k-keep it.”

“Sure?”

She nodded.

“Uh wow. Thank you.”

The girl turned scarlet and just when Tommy thought she was going to transform into an enchanted tomato, she smiled and looked away.

Now that Tommy had the pen and paper like the hawk-man had wanted, he had no idea what to do with it. He suspected that he was supposed to be writing notes. Too bad he had no idea what the teacher was explaining. He glanced at Lilac’s page and started jotting down her notes, hoping that she knew what she was doing. It seemed so.

Whenever Aquilan asked a question, even though she didn’t put her hand up, she mouthed the answer as the other students explained. When they got something wrong, she made a small noise of protest. Tommy spent the rest of the lesson watching her. She was entertaining and didn’t even realise it.

“I want you to finish that explanation as homework,” Aquilan was explaining, “and I want it neatly piled on my desk by Friday evening. No excuses. You can go.”

Everyone stood up at once and the room exploded with noise. Tommy got up quietly, ignoring the stares, and started to pack up. A short boy materialised out of nowhere besides his elbow. He was Tommy’s age with a head full of shockingly bright purple hair, pointed ears and a face full of freckles.

“Li-lac,” he sung terribly off-key. “What’s a pretty thing like you doing in an awful place like this?”

Lilac blushed again. She must be broken, Tommy thought, because no one goes that red that frequently.

“Cygnus,” she stuttered. “Hello.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

“W-what are you d-doing here?” Lilac was speaking slowly, trying to get her words right without stuttering. Cygnus waited patiently as she ambled through the simple sentence, smiling the whole time.

“Well, my Potions class got out early, and I thought ‘I wonder how my girl, Lilac, is doing on this fine day.’ With that thought firmly in my mind, I set off through the corridors to seek you out. It was a daring adventure, taking me into the lands of the fifth, fourth, third and second form classrooms.”

The girl rolled her eyes, a cheeky smile on her lips. Obviously this was normal behaviour from Cygnus of the Purple Hair. Tommy decided that they must be close friends.

“Why th-thank y-you,” she said, smiling happily. Cygnus grinned back.

It felt like they were having a moment. Feeling awkward, Tommy stood up and started to leave, trying not to draw any attention to himself. The universe was against him as he backed up right into a chair and tripped. In an entertaining spectacle involving lots of flailing arms, he managed to regain his balance before he could fall flat on his face.

He looked up and found Cygnus and Lilac staring. Lilac blushed furiously when their eyes met. Cygnus continued staring.

“I have never seen you before in my life,” he proclaimed dramatically, turning to Lilac. “Have you ever seen him before?”

She nodded robotically, frightened out of her mind.

“I’m new,” said Tommy with a small wave, trying to contain his blush.

Cygnus lifted a purple eyebrow. Tommy couldn’t believe it, but it was starting to look like his hair was naturally that colour.

“G’day New. I’m Cygnus Weatherby and this here little lady is Lilac Soochi, of the Eastern City Soochi’s.” Noticing Tommy’s blank face, Cygnus continued, “You know – the rich, powerful, influential family of First Class Sorcerers? The Mayor of the Eastern City, Ebenezer Soochi? One of the Nineteen Old Families? Am I ringing any bells?”
Lilac was tugging on his sleeve in agitation, her eyes full as she apologised to Tommy wordlessly. Cygnus titled his head to one side and listened carefully as Lilac whispered something furiously in his ear. Tommy noted with some amusement that Cygnus was shorter than the girl.

“Why didn’t you tell me New was from the Badlands?”

Heads turned to look at them. A few girls giggled obnoxiously.

Lilac looked ready to faint from embarrassment. Tommy took pity on the quiet girl and started his hasty retreat. “It was great talking to you, Cygnus. Really, it was. But I have to leave now. This is my first day and I have to find… err, Paedia. I have to find Teacher Paedia and…” Tommy floundered, his brain coming up blank as he screamed for a good excuse. “Bye!”

Cygnus acted like his behaviour was absolutely normal. Lilac buried her face into her hands.

Shaking himself off, Tommy left the classroom and speed-walked down the hallway. No one paid him much attention, his school uniform making him blend in with the crowd. A couple of students watched him curiously but they didn’t make a big deal of it.

Tommy had climbed two staircases before he realised he had no idea where his next class was. He unfolded his timetable from his pocket and smoothed out the wrinkles. The he remembered that he didn’t know what the day was; only that it wasn’t Friday. He scanned the classes, trying to find Charms. Period three on Wednesday.

Tommy stopped dead in the middle of the hallway.

It had been Sunday.

Where had those three whole days gone?

He thought back. He had gone into town with his family on Sunday. It had nearly been seven when they had turned up at Misselthwaite. Then he had run away and fallen through the door in the air.

How long had he fallen for?

He tried to think. He had woken up for the first time sometime Tuesday evening. Then he had talked to Master Dawn. Dawn had said that he hadn’t rested for as long as he needed to. Tommy estimated about a day and a half of resting had taken place in the infirmary. Going back even further, that meant that Master Dawn had found him sometime early Monday morning.

His lungs clenched. That left a good seven hours of falling. It was impossible. No one could have survived falling for seven hours, then landing on solid ground. He should be dead. Tommy took a choked breath and tried to calm down. He wondered if he was hyperventilating or if he was just experiencing delayed shook. Either way, he stood hunched over in the middle of the hallway for nearly ten minutes.

When he felt semi-normal again, he straightened up and tried to figure out where he was. He looked at the nearby doors. Numbers were painted on the glass windows at their tops. 428. 430. 432. He had been on the second storey and travelled up two flights of stairs, which would mean he was on the fourth storey.

He glanced at his schedule.

He had biology now and Paedia had explained that the labs would be on level five, near the infirmary.  With renewed courage, Tommy went off in search of another staircase. He found it quickly and took the stairs two at a time.

Now he just had to find the right classroom.

“Hold on,” a man said.

Tommy turned around. The man had a stout frame and squashed pug face.

“What are you doing out of class, boy?”

Tommy hoped he was a teacher. “I only arrived yesterday, sir, and I’m lost.” He added the sir in hopes that the man would be impressed.

It worked. The man puffed up his barrel chest and squared his shoulder, trying to look more important. “Of course, of course. You must be the new boy Master Dawn arrived with. Yes, yes. I’m Teacher Arithmos.”

The longer Tommy looked at him, the more the man seemed like a pug.

“What class do you have now?”

“Biology.”

The pug nodded. “You’re on the right track. You are a first former, yes?” Tommy nodded. “Follow me.”

Teacher Arithmos led him through another series of confusing corridors. He tried to memories important features and took notes on windows, tapestries and portraits in case he got lost.

Arithmos knocked once before entering room 575. Tommy found himself the centre of attention again as the twenty-three students inside the classroom turned to look at him. He scanned the faces, searching for Lilac or Cygnus. He couldn’t see purple or pink hair anywhere, although he did spot a variety of other colours.

It was as he was searching that he realised not all the students were human. A boy with shaggy brown hair had animal eyes and fangs. A monstrous white shaggy beast sat at his feet. Another boy had scales. One girl had dragon fly wings, while another had intricate tattoos weaving around her forehead.

He noticed white hair.

Tommy frowned. The pale boy wasn’t paying him any attention, talking to a dark skinned boy who looked like an ebony statue and a pale girl with webbing between her fingers and slitted eyes.

The girl looked up, strange glowing yellow eyes meeting Tommy’s. Her webbed hand reached out and touched the pale boy on the shoulder. He glanced away from the dark skinned boy briefly and listened as the girl talked to him.

Tommy didn’t care that he was staring.

The boy looked up.

Tommy waited for recognition; some of camaraderie that had appeared when they had teamed up against the Nutso Nurse. There was nothing. The boys expression was impassive, bored.

Feeling hurt, Tommy scowled.

“Teacher Tamia,” Arithmos said.

The teacher turned around and Tommy nearly burst out laughing. He had a huge, fleshy throat, a face full of boils and small possum eyes.

“What is it? I am in the middle of a class, Arithmos.”

Arithmos smiled gaily. “Yes, yes. I found one of your students roaming the hallways looking a bit lost. Only his second day, you see.”

Tamia didn’t seem to care even a little. “I have no more students. All are accounted for.”

Arithmos’ eyes widened. “Of course, of course. You weren’t at the staff meeting Monday night, were you? No, no. Well, this is the boy Master Dawn retrieved, from the Badlands. Suleiman, I believe his name is.”

The pale boy snapped to attention, spinning around in his seat to stare at Tommy. His two friends looked disgruntled, the girl snarling slightly and searching for the thing that was more interesting than her. His eyes narrowed on Tommy in question.

“Fine. Mister Sulieman –”

“Sullivan. My last name is Sullivan.”

“- can sit in the desk by the window,” Tamia went on, ignoring him, “as two of my students left. I was reorganising the partners anyway.” The frog looked at Tommy like he was a fly he wanted to swat. Or eat. “Would anyone like to work with Mister Sulieman?”

Tommy didn’t even bother to correct the teacher again. Hands went up all around the room. Apparently, being a new kid from wherever the Badlands were was exciting. Front page news.

The frog man scanned the room. “Put your hand down, Wesitor. You as well Ainsley. What do you take me for, a fool? No, Baggins, you have to work with Miss Lochart.”

“I’ll do it,” the pale boy said, standing and packing up his things. His two friends seemed absolutely horrified.

The rest of the students had fallen silent at his words. Tommy noticed the eyes moving quickly between the two of them. Even the teacher seemed stunned. The grumpy frog-man Tommy had grown to love recovered first.

“If you wish Mister Rhage – You will just have to deal with it Miss Kelli! See? Mister Zaruki doesn’t care. Go complain in your own time. This is education, children. Knowledge! If the Professor could see you now, she would be appalled! Horrified!”

Tommy ignored Tamia. The pale boy was weaving through the tables, greeting a few people with detached smiles that still seemed to make them happy. He lowered into the seat besides Tommy, sliding the strap from his bag off his shoulder. He didn’t say anything as he pulled out his notebook and what looked like the strange pen Lilac had given him in Charms. Then he started taking notes.

Tommy had no idea what to do.

He was as confused as he had been in Charms, more about the actual students in the room and the boy beside him. Biology wasn’t hard for him. Because of his mother’s work and Peri’s undiagnosed, incurable illness, he knew a thing or seven.

Sheets were handed out by frog-man and he completed his in no time. His desk buddy finished just as quickly, but instead of pushing his work away and attempting a nap like Tommy knew Orson would have, he pulled out a yellow, dog-eared book and crisp notebook.

Tommy realised he was staring so he moved to look about the room. Nearly all the students were human. The rest were human-looking. The girl who had been sitting next to the pale boy was glaring at him. She was tall and slim, having milk white skin with visible green veins, blonde hair with a green tint and blue eyes with no whites or pupils. When she caught Tommy’s gaze she bared her teeth in a feral gesture.

“Don’t let her bother you.” Tommy jumped and spun around. “She’s all bark and no bite.” The pale boy flipped another old page in his book without taking his eyes off his notes.

“That’s good to know. My name’s Tommy, by the way,” Tommy said cautiously, trying not to sound too eager. The pale boy paused in his writing and flicked his eyes up. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m –”

“Tommy Sullivan.” The pale boy’s voice was self-assured.

“How did you –”

“– know your name?” He closed his books and twisted on his bench. “I saw you in the infirmary. I asked around.”

“Why?”

“Because I wanted to know who you were,” he said simply, shrugging his pointy shoulders. “Anyway, Kharina is part-nixie so don’t let her bother you.”

“Nixie?”

The pale boy gave him a curious look. “You really are from the Badlands aren’t you?”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Well it is, isn’t it?” returned the pale boy, regarding him thoughtfully. “I’ve seen what you lot call a town. It’s a bunch of rubble; old wood and metal passing as buildings. They’re more like shanties. You lack reliable sanitation services, clean water, law enforcement and food.  Some disease or another is always killing your lot off.”

Tommy hadn’t realised that the Badlands were quite like that. He had just assumed that they had a higher rate of crime or something.

The pale boy was still watching him and Tommy tried to pull himself together desperately. “I guess you’re right. It is a bad thing after all.” He faked a laugh.

The silence picked up again, with the pale boy regarding Tommy appraisingly. Tommy decided a quick subject change was in order. He kicked his brain into gear and clawed for some sort of intelligent question to ask.

“So are all your family able to use magic, then?” Tommy finally decided upon.

The pale boy smirked at once and leaned comfortably back against the desk behind them.

“Yes. I come from a family of powerful sorcerers and Mages. The more time you spend here, the more you’ll find the better students come from the families like mine.” His cheeks turned pink. “I didn’t... I mean, it’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t have a long magical heritage is any good, just that being from a magical family helps.” When he was sure that Tommy wasn’t offended, he stopped apologising and moved on. “When my mother was alive she was always throwing parties and charity events. I’ve seen loads of experienced sorcerers and sorceress’s. It can get boring, but more often than not I think it’s an honour. I’ve met some of the leading Mage’s and Scholars, and they’ve even shown me a thing or two.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a party quite like that,” said Tommy, thinking about the parties he and his brothers got once a year for their birthdays. No magic there.

The pale boy gave a lazy half-shrug.

Tommy bit his lip. “So it was just you and your sister then?”

The pale boy nodded. “Bellatrix. You met her in the infirmary, but I guess you remember that.” Tommy gave quick nod. “She’s my only sister, and the oldest, and our father likes her better than me.”

Tommy was both pleased and alarmed by this confession. He wasn’t sure he would be entirely comfortable with admitting something like that to a total stranger, but the way the pale boy said it, it seemed like common knowledge.
While they had been talking, more and more students had finished off their work sheets and had started talking to each other. As the pale boy fell silent, Tommy caught snippets of the conversations around him. He seemed to centre in a few of them. He blushed, embarrassed, and started doodling on his notebook cover, when his stomach gave a great, loud grumble. The pale boy stared as he tried to cover up the noises, acting like he hadn’t heard a thing.

“Hungry?” he asked, bemused.

“Starving,” admitted Tommy, taking a deep breath as his stomach grumbled again. “I missed breakfast and dinner… and lunch… and yesterday’s breakfast, come to think of it.”

“Here,” said the pale boy as he dropped three elaborately wrapped chocolates into the palm of Tommy’s hand. He also added a bright red apple and some sort of soft lolly.

“Won’t you want any of this?” Tommy asked even as he was ripping off the first wrapper and taking a big bite out of the chocolate. It tasted like the proper dark chocolate he loved.

“I don’t eat any of the stuff.” He crinkled his nose in distaste as he spoke.

“Not even chocolate?” Tommy asked while he opened another.

“I try to avoid it if I can.”

“So why do you carry some around with you?”

“Bribery.” He gave a devilish smirk. “And my friends – the nixie girl who glared at you and the boy sitting next to her, Xavien – love the stuff. Especially Kharina. You could get her to do anything for a block. Nixie’s aren’t supposed to eat chocolate, see, so the kitchen staff keep it away from her.”

Tommy pursed his lips. “Here.” He handed one of the chocolates back. “One couldn’t hurt, could it?”

The pale boy narrowed his eyes.

“I suppose just one…” He took the offered chocolate and nibbled on it as Tommy demolished the apple.

His stomach growled again, louder than before, startling the students on the desk behind him. The pale boy cast a quick look to the front of the class. Teacher Tamia was lecturing at a pair of giggling girls, distracted and paying no attention to anyone else in his class. He smirked at Tommy and pulled a white length of wood out of his pocket.

Tommy leaned forward eagerly.

“Is that your wand?”

“Just a little bit of magic never hurt anyone,” he said with an impish grin. He held his palm open and pointed at it with his wand. Mumbling something which Tommy didn’t quite catch, a bunch of grapes appeared from thin air in his palm. He held it out to Tommy with a proud grin.

“Right now I can only summon little things,” he said, pocketing his wand again, “but its complex magic for something so simple. I can also levitate medium sized objects.” He made it sound like they were astonishing feats of magic which every garden variety sorcerer could do. Nonetheless, Tommy was impressed.

“So you just created the grapes out of thin air?”

The pale boy shook his head. “Of course not. It’s impossible, and against nearly every Code we have as sorcerers. I just took them from the kitchens on level one.”

The frog-man called out for attention and moved the lesson on. Tommy already knew what he was explaining and tuned the old man out, instead thinking about the conversation he had just had.

As the bell rang out to signal the end of class, a thought occurred to him. He grabbed the pale boy’s wrist just before he turned to leave. He went as still as a statue and turned around to look at him with a raised eyebrow and no other expression.

“I didn’t catch your name.”

He inclined his head to hide his smirk. “I’m Corvus Rhage.”
 

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