At the beginning of the semester, the dining hall was full. It was the only time during the school year when that was true. The wizards and witches who stuck it out, year after year, attempting to educate the next generation of magic users, would do their best.
They’d bring out the Book of All Flesh, each page an animated and living face of a former student, transfigured into a tome-shaped warning of the dangers of wandering off the well-lit paths of the library wing. Before the semester was over, the book would have about a dozen new pages, no matter where the staff hid the thing. From that point on, each former student would live mostly in darkness, their face flat as a page, having their cheeks tickled by the eyelashes of their cursed neighbor on the facing page. Conversation impossible in such compressed circumstances, reduced to merely feeling the vibration of speech and the wiggling of smashed lips somewhere on one’s face.
After the book, the faculty wheel out Corbyn Crowsbatten, his body a giant jagged ball of exposed bone. “Corbyn was an athlete, but he broke a bone,” a feather bedecked crone might say, gently patting what looks like an elephant’s tibia jutting out of Corbyn’s central mass. “He thought he knew enough to magically regrow the bone. How hard could it be? A hangman’s deck of cards, burned and applied with a wolf’s paw. The moonlight at the right angle in the window. A mouth full of corn. And yet. Something went wrong. Now Corbyn looks like this. Forever.”
The giant mass of living bones is then rolled back into the ward the faculty set up for Corbyn. His parents don’t know yet, because then the tuition checks would stop coming.
As the weeks go by, the student population begins to drop. Potion mishaps. Eaten by monsters, both encountered and created. Usually two or three students a year will become monsters and need to be hunted down in turn. Every student dance seems to have at least one jealousy-fueled fight that ends with someone being burned into a silhouette on a gymnasium wall.
It’s quite possible that the school is a mistake. That young minds, in a stew of hormones, struggling to figure out who they are, or who they can be, are not capable of gauging the dangers involved in applying your will to the powers drawn from the Glowing Realms.
Last year, as the final semester wound down, they thought they’d actually have a graduate this year. Charlotte Lumnack. Good marks in Boons & Hexes. Good attendance. Unfortunately, under interrogation it was determined that actually, Charlotte had fled the grounds, and left in her place a very detailed illusory version of herself to make the rounds through her classes. Regulations are quite strict about graduation requirements, and illusory copies of students don’t qualify as actual students.
Once again, a semester draws to a close. The wizards and witches sigh and walk empty corridors. Dress in formal robes to stand in an empty graduation hall. The sound of wind outside. The rustling of acceptance letters folding themselves, addressing themselves, and fluttering out into the world to find new students.
originally appeared in the newsletter “lost time incident”
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