XIII. Windy January
The Zephyrs’ championship glowed for a good month after the game. The players were backslapped in the halls, tee shirts and magic stickers appeared everywhere, and even the Maroons gave up for a while on trying to puncture Ash House balloons. Daphne’s sword practice at dawn grew from her and Spiny and Ahir and Angelica to include Keisha Denise and Tee Doubletary, who looked to be members of that large population of black Amazons who had lost contact with their heritage; Keisha and Tee soon put in orders for Daphne-made swords. Natalie and Rachel showed up sometimes. So did Henrietta Longbeam, the second-year middle linebacker. A couple of other second-years became regulars: Melissa Kleene and Willow Greene, a. k. a. Kleene and Greene, quiet girls who really needed something like this to find themselves. It didn’t hurt that they pictured themselves running to catch up with Daphne passes to score winning touchdowns in championships.
The simple fact that the winning touchdown had actually been scored in the first quarter didn’t diminish anyone’s dream of having been the one to catch it. Angelica relished the fact that it was actually her they were imagining themselves as.
Of course the team got to meet the Secretary of Wizardry, a solidly built fellow named Horatio Calumber. He came to deliver a boring address on the future of the wizarding community to the whole school, and thanked the team for being an example of everything that wizardry represented for the good of everyone. The fact that he could decorate his speech with bursts of firework and illusion images of famous past wizards hanging in the air double life size didn’t make any of it more interesting. Nor did it conceal his message, if he had one.
“He’s a classic Improver,” said Ahir Shaheen, unexpectedly holding forth in Tom’s room that evening. “He justifies use of magic for the high purpose of improving the lot of Normals. But you know what improvers end up being.”
“Controllers,” said Cloudius, fiddling with a toy car.
“I think you’re reading a lot into it,” said Daphne. “I think it was just blather. I don’t think he’s an Improver. I think he thinks he has to tell us he’s an Improver.”
“But what does that tell you?” asked Angelica. “If being an Improver is what you think people think you should be?”
“That every Hider will say he’s an Improver so other people leave him alone.”
“Well, what are you, then?” asked Arnulf.
“I’m an Amazon, stupid,” said Daphne. “Just like your girlfriend.” Arn looked at Ahir, who gave him her shy smile.
“Cool,” said Angelica. She was watching Cloudius testing out his car: he said Go and it went forward, and he said Stop and it went backward. He said Go, then Left, and it went forward, then turned right.
“Stop stop stop,” he said as the others laughed. The car lurched to a halt. “It still has some kinks.”
“You did that?” asked Rachel Rabat.
“Yeah! It runs in the family. I got to help make toys over Christmas.”
“I heard you ag’d a cop,” said Arnulf.
Cloud laughed. “Yeah, I did that too. Well, what was I supposed to do? I was out fixing the Interstate signs.”
“How were you fixing the Interstate signs?” asked Ahir.
“Uh, well, I was putting, uh, editorial comments on the exit signs.”
“Well, ‘Exit 11 to Boredom’ springs to mind. But it’s true.”
“It actually is,” said Angelica. “Did you get in trouble for that?”
“Oh,” said Cloud, “let’s just say, not with the cops, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“Department of Magic?” asked Arnulf.
“No, no, my folks,” said Cloud, smiling innocently. Still smiling, he added, “That’s just as bad.”
“Well,” said Angelica, “I had some excitement. My sister Clary and I found a boggart in the way back storage room under the bar.”
“Really?” asked Rachel. “What did you see it as?”
“Uh,” replied Angelica, “I didn’t stick around to get a good look. Mom disposed of it.”
“You didn’t stick around to get a good look?” Arnulf repeated.
“Uh, nice day, isn’t it, Arnulf. How about you?”
“Wait, is that your position?” he pressed. “You aren’t going to tell us what your fear was?”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s my position.”
“We learned a little thing with a circle on a piece of paper,” said Ahir with a sly smile. “Well, two pieces of paper, one for each of us.” Arnulf blushed.
“I learned sern pretty well,” said Tom.
“I beat up three high school boys at once,” said Daphne. “I literally knocked their heads together. I love the sound that makes. Oh, and I visited Spiny for a few days. That was cool.”
“Tell them about the logs,” said Ahir.
“Nulf was chopping wood?”
“No, Dapher,” said Arnulf. “Police logs. My dad’s.” He looked across the room: Ahir, Rachel, Angelica, Natalie, Cloudius, Tom, Daphne. Spiny and Pinhead were in the doorway. “I guess I trust you guys. You can come over to my room and have a good time translating them.”
“They’re in cipher?”
“No, Dapher. They’re in Cop. Code 414. Perps. Packing. Units. Random three-letter abbreviations. SPC. RGX. YJD. OPX. But somewhere in there is what he was investigating when he died.”
“Well, what’s the last entry?” asked Tom Hexane.
Ahir and Arnulf looked at him with a sort of pity, then exchanged looks. Ahir explained, “He didn’t stop and write down, ‘I’m getting in a magic battle with Mr X’ or anything. He was working on his usual police work.”
“He was on patrol,” said Arnulf. “I mean, he was a detective, but he kept getting demoted for insubordination. He’d be back on patrol for a few weeks, then he’d be a detective again.”
“Insubordination,” said Daphne. “I totally see it.”
“Yeah, I know. But he was working on this one case outside of work all that time. And he wrote that stuff in the regular police logs. You can usually tell when he’s back to his big case. So that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“Besides smooching,” said Cloudius.
“It’s tough,” said Angelica, “you’ve got two specialty classes this semester—smooching and decrypting old police logs. Well, we all decided to take Items this semester.”
“Yeah,” said Tom. “And I’m taking Pentonics with MacMorris just to see what he’s like.”
“We’re taking that too,” said Ahir. “We want to keep an eye on him.”
“See if he’s mesmerizing his students,” Arnulf added.
“I have an assistantship with Timms,” said Cloudius, “plus I’m in that items class. That’s gonna be a great class.”
“He’s giving me and Spiny a tutorial on magic weapons,” said Daphne. “Spiny, you gotta make your own sword.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Spiny.
The first weeks of class passed with few revelations. Watching MacMorris in Pentonics, Arnulf and Ahir and Tom could see why he was so many people’s idol. The class had 25 students, much larger than the usual fifteen to twenty, and easily half the class consisted of idolizers. These included the obvious MacMorris House kids Josh Hubble, Bailey Lamonica, Plymouth Class, Emma Curie and Hardy Vyner, but also two members each from the other two first year houses: Shawytha Green and Hyacinth Potts from White House and Selene Simone and Matty Madison from Match House. They were all very nice, but their adoration was obvious; from Ash House, only Olympia Month seemed impressed, and Ahir watched MacMorris with the exact same expression she would have if the Ayatollah Khomeini were lecturing.
He was fascinating. He was fascinated, by everything about the subject, absolutely fascinated. He clearly and sincerely wanted everyone in class, even Ahir Shaheen, even Arnulf with his infinitely remote look, as if he were watching MacMorris from a spot twenty years in the past, to really get how unutterably cool pentonics was.
“The thing is,” said Tom in the library the second week, “it really is cool. He’s totally right.”
“You’re getting brainwashed,” said Arnulf.
“No, he’s right,” said Ahir, “it’s true, and Professor MacMorris is an excellent teacher. I am not in the market for what he’s selling, and neither should you be,” she said quietly.
“What is he selling?” asked Alicia “Beep” Finger, who was in the class and was from MacMorris House but who didn’t seem to be an idolater. Ahir just met her eyes.
“He’s looking for a,” said Tom, and then he stopped. “I mean, she’s right, in what she said.”
“She didn’t say anything,” said Beep.
“Yeah, and that’s what I agree with.”
“Okay,” said Beep, “I get it. Yeah.” She lowered her voice. “I don’t buy it either, whatever it is. But I still want to know what it is, okay? You Ash guys know something.”
Arnulf leaned forward and stared down at his notes. “Don’t ever accuse me of knowing anything,” he said to his notes. Then he looked at Beep Finger and said, “So what about this four dimensional wave stuff? How’s that supposed to work?”
At the end of January, the students all, meaning absolutely all, had to present the results of their fall projects. Classes were canceled for three days while each of the 120 students got exactly thirty minutes to show the rest of their class whatever they could show.
Daphne went early: 7 am, Monday, day one. She talked through the forty-four layers of steel and the runes concealed under each one. “It can’t break,” she said, “and it’s got a nice attack plus, and,” and she swung it singing, “it looks and sounds cool.” After she spent another minute swinging it, all forty first-years were mesmerized. Then she finished with five minutes of slicing up meat, melons, blocks of wood, and finally small boulders. It was quite the popular demo.
Tom Hexane’s demo didn’t have anything to do with what he was mostly thinking about, but it wasn’t hard to generate interest, in himself anyway, about vistas of other planets. Only the discerning few (such as Professor Temple, standing at the back with a small smile on his face) would notice details such as the black shiny viscous surface at the bottom of a Plutonian crater, or the region at the center of a planetary nebula that seemed to open into another universe.
Angelica, Rachel and Natalie got special dispensation to do an hour and a half of illusions together, and this was fairly wow-inducing; even the Jen Greenbelt crowd’s efforts at disruption turned into an opportunity for the illusionists, who made them look like local politicians—Jen as the late Richard J. Daley, jowls and all, was particularly wow-inducing.
Cloudius did not score a popular sensation with his pumps. Possibly only the teachers saw anything interesting about ten different kinds of pumping apparatus, the smallest the size of a thimble, the largest the size of, well, the ghost cat who insisted on sitting in the middle. But White turned to Ash and said, “That kid’s got some interesting alloys,” and Temple and Shag were whispering and laughing at the implications of several of the pumps. Timms looked on proudly, and Jambis seemed quite attentive. So did Macmorris.
And then there was the combined Ahir-Arnulf talk about ancient diggings under a modern city. They went last—3 pm on Wednesday—and they each took fifteen minutes to explain what was interesting about the unnamed city’s unseen structure of tunnels and chambers and even hidden paths on the surface. Then the students were ushered out, and the audience for the second half hour of their presentation consisted of Ash, White, Timms, Temple, MacMorris, Sear, Blaine, Shag and the headmistress.
At the special school dinner that night, the headmistress spoke for some time, boringly, but then took a long pause and smiled mysteriously across the student body. “I’ve seen many things these past three days, and I am certain that some of the first year students will still be developing their ideas many years from now, and I am thrilled to imagine what some of those ideas will become.” She raised her wine glass and drank to them, and then said, “Now eat your fill and enjoy the moment, because it’s back to school work tomorrow.”
Everyone in Ash House had Ash’s defense class, and everyone on the second floor plus Jen Chang, Pinhead and Ahir Shaheen, had White’s English class; Tom and Arnulf had Ash for math as well. MacMorris dropped no hints in Pentonics. Ash did little else in Defense, and Tom and Arnulf kept catching things she said in math and thinking they suggested other things far beyond the walls of the classroom. White, in English, was actually having them read The Lord of the Rings instead of Lord of the Flies, and Hamlet seemed unusually applicable to situations one might meet in the world of wizard history.
In History, which they all had with Sear, they got to witness the continuing debate of Angelica and the Professor. The little mystic historian, with her hippie dresses and her ankle-length dark hair, called on Angelica a dozen times each class, often without Angelica volunteering, but Ange wasn’t being tested: Sear seemed to feel the need for a foil, and Ange could be trusted to guess the right question to ask ninety percent of the time. Sear would say something like, “And that’s where the Continental Commissions came into being, just before the French Revolution. Don’t you think that’s interesting?” And she would be looking straight at Angelica, as if the question were directed at her alone. And Angelica would raise her eyebrows, move her hand from her chin and say, “But couldn’t it be that, like, Robespierre and Napoleon were, like, rebels against the Commissions?” And if Arnulf and Daphne and Cloudius and Tom only understood a quarter of what followed, their brains were expanding.
Ahir watched this, too, with a silent and intent glare, but when asked what she thought of Sear and the subject at hand, magical history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she just raised her dark, dark eyebrows and shook her head just a tiny bit.
But it was in Science that MacMorris inadvertently dropped his bombshell. Only Angelica, among the Second Floors, was in that class—with Rachel and Natalie. The Professor was drawing up a description of how batteries work, in colored chalk and in his beautiful drawing style, and he said, “Now the volume of a cylinder is—say it has a height of eleven segments, uh, eleven centimeters and a radius of five.” He stopped for just a moment, and the girls all agreed that he blushed. He seemed to take a nervous glance at Angelica before going on, and remained flustered for the rest of class. She, for her part, kept away from the Ahir Shaheen Gaze and tried to look like she was too busy getting the picture right to notice some offhand remark.
“I’ll tell you what it means,” said Cloudius. “I’ve been telling you all along. The cylinder finds the segments.”
“I know, you do keep saying it,” replied Angelica, looking through the cylinder. Rachel sat next to her, leaning together. Rachel had her wand out as if she was Angelica’s bodyguard. “I don’t know, though,” Ange said vaguely. “I’m really afraid you might be right.”
“All right,” said Ash after twenty minutes of magic combat practice in Defense II class, “at least some of you are ready for something new, and the rest of you could use a breather. Mister Cloud, would you step forward?”
Cloudius stepped forward, wand held at his side at a casual downward slant. Ash lined up in front of him about ten feet away, checked her feet as if to make sure she was toeing an imaginary in-bounds line, and faced him, her shoulders turned an eighth, her wand held a little forward. Cloud’s eyes widened: this looked serious. He raised his wand defensively.
“Now. Is everyone watching?” Everyone was; she needn’t have even asked. “All right. I’ll do this slowly. White and I call this 123.”
She smiled sweetly at Cloudius. She pushed a stray lock of red hair back from her left ear, checked her feet again, then smiled once more as she aimed a bolt at Cloud’s left. He swung his wand to intercept it, but instead she switched to his right, and a snap like static flashed. His right arm hair stood on end. He swung his wand and then with a snarling grin Ash, who now looked about nineteen years old, twirled her real bolt at his left. His shoulder went numb and his knee contracted and Cloudius found himself on the floor.
He jumped right back up. “Cooool,” he said. “Cool, um, Professor.”
“I thought you would like that. Mr Laguna?”
“Per-fess-or,” Rats complained.
“No, he’s your friend, come take your punishment. Everyone else pair up. I want to see what you can do with this.”
Ten minutes later, Rats was begging out because of a headache, Ahir and Arnulf were still trying to feint and fake each other out (having each managed one hit that would have knocked either of them out last August) and Angelica was trying to talk Jen Chang into taking her on just one more time. Daphne and Tom were both hurting, and the rest of the class was exhausted.
“Well, that was acceptable,” Ash judged.
“Professor Ash,” asked Pinhead, “will we be using that one a lot in our business careers?” He and Olympia Month had been indiscriminately hammering each other without recourse to feints or fakery.
“I think it’ll be bloody useful,” said Angelica in a low voice.
“I expect it will be, for you, dear,” said Ash, also in a low voice; only Ange and Arn and Ahir and Cloud heard her. “It certainly always was for me.” She turned her volume back up for the rest of the class. “I can’t lie to you, that move is one of my personal favorites. Now be careful when you practice that move, like all moves we do. Let’s spend the last thirty minutes of class on the workbook, shall we?”
“She’s getting us ready to fight,” said Angelica in Arnulf’s room a couple of days later.
“I’m loving it,” said Cloudius, who was having a much better semester already.
“She’s always getting us ready to fight,” said Ahir Shaheen. “I don’t think it’s especially urgent now in particular, I think she feels it’s always urgent.”
“Trt sko,” said Arnulf, flicking his wand gently at Daphne.
“Kno eur,” she replied, wiggling her wand.
“Kno eur,” he replied.
“Kno eur,” she replied.
“Kno eur,” he replied.
“Kno eur,” she replied.
“Kno eur,” he replied, but his resist failed this time and a light wash of flame burst across him, leaving a quick whiff of singed hair.
“Good spell,” said Daphne. “I have a feeling I’m gonna use that a lot.”
“Tiring after a while, though.”
“Did you guys hear what I was saying?” asked Angelica.
“She’s preparing us for fights,” said Daphne. “Duh.”
She turned to Arnulf and raised her wand. A little bolt of magic power flared and crossed the gap. Arnulf deflected it deftly to Ahir, who caught it on her black wand. She had just been given the wand by her mother: it had belonged to her great grandmother. Ahir gazed into the blue-orange ball with her depthless brown eyes, then flipped it at Daphne, who flicked her wand and shattered the bolt into a hundred sparks, short-lived but colorful.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing for certain,” said Angelica, “we’re gonna be hell on wheels if we only live to adulthood.”
Feet sounded on the stairs. Eva appeared in the middle of Arnulf’s room, as if she’d always been there. Tom came tumbling in and slammed the door behind him.
“Guess what,” he gasped.
“What?” several of them replied.
“Just tell us,” said Angelica, unconsciously aiming her wand at him.
“Well,” said Tom, “MacMorris is planning a House Trip to the Field Museum. February the twelfth. Next Saturday!”