The Manor had settled somewhere in the swamps today, floating serenely over the brackish water on a cloud of ghostly fog, the tendrils of which were just visible under the windowsill Bettina sat beside. It had taken her a few days to get used to the Manor’s habit of teleporting from place to place, heralded only by the tolling of the invisible church bells. The building rarely made a jump during the day, but every night at sundown the dolorous bells would ring out their song, calling students simultaneously to dinner and to the safety of the Manor’s walls. Those who didn’t come would be left behind, to found by faculty after dinner. Missing the meal was their punishment for ignoring the bells.
Bettina had found this a little troubling at first. At her Muggle school, no one would have even thought about abandoning a student in the middle of a swamp, but then Bart had explained how the tiny drops of blood taken at the start of the year had been used in magic that would protect them from the mundane dangers of the bayou, and anything worse would immediately summon the Headmistress herself. As a result, no one had ever been seriously hurt as a result of being left behind.
She still wasn’t willing to take the risk, of course, and made sure she was well indoors by the time the bells began to toll. Not that she’d had much time to leave the Manor: first years had been forced to hit the ground running, taking on a full course load of magical and mundane subjects, and as a result she’d spent most of her evenings on the back porch with Bart and another Muggleborn girl named Racquel from Memphis.
But today was Wednesday and that meant-
“Who can give me…an example of black magic?” a gravely voice said, suddenly breaking into her reverie and instantly quieting the low murmur that had been running through the room. A man had appeared in front of the class, standing suddenly behind the heavy oaken desk where no one had stood before.
He was a looming figure, with a cavernous face, dusky skin, and smooth, black hair worn in a set of braids down his back, but nothing about him automatically screamed “wizard.” Most of her instructors had at least dressed in some sort of eye catching way. Professor Falconeri in Potions had dressed in robes that were one half mystical accoutrement and one half mad-scientist, her pristine hair mussed only by the black-lensed goggles she wore strapped to her head. Professor Santos was a flamboyant man who had entered the rooms an explosion of lavender petals and self-generated applause, his dark-purple suit sparking in the mage lights he conjured from thin air. But this man simply wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a shirt as wrinkled as his aged face. The only concession to sorcery was the wand kept in a worn leather sheath hanging low on his hip. His fingers were working diligently and it took Bettina a moment to realize he was rolling a cigarette.
“Well?” he asked again, coming around the desk and leaning against it. His fingers finished their work and he brought the neat, white roll-up to his lips, leaving it unlit as he looked out over the room.
A boy across the room raised his hand, and Bettina flipped through her memory to recall him name. Jackson, she thought, from Alabama. At a nod from the professor the boy stood up, taking a rigid posture with his eyes straight forward, “Necromancy sir. Or the killing curse.”
“Necromancy…” the man removed his cigarette from his lips and stood up, his rough voice suddenly quiet in consideration, “Necromancy.”
Jackson’s rigid posture slipped slightly as his eyes flickered to the old man, but the professor seemed to have forgotten him. With a few short steps he had rounded the desk and opened a drawer, pulling things out of the depths and laying them on the desk while muttering to himself. The whole class sat up straighter in their seats, straining to see as a deformed skull, a sheathed knife, and a twitching sack were dropped on the otherwise clear surface. Then the old wizard stood up straight with a soft sound of pleasure, tucking his cigarette behind his ear and holding a white box with a glass top. He came back around the desk, a little smirk quirking his lips, “Mr…LaFoux was it?” The boy nodded, looking nervous, “Alright Mr. LaFoux. I give you…Necromancy!”
He opened the box with a little flourish and from its depths was a sudden flurry of movement. The tenseness of the room broke in suddenly laughter as a swarm of butterflies rose out of the box and took wing, circling slowly and then settling on Jackson LaFoux, who had gone absolutely still in shock. In less than a minute he was festooned with little burst of fluttering color, which fanned their wings gently.
“The truth is, class,” The old mage said, and gave a tiny little whistle, “There is no such thing as black magic. Indeed,” He said as the butterflies lifted off the now blushing boy, “There is only ever magic, and magic some people have deemed…unseemly.”
The mage set the box down, “I am to understand that in Europe they have a long history of magic they consider forbidden. You mentioned the killing curse…ah damnation, sit down boy,” he waited for Jackson to take his seat before continuing, “Well that’s illegal over there. You cast it at a fly or a fox or a neighbor and its all the same to them. Just the knowledge of the magic is punishable, in some places.”
He drew his wand and brandished some ominous green sparks, “But magic is itself never evil. Magic is a tool. I got those butterflies from an old friend of mine in California. She spent years traveling around America, taking samples, raising their fragile little bodies with her powers and preserving them for her collection. It’s necromancy, yes, but it doesn’t hurt anyone. It is, I think, quite beautiful.” he rested a hand on the box and was silent for a moment.
“When Europeans came to this land they were quick to call my people’s magic black. We performed our rituals and spells without wands, in ways they didn’t understand. Many tried to stamp it out completely…but thats for your history class. Which is after lunch, I believe.”
The professor leaned on the desk again, using his free hand to pull the cigarette from his ear to his lips and lit it with a single indrawn breath. The smoke coiling to the ceiling filled the whole room with a surprisingly sweet, musky scent. He exhaled a rolling cloud of blue smoke that splashed against some sort of invisible screen before reaching the front desk and and vanished, “Let me be perfectly honest with you. There is no evil magic, but there are certainly evil people. People who are so twisted up inside that they kill as easy as they breathe,” his hand rested almost thoughtlessly on the glass front of the case, “And some people raise more than butterflies. We’re going to teach you how to defend yourself from those people,” he gave them a cold little smile that didn’t reach his ancient, black eyes, “Some of you who excel in this course might even pick up some of their tricks. Most of you will join Professor Watanabe next year, in the basic course, however, and only a few will stay with me for the advanced course. How much you apply yourself, of course, is up to you. It is certainly not my…skin…at risk.”
Bettina shivered in her seat. There was something deeply chilling in the way he said, ‘skin’ that made her want to slip down a little lower beneath her desk.
Professor Ten-Poles turned and stamped out the cigarette on the twisted skull, using a small indent in the brow like an ashtray.He flicked his wand carelessly and stacks of books fell out of the air in front of them, making them jump, “So lets begin. Page 2 please. Basic dueling. Mr. LaFoux can start us off in the reading.”