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Classroom Politics

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SIMON

I’ve been avoiding Watford. It’s still too painful, even now I have my magic back. Even now I’m on the Coven.

There are events, there, sometimes – Coven things. I’m good at making excuses. Finding things that are more important than mixers, or dinners, or library dedications that I really have to go to.

Plus, I think Welby knows and covers for me.

Last year they asked me to make a speech at the leaver’s ceremony, even though everyone knows I can barely string two words together in front of a crowd. (Makes me think it was someone’s idea of a joke.) Anyway, I said no. Penny did it instead.

Watford used to be my home. Now it’s where Ebb died. Where I killed the Mage. Why would I want to go back?

I wouldn’t, unless it was important.

Unfortunately, this is important.

I joined the Coven during the pandemic. About a year after I finished uni. Just over a year after I realised I could speak with magic again.

I ended up getting a 2.2 (in General Studies) at uni. Baz would probably call that a “second class” degree. Even Mitali once said my degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. She said that to my face – and she likes me. But it was enough to get me a job doing data entry for a charity. And then – well, I guess Welby’s always wanted me to join the Coven. He wanted me to even when I wasn’t magic. All it took was me re-heating my tea with magic during a Zoom catch up with Helen – and he was on the phone the next day. Telling me there was a Coven position vacant and that I should definitely go for it.

Now, I think there probably wasn’t. I think he just made something up to get me through the door (virtually). But it worked, at least.

I started part time – doing little things like giving lectures to kids who used magic in public in front of Normals, or broke lockdown rules; and chasing ghouls out of abandoned buildings. Then I moved up to full time once Lucy Day left. (I told my charity colleagues I was going to work for another charity. Which is true – in a way – although we’re not registered.)

I didn’t mean to do any more than that – I just wanted to help people and pay my rent – but people kept arguing and not doing anything and I guess I just started trying to change that. Not telling people what to do, like Penny would have, just saying what I thought should happen.

Then everyone found out I could still draw the Sword of Mages, after a bunch of cravens attacked one of the meetings, and –

Well, it turns out most people still like the idea of there being a Mage, even though we’ve been getting on all right without one for years now. (Well, not all right. The dark creatures were still attacking us. And half the time no one could agree on what to do. About anything.) It’s like they were just waiting for a sign someone should do it. And apparently the sword was a pretty big sign that someone should be me and a lot of people voted for me in the November elections.

A few years ago, I would’ve refused.

A few years ago, no one would have asked me.

But now, I don’t know. It feels right.

“You don’t have to be Mage, just because everyone expects you to, Simon,” Penny told me. “You already did what you were destined to do.”

“I know,” I told her. And I do.

My destiny was to defeat the Humdrum and put magic back into the world.

Being the Greatest Mage was my destiny. Being the Mage is something I can choose to do or not. Right now, I’m choosing it.

I said I would.

I said I’d do it. (It helped that the salary was about twenty grand more than the normal Coven salary and I needed a new car.)

At which point, Malcolm fucking Grimm pointed out that I wasn’t actually eligible to be Mage, even though I had the sword, because I’d never passed my eighth year at Watford.

“I’m sorry, Mr Snow,” he said, smiling at me in a way that made it clear he’d never forgiven me for – well, existing. “Those are the rules.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Eighth year has always been optional,” Mitali snapped.

She’s Watford’s headmistress, so I figured she’d know. But it turns out pretty much the only thing that eighth year isn’t optional for is becoming the leader of the Coven. It’s written down in the constitution, sealed by magic.

“Surely, we can change the law,” Welby said.

“The Mage can certainly change the law,” Mr Grimm agreed. “How unfortunate that he died before doing so.”

He was smirking, just like Baz used to.

He thought he’d won.

I do want to be Mage, but honestly, that’s why I did what I did next. Why I said I could pass eighth year if Watford would take me back. Not because I thought I’d be a good leader or because I needed the car. I did it to wipe the smug look off Baz’s dad’s face.

Mitali was delighted. “Of course, Simon – I’ll make the arrangements. You can start after Christmas.”

And now I’m driving to Watford. Coming back for my last two terms, like I never thought I would.

I’m dreading it.

I’ve tried taking out my list of things that I miss about Watford, to remind myself why I loved being there. But Ebb’s on the list, and the Mage, and honestly it just made me feel worse.

Even the football pitch is probably out of bounds, unless I want the Record to run an article about how the next Mage likes to inappropriately watch children doing sport. (I don’t.) Which leaves, what?

Scones.

And magic, I suppose.

But it’s not really a surprise that the idea of going back to Watford is so depressing, if that’s all there is to look forward to. (I mean, the scones are good.) Which is stupid because my life is better, now.

So. As I turn off the motorway, I decide to make a new list:

 

All the things that are better now than they were last time I was at Watford:

No. 1 – I’m driving there

I’m good at driving. I like it. (Penny hates it – I drive her everywhere.) I own my own car. It’s a piece of shit, obviously. I have to jump-start with magic basically all the time, but it’s mine. It gives me control over some areas of my own life.

It means I can leave Watford whenever I want. That’s worth a 40 minute commute. I can drive home after class, back to Penny. If it gets bad – if I can’t handle it – I can even take myself off during lunch. I won’t be trapped on campus.

Also, it’s just nice to go on a journey that doesn’t involve weirdos looking at me while I try and sleep. We made a truce with the goblins a few years ago, but I still don’t like getting in taxis.

 

No. 2 – I don’t have to live with Baz

This probably should’ve been number one. It would’ve been if Baz and I hadn’t had that truce at the beginning of eighth year. Once he came back from wherever he went and I told him about his mum Visiting me.

We still weren’t friends – Baz still hated me – but we had a few nice weeks.

Well, no. I mean, they were horrible, really – a dragon attacked the school and we were trying to work out who killed Headmistress Pitch – but for those few weeks it was almost like we were proper roommates. Like the Crucible had put us together for an actual reason – not just because it had run out of actual soulmates to put together and we were the only ones left. For those few weeks, living with Baz was only a bit annoying, rather than something that drove me up the wall.

Then he went home for Christmas (after we had a fight about how he’d been messing Agatha around). I stayed at Watford – and the Mage tried to kill me. He did kill Ebb, who was only trying to protect me.

If Penny hadn’t stayed at Watford with me, instead of going home like she planned, I’d have been dead too. I lost my magic, gave it away to stop the Humdrum. But Penny spelled me and I ended up killing the Mage instead. I’m over it now, but at the time I was pretty fucked up. He was like a dad to me.

And Baz ...

Baz didn’t even call to find out if I was all right.

He didn’t come round or write. Not even when the investigation into the Mage’s death and whether I’d been justified turned up the information Baz and I had been looking for about his mum. (That was the Mage too – it was so fucked up.) Even then, Baz didn’t even write to say thank you.

Penny says she thinks he was embarrassed. Or grieving. But I think it’s pretty clear Baz was only using me for my mystery-solving skills. Which is fine. That’s all I offered him. I know we weren’t friends.

Anyway, I haven’t spoken to him since.

Penelope has. She sees him at magician gatherings and tells me what happened, what he’s up to – even though I rarely ask.

We live together now. (Me and Penny, not me and Baz.) In a flat in Hounslow, near her parents. Just outside London. It’s the best – if I hadn’t had Penny, and been working for the Coven, I definitely would’ve gone mad during Covid. I thought she was going to go and live with Micah in America, but instead he dumped her. Over FaceTime.

It was brutal. And completely unfair.

I almost got on a plane to America just to beat the shit out of him. I didn’t – because Penny said I shouldn’t – but it was still quite a big moment for me, since I was having problems getting off the sofa back then.

Penny’s going out with someone else now. Sam. A Normal she met in uni.

“But I’m not ready to move in with him,” she told me last time we went down the pub together. “What if it doesn’t work out?”

She’s less sure of herself now, after Micah. (Bastard.) But we’re both sure of each other. I know that even if Penelope and I didn’t live together, we’d still talk every day.

I like that, whatever happens at school, I can go home and she’ll be there.

And she’ll listen. (As long as I don’t talk about Baz too much.)

 

No. 3 – The Humdrum isn’t going to attack during class

I used to think I was thick. That the reason I was bad at school was because I was a complete idiot, just like Baz said I was. But since then, I’ve come to the realisation that I probably would’ve been all right at most of my lessons if I’d actually been able to go to more of them. Not brilliant like Penny - or Baz, I suppose - but fine. I might have done my homework sometimes if I hadn't had to spend all my spare time fighting the Humdrum. (Or running after my roommate trying to prove he was a vampire.)

Penny swears she would have been able to beat Baz to the top of the year if she hadn’t been helping me with the Humdrum. I believe her.

But I never thought about how that stuff might be affecting me. I just assumed I’d have been shit, anyway, so what was the point? I never thought I might actually be good.

And yeah, I know I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory at uni either, but both Penny and my therapist have reminded me that I was actually having a breakdown for the first year. Then, I was distracted – third year – by my magic coming back. And, from the beginning, I was behind all the Normal kids because I’d spent the last eight years studying magic.

I mean, obviously, that didn’t help.

 

No. 4 – My magic is normal

This is another thing. My magic – at Watford – was basically a constant source of fear. I was constantly afraid I was going to blow everyone up. Or turn everyone into frogs.

It didn’t work the way everyone else’s did. And I didn’t know what to do to make it work the way everyone else’s did.

My magic, now, doesn’t feel anything like that. It feels like breathing out.

It feels like I’m in control for once.

 

No. 5 – I know I have a future

I loved Watford, but I also felt like I was just letting time go by. Until I fought the Humdrum, or died. Doing well at school didn’t really matter.

Now I have a purpose. A future. I even know what it is.

I’ll be Mage. And help make the World of Mages better. I’ll live with Penny until she moves out.

I guess I should also try and find a girlfriend. (Not Penny.) Find someone to spend my life with.

I went on a few dates during uni. I even slept with this girl called Gwen - a few times, actually – and it was all right. But it never really felt, you know, right. I never liked any of them enough. Penny even suggested I might be gay, once, because I kept going on about how hot my driving instructor was.

I have thought about it. I even went on a date with another bloke from work (I didn’t realise it was a date until he tried to kiss me goodnight), but that didn’t work out either.

I’m beginning to think maybe I’ll never find someone. Penny says I shouldn’t worry about it: “You’re very loveable, Simon.”

I’m not sure there’s much evidence of that.

But I trust Penny.

Fuck, I wish she was doing this with me.

Which, I guess, brings me to my other list …

 

All the things that are worse:

No. 1 – Penelope isn’t with me

She was there with me the night the Mage tried to kill me. And she dropped out of school afterwards, like I did. But unlike me, Penny took her final exams anyway. Miss Possibelf came to London to oversee them.

Penelope also isn’t interested in standing for the World of Mage’s highest office, so for her eighth year really would have been optional. University was a big eye-opener for her, she says. Being around all those Normals made a lot of the problems that we deal with (now the Humdrum’s out of the picture) seem small. We’re just arguing about the same things magicians have been arguing about for years, according to her. I guess I can see her point.

That’s why she’s decided she’s going to become Prime Minister. (“You deal with the Coven, Simon,” she told me once. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”)

I’d say that isn’t a thing – like you can’t just decide to be Prime Minister – but I know Penelope. When she’s set her mind on something, she usually manages it. She’s already made it onto the local council and - next time we have a General Election - she wants to stand for MP. 

I go out leafleting with her sometimes. (When I can’t get out of it.)

Honestly, it makes me appreciate my own job.

 

No. 2 – I’m much older than all the other students.

And I’ll probably still be the worst in the class.

 

No. 3 – Baz

I know he’s at Watford. I know I’ll have to see him. Not as my roommate.

Fuck.

I just. I don’t want to think about it.