Vintage shops were a dime a dozen in the city. But this one was Eliot’s favorite. The shopping experience was always a little richer with vintage — surfacing buried treasure was a thrill. Speaking of… there was a gorgeous velvet waistcoat buried behind a shearling jacket. He pulled out the hanger to inspect it for awkward stains or loose threads. Finding none, he sought out a coordinating button-down shirt to try on with his find.
The fitting rooms were small, featuring curtains instead of doors, barely large enough to turn around in. Next to the cloudy mirror, a dozen safety and straight pins were stuck in a piece of cork. Eliot shed his thin sweater and undershirt and hung them carefully on a peg. One of the pearlescent buttons on the shirt was loose, but otherwise it fit beautifully. He slipped on the waistcoat and turned around to inspect himself in the mirror. But the mirror was gone. In its place was an empty, dark corridor.
Well. That was. Unusual. To say the least.
Eliot reached an arm into the corridor, brushing his fingers along the side of the wall. They didn’t bounce off an invisible barrier and came back clean, so there was only one thing for it. He entered the hallway, long strides eating up the distance until suddenly there was a light that resolved itself into the main quad of a college campus.
“You Waugh, then?” asked someone behind him.
“That’d be me. Do I owe you money?”
“Nah,” zhe said. “Not yet, anyway. This way.”
He was led to one of the buildings on campus, escort eying him curiously.
“Usually people have more questions.”
“I’m going with profoundly vivid acid trip at the moment, darling.”
Zhe let out a huff of laughter, “You’ll fit right in. Good luck.”
He was abandoned in a cavernous room taking in the noise. The.. susurration. That was the word for it. Rising and falling, swelling with excitement, anxiety, confusion. A middle-aged black man stood confidently on the stage, watching them murmur to their neighbors and stare wonderingly at their surroundings.
A few stragglers found seats as Eliot examined his accidentally pilfered waistcoat’s buttons. A graduate school for magic was admittedly one of the stranger things he’d encountered in his brief but eventful life, but not necessarily in the top five.
“Welcome,” the man on stage began. “You may address me as Dean.”
Dean eyed them with an emotion Eliot couldn’t identify. Curiosity. Perhaps disdain. “I know you have questions. They will be answered in time. Now your only job is to pass the examination before you.”
An examination simply appeared in front of them, looking every bit like the blue books he used in college.
It was unlike any exam Eliot had ever taken, though when it was over, he couldn’t say what had been on the test. It was a clever and irritating piece of magic that Eliot had every intention of mastering, if only to keep unsatisfactory pickups from remembering his number.
“Show us some magic, Eliot Waugh,” Dean commanded.
His fourteen-year-old self wailed in fear and triumph, but he squashed the chubby little murderous shit back into the hole from whence he came. One grand display of telekinetic power later, with apologies to the furniture, he was led to his new dorm room, a boring, beige box with the unfortunate accessory roommate.
Said beige-ness evaporated immediately upon the entrance into their dorm of a goddess divine. Petite, teetering in gorgeously tall heels, and dressed to the nines — she was a vision. How he’d failed to see her in the exam room he had no idea. She, however, hadn’t missed him.
“Your jacket is marvelous,” she sighed, tilting her head to rest on the doorjamb. “We need to be friends.”
“In-deed,” Eliot drawled, slipping off the bed where he’d thrown himself in a fit of pique over the lack of Hogwartian splendor. “And who might you be?”
“Margo Hanson,” the girl replied, offering a slightly limp but impeccably manicured hand.
“Enchanté! Je m'appelle Eliot. Eliot Waugh.” He kissed the proffered hand to a charming giggle.
“Well then, Eliot Waugh. Let’s get coffee.”
Sadsack roommate was left behind, forgotten, and swapped out for a superior model, co-ed rooms being one of the perks of graduate school living.
The coffeeshop lived at the center of the wheel that was Brakebills, with spokes leading to the library, the classrooms, several wings of student housing, the grounds. More charming than the first year dorms, but sterile, like the room where they’d had their exams. It smelled right and looked right but the feeling was off. It didn’t take Eliot long to spot the problem.
“Distinct lack of generic acoustic music,” he murmured to Margo over their macchiatos.
“No,” she demurred. “Surely not.”
They were quiet for a moment. He took her hand and turned it over, long fingers tracing the creases of her delicate palm.
“You’re not a psychic, are you?” she asked, voice positively dripping with distaste.
“God no.” Eliot shook his head, rejecting the notion, curls sweeping across his forehead. “No, no. I can move things with my mind.” And how odd was that, that confession, out loud at last. No one thinking he was crazy or freakish, just a statement of fact. With a thought he rotated Margo’s necklace so the clasp was no longer brushing her décolleté.
Margo brought her other hand up to her neck at the slithering sensation and huffed a laugh. “Well, isn’t that a coincidence.” She gestured at their coffees, which promptly iced over.
“I ordered it hot for a reason,” Eliot complained.
“Whiner.” Another gesture and his drink was steaming. She started breaking the ice on her own, apparently deciding in favor of an iced macchiato. “So. What is there to do around here?”
“You mean, besides magic?”
“Or with magic,” she suggested, eyes glinting.
“Oh, darling, I like the way you think.”
They decided on their first project: the expansion of their now-shared closet. When they were finished, Fillory could eat its heart out.
Closet doors thrown open, they curled up together on the slim dorm bed with a pile of library books to admire their handiwork. Eliot puffed idly on a cigarette, blowing shapes into the air.
“I have room for more shoes,” Margo said gleefully. “When can we go into the city?”
“When,” Eliot said, walking his fingers up her arm, “Ever. You. Want.” He booped her on the nose. She bit at his finger.
“How long do we have to stay in this box anyway?” she asked.
“I hear they assign us to housing by specialty to encourage teamwork or some such.”
“We already make a good team.”
“Too right, too right.”
They fell asleep, curled up together, the first of many nights to come.