“Eighteen inches on how to lure a dragon away from its hoard,” Costis said numbly, following Aris out of class into the hall.
“Eighteen inches on how to lure each breed of dragon away from its hoard,” Hiero corrected, looking rapt.
“He’s clearly trying to murder us,” Costis said. “Besides, couldn’t you just kill the dragon? Then there’s your gold.”
“Yes, because you’re so very bloodthirsty, and dragons are so famously easy to kill. Whatever can he be thinking, having us focus on strategy,” said Aris.
“Oh shut it. He’s barely even a teacher. He just had us read the book while he put his feet up on his desk. I heard him snoring. Excuse me for thinking a teacher should be a grown adult. He looks younger than me .”
“Yes, but you look a rugged 25,” Aris grinned. Costis flushed and ducked his head. Hard work on his father’s sheep farm and his least objectionable cousin’s fine cheeses had made Costis solid and strong over the summer; a growth spurt had him half a head taller than Aris now--if only when Aris was fresh from the bath, shoeless, with his springy curls mashed flat by the water.
“Fine, he looks younger than Sophos!”
“Hey!” said Sophos. Sophos and Hiero were both sixth years, but had so excelled in their studies that they’d been allowed seventh year courses.
“He looks too young to be taking his own class ,” Costis continued. “He’s the worst Defense Against the Dark Arts professor we’ve ever had. And that's saying something.”
“You’re mad for him, aren’t you,” Aris teased. “It’s ‘Queen’ Attolia all over again… calf-eyes and mooning and swearing fealty…”
Costis felt his ears go scarlet.
“I do not have a crush on the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Costis insisted.
“Happy to hear it,” Professor Saccularius sang out. “As I understand it, those can be very awkward, for both parties. Hiero, I am all admiration for your earrings. Did you make them yourself?”
She nodded, eyes huge. “It’s just a little copper wire, Professor.”
“Well, they’re very fine. Good afternoon to all of you. I’ll expect those scrolls on my desk first thing on Wednesday!” And he breezed past them as if he couldn’t tell that Costis was choking on his own tongue.
Sophos blushed in sympathy and gave his arm an awkward pat, but Hiero covered her mouth with both hands to hide her smile, and Aris laughed so hard he wept.
Truly, Professor Saccularius was hardly taller than the first years. He had dark skin and bright brown eyes, his hair a glossy wing bouncing on his forehead as he moved, light as a bird. As Costis passed his classroom, he heard him say, “Who wants to see me do a handstand?”
The children sprang from their chairs cheering, crowding round as Professor Saccularius leapt to the top of his desk and balanced on one hand atop a stack of books. Costis rolled his eyes and made his way to the Magus’s office.
“All he does is tumbling tricks for the first years,” Costis complained. His little sister Thalia, and Sophos’s sisters Ina and Eurydice all adored him, as did most of the students. “How will they learn to defend themselves against dark magic?”
“I would argue that dodging a spell is the best defense a child of ten could hope to have against an experienced wizard, Costis,” the Magus said dryly.
“I suppose,” Costis allowed. “But you hired him, after all. Didn’t you check his references?”
For some reason this made the Magus burst out laughing. He was laughing still when he waved Costis out of his office.
At dinner the next night, the Potions professor attended to her soup with dainty and steadfast attention, politely ignoring each and every attempt Professor Saccularius made to catch her eye.
Costis smiled to himself, strangely relieved. He knew Irene “The Cauldron Queen” Attolia was too smart to be swayed by someone just because they could do a handstand, and juggle a little.
“A little? He’s got every fork on the table in a single balancing tower!” Aris said.
“It’s especially impressive, I think, seeing as he has only the one hand,” Hiero added.
“What?” said Sophos, Aris and Costis in tandem.
“He has a false hand,” she sighed. “I think it’s made of wood or something. I mean, didn’t you ever notice that he kind of hides it?”
“All those too-long robe sleeves are… on purpose then?” Costis blinked. Suddenly the fact that Professor Saccularius was balancing flatware on the palm of a wooden hand did seem rather clever.
“Yes. And I think he’s a gymnast or something, too. It takes a lot of form to pounce around the way he does. Besides, even though he’s so small, his wrists are as thick as yours,” she said, nodding at Costis. “He must be prodigiously strong.”
Sophos gave the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor a speculative look. “Do you think he could teach me? To be less clumsy, maybe?”
“You’re not clumsy,” Hiero said stoutly. “You’re still growing is all. I bet you’ll be taller than Costis before you’re done.”
Sophos, of course, blushed.
“But maybe he could teach the both of us,” Hiero finished, looking a little flushed herself.
Costis rapped his forehead against the dinner table, pushing aside a bowl of fresh rolls to do so.
“Chin up, my little centurion. Dite and Sejanus still hate him, so you’re not alone!” Aris promised.
Costis, Dite and Sejanus did indeed currently agree on something, and only one thing: that their Dark Arts class was a joke. Dite was usually far too distracted by composing to notice a teacher’s behavior at all, his free time spent on the green playing a Centaurian lute and singing under his breath, apparently genuinely oblivious to the packs of sighing girls (and not a few boys) who thronged his impromptu concerts. But his uncharacteristic and open dislike of Professor Saccularius made him a kindred spirit in Costis’ book. Dite’s brother Sejanus--who was also known for music, if you considered mean-spirited rhyming jibes and rude songs to be “music”--was usually far too occupied with displaying his family’s prodigious wealth to notice the actual professors, but he too, went out of his way to sneer at Saccularius in the middle of class.
“Professor Nahuseresh hates him, too,” Hiero said. That was almost certainly true, now that Costis thought about it. Professor Nahuseresh had a face like curdled milk whenever Saccularius was around, his waxed mustaches coiling like two sullen snakes. “I expect it's because Saccularius swore to support Attolia for headmistress when the Magus leaves.”
“Do you have a dossier on the man?” Aris asked. “You’ve already reported his movements and his known enemies. Is there something you’d like to confess, my starling?”
Hiero flushed darker and pushed away from the table without a word, half-running from the room in a straight-legged trot.
“Must’ve hit a nerve,” Aris mumbled. “I didn’t mean to upset her.”
Sophos was shaking his head.
“Of course you didn’t. It’s just--I don’t think she had quite realized it, is all. Having a crush on a teacher isn’t very dignified,” Sophos said, wrinkling his nose. “You remember how Costis was over Attolia.”
“Hey, now!” sputtered Costis.
“She knows you weren’t trying to be mean,” Sophos said to Aris.
“Does she know about your crush on her?” Costis demanded.
Sophos looked trapped for a moment, but Aris shot Costis a look of rebuke and closed a hand on Sophos’s shoulder.
“Incredibly,” Aris told him, “though I am sure owls can see it from the sky, I don’t think she does. So your secret’s safe for the moment. Although I don’t think your case is as hopeless as all that. I’d give it a try, if I were you.”
“Would you, though?” Sophos seemed strangely intent, and Costis was surprised to see the tips of Aris’s ears go pink.
“How about... I will if you will?”
Sophos tipped his chin in a tiny nod, patted the hand Aris had rested on his shoulder and followed Hiero’s path from the hall with a resolute air.
“You will if he will? What does that even mean?”
Aris looked annoyed. “You know, Costis, at this very moment, I’m not even sure.” And he, too, left the room.
Costis glanced at the other students to see if someone had cast a jinx to explain the sudden desertion, only to find Professor Saccularius looking at him with a strange brand of consideration that may have been genuine concern.
Costis reckoned it was well past time to leave the dining hall himself.
Costis decided to take a page from Hiero’s book--the page on surveillance, not the panting-after-a-teacher bit--and kept a weather eye on Saccularius whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Over the first half of term, he collected the following facts:
Saccularius did not like to fly.
“I don't care for brooms,” he’d said to Madam Phresine, who sat on the non-Attolia side of him at dinner. “Flying is too much like falling in my book.”
He could see Thestrals, and did not seem to enjoy their company.
As Costis’s ninth birthday party had ended when his great uncle had dropped in a fit of apoplexy mid-argument with his father, Costis could also see them. So he noted when Saccularius gingerly stepped aside from the Thestral colt who was nosing at him, keeping a wary eye on its mother, who ignored him entirely in favor of the skinned rabbit Pol, the Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, held out to her.
Oh yes, and Saccularius seemed on friendly terms with Pol, who was famously practical and notably taciturn. One would think Pol would find Saccularius a lazy chatterbox, but Costis allowed that it was possible that they shared a deep interest in animal husbandry, Thestrals aside.
Madam Phresine also was fond of him--but then, she was fond of everyone. Costis had seen her hand Saccularius little boxes of tea from her own stores whenever he was “looking poorly,” which Madam Phresine seemed to feel was a daily occurrence.
The Magus gave Saccularius nods of varying types when they ran into each other in the halls. Costis had never seen anyone give a sarcastic nod before--but if anyone could, it was the Magus. Once or twice, though, Costis had seen the Magus nod with real approval, and Costis burned to know what had earned Saccularius such high praise.
Costis had been following him for weeks before he noticed that Saccularius almost never used magic outside of the classroom, where he’d now and again rouse himself to levitate something, or demonstrate a freezing charm. Case in point, Costis had seen Saccularius gracefully elude Sophos as he barrelled around a blind corner, late to Divination with Professor Relius (“Why does he even give us homework,” Costis had groused. “If he’s always reminding us that the only true secret to divination is that we make our own future?”). Sophos wasn’t able to halt himself before clipping his elbow on the wall and tipping an armful of books onto the flagstones. Saccularius caught two (one handed, Costis reminded himself with a an ever-deepening sense of admiration) before they fell and then kindly stooped to collect the rest to hand back to Sophos.
Every adult Costis had met since coming to Hogwarts deployed their magic casually, almost reflexively--any other professor would have used their wand to restore Sophos to rights. Costis wondered if it was the simple fact of being one handed that kept Saccularius from drawing his wand, or something more.
That same day, he noticed that Hiero was right - he was missing a hand. And he had more than a false wooden prosthetic, because when he’d flashed a hand out to catch the wall while dodging Sophos, Costis saw that at the end of his arm was a gleaming hook , sharp and sinister.
He saw Sophos notice it too, and flinch a little before taking his books back from the crouching professor.
“Ah,” Saccularius remarked, peering at the hook as if he’d only just seen it himself before hopping to his feet with a cheerful grin. “I think they'll become quite fashionable. Very handy for climbing, you know.”
That wasn’t at all a suspicious thing to say.
Costis’ line of inquiry came to an abrupt end when he, and half the class, watched with dull-witted horror as the Magus defended the school from a Ukranian Ironbelly and was slashed to death in front of them.
Where the dragon came from, or why it had targeted the school, was never discovered.
Saccularius, who’d come to the Magus’s aid (and had been the only professor nearby, as all the others had been leading a field trip to Diagon Alley), managed to send the Dragon into a Triangulated Vortex, which disgorged the fearsome beast into the cold reaches of space, somewhere near the seventh sister in the constellation Pleiades. Or so Relius had told them at the funeral.
Disinclined to believe the best in Saccularius, Costis resolved to report his data--and his deductions--to his friends.
“So he's muggleborn - you're muggleborn, you git,” Aris reminded him, punching his shoulder.
“I'm not just muggleborn,” Professor Saccularius said pleasantly, melting out of the shadows behind the fireplace. “I’m a thief and a fraud, and a mountebank. All your accusations are absolutely true. Oh, and Hiero, I’m not a squib. I’m just a muggle. Not an ounce of magic to me.”
Hiero looked curiously unsurprised, but Aris was pale, Sophos fell off his ottoman, and Costis felt his breath catch.
In the warm flicker of the fire, the professor looked friendly and at ease, as much a part of the Gryffindor common room as if he’d always been there. He didn’t look at all like a teacher, and definitely didn’t seem dangerous in any way. Except that a non-magical person shouldn’t have been able to get into Hogwarts at all without advanced notice and special dispensation, let alone the fact that Professor Saccularius wasn’t even Gryffindor.
“I’ve come up on a dead end, and the Magus is always telling me that the wise man knows when it’s time to ask for a hand.” He winked at Hiero and Sophos, and Aris rolled his eyes. Costis frowned at him with all his might.
"You've found it?" Hiero asked excitedly.
The professor shook his head.
"I have narrowed it down," he said, spreading his hands in apology.
"What are you looking for?" Aris asked.
"The time turner!" Costis yelped. "You're here to steal it!'"
The professor tilted his head at Costis.
"Technically true. You amaze me, Costis--you always arrive at the right answer, but in the entirely wrong way. Show your work, Ormentiedes. How does this flight of earnest, do-gooder fancy always find the airstrip?"
Costis could only blink at Saccularius, unable to discover any supportive reasoning beyond, "I just knew you weren't who you said you were!"
Fortunately, Hiero was too impatient to wait for him to dig himself a hole with his empty, gaping mouth.
"Well,” she said. “Someone's been looking into the missing time turner, and those rumors started well before you got here. You wouldn't come to steal it unless the rumors were true--or if you were looking into who had stolen it. Also, your name comes from the Latin for sacculus ."
"It all comes to light," Aris said sagely.
"You haven't the faintest idea what 'sacculus' means," Costis pointed out.
Aris grinned at him. "Of course not, but she'll tell us, won't she?"
His eyes gleaming, Saccularius himself said, "Small sack or bag--purse."
"Cutpurse. Swindler. Trickster ," Hiero explained.
"I prefer 'thief,’" Saccularius said with a small bow to Hiero. "But yes."
"And not just any thief, either," Hiero said softly.
Sophos stared up at Saccularius from where he still lay upon the carpet, eyes huge. "You're the Thief of Eddis ," he whispered, looking worshipful.
"Anything's possible," the professor said, offering Sophos a hand up. "Call me Gen."
"What's an ‘Ee-diss’?" Costis asked suspiciously. It was probably incredibly valuable; Costis would see that whatever it was would be returned to its rightful owners.
"I despair of you," Hiero sighed. "I truly do. Do you ever read your scrolls in Current Empires and Affairs?” She turned back to Saccular-- Gen . “Is it Nahuseresh, then?” Hiero asked.
“Not… directly. Kisti thinks it’s his house elf--Kamet. To be fair, we do think Kamet is being Compelled, over and above being already enslaved.’
"Who’s Kisti?” Aris asked.
“My angel, my intrepid guide, and my source of ‘magic.’ Say hello to the nice children, if you’re up to it.”
A house elf stepped out of the same nowhere Gen had come from. She had wet, bulbous golden eyes, twig-like arms and legs, and a neck so spindly it was a wonder she could hold up her head, which seemed hugely disproportionate. She was in a crisp white pinafore, and had a large purple orchid affixed behind one limp ear.
“You’ve freed her,” Hiero said sounding awed.
“Hello,” said Sophos. “I’ve only ever met one other house elf before. She lives with my uncle. Her name is Dorma. She makes lovely jams.”
Kisti nodded politely, and shook Sophos’ proffered hand with a fleeting grip. “Charmed, I’m sure,” Kisti said, touching her orchid cautiously, as if the handshake had been vigorous enough to unseat it.
“I like your dress,” Hiero said, and made an awkward curtsy for some reason. Aris gave her a wave, and Costis, too, held out his hand for her to shake. Her hand was cool and dry, almost too fast to even feel against his skin.
Costis, who had only a vague idea of what house elves were like, just tried to look like he knew what was going on.
“She has an eye for fashion,” Gen said. ”I keep telling her that, but she doesn’t believe me.”
“No one should believe you,” Kisti said dismissively. No shyness was in her manner when speaking to Gen, at least. “If you were a wizard, you’d be an Occlumens.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, sweeping an arm out to bow.
“Is she how you got past the barrier?” Costis asked.
“Yes, but really, the Magus let me in.”
“The Magus knew about you??”
“He did invite me, after all.”
“Then it’s your fault he’s dead,” Costis ground out, his ears feeling hot with rage and smothered sadness.
“Well, yes and no,” Gen sighed. “We don’t have time for this. Why don’t you ask me why I might need the help of four children to find an object that can unravel the very fabric of time?”
“Because Godric Gryffindor made the last true time turner, and he keyed it to his house,” said Hiero decisively. She’d clearly been thinking on this for some time.
“Ten points! Yes. No matter how I wheedle, he will not speak to me. I need someone from Gryffindor.”
“Why should we help you? You’re not even a wizard!”
“That stings,” said Gen placidly. “But what if I want you to help me to prevent a murderous, powerhungry gymbunny from absconding with this world’s last actual time turner and remaking it in his own oily, garish image?”
“Murderous,” Hiero whispered. “So… he sent the dragon?”
“Hmm? Oh no, that was me.”
Aris had to clamp his arms around Costis to keep him from diving for the Professor’s throat.
“Well, technically, it was Pol, and Kisti of course, but it was my idea.”
“Professor Pol… helped kill the Magus?” Sophos stammered, eyes filming over with tears. Costis, shocked enough to stop struggling, began to worry, in earnest, and for the first time, for their own safety. Gen had a house elf at his elbow and a knife-sharp hook at the end of his arm-- and if he’d killed the Magus, what was to stop him from killing… anyone?
“Professor Pol did nothing of the sort. He merely provided a lifelike simulacrum of an Ironbelly, since he worked with them in his gap year, and after it gruesomely attacked the Magus, I pretended to zap it away from whence it came. Or rather, Kisti did.”
Kisti looked mortified at the credit, and sidled up to Gen, tugging his robe so he bent to hear a whisper that Costis could not catch.
“No, you’re right,” Gen said decisively. “Keep him in sight at all times. Call me if you lose him,” and Kisti nodded once and then puffed out of existence in a blink. Costis felt himself goggling at Gen, who tilted an eyebrow and offered, “Kisti has volunteered to track Kamet’s movements.”
“I’m… confused,” Sophos said in a small voice.
“You staged the entire thing! I KNEW IT,” Hiero sang out, clapping with unalloyed excitement.
“I did think it was better for the Magus to appear safely dead, rather than have Nahuseresh get lucky with one of his traps, so. Yes. Staged theatrics for your delectation, and especially that of Nahuseresh. You were all quite touchingly affected, too, so I think you must see a side of the Magus I am yet to be familiar with.”
“We love him,” Costis said simply.
“I did know that,” Gen said with a shrug. “I just may have underestimated how much. And anyway, he’s backpacking in Patagonia at the moment, enjoying himself and all the open weedy wilderness to his dry heart’s content.”
“You like him, too,” Aris said amiably. “I’ve seen you bring him rook’s eggs.” The Magus’ weird fondness for black licorice molasses candy was well known, but no one liked to be anywhere near him when he ate them, because they exuded a black fug of noxious, tarry smoke that lingered around him like a stormcloud halo. Rook eggs were, at the very least, an acquired taste.
“That’s as may be. I will admit that I enjoy seeing ascetics fall to their hedonistic cravings now and again.
“Now, Sophos, you look like just the sort of fellow Godric would impart all his secrets to. Let’s ask him, shall we?”
Sophos was not one to be demanding, but after some small talk about the last solstice feast and whether or not the stuffed turnips were as greasy as they looked, Godric supplied Sophos with detailed instructions on how to get to the Time Turner, apparently nestled in a cabin secreted in the roots of the Whomping Willow, which had a passage directly to the Hogwarts catacombs, where generations of Headmasters and Headmistresses, including Godric himself, had been laid to rest.
The main problem with that was, that as a Gryffindor, Godric had already imparted that knowledge to Nahuseresh, who was of course, head of the house. The secondary problem was that Nahuseresh had gotten there far enough ahead of them to set a trap.
The time turner had been stored in a Spellbind, but Nahuseresh, who hadn’t needed to be in the Spellbind to cast, had turned the cabin into the same rough stone hewn out of the rocky tunnel that led to the school’s catacombs, and cursed the door.
The door had slammed shut behind them, plunging them into blinding darkness.
“Huh. It seems we can’t leave the way we came in,” Gen said in a careful way. “As Kisti isn’t here, be a dove and open the door for me, won’t you Sophos?”
“But we’re in a Spellbind. Magic doesn’t work here,” Sophos said fretfully.
“Maybe not, but we can work with what we have. So, what do we have? Our wits, our wills and our senses. And among us we have no shortage of will.” There was a rustling sound as Gen handed round dense blocks wrapped in velvety paper. “Oh, and this chocolate. It’s Irene’s favorite, you know. She keeps it in a tin in a locked trunk at the bottom of her wardrobe. Her only vice,” Gen said sagely. “A bite or two of that shall fortify us all for our next task.”
“Which is finding our way out of a locked room, in the dark, with no magic,” Aris pointed out, talking around what sounded to be a huge bite of chocolate.
There was a muffled tearing sound.
“There, I’ve cut my cloak into two pieces.” Using his hook , Costis realized. “Costis, you and Aris start here--” there was a sound of metal digging against the damp rock wall. “Aris, hold the cloth, and Costis, walk as far as you can, keeping your hand on the wall. When you reach the end, stop and hold, gouge a mark in the wall, and let Aris come to you as your anchor. Keep doing it until you come back to us, and tell us how many gouges you made.”
“But I’ve only got my wand, it’s not going to be strong enough to leave a mark on stone.”
“Here you are,” Gen said, and Costis felt the strange weight of Gen’s hook being set in his hand, the hollow metal cuff still warm from Gen’s skin. “Teamwork and thrift, simply textbook.
“Hiero, you and Sophos do the same with the other half of the cloak, and hopefully you’ll all four meet in the middle. As I’m fresh out of hooks, my young padawan, you’ll have to make do with my bootknife. Hurry now, I’m timing you.”
“What’s the rush?” Costis muttered. Gen overheard him, as he was wont to do.
“Well, I’m not sure how large the room is, and if we are underground in a sealed chamber, the oxygen may not last, especially with four panicking children gasping up all the air and squandering their lead on a hipster hell-bent on world domination,” Gen said with a palpable sneer.
“You’re not very reassuring, for a teacher,” Sophos whispered.
“Then how very lucky for all of us that I’m not one,” Gen snapped. “Get to it. I’ll be following behind you, Hiero, feeling for seams in the wall.”
It took them an appallingly long time to find it. Costis was lightheaded and panting when his rock-rasped fingertips finally fetched up against something that felt like more than a divot.
“I think,” he mumbled, and Gen was on him in a moment, long fingers dancing against the back of Costis’ hand, and then finding the sliver of hidden door Costis had lucked into.
“Hiero, may I borrow an earring?” Gen sounded easy, but not relieved, not yet. Hiero stumbled closer, knocking into Gen, who smelled like fresh sweat and the green edge of vetiver.
“Alohomora,” Gen breathed reverently, and there was a scratch of wire, and Costis heard an invisible tumbler catch and roll somewhere, allowing the door to swing smoothly open, letting in a golden wedge of light that had them all hiss at the sting as they blinked against it. “The Thief's Friend.”
Gen returned the now unspooled copper wire earring to Hiero, setting it in her palm and folding her fingers over it.
“I told you I liked your earrings,” he said in a low, intimate tone, and Costis could see even through his teary squint that Hiero was flushing again, and pretended that he himself was immune to such responses.
“There you are,” Gen said, and set an exploratory fingertip against the glowing gold chain - the time turner itself was shining like a ridge of morning sun cresting a mountain.
“But I thought Nahuseresh had it…” Costis said distantly.
“Oh, he did. The first time. But I caught him and set up a decoy the second time. I just needed to repeat the actual act of finding the time turner.”
“Costis,” Gen’s voice was full of tenderness, and he laid a long, warm finger against Costis’s lips to forbid any other questions. “Shhh. It’s a time turner . You, especially, will require a lot of handwaving. Let it alone, and we’ll all be happier.”
In the end, the Thief of Eddis was hailed as a hero. Somehow, Costis was tasked with awarding him the actual medal that The Magus had fashioned out of an Occamy’s shell. Gen smiled at Costis all the while, which made Costis nervous, which made him cross, which made him snap, “I don’t see why you’re the only one to get a medal. We were there, too.”
Costis had, at least, waited until the feast held in Gen’s honor had all but emptied out.
“So you were. In fact, I could not have done it without you. You have my eternal thanks. As I am in your debt, I will grant you something very rare, indeed--a favor. You may each call upon me for assistance of any kind in the coming years, and if it is within my power to help you, I will do so.”
“He makes the offer sound easy,” Professor Attolia said with a quirk of her brow. “But a Thief’s favor is beyond price. And whatever you may think of Gen, Mr. Ormentiedes, his word is his bond.”
Costis was both pleased and disconcerted to see Gen startle and stare at Attolia, eyes wide. He recovered almost instantly, however, falling to his knees at her feet, arms flung out to his sides.
“Irene,” he said fervently, “You do love me. Come away with me, won’t you? We can marry in the spring. I’m sure your horrible family shall come to loathe mine in good time.”
“You are ridiculous,” Attolia said crisply.
“That’s not a no,” Gen observed, bounding to his feet. “Children, it’s been an honor to pretend to teach you. I hope you’ve each and every one learned heaps of things of various import.
“Sophos, you’re a lion. Godric himself would have been proud. Hiero, you grace us all with your quick wit and abstruse knowledge. You, my friend,” Gen said to Aris, clapping his arm, “are a good man to have at one’s back. Don’t let anyone take you for granted. And you, sir.” He grinned at Costis and ruffled his hair. “You have extraordinary friends. Incredibly, you are worthy of them. See that you take excellent care of each other. I will know if you don’t.
“Kisti, my valiant one, what have you charmed for me in the way of a portkey so that I may leave these grounds never to return, to starve and wane in the wide world without the sunlight of Irene’s smile, to never again look upon her smooth cheek, her regal brow, her stately figure--”
“It is only your hook, my lord; I did think you would like the irony.”
Gen beamed at her.
“Oh, you are a wonder. Please, take this--” and he hung his own medal, on its brilliant peacock teal ribbon, around her narrow neck. “I would have never been able to cross the threshold without you in my corner. The entire world owes you gratitude, though they shall never know it.”
Kisti was too moved to speak, tears gleaming in her huge eyes, her knobby hands knit together under her pointed chin.
“Goodbye, Prof--Gen,” Sophos managed.
“Goodbye. Let it not be a crisis that brings us together next. If it does, I will decide it’s Costis’ fault.”
And he reached for his hook with his living hand, and was jerked from their view in an instant.
Kisti wandered from the room, admiring her medal and murmuring to herself happily. Sophos took Hiero’s hand, and they smiled at one another and followed Kisti out.
“ Do you love him?” Costis was horrified to hear himself blurt to Professor Attolia.
She gave him an impassive stare.
“As you’re only just out of Madame Phresine’s care, I will not deduct any points from your house for questions both improper and impolitic. I suggest you return to your room and get a good night’s rest. I do believe you have an in-class essay on the auspices of Orion for Professor Relius tomorrow.” She turned on her heel and strode out.
“Did she just give us a head’s up on a test for Old Fight the Future himself?” Aris wondered.
“She’s a beautiful and terrible goddess, that much is true.”
“ Aris ,” Costis hissed.
“Yes, yes, present and accounted for. What is it?”
“Do I--have I been taking you for granted?”
Aris shrugged easily.
“Of course you have. But you’re a big picture sort. I don’t mind.”
“I. Want to be worthy. Of you,” Costis stammered. “How can I--what can I do?”
“You great lout,” Aris said fondly. “Kiss me.”