Akko gave her broom a quick once over. It was about the fourth time she had done so, but this time she was satisfied that it was absolutely perfect. And with that, she stepped back out and joined Professor Nelson out in the field, only really slowing to bask in the sunshine.
This was her favorite month of the year, after all.
June was a pretty happy time for Akko. At least, that’s how it typically went for her for the previous 16 Junes of her life. For one thing, June meant summer break. Classes ended and the vacation finally began. And that meant no big responsibilities hanging over her head, no work to do. Just free time to spend having fun.
But of course, for Akko the real reason she liked June was because the end of it was her birthday. And this being her seventeenth, she was in an especially good mood. Even from the moment she woke up on the first of June, she had been excited.
All week, she found herself remembering her previous birthdays. She could remember going to see the early summer festivals with her parents when she was a little kid. She remembered going to all the pools and beaches she could get to all throughout her middle school years. When she got her favorite Alcor plushie for her 7th birthday, or the phone she got for her 13th.
Of course, she had spent her last birthday at Luna Nova, having stayed behind during summer vacation for remedial lessons, which hadn’t gone exactly as planned, but even with that adventure, she still enjoyed having Lotte, Sucy, and Ursula spend her birthday with her.
This year, however, she decided she was going to catch a plane back home, and celebrate her birthday in Japan with her folks. As much as she loved Luna Nova, she had to admit, it was hard not to get homesick sometimes. Every now and again, she’d find herself simply missing the sound of Japanese itself.
Maybe it was because she was older now, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t allowed to say she was old until she was, like, 25 or something.
But unfortunately, it seemed like life once again had other plans. Or at least that’s what she found out when she got the letter from her parents on the third of June.
A minor fender bender happened only a few days before the house payment came due, which meant that, right now, the cost of a plane ticket from England to Japan was out of the question. The Kagaris did have some emergency funds put away, so it wasn’t that Akko was stuck here for the entire summer. But they wouldn’t be able to fly her home until closer to mid-July.
But that was fine, Akko supposed. Flying a plane was how she first got to Luna Nova, but now, more than a year later, she knew there was more than one way to fly.
“I hope you’re watching closely, Professor Nelson! Because I’m about to nail this test!”
“Course I’m watching.” Nelson said dryly. “Wouldn’t be a very good test if I wasn’t even payin’ attention.”
Now that Yggdrasil had been revived, and magical energy had steadily been seeping off its branches and flowering out into the world, (‘You’re welcome for that by the way’ Akko thought with a justified hint of smugness) sorcerer’s stones were slowly becoming obsolete.
And since it was no longer necessary to worry about a broom’s batteries, students were now allowed to fly off-campus, wherever and whenever.
…With special permission, of course. Luna Nova still liked their rules and restrictions after all. But all Akko had to do was pass this test, get the special riding permit signed, then she could just fly home all on her own, no worries and no hassle.
Nelson hesitated, glancing down at the wand in her hand.
“…You’re sure you’re up to this, Kagari? Not that I don’t encourage all my students to test their limits, but…well, Japan is a long ways away, even for an experienced rider.”
“I rode the Shooting Star, didn’t I?” Akko said. “Twice even! Something like this’ll be easy!”
Nelson gave a half shrug. “Well, I’d be lying if I said you hadn’t surprised me before. But knowing what you’re planning to do, you’re gonna have to really wow me here.”
With a quick wave of her wand, Nelson cast out over a dozen holographic rings that wasted no time in floating to their preset spots across the field. Akko had spied on some other students taking the test before, and she had to admit, the obstacle course looked more intimidating up close.
But all she had to do was make ten laps around the perimeter, going through every single one of the moving rings as she did so, and she would prove she had the skill, control, and endurance to ride a broom totally unsupervised.
She had already come a long way since the first day she attended Nelson’s class, over a year ago, when she (maybe sorta) embarrassed herself in front of the whole class. And Akko wasn’t known for giving up easily.
The broom immediately floated up from the ground without incident, much to Akko’s satisfaction. Easy part taken care of.
Ever since she managed to get her broom to hover last March, she had been practicing her butt off almost every day, and she thought she had done pretty well for herself. She could get it to hover on command now at least 50% of the time. And on good days, she could even steer it too. Ursula might’ve been proud.
Nelson readied her finger on her stopwatch. “Give it your best, Kagari! Let’s see how much you learned.”
“Okay!” Akko pointed her finger forward, a determined smile on her face. “It’s showtime!”
Magic coursed through her being, and flowed into the bristles of her broom. The broom was rumbling, practically purring. She could actually feel the energy of the flight magic in her hands, just waiting to be unleashed. The broom shot off like a smoking bullet from a gun, shocking even Nelson.
It also had, in its blistering speed, flown off without Akko actually on top of it.
And also, backwards.
Akko managed to remove her face from its newly acquainted spot on the dirt, and pushed herself upwards just in time to see the momentum carry the broom, straight and true, right through the upper window of the cafeteria.
She was too far away to see the immediate reaction, but as she soon found out, Professor Finnelan had not entirely appreciated the interruption to her afternoon tea time.
Two hours, and one lecture about proper behavior for a growing witch later, Akko found herself in another place filled with many personal memories:
Detention, this time with Professor Badcock.
Finnelan and Badcock had decided the best punishment was for her to take a rag, a bucket of water, and a bottle of fairy dust, and clean every single magical mirror in the basement lockup of Luna Nova. Akko didn’t bother to count how many there were, because she was pretty sure putting a number on it would make her feel even worse.
Her favorite month had not started out on a good note.
She did try, at least a little, to think about the positives. Like the fact that Diana had volunteered to supervise Akko’s detention for the professors. It had largely been an excuse for her to see Akko tonight, but Diana was more than happy to stay to let Akko vent to her.
Akko sighed, and not for the first time that night. “It wasn’t even my fault the broom did that either. I don’t think anyone else would’ve been punished for an accident. I bet if that didn’t happen, I could’ve done it.”
“Well…” Diana thought it over. “I’m afraid I’d have to agree. Crossing an entire ocean on a broom is dangerous, even for professionals. I’m not saying you couldn’t have. It’s just…if something goes wrong, you’d be stranded with nowhere to land and no guarantee you’re even close to civilization.”
Akko powdered the mirror she was next to with fairy dust, to counteract any spirit within. “I could’ve done it.” She grumbled. “I’ve been practicing forever, but I just blow it when it comes to big important stuff like tests and everything.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Akko.” Diana said gently. “You couldn’t even get a broom up in the air at all when you first came here. You’ve improved a great deal in a short amount of time. That’s no small feat.”
“Maybe.” Akko took the rag, dipped it in the bucket of water, and began to scrub the mirror of years’ worth of dust, grime and general disuse. “But I can’t fly myself back, and I can’t get my parents to fly me back either. I’m gonna completely miss my own birthday.”
“I…realize this isn’t what you wanted for your birthday, but if it’s any consolation, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to celebrate your birthday here in the meantime. You won’t have to spend it alone either way.”
Akko grabbed the fairy dust, bucket, and rag and moved on to the next mirror in line. Diana remained only a step behind her. “We had it all planned out and everything though. Dad was gonna take us to the park, and they got me a red velvet cake, and it had like this rainbow frosting they use on the edges, and plus they use all these sprinkles…”
Akko powdered the mirror with fairy dust. “And now I’m not gonna be able to eat it until like the middle of July…”
“You can’t be mad at your parents, Akko. It was just unfortunate timing.”
“I’m not mad at my parents. I’m just annoyed because these unfortunate timings are always happening to me. If it’s not my broom not working, it’s getting detention, or some other really bad thing. It just feels like I can’t do anything right sometimes.”
Akko reached up to begin washing the next mirror, only for Diana to slow her hand with her own. She looked over, meeting soft blue eyes.
“I can think of a number of things you’ve done right.” She said. “And another number of things you’ve done that no one else could’ve done. Nothing ever goes as simply as we want it to, but I like to believe the good witches are the ones who can take the worst circumstances and grow into their own in spite of them.”
“You…” Akko found herself almost at a loss for words. “…and…do you think I’m a good witch then?”
“A great witch.” Diana said, without hesitation.
Diana’s thumb brushed against Akko’s knuckles, and the sensation made her stomach flutter. Diana used to smile so rarely, that sometimes Akko almost had trouble looking at her in the eyes when she did.
But Diana quickly straightened up, pulling her hand back, when Professor Badcock finally returned from whatever errand she had left to take care of.
“Miss Cavendish.” The professor said, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “It’s almost curfew. You should head back up to your dorms for the night.”
Akko sat up. “What about me?”
“You need to finish this last row, and then I’ll personally escort you back to your room.”
Akko reflexively glanced down the line of mirrors, and tried not to groan as she saw how many there were. And now that Diana was leaving, the rest of her night was not shaping up to be very fun.
Diana chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, before stepping forward. “Forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds here, Professor, but I’d like to keep supervising if Akko’s still going to be in here. I don’t believe it’s wise to deal with magic mirrors without someone keeping a close eye.”
“You needn’t worry, Diana.” Badcock waved her hand. “I am still the professor here.”
“I…wasn’t questioning your abilities.” Diana did her best not to fidget. “But…it really isn’t any trouble for me to keep watch. I would gladly keep doing it if it would help.”
“Nonsense!” Badcock said, slightly abashed. “You’ve done more than enough to help today. Please, let me take over this task so that you may rest!”
“I just wouldn’t want there to be any incidents with any spirits lingering in the mirrors. I’m just concerned about the safety of my fellow students.” Diana said, which was absolutely true, if phrased in the most indirect way humanly possible.
“I assure you, we’ve already taken the most dangerous and mischievous mirrors out of her long ago.” Badcock continued. “And besides! There’s hardly any danger to be had from these old things. These mirrors have been inert for decades. Some of them haven’t had a reaction since all the way back in the Golden Age of Magic.”
As if just to prove her point, she pointed her wand and hit the glass of a nearby one with a simple energy spell. The bolt crackled across the surface, before fizzling uselessly away. The mirror had barely reacted.
“…So I see.” Diana pursed her lips. “If you’re absolutely sure, then I suppose I can go.”
“By all means!” Badcock nodded. “Have a good night, Miss Cavendish. The young should enjoy their vacations after all!”
Badcock chortled at her own joke, not noticing the look Akko and Diana shared. Diana seemed pensive, but forced a smile for Akko’s sake.
“I know today has been…trying, but I’m sure everything will look better soon.”
“Yeah…” Akko sighed. “I guess they usually do.”
“Well…if you’re still feeling down, come see me in the morning, okay? I’m always available to talk, if need be.”
“I know, I know.” Akko nodded mechanically. “Thanks Diana. Night.”
“…Yes. Good night, Professor Badcock, Akko. Give my regards to Lotte and Sucy when you see them.”
With one last, small smile, Diana turned and left for the night.
Badcock adjusted her glasses once more. “Do try to get done soon, Miss Kagari. It’s quite late, and I have papers to catch up on.”
Badcock had stood and supervised her closely for half an hour, which had been significantly less fun than when Diana was the one doing it. And once she was convinced enough that Akko understood the basic pattern of fairy dust-water-rag, she decided to occupy herself organizing some shelfs on the opposite side of the room.
Half a dozen mirrors later, Akko was almost starting to wish these things had magic juice left in them. At least it would break up the monotony.
She dusted, wet, and washed a silver mirror with hearts engraved on it, then moved on dust, wet, and wash to a bronze one with vines engraved on it, then she dusted, wet, and washed another silver one, except this one had a picture of a dragon on it instead, which was almost an exciting change of pace.
She continued down the line. Dust, wet, wash, dust, wet, wash, until she finally got to the last one. This mirror had a gold frame, and that was about the only thing worth noting about it at all. Detention was just as fun as the last time she took it.
She wet her rag, and began to wash the surface, yet another sigh escaping her lips as she did so. She was gonna be stuck here forever. This basement, Luna Nova, Europe.
…She missed her cat. If things had gone better, she could’ve been at home, spending time with her cat. Instead, she was here, washing a crusty old mirror.
Akko looked up at her reflection, grimacing at her bangs sticking to her forehead. She wiped the sweat off with the back of her sleeve and dipped her rag back into the bucket. At this point, she just wanted to go to bed and have this rotten day be over already.
Squeezing out the extra water from her rag, she looked up in the mirror to see not herself, but Shiny Chariot reflected in the glass.
That had certainly popped her out of her mood. Her reflection looked just as Shiny Chariot did when Akko first saw her show all those years ago. Except she didn’t remember ever seeing Shiny Chariot on her knees holding a wet rag.
Akko tilted her head. Shiny Chariot tilted her head right back.
Akko, with some confusion, waved her hand. Shiny Chariot waved back.
Akko stood to her feet, inspecting the mirror closer. And as though it were her own reflection, the Shiny Chariot in the mirror did it right back to her.
“Heh.” A small smile worked its way onto Akko’s lips, and she took her best pose. “A believing heart is your magic!”
Call it nostalgia, but seeing her old idol say her motto did make her feel a little better. But before she could dwell on that too long, a strange light flashed across the mirror, and when Akko looked back, she found herself staring, this time, at Diana’s reflection.
She had to look down at herself to confirm she had not actually just transformed into Diana Cavendish, again. She doubted the other girl would find that little trick endearing a fourth time.
‘These mirror…wasn’t supposed to have any magic left, right?’ She thought to herself. ‘So how is it…?’
She played with her hair for a moment, and watched as the Diana in the glass did the same to her own wavy blonde tresses. This…seemed like something she should probably be concerned about, but she had to admit, this was a little fun.
Akko crossed her arms in a haughty way. “Hm, you really must be more responsible, Akko.” She tutted at herself. “You are quite truly a handful, for one so cute!”
She had to stifle her laughter, to keep Badcock from noticing her goofing off. But it was hard not to giggle when “Diana” called her cute.
The light flickered across the mirror once more, and Diana’s reflection was now replaced with Sucy’s. Akko didn’t know what this was, but she was starting to get the rules of this little game. She made a nasty face in the mirror.
“Nyerr…” She sneered, rolling her upper lip. “You’re an idiot, Akko.”
And once again, the reflection of Sucy disappeared, and began to be replaced by someone else. Akko eagerly leaned in closer to see who would pop in next, instead of her own reflection.
There was something….else, that was not reflected in the mirror, however. The green mist emanating from the mirror’s frame. Akko played with reflection after reflection, utterly unaware of the magical energy forming around her head, steadily probing deeper and deeper into her memories.
She smiled as the next one appeared in the glass, a certain soft-hearted creature she had met back in Lotte’s hometown.
“Oh, it’s the Yeti! I haven’t thought about him in forever!”
She made deep, bassy gorilla noises, and struggled not to laugh as she did so. The light flickered across the glass, and she found herself looking at a former professor with lavender hair and a blood red cloak.
“Ooh, it’s Croix!” Akko beamed. “Okay, um…”
Actually, she wasn’t totally sure what she should make Croix say.
After a moment’s thought, Akko put on an exaggerated mean face. “…Bleep blorp I like making robots!”
She couldn’t keep a straight face for that one, breaking down into silly, happy, giggles. But her fun was cut unfortunately short with the sound of sharp heels on the ground and an unamused voice.
“Miss Kagari.” Badcock glared. “I see you’re having fun, so am I right to assume you are completely finished?”
Akko blinked. “…I…um…the thing is…” She glanced back at the mirror, but saw only her own reflection. Everything had gone back to normal in the blink of an eye. Badcock didn’t even seem to have seen any of it. She was just mad at seeing Akko laughing to herself.
“Well?” Badcock tapped her foot.
“Yes?” Akko decided. “Yeah, that was the last mirror. I’m done.”
Badcock nodded, and quickly ushered Akko back up to her room with a quick lecture on ethics that Akko diligently pretended to pay attention to. It was probably better not to tell Badcock about the mirror anyway. Even assuming it was anything, which it might not be, the way today was going? Badcock would think it was her fault anyway.
Still, it had lifted her spirits a little. And maybe Diana was right, and she’d feel better in the morning. Diana usually had a sense about these things. So Akko went to bed that night weary, still bummed out, but hopeful nonetheless.
A good night’s sleep would be just what she needed to get over this funk she was in.
Once Akko finished, went back to her room and went to bed, the storage room had been locked up tight. There were neither windows nor any other way into the room, and so for several hours, the freshly cleaned magic mirrors sat unwatched in the dark room, and all was as quiet and still as it should’ve been.
Until sometime in between the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning, when from some unearthly source, light began to flicker across the surface of the golden mirror. This time it did not produce any reflections, magical or otherwise.
Like a projector, or a window into the past, visions played across the mirror, echoing throughout the silent room, colors and sights flashing rapidly across the glass. A witch, awaiting advice from the mythical Fountain of Polaris in front of her. The sound of wind rushing by, the rider of the legendary broom neck and neck with Diana Cavendish. A hug, and a promise of forgiveness from the student to her professor in the depths of Arcturus Forest. A quiet sigh of relief from within the Horologium Room, as the weary girl returned from the sealed door.
Soon after, the visions came more and more rapidly. Almost seventeen years’ worth of places and people and events flashed across the mirror in only seconds, until the glass’s surface was nothing but an nondescript blur of light, bright enough to illuminate the entire room.
And then, like liquid, the light began to drip from the mirror like liquid, until it finally cooled into a sickly green puddle. It seeped into the ground, spreading wider and wider…until it was finally sure there was no one around to see it.
The puddle began to move, small twitches and palpitations turned into snake-like slithering, as it coiled around itself, forming into a sphere. Once it was satisfied with its shape, it floated up from the ground without incident.
It squeezed itself through the keyhole of the door without any resistance, and quickly darted into the upper corner of the hallway, where it would remain unseen. It had a long way to travel to its destination.
But it knew instinctively which way to go.
It traveled up the stairs and into the main hallway. It stuck to the shadows, only slowing when the footsteps of Professor Finnelan patrolled through the halls. She passed by, completely unaware. And once it was satisfied, it continued all the way up to the West Dormitory.
It didn’t take long for it to find its room. Easily slipping through the keyhole, it quickly darted up to the darkest corner of the dorm room to confirm its surroundings. Lotte, Sucy, and Akko were all fast asleep.
It inched its way down from the corner, and slipped towards the lower bunk bed. It remembered that by this time they would all be in bed, but it hadn’t desired to take the risk. So it floated over, slowly, making its way next to Akko’s forehead.
“Puh…po…” Akko murmured in her sleep. “…potato…”
She was already dreaming. That was perfect.
The spirit of the golden mirror no longer needed to bother maintaining its physical form, and so it once again faded into a mist and disappeared from any kind of sight. Into the memories that had once more given it a chance at being.
There hadn’t been anyone around to see it, obviously. But if there had, it might’ve looked like an ethereal hand, slowly brushing at Akko’s bangs.