It started with a note. An unfamiliar faculty member entered the classroom and headed straight for Marx after confirming with the professor. She slid a yellow slip of parchment onto his desk and slid away just as quietly. Paying no mind to her, he pawed the slip towards himself and read.
SUMMONS FOR:MARX,3rd year
To: Office of the Housemistress Senior
Time:After Dinner, as promptly as possible
“Well, that's strange.” Marx was used to being summoned to various places by the faculty. If it wasn't to reprimand him for agitating yet another classmate to the point of violence,it was a professor requesting his assistance in setting up a lesson after classes had concluded. Though he hated his classmates, he was fond of his professors, often going out of his way to assist them or to ask extra questions about their area of expertise. His zeal for knowledge and willingness to help made him a faculty favorite, and it was their positive relationships with him that prevented his expulsion despite his frequent fights. This happened to be a note from the housemistress, a woman he had only spoken to once during his enrollment to ensure he'd sleep alone. He hadn't gotten into any fights recently and she didn't teach any of his classes.
The only way to find out what she wanted from him was to go. He slid the note into the pocket of his uniform cloak and continued working.
Once the day had passed and dinner had concluded, he plodded up the stairs to the housemistress's office to discover what she wanted with him. It had been a long day. All he wanted to do was take a nap before settling into his work again, but he couldn't refuse to show up and his curiosity had been plaguing him throughout the day. He knocked quietly on the door.
“Enter.” He made sure to close the door quietly behind him before settling neatly into the comfy chair she had placed in front of her desk. Prim and aged, with her hair pinned up into a style that had gone out of fashion on her home planet at least a few decades ago, the housemistress’ appearance screamed proper and strict.
“Hello Marx. I know you’re not particularly fond of little social niceties, so let’s get right into it. It’s about your living situation.”
“What about it?”
“I know you specifically requested to have a dorm to yourself, and due to your...social situation, we’ve allowed it. However we’re currently at capacity due to a sudden rise in aspiring mages, so as of tomorrow that’s going to be changing. We have an exchange student coming in from Halcandra tomorrow, and you’re the only student without a roommate.”
“I’m not taking on a roommate. Especially not some random person I don’t even know!”
“You have no choice in the matter.” The housemistress gave Marx a tight-lipped smile that allowed no room for argument. “Go make space for their things. Dismissed.”
Marx scooted out of his seat roughly and left the office. The grumbling began the second he left the area. By the time he had reached his dorm hallway, it had devolved into full on swearing. He had the perfect setup here! No one bothered him in his room and he could do whatever he wanted without anyone watching. Now they expected him to deal with someone snoring next to him and making a mess in his room. Knowing his luck, the loser would probably even try to make friends with him.
Magolor arrived late the next night to a clean and orderly dorm room, exactly half of it marked out for his use with masking tape that extended all the way up the wall and onto the ceiling. Marx was sitting up for him, lights on. Magolor looked up to see his new roommate. A small, lavender-colored puff of fur practically glaring daggers into his skull.
“Um, hello there! I'm Ma--”
“Your half is over there. You sleep on the bottom bunk. Don't make any noises.” With that, he rolled over and pulled the blanket over himself.
Marx proved to be a difficult roommate. Every sound Magolor made would immediately be met with glares and sharp insults, whether the scratch of a pen on parchment or the turn of a page. Once a simple sneeze resulted in an agonized scream. When not berating Magolor, Marx remained silent. He went about his business without so much as a word or a glance at Magolor.
Unfortunately for Magolor, their room wasn’t the only place he’d have to see Marx. They shared a few classes, Alchemistry being the most difficult. Outside of his room, Marx seemed to be a completely different person. His hand was the first to shoot up in class and his answers were loud and detailed. He finished his work before anyone else, then took out even more. His enthusiasm drew attention from every student around him. They snickered to each other loudly enough that Marx would be able to hear (Magolor certainly could) but he gave no indication that he heard them at all. He read his books and took notes without even turning his head. One student, a Bronto Burt whose wings made enormous lumps in the back of his cape, turned to Magolor.
“Do you think he ever learned to shut up? Dude’s always up his own ass about how smart he is.”
Magolor's brow furrowed. “But he's not saying anything. He's just doing work again. And he does know the answers when the professor asks for them, so shouldn't he tell her?” Sure, Marx was insufferable in their room, but outside of it he didn’t cause any harm. Magolor couldn’t figure out why this guy got so upset about someone studying.
The Bronto made a face that hovered between confusion and disgust. “What? No, he just...never mind. You're apparently too stupid to get it.”
“I'm not stupid.” Magolor tried to respond, but they had already turned away from him, apparently uninterested in anything else he had to say. He sighed to himself and turned back to the professor, who stood at the front of the class. She clasped her hands in front of her, beaming enthusiastically. This woman enjoyed her job very much.
“All right, for this next part you're going to need to find a partner and an open desk. We're going to attempt to create the substance we went over earlier. It's all right if you don't get it the first time! This is only a practice run. You'll have the chance to perfect it later. If you lack protective gloves, there are some in the cabinet in the back of the room. Now quick! Go find your partners and take a seat.”
Most of the students had already locked eyes with one another, and at the professor's signal rose from their seats and headed directly for one another. Magolor remained firmly in place, anxiety rising. He had been here a week and still didn't know the names of his classmates, let alone how to befriend them. None of them had displayed any interest in him after the first two days, when he had been a novelty to be asked endless questions.
The seat next to him was empty, the Bronto having already joined their friend across the room. Every person had a partner. He was all alone, and the professor would ask why. Then she’d put him in a group of three, and he’d be the awkward extra partner that nobody actually wants there. Then he’d be known as the person who can’t get a partner on his own, and he’d have to deal with that forever! His head turned from side to side uselessly, mind probing in random directions as he tried to figure out the correct course of action for his unfortunate social situation. There had to be some way he could--wait.
The seat next to Marx was open.
As far as he knew, Marx hated his guts. He became upset with Magolor for the smallest reasons and he could never figure out why. It would be risky, and possibly one of the more socially painful experiences he’d have to deal with today. But it would be the only chance he got to avoid the humiliation of being alone. After a few moments spent steeling himself for the move, Magolor lifted his things and carried them to Marx’s table.
“Can I partner with you?” His voice came out much quieter than he intended, but Marx heard it anyways. He turned to Magolor, already irritated. “No. Leave.”
“But we both need a partner. I don’t see anyone else offering, and we’re the only two people left.” Magolor moved closer, insisting. Marx turned away in his chair.
“I’ll do it on my own!”
“Tried that before. They just stuff you into a group of three. This class is even numbered, so we don’t even get an excuse to try this time.”
Marx hissed under his breath in exasperation. “Fuck.”
“Well? Scoot over!” This time it came out louder than he wanted. A pair of students at a nearby table looked over at him, startled. Whoops.
Surprised and a bit confused, Marx reluctantly slid over on the bench. Magolor took a seat, setting his books down near the corner of the right side of the desk. He was careful to maintain a good distance, giving Marx half of the bench to himself.
“Just don’t fuck up the ingredient order. Damn thing takes ten minutes to hit the right water temperature, and I am not starting over.”
Magolor turned to him with a look of surprise. “Have you done this before?”
“Of course I have! I study a couple of chapters ahead. A little head start at the beginning, and no one else can catch up!” Marx puffed himself up proudly as he boasted about his abilities.
“Can you show me how to do it?”
“Pfft. Sure. If you're too dumb to figure it out yourself, I guess I can throw you a bone. Watch closely. I'll only do it once.”
“I'm not dumb.” Magolor's tone went flat. He had said so many times before, but it seemed that no one would listen to him.
“Then prove it by paying attention when someone's giving you free information.”
Marx set a beaker of water onto a metal grate. It sat over a blue flame burning airlessly in a small, spherical contraption. He spent a moment tweaking a small knob on the side, then turned to pull a mortar and pestle from a drawer.
“First you set the water to a gentle simmer,then you take the amfrus powder in a separate bowl, and sift it…”
Twenty minutes later, the concoction in the beaker had become a cool blue, swirling in the beaker of its own accord. It seemed to have the consistency of honey, and emitted a scent somewhere between gasoline and fresh morning air.
The professor walked from table to table, examining the work of her students. Multiple beakers were filled with black sludge. Two had reached a purplish color that earned the students responsible a small smile. When she came to Marx's table, she stopped, eyebrows raised.
“You two did this?”
Marx grinned up at her. “There's no one else here!”
She carefully lifted the beaker, swirling the contents around and holding it up to a light. “Proper color, correct viscosity, no precipitate...this is completely correct! You two did a wonderful job! Do you mind if I bring this to the front to show the class?” Magolor remained silent, face warm.
“Go right ahead!” Marx beamed up at her. She strode up to the front and called attention to the beaker. “Now class, this is what your potion should look like, and will eventually. Notice…”
As she droned on, Marx nudged Magolor's side. “Feel that, Magolor?”, he muttered. “That bloom of satisfaction?" Magolor nodded, eyes still on the teacher. "That's success. We outdid every single one of those idiots. Of course, it was mostly me, but you did a sufficient job on the orgofax root. Feels nice though, doesn't it?”
“It does.” A warm, bursting feeling swelled in his chest that made Magolor almost want to stand up and crow about his achievement. “Everyone seems kind of mad at us, though. Isn't that going to cause problems?”
“Eh. You get used to it. That's the price of being better!” Marx began to snicker, pointing out some of the more horrendous failed attempts. Eventually Magolor found himself laughing as well. He decided that he liked this sort of gossiping a lot more.
When he arrived at their dorm and settled in to do his homework Marx didn't snap at him even once.
The end of the school day had arrived at last. The sun was setting over the trees in the distance, filling the empty hallway with a golden glow. Magolor had spent an extra half hour in his last period asking the professor a few questions alongside Marx. Their two weeks of lab partnerships had left Marx with a habit of explaining everything he did to Magolor, even when they were in their dorm. Evidently he enjoyed having an audience for his work.
A lovely side effect to Magolor's new rubber duck status was that he had almost gotten as far ahead of the other students as Marx. He took to his new studies like a rubber duck to water. The puff made sure to study at least a unit ahead in private before telling Magolor all about the previous one.
His lab partner was currently nowhere to be found. They had parted ways at the door, Magolor moving in the direction of his locker to drop off unneeded books. Marx went in another direction to “take care of something.” Magolor pried his locker open and began to tuck his extra books into the bottom. The workload would be light tonight, only numeric systems and a few pages of history reading that he had already heard about from his roommate's lectures. He slammed it shut, then tapped the front, sealing it to everyone but him. One perk of attending Paraffanta's Academy was that you never had to remember a locker combination.
“Magolor! Magolor! Hey! Quick, hold this!” A familiar voice called his name. Magolor turned around just in time to watch Marx barrel down the hall. He ran directly towards Magolor before thrusting a small, slimy object into his paws and disappearing behind a corner. It turned out to be a small, yellowish, extremely docile frog. “Hello there!” The frog stared up at Magolor's grin blankly, throat ballooning. A shadow fell over the pair, and Magolor looked up to see a rather large student leaning over Magolor angrily. The beefy simirror glared at him.
“Give me the frog, freak.”
“Why?” For someone who needed something from him, this guy was being incredibly rude. He had never been called a freak by anyone polite.
“For the damn game! Hand it up!”
“A frog game? It doesn't hurt the frog, does it?” He held the tiny creature closer to himself, shielding it from the simirror.
“Listen, fr--” The boy's words were cut off by his own shout of surprise as he flipped upside down and rose into the air. Marx revealed himself from behind the corner, wheezing between the gusts of howling laughter bursting out of him. “I love fishing wire so much! Look at his stupid face! That's what you get for pouring milk on me, asshole!”
Magolor looked out at the now slowly spinning figure swearing angrily at both of them. His hair was disheveled and his pants were sliding downwards. His shirt had ripped at the hem where the wire had pulled it away from him. Something about him was so ridiculous that Magolor began to giggle. He really did look stupid, didn’t he? Just spinning in the air like that. “Bet you feel bad about calling me that now, huh?”
“What'd he say?” Marx laughed a bit less, looking puzzled.
“He called me a freak.”
Marx stopped laughing, scowling briefly before he pulled his face back into a characteristic smirk. “Well, what are you waiting for? Give him a whack! He deserves it.”
Magolor took a step forward, slowly raising a glove in front of the prone bully. Then he took a step back. “I'll be right back. Don't put him down yet.” With that, he rushed away down the hall.
The cafeteria was only a short walk from his locker. After a careful peek through the kitchen window, he slipped inside. It took only a second to find what he needed. The frog went safely outside a door on the way back.
Magolor returned to the scene with a carton of milk. Marx's face split into a joyous grin. “Oh, that's brilliant!” Magolor flushed slightly and stepped up to the bully, opening the lip of the carton.
“Don't you dare.” The bully began to wriggle desperately, having spent the last few minutes trying to break the line with his still bound hands.
“I do!” Magolor beamed up at him. “Be more polite when you want something from someone next time, okay? Don't call them rude things.”
The first of the milk went on the bully's face. The rest of it went evenly across his back and the rest of his body. Marx has howling with laughter, feet in the air. In a fit of boldness, Magolor crushed the empty carton against the boy's face. He was breathless with laughter and exhilaration.
“What are you *doing*?” The laughter stopped with a hot pang of fear. Their history professor stood in the hall, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Headmaster's office. Now.”
The headmaster's office looked like a neat box of mahogany and leather. Three chairs sat in front of the desk, most likely meant for a student and their parents. Marx and Magolor sat next to each other, the third seat occupied by their history teacher.
The headmaster, an old, gently grizzled mage, seemed much more serious than he usually did. “So, Marx, I've been told you've gotten into another altercation involving other students, and you dragged this one along with you.”
“I wasn't dragged in. I joined in.” Magolor quivered where he sat, but did his best to hide it. He couldn't even look at the headmaster, his eyes sliding around the desk and Marx's face instead. Marx had managed to stay completely calm. He had been in this position many times before.
“And why is that?”
“He poured milk on Marx. And he was going to hurt a frog, I think.”
Marx interrupted. “And he called Magolor a freak.”
“He deserved what he got. It's only fair.”
The headmaster's brow furrowed. “Is that so? He'll be disciplined for that. After all, it's our job to discipline students, not yours.”
Marx cut in. “He did the milk thing before to other students and got away with it. You can ask around.”
“I apologize for the lapse in discipline, but neither of you are qualified to dispense punishments for your classmates. That’s a faculty job, isn't it Dr.Naramo?” Their professor nodded, and the headmaster continued.
“While I understand that he bullied you, due to your retaliatory behavior I'm still going to have to punish you. However, I do understand that there were complex circumstances at play here. Magolor, this is your first offense and you both are otherwise outstanding students. In my personal opinion, your behavior was not entirely unjustified, simply misguided. You will both clean up the milk and string you left down there immediately, then attend an hour's detention during your free hour on Marasday. If something like this happens again, report it to me or my assistants. I will not have anyone making my students feel unwelcome in their home. Run along now and ask the custodian for a mop and scissors.”
Once the pair had left the headmaster turned to Dr.Naramo. “Nice to see him finally make a friend here, isn't it?”
"Let's hope it lasts."
Detention came and went easily. Magolor and Marx spent the time working silently on problems that wouldn't be due for a month and passing notes to each other when they believed that the supervising teacher wasn't looking. In truth, Dr.Naramo simply didn't wish to disturb the birth of a good thing.
The tension in their dorm room had completely dissipated. The tape had peeled away without a replacement. Magolor could scratch away at his homework to his heart's content without even a peep from Marx. He knew to be quiet when his roommate needed to sleep or focus. Marx returned the favor by remembering the things Magolor would otherwise forget, be it where he placed a certain item or an assignment he had neglected to write down. Unfortunately for Magolor, the item he had lost this time fell under his bed while he was using it.
“Oh come on, where’d you go this time…” Magolor shimmied under the bunk bed, pawing around the books he had stowed beneath his bunk.
A purple head peered over the side of the top bunk. “Whad’ya lose this time?”
“My pen. Again. I swear, these things are the most skilled invisibility users on the entire planet.”
Magolor heard a muffled snort , then felt something bounce off of his back. “You can borrow mine. Don’t lose it, though, or you owe me.” He crawled out backwards to find what had fallen on him.
“Uh, thanks--you use a fountain pen?”
“Do you have eyes? I’ve been using one since before you came here.” A quiet zipping sound indicated that Marx had pulled another from his bag.
“Huh. Guess I don't,then. I didn’t really pay attention to what you write with.”
Magolor returned to his bed and continued his work.
“And you write in purple?”
“It’s my brand! Keeps people from claiming my reports as theirs when I forget to write my name. Now be quiet! I’m trying to read!”
“But I wrote my name in black! Everyone’s going to think I stole your work!”
“Restart it then! Jeeze.”
“But I already wrote three paragraphs!”
“Do you want the pen or not?”
The rustling of parchment could be heard below as Magolor prepared new pages. He was forever thankful that scrolls would only be used for the final essays.
Just as he predicted, their professor claimed that Marx had written Magolor's essay. It took both testimony from Marx and a handwriting comparison to convince them otherwise. “I apologize for being suspicious. Your statements were remarkably similar, so I had believed that Marx had written both in his purple ink.”
“Oh! That's because Marx is helping me study ahead! He taught me about this a couple weeks before you brought it up in class. He's really good at it!”
“Is that so?” They turned to Marx with a little half-grin. “Think you can get the rest of the class that excited about magical document format styles?”
Marx stared vacantly into the space behind the professor's head, a tiny grin on his face. A small poke from Magolor made him start suddenly.
“Oh! Yes, of course--I mean no, sorry, I can only tutor him. I mean, in theory I could do the whole class, but Magolor’s a cut above so he's a lot easier to work with, not that it's hard to work with the others, which is not to say that your job is easy, of course, it's just a pref--” a patterned white glove gently patted over Marx's mouth. Magolor had almost tipped over in silent laughter.
“Easy there, kiddo. I understood what you meant.” The professor smiled at him, their eyes glinting with something mischievous. “You two go keep up the good work, all right?”
Marx gently brushed the glove aside. “Yeah! Yeah. Come on, Mags.” He turned and went for the door a bit too eagerly.
“Mags? Since when did you call me that?”
“You have a three syllable name, pal. I'm not saying that mouthful all the time, so it makes sense to give you a nickname. Why? You got a problem with it?”
“No, no, it's ..sort of nice, actually.”