“Sir! Sir! They're at it again, sir!” A gangly youth with a mop of curly brown hair careered into the small classroom, grasping the door frame tightly. After finishing his speech, he remained suspended in the doorway, slack-jawedly looking over his shoulder, then quickly back into the room, then back to the passage. His hair flew each time he turned his head.
“What have I told you, Davies, about telling tales?” The teacher, a man of middle years, stood behind a large desk at the back of the room, bent forward reading a book, weight on both hands. He wore a dark green tweedy jacket, and loose buff-colored corduroy trousers. He did not look up from his reading to admonish the youth.
“Sir, I think they're going to kill each other this time! They're all... aahh! And uhh! And very...”
“Your eloquence, Davies, continues to astound. Please take your seat so we may begin.”
“Your seat, Davies!”
The young man, still looking over his shoulder, reluctantly entered the room. Not looking where he was going, he stumbled into not one, but two of his classmates. The first, a small round boy with messy hair and soft brown eyes, just looked up at him sadly, but the other, a defiantly green-haired punk wearing loads of makeup, shoved him towards his proper seat. “Tosser,” she said.
“I observe,” began the instructor, “that our numbers are markedly reduced today. Do any among you have any insights to share as to the whereabouts of your fellows?” He gazed penetratingly at the three students sitting before him. The smaller boy appeared deeply engaged with something lodged under his fingernail. The punk girl crossed her arms across her chest, sarcastically raising her eyebrows. Davies looked over his shoulder, once again, toward the door.
Drawing himself up, the instructor stepped out from behind the desk. He towered over the seated students. “Very well. Brand, Davies, begin translating the passage from page 317. Pennington, go to the lavatory and wash your hands properly. Being all over potter's clay will not help your Latin grammar. Then again, I'm not sure anything could.” Ushering the smaller boy before him, he exited the classroom.
Abandoning Pennington to the vicissitudes of fate, the tall man stalked towards the sounds of an altercation some ways down the passage. Rounding a corner, he beheld two boys pinning a slightly smaller one to the wall. All three appeared markedly ruffled, but none appeared to be seriously injured.
“Gentlemen,” he intoned. All three boys started at his interruption, and the two bigger ones relaxed their grips on their prisoner. “You appear to be engaged in a... slight fracas. I was not aware that this institution's rules forbidding such activities had been suspended.”
The two bigger boys released their grip entirely, and their victim took a few quick steps away. One of the bigger pair began guiltily rubbing the back of his neck, while the other took advantage of the moment to retrieve his heavy black-framed spectacles from the floor.
“Carr, Lock – as you are meant to be in my tutorial at the moment, I shall reluctantly take charge of you lot. Reeves, I believe you have your own studies to attend to?” The boy with the spectacles began to protest, but quailed before the beetled brows of the stern-faced instructor. He awkwardly scuttled off down the passage, while the instructor turned to the other boys.
The taller of the two was very thin, with broad shoulders and an angular frame. His short, reddish-brown hair stood up in tufts, and he looked at his shoes as he leaned against the wall. He bore a reddening bruise on one sharp cheekbone, and his collar and tie were askew. His opponent, by contrast, was considerably shorter, though probably only about half a stone lighter. His dark, slightly longer hair was still smooth; his collar and tie neat and straight. For all that he bore little evidence of damage from the fight, his soft, round cheeks were flushed bright pink, and his heavy brows drawn together as he glared at the taller boy.
“Well, gentlemen? What is the meaning of this?”
Neither boy responded.
“You continue to abuse both my time and yours. This is the third time this month you have gotten into an serious altercation. If this continues I will have no choice but to dismiss both of you from my tutorial.” At this, both boys shifted their gaze to their instructor. The smaller boy spoke.
“You've seen for yourself, sir. I'm clearly the victim here!”
“I sincerely doubt, Carr, that any attack upon your person was entirely unprovoked. Moreover, Lock appears to have been the recipient of at least one blow.”
“That was from Reeves, sir,” piped up the tall, thin boy.
“And yet he appeared to be assisting you in your torment of Carr by the time I arrived, Mister Lock.”
Both boys looked at each other briefly, then away. Lock craned his neck to look up at the ceiling, while Carr rolled his eyes shiftily.
“Right. I've had enough of this. Take yourselves to the Head, and tell him I won't have you any longer.”
“But sir!” “Please, sir!” The boys talked over one another, then stopped.
“I see that you are both aware that my tutorial is something of a situation of last resort. If even I won't have you, this entire school will soon be through with you. One final chance: explain yourselves.” The instructor stood tall before them, arms crossed and brows raised as he looked down his slightly-crooked nose.
“Carr keeps following me around everywhere, sir. He's become a very annoying shadow. And he's always saying things,” Lock ventured.
“Oh, yes, well, some of us have vocabularies large enough to facilitate meaningful verbal communication, thank you very much,” retorted Carr.
“Like that, sir. He keeps following me around and saying things like that!”
The instructor pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. “Well, Mister Carr, what do you have to say for yourself?”
The dark-haired boy flicked an imaginary piece of lint off his lapel. “Sir, I don't know what he means. This is a school. I am occasionally called upon to say things.”
“I'm sure you are. And I'm sure you also say many things that are completely uncalled-for. Don't give me that angelic-choirboy look, Carr. There is a reason you're in my section as well.” The instructor paused, peering more sharply at Carr. “Have you been tailing Lock?” Carr rolled his eyes again, cheeks reddening further. Lock was scratching his knee, fastidiously pretending to ignore this line of questioning.
“Not as such, sir,” responded Carr.
“Not as such. I see. As what, pray tell?”
“Astonishing. Never thought I'd see you at a loss for words, Carr. Would either of you care to explain Reeve's involvement in your quarrel? Carr, I thought he was a friend of yours.”
“He is, sir. He just...”
“He just took it upon himself to start thrashing you? I know you enjoy being an agent provocateur, Carr, but that seems a bit much, even for you.”
Lock roused himself to protest. “Reeves is Carr's friend, sir. Only, once he'd punched me, Jimmy got angry and said something about his mother, sir. And punched him, sir. And threw away his specs, sir.”
“That seems... uncharacteristically hot-headed of you, Carr.” Carr moved his head about, avoiding his instructor's gaze. Lock looked directly at the smaller boy, scratching his own ear.
“And Lock, you were simply attempting to restrain Carr from further violence?”
Lock shrugged sheepishly, as Carr looked at his own shoes.
“Do you think, gentlemen, that you could, in future, find a more appropriate time and place for your little tiffs?” Both boys' eyes widened alarmingly. “Carr, give Lock some space. He's a decent sort of fellow when he remembers to be, and you tagging along to ridicule him at activities you don't like is not calculated to improve your standing in his eyes. Lock, stop pretending to the rest of your friends that you don't like Carr. He's a conniving little bugger, but he's at his worst when people are ignoring him.” Eyes still wide, the two boys turned to stare one another. Carr's eyebrows rose, while Lock's jaw dropped slightly open.
“Now, if you are quite finished, it's time we were back to work. Brand's probably disemboweling Davies, and goodness knows where Pennington'll have got to by now.” Seizing each boy by the back of the collar, the instructor marched them all back to his classroom.