Hogwarts is protected by enchantments that disguise the castle as a crumbling ruin. All the other schools look on in contempt at this method - why pretend to be something lower than what they are?
Durmstrang is protected by its lake. That is, it is on the bottom of it. Muggles might scale the cliffs surrounding it, but none of them can ride their boat down beneath the depths. The castle waits for them, surrounded on all sides by the crushing darkness of the waters, one tiny refuge in world of madness.
The castle is protected by ancient magics, steeped in blood and sacrifice by desperate and angry men pushed out of their world by muggles armed not with wands but with flaming torches. The waters are held back by these spells but the darkness swirls constantly overhead – to warn the students of what might befall them should their magic ever cease to be anything but strong. Durmstrang students measure their fortitude based on how quickly they stop glancing fearfully overhead but instead learn to simply live with death hanging overhead like an old friend. In fact, many of them come to see the lake as such - an old friend. One who watches over them, protects them. But of course, only protects the worthy. The brightest and strongest.
(During the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Krum was not the only one to dive deep into the lake, craving the familiar depths below.)
Students might venture above, to fly their broomsticks over the snow-capped mountains or to sing songs in the cold crisp air as they tromp through their grounds. But always they venture back down to their refuge.
The first and most important lesson of Durmstrang is taught before their students ever enter its doors: the world is not kind, and will crush you if you let it. So you must be stronger, by any means you have.
Beauxbatons disdains Durmstrang’s blunt heavy-handedness, lifts their noses at the idea of doing anything as crude as sticking their marvelous school underneath a lake. How dreary! How cold and dark! OnlyDurmstrang students would lower themselves in such a way.
Instead, their glittering palace (palace, not castle) is protected by far subtler magics. They do not hide themselves away in mountains or in lakes, perish the thought! After all, what do you do out in the country? The Palace of Beauxbaton is located directly on the edge of Cannes, close enough to take the carriage into the film festival every year. Not to mention the shopping trips.
Their palace is quite famous in fact. Muggles come from all over the world to gawk at the beauty of their school, to stare in wonder at the glass and be bewitched by the fractured light. Beauxbaton students do not fear this. They pride themselves on it. For what better show of their power is it than to have the Muggles stare their magic right in the face and never see it?
The students sink through the glass, slide between the layers of magic and reality as easily as the light filters through their glass. Powerful magic to be sure, with every pane a different door and even the very floor itself a portal for the wizards who know where to step. To navigate their palace is a constant mental exercise – remembering which window leads to their arithmancy class and which leads to potions, learning to glide across the floor to avoid falling down into their Great Hall, resisting the disorientation that comes not from magic but from being surrounded on all sides by light and reflection. And of course making it all look effortless.
To call even the slightest bit of attention to the work they are doing would be alerting the Muggles that there is something that requires working at in what’s supposed to just be a glamorous art exhibit. They pay a price for the ability to giggle at the Muggles’ wonder.
But what they gain, oh that far makes up for it. Beautiful, subtle, powerful– those are the words that every Beauxbaton student learns to live by the moment they step inside their glittering palace. Magic means being able go anywhere, be anyone, do anything! They laugh in the face of Muggles and delight in their own brilliance.
Students graduate to be able to live anywhere they like, not crowded away in hidden villas like England’s Hogsmead or Rumpare-Malin Stan in Sweden. They are witches and wizards, not rats to scurry away to the safety of the dark. Above all, above even power, Beauxbaton learnspride.
They live in the world. They don’t hide away from it.
(Beauxbaton would also like you to stop comparing their brilliant, beautiful palace to some dingy old train station entrance, thank you very much Hogwarts)
Every year the train fairly buzzes with bets, gold and dollar bills changing hands fast as lightning as the train pulls into Salem. Even the most cynical New York witch gets caught up in the fervent debate that rages through the compartments like a wild fire.
“I’m telling you. It was stone last year so this year it’ll be wood. Oooh, a log cabin!”
“Oh come on, a log cabin? What is this, 1818? Please. I bet it’s a gigantic apartment. I heard we’ve got more students this year than ever before.”
“Oh, gross, an apartment? I live in one of those normally, I don’t want to be there during the school year. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a big stone mansion like 1978 had.”
“Those lucky witches.”
It’s a fight out of the door of the train, hundreds of students falling over themselves as they run towards the enormous gates that are the only thing that ever remains the same at the Salem Witches Institute. They reach up to the sky and mark the boundary between the magical and the mundane. From outside, all you can see is a field – standing empty and ruined. That is, if you even make this far. America is huge and wild, even after so long. There will always be hidden pockets of wilderness tucked in among even its most urban states. American wizards don’t need magic to hide away their lands. They just need enough money to buy a good plot out in the middle of nowhere. And America is practically overrun with middle of nowheres.
The first look at their school is always a sacred moment for every Salem witch and wizard (contrary to the name, it has always been a co-ed school. Both men and women died in Salem after all). A moment of stillness as they regard their home before the year begins and they submerge themselves in spells and potions and all things magical.
You see, every year the Salem Witches Institute sheds its skin and begins anew. Bricks might fall out like old teeth as wooden planks push their way out or ivy might peel off like old snakeskin to reveal gleaming stone beneath. Its first year it was a crude log cabin with just one room for all five of its students. The next year, a wooden house stood in its place. The following year, a gorgeous creation of glass and gleaming metal welcomed dozens of students trickling in from all across America as word of this bizarre, wonderful school spread. In 1876, 100 years since America declared its independence, the Salem Witches Institute looked exactly like Hogwarts. Some students were outraged, some were touched, most were confused. But as its Headmistress pointed out, no one but the school could decide what it would look like from year to year. And besides, she said with a definite twinkle in her eye as she welcomed them in, wasn’t it important to remember where we came from so we can see how very far we have come since then?
The European schools tend to look down on the Institute. Even Salem, the oldest of the dozens of American schools dotting that vastness parading as one country, is but a babe in arms next to the Great Schools of ancient Europe. Hogwarts was founded in 990 AD. America wasn’t even discovered yet.
(Of course they forget that long before a white man ever set foot on their land, Native witches and wizards were casting their own spells and teaching their children magic in smoky wigwams or under the starry skies.)
So, to them, the Institute’s changing nature is indicative of its youth. Like a teenager with a new hair cut every few weeks. It’ll settle down eventually, most European wizards agree indulgently. Everyone needs their rebellious period.
Salem witches and wizards just roll their eyes. Why on earth would you want to remain stagnant when the whole point of magic is change? Every Salem graduate knows, deep in their bones where their spark of magic resides, that magic is renewal and transformation and growth. They go out into the world knowing they can change it.