“This Handbook was created as a supplementary learning tool for young witches and wizards. All young magicians should look to their tutors as their primary source of instruction and knowledge.” - A Handbook for the Young and Magical. Introduction.
Alton lay on his side, watching the red numbers on his bedside clock change and listening to the heavy breathing of his roommate.
The town house and the street outside were quiet. Of all the places Alton had traveled for his studies, this was one of the nicest. Too bad it also came with one of the worst tutors.
Edgar Daniels was a small, thin man with a nasally voice and a perpetually bad attitude. He ran his house like a military base and Alton was public enemy number one. It wasn’t Alton’s fault he was smarter than his tutor.
Though Daniels probably wouldn’t hate me so much if I didn’t point it out.
Alton looked across the room at Brandon. As far as roommates went, Brandon was decent. As far as wizards went, Brandon was horrible. He didn’t even seem interested in magic. He didn’t do the readings or the exercises. He’d sleep in everyday if it weren’t for Alton, and he spent more time texting girls than he did studying.
Alton sighed. Brandon was probably the most normal wizard Alton had ever met.
Alton rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Daniels hated him and refused all his requests for a new tutor or to let him do more advanced magic. Brandon was nice, and they got along fine, but he was distracted and often needed the lessons repeated to him. They were holding Alton back.
Snoring broke the peace in the quiet room.
Alton’s eyes snapped open and he looked at the time. One o’clock. Daniels would be asleep.
Now that he knew Brandon was sleeping soundly, Alton threw off the sheet and quietly got out of bed. He grabbed his phone from the side table and went to the door. Turning the handle slowly, he managed to open it without the latch clicking. He was probably being overly cautious. Daniels slept with earplugs and an eye mask. The chances of him waking up were slim.
Door open, Alton crept down the hallway, sock feet slipping soundlessly over the hardwood. He paused at Daniels room to listen. There was no snoring yet, but the door was shut and there was no light coming from underneath the door. Alton continued down the hall to the stairs and made his way to the living room.
The space consisted of two leather loveseats, a coffee table, some paintings, and four bookcases. No TV. No video games. No fun in Daniels’ house. That didn’t bother Alton. He’d come for the books.
Most of the shelves were bare except for a few framed photos and potted plants—the kind of nick-knacks people that don’t read think belong on bookshelves. The top shelves were the only ones with books on them. There was an assortment of classics, cheap paperbacks, and one collection of four older volumes. Alton used the light from his phone to read the spines.
An Examination of Complex Enchantments: Volume I.
Alton slid the first book off the shelf, then paused, holding his phone against the cover to block the light. He thought he’d heard a noise.
He went to the doorway and peeked out. The house remained dark, Daniels’ door at the top of the stairs was still closed. Alton went back into the living room, closing the door quietly behind him. He placed his palm flat against the wall and cast a minor enchantment.
The already quiet room became dead silent. No noise would escape, if someone pressed their ear to the door, they would hear nothing.
Alton sat down on one of the loveseats and opened the book. Using the light from his phone again, he read over the table of contents. He skipped the introduction and historical notes chapter and flipped to the part on Advanced Enchantments of Inanimate Things. The first exercise was simple, Alton had seen it outlined before in a book he had similarly borrowed from his last tutor. He’d need the next volume to get any new information.
He had just stood up when he caught something move out of the corner of his eye, causing him to spin around.
The door to the living room was open and Daniels, dressed in a plaid bathrobe and worn blue slippers, stood in the doorway scowling at Alton.
“The problem with simple soundproofing enchantments is that you also impede yourself from hearing anything on the outside,” Daniels said, crossing his arms over his thin chest.
Alton sighed and returned the book to the shelf. He knew that. He knew you had to add a second layer to the enchantment so that it wasn’t soundproof both ways, but he hadn’t thought Daniels would wake up.
“I didn’t mean to wake you, Mr. Daniels” Alton said, trying to smooth over the situation before he got a lecture.
“You didn’t. I was already awake.”
“At one in the morning?” Alton asked, turning back to his tutor.
Daniels had an unpleasant look on his face, like he was chewing on a lemon and trying not to show it. “Yes. You have a visitor.”
“A visitor?” Alton asked in surprise.
Daniels turned and walked away. “He’s in the kitchen,” he called over his shoulder.
A visitor? In the middle of the night?
The kitchen lights were on, something you couldn’t tell from the bottom of the stairs. Alton cursed himself for not making sure Daniels was in bed before sneaking a peek at the books he’d explicitly expressed were off limits.
At least the visitor got me out of a lecture.
A stranger sat at the kitchen island, stirring a cup of tea. Alton had no idea who might want to speak with him so badly that they’d come to his tutor’s house at one in the morning.
The man stood as they came in and held out a hand to Alton. His black coat looked a little too thick for the time of year, but so did the dark green sweater he wore beneath it. He had a close-cut beard that hadn’t yet decided if it wanted to be white or gray, like the old men who dressed up as Santa and sat in malls at Christmas. Beyond that, there was nothing jolly about him. He was thin, with a nose that had been broken more than once and wrinkles around his eyes and forehead. They distorted his face in a way that didn’t touch his eyes, which appeared ageless.
“I’m Professor Victor Orvius. I apologize for the hour,” the man said. “I have business to attend to back home or else I would have postponed meeting with you until daylight.”
“That’s alright,” Alton said, shaking Orvius’s hand before sitting on the stool across from him. “It’s not like you woke me.”
“You’ve had many tutors,” Orvius said. His voice was hoarse, tired. He claimed to be in a rush, but his tone was patient as he casually went back to stirring his tea.
“Yeah, five including Professor Daniels,” Alton said.
“It’s unusual for a student to be moved so much. Your previous tutor told me it was because you surpassed their studies and they had nothing left to teach you. Is that correct?”
“I requested to be moved.” Alton said, wondering why these questions were important. “I felt like my tutor couldn’t teach me anything new.”
“You were ill placed then. Did you not take a test?”
“And you did poorly?”
“There are no wizards in my family,” Alton said. “When I was tested, I didn’t know anything about magic. I couldn’t answer a single question.”
“You’ve advanced significantly since then.”
Alton shrugged. “I read a lot.”
“Yes, your tutors mentioned that.” Orvius removed the spoon from his teacup and tapped it on the rim to remove a few clinging drops before setting it on the counter. Alton watched him as he sipped it and appeared to find it satisfactory.
“I’m looking for a student like you, Alton. I have a new method of instruction that is challenging and slightly… unorthodox. I need a quick-witted pupil capable of learning things without constant guidance from myself.”
That sounded perfect, exactly what Alton had been looking for. A way to advance, a way to really prove what kind of wizard he could be.
It sounded too good to be true.
“I’ll take my tests in a year,” Alton said, cautiously, trying to figure out the man’s motives. “I need to pass if I ever want to practice magic on my own.”
“My instruction will only better prepare you for the Chamber’s examinations,” Orvius said.
Alton nodded slowly as he thought about the offer. “What’s the catch?”
“As I said, the instruction is experimental, so I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t question my tactics while you’re studying under me. Aside from that, there’s no catch. I’ve already filled out the necessary forms for the transfer of a student and another boy is lined up to take your spot with Professor Daniels. If you accept, your transfer will be just the same as the ones you’ve done before.”
“He’s a professional by now,” Daniels added, “a flight risk.”
Alton ignored the slight. He’d made up his mind. “I’ll do it.”
“I have some tests for you first,” Orvius said, not blinking an eye at Alton’s agreement, “to make sure you’re as good as I’ve been led to believe.”
“Right now?” Alton asked.
Orvius removed an orange from the fruit bowl sitting on the far end of the island. He placed it on the counter between them. “Enchanting.”
“Giving an inanimate object a property it wouldn’t otherwise possess.” The definition rolled off Alton’s tongue without hesitation
“Very good. Do it.”
Alton looked at the orange. He’d come to realize that the difference between a good spell and a great one was in its execution. The trick was to perform it without anyone noticing. You had to make every move, every twitch, look natural. Spell Casting was fairly easy to do undetected, but Enchanting was much harder. You had to actually touch the object you were manipulating.
Alton opened a drawer in front of him, removing a knife. He held the fruit with his fingertips and began slicing. When it was in four even pieces, he put down the knife and sat back on his stool.
“Maybe he didn’t understand the objective,” Daniels said, smiling smugly as he looked at the mundane orange slowly leaking juice onto the countertop.
Orvius picked up one of the slices and pulled off the peel, popping the piece of orange into his mouth. Alton watched as he chewed, but his features never wavered.
Come on, who doesn’t like chocolate?
“Very good,” Orvius said when he had finished his bite of orange.
“What?” Daniels asked, looking shocked. “He didn’t do anything.”
“Do you have a napkin?” Orvius asked, looking at his fingers, sticky with orange juice.
Daniels was all but pouting as he retrieved a napkin from the cupboard and brought it to Orvius who wiped off his hands as best he could before he balled up the napkin, setting it aside.
“Spell Casting,” Orvius said.
“Like dueling?” Alton asked. “I’m not sure we have enough room for that in the kitchen. We could go outside, but we might alarm the neighbors.”
Orvius smiled, an ever so slight turn of his lips. “A simple spell will suffice.”
“Anything I want?”
Alton drummed his fingers on the counter, acting like he was taking a moment to decide, but he had already put his spell into motion, using the movement of his fingers to prompt it in the direction he wanted. A stream of white shot across the counter from Alton’s fingers towards Orvius’ discarded napkin. It made no noise except for a quiet creaking sound.
Orvius picked up the napkin, now frozen solid. He scrunched his fist around it, breaking the fragile, frozen paper which crumbled onto the counter.
Daniels snorted, obviously not impressed. It was a simple spell, true, but Alton’s execution had been spot on. Nothing extravagant, just effective and discreet. Wizards liked to be theatrical, but in a duel, it was too easy to anticipate your opponent's move from their body language. It was the silence of magic that made it so effective and dangerous. Give away your spells with dramatic flicks of the wrist or throwing of the hands, and you’ve given up your edge.
Orvius said nothing, ignoring the broken bits of napkin already beginning to thaw, and took the knife Alton had used, holding it up in front of him. “Illusions.”
“On a knife?” Alton asked.
Orvius nodded again. “There are two types of Illusions.”
“Optical: manipulation of the eye of a particular individual so only they see the change,” Alton defined. “Physical: manipulation of an object so everyone that views it is misled.”
Alton considered a number of his favorite illusions but couldn’t figure out how to use any of them on a knife. He needed to come up with something fresh and decided to start with a physical illusion. He focused on the knife and the air around it, how it caught and reflected the light, and before long Orvius was holding a stainless-steel mirror. The handle, with its decorative floral design, had stayed more or less the same, but the blade had been stretched like dough into a flat metal oval. The little teeth of the blade were still visible on one side, and the center of the oval was reflective, like mirrored glass.
Daniels walked around to Orvius’s side of the island to get a better look at the mirror.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, for my second trick….
Alton focused on Daniels’ eyes and how they brought in the dim illumination from the pot lights beneath the cabinets. He anticipated his view of the mirror from behind Orvius’s shoulder and made his eye see something that wasn’t there. Orvius saw his own reflection while Daniels saw his ex-wife standing right behind him, arms crossed, waiting in the doorway of the kitchen—just as Alton had seen her that one time she’d barged in looking for a watch she accused Daniels of selling.
Panic stricken, Daniels spun towards the doorway behind him. Finding it empty, he turned back to scowl at Alton.
“You little…” Daniels growled.
“Very good, Alton,” Orvius said, putting down the utensil which had returned to a simple, silver blade.
“You don’t even know what he did,” Daniels objected.
“He fooled you.”
Daniels shut up.
Orvius laced his fingers together and laid his hands on the counter before him. “Summoning.”
Daniels opened his mouth in surprise but was just as speechless as Alton.
“You do know what Summoning is, do you not?” Orvius asked, still sitting patiently.
Alton nodded. “The conjuring of demons from their realm to ours.”
“I don’t want anyone summoning demons in this kitchen!” Daniels said.
Alton wasn’t too thrilled about summoning demons either. “I’ve read about it and know how to do it, like, theoretically, but never actually summoned anything.”
“That’s fine,” Orvius said. “Your theoretical understanding will do, for now.”
“So, is that all?” Alton asked, hoping he could now get a few hours of sleep before morning.
“I believe so,” Orvius said. As he stood, his elbow knocked his mug of tea, spilling it across the counter.
Alton hopped off his stool. “I’ll get napkins.” He turned and opened the cupboard, searching for the napkins that were hidden behind two interlocking elephant salt and pepper shakers.
Alton paused in his search for a moment, mentally cursing himself.
This is probably a test. I should have used a reversal or evaporation spell.
But Daniels was constantly going on about “magical reliance” and rebuking him for using it when he didn’t need to. He thought it would just seem sloppy if he did it now, so he grabbed a fistful of napkins and turned back to the island.
He barely saw it slicing through the air before the knife was inches away from his chest. It paused just in front of him, tip first—perfectly aimed to plunge into his heart—before it ricocheted away, hitting the lip of the counter and then clattering across the tiles. Alton stared after it, shocked.
Orvius took a newsboy hat from his jacket pocket and calmly placed it on his head before nodding towards the counter, turning the tea to droplets which quickly dispersed into the air.
Daniels was staring wide-eyed at Orvius.
The knife had never touched Alton, but he wasn’t entirely confident his lungs hadn’t decided to give up breathing anyway.
“Do you always keep that defense spell around you?” Orvius asked.
Alton felt air return to his body, his chest heaving with the release of the sudden indrawn breath he’d been too afraid to let go. “Yes.”
“Impressive. It must be exhausting. Spells and enchantments are one thing, but a constant shield…” Orvius said. “But it’s unpredictable. You don’t want dangerous spells bouncing off like that knife did. You should keep it closer to you; tuck it around your skin.”
So, it had been another test, unlike anything Alton had expected—and he had passed?
“Does this mean you’ll teach me?” Alton asked.
“Our plane leaves in two hours. Go pack your things.”
Alton wasn’t entirely comfortable with the fact that his new tutor had tried to kill him, but one look at Daniels’ unhappy face had him up the stairs and throwing his things into a suitcase.
“Let the witch trials and the Renaissance be a lesson; refrain from performing magic in front of non-wizards. Modern science would crucify us faster than any religion.” - A Handbook for the Young and Magical. Section one, chapter 1.
The flow of bodies, the smell of coffee brewing at midnight, the fluorescent lights—airports were familiar places to Alton now. Two years ago, he’d never been on a plane and now he made his way through customs like clockwork.
As Alton followed Orvius through the airport, he dug his passport out of his bag. They’d want to check it again at boarding. He flipped open the black passport book to make sure his ticket was still where he’d put it. It was, slipped into a clear plastic pocket on the left side. On the right, a younger image of himself stared back at him from his passport photo— an awkward smile because no one had told him he wasn’t supposed to, barely-there freckles across his cheekbones, blue eyes, and blond hair, the shade some girls paid a lot of money for. He was sixteen in the photo. It had only been taken a year ago, but just enough had changed that airport security always looked twice. His cheeks had sunken in, losing the chubbiness of his youth that he hadn’t noticed he’d had until it was gone. His hair was cut close to his head on the sides now, only slightly longer on the top rather than the unruly curls that he’d had to push away from his eyes before the photo had been taken.
Alton nearly ran into Orvius who had stopped at gate nine. He looked up at the departures information flashing on a screen behind a stewardess.
“Canada?” he asked.
“Am I what?”