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Chapter Eight (Lepus Magic)

“I appreciate your making some time to chat with me,” I said to the counselor as I sat down across from her desk. An older woman in her mid-fifties, Ms. Cadens had been with the school for at least three decades in this position. On one hand, I thought her longevity would help us. On the other, I feared it trapped her in the system and she’d be unable to see beyond it.

“No problem. You said you had a situation you need to discuss.”

“Yes. I understand we’re mandatory reporters and a student has brought something to my attention. Obviously, I’ll be completing the paperwork to report it this afternoon in between classes, but I also wanted to find out what steps the school had in place to ensure student well-being in this circumstance.” I kept my words vague, not wanting to really disclose the information to anyone other than the proper authorities.

“We take all reports seriously. Anything you fill out will be copied to my department and we look into it before passing it on. Any credible reports will be sent to the appropriate department.”

I frowned. “I thought we had to send everything to Melody’s Department of Children and Families. That we couldn’t vet complaints here. I assure you, the information I’ve received was valid.” I breathed deeply, not wanting my anxiety to get the best of me in this situation. I feared if it did, it might taint any report I made.

“I understand you’re concerned about following regulations. You’re new here and this is probably the first time this situation has occurred for you. But I assure you that our review is most thorough, and we take all steps necessary.”

“Do you speak to the parents?”

“Of course we do. They must know what their children are reporting.”

And right there I knew Ashley wouldn’t get the fair treatment she deserved. “Okay thanks. I’ll get those papers to you this afternoon.”

“I’ll get right on them. Is there anything else?” Ms. Cadens looked at me quizzically, as if she couldn’t quite believe I’d called a meeting just for this.

“That’s it. Thank you.” I tried not to hurry as I stood and left the room, but I hovered on the verge of a panic attack with that tight chest feeling. I longed to just bury my head in my hands and shake or sob or something. I couldn’t do that so close to her office. Thankful I had some time yet before my next class started, I hurried to my office, where I shut the door and flipped the “in a meeting” sign. I sat at my desk and breathed deeply. I could do this. I really could do this. But before I did anything, I needed to find out what the steps were after a complaint was filed with the Department. Because if they were going to talk to Ashley’s father, then that wasn’t going to work either and we’d have to figure this one out on our own.

I calmed myself enough to complete my class, and finished for the day, I gathered dinner in a takeout box and went back to my living unit. I ate quietly at the table, Turner at my feet. When I finished, I went to my office and dove into the handbook. It gave me no indication of what might happen or what the next steps were, so I turned to the state’s website to see how mundane authorities handled such things. The Musimagium lacked the internet architecture to post everything online, or maybe they just didn’t want to. I tried not to think about it, because even going that far kind of made me hyperventilate.

Without an internet source, I wondered exactly how I could find out the next steps. Talking to the Dean seemed like opening a can of worms. There was a library in the staff lounge with a lot of handbooks and huge leather-bound tomes. Maybe one of them discussed what would happen or what should happen. I steeled my courage. “What do you think, Turner? Up for a walk back to the library?”

The big rabbit brushed against my leg and I basked in the reassurance emanating from him. I stood, checked to be sure I hadn’t dropped any of my dinner on my shirt, then threw the takeout containers away and went to the door. If anyone asked me what I was doing, I’d just tell them I was going back to the cafeteria. No harm in a slice of cake before bed.

As luck would have it, I didn’t meet anyone on my way to the staff lounge. A few offices had lights shining from beneath closed doors, indicating teachers working late. In the courtyard outside, students talked in small groups or walked holding hands. No one seemed to notice the lady and her rabbit walking, and I appreciated that. We made it to the staff lounge, and I breathed a sigh of relief to find it empty. Now, to see if I could locate the book I needed.

I worked as fast as possible, not wanting anyone to see the light and come investigating. Most of the bigger books appeared to be older textbooks or compilations of teaching regulations from years ago. Nothing seemed newer than about 1978. I frowned.

There, a slim booklet of papers held together with brass fasteners, tarnished with age, stood between two of the larger books. The title proclaimed it the teacher’s guide to reporting endangered students and the copyright date was at least within the past thirty years. Seemed like little had been updated or provided, and though the situation hadn’t come up during my previous tenure in Melody it seemed back then we’d had more training. Or maybe I had been closer to college and remembered the mundane instructors talking about it. Certainly, it seemed that Melody for being a “private” school fell through some loopholes, and I wasn’t happy about that.

I sat down and read the book, all twenty pages of it, in pretty quick succession. The words made my stomach drop. Follow the chain of command was the single message woven through those pages, with plenty of hand-drawn diagrams and all capital references to speak to those above you. That wouldn’t work in this case. After talking to Ms. Cadens, my gut told me this would be handwaved and dismissed just because of who Ashley’s father was. I couldn’t let that happen. I may not have been able to stop those other children from getting hurt; I’d be damned if I allowed Ashley to continue to hurt.

I tucked the pamphlet between the folders I brought into the lounge to make it look as if I wanted to grade in a different location. Picking them up, I pressed them to my chest, and followed by Turner, left the lounge. We walked to my apartment as if I had just been doing some grading in my office. I saw few people out as dusk gathered and all the students had gone back to their dorms. Once inside, I leaned against the door, Turner pressed against my ankles.

“I know. I know. What are we going to do?” I blinked back angry, frustrated tears and went upstairs, putting the folders and the booklet on my desk. “I can’t let Ashley go back to that when we break for the holidays.” A smaller fall break lasted only a day or two and for that, the last time I’d been here, most of the students had stayed on campus. I’d check and see what Ashley’s plans were. Speaking of plans, I also needed to work through my lesson plans for the next few lessons.

~* * *~

A week passed, then two, with the classes going well. I’d moved into harder ethical decisions, wanting the students to think about them before we got to the actual magic work. I’d gotten permission to use the indoor gymnasium, which had some magical protections on it since the physical education instructors didn’t want anyone to cheat. I broke the students up into groups of four and spaced them around the gym.

“Okay class,” I said as I passed out cards with spell names on them. To me that seemed easier than having them work magic and risk hurting one another. If anyone thought I played it too safely for a defensive magic course, they hadn’t spoken with me. “You each are going to be given a spell. Let’s count off, one through four in each group.” I pointed at the left-most student and listened to them chant 1-2-3-4. “Remember your number.” Some of the students muttered to themselves.

“When I say, we’re going to have the odd numbers swap. Act out what that spell would do to you and we’ll discuss if it was an equitable return of force. On your mark. Swap!”

I watched, struggling to contain my laughter as five pairs of students acted as if they’d been shocked. Half of them remained standing, though looked as if they’d been on an all-night bender. The other half fell to the ground. The thuds echoed in the room. I jerked at the noise.

“When Turner touches you, the spell as worn off. Okay, let’s wake up the students.” Turner loved this part. He hopped around the gymnasium and touched each student with his nose. A couple he used his hind legs to thump, though not too hard. When he was finished, he returned to her side.

I bent down and scratched between his ears. He preened at the attention.

“Okay, now reverse that.”

Again I watched as the students acted out in an overly dramatic fashion what it would be like to be shocked. As soon as they “fell”, I gave another command. “Okay, number 2s, you send your spells, and again we’re acting only, to the odd number that’s standing. Number 4s, think about what you would do to render aid to the shocked student in this case.”

I watched as the students acted out their part, only to realize Ashley sat on the floor, knees hugged to her chest. “I might need you,” I told Turner, then walked over to her. I couldn’t remember what number she’d called as her group was on the far side of the gym. As I got there, I realized she cried and muttered “I can’t” over and over again. I knelt beside her, Turner with me. Her hands shook as she reached out to pet his head. Turner stepped closer, almost climbing into her lap and flopping over by her legs.

The student standing next to her looked on in horror. “I don’t know what happened, Ms. Dramon. I should have received the fake freeze spell. But as soon as she held out her hand, she said “no” and collapsed like this. I swear I didn’t do anything to her.”

The child’s fear seemed out of proportion to what had happened, and I could only guess at the horrified look on Ashley’s face. Considering what she’d told me, I wondered if she’d tried to use the freeze spell, something that was pretty harmless and defensive, on her stepfather and gotten in trouble for it. “It’s all right,” I told her. I rested my hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “You’re safe. It’s okay. No one is going to get mad or hurt you here.”

“But—But—I didn’t—complete—it,” she stuttered through sobs.

“It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. Do you think you can help me? I need someone to collect the cards from the other students?”

Ashley nodded and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands.

“Turner’s going to help too.”

Ashley glanced at the Flemish Giant rabbit, then smiled as she stood. The student standing opposite of her immediately handed Ashley her card. Ashley took it with a whispered, “thank you”, then went to collect the others, Turner by her feet.

“Okay everyone,” I said as I moved to the corner, grabbing a red ball from the bin and carrying it back to me. I checked my watch. We had at least forty-five minutes of class left. “Everyone let’s sit in a big circle. Try to sit next to someone not in your group.” I sat and held the ball in my lap, watching as the students scrambled around. “Magical defense isn’t just about an attack, though you all role played excellently. Sometimes, people in power, they want you to do things for them. Things that would violate our code of ethics. I want us all to practice saying no. When the ball comes to you, catch it, and then say no before passing the ball on. We’re going to build energy with this.”

I held up the ball, charging it with just enough power that the student could channel their refusal into it. She imagined someone, probably not her, tossing it through one of the basketball hoops to “throw away” all the bad stuff. A kind of cleansing that she enjoyed with younger students. It might seem childish for this lot, but also, she knew students enjoyed it quite a bit. She tossed the ball to a young man who sat across the circle from her, and whom she knew was good at sports. He caught it easily. “No!” He firmly said, then tossed the ball on to another member of his team. The energy built. The game was on.

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