There was a confused mutter in the class. Dawn was still staring at Mardalan. “Dawn?” came Annie’s voice.
Dawn moved in front of Annie. She didn’t think Mardalan was here to kidnap her again—kidnapping humans to play in her little orchestra no longer seemed to be an interest of Mardalan’s, and she would be stupid to do it in the magic building, where all the other magic teachers and plenty of skilled magic students could easily catch her—but she knew it couldn’t be fun for Annie to see Mardalan at the front of the class.
Mardalan raised her eyebrows at Dawn. “Greetings, Ritual Magic class,” she said calmly. “Dawn, please sit down.”
“Dawn?” Annie put her hand on Dawn’s arm. “What are you doing?”
Dawn turned around, confused. “You don’t… oh. She’s wearing a glamour, isn’t she?”
“Of course I am,” Mardalan said, every inch the chilly faerie queen that Dawn had first met just over a year ago, when she and her friends had braved the woods to find out what had happened to Annie. “I had hoped to ease the class gradually into an acceptance of my nature. I was not aware that you were in this class to make that impossible.”
“You’re a faerie?” came a voice from the back of the classroom.
“Yes,” Mardalan said, her lip curling as she turned to face the class as a whole. “I am filling in and teaching this Ritual Magic class for one semester, while the school seeks a permanent replacement for Professor Strega. Dawn, please sit down.”
Dawn swallowed, glanced at Annie—who didn’t look terrified, just nervous and confused—and sat down. If Mardalan was really their teacher… She didn’t know how to finish that thought, but the idea of Mardalan pretending to be their teacher was even more unlikely than the idea that she actually was.
After all, Mardalan obviously knew a decent amount of magic. And how else would she have gotten in here, if the other professors hadn’t allowed her in?
Dawn sat down. Annie didn’t freak out when she looked at Mardalan. Dawn kept an eye on her anyway.
“Thank you,” Mardalan said. She moved to stand directly in front of the class, her green eyes sweeping over the gathered students. “I am Mardalan,” she said at last. Annie jumped a little and clutched the edge of her desk, but said nothing.
“You may call me Professor Mardalan, if it makes you comfortable,” Mardalan continued. “But simply Mardalan will do. Yes, I am a faerie. I have lived in the woods of Chatoyant College my entire life, so I have grown up in the shadow of its magic. There is nothing you can show me that will be new. I am here to teach you ritual magic. Are there any questions?”
“What are you doing here?” Annie asked quickly, before anyone else could speak.
Mardalan turned to her and frowned. “I am teaching you ritual magic.”
Annie swallowed. “Yes, but—why are they letting you?”
“That is between me and Professor Lal,” Mardalan said. “Believe me, I intend no harm to you or anyone else in the class.”
“That’s what the rule was supposed to be before,” Dawn said. She glanced at Annie and gritted her teeth. She didn’t know if Annie would want her to tell the rest of the class that last year, Mardalan and her court of faeries had actually kidnapped Annie and forced her to play in their human orchestra.
At least she knew they didn’t have the orchestra anymore.
Mardalan pressed her lips into a thin line. “Dawn, do you really think Professor Lal would allow me to teach here if she thought I would do harm to any of you?”
“You might be doing harm to some people just by standing in front of them.”
“Hey, don’t be prejudiced,” came a voice from further back in the classroom.
Dawn jumped a little and turned to see who had spoken, feeling rather wounded. They didn’t know her, and they certainly didn’t know her relationship to the faeries. No one did except for Annie and her other close friends.
Before she could speak, someone else chimed in, a guy Dawn didn’t know. “Yeah, we all decided we were okay with faeries, or we wouldn’t have come back, right? If you can’t handle a faerie teacher, why did you come back?”
Dawn almost laughed. “I’m fine with faerie teachers. I like Professor Lal and Professor Rook. But we’ve… I’ve had some bad experiences with Mardalan. She wasn’t a teacher before.”
“Dawn.” Mardalan sounded exasperated. “I believe Lal is currently teaching an introductory class, but if you doubt her, why don’t you speak to her after class? I’m sure no one will prevent you from dropping this class if you want to.”
Dawn had to admit to herself that “exasperated” was the most vulnerable—the most human—she’d ever heard Mardalan sound. She still didn’t understand what Mardalan was doing teaching, though. She glanced over at Annie.
Annie was staring at Mardalan, almost unblinking. She put her hand up.
Mardalan frowned at her. “Yes? Annie, isn’t it?”
Annie grimaced, then licked her lips quickly and spoke. “Why don’t you tell us about the class you’re planning to teach us? If you’re really going to teach a class?”
Mardalan stared at her for a moment longer, then cleared her throat and nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Annie, for moving the class along.” She walked to a lectern that had been shoved into the corner and reached behind it, emerging with a stack of papers. “Here are your syllabuses. Please distribute them to the class, if you would.” She placed the stack on Annie’s desk.