The Succubus Who Fell In Love–Snippet

8 Apr

Another Snippet for you!

Chapter One

I suppose you could call this my origin story.

I don’t want to write it, but my superiors insist. They want others to learn from my mistakes, to learn what to avoid … personally, I’m not convinced. Anyone determined enough to learn how to use magic, to work the art, in our godless world isn’t going to listen to cautionary tales. But they think otherwise … and besides, writing the whole story down might be good for me. I just hope that someone learns from the experience.

You can call me John Smith.

And this is how I came to work for Department 42.

***

The first time I saw Grantchester College, Cambridge, I almost turned around and went home. Those of you born in the current era can have little understanding of what a university was like in that era. Grantchester was a massive building, surrounded by a brick wall topped with iron spikes. It looked rather like a prison, rather than a place of learning. I later learned that the architect had been mad and several builders had died in suspicious accidents while the main body of the College was being built. Given everything that had happened there over the years, I wasn’t at all surprised.

I have no idea just what was going through his mind while he was making the plans. Most of the building was blocky and ugly, but there were faint hints of something greater that puzzled me, a mixture of different styles that blurred together into one outrageous mass. There was a church-like steeple, a minaret, a Japanese rooftop … it was all rather confusing, really. I stopped at the gate and hesitated. Surely, it wouldn’t be too bad to go home and forget my dreams.

“Don’t be a fool,” Hamish said. “Get in there.”

I scowled at my elder – adopted – brother. We had met while we were both at the orphanage, before Uncle Rupert returned from the war and took me into his home. Hamish and I had become close friends and I’d insisted that Uncle Rupert adopt him as well, an easy task in the years following the end of the Second World War. Like me, his parents had been killed by jerry bombers when they hit Liverpool. It was strange to realise, sometimes, that he got on better with my uncle than I did.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I was clever – and that wasn’t always a good thing, particularly when one happened to be born to a solidly working-class family. My parents had been workers, Uncle Rupert was a worker – well, he had been until he had marched off to war – and they expected me to carry on as a worker. Hamish, at least, had found an acceptable out in the army. I … was just too clever for them. When I won the scholarship, Uncle Rupert had been worried. He’d feared that I would come back with airs and graces, if I came back at all.

I picked up my trunk and walked towards the gates. “Good luck,” Hamish called after me. “Don’t forget to write.”

The gates seemed solidly imposing as I stopped in front of a gatehouse, where a dark-skinned fellow with sharp blue eyes glared at me. “And you are?”

“John Smith, sir,” I said, digging my letter out of my pockets. “I’m here for the new term.”

“A new bug,” the gatekeeper said. I was told later that his name was Handyman, descended from a long line of Handymen. Apparently, his family had worked for the college since it had been founded. “Welcome.”

The gate clicked open and I stepped inside, then turned to look at Hamish. He waved at me, then strode off down the street, leaving me behind. I shivered as the gatekeeper pointed me towards a huge entrance, large enough to drive a tank through into the main hall. It was impossible to escape the feeling that I didn’t belong here.

I sucked in my breath as I saw other students heading into the college. Like me, they were wearing absurd outfits; purple blazers, black trousers, white shirts and a straw hat. I hadn’t been willing to wear mine until after I’d climbed on the train; I’d just known that everyone back home would have pointed and laughed as I walked to the station. Now, seeing everyone else wearing the same garb, I felt a little better. This lasted until I stepped into the building.

Inside, there was a darkened chamber, illuminated only by candles, a display of conspicuous consumption that made me scowl. A number of older students, wearing white blazers with a large P – for Prefect – were directing the newcomers around the college, pointing them to their rooms. One of them caught my eye and strode over to me, glaring down as he caught my eye. He looked big and nasty enough to pass for a gorilla on a bad day.

“Papers,” he snapped.

“Here,” I said, passing him my letter.

“You will address any Prefect as Sir,” he said, his glare growing even darker. “Ah. One of the Scholarship boys.”

His glare became a leer. “Welcome to Grantchester, bug,” he said. “My name is Granby, Prefect Granby. Don’t mess with me and you might just get out of here alive.”

I swallowed, hard.

He laughed. “Take your trunk and follow me,” he ordered. I reached for my trunk. “Now!”

I kept my feelings hidden as he led me up a flight of stairs – naturally, he didn’t offer to help me with my trunk – and through a series of winding corridors, all barely-lit by gas lamps. The whole building was a maze, I realised slowly, designed to make it hard for outsiders to find their place from room to room. By the time we reached my room, I was thoroughly confused – and grimly aware that any mistake would be costly.

“This is your room, Smith,” Granby said. He flung open the door with considerable force. “You and your roommate are responsible for its upkeep. Inspections are every Saturday morning, after breakfast. Should you fail to keep it neat and tidy, according to our standards, you will be spending the rest of the day cleaning it with your own toothbrush. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, nervously.

Granby snickered. “Dinner is at five,” he added. “As it is your first day, the tutors will give you some latitude in when you arrive. After that, failing to arrive precisely on time will mean that you miss dinner. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I was getting sick of that question. “When do we start classes?”

“On Monday,” Granby said. “Oh, and don’t leave anything valuable out where people can see it. Playing jokes on one another is an old and hallowed tradition here.”

I watched him walking off down the darkened corridor and then stepped into my room. It was small, barely larger than the bedroom I’d had back in Liverpool, with two beds somehow crammed into the space. Both of them were made up impressively neatly, seemingly to the same standard Uncle Rudolf used after his discharge from the army. I found a drawer under the bed, piled my clothes into the space and then sat down, shaking my head. What sort of college had I entered?

There was a grunt from the open door. I looked up to see a handsome and muscular young man standing there, staring at me.

“Hello,” I said, nervously. “I’m John.”

“Madge,” the young man said, as he pulled a much larger trunk into the room. Somehow, it was hard to imagine that we might both fit inside for seven months. “And you are …?”

“John,” I said, puzzled. “John Smith.”

His eyes narrowed. “They told me that they would be putting me in with a scholarship boy,” he said, darkly. “What a wonderful time to discover that my father was actually telling the truth.”

I blinked. “What’s wrong with having a scholarship?”

Madge laughed, unpleasantly. “You’re a swot, Smith,” he said. “Everyone else comes from a good family, where they don’t have to earn scholarships to go to a good college and then go on to gainful employment. I bet your family had to root in the gutters for food so that you could come here.”

I flushed. I’d known that Uncle Rudolf wasn’t the wealthiest man in the world, but we hadn’t gone hungry – and besides, the scholarship paid for everything.

“My family is good enough,” I said, tartly. “I …”

“Oh,” Madge said. “And how big is your allowance?”

I winced. The scholarship covered accommodation, lessons, books, food and drink, nothing else. Madge must have seen it on my face, because he laughed again.

“Every boy from a good family will think nothing of spending hundreds of pounds on drinking,” he said. “You won’t be able to do that, will you?”

I gritted my teeth. In 1955, a few hundred pounds was a small fortune. I’d never held so much money in my life.

“No, you won’t,” Madge said. He leaned forward and smiled at me. “I’ll give you a piece of friendly advice, Smith. Never talk to me about actual schooling and we’ll get on just fine.”

I stared at him. “Actual schooling?”

Madge leaned backwards and stretched. “My father seems to have the impression that I come here to learn,” he said. “I actually come here to play sports; I have ambitions to be on the racing team and I am already on the football team. You’re here because my father insisted that I be paired with someone who might manage to get me higher marks.”

His face twisted into a rude smile. “I don’t care what pressure they bring to bear on you, scholarship boy,” he added. “Just stay away from me and we’ll get on just fine.”

“Oh,” I said. “No one told me that I would have to tutor …”

“Of course they didn’t,” Madge assured me. “They wanted you to come.”

He started to unpack his trunk – he seemed to have far more clothing and equipment than I had – as he talked. “You’ll have noticed that there are twelve prefects in the hall, but just about everyone in their fourth year has power over new bugs such as yourself,” he said, changing the subject. “If you’re very unlucky, you’ll end up fagging for one of them directly – that isn’t something to enjoy. Can you believe that one person used to line up three of four fags, bend them over and use them as a toast rack?”

I should insert a note here to point out that ‘fag’ was a term for a schoolboy or student who did chores for superior students, a practice known as ‘fagging’ – and has absolutely nothing (probably) to do with homosexuality.

“Whatever they tell you to do, it’s probably a good idea to obey,” Madge added. “Try to stay away from Barrenly; he’s a dab hand with the cane and likes to make students bleed. Travis isn’t too bad as long as you happen to like sports as much as he does; Granby is fine as long as you don’t slip up and call him anything other than Sir. But believe me; you are much better off dealing with the Prefects than the masters. They can assign far worse punishments than six strokes of the cane.”

He reached into his bag and produced a small pile of books. “You may as well keep these,” he added, as he dropped them on my bed. “I won’t be using them.”

I stared at him. Buying my books had been costly, even though the scholarship paid for everything. Madge … was just giving his books to me? I stared at them, noting a number of titles I’d been warned we would be using in later years, and shuddered. There was no way that I could afford to just pass on my books to someone else, no matter how dedicated they were to their studies.

“Enjoy,” Madge said. “But remember what I told you.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of Madge, but I was still glad that he was there when the bell rang and we made our way down to the dining hall. It would have been impossible for me to pick my way through the winding corridors without getting hopelessly lost. The dining hall itself was massive, with nine huge tables, one raised above the rest. It wasn’t hard to realise that it belonged to the masters, the people who would be teaching me … I looked at them and felt my blood run cold. None of them looked very intellectual.

“You can sit anywhere tonight,” Madge said, pointing to the table at the far end of the room. “As long as you don’t sit with the masters, of course.”

He snickered as we sat down. “That’s Yeller there,” he said, pointing to one of the tutors. “He used to be a sergeant in the war; you’d believe it too, the way he shouts at us when we’re on the field. He’s a good person to his favourites – and he won’t care that you have a scholarship, as long as you’re good at sports.”

I scowled. Sports was Hamish’s field, not mine. I’d certainly never enjoyed running around on the playing fields, not even as a little child. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t spent my early years in an orphanage … I pushed the thought aside as servants came out with the first dishes of the meal. It was impossible to grasp just how much food they were putting down in front of the students. Back home, we had to work hard to earn enough to live.

“That’s Barrette,” Madge said, pointing towards a grim-faced man. “He teaches Latin and Law, so you’ll probably be seeing a lot of him. Don’t make a mistake in his class; he is quite happy to flog someone right in front of everyone else. Fatty – the man sitting next to him -teaches maths, but he spends most of his time sucking up to the boys from good families.”

“Oh,” I said. All of the names were starting to blur into one. “I’m confused.”

“You’ll get your first class schedule tomorrow,” Madge assured me. “I suggest that you don’t skive off any of the classes, no matter how boring they become. You’re not in a position to take bad marks in your stride.”

The servants reached our table and placed two giant platters of food in front of us. I stared in disbelief at the slices of roast beef and chicken, both extremely expensive in Liverpool, certainly for our family. The potatoes and other vegetables smelt heavenly; Uncle Rudolf had always made me eat plenty of vegetables, telling me that it was good for my health. I had never really believed him, but refusing hadn’t been an option.

I couldn’t believe how some of the other students were acting. Most of them were stuffing their faces until the gravy ran down their chins, but others were pushing the food aside after taking a few bites or leaving the vegetables completely alone. It was just … didn’t they know how much the food cost? But then I remembered what Madge had told me and shuddered. No doubt the richer pupils had no idea how much the food cost … or, perhaps, the food was just cheap for them.

“That’s Tom,” Madge said, pointing to a thin-faced student who had just entered the dining hall. “He’s the oddest of the Prefects; there are times when he is gentle, almost kind, and times when he is a raving monster. Don’t get on his bad side.”

I followed his gaze. Tom looked too thin to be real, as if a strong breeze would just blow him over. His face was pallid, almost albino; his hands were long and thin. Not a sportsman, I realised, unlike most of the hearty fellows quaffing food and drink as though it was going out of fashion. Tom wore a silver ring on one finger – and, looking around, I saw several other students wearing different rings.

“They’re society rings,” Madge said, when I asked. “I don’t think you’ll be asked to join, I’m afraid. The dues are quite expensive.”

He proved to be right, I discovered as the evening wore on. Students would come up to me, make a few enquiries about my family and finances, then leave. Madge pointed out, rather sarcastically, that I should be grateful. I was a scholarship boy and shouldn’t be spending time enjoying myself when I should be studying. The food and drink on my plate was a good reason, I realised, to stay. Uncle Rudolf wouldn’t have to feed me as long as I stayed in the college.

We suffered through a long welcoming speech made by the Master of Grantchester, a short fat man who had been eating chicken legs and tossing the remains over the back of his chair into the wall, and then made our way back to our rooms. Quite a few of the students looked unsteady, even though no alcohol had been served. I learned later that many of them had brought their own drinks and the Prefects had turned a blind eye. And, for that matter, so had the masters.

I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of apprehension as I climbed into the uncomfortable bed. Tomorrow, I’d been told, I would meet my housemaster – and then try out for the sports teams. I already knew that I would fail to meet their standards … and, from what Madge had said, that would isolate me, just as badly as the mere shortage of wealth had isolated me. Part of me, desperately homesick, just wanted to leave. But I couldn’t bear the thought of Hamish’s disappointment and Uncle Rudolf’s sneers …

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have left without a second thought.

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