Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic
When the golden motorcar drew to a stop at the corner of Sixty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, Emma thought there must have been a mistake.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” she asked, even though the brass plaque on the iron gate insisted this was indeed MISS POSTERITY’S ACADEMY FOR PRACTICAL MAGIC.
“It’s the right address.” Papa checked the paper in his hand and then squinted through the ice-frosted car window.
Every other house on the street was brightly colored, as befitted the mansions of New York’s Gem Row, but Miss Posterity’s looked as if someone had inserted a black-and-white photograph in its place among the snowdrifts. The heavy front door and trim were lacquered in black, but everything else was dark gray. On the left side of the house, a round turret pointed at the sky like an accusatory finger.
The corners of Papa’s hazel eyes wrinkled with amusement. “I say, what a fine example of a Queen Anne Victorian house. Excellent condition, though the color palette is admittedly odd.” He nudged Emma with his elbow. “Don’t you like it?” Worry lines creased his forehead.
She scrambled for the right words. “It’s lovely. Very serious looking.”
“Well, learning magic is a serious business.” He tapped the tip of her nose. “Oh, don’t look so glum, darling. It’s only for a year.” Papa tucked the paper back in his jacket pocket.
Emma grabbed his arm before he could open the door of the car. “But the other girls my age have been here for a year already. What if I don’t fit in?”
He puffed up his chest with pride, looking not unlike one of the pigeons strutting in Central Park across the street. “How many times do I have to tell you? We Harrises don’t fit in—we stand out!”
That was exactly what she was afraid of. She fidgeted with a gold button on her pink coat. The coat had been a present from Papa when they’d arrived in New York two days ago, and like everything else in her life right now, it felt strange and new.
“Emma.” Papa laid his solid hand on hers. “They will love you. You are perfect, just like your mother.”
She swallowed hard. Her mother had died of a fever when Emma was a baby and Emma had studied every scrap of information about her mother’s life like it was a blueprint for her own. Mama had been an artist with beautiful magic and seemingly infinite grace and poise. In Papa’s stories, she was kind to everyone and never struggled to keep her temper in check, not like Emma did.
Emma squared her shoulders. Perfect was a lot to live up to, but for Papa she would always try.
The rose quartz in her necklace flashed with magic as she turned her coat dark blue to match Papa’s. It wouldn’t last—children’s unkindled magic lasted only a moment or two but it made her feel better.
The driver turned around from the front seat of the car. Emma had forgotten he was there. As soon as her focus wavered, the magic faded and her coat shifted back to pink.
“Excuse me, sir,” the driver said. “Are you getting out or should I drive around the block? We seem to be drawing an audience.”
Indeed, a small crowd had gathered across the street. Even on the fashionable Gem Row, a golden car was a sight to behold. A woman walking a purple-spotted Dalmatian was so busy gawking that she nearly collided with a streetlamp. Several street sweepers gaped, their pushcarts and brooms temporarily forgotten behind them. On the corner, newsboys in knickers craned their necks to see who might be inside.
“Thank you.” Papa donned his silk top hat. “Let me get that for you, darling.”
He climbed out and clapped his hands. The gem in his pocket watch glinted with magic and the snow turned into a bright red carpet that unrolled across the sidewalk. She forgot about the onlookers as he held out his hand and helped her down to the street.
Emma faced her new school. She’d known her kindling year was coming ever since she was seven and golden sparks had shot from her fingertips, signaling that she was capable of magic. Now she was here, newly twelve and a soon-to-be Diamond Girl. This year, she wouldn’t have to learn arithmetic or geography, or any of the normal subjects she’d studied with her tutors. Kindling schools taught only magic.
There were a lot of expectations riding on a young lady when she went to kindling school. The first and foremost was that she would kindle. Children who failed were sent elsewhere and were rarely spoken of again. But Papa’s greatest expectation for her was also Emma’s dearest wish—to join him at the family magitecture business. She had spent her whole life traveling from city to city, learning from him as they went. Yesterday, he had taken her on a tour of New York’s recent magitectural projects. They had gawked at the skyscrapers, including the triangular Flatiron Building, which rose on Twenty-Third Street with the aid of steel beams and carefully balanced magic. Papa had even arranged a private tour of the construction site of the massive central library on Forty-Second Street. One day, father and daughter would design beautiful buildings around the country together, just like father and mother did before Emma was born. There were quite a few steps between now and then—first kindling, then high school and university, but today was the first day of her expected future.
Emma hadn’t yet told him about the secret plans she’d been drawing up in her notebook for the most beautiful house of all—the house they would one day build for themselves. After years of living in temporary rentals while Papa designed houses and elaborate buildings for other people, Emma thought it was high time they had a home of their own. She hoped Papa would agree when he saw her design. Then she could finally stay in one place long enough to make real, lasting friends. She felt the weight of her dreams and Papa’s expectations resting on her shoulders as she walked up the freshly shoveled path to the front door.
The driver followed them, his valet hat and face hidden behind a pile of shopping boxes and Emma’s traveling trunk. The trunk wasn’t heavy—Papa had enchanted it to weigh no more than a handbag. The rest of her things had been shipped there by train and she was excited to see her books again. She always missed them when they were on the move.
“Anything else, sir?” the driver asked when they’d reached the front porch.
“We can manage from here, thank you,” Papa replied. He flipped a coin and the driver caught it. “But be back in an hour. I have a train to catch.”
“Yes, sir.” The driver tucked the coin in his pocket and headed back to the car.
A tightly coiled brass rosebud hung on the heavy black door instead of a knocker. The plaque below it read:
PLEASE BLOOM FOR ASSISTANCE.
[ALL OTHERS USE REAR DOOR.]
“Charming,” Papa said with a chuckle.
He touched the rose, infusing it with magic, and its brass petals bloomed to reveal a sparkling diamond at the center. Somewhere deep in the house, a bell rang in answer.
Papa rolled his shoulders back and Emma copied the gesture. Had Mama felt this nervous and excited when she’d gone away to school? There were so many questions she wished she could ask.
Sensing her hesitation, Papa placed a protective hand on her shoulder. “All right, my girl?”
Before she could answer, the door creaked open and a pointed nose poked out at them. Its owner was a woman with hair so blond it was almost white, and which she wore in a poufy bun atop her head. “Yes? May I help you?”
“Hello,” Papa replied. “We’re here to see Miss Posterity. I’m George Harris and this is my daughter. She’s to be a student.”
“The Harrises at last and as lovely as I pictured you. Welcome. I’m Miss Posterity.”
Emma blinked. This was Miss Posterity? She had been expecting someone sturdily built and graying, rather like the building itself. But the headmistress was petite and only a few years older than Papa. Her tightly corseted waist and high-necked white blouse were the height of Fifth Avenue fashion and her floor-length black skirt swished in a no-nonsense manner.
“Please come in.” She opened the door wider and motioned for them to follow.
Emma stepped inside and nearly gasped out loud. The foyer was higher and wider than she would have thought possible from looking at the outside of the house. A crystal chandelier hung over the checkered black-and-white-tile floor that extended down the hall straight ahead of them. The walls were light gray at the top with white wainscoting panels along the lower section. Ahead, a white carpet ran up the center of the stairway. Both twisted around to a landing like a balcony box at a theater, before disappearing into an unseen upstairs. Everything about it felt rich, lush, and magical. Emma felt her own magic respond and it was all she could do to keep from sparking right there and embarrassing herself.
“This way, please.” Miss Posterity opened the double doors to their right. “The girls are not normally allowed in my private office, but we’ll make an exception today. It’s one of the few rooms that are anchored.”
Papa paused his inspection of the wainscoting. “Anchored? You’re in for a real treat then, Em. I haven’t seen an anchoring enchantment since my school days.”
She had no idea what he was talking about. Anchored? Was the house a ship?
“Don’t worry, I’ve anchored Emma’s bedroom. Mustn’t have our best room floating about!” Miss Posterity laughed.
Emma grinned like this was indeed a great joke and not a completely baffling statement.
They entered Miss Posterity’s office, again decorated entirely in black and white. Emma looked around for a ship’s anchor that would explain everything, but there was only a pretty wood-framed sofa facing two armchairs across a low, narrow table and a sturdy black desk on the far side of the room. A large red salamander yawned and rolled over among the logs in the fireplace. They’d had one of the elegant flaming lizards to warm their house in Boston, though Emma had kept her distance because it bit.
Overall, the whole room felt very classy and fashionable, except for a handmade cross-stitch sampler on the wall that proclaimed, A child may spark magic, but only those with worth may kindle. Reading it made Emma feel like she had an itch in her brain. She’d always heard the saying as Only those who are worthy may kindle, but perhaps it made sense this way too.
Papa pulled an official-looking paper with a golden seal from his pocket along with a folded check. “A bit of business before I forget. Here’s her kindling permit from the Registry. The fees are paid and here’s the check for her first month of tuition. I included the premium we discussed for her late enrollment.”
Miss Posterity took the papers and examined the official golden seal on Emma’s permit. “Wonderful. Everything’s in order then.” Was it Emma’s imagination or did her smile grow as bright as the foyer chandelier when she read the amount on the check?
“I apologize for having to charge that much, Mr. Harris,” Miss Posterity said as she tucked Emma’s permit and the check into a wooden box on her desk. “We don’t normally allow students to enter as twelve-year-olds, but when I received your letter, I decided to make an exception. It gives the school great prestige to have a student from such an illustrious family.”
Emma made a mental note to look up illustrious as the headmistress crossed the room and sat in one of the velvet armchairs. Papa took a seat on the sofa across from her and Emma followed his lead. There would soon be miles instead of inches between them and she wanted to stay close for as long as possible.
He draped a protective arm behind her. “I meant to enroll her last year, but I lost track of time. In my head she’s still a little girl and I forget sometimes how quickly she’s growing up.” He sighed wistfully. “Perhaps it’s better that she’s starting now anyway. Her magic’s only progressed from sparking to flickering recently.”
Emma bit her lip. It was embarrassing when it was put like that.
“Barely flickering at twelve?” Miss Posterity’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but she recovered quickly. “Would you like tea?”
“No, thank you—” Emma started to say just as Papa said, “Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
It took all of Emma’s manners not to sigh. Grown-ups seemed to love having long conversations over beverages. She wanted to see the school. Papa had told her they had a fine library and she could face meeting new people if there would be new books.
As Miss Posterity spoke, she pointed at a silver bell hanging by the door and it jingled. “Emma will have some catching up to do. Most of our girls have been working with flickering magic for several months already. Term begins tomorrow and runs through the kindling this December. In addition to kindling lessons, our students have a full range of coursework to prepare them for life in magical society.” She ticked off a list of classes on her fingers. “Magical History and Society, Everyday Enchantments, Adornment and Embellishments Level Two, and Magic Control and Comportment. The art instructor visits on Fridays and teaches sketching and drawing using magical materials, of course, and the dancing instructor visits three times a week to help the girls master the grace of movement required for kindling, as well as the latest society dances.”
Emma’s head spun. That sounded like a lot. She’d rather hoped learning magic would involve more reading.
Papa patted Emma on the knee. “Don’t worry about her being behind, Miss P. She’s already a wiz at colors.”
Emma wanted to crawl under the sofa. Anyone who lived in such a black-and-white place was unlikely to be impressed by basic color magic.
“How quaint,” the headmistress cooed. “As you know, Mr. Harris, the Kindling Winds begin to blow every December and our twelve-year-olds must be prepared to kindle when they do. Every word, every movement, every tool must be perfectly in order to kindle magic.” She squared her shoulders. “We use the best equipment. Our kindling flints have been in the family for generations. Solid gold and diamond encrusted.”
Papa gave a low whistle of approval. “Just like at Dalton’s when I was a boy.”
Miss Posterity preened. “Under my tutelage, I’m sure Emma will be as brilliant at magic as her father in no time.”
Emma gulped. Here were even more expectations she’d have to fulfill.
“Which reminds me, Mr. Harris, I had one teensy question while you’re here.” Miss Posterity smoothed her skirt. “In your letter you mentioned a very generous and substantial donation to the school. I wondered if we might expect that soon?”
Copyright © 2021 Alyssa Colman