The unconventional academy was sparkling this year.
Outside, fairies made from light and dreams wore snowflake-dresses and danced their way through the air to ethereal music that swayed and jumped.
Inside the halls the air smelled like Christmas cake and plum pudding.
The classrooms were decked out in holly, candles and candy canes.
And the books in the library wore hats for the season. At least the ones who didn’t protest too much.
However, as we made our way to the usual spot we found only a single goth girl instead of our usual quartet of crime.
Isobel was hunched over her book, eyes glued to the page and brow furrowed in a mix of frustration and hopelessness.
There were multiple exams planned for right after the holidays which should be illegal but somehow wasn’t.
And there was one exam, in particular, that was messing with her sleep and making her wish she could just get out of this place already.
Alchemical circles.
The bane of her existence.
Telepathy was a breeze for her and with mind-reading, she was top of her class
But there’s no instinct to call on for alchemy, no inner well of power.
It’s just, book learning and repetition and cramming but no matter how hard she crammed it felt like the symbols slid right out of her brain again the moment she closed the book.
She fell head-forward on the desk grunting and thinking to herself.
This is useless.
She checked her spider-themed watch for the time and found the next class started in about half an hour.
With a huff, she slung the books into her bag and strode out.
She could use a break.
The cafeteria had gotten a makeover in the shape of a dozen magic fireplaces dotted around the room. Radiating out that gentle comfortable heat, warm enough to cuddle by. but you’ll be disappointed if you try roasting any marshmallows.
There was a wooden barrel of hot chocolate rolling around on a spit keeping it at the perfect drinking temperature. She pulled a mug from the stack, filled it up and then topped it with as many sugar-laden goodies as she could without it overflowing.
She took a sip and decided sugar truly is magical
Then scoffed as she saw Kari and professor pretty face sitting together at a table.
It was annoying enough to know Isobel would most likely fail alchemy…but seeing her sister excel at it while also flirting with the teacher was just a bit…ugh.
Their faces were just a tad too closely together for student and teacher, their smiles just a bit too happy.
She turned away and as if some higher power tried to play a joke she bumped into the stand holding the candies and let out a glorious swear.
And of course, this was followed by Kari saying “Hey Isobel.” Behind her.
Isobel rolled her eyes, pretended she didn’t hear and walked off only to get followed by that pitter-patter of Kari’s short heels. “Isobel wait.” She called out
Isobel huffed, turned back to face her, arms crossed and asked “What?”
“Don’t you wanna sit with us?” her sister offered.
“And listen to you and countess pretty face flirt for hours on end? Nah thank.”
Kari’s face pulled at this “We’re not flirting, we’re exchanging circle designs.” She looked back at the lady for a second before adding “She’s our teacher remember.”
 Isobel pulled out her pocket watch and flicked it open meaningfully “yeah, but only for half a year though. So you’ve been counting down the days you can ask her out
Kari crossed her arms “You can’t just go looking into my mind like that.”
“Don’t need to, it’s written all over your face.”
The girl’s ears grew fiery red at this, accented plainly against her white hair. “really?”
Isobel smiled at this. “Is that why you’re pushing for valedictorian, so she’ll have to remember you after you graduate?”
“No, I just…” she fell silent, trying to think up a response.
Isobel considered that’s enough “Seeya.” She took a sip of hot chocolate and took her leave walking…wherever really.
Sure why not.

It’s not like she was angry at Kari, not really she was just…annoyed?
Professor Valery got a least a few cool-points last year for backing off after they got caught last year.  But that didn’t quite make up for the fact she always expected the worst of Isobel and was just kinda…judgemental of her.
Needless to say, she wasn’t looking forward to having that vampire be her sister-in-law.
She was so lost in thought she didn’t even spot the familiar face that walked in the opposite direction.
“Hey, Isobel.”
“Huh? Oh hey, Nelson.”
“You know the school dance is coming up in about two weeks. We should probably start planning our party.”
“Ah right…I’m sorry dude some bitch decided to plan the alchemy exam right after Christmas so I have no time.”
“But what about avoiding the school dance?”
“If my current attention span is anything to go by I’ll spend the dance in the library anyway.”
Nelson hissed in sympathy “That bad huh?”
Isobel huffed “Why do we have spells for conjuring fake snow and enchanting violins but not a single spell to just take this text and stuff it into my brain?”
“Pretty sure they wouldn’t need school anymore if there was.”
“That’d be good by me.” She sighed. “Maye I’ll have a better shot at graduating if I focus on potions instead and get a stellar grade to compensate for my terrible alchemy grade.”
“If you need help with that let me know.”
“I will, thanks, I gotta head to class, seeya.”
Nelson watched Isobel droop off, then looked out the window to find the glowing ballerinas forgo their usual dance routine for bolting out of the way as quickly as possible.
Followed by a wolf darting right after them in the snow.

He didn’t bite or bark.
He just waved his long nose around and enjoyed the mayhem that he caused.
Nelson shook his head with a smile on his face. then followed the corridor to the big stained glass door that would get him into the gardens.
The wolf pounced filled with delight then fumbled upon seeing Nelson and stumbled nose-first down into the snow.
Recovering but startled he shook the snow off his nose and asked “Nelson what are you doing here?”
“Hey Joshua, chasing fairy lights?”
The wolf chuckled uncomfortably “Just playing around.”
“Well don’t let me stop you.”
“No, no it’s fine I’m changing. I’ll be right back.” And just like that, the wolf dashed off to a tall wooden box that served as a changing room.
The fairies swarmed around Nelson the moment Joshua closed the doors. Voicing their complaints in high-pitched musical notes.
Nelson shrugged “He’s not mine, he’s his own doofus. Take it up with him.”
And so they did.
The moment Joshua appeared again, now mostly human-shaped (the ears and tail are a bit of a permanent feature). The fairies flew towards him twittering around his head like angry hummingbirds.“Okay, okay I get it, I won’t do it again, I’m sorry.”
The cloud of little lights broke up heading back to their routine. But it was clear on Josh’s face he didn’t exactly regret his actions.
“Hey dude, how are you?”
“I’m good, so… since the girls are busy with tests I thought we could maybe organise this year’s party with just the two of us?”
Joshua’s ears flattened again his head “Oh uhm, actually my grades aren’t great either.”
“But you’re in the clear right?”
“Yeah but only barely, I still need to study.” His tail drooped down “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, I guess there’s just not gonna be a party this year.”
“Uhu…we’re too old for it anyway.”
“I guess…”
In the background, the fairies danced their grand finale while the two boys awkwardly stared at one another.
Each wondering what they ought to be saying right now.
“I’m…I’m gonna go then?” Nelson offered.
Nelson put his hands in his pockets and walked back into the castle leaving Joshua to himself again.
The moment Nelson was out of sight Joshua took the opportunity to immediately drop ass-first into the snow and grunt frustrated. Why did he say that!? He’d love to spend time with Nelson and it’s not like he was studying now anyway.
Oh fuck, he definitely picked up on that. He gonna think he hates him!
Joshua didn’t hate Nelson he was…
And had been for a while.
After Valery drooped off last year and gave them the go-ahead the party returned in full swing.
And it may have been the booze or the sugar or whatever but Joshua remembered feeling silly.
It had taken some effort to pry Nelson away from his makeshift bar and dance with him.
But it was fun!
A lot of fun…
Especially when the slow track came on.
It’s the point most non-couples decide to sit one out but they just kinda…kept on dancing.
It should have been awkward or weird but it wasn’t, it felt natural.
It felt nice.
And then the song stopped and Nelson, messed up Joshua’s hair playfully and walked back to the bar where a considerable cue had formed.
Leaving Joshua with a jumble of feelings in the pit of his stomach.
And then neither of them talked about it.
For an entire year.
So yeah, Joshua was avoiding Nelson.
And kicking himself for it.
And so a week passed by with not much to show for it.
There were no dangerous trips to the dreamlands or the girls’ dorm.
Isobel was avoiding Kari.
Joshua was avoiding Nelson.
And in between that there were classes and a lot of studying.
A violet-coloured smoke curled through the potions classroom when Isobel stepped in.
She followed the trail to a small cast-iron cauldron and Nelson hanging over it.
“Whatcha making?”
Nelson’s eyes shot towards her with alarm. “Oh uhm, nothing important." He tossed a vial of shimmering liquid into the cauldron and the smoke vanished in an instant "Just practising.”
“It smells weird.”
“It’s supposed to smell weird, but that aside. What brings you to the ption lab?”
“Oh right, I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“You know how we’re supposed to make our own concentrations now?”
“Yeah, we’ve been doing that since the beginning of the year.”
“Well, I can’t get the hang of it. The maths are just awkward and the teacher went over it super quick and I didn’t wanna look like an idiot so I didn’t ask and now I messed up the last practical exam and I’m kinda freaking out.”
“Well in that case, if you have a minute I’ll finish this brew and we can look at it together.”
“Thanks, Nelson, you’re a lifesaver.”
“No problem.”
“So what are you making.”
“A secret.”
On the day of the dance, Kari was heading into the library. There was a book she’d like to check out over the holidays.
Just in case Isobel decided to be a pain at home too.
She hoped it was just the stress of tests that made her sister act this distant. But somehow she had a hard time believing that.
Maybe they were just...growing apart?
Sad as that would be.
She picked up a book on midnight herbology.
Then walked back to the front desk to check out the book.
"The return date is the first of February, you want a reminder with that?"
Kari looked up at the librarian "Huh?"
The librarian smiled, opened the book and tapped the flyleaf with her wand. A message appeared in shimmering ink saying "please return me before the first of February."
"Ah, thank you."
The librarian closed the book and handed it over "Enjoy reading."
She turned to walk straight into Joshua “Oh hi, were you there the whole time?”
“Hey, Kari.” He fidgeted with his hands as he spoke “Can we talk for a bit?”
“Sure, of course.”
Joshua grabbed Kari’s hand and dragged her all the way to the usual spot where they sat down.
And then Joshua proceeded to not say anything for half a minute…
“Uhm, Josh?” Kari asked.
“Hold on I’m trying to formulate something in a way you won’t hit me.”
“Excuse me?”
“You have a thing for countess Valery right?”
Kari scoffed “Why? Did Isobel say weird things again?”
“No, but like…do you?”
Kari took a deep breath, trying to regain her calm “I…I don’t know. I mean she’s an immortal vampire who’s also our teacher and there’s not much room left for crushes when your rational brain keeps yelling at you that ‘it’s not gonna happen’”
“Tell me about it.” Joshua rolled his eyes.
At this Kari pushed some hair behind her ear “Do you still have a crush on her? I never really dared to ask but since you brought up the topic…”
“I like her but not really the way I used to. In fact, I actually wanted to tell you if you and her work out I’m psyched for you.”
“Really? Thank you that means a lot. Truly.”
“Of course, that’s what friends are for.”
“So since you’re off Valery does that mean you have your eye on someone else?”
“Uuuuuuuuuhm” Joshua’s cheeks went red and his tail slinked back between his legs.
Luckily for him Isobel came rushing in “Uhm guys?” she announced clutching a piece of paper in her hands. “I think something’s wrong with Nelson.”
Joshua’s tail jumped up, ears piqued. “What?”
“What do you mean?” Kari asked and Isobel handed her the note.
It read; “Find me where the floorboards creak and space itself will bound and leap”
Kari pulled up an eyebrow “And?”
“Nelson has me helping me with potions. We were going to meet up with Nelson for potion brewing lessons so I went to the lab but there was no one there. I waited for fifteen minutes but he just didn’t show…then I tried to reach out to him and, well I can’t find him. He’s shielded. So then I properly panicked because why would he shield from me, he never had and that’s when I found the note.”
“Do you think Nelson got kidnapped?” Joshua asked uncertainly.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions quite yet.” Kari closed her eyes for a moment, light glowing behind closed eyelids. “I can’t find him either.”
“If I couldn’t find him you certainly can’t” Isobel crossed her arms.
Kari sighed “I know, but we now know the shield isn’t geared to you specifically, it’s a universal shield. Which is easier to break but I like to know who exactly he’s shielding from first before breaking through his defences.”
“So he is in trouble now?” Joshua’s ears flattened against his head.
“I don’t know.” Kari hunched over the piece of paper “But I bet this is the way to find out.”
“I mean it’s obviously Crackaby house right?” Isobel offered.
“Almost too obvious.”
Isobel crossed her eyes in annoyance.
“What? The last time we were there was two years ago so I don’t see the logic.”
“If Nelson’s in danger there’s no time for logic.” Joshua whacked his tail side to side then bound out the room leaving the girl to roll their eyes and follow.
Crackaby house looked even more dilapidated than it did the last time they were there.
The partying probably hadn’t exactly helped in the place’s conservation, and the painted dragon sliding past walls and windows looked pretty tacky now.
 Isobel waved her wand and the dragon vanished making Joshua’s ears jerk up.
“What was that?”
“Relax pup, just cleaning up my mess.”
“Well with that done then, let’s go in.”
They opened the door and the house had apparently decided on an old-school detective aesthetic. As the fireplace was already lit when they opened the door and a big leather chair with curled legs were awaiting them.
The chairs were however empty and Nelson was nowhere to be found.
“What’s all this stuff?” Isobel asked as she walked towards the chestnut coffee table. The table was stacked with books and strange signs that didn’t look like anything they’d ever had in their lessons before.
“Let me see.” Kari picked up a book, flicked it open at the bookmarked page and as her eyes flicked back and forth over the paragraphs her expression went from curiosity to worry and dread.“Oh no.”
“What is it?” Isobel asked.
“This is time magic.”
“What like to manipulate time? You can do that?”
“Technically yes…but it’s complex, difficult and has a tendency to go horribly wrong. Not to mention the fact the unconventional academy itself has measurements in place to prevent the use of time magic.”
“Probably because of the mayhem you could do in a magical school frozen in time.”
“Fair…And he was being pretty sussy last week. So you think Nelson’s trying to stop time?”
“Sure seems so, and if he fails he may suffer a worse fate than getting expelled or cursed, one mistake and it could be like he was never born.”
“That’s messed. I’m calling him again.” Isobel closed her eyes. “Fuck, fuck, fuck! He’s still blocking me, the idiot!”
“All right, if you just keep reaching out I’ll try and break the shielding.” Kari offered.
“You think you can manage it?” Isobel scoffed.
“I can try.”
“Tryings not good enough! I’ll find him, and I’ll stop him” And with those words, the wolf boy darted down the first door he saw-
“Wha-” Kari started.
“At least take us with you, you mutt!” Isobel shouted after him but nope, he was gone already.
Leaving the girls to just…stand there.
“So now what?”
“Let’s try to break the shield.”
“Right” Isobel closed her eyes, her attention wandering past Kari’s worry and Joshua’s panic as she tried to find the fourth member of their little group.
He’s definitely in here. But the only way to find him was to find the place he should be but wasn’t like there was a Nelson-shaped hole that she couldn’t look past. Like how the absence of light betrays the presence of a black hole.
“Have you started trying to break the shield yet?”
“I’m on it.”
“Well hurry” Isobel tried keeping her attention on it as the hole shifted and jumped from place to place. This house really is infuriating.
“You lost connection.”
“Yes. I know.”
“You wanna look for him again?”
“How about you go looking for him and I’ll try and break the shield?”
“But you’re the better one at reaching out?”
“I’m also better at breaking mental shields so…” Isobel said smugly.
“You think?”
“Of course, telepathy is my thing remember.”
There was a retort stuck on Kari’s tongue but she decided to swallow it for the sake of peace. “Right, sure, I’ll reach out and you try to break the shield.”
Which worked about as well as Kari expected.
A good ten minutes later Isobel gave up with a grunt “This is dumb and taking too long.”
“Well, what else do you suggest? Just jump in like Joshua? We don’t have super noses.”
“Now what?”
“There’s a piece of paper here.”
“A blank piece of paper, in the unconventional academy?”
“Right…Näytä kirjoitus” Kari spoke and just like that words spilt onto the page.
“The door that you need cannot be found, it has to be made. Now, look around lest you be too late.
“Oh great another riddle.” Isobel sighed sarcastically.
“He’s sending us on a wild goose chase.”
“To find him?”
“To stall us.”
“Well, unless we wanna just walk into Crackaby house blindly I guess solving is the only option right now.”
“Well, it’s a portal. The question is what kind and where it’s supposed to lead.
“Guess we need to look around for that?” Isobel got up and started walking around the room. “Oh look I found one!” Isobel pointed to a symbol drawn discreetly on the door in green marker.
“Great.” Kari pressed her wand against the symbol and spoke ‘fargefilter’.
The colour inside the room started fading as if the wand were sucking them up until there was nothing left but shades of grey.
“How’s that gonna help?” Isobel asked, but then she looked at Kari’s wand and saw the symbol beneath it was that same green.
Then she looked around. The symbols sticking out like sore thumbs. “Okay fine that’s clever”
Kari started drawing the symbols onto the floor with her wand and every time the hue shifted from grey to green.
“So how do you know the order then?”
Kari looked up and pulled up her eyebrow, “What do you mean?”
“We have a list of the symbols but I wouldn’t know in what order to place them.
“Hmm…I guess I just know. I made a lot of these so it just makes sense for them to go in this order.”
Isobel scoffed “of course.”
“It may have something with the rune’s weight now that I think about it. I tend to start with the big runes and work towards the lighter ones at the end.”
“Yeah…I think that’s it.” She chuckled surprised “That was a really good question.”
Isobel shrugged “Sure, I’m not an idiot.”
“But you are bad at taking compliments.” Kari put the last rune in place and just like that the symbols started shifting and swirling around in a big green circle. Growing bigger and bigger, brighter and brighter.
Until they could see a ghostly-looking ballroom on the other end of it. Bathed in green light.
“Nice,” Isobel said.
“You think.”
“Yup, come on, I’ve seen this place before.”
“You have?”
Together they stepped through the portal.
In the meantime, the wolf called Joshua was running. With all his might he ran and ran while in his mind his thoughts raced even harder.
He had to find him.
Had to save him from himself.
He had picked up his scent but it was a frustrating sensation. Every time he thought he was getting close it disappeared just like that and he had to start over again.
He could do with some new decor as well…must have been miles he’d been running in these old-fashioned corridors…
He stopped running, almost crashing into the ground as he heaved and panted with exhaustion.
“I’ve been running myself ragged in an endless corridor haven’t I?” Joshua said to himself.
To Joshua’s surprise, a voice appeared behind him.
“You sure have.”
And with a start, he realized he wasn’t alone.
"You know if you want help with alchemy you could just ask for it right?"
"I'm fine, I don't need your help."
"Are you sure? I don't mind"
"Well I do."
"Because..." Isobel crossed her arms "Because I don't need you. You can just stick on her side.”
“Are you trying to be annoying or is that just your main setting these days?”
“Who me? You’re the one playing all lovey-dovey every day with countess pretty face.”
“Will you stop calling her countess pretty face already? That joke got old a year ago!”
“That’s not a joke, thinking you got a shot with her is the real joke!”
“As if I don’t know that!?” Kari shouted and as she did the mirrors surrounding them shattered into countless little slivers.
Isobel took a step back but Kari stepped towards her. “Look I know you don’t like countess Valery but guess what!? I do! And she doesn’t hate you as much as you think she does. And she does want to help you. She wants you passing her class."
"No she doesn't , she doesn't give a shit if I pass or not."
"You're a damn empath! Maybe if you stopped being so damn hostile towards her and just gave her a chance you could see that she doesn’t mean ill by you. But nooooo you rather hold on to your preconceived notions and refuse to see anything else.”
“That’s unfair!”
“Is it!?”
“Yes! I just…don’t want you getting hurt, falling in love with a teacher is rough and having said teacher be hundreds of years old. What if she breaks your heart?”
Kari took a step back. “Yeah I guess, but that’s my risk to take. You can’t decide for me that it’s not gonna work out. And you can't keep lashing out at others to hide your insecurities."
"So did you just go empath on me ot something?" Isobel asked pointing at all the broken glass.
"I...honestly don't know what happened with that. As for your insecurities, I don't need to be an empath for that. I know you." Kari hugged her sister "Asking help isn't weakness. It's brave."
Isobel sighed in that mock-exasperated way "Fiiiiiiiine, I'll come to you next time I have a question."
""Thank you." Isobel looked at the shards and the patterns they made and the went "Oh that's devious."
"What is?"
"Oh I got this one."
Joshua darted through a hall of mirrors, his form distorted and twisted with every shimmering surface he encountered. It made him feel queasy in his stomach. But that wasn’t as bad as the sheer panic he felt as he looked back.
And saw the ghost close that had been following him inch closer and closer.
He ran into a passage full sprint, only to find his own panicked expression reflected back at him.
Behind him, the ghostly figure raised up his arms.
Nelson was adding ingredients to a big bubbly cauldron stirring it with a large wooden spoon.
He lifted it up.
Had a taste.
Hmmm, perhaps more cinnamon?
He turned around only to see a quick flash of white before getting knocked down by Joshua.
“Stop it!” he shouted.
“Hey you big lug. Stop what?" He replied nonchalantly.
“Stop not being born! Or travelling through time or leaving me or, or-” A heavy weight dropped down onto Nelson’s chest.“Kari says bad things happen when you use time magic on school grounds.”
“That was just a bit of suggestion so you’d follow the riddles…I’m not an idiot.” Nelson scratched behind Joshua's ear abscentmindedly.
“What!? But, but you looked forward to a party so much.”
“Yes, I still do, so uhm…I’d offer you some mulled win but you gotta get off me first.”
Joshua quickly slid off Nelson’s chest and stood by idly. “So uhm…what?”
“I’ll explain, where are the others?”
“Uhm…I kinda ran off by myself…”
Joshua shrugged.
“But that doesn’t make sense I put wards up and everything…how did you pass those without solving the riddles?”
“Oh well, you just rearrange some things it’s quite easy when you know the layout.” A third voice explained as he came floating through the wall.
“Yeah I had help, Nelson, meet professor Crackaby.”
“Sir…you’re dead?”
“As a matter of fact yes but I try not to let it bring me down.
“I see…”
“You set up in one of my favourite rooms, very nice.”
“I honestly just went for the first room that tried not to kill me then backtracked from there.”
“Ah yes, the house has gone rather cranky I think it has something to do with some hooligans that used it as their party patch some years ago.”
Joshua and Nelson looked at one another then Nelson said “Right…”
“Well, my job here is done I reckon.” Mister Crackaby announced tugging on a pair of non-corporeal suspenders. “Please don’t make a mess” He then gave an exaggerated wink to Joshua and floated out again.
“What was that about?” Nelson asked and Joshua just groaned.
“Turns out professor Crackaby is a good listener and I had a lot to table about…”
“Go on?”
“I…I should probably change back first…”
“I left a change of clothes in the next room. I figured you’d probably lose your shit, tho I expected the girls to at least reel you
in to the point you got here together.”
Joshua’s cheeks flushed red at that “You know me too well.”
Nelson smiled.
Joshua quickly went to the room over to change so he couldn’t make more of a fool of himself.
Then spent another ten minutes trying to wrap his head around what to say.
There was a knock on the door.
“Josh? You okay?”
“Uuuuuuuuuuuuuh…yeah, one sec I’m coming out.”
Outside the door Nelson was already back at the cauldron, pouring two mugs of mulled wine.
“Here.” Nelson offered him a mug.
Joshua took it, then looked into the dark red depths as he announced “We need to talk.”
“Wanna sit first?”
They sat down on the couch together.
“I…uhm, look last year we kinda uhm…what I’m trying to say is…”
“What I’m trying to drive at is…you and uhm-”
“I think I’m having a crush on you.”
“Yes exactly! I mean…Wait-?” Joshua’s heart thumped like mad as his brain played catch-up.
“Yeah uhm, you’d been so distant lately I was afraid you suspected anything and didn’t want anything to do with it but then you come bursting in here and then you tell me we need to talk and I hope I read the signals correctly…”
“Yes, yes absolutely uhm. And I’m sorry about the whole avoiding thing I was just…confused and, scared I guess?”
Nelson laughed awkwardly “Join the club.”
As the awkwardness dissipated the two boys just sat there enjoying the air of relief that fell over them.
Then Joshua opened his mouth again “Uhm, are we supposed to kiss now?”
“Only if you want to.”
“Yes, yes very much.”
And so they kissed.
Cautiously, a bit awkward still.
But it’s nice.
It feels right.
They embraced and shared a moment of peace and mutual tenderness.
And then Isobel kicks in the door going “Nelson you better not be doing what I think you’re- oh… never mind.”
Joshua's head flushed red again. Nelson just laughed “Hey Isobel, want some mulled wine?”
“And an explanation as to what’s going on too please.” Kairy quickly added as she came into the room.
“Coming right up.”
And so the four of them celebrated Christmas together, just the four of them, a cauldron of wine.
And a lot of stories to tell.
Back to Top