Valerian Graves, necromancer extraordinaire, thought he was rid of me for good.
But I was Belle Blackwell-Straud–and I had the best papa in le monde entier.
“Anything you wish, my porcelain princess,” Papa said. “I’ll have the arrangements made at once.”
“Je t’aime, Papa,” I said. “Let’s see that mean old necromancer try to avoid me now…”
Admissions at Dr. Puck’s Institute for the Otherworldly Arts were very competitive, but everyone always said I’d be a model student if I applied myself and devoted as much time to my studies as I did to amour.
And Papa paid off all my high school teachers to raise my grades and bought a new library for the Institute: The Belle Blackwell-Straud Bibliothèque d’Amour.
I was too young to begin my university studies in earnest, but I was admitted as part of a special dual enrollment program in which I’d take Institute courses alongside my normal high school ones.
And one Institute course in particular…
“A tailored suit flatters your tall, masculine frame far more than that old black robe you wore at home,” I told Professor Graves. “Très beau.”
“You’re currently tasked with learning the basics of necromancy,” he said, “not fashion. Please keep all irrelevant thoughts to yourself.”
“Necromancy is so very dull,” I said, “unless you have a secret reason behind your passion for it. A lovely wife who died tragically young?”
“Dead child sweetheart? Très romantique!”
“No. Will you focus, Miss Blackwell-Straud?”
“It’s so terribly hard to pay attention when I’m not interested in the subject matter,” I sighed. “Oh, do try to make necromancy more pertinent to a passionate young lady’s interests. Have you ever reunited any star-crossed lovers prematurely separated by death, perhaps?”
Had those pursed lips ever pressed against the warm flesh of a lover? Or did he perhaps prefer the forbidding–and so very taboo–chill of a corpse? My sister Ophelia could’ve used the latter as inspiration for one of her novels.
While I considered such possibilities, Professor Graves stalked over to my side.“…Dare I ask what happened to your supply of bone chips?”
“Gaston looked terribly famished,” I said.
Who could resist such a beau chien?
“I should ask you to stay after class to compensate for the loss in productivity,” he said, “but I’d rather not.”
He was so mean to me, his star (and only, thanks to Papa) pupil.
But he couldn’t escape me, even outside the classroom…
Dr. Puck’s Institute for the Otherworldly Arts was an excentrique school whose exterior could shift on a whim; it was whatever it needed to be for its students. Disorienting, but could it keep me from Professor Graves’ office?
“Mon professeur préféré,” I said, “I have a question.”
“Why do you prefer the dead to the living? It’s très mystérieux.”
“Hardly. The dead don’t hound me with insignificant questions during my extremely limited office hours.” (It was exactly one hour per week, which I reserved entirely for myself.)
“Do you need a research assistant, Professor Graves?”
“What if I volunteer–”
“Then I need one even less.”
“We’re progressing ever-so-slowly in class,” I sighed, “and while Thaddeus has eternity, solitude simply isn’t good for a man’s coeur. If I helped you, perhaps I might find a way to return his wife to him even sooner…”
“How many times have I told you that necromancy is a slow, painstaking process–one that can never be rushed, for the sake of both the subject and the necromancer?”
“I don’t always pay attention, so it’s terribly difficult to say.”
“If I refuse, there’s a high probability you’ll have your father intervene on your behalf and speak to Dr. Puck.”
“Of all the years I had to be up for tenure…”
And that’s how I became the research assistant to the Institute’s premier professor of necromantic studies.
Belle Blackwell-Straud always got what she wanted.