The Last Graduate Page 1

Keep far away from Orion Lake.

Most of the religious or spiritual people I know—and to be fair, they’re mostly the sort of people who land in a vaguely pagan commune in Wales, or else they’re terrified wizard kids crammed into a school that’s trying to kill them—regularly beseech a benevolent and loving all-wise deity to provide them with useful advice through the medium of miraculous signs and portents. Speaking as my mother’s daughter, I can say with authority that they wouldn’t like it if they got it. You don’t want mysterious unexplained advice from someone you know has your best interests at heart and whose judgment is unerringly right and just and true. Either they’ll tell you to do what you want to do anyway, in which case you didn’t need their advice, or they’ll tell you to do the opposite, in which case you’ll have to choose between sullenly following their advice, like a little kid who has been forced to brush her teeth and go to bed at a reasonable hour, or ignoring it and grimly carrying on, all the while knowing that your course of action is guaranteed to lead you straight to pain and dismay.

If you’re wondering which of those two options I picked, then you must not know me, as pain and dismay were obviously my destination. I didn’t even need to think about it. Mum’s note was infinitely well-meant, but it wasn’t long: My darling girl, I love you, have courage, and keep far away from Orion Lake. I read the whole thing in a single glance and tore it up into pieces instantly, standing right there among the little freshmen milling about. I ate the scrap with Orion’s name on it myself and handed the rest out at once.

“What’s this?” Aadhya said. She was still giving me narrow-eyed indignation.

“It lifts the spirits,” I said. “My mum put it in the paper.”

“Yes, your mum, Gwen Higgins,” Aadhya said, even more coolly. “Who you’ve mentioned so often to us all.”

“Oh, just eat it,” I said, as irritably as I could manage after having just downed my own piece. The irritation wasn’t as hard to muster up as it might’ve been. I can’t think of anything I’ve missed in here, including the sun, the wind, or a night’s sleep in safety, nearly as much as I’ve missed Mum, so that’s what the spell gave me: the feeling of being curled up on her bed with my head in her lap and her hand stroking gently over my hair, the smell of the herbs she works with, the faint croaking of frogs outside the open door, and the wet earth of a Welsh spring. It would’ve lifted my spirits enormously if only I hadn’t been worrying deeply at the same time what she was trying to tell me about Orion.

The fun possibilities were endless. The best one was that he was doomed to die young and horribly, which given his penchant for heroics was reasonably predictable anyway. Unfortunately, falling in something or other with a doomed hero isn’t the sort of thing Mum would warn me off. She’s very much of the gather ye rosebuds while ye may school of thought.

Mum would only warn me off something bad, not something painful. So obviously Orion was the most brilliant maleficer ever, concealing his vile plans by saving the lives of everyone over and over just so he could, I don’t know, kill them himself later on? Or maybe Mum was worried that he was so annoying that he’d drive me to become the most brilliant maleficer ever, which was probably more plausible, since that’s supposedly my own doom anyway.