BOOK 1 // TWO: The Safe Side

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 I wasn't prepared for the chaos at school the next morning.

Officially, the academy had a strict entrance policy, but every student knew the rules were much looser on a daily basis. If you'd forgotten your ID card, you could usually avoid a late mark by sweet-talking the guard at the security desk, who'd swipe you through without one. We were allowed to get away with more than the faculty liked to think.

But when I headed up the steps of the main building on Wednesday morning, it quickly became clear that something had changed.

The noise hit me when the automatic glass doors slid open. A backlog of students at the barriers snaked right back to the wall, and an even rowdier crowd gathered around the security desk. Several older students were leaning right over the counter to argue with the guard, who looked thoroughly unprepared for the onslaught.

"New school policy!" he yelled, straining to be heard over the mob. "ID cards, or you're not coming in."

"But I've got an exam this morning!" I heard somebody protest. "You can't do this."

"Not my decision," the guard said. "If you don't like it, you can take it up with the headmistress."

Edging my way into the mass, I removed my ID card from the inner pocket of my coat. Never before had I been so glad about remembering to snatch it up from my desk. Once I finally made it to the barrier, I swiped the card through, pausing in surprise when the onscreen display requested my fingerprint. The only other time I could recall being asked was the first time they'd put my details on file; since then, security had been lax enough to skip over it.

A breath of relief escaped me when I emerged on the other side. Here, with students tailing off into corridors, there was at least more space to move. The main building had always been impressive: the huge glass ceiling and indoor garden couldn't be found in any other school across the city. However, with the noise of the chaos still buzzing behind me, I wasn't filled with the desire to linger. All I wanted to do was find Orla and Verity and head to morning assembly; this had to be the first step to regaining some sense of normality.

Unfortunately, I only made it as far as the outside courtyard. As I skirted around a group of intimidatingly pretty first-years, heading for the auditorium, I almost walked straight into Henry Whitmore.

He may have had good intentions, but Henry also happened to be one of the most egotistical people I knew – which, in a place like the academy, was something of an achievement. There was no uncertainty about which pages of the BioPlus catalogue his parents had lingered on: he was a born athlete, the star player of at least five sports teams. Which would've been fine, if he didn't spend so much time talking about it.

"Astrid." His face broke out into a smile when he noticed me, which was kind of a weird reaction to almost colliding headfirst. I realised then he was pretty much the only person outside not wearing a coat; though our uniform blazers weren't the warmest items of clothing, he looked entirely unconcerned by the cold. "Hey."

"Hey, Henry," I said, adjusting the bag on my shoulder. I had to be polite, but there was also the fact that the bell was five minutes away from ringing, and all I wanted to do was escape back into normal life as soon as possible. Since we'd never exchanged more than a passing greeting before, our encounter wasn't making the cut.

"How's it going? Feeling better?"

There was a smile on his face as he asked, the glint in his eye leaving no room for innocence. We both knew the truth, of course, but that didn't mean we could say it out loud. Even though school was probably the safest place for discussion, we'd all been taught to live with one eye over our shoulder at all times. So I nodded, playing along as best I could.

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