At Cecile’s insistence, she and her friend unlocked Mr. Jenkins’ room and moved the harp. The harp was a large, heavy instrument with numerous strings stretching from top to bottom. It was very difficult for two weak women to lift it. They only managed to move the harp twenty centimeters across the soft carpet before running out of strength. They gave up and returned to their rooms.
“Is this going to stop it from playing? How?”
“I’m not entirely sure why. But someone suggested it, so I thought we might as well give it a shot.”
They exchanged doubtful looks.
The night wore on.
Never again did the harp sound on its own.
The next morning, the weather was clear and sunny, heralding the beginning of summer.
Summer break was just around the corner. Students of the academy were in high spirits.
Cecile, as always, walked briskly toward the candy house.
She put down the pile of books. “How?” she asked the frilly doll lying on its back in the darkness.
The girl, so small and beautiful that she could easily be mistaken for a doll, yet cold at the same time, had her jewel-like, green eyes open. She would occasionally bring a ceramic pipe to her small mouth and take a drag.
A wisp of white smoke drifted toward the ceiling.
“What are you referring to?”
“The ghost harp. We moved it just a bit like you said and it didn’t play last night. How does that even work?”
Victorique yawned wearily. Suddenly she stared at Cecile with wolf-like eyes.
Cecile shuddered. “Um…”
“The man downstairs was playing the harp.”
“I said it was the man downstairs that was playing the harp.”
“Do you understand now?”
“Not at all,” Cecile replied immediately.
Victorique’s eyes widened in surprise, then she sighed. “It’s troublesome, but I will verbalize it for you.”
“I’m going to explain what I’ve reconstructed in a way that you can understand.” Victorique removed the pipe from her mouth. “Listen close,” she began tediously. “A harp was playing in an empty room. It was locked and the lights were off. And when you moved the harp, it stopped playing.”
“You should check the room immediately below. You will find another harp. He played the instrument upstairs by playing the harp on the first floor.”
“The harp is an instrument with numerous vertical strings. Plucking one produces a note. The floor of the room where the harp was located was covered with a soft carpet. The culprit made a number of small holes in the ceiling of the room on the first floor, that is, in the floor of the room upstairs, and connected the strings of both harps one by one. When they played the instrument on the first floor, the strings of the harp on the second floor would also be plucked. Once they finished playing, they could just pull the strings secretly. The soft carpet hid the holes on the floor. It’s one of those old tricks that magicians used on stage. A ghost trick, made to fool kids.” She took a puff of her pipe. Her magnificent golden hair stirred with every little move of her head.
“Who would do that, though?”
“Probably the new music teacher.”
“Ahuh. Playing the harp requires a certain amount of skill. Not a lot of people can do it. Besides, you said the first floor of that dormitory was for bachelors.”
“He was probably jealous of Mr. Jenkins’ popularity, so he tried to scare the other teachers. Think about it. Who else would think about using Mr. Jenkins’ ghost to cause a commotion?”
“The only person who doesn’t know Mr. Jenkins is alive is that man.”
Cecile stared at Victorique with a puzzled look on her face.
“Everyone knew that Mr. Jenkins was in a hospital in Saubreme, recovering from an illness,” Victorique said. “Except the new teacher. He probably thought that the previous music teacher died. I believe you said that before the incident, when he asked you about Mr. Jenkins, you replied, ‘We’ve lost a very dear man.’”
Cecile gasped. “I-I did.”
“And when you called the hospital in Saubreme, the man said the word ‘hospital’ with a hint of wonder in his voice. Since he wasn’t aware that Mr. Jenkins was at the hospital, he wondered why you would call a hospital because of a ghost.”
“Do you understand now?”
Before Cecile could reply, Victorique slowly turned her back on her like a wild animal walking away deep into the forest, and returned to her reading.
The strange force, noble, dark, and awe-inspiring, had disappeared, leaving behind only a doll-like fluffed-up girl. Cecile was dumbfounded when she realized that she was, for the first time, actually engaged in a conversation with Victorique. Still the rose thorns pricked her chest. Wondering what it was, she left the dollhouse quietly.
As Cecile walked through the flowerbed maze, a thought occurred to her: perhaps boredom meant loneliness. She had no idea what the Gray Wolf was thinking, or what would happen to her. The thorns weighed heavy on her mind.
Now summer had arrived.
And the long break had begun.
St. Marguerite Academy was on a break; students had disappeared as though they had never been, and only silence and the brightness of summer filled the school. And there was a small change to Victorique the Gray Wolf’s routine.
A deserted garden. In the mornings, Victorique would emerge from her little candy house, ruffles and laces swaying with her every move, and head to the gray, tube-shaped building of St. Marguerite’s Grand Library, the largest book repository in Europe. Among the students, only Victorique was given special permission to use the library’s hydraulic elevator, which was installed earlier this century. From morning till evening, she spent her time reading books in the mysterious little room at the top of the library’s labyrinthine staircase, where the Sauville’s past king was said to enjoy the company of his secret mistress.
The seasons passed, nothing happened, and soon it was autumn.
A traveler arrived.
One morning, Cecile was in the faculty room on the first floor of the U-shaped school building, groaning. Before her lay a bundle of papers.
“It’s an oriental boy this time, huh…” She fixed her glasses. “What if he’s the mysterious type too? Where will I carry things to next? Just when I was finally free from the back pain.”
Sighing, Cecile recalled some of the images she had of people from the orient. Harakiri, mysterious hairstyles, kimonos with wonderful patterns, eating dogs.
“Right! He should be here soon. I’ve got to hide the dog!”
As she rose to her feet, her elbow slammed against the pile of textbooks, test papers, and difficult books on the side of her desk. Cecile yelped.
There was a small, muffled voice mixed in with the sound of the books and papers falling to the floor.
Cecile turned her gaze past the books and handouts and saw a small boy of an unfamiliar skin color. He had dazzling jet-black hair and smooth yellowish skin. He quickly caught some of the falling books with both hands and placed them back on the desk. He then quietly picked up the handouts scattered on the floor.
Cecile gaped at the boy.
To the students of this academy, an educational institution for children of the nobility, teachers were just another group of servants. Not a single student had bothered to pick up anything that she had dropped before. While Cecile studied the boy quizzically, the boy quickly picked up everything, put it back on the desk, patted his knees, and stood up.
He was a small, slim boy. He stood up straight like a grown man and stared at Cecile with a serious and stubborn expression that reminded her of a young soldier.
He had jet-black eyes that seemed to suck you in, and his hair was a glossy black.
Cecile checked the documents on the table. A boy from a country in the Orient studying abroad through a national recommendation. His father was a soldier, and his two older brothers were already professionals. The pride of his country, he was an honor student from a military academy with excellent grades.
“Kazuya Kujou, right?”
“Oui.” A small crease appeared on Kazuya Kujou’s forehead. He wasn’t familiar with French just yet. Then he straightened his back. “My name is Kazuya Kujou. I’m pleased to be under your guidance, Mademoiselle.”
“Do you… want some dog?”
Kazuya’s tense face turned somber. “Non. We don’t eat dogs.”
“That’s good to know. Follow me to the classroom.”
Cecile headed off with books in her hand, and Kazuya quickly followed her. His black leather shoes made rhythmical clicks down the hallway; it sounded like a solitary march.
As Cecile walked down the hallway, she glanced at Kazuya and the documents in her hand. The photo attached to the papers showed a stern-looking military man—his father—two large brothers, and a slim woman who seemed to be his mother, standing in the middle. Kazuya, on the other hand, was at the edge, ducking his head in embarrassment. The spirited girl next to him, his older sister, with glossy black hair and moist eyes reminiscent of a black cat, was clinging to him, squeezing his cheeks.
Comparing Kazuya’s serious expression and his embarrassed look on the photo elicited a chuckle from Cecile.
“Is there something wrong, Mademoiselle?” Kazuya asked curiously.
“It’s nothing. Make sure you study hard.”
“Of course.” Kazuya nodded with a hard look on his face. “I carry the dignity of my country on my shoulders. I must achieve excellent grades and return home as someone who could serve his nation well. It’s what my father and brothers told me.”
“What about your maman and sister?”
Kazuya cast his gaze down briefly; he looked like an actual child.
“My mother and sister were crying. They didn’t want me to go somewhere far away.” Kazuya looked tearful. Then he bit his lip and straightened his posture again.
“I-I see,” Cecile replied.
They arrived at the classroom.
Cecile opened the door and introduced the international student Kazuya Kujou. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys and girls in the classroom—children of aristocrats who held significant positions in the government of Sauville—all stared at their new classmate, who was standing at the podium, with cold, pretentious, expressionless faces.