The arrival of Ponder Stibbons had not, Phoebe suspected, gone the way Ridcully had hoped. Half a dozen students had jumped the young Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic, with one of them – the incredibly-named Lucy2 "Diamanda2" Tockley2-Stibbons – screaming "Husband! Husband!" all the while. Nenya Gabriel, being the oldest human class member, had taken the opportunity to sneak out in search of refuge (or just possibly, as she commented later, in search of Rincewind), but had walked straight into an Administrator. His appearance had calmed things down some, although Saphie had taken one look at him and collapsed in a dead faint.
So Day One of OFUDisc classes had clattered to its end, and the students were set to walking to their quarters. On the way, shortly before they left Ankh-Morpork, a girl named Becky had committed suicide – at least, that's what Phoebe understood it to be called when you trip over, knock three trollish market stalls through Chrysoprase's front window... and then go inside when invited. When Phoebe had picked her up, she had seemed confused: "This wasn't supposed to happen!" she'd exclaimed. "I'm meant to be the main-" And then she'd been eaten by a battered-looking medical case. Such is death.
As Class Two made their way up a mountain road, Phoebe found herself walking alongside their guide. He wasn't the Administrator from earlier, nor (to the regret of various class members) one of the teachers. Instead he was someone so unlovely Phoebe didn't believe anyone could ever lust after him. His face was covered in stitches and pins, and a glimpse of a dark line on his wrist suggested they didn't stop at the collar. Actually there was something vaguely familiar about the whole thing.
"You're Ygor, right?" she blurted, then flinched as the bag that had eaten Becky dropped from nowhere onto the path in front of her. The strange man bent down and picked it up.
"That'th Igor," he said without rancour. "But don't feel bad – by my count you are the eleventh-and-a-halfth perthon to make that mithtake today."
Phoebe blinked. "And a half?"
"Your claththmate," Igor clarified. "Thhe tripped over Ygor here halfway through the quethtion, and thomehow never finithed."
Phoebe swallowed and glanced at the bag. "Right. Um, sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Igor said reassuringly. "And if it maketh you feel any better, you're only the thicth and a quarterth perthon to apologithe."
Phoebe didn't ask.
That night, in OFUDisc's decrepit castle in Uberwald (something about that sentence felt wrong, but Phoebe wasn't sure what), Phoebe lay on her bed in the Class 2 Dormitory and listened to the dark.
There were, of course, the sounds of two dozen girls adjusting to their new home – sobs, tossing and turning, the occasional whisper. There were a few faint spots of light – torches, she supposed, or mobile phones which even international calling plans couldn't save – and by that glow she watched more than one girl sneak across to try the door. It was locked.
Under all that, though, were the noises of the castle itself – the creaking of wood, the deep groaning of stone, and the faintest of murmurs which could have been ghosts, could have been rats, could have been her imagination. She strained her ears, trying to catch the almost-words that were saying, were saying-
Phoebe almost jumped out of her skin at the sound. That wasn't a ghostly whisper – it came from right next to her bed, and as (bad) luck would have it, no one had a torch lit. "Who's there?" she whispered back.
"It's Penny," came the reply out of the near-total darkness. "You're the Goth girl, right?"
"Um, I think that's Yukimona," Phoebe whispered. "She's at the end of the-"
"Not vampire-Goth," Penny interrupted dismissively. "Death-Goth."
"Oh. Yes, I suppose."
"Good." Phoebe's bed creaked softly, and Penny's next words came from right beside her ear. "I have a question to ask you."
Phoebe was more than a little bewildered. It wasn't every night strange girls climbed into one's bed for no known reason. Still, there was no harm in asking, "What?"
Penny swallowed nervously. "While you've been... you know, with the scythe... have you picked up a girl named Vemi?"
Phoebe thought back and shook her head. Then, remembering the darkness, she whispered, "No."
She felt Penny slump. "She's not here, then. But she should be."
"Maybe she didn't get in," Phoebe offered. "It's quite a small school."
"No, she did," Penny insisted. "But something's wrong. I mean, look: how old are you?"
"Fourteen," Phoebe whispered, then blinked. "No, sorry, twenty-two."
"So are most of the class," Penny told her. "And that's weird, because OFU students are usually younger – about the first age you said."
"It was just a slip of the tongue," Phoebe pointed out, feeling oddly defensive. "Anyone could have made it."
"And everyone does," Penny whispered emphatically. "We're all convinced it's eight years ago." There was a motion in the bed – perhaps Penny shaking her head. "And we act like it, too. I mean, I'm a PPC Agent and Guild Assassin, but I feel like... a teenager."
Phoebe tried to come up with a response, but Penny hadn't finished – if anything, she was getting more agitated. "And I keep feeling like I've been here before – with Vemi – only it was different, there were giant broomsticks and Ridcully shot fireballs at us-"
"No, that was today," Phoebe interrupted. She wanted to say the other girl – the other woman, none of them were teenagers any more, why couldn't she remember that? - was making it all up, but it did strike a chord. Something about... had she died? She shook her head. Ridiculous. She'd know if she'd been here before – right?
"And now she's not here," Penny said in her quietest voice yet, "and everything's all strange and I miss her and I'm scared." Phoebe's heart wrenched, and she reached over to touch the other girl's shoulder. She was perhaps unreasonably surprised when Penny rolled over and clung to her.
"Um, there, there," Phoebe tried. "I'm sure you'll find her..."
"I'll never see her again," Penny sobbed. "She's moved on and I thought she might still be herself here but she's not and I miss her so much..." She sniffed, lifted a hand to wipe her face. When she spoke again, it was with a kind of brittle calm. "Can... can I sleep here tonight?"
Phoebe's mind raced like lightning. All the possible answers, the maybe replies, the could-be consequences... she chose quickly. She had to.
"I don't think there's room for two," she said gently. "But we can talk tomorrow if you like."
There was a long moment of silence, then she felt Penny nod. "Sure," she whispered. "I'd like that." She rolled off the bed, stood, and walked away, trailing might-have-beens and neverweres across the floor.
Disclaimer: All Discworld canon characters and locations are the creations of Sir Terry Pratchett. The Official Fanfiction University concept is the creation of Miss Cam. The PPC (Protectors of the Plot Continuum) is the creation of Jay and Acacia. Phoebe is based on an application to OFUDisc by Fawkes Phoenix. All other students are based on applications to OFUDisc. All details of (and mistakes in) plot, narrative and dialogue are mine. Thanks to the Irish Samurai for betaing.
Author's Note: This chapter heavily references the original run of OFUDisc, which starred a certain Becky Glienna, and did indeed involve a fireball-slinging Ridcully. While cut tragically short at the time, the three extant chapters (chapter 2 is unfortunately lost forever) can be found elsewhere on this blog, along with (among other things) the mini-Luggage Adoption Centre... and, if you've never heard of us, some links to tell you about the PPC.