No one knows where magic comes from. There are as many schools of thought as there are practitioners of the art. All that is really known is that some people have a talent for manipulating a strange force that can be called into being through linguistics. Using words of power, it is possible to cast spells – but spells must be properly composed according to an esoteric grammar with a thousand strange rules and exceptions, that can change with the seasons, the time or day, or even the colour of the caster’s hair.
But where magicians come from is another matter.
Magical society, when you get right down to it, begins with women who said “Enough. No more.” It begins with witches.
In North America, the modern age of magical society began in the early 1690s, in Salem, Massachusetts. It began with a small group of women being forced to leave, one step ahead of what passed for law. They fled, and they took their daughters with them.
It was one of their daughters, Sarah Hannigan by name, who founded what has gone on to become the premiere college of magic in the United States. It is possible to learn magic outside of Hannigan’s Academy, in similar instutions, with similar histories, all over the world, or even to learn a smattering of ramshackle techniques in the strange hidden communities of hedge witches and wizards outside of any formal educational establishments, but everyone knows there’s nowhere finer to learn that craft than Hannigan’s.
However, finding your way into these prestigious halls is no easy task. Scouts are sent out to every school in the country, looking for those with a promise of magic. Even those from a long line of practitioners are not guaranteed a place, and even those who are deemed worthy may not see graduation.
The study of magic is an arduous and often risky process. Every student rapidly finds that they possess a natural aptitude for certain kinds of magic, and a disinclination to pursue others – a facility with certain words and forms, and a lack of talent for others. The exact reason that some words ‘take’ better than others is not well understood, but one thing is clear: it can be dangerous to pursue forms of magic that one is not naturally skilled at. Spells draw their power from language, so using words that do not resonate with one’s internal monologue can lead to eccentricities of character, and even outright madness. There are enough ancient legends of mad wizards and evil witches to bear this out.
Hannigan’s Academy is located in the tiny town of Clearwater, Nebraska, although most of the local residents don’t know that. Hidden away from the world by powerful wards and ancient enchantments, the campus is home to around four thousand undergraduates, postgraduates and faculty, all of whom live on site in a curious collection of dormitories and housing facilities that all seem to be rather bigger on the inside.
The central cloister is surrounded by a curious mix of old buildings, such as the laboratories and the chapel to St Justinia, and ultra-modern facilities, like the New Library and the administrative department. They all seem to have grown together over the years rather than ever having been planned in any meaningful way. It is not unheard of for students to carve little notches and symbols into door frames in an attempt to keep themselves from getting lost whilst wandering the sprawling campus.
A handful of drinking establishments are scattered across the campus. All were originally started by enterprising students wanting somewhere to drink beyond watchful eyes. Warded against nosy members of the faculty, they have become mainstays of life at Hannigan’s. Over the years these charmed backrooms and forgotten attics have expanded into reputable establishments. The best of them, at least as far as its regulars are concerned, is the Half-Full Club.
No one’s really sure where that name came from. Some insist it came from the original bartender’s habit of enchanting half measures back out of drinks once they’d been served; others reckon it came from the optimism that must have been required to open an illicit bar above what had once been the faculty common room. Whatever its origins, it is still a favourite place to waste a few October Dollars (or ‘odds’, as the magical currency is often called) on drink. If you’re feeling a little more daring, there are the ‘upstairs drinks’ – a selection of potions with various magical effects for those in need. With the night before graduation being their busiest, Sandy is sure to have laid on extra.
Besides the usual, mundane pre-graduation rituals to be observed the evening before receiving your diploma, there is one that is utterly unique to Hannigan’s: this is the only night you will be able to give away your class ring. These rings are given to all students on their first day at Hannigan’s. They are sacred, but just for tonight, they can be given away.
To give someone your ring is a symbol of absolute trust and a promise – they now hold a little of your magic, and any attempt to enchant them will be far more dangerous than usual. However, there is no guarantee they will give their ring to you in return – and once given, it cannot be taken back.