This was not the Academy anymore. Toadmila blinked in the bright sunlight that was suddenly blinding her.
“Miss Wartly, I presume?”
Toadmila opened her eyes to see a short, stout middle-aged woman dressed in a woolen robe, so covered in cat hairs that it was impossible to tell which color it had originally been.
“You must excuse me,” the woman said, “it's Casual Cat Day at the office.” She waved her hand at her robes and the cat hairs vanished, revealing a silvery gray beneath. “I'm Gwendolyn, from Shock and Accommodation. You've just been given a position, am I right? It's my job to make sure you adapt to it as quickly and as painlessly as possible.”
Toadmila noticed that Gwendolyn was wringing her hands. Clearly she did not anticipate it would be all that painless.
“Now, my dear, I'm sure you are used to some comforts...” Gwendolyn said, looking away, towards a rack of perfectly new brooms, their bristles shining in the sun.
Toadmila nodded, although she felt that her hard bed at the Academy, or the ven harder floor she'd slept on at the orphanage, did not qualify as comforts.
“Yes... well... I hear you are going to the Hole,” Gwendolyn said slowly.
“Oh, that's just how we call it here, deary. Nothing to worry about. It's just that the people go in there, but they never come out. But it is a proper hut and all, and it needn't even be dilapidated, as long as it still looks dilapidated to the locals. Camouflaging enchantments, you know. Easily done.”
“So it's not dilapidated?” Toadmila asked hopefully.
“Oh, it is,” Gwendolyn answered with a strong, assertive nod. “It's thoroughly dilapidated and practically falling apart. But it needn't be, you know. You could fix it.”
Toadmila rolled her eyes.
“Would you like a cup of tea, dear?” Gwendolyn asked quickly.
Toadmila opened her mouth to say no, and found a cup of tea pressed against her lips. The warm liquid was down her throat before she could close her mouth again. She took a step back, and the cup remained in place, hovering placidly in the air.
“That's better,” Gwendolyn said cheerfully. “You'll find that you want more tea. It's a self-filling cup, so drink as much as you like.”
Toadmila was about to say that she did not want more tea, that she did not, in fact, like tea in the slightest, that she did not want to adjust to a dilapidated hut either, and that she'd have a great deal more to say about that if she could just find her words. But she couldn't find her words. In fact, she couldn't even remember what she was about to say. She could not remember what she'd been so upset about. Or how she could have ever not liked tea before. She reached for the cup and gulped down the soothing warm beverage with a placid smile of perfect content.
“There's nothing a little bit of tea won't fix,” Gwendolyn said angelically. “And you can take the cup with you, deary. You'll need a lot more tea where you're going.”
Toadmila thanked her gratefully and returned to sipping her tea.
“Now, I wish I could help you more,” Gwendolyn said, “but it's your station, so it's your job to fix it up. You get all the requisites, of course: standard-issue broom, standard-issue wand, and a coupon for a 50% off price for a basic familiar – cat, owl, bat or spider – which cannot be cumulated with any other offers and is only available while stocks last. But the good news is that it won't expire until 10 weeks after the Apocalypse, whenever that may be, so you have plenty of time to get your familiar at 50% off.”
Toadmila nodded placidly. Somehow, this all sounded like a good offer, even the dilapidated hut.
“You already have your pointy hat and basic robes,” Gwendolyn added, giving Toadmila a brief look,” so you should be all set.”
She snapped her fingers and a broom flew off the rack and into her hands. A simple black wand jumped up from an orderly stack on Gwendolyn's desk and joined the broom. Finally, Gwendolyn took a brightly colored slip of paper off the same desk and pressed all three items into Toadmila's free hand. Then she raised her left arm and snapped her fingers and Toadmila found herself somewhere else entirely.