Monique sat silent, her gaze straight forward, her attitude one of superiority rather than penance.
“Your marks are as expected. You are a fair intelligencer but prone to lack of creativity, which could get you killed. You are ladylike but favor overt manipulation, which could get you ostracized. Given your age, it is the recommendation of the staff that you marry with no second attempt at finishing.”
Monique looked, for the first time in Sophronia’s miserable association with the girl, as if she might genuinely cry. Sophronia had seen her fake cry on several occasions, but never had an honest tear come from those pretty blue eyes. The blonde said, “How could you? Why, I ought to have my father refuse funding. I shall report you to my special friend for this.”
Sophronia perked up. She knew Monique had an advocate on staff, but this was the first time the girl had admitted it publicly.
Professor Lefoux interrupted any further tirade. “Silence, young lady. You are to remain a student here until your coming-out ball and will conduct yourself as such. You will do very well for yourself in society, but it is the formal assessment of this institution that even with retraining, you could not exceed your personality. You are not to be made an agent.”
Am I seeing things, wondered Sophronia, or is that a smile on Professor Lefoux’s face?
Monique rose as though she might storm from the room.
“Sit down, Miss Pelouse!” ordered Professor Lefoux. “You are required to witness all the assessments.”
Monique resumed her seat, almost trembling.
“Preshea Buss.” Preshea’s dark eyes were wide, and her normally crafty face was carefully blank.
“You are adept at social manipulation but too apt to trade on your looks for assistance. You underestimate intelligence, even your own. Improve your execution, or you will be good only for marriage without covert orders.”
Preshea protested, “But I’ve been here only a few months!” She spoke precisely and sharply, as though each word were being murdered by her mouth.
“Which is why we tell you this now.”
“What if I want to get married?” grumbled Preshea under her breath to Agatha.
“I thought that was one of the ways to finish,” Sophronia whispered to Dimity.
“It is, but to be dismissed into marriage without covert orders is dishonorable.”
“Miss Temminnick, Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott, if you would like to include the rest of the class in your discussion?” Professor Lefoux’s ire was turned abruptly on them.
Dimity and Sophronia looked up. “Sorry, Professor,” they singsonged in tandem.
Professor Lefoux glared but clearly wished to continue. “Agatha Woosmoss,” she barked.
Agatha’s bottom lip wobbled.
“Very poor marks indeed. Have you been paying any attention at all in your lessons? You are hereby put on probationary status for six months. You must improve both covert and social aspects of training. Your father is a great patron of our insitution, but we cannot play favorites with a weak component.”
Agatha began to cry, fishing about for a handkerchief. As usual, she had misplaced hers. Sophronia passed her a spare, wincing in sympathy.
Professor Lefoux continued. “Sidheag Maccon, Lady Kingair.”
Sidheag looked directly at the teacher, like a soldier facing execution. The girl’s unique yellow eyes were wary.
“You chose all the weapons and showed excellent use of them, even the fan. However, your social skills are middling, and your dress and posture have entirely failed to improve. We understand your background is unusual and that your expectations are different from those of other students. We are sending you into Scottish society, but you will be presented at court eventually. A woman of your rank will need all skills, not only the ones you find interesting. You too are on probation, and your father has been informed of this.”
Sidheag look more worried than Sophronia had ever seen her. Her so-called father, Lord Maccon, was really her great-great-great-grandfather and Alpha werewolf of the Kingair Castle pack. Sidheag always spoke of him with a fond irreverence. Now Sophronia could tell from her friend’s expression that he could also be fierce.
Professor Lefoux moved to Dimity. “Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott.”
Dimity’s face was ashen.
“Your marks are fair, although not as we would have hoped given your lineage. Your reluctance to pursue subterfuge does you a disservice when it is rooted in laziness. Your good humor may work in your favor if you can harness it for information gathering and not simply gossip. Concentrate on combat and solo reconnaissance. You must build your character, Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott. Flibbertigibbets are only good if they have a solid foundation.”
Dimity looked humbled but relieved. She clearly had thought she too would be placed on probation.
Last, Professor Lefoux turned to Sophronia.
“Miss Temminnick, you are in receipt of the highest marks we have ever given in a six-month review. Your mind seems designed for espionage. Nevertheless, you veer away from perfect in matters of etiquette. Do not let these marks go to your head; there are many girls at this school who are better than you. Our biggest concern is what you get up to when we are not watching. Because, if nothing else, this test has told us you are probably spying on us, as well as everyone around you.”
All the other girls in the room, even Dimity, turned to stare at Sophronia.
In that moment, Sophronia knew they hated her. And because she was exactly as Professor Lefoux had said, one small part of her wondered if her assessment had been inflated for precisely that reason: to challenge her by pitting her against her fellow students.