Margaret Peregrine is a high school sophomore. Most of the time, she's either at school, at the school robotics club, at the school chess club, or doing schoolwork. Today, she's cleaning out her late great-grandmother's attic.
"It's pretty dangerous. We have . . . precautions we can take, that make it safer, and if you follow them and don't try to experiment on your own, it should be, not completely safe, but safe enough."
"The risk is largely to do with you losing control of a spell by misspeaking. Then the spell will do something you don't want it to. Margaret's got a way to prevent that but she has to be with you, I can't even do it myself, though I'd be able to patch you up after a non-lethal mistake."
"We do have a healing spell, and also a way to make healing artifacts. Neither of us is a doctor and that limits what we can legally do with them, but we have them. For anything else about the safety precautions, we would need you to sign this contract promising not to tell anyone our secrets, whether you end up deciding to go to the school or not."
"In that case I think I want to be sure I'm in before I learn anything I'll have to sign a contract about. And I'll want to read it really carefully." He has some other questions about scheduling, whether they're going to have homework, whether they offer any kind of grades or credentials, and whether they're willing to teach medallion-making and if so can he go into business competing with them.
"If you find a way to go into business competing with us I think we'd both be delighted, there are a lot of critters in the world," says Bella. "I don't currently expect it to be possible - you could help, but probably not substitute - for secret reasons. Grades and credentials are works in progress, we don't really have an accreditation board to impress but we'll probably have some means of expressing our satisfaction with students' results by the time you have any results. Homework probably, I'm kind of down on it from a philosophical perspective but there's only the two of us and we have other stuff to do than sit there while you do tedious things and homework is the logical response."
"I would too, in your place, but I don't know how to make it safe. Possibly we can set something up where you and I work on inventing spells together, but--secret stuff again." Apologetic shrug.
"It really seems like I need to know the secret stuff before I can decide. You're not asking for me to commit to a certain number of classes, right? Theoretically I could read your contracts, sign the one where I promise not to tell anyone anything, learn what it is I'm not supposed to tell, then decide I actually don't want to go to your school after all and leave and keep your secrets and not pay you?"
"Yes, that would be fine. Or you could buy a lesson or two and then decide to quit and that would be fine too. The only thing you'd need to commit to long-term is the nondisclosure agreement."
"Thank you for troubleshooting the clarity of our documentation," says Bella, taking notes on where he's uncertain.
"Thank you for sitting here while I stared at it! Too many horror stories about people who didn't read a contract properly and got into horrible messes. This one looks good, though." He signs the NDA. "So, can you tell me the thing now, or does it have to be explained at midnight in a secret underground cavern during the new moon?"
"That isn't necessary, no. Uh, I'm the last living sphinx and she's the second-to-last living dragon and we have extra species-specific powers we are using to cheat."
"Okay." Margaret checks that the door is definitely still shut and puts on her scaly green wings and head.
"Sorry, I should have warned you better." Margaret returns to human shape, looking slightly embarrassed.
"So, dragons basically do magic suppression, which doesn't sound like an advantage except that I can suppress only the bad effects of a failed spell. So everything is a lot safer if I'm the one casting it. That's why I can invent spells but can't teach inventing spells--I'm working by trial and error nobody else could get away with."
"Oooh. Hmm." Margaret gets a nerd-sniped look in her eyes.
"Well, one of the theories about where critter species came from in the first place is runecasting..."
"Yeah! Runecasting accidents, supposedly, but still. Actually, given that, I wonder which would be easier: giving a critter the powers of a different species, or turning a human into a specific critter species entirely. Might depend on whether the connection between species and powers fundamentally means anything."