Just so we're clear, the last chapter was another Twisted Wonderland cross.
Headmaster Crowley was giving Ash a very stern look. Mostly because she hadn't informed them immediately about the seal on her core. The backlash had been rather strong, which was unsurprising as her magic had been actively trying to remove it.
"Would you care to explain the seal we found on your core?"
"To put it bluntly, the English morons were afraid of me and what I could potentially do," said Ash.
Crowley stared at her, waiting for the full story.
"The English Ministry was afraid of my power and decided the best method to handle it was to seal it away, since any attempts to control me ended rather poorly...for them. The idiots who did it made it clear they would only remove the seal if I agreed to marry either their heirs or a 'suitable relative' and hand over all control of my accounts to their family as well as side with them," explained Ash. "I disagreed, vehemently."
"I see...and the reason you neglected to inform the staff about the seal and your gender?"
"If you recall, there wasn't exactly a chance to inform you. Grim kept causing trouble and I've had issues with my previous headmaster being entirely too meddlesome into my personal life. It ended rather badly," said Ash bluntly.
"Hmm...Albus always was a bit dim when it came to his chess strategies," agreed Crowley. "As it stands, I am willing to overlook the matter of your gender so long as you agree to follow a few stipulations. This is a boy's academy, though it didn't used to be."
"As long as they are reasonable and don't impact me to a ridiculous extent, I am willing to at least listen," said Ash.
The rules were simple enough...she wasn't to be overt about her gender, she wasn't to try and seduce the more powerful members of the student or faculty in an effort to marry into their family, and she was to make an effort to keep her actual gender as quiet as possible. She was still the prefect of the Ramshackle dorm, which used to house the limited female populace, but circumstances resulted in the dorm being abandoned that Crowley didn't want to speak about.
There was a sister school for powerful females, but they weren't exactly on good terms and their curriculum wasn't as extensive.
In exchange for acting as Crowley's eyes and ears and acting as a neutral party between housewardens and their subordinates, Ash was given a new focus...a key much like everyone else. She still had to pay tuition though...Crowley was not running a charity after all.
You could imagine his relief/amusement when Ash used her shiny new focus to open a pocket dimension that had her special 'key' to her vaults. She not only paid her tuition in full on the spot, but Grim's as well. She was just happy to have a new spell focus again, because trying to cast without one was a pain in the arse, in her personal opinion.
Some time later...
Ace and Deuce looked a tad pale upon realizing they had been swindled into helping clean the Ramshackle dorm. Or at least a small part of it.
"Remind me again why we're doing this?" said Ace.
"Because you not only owe me for helping you out with that mess with your housewarden, but I agreed to feed you," said Ash, already geared up to do some serious cleaning. "And while Grim has magic, his ability to use it is beginner's level at best."
"Hey!" said Grim.
"You nearly blew up trying to use a basic cleaning charm. Until you learn control you are not going to be joining in unless it's dusting the ceiling!" said Ash. Grim wilted.
Ace looked at the sheer level of dust. Ash sighed.
"I'm not asking for perfection, but a general level of 'clean' that doesn't involve dust coming out in massive clouds whenever you sit down and being able to see through the window without a layer of grime."
The two boys shared a look, before looking at Ash.
"So basically just try to make it presentable like cleaning as much of the dust and cobwebs out?" said Ace, mostly for clarification.
"Essentially. Magic is a wonder, but even it needs help. I'd rather not wear myself out with overpowered cleaning charms when a mop and some soapy water can do the same bloody thing with less energy. I plan to go over it a second time, but having the worst of it cleaned out first would help a lot," said Ash.
It took them five hours, and Ash didn't try overly hard to keep the boys on task considering it was boring work to begin with.
And as promised, she did feed them.
"This pizza is awesome!" said Ace, eagerly devouring it. Grim was already on his fifth slice that had canned fish on it.
"Trey agreed to swap recipes if I helped him out in the kitchen, and I'm hoping to work with Jamil when it comes to learning traditional foods of the Scalding Sands," said Ash. "Though Riddle seemed enthusiastic that I was planning to join the the Equestrian club, so long as it doesn't clash with my track meets."
"You're taking Track too?" said Deuce.
"I'm good at running, and I want to familiarize myself with the rules of Spelldrive before I try out for the team," admitted Ash. That and she wanted to be sure it didn't bring up any bad memories of her other school.
Cooking, track and learning to ride horses sounded like a lot of fun and a great way to kill time. It didn't hurt that she and Grim were considered honorary members of the Heartsabyl dorm after the mess where Riddle snapped.
Treating the older boy like a male Hermione did wonders, and he warmed up to her rather quickly now that he wasn't trying to uphold some toxic form of perfection on himself. Which was why Trey was all too happy to swap recipes, come to think of it.
By the time Ace and Deuce left the dorm for their own, the place looked far cleaner.
Ash looked at the room, which still had a lot of work to do but was at least far cleaner than it was this morning. She cracked her knuckles.
"Well, time for the 'fun' part," she said, mostly to herself.
"Nyahaha...what about me? What can I do?"
"You can tell me what you want for your part of the room. We'll work on your charm work tomorrow once this room is cleaned and mostly decorated," said Ash. Grim perked up at that.
"You're going to teach me magic?"
"I'm going to get your control and spellwork up to par so you're not just shooting fire everywhere," she agreed. "I might not look it, but I did teach several other kids and it's because of me that they had such a high grade in defense."
Grim looked forward to that...he mostly operated on instinct, rather than any formal teaching.
By the time Ash felt satisfied, she was beyond exhausted and glad that first year classes were mostly theory. And that tomorrow was a day off for the students for club activities.
A simple coffee and she was ready for track the next morning.
"Remind me again how I got roped into this club?" asked Ash bemused.
Vil, the housewarden of Pomefiore, merely smirked at her. He had taken one look at her while she was talking to a freshmen of his house and had been utterly aghast. Not at the idea of inter-dorm friendships, but at the sheer lack of care she took in her appearance.
Ash...still didn't know how the vain bastard tricked her into joining his club, but she wasn't complaining overly much.
Apparently the film research club had plenty of actors, but was always short on stage hands unless Vil roped some poor bastard into it. Having someone who was competent at magic (and broom flying while carrying things) who would rather stay behind the scenes rather than act was a magic-send to them.
In exchange for joining his club, Vil offered his personal attention to the decoration of the Ramshackle dorm's interior. Being given basically carte-blanche so long as it kept to a certain theme appealed to him, especially since what they couldn't conjure up Ash had zero issue paying for.
More importantly Ash agreed to join the club to learn more about beauty products from the others without actually having to pay for it. They were more than happy to enlighten her on the subject since she was helping them with their productions.
Grim, on the other hand seemed to find his calling in the Spelldrive club and Mountain lover clubs.
Ash shook her head exasperation, and continued what she was doing. Still, it wasn't a bad deal for either party. Vil got to have fun decorating a dorm within reason on Ash's coin, and Ash finally got to learn more about something she was mildly interested in but rarely had a chance to mess around with because Hermione hated doing anything feminine like make-up or products.
It was only the importance of the Yule ball that had gotten her to use that potion to tame her frizzy hair, and she wore the bare minimum of make-up.
"I still need your number, by the way. It wouldn't do for me to run around trying to track you down for club activities," said Vil. "Plus it would make coordinating so much easier."
"Yeah, about that..." said Ash.
Vil was so appalled by the fact Ash didn't even own a phone, much less know how to use one that he enlisted the help of Cater. Cater was equally appalled, especially since he could sense Ash could help him boost his rating on MagiCam.
(On an unrelated note, once she got the hang of the thing and how to post on MagiCam, she ended up starting an advice channel for the other students that basically boiled down to applying common sense and an unbiased ear to their problems.)
Ash also found herself returning to the dorm with an entirely new wardrobe after Vil learned she had been brought to the academy with literally the clothes on her back and what little she had stored in her pocket dimension. He seemed to enjoy the whole thing, especially since she was able to pay for the quality items.
"What exploded in here?" asked Grim surprised.
"I told the housewarden for Pomefiore that he was free to decorate the dorm within reason, and he decided he liked the idea of having a mostly blank canvas to play around with since we had already cleaned the place. Coincidentally the replacement bed will be here by tomorrow afternoon at the earliest," said Ash tiredly.
"Because I haven't the foggiest idea how to decorate it, and he seemed to enjoy the idea of having a chance to play around with another dorm since we don't actually have a theme going on. If I'm going to be living here for the next four years, I want to at least look nice since this is going to be the dorm for the misfits and those who need a place to stay away from their own dorms."
It was part of the agreement she worked out with Crowley. Ramshackle dorm was being listed as the "Misfit Dorm" for those who had nowhere else to go (like her) or those who needed a neutral party to act between them and their housemates/housewarden. It was an easy compromise since it meant she was a true neutral party that Crowley could dump some of his more annoying duties on in exchange for allowing her to attend the school despite being female.
So long as she didn't try to seduce any of the students, particularly the more...noticeable ones like Malleus...deliberately she was free to do whatever she wanted.
It was rather odd, having a headmaster who wasn't trying to manipulate her and had a decidedly hand's off approach. Crowley was more than happy to give her a bit of leeway in regards to handling the issues with the other dorms so long as she ran things by him first. It meant less paperwork for him after all.
Grim had an odd look, but left Ash to it since she had at least taken his preferences into account when fixing up his section of the room. He wouldn't say as much, but he absolutely loved his new cat tree.
Jamil looked at the oddball freshman.
"You want to what?" he asked.
"I heard that you were the one to ask in regards to the traditional recipes from the Scalding Sands. I'm trying to improve my recipe list and Trey suggested asking you for advice," Ash admitted openly.
Jamil stared at her.
"I can help you reign in your housewarden, and share spells that will discreetly bring him in line. Case in point, a wandless stinging hex and one that will have him hanging by his ankle until he agrees to behave," said Ash.
Now he looked openly interested. Then he gained a look of slight suspicion.
"I'm not interested in trying to buddy up with Kalim, and I will keep away from his personal meals. I just want to exchange food recipes and learn more about the culture of your homeland," said Ash without hesitation. "My...family...was heavily biased against learning anything new and I find learning other cultures fascinating."
Jamil consider this, and agreed but only on a probationary period.
(Jamil reevaluated Ash as a potential ally after learning the other student could speak fluent snake and upon learning Kalim and Jamil's interest in the subject, gifted them a book on how to maintain a magical parrot rather than a mundane one. Ash fully intended to gift them one each to make a mated pair for their birthdays.)