When it came down to it, the faculty knew best.
Professor Goodfairy, from the Fairies' College, published papers about it regularly. Not even Dr. West, the Wicked Witch from the University of Oz, had anything to say against the theory. Even from the realms of another world altogether, Headmistress Bloodgood warned them about it that same day she transferred Miss Cupid-- they were a world in peril, cautious peril.
Those three most esteemed among the faculty of Ever After High spoke of it among themselves-- Milton Grimm arguing on one point, Baba Yaga emphasizing another. It was Giles Grimm who proposed the solution, ultimately, and all three could agree upon one point: this tale was a tale that would have to be told, even unto only a few. It would be a very small, very bright coalition of students they would allow to learn this, a lesson just now beginning to be taught in the echelons of higher education.
And there was no time better to introduce it than at the end of the year, when schedules must be arranged.
"Advanced Placement Fairy-Physics..." Apple beamed at option open on her senior year schedule. "That's the new class that's going to be available! I'm definitely going to take that one."
"Huh? It looks like I've got the option to take it, too," Raven scrolled through her own options on the Mirrorpad. "I didn't know my Che-myth-stry average was that good!"
"Well, you do better than most on the pop quizzes," Apple offered. "Maybe you should try it. Taking AP Fairy-Physics might be our only chance to get a few extra credits for university... and I guess I'll need them sooner than later since my fairytale... happened a little bit off-schedule."
"I mean... it's still kind of the Snow White fairytale," Raven attempted, flopping down on her bedding. "A... metaphorical interpretation? Got tricked by an Evil Queen, ate a poison apple, um... seven... of our friends? And pixies are kind of short, so if you use the word 'dwarf' like an adjective..."
Apple shook her head, "I appreciate what you're trying to do, Raven, but it's not the same anymore... and you know what? I think I might actually be okay with that. It's kind of scary, that ours was the first fairytale to change, but maybe I needed that kick. Now that the story's, well, over, I can really give up on thinking you'll ever be evil."
"Thank goodness for that," Raven smiled and, ultimately deciding it couldn't hurt, selected AP Fairy-Physics as her mandatory science class. "I'm kind of looking into Seelie Sorcery as a career... you know, telling people how to break curses, undoing hexes, that sort of stuff. Fairy Physics sounds like it could be useful in that field."
"It's got to be a prerequisite for something, at least," Apple agreed. "And since you already know so much about curses, Seelie Sorcery sounds like a perfect fit for you!"
"Hey, you've got to know the illness before you can figure out the cure," Raven grinned, eagerly skipping over General Villany and Evilnomics classes in favor of Hexology II, History of Heroic Questing, and Spellcasting Ethics. "Mostly, I'm just relieved that most of my credits transfer over to my new choice. I wouldn't give up being good for anything, but I'm definitely glad that I don't have to take make-up classes over summer break. I get enough of school during the school year; I don't need an extra three months of it."
"Well," Apple sighed, visibly deflating. "I love my family so much, and I definitely care about our Royal traditions... but I kind of wish I was staying here over the summer. My mom is... well, you know how she's supposed to die in the fairytale, and then you're supposed to usurp the family throne and drive the kingdom to ruin?"
"Still not going to do that," Raven sat up, hoisting herself off her bed. "But your mom isn't going to die! Isn't that a good thing?"
"Definitely! It's a great thing," Apple exclaimed. "It's just, she spent her entire life up until this point working with the whole business model of making sure the kingdom would have enough money to function even after my fairytale's bleakest years were over. Now, it's kind of like... we don't need so much insurance, I guess. She doesn't know what to do anymore, since the fairytale was supposed to happen next year, around my sixteenth birthday. She had her own funeral planned, and everything."
"No offense, Apple," Raven cringed, "But that is seriously the creepiest Royal tradition. I mean... my mom, who's maybe the most evil villain of them all, didn't even actually kill your grandma for the fairytale. Kidnapping and imprisonment isn't much better, but the fact that Royal parents go into their kids' fairytales expecting to die..."
"No offense taken... I'm completely with you on that one," Apple grimaced. "Nowadays, the 'funeral' is mostly just ceremony... you know, a metaphorical death, where a queen passes on her crown and scepter to the queen that follows. But way, way back in the 'once upon a times'... it's creepy, reading your family history and seeing like, a line of fifty ancestors in a row all go out the same way. The notes about how they all went for a walk outside the night before their daughter turned sixteen, and just... waited for the Evil Queen to come. Like a ritual."
"Wait," Raven looked at her oddly, "You mean you've been doing it on purpose?"
"After going through the story one hundred times, if we really wanted to prevent it from happening," Apple glanced back. "Don't you think we would have made sure the Queen stayed inside?"
"My mom always said it was a compulsion curse cast by one of our ancestors," Raven furrowed her brow curiously.
"I'm sure there must have been one at some point," Apple shook her head, "But like you said, Seelie Sorcery is a thing. If there was a curse, then the castle hexaminer would've gotten to it a long, long, long time ago."
"You're right. I'm sure your mom's just stressed that things aren't going according to plan," Raven sighed, dismissing the matter from her thoughts for now. Then, "What does she think about Darling?"
Apple flushed and seemed suddenly very, very interested in her class schedule. "You mean Darling as in Darling Charming? What about her?"
"I mean... I wasn't actually there, so I can only repeat what I've been told," Raven waggled her eyebrows. "But everyone says that Darling Charming was the one who woke you up... not Daring."
"It was-- well," Apple chewed her lip. "She said it was CPR!"
"Nuh-uh. As your local expert in poisons and curses, I can tell you for a fact that CPR alone doesn't break any of my mom's spells," Raven shook her head. "It's pretty basic hexology, magic ailments need magic cures. Poisoned apples-- magic. Lip-to-lip contact with your true love-- also magic. Maybe you thought it was CPR, and maybe even she thought it was CPR, but CPR is a non-magical cure for the non-magical ailment of not breathing. It might've gotten you breathing again... if that was the only thing that was wrong. But if you ask me, regular CPR shouldn't have cured the effects of poison magic."
"I mean, the argument's sound, but still," Apple began nibbling at the end of her stylus. "Anyways, since my story's over, maybe I should drop Damsel-in-Distressing?"
"I'm not that easily distracted," Raven chuckled. "Even if you won't tell me what your mom thinks, what do you think about Darling?"
"Well... she's nice," Apple fiddled with her stylus.
"That's all you have to say?"
"She's... considerate. You know," Apple broke eye contact. "Polite. And she's brave, the bravest of them all. I guess the right word for it is 'chivalrous'... though I've never described a girl that way before."
"Then she can be the first," Raven teased. "Is that all?"
"Well... I didn't really think about it when it happened," Apple sighed dreamily, "But it was just like time stopped, that first time we spoke afterwards. The light seemed to catch on every particle of her hair... but then she disappeared. It was kind of strange... almost like she was trying to avoid me."
"What it sounds like is that you were too busy admiring her to say anything," Raven elbowed her playfully. "Or hear anything, for that matter."
"No, she definitely vanished," Apple shook her head. "Maybe she was weirded out by what happened during the Dragon Games. Or she didn't want to see me, after that first match where I knocked her off her dragon..."
"Hey. We've all forgiven you for it... you were being manipulated," Raven insisted. "And besides, Darling's not that shallow. Her ankle was practically healed in a day!"
"But it could have been way, way worse," Apple exhaled. "Anyways, that's why I definitely can't stay at school this summer... because Darling's going to be staying here."
"That's right," Raven winced sympathetically. "I've got my fair share of issues with mom... but I can only imagine what the Charmings are going through."
"All right, Dex... what do you think about Dungeon Navigation 101?" Darling grinned wildly at her twin, thrilled beyond belief at all of the heroic classes now opened to her. "Maybe Swordsmanship I? Do you think Headmaster Grimm would let me skip ahead to Swordsmanship II if I had the Red Knight of Wonderland vouch for me?"
Dexter sighed forlornly and stared at his own class list, "Those both sound perfect for you, sis. You might even see me in class, if we're lucky."
"Huh? What do you mean by that?" Darling cocked her head and blinked at him. "Since only my general education courses are still valid for my career path, I'll be mostly starting over anew on hero classes."
"I might have to repeat a year," Dexter worried his lip. "Aside from stuff like Crownculus and Good Kingdom Management, my GPA isn't exactly... great. Even though I've been practicing as much as I can, I have no idea how I'm going to pass my practical Jousting final. And I think I'll be lucky if I survive Dungeon Navigation 101, much less defeat the monster that counts for 60% of the grade..."
"At least you don't have to repeat a year for Damsel-In-Distressing," Daring bemoaned. "Me! Daring Charming... Damsel-In-Distressing! I'm destined for the one fairytale where the prince is the one in distress."
"I mean. I'm sure if you ask Headmaster Grimm, we can do something," Dexter offered. "Raven told me that Apple's exempt from a whole bunch of classes because what happened during the Dragon Games qualifies as her story... technically, kinda. The whole winter adventure has to count at least a little bit!"
"Don't you think mom and dad already tried that?" Daring melodramatically collapsed against a chaise. "I will admit... being turned into a beast changed me. And I have certainly learnt my lesson! But Headmaster Grimm insists that years of castle confinement are essential to that fairytale."
Darling chuckled at him, "And so... like any other student who spends years and years in a position of royalty without becoming either hero or ruler, you're stuck with Damsel-In-Distressing and Princessology. And like any other fairytale antagonist, I'm sure you've been recommended a General Villany course."
Daring made a muffled noise of despair, "I also flunked Crownculus. Again."
"Again?" Dexter looked at him reproachfully, "But I loaned you all my notes!"
"Not all of us can calculate 'the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow' in our heads," Daring rolled his eyes. "Besides. I had more important things to do."
"Studying is important," Darling flicked his cheek.
"I had bookball! Thronecoming!" He sprawled out further, "An existential crisis! What was I supposed to tell mom and dad about spring semester... 'oh yes, by the way, I found out that I'm not the future king of all lands like you thought I was'? 'Darling isn't going to be the Damsel in Distress you wanted'? And now, look at us. All three Charmings of Ever After, stuck in summer school, and doomed to repeat a year."
"Mom and dad are going to kill us when we go home," Dexter groaned, flopping his face down against the nearest pillow. He flicked listlessly through his thus far empty schedule.
"Who says we're ever going home?" Daring shuddered. "I'm sure that we can keep spending summers here at school, and then I'll find a nice, quiet, abandoned castle to settle down in and wait for my fairytale rescue. Maybe you can ask Raven to hide you for a while, at least until your fairytale begins. And, of course, our lucky little sister can happily marry Apple White, and live in her castle where our parents will be far, far away at all times."
"Um. Well, that's..." Darling flushed. "We can't just run away from mom and dad forever!"
"You seem to be doing a pretty great job at avoiding Apple," Dexter remarked suspiciously. "Actually, pretty much every time we come across her. It's like you're there one minute, and gone the next."
"That's different," Darling insisted. "I wouldn't know what to say to her! All I managed to do the last time we spoke was congratulate her on capturing the Evil Queen and tell her she woke up because I performed CPR. Which definitely isn't true love's kiss."
"You're right. It isn't," Dexter shook his head, "Which means that, if it were just CPR, it wouldn't have worked. Also... I was there, and you're supposed to start with chest compressions, not mouth-to-mouth contact. You kinda had the right idea, but we learn CPR in Heroics 102 and that's not really how rescue breathing is supposed to go."
Darling pouted, "I guess it's a good thing I signed up for Heroics 102."
"Ah, yes, one of my favorite classes... you're going to love it, Darling," Daring assured her. He sighed, "My only regret is that my career path no longer includes Heroics 103. Dad is very... disappointed."
"Look... we might not be doing all the things our parents want from us," Darling reasoned. "But we can still avoid repeating a year if we study hard this summer! Dexter, Daring and I can help you train up on sparring and monster-fighting in time for the make-up exams at the end of summer. Daring, I can tutor you in Damsel-In-Distressing and Princessology; I'm sure Dexter can re-teach you Crownculus and borrow some Gen Villany notes from Raven. As for you two, Daring can make sure I've got all my dueling forms right, and Dex can catch me up on the pen and paper half of heroics."
"I appreciate the offer, but I'm not actually sure it's humanly possible to do all that in one summer," Dexter balked.
Daring groaned, "That sounds like so much work... Worst. Summer. Ever."
"Look," Darling crossed her arms. "It's either that, or going home and explaining this to our parents."
"On second thought," Dexter rounded, "Your suggestion sounds completely feasible. It'll be a narrow fit... but I'll start drawing out a schedule."
"Hooray, homework summer!" Daring declared.
Yup, those were certainly her brothers. Darling linked arms with them and laughed, "I knew you'd see it my way. Come on, let's go pick out our classes... at least all of us have Good Kingdom Management!"