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The tour was amazing, but Willow was focused on everything that had happened so far, so she only caught bits and pieces of the conversation that her mom was having with Mr. Puterschmidt and Mr. Abrams.  Instead, she kept looking at the portraits and pictures on the wall in which the subjects were animated and kept waving at them, or calling out “hello” to them.  

“They aren’t alive,” Mr. Puterschmidt explained.  “The pictures and photos capture a moment in time, and you could carry on a conversation with them, but they don’t age and the figures in them can’t move except within the canvases.”  Willow watched as one of the figures, a man in colonial-era garb, rang a ball as he rode on the back of a pegasus from frame to frame.  "Henry!" cried Mr. Puterschmidt at the figure, who had been clanging away, heedless of their presence.  "Will you please keep that racket down while I give this tour?"

The figure, now chastised, let the bell drop to his side.  "Fine, Jack.  See if I tell you the next time the British are coming."  He and his pegasus zoomed out of the frame and Willow caught glimpses of him flying through portraits all down the main entryway.

"Some of these characters are more colorful than others," apologized Mr. Puterschmidt.

They walked up one flight using the grand central staircase, which was open in the middle and wound its way up the central tower of the school.  The staircase itself was ten feet wide and the space in the middle at least twenty feet across. Mr. Puterschmidt went up the flight of stairs backwards, floating in the air.

"There are many different kinds of magic" he was saying.  "I'm partial to Alteration magic, which is primarily focused on the art of changing the nature of objects.  So, for example, I can make almost anything be almost anything else.  Are you with me so far?"

Willow nodded, only now realizing that she hadn't been noticing his blink.  It was still there, it just seemed much less obvious.  She was much more distracted with the idea of magic.  "Why did you say 'almost'?" she asked him.

"Magic has its limits and rules; much like laws.  Most can be bent, some outright broken, but there are always consequences.  You'll learn all about them in my class."  Once on the second floor, he asked, "Willow, would you like to see a demonstration?"

After she nodded, he pointed his wand at her mom and a red bolt of energy shot out of the end and struck the center of her purse.  Suddenly, Willow's mom was holding a sandwich.  She dropped it in revulsion and stepped away.  The sandwich had dropped to the floor and fell into pieces, smearing mayonaisse across the stone tiles.

"What happened to my purse?" Willow's mom asked.  "Where did it go?"

"Your purse is the sandwich," Mr. Puterschmidt replied.

"Oh," muttered her mom, staring in disbelief at the pile of food on the floor.  "I don't even want to imagine where my phone is."

Chuckling, Mr. Puterschmidt cast a second red beam of magic at the fallen sandwich, and it changed back into the purse, now resting on the floor.  "There are also spells from a different type of magic called Thaumaturgy," he explained.  "You'll learn a number of very useful charms in that class including creating light and this one: accio!”  The purse flew through the air right into Mr. Puterschmidt’s hand and he held it out for Willow’s mom to take. 

 

As Mr. Puterschmidt turned away, Willow caught her mom nervously glancing inside the purse.  Probably looking to see if any lunchmeant was inside, she thought.

Continuing on their way, they went through a hallway to the library which covered three floors of a far wing of the building.  As Willow stepped inside, she saw shelves and shelves of books stacked to the ceiling on every floor.  Mr. Puterschmidt was telling them that it held more than thirty thousand volumes.  The center of the library was a huge open space, three stories tall.  As she walked through, she had the sense of energy all around, like the charged feeling in the air just before the first crack of a thunderstorm.  Climbing up the wrought-iron spiral staircase in the library to the third floor, Mr. Puterschmidt led them into another hallway directly above the one they had just taken.  They passed classrooms marked ‘Symbology’, ‘History of Magic’, and ‘Numerology’. 

 “There are also more scholarly subjects at the school,” Mr. Puterschmidt said as they passed the classrooms, “like Symbology, where you’ll study the magical properties of ancient runes; History of Magic; and Numerology - the study of the magical properties of numbers.  But if you’re like me, you’ll want to stick to where the real action is: Alteration.”   He winked at Willow and blinked hard at the same time, and Willow had to turn her head away so he wouldn’t catch her smile at his mini eye-convulsion.  

As they continued through the hallway, Mr. Puterschmidt was explaining more about the history of the school to Willow’s mom.  “We used to be a boarding school,” he explained, “like our parent school in the United Kingdom, or like the other magical schools in America, but the school was losing out on too many nomaj families who found it very hard to send their children away for the year, especially as boarding schools were disappearing in the nomaj world.  If you and Willow choose to attend Gampton Hall, she would ride a bus to school and be dropped off in the afternoon just like she did before.”

Mr. Puterschmidt halted suddenly as he came upon another classroom.  “Now here’s a subject you might think interesting,” said Mr. Puterschmidt, turning to Willow.  Willow looked up to see ‘Nomaj Studies’ marked on the door.  “Mages instituted the International Statute of Secrecy in 1692 and we’ve hidden our world pretty thoroughly from them ever since,” he said.  “But there are still times when we need to interact and communicate.  I think you’ll do quite well in these classes.”

Willow’s mom spoke up.  “But if the magical community only went into hiding in 1692, there’d be records and evidence from before that time, wouldn’t there?”

“Well,” Mr. Puterschmidt replied, hesitating.  “History can be changed by those with sufficient motivation, and after the Salem witch trials, the magical community certainly had that.”  He turned and led them back towards the stairs.  "There has been bad blood between the wizarding world and the nomaj community throughout American history.  MACUSA has been very diligent at keeping us secreted away.  I'd hate to imagine what would happen if our secret ever got out."

They descended back down to the first level through yet another stairway and into another great room, bigger and taller than the great entrance hall.  The ceilings in this room towered seventy feet overhead and was large enough for hundreds of people to dine.  Mr. Puterschmidt explained that this was the banquet hall for assemblies and lunch and from there, they walked through the conservatory and back to the main entrance hall.  Willow lingered for a moment inside the conservatory examining several plants she had never seen before.  Catching up, Willow saw that Mr. Puterschmidt and her mom were just finishing a conversation.

“...so you see,” Mr. Puterschmidt was saying.  “Willow would not be allowed to do any magic outside of school until she is seventeen.  Even then, she cannot do any magic in the presence of nomaj.  You excepted, of course.” 

 As they were standing in the entrance hallway, they were startled by the appearance of an owl, which flew right up to Mr. Puterschmidt and perched on his outstretched arm.  He reached over with his free hand and started untying something from its leg.

“Is that a purse too?” Willow’s mom asked.

"Purse?" he questioned, and then catching on said "Oh no, no.  We use owls to convey messages."  Looking down at the paper he frowned and then turned to Willow.  “I have to excuse myself here, as we seem to be having some slight trouble with a few magical creatures, but you are free to walk the grounds and the first floor of the school at your leisure.  Do you have any other questions for me before I go?”

“Yes,” Willow said.  “About two weeks ago, my mom and I were in a car accident and we don’t remember how we got home.  Could I have used my magic to teleport us?”

“Teleport?” responded Mr. Puterschmidt in surprise.  “I highly doubt it.  Teleportation is very advanced magic and is only taught when you turn seventeen.  Without a wand and without training?  That would be impossible I’m afraid.”

Willow nodded and smiled sheepishly.  She thought for a moment that it had been her who had saved them.

“Well,” Mr. Puterschmidt continued.  “Mr. Abrams will escort you and answer any other questions you may have.  I hope to see you here on September fifth.”  After shaking their hands, he nodded to Mr. Abrams and walked away.  
 

"So," Mr. Abrams started. "Do you want to see the dragons or the mermaids first?"

 

"Dragons?" Willow's mom asked.  "You're joking, right?"

 

"Actually, yes," replied Mr. Abrams.  "Although I'm told they do exist."

 

"What doesn't anymore," Willow heard her mom mutter.  They headed off towards the back lawn of the school.

 

"As a nomaj, I'm not a very good tour guide," Mr. Abrams mentioned apoogetically.  "I really don't know what magical animals they have here, but I know they hod a class called 'Care of Magical Creatures' and I know you get hands-on experience.  My son never cared for it, though." 

 

"So what did he like?" Willow asked.

 

"Quod-pot," Mr. Abrams replied.

 

"Sorry?" Willow said, thinking she misheard him.

 

"It's a ball game played on flying broomsticks," and then seeing Willow's mom's incredulous look he continued.  "Look, I know it's all a bit too much, so let's stick with the basics and you'll grow into it.  Come on, let's go to the greenhouses and then I'll take you through the gardens on the way back to the car."

 

After a quick tour of the greenhouses and gardens, Mr. Abrams walked them toward the fountain in front of the school.  “Your world has completely changed today,” he said. “It took years for it to be real to me...and some things I still can’t get used to.  That being said, you have to make a difficult decision, because this is not something you can go back and forth on.  Either you commit to magical society, or you live your nomaj life as you had been living it.”  

He handed Willow two envelopes, one blue and one red.  “You can only open one of these,” he said to her.  “Open the red envelope to accept attendance at Gampton Hall.  Inside, you’ll find the list of required books and supplies as well as directions on how to get to those magical shops.  Open the blue envelope and you can live your life as you had been living it.  You’ll still be magical and will always be able to put your hair into that beautiful braid, but that will be about the limit of what you’ll ever be able to do.”

“Does anyone ever open the blue envelope?” asked Willow.

“Yes,” said Mr. Abrams.  “It’s been known to happen.  For some families, this is just too much to accept.”

He shook hands with Willow’s mom as they reached the car.  “I will tell you this, though.  I believe that this was the right move for my son. I wouldn’t be here talking to you if I didn’t.”

“Well, thank you for an earth-shattering experience.” Willow’s mom responded.    “If we have more questions...”

“Of course.  My contact information is in the envelopes.”  Mr. Abrams turned to Willow.  “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but if you do decide to come here, you might want to wear a swimsuit under your clothes on the first day.”

“A swimsuit?  Why?” Willow asked.

“I can’t tell you more, but yes, a swimsuit.  Good luck.”  He waved to them and then headed back inside the school.

There was no conversation for the first two minutes after they got into the car.  Willow’s mom didn’t even take the car out of ‘park’.  

“I didn’t think that anything could ever make me doubt everything I knew about the world so completely as what we’ve just been through,” her mom said.  “It’s just all so strange and yet bizarrely familiar,” she continued. “I don’t even know what to say, but this is going to take some time for me to process.”  

“I want to go here.” Willow blurted out from the seat beside her.

“What if it’s all just an elaborate hoax?” her mother asked.

“Am I a hoax mom?”

Willow’s mom turned to her and smiled.  “Of course not.  You’re right.  It’s just that...I can’t tell anyone about this, can I?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” Willow responded.

“Am I just supposed to tell grandpa that you’re a wizard and you’re going to magic school, which happens to be twenty minutes from our house, but it’s all okay because I saw a man turn himself into a bunny?  He’d think I had lost it.”

“Just tell him I’m going to private school,” Willow said.  “That part’s true at least.”

Willow’s mom reached down and shifted the car into ‘drive’.

“What do you think magical college costs?” she asked.

“So you’re okay with this?” Willow responded, the excitement building in her voice.

“Yes, I think I’m getting there,” Willow’s mom said.  “If you are going to turn yourself into a bunny, you’re going to need some training, don’t you think?”

Her mom might have doubts, but Willow finally felt she found somewhere she could belong.  The rest of the car ride home was uneventful, except that Willow was hit by that same queasy feeling before they turned onto the main road to head back to their house.  Figuring it was just nerves, she thought again of the strange suggestion from Mr. Abrams.  She didn’t even see a pool on the tour, but maybe they swam in the river...or were thrown in.
 

 

 

When they got home, Willow put both envelopes on the kitchen island and looked at her mother.  Her mom looked back at her. 

“Well, Willow?  What are you waiting for?” 

Reaching for the red envelope with the word ‘Accept’ on it, she tore it open.  The instant she did, the blue envelope marked ‘Decline’ disappeared in a puff of smoke.  

“I hope there wasn’t anything important in that one,” her mom joked.

Inside the red envelope were three letters: a congratulatory note; required books and supplies to get before the first day of school; and directions to a place called “Narrowway” where she could find the shops that sold these items.  Setting the congratulatory letter aside, she handed the direction letter to her mom and read the letter outlining what she would need to get.
 

Welcome to Gampton Hall Academy.  All first-year students should obtain the following before the first day of classes:

- A wand and beginning alchemy set (available at most Narrowway Alchemy retailers).

- Uniform clothing including white collared shirt/blouse, slacks/skirt and black shoes, dress robes and a winter cloak.

- The following textbooks:

The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1 by Miranda Goshawk
Alchemy for Beginners, 3rd Ed by Gascard Blastenstone
Anything Can Be Anything Else – A Study in Alteration by Winslow Whipporwill
Knowing Snakeweed from Wormseed - An Introduction to Herbology by Neville Longbottom
Magical Creatures from Acromantula to Yeti by Tadwallader Scamander
The History of Magic, Volume 1 by Zephyr Zolock


 
“What strange names these books and authors have,” Willow remarked as she read through the list and handed it over to her mom.  “Do you think I should be worried that I don’t know what ‘snakeweed’ or ‘wormseed’ are?”

“No,” said her mom.  “Like Mr. Puterschmidt told us, you aren’t the first non-magical student they’ve had, so I think you’ll be okay.”

“What does that one say?” Willow pointed to the letter her mom held.

“It’s directions on how to get to a place called ‘Narrowway’ which apparently is in lower Manhattan,” her mom said.  “It says once we get there, we’ll have to go to a place called ‘Gringott’s Wizard Bank’ to get money.  I get the feeling these stores don’t take credit cards.  There’s also a note in here that says Mr. Abrams will meet up with us when we go.  We’ll just need to send him a note on the date and time.”     

“Mom, this is all so awesome.”

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