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“So you have to wear that ugly glowing badge everywhere?” her mother asked that evening after Willow had told her about the day’s events.

“Yes,” Willow replied.  “Somehow it transferred to all of my uniform shirts as well.  And apparently, it’s really hard to remove.  I heard a couple of second years say they weren’t able to remove theirs until January.”

“Well do you want me to give it a try?” her mother asked.

“No,” Willow said.  “I’ve already tried everything I can think of.  I’m pretty sure it has to come off by magic.”

"And does everyone else in the school have to wear this badge?" her mom questioned.  "It seems they go out of their way to single out the first years.  Do you think I should go talk to the Chancellor about it?"

"No, mom," replied Willow.  "It's fine."  Willow's first thought was that she didn't want to be 'that girl.'  Just what I need, to be the newbie who ran home to get her mom's help.

“Okay, so then what happened after they gave you the badges and told you everything you can’t do?” her mom asked.

“We went back down to the main hall and gallery and signed up for after-school activities,” Willow said.  “They have all kinds of clubs, but unfortunately most of them required try-outs or magic spells that I can’t do.” 

“Like what clubs?” asked her mom.

“Well, there’s wizard chess club, quidditch, photography, dance, herbology, music...” 

“I don’t know what half of those things are, but what about music?” her mother said. “You can sing.”

“Not like they do,” Willow said.  “They can cast a spell on their voices so that each person sings in four-part harmony, or has a vocal range from baritone to soprano.  It’s awesome - but I can’t do it.”

“So did you sign up for anything?” her mother asked.

“Oh, yes.  I signed up for care of magical creatures club.  I want to take care of a pegasus!  Doesn’t that sound amazing, mom?”

“Sure,” said her mom.  “I just hope they don’t have dragons.”

 

Since they dismissed the school right after lunch on the first day, Willow’s second day at school was actually her first day of classes.  She looked at her schedule as she nervously waited for the bus.  

“BANG!” 

Willow looked up to see the same bus as yesterday and boarded it when the door opened, swinging into the first open seat.  Looking backwards, the bus wasn’t gigantic inside anymore.  There were only eight students on the bus and none of them were doing magic. 

“BANG!”

The bus lurched forward and they were racing ahead just as they had the day before.  But instead of twenty stops, there were only four more before the bus pulled up to the front door of Gampton Hall.  Lef had never gotten on.  Willow didn’t know what was happening as she exited the bus and started walking into the school.  She looked at the student behind her and checked to make sure that it wasn’t a Hammersmith before speaking up.

“Why are there so few of us today?” she asked a girl wearing blue and bronze who looked a year or two older than her.

“This is the nomaj-born bus,” said the girl.  “Everyone else can travel in by floo powder, or fly a broom, or teleport just outside the school grounds.  The whole school only travels on the bus for the first day.” 

Willow was upset that she wouldn’t get to see anyone she knew on the bus.  As she walked into the grand entry hallway, she could see a bustle of activity and saw students appearing in the fireplaces that lined the walls of the gallery, but she didn’t see Lef anywhere. 

It doesn't matter, she thought as she headed to the central staircase.  I don't even know what I would say to her if she was here:  'Hey, Lef, are you really a lying thief like the other Murgatroyds?'  What if she said 'no'?  Heavy with the weight of loneliness, she headed up to the Hammersmith homeroom to wait for the first bell.  

When she reached the dead-end corridor outside of her homeroom, she realized that she didn’t know the password.  Coming up the stairs just behind her, she recognized four of the first-year Hammersmith boys.

“How are we going to get in?” Willow asked them.

“Sasquatch,” said one of the boys.  Willow wasn’t sure if he was calling her a sasquatch, or just spouting nonsense.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“Sasquatch,” the boy repeated.  “It’s the password.” 

“How did you find out?” asked Willow.

“I can’t tell, but I’m willing to share,” he said.  “Can you believe that Felicity knew and wouldn’t tell us?”  

“She even called us ‘newbies’ like she wasn’t one herself,” said another of the boys.

“Sasquatch!” called the first boy when they reached the painting.

“Correct!” the lady responded and the portrait swung open to reveal the passage into the Hammersmith homeroom.

“Thanks,” said Willow and introduced herself. 

“Norbert,” said the boy.  “This is Wilber, Achalis, and Pete.” The three boys nodded their heads at Willow.

Maybe today isn’t going to be so bad, she thought.  Willow hadn’t walked four steps in the room before she was confronted by one of the older students who had been talking to Felicity.

“Hey,” he said.  “You’re nomaj born, aren’t you?” 

“Yes,” Willow replied.

“Here,” he said, handing her a piece of candy.  “Nomaj and first-year.  You’re really not going to get a break.  This one’s on me.  Go on, try it.”

Willow looked at the candy which was labeled as a ‘chocolate toffee surprise’.  Opening it, she saw that it looked like a small chocolate bar, similar to a mini candy bar she might get at home.  It had three 'w's embossed on the top.  It looked and smelled just like a regular chocolate bar, so she took a bite.  It was really good.  The older student who had handed her the candy started getting a big grin on his face.  

“How are you feeling, newby?  You’re looking kind of...green.”  Several other students started laughing.  Willow stopped chewing and turned away.  Norbert was standing about ten feet away and was shaking his head back and forth and he gestured for her to come over.  As she was walking over, she could see everyone else around looking at her and laughing or smiling.  

“If I knew you were nomaj-born, I would have told you,” he said.

“Told me what?” 

“Don’t ever eat anything that anybody ever gives you...especially not a Hammersmith,” he said to her.

“Why not?” asked Willow.  “Why is everyone looking at me?”

“Because you just ate a chocolate toffee surprise from Three Dubs and it’s turned your hair green.“

Willow reached behind her and pulled her ponytail over her shoulder to look at it.  It was colored bright neon green and was practically glowing.

 

"Three Dubs?" Willow questioned.

 

"Three W's", Norbert clarified.  "You know - Weasley's Wizard Wheezes."

 

"The joke shop in Narrowway?"

 

"That's the one."

Oh yes, she thought.  Today is going to be bad.

“Will it stay like this?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“No,” replied Norbert.  “It lasts a couple of hours, but don’t eat any more of that candy.” Willow tossed the uneaten portion of the chocolate bar in the nearest trash can.  The day was getting worse by the moment.

After morning announcements, Willow started walking toward the door to head off to her first class.  She was approached by a red-haired girl who was probably a year or two ahead of her.  

“Hey noobie.  I saw what happened and I thought that was pretty low.  Listen, I know I’m not supposed to help, but I’ll give you directions to get to your first lesson.  Where are you headed?”

“Care of Magical Creatures,” Willow replied.

“Easy,” she replied.  “Follow me.”  She led Willow over to the giant spiral staircase.  “Now you just follow these stairs all the way to the bottom.  After you reach the bottom, just hang a left and follow the hallway to the end.”  Willow nodded and said ‘thanks.‘  The girl took two steps and plummeted over the edge of the central opening of the stair tower. 



It didn’t take Willow long to figure out that she was in the wrong place.  As she descended to the bottom level of the stairway, she took a left and immediately faced the sneering looks of older students in green and silver uniforms who were headed in the opposite direction.

“Wrong way, noob,” said one.

“Got directions from one of your ‘buddies’?” said another.  "Was it the same one that gave you that Three Dubs candy?"  Willow halted in her tracks. 

Something tells me that I'm not supposed to be here, she thought.  She had no idea where she was or where she was supposed to be.  Unsure of what to do or where to go, she froze in the middle of the hallway as several more students passed staring at her.  She overheard one mutter “Hammersmith” as he shook his head.

“You are in the wrong place, newbie,” said an older girl who was walking the way that Willow had come.  “Where are you headed?  Potions?”  

Willow shook her head  ‘no’, and mumbled “Care of Magical Creatures” toward her shoes.

“Woah.  They did a number on you, didn’t they?” she said.  “Follow me, because there’s nothing down that hallway except the Murgatroyd homeroom and you definitely don’t belong there.”  Willow didn’t see that she had any choice and followed the her back toward the central stairway.  

“Listen, noob,” she said as they walked.  “Here’s a word of advice: stop taking advice from anybody.  Everyone is going to mess with you as long as you have that badge on your uniform...and the green hair doesn’t help.”  Nearing the bottom of the stairs, she headed toward the lifts and pointed at the stairs.  “Not that you should listen to me, but up two levels and then out the back door.  Look for the Comic Building behind the school.” 

“Comic Building?,” Willow asked.

“Care of Magical Creatures - C.O.M.C.,” she said.  “It’s pronounced ‘Comic’.  Good luck noob.  You’re going to need it.”  She stepped into the lift and shot upwards and out of sight.



The directions that the Murgatroyd student gave her were correct but she was still lucky that she made it to class on time.   She had to jog across the long, well-groomed back lawn toward a small stone building that was separate from the main school and just entered the classroom door when the bell rang marking the beginning of the period.  She was the last to enter the room and saw that the tables were set up in groups of three.  On the right, the three tables were filled with the nine Murgatroyd first years.  Lef was in the middle of the front table, but there was no room for Willow to sit there.  All of the Hammersmith first years were lined up on the left-hand tables.  The only room for Willow was at the very back table with the Hammersmith boy who had helped her that morning.

“Hi Willow,” said Norbert.

“Hi,” she said as she sat down next to him.  

As soon as Willow sat down, the teacher came into the room.  It was the same red-haired woman who had run them down the rapids on the first day.

“My name is Miss Mercana,” she said to them, “and I’ll be your instructor for Care of Magical Creatures.  The first thing I’d like you to do is to take a good look around at this classroom, because it’s the last time you’ll be in here this year.”  She gave Willow and the others a moment to think about this before she continued.  “We’re going to spend every class outside with the animals we are going to study.  So grab your bags and follow me.  Today, we’ll start with the Kivinoid.”  She led the way out toward the edge of the North Woods and stopped at what appeared to be a glowing transparent half-dome.  

“Spread out so you can all see inside,” she called out to them.  “This is a Kivinoid.”

Willow looked into the half dome and could see that it extended below the surface so that the creature was actually enclosed in a sphere that was half buried in the ground.  The creature itself looked like a tree trunk laid on its side.  It had rings of shining gems along its flank and its mouth opened at one end like flower petals.  Willow thought it looked like a giant earthworm with hula hoops of diamonds around its middle.

“The Kivinoid eats rocks,” Miss Mercana explained.  “It processes the minerals into silicon and diamond which is what makes up those rings around its middle.  We keep it in this enclosure - otherwise it would burrow away.  We feed it rocks with a high percentage of precious metals.  It digests those rocks and the different minerals take different times to move through its digestive system.” 

Lef, who was standing on the opposite side of Miss Mercana from where Willow was, spoke up.  

“I don’t think I understand,” she said. 

“It poops gold,” Miss Mercana explained.

The boys all roared with laughter at this and even Willow smiled.  They spent the rest of the lesson drawing a sketch, learning about the Kivinoid life cycle and collecting rocks and throwing them to the Kivinoid to watch it gobble them up.  Willow wanted to talk to Lef - to find out if it was true what Pamela had said about her house - but she seemed to be constantly surrounded by the other two Murgatroyd girls and Willow never got the chance during class.  When the bell rang for them to move to their next class, Lef and her housemates moved off toward a different entrance into the school from the Hammersmiths.  

Willow’s next class was Nomaj Studies.  She remembered from her tour that Mr. Puterschmidt had said she would have no problem with the class, but the class had hardly started when she was confused by something the teacher said.

“Mrs. McCracken,” Willow asked.  “Are you suggesting that a nomaj power plant is an actual living plant?” 

“Well of course it is,” said Mrs. McCracken who to Willow appeared to be older than her bus driver.  “What else could produce so much energy?” 

“Burning coal?” said Willow.  “Or oil, or natural gas?” 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Mrs. McCracken.  “Have you ever been to see a power plant young lady?” 

“No, ma’am,” replied Willow.

“Well then, you aren’t in the position to know are you?” 

“But...” started Willow, but Mrs. McCracken cut her off.

“Do you want to teach this class young lady?” she asked with a tone of anger in her voice.

Abashed, Willow lowered her head and said “No, ma’am.” 

Apparently satisfied, Mrs. McCracken returned to address the rest of the class.  “Well then, let’s go on, shall we?” she said.

The rest of that class was pure garbage.  I can't believe that these people let her teach about Nomaj Studies, she thought.  It was clear as day that Mrs. McCracken didn’t know a thing about the world in which Willow grew up.

Her mood improved in her next two classes which were Art and Astronomy.  In Art, she learned about the portraits and photographs around the school and how the first years would all work on a moving portrait as part of their class project during the year.  After lunch, her mood improved as she discovered that her hair was fading back to its normal color and she knew she only had one more class for the day.  

Astronomy was interesting, both because she had to climb the north stair all the way to the top - six stories above the ground floor, but also because it was held in the middle of the day.  Their teacher, Mr. Cosmuto, gathered them together on the top floor and then led them up onto the tower roof.  As the Hammersmith and Featherpenny students watched, Mr. Cosmuto waved his wand and the sky immediately grew dark as if the sun had instantly been moved to the far side of the world.  They spent the rest of the lesson learning about the stars and starting to identify some of the constellations before he waved his wand again to make the sun and blue sky reappear.

"Mr. Cosmuto?" Willow asked at the end of class.  "Won't it mess everyone up that the sun just disappeared for an hour?"

Laughing, Mr. Cosmuto waved his wand with a flourish.  "It would - if I were actually that powerful.  But this was a localized effect; the sun didn't disappear for anyone but the few of us on the observation deck."

I wonder if anyone could really be powerful enough to move the earth and sun, thought Willow as she picked up her bag, uncomfortable with the idea.

Normally at the end of the day, Willow would be going to Care of Magical Creatures club, but for the first week, the first years would be taking broom-riding lessons.  After leaving Astronomy, Willow headed out of the front door of the school and across the driveway to stand looking at the practice field and the stadium.  When she and her mom had come to visit, Willow had just thought that the fields were for soccer and football, but now that she looked at them, their dimensions were all wrong and there were three giant hoops on poles sticking up in the air instead of a goal.  Willow was at a loss to explain what they were for, but that was nothing new for her second day in magical school.  

Standing on the practice field with all of the other thirty six first-year students, Willow was listening as their teacher, Mrs. Broombreaker was lecturing them on riding a broom.

“Broom riding is like being magical,” Mrs. Broombreaker was saying to them.  “Either you have it or you don’t.  We’ll know by the end of the class today whether you have what it takes to be a champion Quidditch player or whether you should stick to floo powder.”

So Quidditch has to do with brooms, Willow thought as she looked at the broom she has been handed.  It had a wood shaft about three feet long and ended in a small bunch of twigs that were tightly bound together.  I wouldn’t want to actually try to sweep with this thing.

“Please place the broom between your legs and gently push off from the ground,” Mrs. Broombreaker called out to the group.  “I said gently!” she called to a Featherpenny boy who was trying to launch himself upward with both legs.  Willow smiled:  the boy was hopping around the field like an animated frog on a stick.

Willow placed the broom that had been given to her between her legs and pushed off the ground using her toes.  Very gently, she felt her weight shift onto the broom and she was floating off the ground.

“Uh, Mrs. Broombreaker?” Willow called out.  “How do we get back down?”

“Oh, excellent,” Mrs. Broombreaker said.  “Very few people get it right the first time.  You two are doing an extraordinary job.”

Willow looked behind her to see a Featherpenny girl sitting comfortably on her broom.  The girl was sitting up without holding on and was putting her very long straight brown hair into a ponytail.

“I hope she lets us really fly,” said the girl, who was wearing glasses with dark blue frames.  

I hope she doesn't, thought Willow, holding the the broom handle in a death grip.

Ten minutes later, about half of the class had been able to push off the ground.  Mrs. Broombreaker told them to take a lap around the practice field, but not to go higher than four or five feet in the air.  As soon as Mrs. Broombreaker said “go”, the Featherpenny girl took off.  Willow watched her race away, and inadvertently leaned forward, which made her broom move forward as well. 

Oh, I'm going to die, she thought as she started gaining speed.  But that fear vanished almost immediately as she pulled back on the broom handle and slowed down.  Just like the reins of a horse... Okay, let's see what else this thing can do.  She leaned forward again to gain speed and as she shifted her weight and pressure side to side, the broom swerved in response, obeying her very thoughts.

Before long, she was flying around the field; pushing her broom to go faster and faster, cutting left and right.  I see why they fly on brooms, she thought, pulling back and stopping when she reached the end of the first lap.  This is awesome.

Mrs. Broombreaker was still working with the students who couldn’t get off the ground and all the remaining flyers were still on the other side of the field, taking a more leisurely pace than Willow and the Featherpenny girl had done.  The girl with the long hair and glasses had finished well ahead of her and was waiting back at the start.

“Race you,” she challenged.

Willow smiled.  “Where to?” she said.

“Twice around the field.  You say when.”

Willow nodded and getting a good grip on her broom with both hands she said “ready...set...go!” and took off.  The two of them went tearing away from the starting point, picking up speed with every second.  As her hair streamed behind her, Willow felt exhilarated; the air rushing in her face like the gusts before an approaching thunderstorm.

Willow glanced back and saw the girl was right on her heels.  Looking ahead, she saw trouble as she was coming up on the group of students who were still working on their first lap.  She shifted her weight and dodged to avoid the group.  Left! she commanded in her mind.  Right!  Willow glanced back to see if the Featherpenny girl was able to dodge them, but she was gone.  Hearing laughter from above her head, Willow looked up to see her flying about six feet over her head and slightly ahead of her.  Willow hunched down and tried to move faster.

The Featherpenny girl kept pace and was right beside Willow as they turned to finish the lap.  Willow managed to glance over toward the students who were just learning to hover and saw that both they and Mrs. Broombreaker had set aside their brooms and were watching the race.  

As they started their second lap, they were still neck and neck.  I wonder why nobody else is flying as fast as us?  Willow thought, looking ahead to where the gaggle of first years had halted their progress around the field to watch the action.  This isn't that hard.

As they approached the flock of staring students, Willow saw that they were coming on fast.  Too fast, she realized and taking a cue from the Featherpenny girl, she pulled up on the handle of her broom to go higher.  I'll just fly over them, she thought, but she was moving too fast and ended up about forty feet above the field.  Meanwhile, her competition had pulled ahead.  Pushing down on the broom handle, Willow shifted her weight forward to descend and picked up speed as she did so.  She pulled up to level her flight before she got too close to the ground, but the Featherpenny girl was uncatchable - matching every effort of Willow's with speed of her own.  She crossed the finish line a second before Willow got there.

“That was awesome racing,” the Featherpenny girl said to Willow after she had dismounted.  “How long have you been flying?” 

Willow also got off her broom.  “What do you mean?" she asked.  "I started with you about five minutes ago."

“What!” exclaimed the Featherpenny girl, adjusting her blue-trimmed roes.  “You mean this is the first time you’ve ever been on a broom?”

“Yeah.  Is that good?” Willow asked.

The Featherpenny girl laughed.  “Yes...yes, that is unbelievably good seeing as how I've been flying since I was four.  I’m Lily by the way.” 

“I’m Willow.”

Mrs. Broombreaker came over to the two girls.  

“You two should try out for your house Quidditch teams,” she said.  Then, noticing the trim on Willow’s uniform, “Oh, but you’re Hammersmith.  I’m afraid they don’t let anyone try out before fourth year.”

“Four years of practice and you’ll be one heck of a Quidditch player,” said Lily.

“Thanks,” replied Willow.  “By the way, have you ever tried a Hershey bar?”
 

 

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