“Mom, I think I want to quit,” Willow said to her mom later that week while they were eating dinner.
“Why, honey?” her mom asked, setting her fork down and looking at her. “I know you’ve been having trouble with magic, but that’s not your fault. We didn’t even know it existed until four months ago. They can’t expect you to catch up to everyone else. They’ve all had an eleven year head start.”
“It’s not just that,” said Willow. “I don’t have anybody to talk to and I have to wear this stupid badge and the other students treat the first years like we’re nothing. I just don’t like it there.”
“I want you to stick it out...at least until Christmas,” said her mom, reaching over to touch Willow’s hand. “You’ve just been having a tough transition. I still think you should reach out to that girl in your Horticulture class.”
“It’s Herbology, mom; and I told you, she’s in Murgatroyd and I’m not supposed to talk to them.”
“Or what?” her mom said, standing up to clear her plate. “Or they’ll treat you like you’re nothing and turn your hair green?” She was smiling. “I think you can risk saying ‘hello’. You can’t be the only one who’s having trouble. You said yourself that there are a bunch of people in remedial lessons. You just need to reach out to them and you all should support one another. Don’t you remember what we talked about at the end of last year?”
The lessons about bullying, Willow thought as she looked down at her plate of half-eaten chicken. I know I’m supposed to reach out and find people who care about me, but why would a Murgatroyd care about anyone at all?
“Willow,” her mom said. “What’s the worst that’s going to happen if you reach out? She might say she’s not interested and you’ll be right where you are now. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Or all pain, no gain...but I have to do something. “All right, mom,” Willow said. “But if I’m still miserable by Christmas can I stop going?”
“If you reach out and things are still awful?...yes,” her mom replied.
She saw Lef in their Herbology class early the next day and decided to risk a conversation, even though Marigold was with them.
“Lef, if you aren’t doing anything, do you want to go to the Quidditch game this weekend?” Willow asked.
“Uh...sure,” said Lef. “Are you sure you want to hang out with a Murgatroyd? Nobody else does.”
“Yes,” said Willow, “nobody wants to hang out with a newbie either, so I think it will be fine.”
Marigold spoke up after hearing this agreement. “Why don’t you both do us all a favor and get hit with a bludger,” she said. “Neither of you belong here anyway.”
Willow wanted to hit Marigold for being so mean, and started toward her, but Lef pulled Willow away.
“Forget her,” Lef said. “She’s not worth the detention. Besides, she’ll probably electrocute herself when she re-pots her lightningrod.”
“Why doesn’t it bother you?” replied Willow, turning away from Marigold.
“It does,” said Lef. “But being in Murgatroyd, you get used to the snide remarks. It comes from everywhere.”
So I’m not the only one, thought Willow. It hadn’t occurred to her that the bullying was happening to anyone else. Strangely, that made her day a little more bearable.
The game that weekend was busier than usual. Apparently, dignitaries from MACUSA were coming and the Chancellor went all-out with decorations, entertainment and a catered meal. Willow was able to arrange a ride on the school bus, which was running on that Saturday specifically for the game.
“So how did you get here?” she asked Lef when they met by the stands.
“Oh, I just used the Firejump Network,” she replied.
“Firejump?” asked Willow.
“Oh, right,” Lef replied. “I guess your house wouldn’t be connected. It’s the way that people travel through fireplaces. You use a special material called floo powder and toss it into the fire and then you can step in and say where you want to go.”
Willow remembered the mage who had stepped out of the fire during her first trip to Narrowway. “And you can travel anywhere like that?”
“Anywhere that has a fire and is connected to the Firejump Network,” Lef clarified.
I guess nobody would need cars then, thought Willow as they walked to the nearly empty Murgatroyd section for the game against Hammersmith. It was a cold, blustery day in early November and Willow’s nose and hands were cold even before they sat down.
Twenty minutes in, Willow was shivering. “I think I’ve seen enough of this,” she said to Lef. “Do you mind if we go inside for a while?”
Lef agreed and they left the game with Hammersmith up ninety to ten. They walked into the school’s front door and Willow started rubbing her hands together to warm them up.
“The nomaj bus I rode won’t leave until the game is over. Do you want to take a look around?”
“Sure,” said Lef. “Where do you want to go?”
“Have you ever seen the Hammersmith homeroom?” Willow asked.
“No,” said Lef. “I haven’t even been on the fourth floor, unless you count the north stairway to the Astronomy tower.”
Willow led the way up to the fourth floor. The school was deserted except for the sounds of people organizing the party to be held for the dignitaries after the game, and that had been limited to the banquet hall.
Nearing the top of the stairs to the fourth story, Lef tripped over the last step and fell to the floor. The green Murgatroyd flag that she had been carrying for the Quidditch game skidded across the floor and dropped over the edge of the stairway. Willow had frozen in place, but Lef scooted over to the open edge to watch the flag drop nearly a hundred feet down the open center of the main stairway.
“Not a good place to be clumsy,” Lef said after hearing the distant ‘click’ of the wooden stick hitting the ground six stories below.
“Are you?” asked Willow.
“Yes,” said Lef. “Good thing my house is in the second basement.”
Note to self, thought Willow. Don’t walk in front of Lef near the stairway.
“Can you cover your ears and hum?” asked Willow once they reached the portrait that led into the Hammersmith homeroom. “You aren’t supposed to hear the password.” Lef smiled and did what Willow asked. “Sasquatch,” Willow said at the portrait and it swung open to reveal the empty lounge.
“Whoa,” said Lef as she stepped through the portrait hole. “This place is amazing. You could probably fit four or five Murgatroyd homerooms in here.”
“Well, Hammersmith has four or five times as many students,” Willow replied. “Do you know why?”
“No,” responded Lef. “But it's been that way for a long time. When my dad went here about thirty years ago, the houses were just as unequal, although there were more in Suncorn than now.”
“Really?” questioned Willow. "So the Suncorn homeroom must be really roomy by now."
“Well, the rooms change size of course,” replied Lef, as if that was a perfectly normal thing for a room to do.
“What do you mean, they change size?” asked Willow. “Do you mean they put up a partition or something?”
“No,” started Lef and then, nodding to herself, she continued. “Of course, you’re nomaj-born. It’s like the school bus. It’s big when it needs to be on the first day and then gets smaller when there are fewer students.”
“And the school can do that too?”
“Yes. There were fewer students here a hundred years ago, because the population was smaller, so everything about the school was smaller then. Gampton Hall has grown to fit the need.”
Willow was still trying to wrap her head around the idea of a building that grows when they left through the portrait hole and headed back toward the main stairway.
“Do you want to see the Murgatroyd homeroom now?” Lef asked her.
“Sure,” replied Willow, being careful to let Lef go first as they approached the steps.
“Can we stop for a second?” asked Lef, partway down the stairs. “I have to use the bathroom. They got off on the next floor and headed to where they thought the bathrooms were.
“Are we on the second floor or the third?” Willow asked.
“I’m completely turned around,” Lef replied.
“Look, let’s just follow this hall and find the nearest stairs and then we can figure it out,” Willow said. She looked over at one of the doors. It had ‘D.A.D.A.’ on it. “What’s Dada?” she asked.
“No idea,” said Lef, “Does that look like a doorway to you?” She was pointing at a large stone archway with writing across the top and masonry sealing the center.
“Yeah, but it’s blocked up,” said Willow. “It has an inscription: ‘Speak Our Name and Enter’.”
“Bathroom!” said Lef. The door didn’t change.
“You two are very lost,” said a voice behind them. Willow and Lef jumped when they heard it and whirled around. It was Mr. Zolock. “You know that you are in the restricted corridor?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Zolock,” said Willow. “We were looking for the bathroom and got turned around.”
“Well, I assure you that you won’t find any bathrooms in this corridor,” he said. “This way.” He led them back toward the main staircase.
“Mr. Zolock,” said Willow. “What was that doorway?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never found anything in the school’s archives that tells what name it’s looking for. All the ones I could come up with have been tried.”
“What about Dada?” asked Lef. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“Defense Against the Dark Arts,” replied Mr. Zolock. “Since dark magic was banned a dozen years ago, we have not been able to teach it.”
“I don’t understand,” said Willow. “Why can’t you still teach people to defend themselves?”
“In order to properly teach Defense Against the Dark Arts,” explained Mr. Zolock, “you have to understand and be able to demonstrate dark magic itself. That’s why this hallway is off limits and all the doors locked.”
Once they reached the main stairway, Mr. Zolock turned to them. “Last time I checked, there were bathrooms on the first floor,” he said. “Any particular reason you were wandering so far?”
“I...I wanted to show Lef the Hammersmith homeroom,” Willow told him, deciding that honesty was probably best. “We were heading for the Murgatroyd homeroom next.”
“Well in that case,” Mr. Zolock said, “you should go down the south stair instead. Mr. Vernon, the Custodian, is working on the main level in preparation for the party and will certainly throw you two out if he catches you wandering around. Follow me.”
Wow, thought Willow. I guess Mr. Z is pretty cool about us just wandering around where we shouldn’t. I wonder what the big deal is? She looked over at Lef who just shrugged her shoulders and they both followed him to the main stairway.
At the second floor, Mr. Zolock left the stairway, crossed the main hall and exited out onto the roof above where the conservatory was. From the roof, they could look to the front of the school and down toward the stadium on the right. To the left, they could look down into the conservatory to see the preparations ongoing. White tablecloths and silverware? thought Willow as she looked at the people scurrying around under the glass. There must be some fancy party happening. The three of them continued to the east tower, where Mr. Zolock opened a hidden door for them to pass through. Once he closed it behind them, he showed them the hidden stone to press to open it again.
“It comes in handy to go between my office and the History of Magic classrooms,” he said in answer to their unasked question. They both nodded in acknowledgement. Secret doors, growing rooms, a giant death pit in the middle of the stairway, Willow thought. This place is actually really cool...except for that last one. As Mr. Zolock led them into the hallway, he pointed out the bathrooms that Lef could use.
“Thanks, Mr. Zolock,” they both said as he left to head back to the teachers’ lounge. After using the bathroom, they headed down the south stair to where it ended on the first basement level.
“The Murgatroyd homeroom is a level below us,” Lef said. “So we’ll have to use the main stairway to get there.” Just as they started to head down the hallway, they heard someone coming. Looking at each other, they both mouthed the word ‘Custodian’ and looked around for somewhere to hide. There was a door under the stairs that looked to be a storage closet. Finding it unlocked, they hurried inside and pulled the door closed. It was pitch black inside.
“Where is that light coming from?” whispered Willow.
“It’s not coming from the door,” Lef whispered back.
Willow turned and saw another doorway opening in the back of the storage closet. “Look behind you,” she whispered.
Lef turned and seeing the opening said “cool, let’s go check it out.”
Uhhhh, let’s not, thought Willow fearing what new death trap might be waiting around the corner. But since I don’t really want to hang out in this dark storage closet by myself, either...
She quietly followed Lef toward the doorway. It led to a short hallway and into what looked to Willow like an industrial kitchen with stoves, refrigerators, and men and women all busily at work preparing hors d’oeuvres on platters.
“What is this place?” asked Lef. “They’re preparing food, but I don’t recognize any of those boxes.”
“That’s an oven, there’s a walk-in freezer over there and that’s a gas cooktop,” said Willow, pointing to the appliances. “They’re nomaj,” she continued in surprise. Then, realizing that Lef had never seen a nomaj kitchen she said “Our food is prepared by nomaj.”
“Oh, hello girls,” said one of the ladies working in the kitchen when she saw them. “I can’t get you anything right now, we’re all in a rush to get these dishes finished for the event upstairs.”
“Uh...that’s okay...we’re...we’re not that hungry,” said Willow, trying to puzzle out what was going on. What are nomaj doing in a magic school?
“Would you two be a dear and help me get these puff pastries in the oven then?” the lady asked them. “I have to grab the panna cotta from the walk-in.”
After she walked away, Lef looked over at Willow. “Which one of these things is an oven?” she asked.
“Just follow my lead,” said Willow. She put on the oven mitts and opened the oven. Warning Lef not to touch any of the hot surfaces, they put the sheets of puff pastries in and Willow shut the door. The lady was coming back with a tray of champagne glasses filled with white custard.
“Thank you so much,” she said, setting a timer. “Usually the kids pretend they’ve never seen the inside of a kitchen before. We’ve been running around like crazy today and with all the fanciness going on, you would think the Chancellor is entertaining the President.” She pulled out a container of chocolate syrup and another container of raspberries and proceeded to cover the custard with a layer of the syrup and top each one with a few raspberries. She set two of them in front of the girls with a couple of spoons.
“For your help,” she said as she continued to work. “You can be the official taste testers.”
Now I understand why the kitchens are off limits, thought Willow after taking a bite of the heavenly dessert. Otherwise, we’d all be four hundred pounds.
After they finished off their dessert, they gave up on trying to go to the Murgatroyd homeroom and instead wandered back outside toward the stadium.
“We should definitely come to all the Quidditch games,” said Willow, hearing the roar of the crowd which she knew meant that the snitch had been caught.
“But we didn’t watch any of it,” Lef responded.
“Not to see the games,” replied Willow. “I had much more fun exploring the school. Just imagine what we’ll see next time!”
“Why were there nomaj in the kitchens?” asked Lef.
“I have no idea,” said Willow. “But I know who we can ask.”
“Nomaj in the kitchen?” Mr. Zolock smiled. “I guess you’d have to have gone into the kitchen to figure that out huh?” He held up his hands and continued. “Don’t sweat it, I nipped a few sandwiches in my day from the staff.”
“But why nomaj?” asked Lef. “Why not mages?”
“Well, that’s simply supply and demand,” Mr. Zolock said. Willow and Lef both had puzzled looks on their faces, so he continued. “There are very few mages in this country. About fifteen thousand at last census - and that’s in a nation of three hundred million nomaj. We’re spread out quite a bit over the whole country and we almost all have specialized jobs. There are just not enough of us around to provide services like cooking, and since we can’t create food out of thin air...” He stopped and looked at the girls. “Mr. Puterschmidt has gone over the exceptions to Gamp’s Law hasn’t he?” The girls nodded and he continued. “Well, since we can’t create food out of thin air, we found that hiring nomaj was much less expensive than hiring a mage to do it. Besides, the chefs down there are fantastic.”
“But what if they find out about the school, or wander through the wrong door,” Lef questioned. “Won’t they find out about the magic world?”
“They would if they could get into the school,” replied Mr. Zolock. “All the doors out of the kitchen are magically enchanted. If they went out wandering, they’d just find normal hallways and classrooms. The same goes if they tried to go over the fence or through the hedge. They wouldn’t get anywhere. Besides, when each of them were hired they believe they were given a tour of the school, so they’ve already seen it.”
Wondering if she had heard Mr. Zolock right, Willow asked, “What do you mean they ‘believe’ they were given a tour?”
“Curiosity killed the cat, Willow,” he responded. “If they believe they’ve already seen something, they don’t need to see it again. We just ‘alter’ their memories a bit.”
“You can do that?” Willow questioned.
“Of course!” he replied. “It happens every time a nomaj sees something they shouldn’t. Now, what did you get when you went there?”
“A custard dessert with chocolate and raspberries,” said Lef. “It was awesome.”
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