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“Expelled? But we didn’t do anything!” cried Willow.

“I know,” said Miss Pyx, looking out of the window.  “He can’t expel you on his own, but as soon as he tells MACUSA, they’ll be after his head if he doesn’t do something.  He’ll have to get a majority of the teachers to agree in order to get rid of you, so I’ll work with Zephyr to prevent that from happening.  You need to know that he’ll be doing what he can to get you out of this school.  I’ll help…but I don’t know if it will be enough.”  

This is so not fair!  How can they throw us out for having some stupid dreams that nobody understands anyway? thought Willow as Miss Pyx handed her a note to excuse her lateness.  What am I going to do? 

Miss Pyx left to seek out Mr. Zolock and Willow followed her out to head toward the greenhouses for Herbology class.  On the way, Willow wondered about what she had heard.  Prophecies?  Why don’t we have mysticism in our first year?  At least I might understand what everybody is so excited about.  And I don’t even want to think about getting expelled.  I’m having enough trouble just casting a charm, I don’t need this too!  

She couldn’t concentrate at all in Herbology, and she accidentally squished her turquoise elfcup when she wasn’t paying attention. Even though Lef kept asking what was going on, she knew she couldn’t discuss it in front of Marigold.  Even when the five of them were alone in Remedial Alteration and Alchemy, she never had enough time to tell them everything she had heard that morning.  Finally at lunch, she spilled everything she could remember about that morning to Incheon, Lef, and Sib.  Lily, as usual, was out practicing on the Quidditch field.  

“Did he say he was expellin’ us?” asked Sib.

“He can’t expel us,” said Incheon.  They all looked at him.  “He may be the Chancellor, but he still has to follow the bylaws of the school.  He can’t expel us unless we do something that qualifies us for expulsion.”

“Like?” prodded Lef.

“Like blatant violation of the school rules,” explained Incheon.  “We’d have to do something really bad for him to recommend expulsion.  Even then, we’d have to go before a tribunal and a majority of the teachers would have to agree before we were out.”

“How do you know all that?” asked Willow.

“My mom read the bylaws to me before the first day of school,” Incheon said.  “She knew if I heard them recited, I’d remember them word-for-word...so I wouldn’t have any excuses.”

“Clever,” said Willow.

“So it sounds like we’re safe...for now,” Sib stated.

“So do we tell Lily?” asked Lef.

“A week before her final Qudditch match?” exclaimed Incheon.  “No way.  She’d be furious at the distraction, and since I live four houses away from her, I’d get the brunt of it.”



The first week of December passed quickly.  They had given up on searching the library and were at a loss about what to do next with the founding of the school; the word ‘Peshtang’; the prophecy; or any of it.  They all decided to just forget about it as well as they could until after the holiday and instead they decided to meet up at Lily’s final Quidditch game on the ninth.

“I don’t understand,” said Willow as she watched the Featherpennies score another goal against the Murgatroyd team.  “What do you mean they have to score four hundred and fifty points?  Hammersmith hasn’t lost a game all year.”

“It don’t go by how many games you won,” explained Sib.  “It’s all about the total number of points you score.”

“So you could lose every game but one and win the championship if you scored enough points in that one game?”  Willow asked.

“Actually, the math works out so you could lose every game and still win the championship,” said Incheon.  “Pretty awesome, huh?”

After fifteen more minutes and three more Featherpenny goals, Willow saw Lily and the Murgatroyd seekers dive in unison towards the field.  “They must see the snitch!” said Willow.  The crowd around her started cheering.  

“It’s too early,” said Lef in Willow’s ear, speaking loud to be heard over the noise. 

Willow didn’t understand and looked back at Lef, puzzled.  "Too early for what?"

“Featherpenny hasn’t scored enough,” Lef explained, seeing her confusion.  “If Lily grabs the snitch now, they'll win the game, but lose the championship.  Watch.”  Willow followed the action and sure enough, Lily was following the snitch, but not reaching out for it at all.  She was simply swerving to prevent the Murgatroyd seeker from getting to it.  Meanwhile, Featherpenny had scored again, but had only made 140 points.  Lily has to hold them off for another sixteen goals, thought Willow.  At this rate, that will only take another....hour?

It only took about forty-five more seconds before the match ended.  Although Lily held off the Murgatroyd seeker for a while, he eventually managed to sneak around her and grab the snitch to end the match.  Now probably wouldn’t be the best time to tell Lily about the prophecy, thought Willow as she headed toward the bus.  Maybe she’ll be in a better mood next week.



The Monday after the final Quiddich game, they told Lily all about the dreams they had, the research they did on ‘Peshtang’, and the conversation with Miss Pyx.

“So are we getting expelled?” Lily asked, staring at them in amazement.

“Not you, Lily,” said Willow.  “Just the four of us who were sorted into Pathfinder, and we think we’re okay as long as we don’t do something incredibly stupid.”

Lily opened her mouth to say something, hesitated, and then asked “What about the prophecy you mentioned.  Does anyone know any more about that?”

“No,” said Willow.  “The only people who know it are the Chancellor and Miss Pyx, and she said they only know bits and pieces.”

There wasn’t much more they could do.  The final two weeks before the Christmas break passed without them accomplishing anything...either in class or on their own.  After classes ended on the final day, they said good-bye in the gallery before they headed their different ways for the holiday.  For the first time in her life, Willow wasn’t looking forward to Christmas break.  I wish we could just figure this out together, she thought as she boarded the bus.  But where will we start?

 

Christmas break was a full two weeks and with her mom also off from her job teaching, she and Willow were able to plan a two-day trip to New York, both to do some sightseeing and to re-visit Narrowway.  On the train ride into the city, Willow debated whether to tell her mom everything.  So what if I tell her about the possible expulsion?  It’s not like she can do anything about it...or me either for that matter.  It’s not like she knows any more than I do about prophecies and dreams and stupid magical rules.  All I’ll do is upset her.

Instead, she tried to put those issues behind her and enjoy the break and the trip to New York.  They spent a couple of days in the city, including a trip back to Narrowway.  After wandering through some of the magical stores and going to Bags by Bumble for her mom to buy the Granger purse that she had passed on the first time they came, they went to Narrowway Wands to see Miss Chantrix.

“What seems to be the issue, Ms. Carter?” Miss Chantrix asked when they went in to see her.

“Willow’s wand doesn’t seem to be working as well as it should,” said her mom.  I was hoping you could take a look.”

“Really?” questioned Miss Chantrix.  “Well, let’s see.”  She held out her hand for Willow’s wand.  Willow handed it over and she looked at it.  “Eleven and three quarter inches, white oak, griffon feather, solid.  It looks to be in good condition.” She handed it back to Willow.  “Now, swish and flick for me,” Miss Chantrix directed.  Willow flicked and red sparks shot from the end of the wand, just as they had done five months before.  “That seems okay to me,” Miss Chantrix said.  “Now, Willow, come over to the desk and levitate that empty box.”

Wingardium leviosa,” said Willow and with a swish and flick she concentrated on levitating the empty wand box.  Instead of barely floating above the table as had happened at school, the empty box immediately leapt off the table and floated across the room...just as she had been trying to do all year.

“It...it’s working!” said Willow in amazement.  “I haven’t been able to levitate anything all year and now I can do it!”  In her excitement, her concentration was broken and the empty box clattered to the floor.

“Try ‘lumos’,” Miss Chantrix said.  Willow cast the spell and the tip of her wand lit up like a Fourth of July sparkler, but with a constant glow.  Why does it work now? she wondered. 

“But it doesn’t work while you’re at Gampton Hall?” asked Miss Chantrix.

“No,” replied Willow.  “It hasn’t been working all year.  I can’t get any of my charms to work and my Alteration spells aren’t any better.”

“It is bizarre,” said Miss Chantrix.  “I’ve had three other students in here with the exact same issue.  They all say that their wands don’t work at Gampton Hall, but they all worked just fine while they were here.” 

I can guess who those other three were, thought Willow. 

“When did the problem start?” Miss Chantrix asked.

“Right at the beginning of the school year.”

“And just out of curiosity, what house did Amrose put you in?”

“He didn’t,” Willow responded.  “I was unsorted.  He said ‘Pathfinder’ when he was on my head.”

Miss Chantrix didn’t say anything, but instead put her hand on her chin, clearly thinking the problem through.  After a moment, Willow’s mom spoke up.  “What do you think is the issue?” she asked.

“Normally when someone’s wand doesn’t work, it’s because the wand has changed loyalty,” Miss Chantrix responded and then turned to Willow.  “Willow, no one has stolen your wand from you or has disarmed you in a fight, have they?”

“No ma’am,” said Willow.

“I didn’t think so,” said Miss Chantrix and she turned to Willow’s mom.  “Well Ms. Carter, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that there is nothing wrong with your daughter’s wand and there is nothing wrong with your daughter.  The wand has chosen Willow and it has not changed its allegiance.”

“And the bad news?” asked Willow’s mom.

“The bad news is that something happened at school that is preventing the wand from working the way it should while she’s there.”

“Would another wand work?” asked her mom.

“No,” replied Miss Chantrix.  “It’s not the wand.  It’s Gampton Hall.  The problem is there.”  She turned to Willow.  “I’ll write to Mr. Zolock and see what he can tell me about what happened.  Until then, just keep working at it.”  Willow and her mom left feeling more confused than before.  So if Miss Chantrix can’t help us...who can?

 

As they walked back to the Narrowway exit, Willow looked up to see the fountain outside of the bank and unconsciously rubbed her hand.  She remembered how upset Mr. Abrams was when she had dipped it in the water.  Could I be cursed? she thought.

 

"Mom?" she asked.  "Could we...ask someone in the bank about that statue?"

 

"Hm?" her mom replied.

 

"Mr. Abrams told me that it was bad luck to touch it.  Maybe I was cursed."  

 

"I don't think they'd have a cursed fountain in the middle of a busy intersection, Willow," she responded.  Then, seeing Willow's discomfort, she smiled and took her hand.  "Come on."  She led Willow up to the two goblins at the door to the bank.  "Excuse me sir.  What happens if someone touches the water in the fountain?"

 

"The statue of Morlock the back-stabber?" he barked at Willow's mom.  "Morlock the treasonous?"

 

"Uhhh...yes?" she replied.

 

"Nothing," the goblin replied with a wave of his hand.  "It's bad luck for a goblin to touch the traitor's statue.  You humans can sully yourselves however you wish."


Feeling only slightly better, Willow gave her mom's hand a little squeeze and they headed on their way back home.

 

 

On Willow’s first day back, she had to report to the Chancellor’s office again instead of staying for morning announcements.  She entered the office and saw Sib, Incheon, and Lef all waiting.

“Good,” said Mrs. Scheunemeyer, the secretary.  “You’re all here.  You can go in, the Chancellor is waiting for you.”  The three others stood up and joined Willow to go into the Chancellor’s office.  As they entered, he looked up from the papers on his desk.

“Ah!  Good morning and welcome back.  Please, sit down,” he said as he pulled out his wand and made each of the two wingback chairs in front of his desk double.  Each of the four of them chose a chair and sat down.

“I’d like to congratulate you on your performance so far,” the Chancellor said to them.  “Mrs. Black, Mr. Hendershot and Mr. Puterschmidt have all told me how much you’ve improved.”  Willow glanced at the others, who were looking back.  What is he talking about? she thought.  We haven’t improved at all.  There’s no way our teachers would have said so. 

“In fact, they have all recommended that you return to your regular classes”, the Chancellor continued as he reached behind to grab some papers from his desk.  “I’ve revised your schedules to reflect your original lessons.”  He started handing out the schedules, starting with Willow and ending with Incheon.  “Do any of you have any questions?”

Yes!  Why are you putting us back in regular classes when you know we can’t do magic?  But as soon as she thought it, she knew.

 “He knew perfectly well we can’t do magic,” Willow said to the others after they left the Chancellor’s office and were walking through the main hall.  “He’s canceling our Remedial Lessons because he wants us to fail.”

“But can he expel us for failing our exams?” asked Lef.  They all looked at Incheon.

“I don’t know,” said Incheon.  “There isn’t anything about that in the bylaws.”

“This means we can’t eat together either, doesn’t it?” asked Lef.

“Nope,” said Sib.  “We’re gonna have to scarf our lunch and meet up after.”

“So where should we meet?” Lef asked the group.

“The Alchemy lab where you and Lef met me during Lily’s game,” said Sib.  “It’s empty at lunchtime.  I’ll let Lily know in first period.”

The bell rang, signaling the end of the morning announcement period.  “See you then,” said Willow and she and Lef headed off to Herbology.



Willow was scarfing her lunch that day so that she could get down to the potions room to meet the others.  Halfway through her barbecue chicken sandwich, she heard a thumping noise just behind her and whirled to see that two senior Hammersmith boys had punted her bag to the far side of the Banquet Hall.

“Whoops,” one of them said.  “Sorry, newbie, it was an accident.” 

Willow got out of her seat and walked across the room to collect her bag.  Those jerks!  This whole initiation thing is so stupid.   Just because it’s always been this way doesn’t make it okay.  She was furious, but she knew she couldn’t do a thing about what those boys were doing.  Halfway through, Lily got up from her spot at a nearby table, picked up Willow's bag and handed it back to her. 

“Thanks Lily,” Willow said, peeking inside to see that everything was still inside.

“Do you want to finish your lunch?” she asked Willow.

“No,” she answered. “I’ve lost my appetite.”  The two of them left the banquet room and headed toward the main staircase to go down to the potions rooms on the second basement level.  As they passed the first basement they were startled by the Suncorn Ghost emerging from the wall in front of them.

Each of the houses at Gampton had its own house ghost.  Mr. Zolock had held an entire class on the Hammersmith House ghost, Bjorn Harstad, to explain when he had lived (Civil War), how he had died (dueling a wizard from Louisiana), and the general nature of a half-life after death.  Willow had seen very few of the ghosts during her first four months at Gampton Hall and the appearance of the Suncorn house ghost right in front of her came as a surprise.

“Oh, hello Espee,” said Willow.  “If you were trying to scare us, that was a great hiding place.”

“There are much better hiding places than that,” the Suncorn ghost softly replied.  Willow had never seen Espee up close and she was interested to see that the ghost appeared to be young - only in her twenties if she were alive.  Willow opened her mouth to ask how old she was when the ghost’s facial expression seemed to change.

“It’s here!” Espee cried.  “I’ll take you to it!” She drifted across the floor and disappeared through the wall on the opposite side of the stairs.  Willow looked back at Lily.

“I wonder what that was all about,” she said.

“Beats me,” Lily replied.

 

When they reached the potions classroom, Lef, Sib and Incheon were already there.  The five of them sat opening gifts from each other while Willow recounted what happened at lunch and the encounter with the Suncorn ghost.  She asked Incheon if he knew what was wrong with Espee.

Oh, yeah,” Incheon said, rolling his eyes.  “We all say that ‘Es-pee’ are her initials and it stands for ‘Split Personality’.  She does that all the time.  She’ll be perfectly fine one minute and then the next, she’ll get a crazed look in her eyes and start shouting about the thing that’s hidden.”

“So what’s hidden?” asked Lily.

“Who knows?  Every time someone tries to follow her, she keeps disappearing through walls, and if you ask her about it, she pretends to have no idea what you’re talking about.  It gets old after a while, so everybody just ignores her.”

Willow set aside the sugar-coated lemon bombs and the fizzing face-kickers that Incheon had given her, and picked up the gift from Sib.  Sib doesn’t have enough money to buy gifts, she thought as she looked at the box.

“Sib, you didn’t have to give me anything,” she said.

“It’s alright,” he replied.  “Just go on and open it.”

She opened the box and pulled out a wooden carving.  Looking at it, she recognized it as a pseudodragon.  It looks exactly like Fred.  She was amazed at the likeness, and there was also an elaborate design carved into his body.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.  “How did you get it to look exactly like him?” Willow asked, holding the carving up to the light to see the detail.

“Incheon took a picture for me,” Sib replied.  “Here.”  Sib took the picture out of his bag and handed it to Willow.  “I don’t need it anymore, so you can have it.”

Willow took the picture and saw Fred walking around in the frame.  When the Fred in the picture saw her, he started flying in loops, happy to see her.

“I didn’t know nomaj could do magic,” Incheon said when he looked at the magic kit that Willow had gotten him.

“They can’t,” replied Willow.  “At least not like us.  Most of it is slight-of-hand, but since we haven’t had much luck doing real magic, I thought you might find it fun.  Besides, since it isn’t from Three Dubs, it can’t be confiscated.”

“We should name our club,” said Lef, changing the subject.  “After all, if we’re going to hang out in a windowless basement for the rest of the year, we might as well have a group name.”

“What should our club be called?” asked Lily.

“How about ‘Pathfinders’,” suggested Willow.

“But that won’t include Lily,” said Lef.

“I don’t mind...really,” said Lily, who was blushing.

“Why don’t we use the first letters of our names to spell something?” said Lef. “I, S, W, L, L”

“Awesome.” said Incheon.  “We’ll be SWILL.  I’ve always wanted to be in a club named after liquid garbage.”

“How about ‘Pathfinders’,” suggested Willow again.

“Okay, fine,” said Lef.

“Aw, that’s no fun at all,” Incheon whined.



Although they no longer were able to eat lunch together, one thing that stayed the same over the next two months was the bullying.  If anything, it was getting worse since Willow was now one of only two first years who was still wearing the Newbie badge.  Late in February, Willow and Lily showed up five minutes late getting to Nomaj Studies class.

“Young witches, why weren’t you on time to class?” Mrs. McCracken asked them when they walked in, interrupting her in the middle of her lesson on household pets.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. McCracken,” started Willow.  “I got hit with a jelly-legs curse and I had trouble with the stairs.”

“You seem to be fine now,” replied the professor, eyeing her over the glasses that were perched low on her nose.

“Lily was able to unjinx me, but it took a couple of tries.  It’s not her fault.” Willow replied.

“Hmmph,” Mrs. McCracken grunted.  “Late is late.  That will be five points from both of your houses.”

“But...she was just helping me,” said Willow.  

“No more of that, young lady,” she said, cutting Willow off.  “You’ve interrupted this class enough with your tardiness.  Now take your seat.”

Sulking back to her seat, Willow sat down and spent the rest of the lesson thinking about how to exact revenge on her while Mrs. McCracken tried to convince the class that nomaj kept cockroaches as pets, housing them in roach motels; not realizing that roach motels were a brand of roach-killer.

 

That night, Willow dreamed again.  This time, she was standing near a pool of water in the forest glen.  The pool was surrounded by a series of huge stones arranged in a circle.  Like Stonehenge, she thought in the dream.  The Hunter was nowhere to be seen.  Although she had no control, she could see herself approach the pool and place her wand in the water.  Immediately, the wand split in half down the shaft and started to curl back on itself on both sides, forming wooden whirls and circles as the wand was destroyed.  No! she screamed in her mind.  Grab it!  Get it out of the water!  

She sat bolt upright in bed, waking herself up from the dream.  What was that all about? she thought.  Was that dark magic too?  It certainly seemed like it.  After a while, as she drifted back to sleep, it occurred to her that the hands that had put the wand in the water were tanned and muscular, unlike her own.  So whose hands were they?



“Are you telling Miss Pyx about it?” asked Lef the next morning in Herbology.

“The last time I talked to her about a dream, we almost got expelled.  I’m not telling anyone except the Pathfinders,” Willow responded, trimming some of the leaves off of the Asphodel plant they were growing inside the greenhouse.

The five of them had decided to meet up at the library instead of their potions room after eating lunch.  They were going to start looking to see if anyone had ever been expelled from Gampton Hall for having failed their first year exams.  Willow was puzzling through how to find out.  Maybe if I compare the number of people in first year classes with senior year classes seven years later, I can see if the numbers are the same.    



Willow walked out of the cafeteria with Incheon on their way to the library.  Halfway there, three Hammersmith girls on the way back from the restroom approached the two of them.

“Oh hello newbie,” said a tall, skinny, blonde Hammersmith fifth year.  “I wanted to practice a jinx I’ve been working on and you make the perfect practice target.”  She pulled out her wand and pointed it at Willow.

“Ladies,” piped up Incheon, stepping between Willow and the blonde Hammersmith.  “Can you turn me into a toad too?  There’s a girl I want to impress, but I’ll need to be more attractive than I am now.”

The blond girl smiled at the joke, “Sorry, noob.  You’re going to have to stay as ugly as you are.”  She lowered her wand and the three girls walked away.

“Wow, thanks,” said Willow.  “That was almost really bad for me.  How did you think of making a joke?”

“I’m always thinking of making a joke,” replied Incheon.  “Hey, what’s the difference between a warlock and a wizard?”

“I know...I know,” replied Willow.

When they reached the library, Willow recounted what had happened in the hallway.

“Why are the Hammersmiths so mean to you?” Lef said, sitting down next to her at a large table in one of the quiet corners.

“It’s tradition,” said Willow.  “Until I get this stupid badge off my uniform, they get to do whatever nasty thing they want to me.  I even talked to Mr. Zolock about it and he told me it’s a tradition that’s been going on forever.  It was even that way when he went here seventy years ago.”

“No,” said Lef, “I mean, why do they enjoy being so mean to you?”

“Oh.”  Willow remembered back to what happened last year in her nomaj school. “They enjoy the rush -- the power over others.  They think it makes them popular and they think that bullying gets them respect.”  There was silence for a moment.

“How do you know that?” asked Sib, who was sitting across from her.

Willow sighed.  I guess it’s time I told them.  I just hope they understand... 

“I told you that I had trouble with bullying in my nomaj school,” she said.  “I wasn’t in trouble for being bullied.  I was in trouble for being the bully.”
 

 

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