Sib was staring at Willow and Lily had opened her mouth to say something, but it was Lef who spoke up first. “But you aren’t mean…” she said.
“I used to be,” Willow replied. “I used to make fun of people who weren’t as smart or thin or as well off as I was. I thought it made me popular, but it just made me a jerk. I lost all of my friends afterwards and I kinda feel this is punishment for how I treated people all last year.”
“I hope my brother figures it out like you did,” said Sib. “Otherwise, he’s going to be in for one heck of a jinxing on my seventeenth birthday.”
“Why is that?” asked Lef.
“He’s a squib,” explained Sib. The rest of them all nodded their heads, as if this explained everything.
“What’s a squib?” Willow asked.
“A squib is a person in a magic family that don’t have no magic,” Sib explained. “He couldn’t go to Gampton Hall and I could and he has to get along as well as he can in nomaj school. He’s angry and bitter and he takes out that on me whenever he can. That’s why I come in all busted up all the time.”
“That’s awful,” Willow said. “Don’t your parents stop it?”
“My ma ain’t around much, what with workin’ an all,” Sib said, “so my brother and I mostly take care of ourselves. My pa ain’t around no more.”
“Mine isn’t either,” said Willow, suddenly remembering the day five years ago when her father left and didn’t come back.
“That’s it!” exclaimed Lily, disrupting Willow’s thoughts. Everyone in the library heard her.
“SHHHHH!” hushed Mrs. Moore, the Librarian.
“Sorry,” Lily said to the Librarian and then turned to the others. “Listen, I have to go. I think I know how to figure out if anyone’s been expelled. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.” She grabbed her bag and headed for the library staircase, continuing to climb up until she went through the third story door to the Featherpenny tower.
The rest of them watched her go and then began to put away the books they had gotten out. They don’t hate me, thought Willow as she put away the book she had been looking through. I told them that I was a bully last year and they just shrugged and moved on...as if I just told them that I hated Quidditch. Maybe I really have changed. The four of them left the library after the bell rang and Sib and Willow headed to the Astronomy tower. Willow noticed that Lily never made it to Astronomy class.
On the way out of Astronomy, she and Sib had to walk down to the second level, over to the main staircase and then back up to the fourth floor to get to the Featherpenny and Hammersmith homerooms. They were discussing Lily’s absence from Astronomy class and what it might mean.
“Well, I just hope she’s found something,” said Willow as they descended the north stairway.
“So do I,” said Sib. “Just to keep my brother from lording it up on me if I was to get expelled.”
“Expelled?” Both Sib and Willow jumped as they thought they were the last to leave Astronomy tower. They whirled around to see the Suncorn ghost behind them.
“Oh, hello, Espee,” said Willow. “We were just saying that we will probably be expelled if we can’t pass the final exams, and at this rate, we’re not going to.”
“Nobody gets expelled from the Academy!” she exclaimed. “If you’re magical, you’re magical - there is a place for everyone. When I was Chancellor, I would never have allowed such nonsense.”
“You were Chancellor? said Willow. “But you’re so young.”
“Oh, thank you, dear. I don’t feel a day over two hundred and fifty.” She floated along beside them for a moment and then stopped. Sib and Willow turned toward her. Espee had her eyes wide open and was staring at them.
“It’s hidden!” she cried out. “They wanted it destroyed, but I hid it!”
“Where is it hidden?” asked Sib.
“Somewhere Hammersmith and Murgatroyd would never look,” Espee said and then looked down at the floor.
“And where would they never look?” pressed Sib.
“Where would who never look, dear?” Espee said, changing back to her normal voice.
“Hammersmith and Murgatroyd?” said Sib.
“How should I know?” Espee replied. “I’m Suncorn.” Without another word, she floated away through the wall.
“Well, that was less than helpful,” said Willow. “Now I see what Incheon was talking about.”
After getting her cloak from her locker, she met up with Sib to head downstairs for after-school activities. Sib was in Herbology club with Lef, so he and Willow walked down the five flights of stairs to get to the basement level to walk out. Lily was still nowhere to be found.
The next day after lunch, Lily told them that she still hadn’t had any luck, but she was still looking. She still wouldn’t tell the others what she was doing – just that they didn’t have to do any more research.
“Fine with me,” said Incheon. “That was exhausting.”
“But you never even opened a book,” said Lef, staring at him.
“Oh, I know, but just watching you guys work made me tired.”
“Are any of you setting up for the game?” Willow asked, changing the subject. Gampton Hall was hosting the first game of the North American Quidditch Championship. The first game was scheduled for that Saturday at their stadium and Miss Mercana had asked Willow to assist with setup that Thursday afternoon.
“You mean the one against Canada?” asked Sib. “Yeah, I was going to help.” After the others responded, Incheon was the only one who said he hadn’t planned on coming.
“But it sounds like work,” he said. “Can’t I just come and supervise?”
“It’s not like you’ll do any work even if you do come,” said Lily.
“I can work hard if I choose to,” said Incheon defensively. “I just never choose to.”
The first of March felt like an extension of February. It was a cold winter day, with overcast skies of low dark grey clouds which threatened to start snow showers at any moment. After school activities were cancelled that afternoon to allow everyone in the school an opportunity to help set up before the game which was scheduled for the following Saturday. Willow had never had everyone together after classes, so she decided to introduce them all to Corey. She led the way down to the manticore enclosure and called out to Corey. He came out of his pen and bounded toward her, but stopped short when he saw everyone else who was standing nearby.
“It’s okay, Corey,” Willow called to him. “They’re with me. They’re my friends.” Corey slowly approached them.
“It…it understands you?” asked Lef.
“What? Oh…yeah,” replied Willow. “At least I like to think he does. I come and talk to him every day.” As Corey approached, the others backed away from the fence that separated them from the manticore.
“What’s wrong?” asked Willow, noticing them backing away.
“That’s a manticore,” said Incheon, pointing at Corey. “It has a giant stinger on its tail, is completely resistant to magic and eats mages for breakfast…so nothing’s wrong – I just don’t want to be dead.”
“He won’t hurt you, he didn’t even hurt me when he stung me,” explained Willow. “He’s just a cub.”
“You aren’t making me feel any better,” said Lily. “I can see it just fine from back here.” They watched Corey for a while and then Sib spoke up.
“Why is Espee beckoning to us from the woods?”
Looking up, Lef asked “Are you sure it’s us?”
“She’s looking right at us,” Sib said. “And there’s nobody else on this side of the school. Think we should check it out?”
“Normally, I’d say we’re wasting our time,” said Incheon, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm, “but since it means I can avoid work, let’s go.”
“But that’s out of bounds,” said Lily. “we’ll get in trouble.”
“Espee is in there,” said Willow. “We should just go see what she wants.” They headed over to the edge of the woods, but as they got closer, Espee kept retreating further and further into the trees, all the time beckoning for them to follow. At the edge of the woods, Lily stopped.
“I can’t go,” she said. “I’ll be in big trouble if I get caught. You guys go without me.”
“Okay,” Willow replied. “We’ll come find you as soon as we get back.” As Willow turned to follow the others into the woods, she thought that maybe Lily was right. Perhaps charging into the North Woods after a mentally disturbed ghost isn’t the best idea. But the others had already plunged in and Willow had to hurry to catch up. They had to move quickly to follow the ghost. They were almost running through the woods. After five minutes of scrambling over branches and ducking under tree limbs, Incheon called forward to Sib, asking how much further they would have to follow.
“Just to where she’s standing” said Sib, who had taken the lead – easily finding his way among the trees while the others had all struggled to keep pace. Willow was helping Lef up off the ground where she had fallen for the fourth time after tripping over her own feet. Willow could see the ghostly shape of Espee next to a large rock wall just ahead. They approached where the ghost was waiting and saw that she was standing facing a gigantic rock cliff as high as a two-story house. As they got closer, Willow could see that she was actually looking into an opening in the wall that led into a cave.
Sib approached the ghost. “Espee?” he said. “What are you looking at?”
Espee looked up as if she had been in a daze. “Hello there,” she said. “Oh, I see you’ve brought some friends. Hello Incheon.”
“Hello Espee,” panted Incheon. “What is...this place?”
“I don’t know,” said Espee. “But there’s something deep inside that cave that shouldn’t be here. I can’t see it, even though I’ve tried.”
Willow looked at Sib. “Do you think this could be the place she was talking about?” she asked him. Sib nodded.
“Espee,” Sib asked. “Is this the place that Hammersmith and Murgatroyd would never find?”
“Hmmm?” replied Espy. “No, I don’t think so. The Chancellor was just out here last week and he was in Hammersmith, why?”
“Uhhh, no reason,” said Sib and then turned to the others. “I can’t do lumos hardly at all. How long can you guys keep your wand lit up?”
“Only a few seconds,” said Willow sadly. Lef and Incheon said the same. “It won’t be enough to explore that cave,” Sib decided.
“Okay,” said Incheon. “Who can get us a lantern while not asking us any questions?”
“Felicity has the best lumos spell in first year,” said Lef. “She could do it.”
“No way,” said Willow. “There is no way that we can ask her for a favor.”
“Who else can we ask?” said Sib. “I ain’t met any of the older students who were willin’ to help us out.”
“What about a teacher?” said Willow. “We could ask Miss Mercana.”
“Except the first thing she’ll ask is what we need it for,” said Incheon. “I’m with Lef. We need someone who doesn’t care what we’re doing.”
“I don’t like this at all,” said Willow. I can’t imagine anyone I would want to ask less than Felicity.
They found Felicity outside of the stadium working on a huge sign to be hung from the seating area during the game. “Sure,” she said when Willow asked if she would cast a permanent lumos spell for them. “I’ll do it...for a dragot.” She had an evil smile on her face.
“A dragot!” exclaimed Willow. “It’s just a simple spell.”
“Well, if it’s so simple, you can do it yourself.”
“Where am I supposed to find a dragot?” Willow asked.
“I don’t care. Why don’t you ask your Featherpenny boyfriend,” Felicity said to Sib with a look of disgust on her face. Sib stepped up, ready to say something, but Willow got in his way.
“Come on,” she said to him. “Let’s go.”
“So where are we going to find a dragot?” asked Lef, after they had walked away.
“Can we make a Galleon?” asked Willow. “Lily might be able to transfigure one from a rock or something.”
“This close to St. Patrick’s Day?” said Incheon. “Felicity’s not an idiot, she’d be sure to check for fake gold. We’d have to get our hands on some real gold to make it work.”
“I know where we can find some gold,” said Willow. “Remember our first Care of Magical Creatures lesson?” Everyone else looked at her blankly. “Kivinoid poo?” she said, looking for a shred of recognition. Incheon smiled.
“Willow, can you go and get us that gold?” he asked.
“I don’t know how I feel about stealing gold,” said Lef.
“Oh, we won’t steal it,” said Incheon. “We’re just going to borrow it.” He looked at Willow.
“Wait here,” Willow said and she sprinted off toward the Kivinoid enclosure. The area was deserted when she got there, but she knew exactly where they kept the net to scoop up a lump of gold from the bottom of the enclosure like she had done before in Care of Magical Creatures Club. Grabbing the snitch-sized lump of gold, she ran back to where the others were waiting. Lily was with them, the others having found her and told her about the help they needed.
“Okay, now what?” Willow panted when she reached them, still trying to catch her breath.
“Now,” said Incheon. “Lily, can you transfigure this lump of gold into a dragot shape? Your spell will last longer than any of ours.”
Lily pulled out her wand and concentrated on the lump of gold. She pointed at it, gripping her wand so tightly that it bent in the middle. A red jet of light shot out of the end and the lump became a bright, shiny dragot.
“Perfect. Let’s go,” Incheon said and headed back toward Felicity.
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