“I’m never going back...in the North Woods again...for as long as I live,” said Willow in between breaths as they stood in the school lobby after breaking into a second panic-stricken run that had carried them up to the back doors.
“I don’t think I will neither,” Sib said, staring through the night to the edge of the forest. The blink dogs had stopped barking, but were still on the far end of their enclosure, pacing to and fro. “At least I know I wasn’t seein’ things. Somethin’ followed us through the woods.”
“Was it...the Wendingy?” asked Willow, stumbling over the name.
“Wendigo? answered Sib. “Dunno. I never really saw anything except the eyes, but I think that was enough for me.”
To Willow, it seemed like half a day had passed since they first saw Espee by the manticore’s pen, but it was only six-thirty. They helped Lef over to the gallery. She still couldn’t put any weight on her ankle, but she insisted that they send her home through the Firejump Network instead of tracking down the school nurse.
After watching her disappear in the green flames of the fire, Willow, Incheon and Sib headed out of the front door of the school to where everyone else had been setting up for the past two hours. They found Lily and helped her finish hanging a few banners while they told her all about the cave, the conversation with Miss Mercana and the flight through the woods. When they told her about the glowing stone being thrown back at them, she stood amazed.
"I didn't know it was really real...I thought it was just a story to scare kids," she said.
“Somethin’ picked up that rock and threw it back at us,” replied Sib. “And it wasn’t no story.”
“It did manage to scare kids though,” said Willow. “I thought I was going to get caught for sure.”
“So shouldn’t we tell somebody about it?” asked Lily. “You know, that the Wendigo is near the school?”
“And get in trouble for going out of bounds?” questioned Incheon. “Yeah, that’d be brilliant. Then we’d be scared stupid and get expelled for it too.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Lily.
Willow looked at Sib and Incheon, who just shrugged. “I guess we’re not going to do anything,” she said, picking up a corner of a banner to help hang it. “Except avoid the North Woods for the rest of our lives.”
As they were finishing with the last of the decorations, they headed off in different directions to go home. Lily, Incheon and Sib headed off toward the gallery to take the Firejump Network home. Willow was going to board the late bus at seven but wasn’t the last to leave. As a matter of fact, when she went inside to get Fred, there seemed to be a large number of unfamiliar wizards and witches milling around the school lobby talking in excited whispers.
I don’t recognize any of these people, she thought. Is there another official visit going on that I don’t remember? Unable to come up with any reason why so many adults would be pouring into the school on a Thursday night, she put it out of her mind and made her way to the bus.
When she got home, her mom was engrossed in a live news broadcast on TV. Willow read the words “Live: Meteor explosion in Pennsylvania” on the bottom of the screen and asked her what was going on.
“Apparently there was a meteor explosion south of Harrisburg,” she replied. “There didn’t appear to be any damage on the ground, but this is a great idea for a class topic at school. Maybe a few of my students will even stay awake for it.” She smiled and winked at Willow and then turned back to the screen.
“How was your day?” Willow’s mom asked in an absent way, her attention focused on the news.
Willow thought for a moment about what to tell her mom. Well, mom - first we followed a mentally disturbed ghost into the out-of-bounds woods, found a cave, stole some gold, cheated a fellow student out of a spell, explored the cave, found an incredibly dangerous bug, eavesdropped on a teacher, followed her back into the out-of-bounds woods and then got chased by a flesh-eating monster back to the school grounds.
Instead, Willow set Fred on the kitchen floor and muttered “fine.”
“You know I’m going to the game today, right?” Willow said that Saturday. “Are you okay with me leaving Fred here? We’re supposed to keep him all weekend.”
“Sure,” her mom replied. “The neighbor’s dog keeps peeing in our yard, so I was hoping Fred might eat him.” For a minute, Willow wasn’t sure whether her mom was joking. “We’ll be fine,” Willow’s mom reassured her. “Just leave out his food and try to be home in time for dinner.”
When Willow arrived at the school, Lily and Incheon were already there. Since both of them lived in Gampton, they had just flown on brooms from their houses, which were only about a mile away. Sib had mentioned that he couldn’t make the game when he talked to them the previous day. Lef arrived by floo powder shortly afterwards and met them in the entrance hall, walking without a limp.
“How’s your ankle?” asked Willow.
“Fine, thank you,” replied Lef. “It’s good to have a grandmother who works at Nimmick.”
“Nimmick?” said Willow. “What’s that?”
“The National Magical Medical Center,” replied Lef. “N-M-M-C. It’s the hospital for magical injuries. My grandma was able to fix up my ankle. It was just sprained.” She handed Willow her cloak from the previous day.
“Oh,” exclaimed Willow. “I completely forgot about it.” She took off her cloak, which she didn’t remember until that instant was really Lef’s. They exchanged and then the four of them headed for the stands. They found a good spot among other Gampton Hall fans to cheer for their school against Petite Ile Marecageuse, which Willow figured out was from Canada by listening to the accents of the visiting spectators. After sitting in the biting cold for an hour, Willow was surprised to find that although her cheeks and nose were getting frostbitten, the rest of her was quite toasty.
“Did you add a layer to my cloak or something?” she asked Lef, who was sitting next to her.
“Like it?” she responded. “I asked my mom to put a charm on it so it stays warm.”
“Wow. Thank you,” said Willow. “But she didn’t put a charm on my nose and ears, so I think I need to go inside for a while and warm up.”
“Thanks for suggesting it,” said Incheon. “I didn’t want to be the first one to bail.” The Gampton Hall team, which was mostly the Hammersmith team with one Featherpenny chaser was being pummeled by the team from Canada and when they left the score was one hundred and forty to fifty.
Once inside the main hall, they went to the conservatory and sat down among the plants to warm up. There was a cart placed nearby serving beverages and Lef brought them four hot chocolates. The four of them were alone and they were able to talk about what had happened the previous day.
“Espee isn’t crazy,” said Willow to Incheon. “She knew there was something terrible in that cave and she led us to it.”
“Okay, but what about all the ranting and raving?” Incheon responded.
“I don’t know,” Willow responded puzzling over what had happened. “She said she was Chancellor, do you know when?”
“No idea,” said Incheon, finishing his hot chocolate in two gulps. “When did she say that?”
“Earlier this week. Sib and I were walking from Astronomy to our homerooms when she said that nobody was expelled when she was Chancellor.”
“And did she start ranting about the thing that’s hidden?” asked Incheon.
“Well, yeah,” admitted Willow.
“Right,” he said. “That’s why I wouldn’t put too much faith in anything she said. But if you’re all hot and bothered about it, you can look for her on the list of Chancellors.”
“What list of Chancellors?”
“Come on,” Incheon said, standing up and heading toward the gallery. About halfway down the gallery hall and across from the fireplaces was a large plaque that had all the school’s Chancellors on it. Looking at it, Willow saw that there had been about thirty of them over the years.
“There’s no Espee up there,” said Incheon, glancing at it. “There’s no ‘Split Personality’ either.”
“Unless ‘Espee’ isn’t her name,” said Lef, spilling some of her hot chocolate down her front while trying to talk and drink at the same time.
“Hm,” muttered Willow, handing Lef a napkin. “Maybe it’s her initials: ‘S.P.’ She said she didn’t feel a day over two hundred and fifty, so it would be before 1800.” Willow walked over to the list and started running her hands over the names, carved into the golden surface of the plaque. “No...no...man’s name...no...wait.” Willow’s finger hovered on the Chancellor for a single year. “Sally Bedford, 1764. S.B...it’s not S.P., it’s S.B., but if you say it fast, it sounds like ‘Espee’. I bet Espee is Esbee - for Sally Bedford.”
“So...” Lef asked, “now what?”
“Why was she the only Chancellor on this list who served for one year?” asked Willow.
“I’ll see what I can get from her gravestone,” said Incheon.
“Yeah, all the early Chancellors are buried in Gampton,” he replied. “I’ll go over tomorrow and take a picture.”
As they stood there, they heard a roar from the stadium that could only mean that one team or the other had caught the snitch. Recognizing that the end of the game meant they would all head home, they said their goodbyes and decided to get together at lunchtime on Monday in the library to see what Incheon had found.
Instead of the photograph that Inchon had took, they sat around Sib, who had come in with fresh bruises and his arm in a sling. None of them had seen him in classes before lunch.
“What happened?” they all asked him.
“Same thing that always happens, my brother was wailin’ away at me as he always does, but then he pushed me off the front porch and I landed on my arm and broke it.”
“Did he say he was sorry?” asked Lef.
“Ha!” laughed Sib. “That’ll be the day. Naw, he didn’t say nothin’ to me, but he didn’t touch me or talk to me the rest of the day yesterday, so I kinda figure he knew he went too far. I asked the nurse to fix the bones this mornin’, but my shoulder’s still pretty sore so she’s havin’ me wear this stupid sling around.”
After Sib’s explanation, they brought him up to speed on what they had discovered about Esbee the previous day. Incheon pulled out the photograph he had taken and showed it to them. It showed a simple white headstone with an inscription:
Born December 5, 1740
Died June 15, 1764
Head of Suncorn House 1760-1764
Sixth Chancellor of Gampton Hall Academy 1764
“Wow,” said Lef. “She was only 24 years old.”
“I have a question,” said Willow looking at the others. “Is it rude to ask a ghost how they died?”
“I don’t know,” responded Lef. “I’ve never tried asking the Murgatroyd Ghost anything.”
“No, it isn’t rude,” answered Lily. “It’s like asking a teacher how they came to be at Gampton Hall. I’ve asked the Librarian.”
“But the librarian isn’t dead,” said Willow. “She’s right over there.” Willow nodded her head toward Mrs. Moore who was busy re-shelving books.
“The Librarian is the name of the Featherpenny ghost,” explained Lily. “She mostly stays on the upper levels of the library or in our lounge.”
“Oh, right” replied Willow, remembering now. “So how did she die?”
“Kinda sad, really,” replied Lily. “She got an infection from a paper cut and didn’t get it looked at in time.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” said Lef.
“No, that’s ironic,” said Incheon. “The Librarian was killed by a book.” Lily frowned at him.
“The next one of us that sees Esbee should ask her how she died,” Willow said to the others. “Maybe that will give us a clue about the hidden archive.”
“Or maybe...” said Incheon. “Maybe we’ll find out that we’re just chasing ghosts.”
“Since we’re not going anywhere else,” said Lef holding up her wand. “We might as well give it a try.”
It didn’t take long to find her. Willow, Sib and Lily were leaving Alchemy when they saw her on the way toward the main staircase. The resulting discussion was less than Willow had hoped for.
“I can’t say I remember, exactly,” Esbee said. “One minute I was in the basement hallway outside the Suncorn homeroom covered in ashes and then ‘poof’ here I am...” She then got that glazed look on her face and said something else which neither Willow, Sib nor Lily understood and disappeared through the wall.
“What was that word she said?” asked Willow.
“I don’t know,” replied Lily. “It sounded like ‘imperious’, but I don’t know what that means.”
For the rest of that week, Willow thought about all the places around the school that Hammersmith and Murgatroyd wouldn’t go. She ruled out all of the classrooms and the common spaces, the teacher’s offices and the gardens. She thought for a while it might be the Suncorn homeroom. That was where Esbee had last remembered where she was before she died, but Incheon said he knew for a fact that teachers used their homeroom all the time as a shortcut to get out to the gardens - including the Chancellor, who they knew was in Hammersmith.
“Just ‘flick and swish’,” said Mr. Hendershot, directing Willow toward the pillow she was trying to levitate in her Thaumaturgy class. Willow actually felt somewhat sorry for him. He had tried everything he could think of to help Willow and Lef ever since they came back to regular classes. Everyone else in the class besides her and Lef had moved on to levitating desks and other heavy objects. Willow concentrated on the pillow and directed her wand at it.
“Wingardium leviosa!” she said as she flicked and swished her wand at the pillow. Willow concentrated with all her might to make the pillow lift up in the air. After a second, one side of the pillow started to rise in the air and then it just flopped over. Willow had previously told him about her experience in Miss Chantrix’s shop, so he knew she could do it, he just didn’t know how to make it work here at Gampton Hall.
“Well,” said Mr. Hendershot with a sigh. “Just keep working at it you two.” After he left, Willow and Sib were approached by Felicity, Marigold, and Felicity’s other friend, Francesca.
“Oh, I see you’re still having trouble with levitation,” said Felicity with a sneer. “Just like everything else. Perhaps you belong in the kitchen with the other nomaj.” As they walked away, Willow turned to Lef.
“I wonder...” she said.
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