“Lef, do the Murgatroyds ever go into the kitchen?” Willow asked as the two of them walked from Thaumaturgy to Alteration class.
“Not that I know of,” Lef replied. “They usually stay away from nomaj - but so does everyone else. Why?”
“Because when Felicity spoke of the kitchen with such disdain, it made me wonder if that might be the place that Hammersmith and Murgatroyd would never go,” she said. “I think it might be worth a try.”
“I don’t know,” responded Lef. “It seems to me that somebody from those houses has been in there.”
“Do we have any other leads?” asked Willow.
“No,” Lef responded with a sigh. “I suppose not. When do you want to go?”
“Right after school. We’ll wait until the Suncorn homeroom clears out and then head into the closet.”
Willow relayed the plan to Lily and Sib in Alchemy class, but she was too loud about it and Felicity, a table away, overheard her.
“That’s off limits, you know,” said Felicity. “You’re going to make Hammersmith lose points.”
“Look, we just have to get in there for a minute,” explained Willow.
“Off limits, noob” repeated Felicity. “Don’t you understand the rules?”
“Fine. We won’t go,” Willow responded. Felicity would probably rat us out if she could, she thought.
“But you needed to get in there,” whispered Lily to her when class was over and Felicity left the room.
“I do, but I just had to get her off our back,” Willow explained. “I’m meeting the others in fifteen minutes. You don’t have to go, Lily.”
“It’s okay,” she replied. “I want to go.”
The basement corridor was deserted. Incheon gave them the all-clear that the Suncorn homeroom was empty and Lef confirmed that the Custodian was on the second basement level. The nurse’s office was dark and vacant.
“The coast is clear,” said Lily. “Let’s go.”
They all piled into the storage compartment under the south stairs. Willow was the last one in, and before she closed the door, she was sure she caught movement from the hallway outside. Is somebody there? she thought, staring to the end of the hallway to see what it was.
“What’s the matter?” whispered Lef.
“Nothing,” responded Willow after another moment. “I thought I saw something, but I’m probably just nervous.” A second after Willow closed the door, the interior doorway to the kitchen opened up. After going through, they all stared around the kitchen. It looked different without the lights on. Willow tried the electric light switch on the wall, but it didn’t work. Moving into the room, they found that there was enough light coming in through the windows for them to find their way around. To Willow it looked the same as the first time she and Lef had been in here, except for the quiet of the empty room.
“It could be anywhere in here,” said Lily. “There must be a thousand drawers, cabinets, and closets. Where would we even start?”
“What was here in 1764?” Sib chimed in.
“Man, I don’t know how old this stuff is,” Incheon said, looking around. “These cooker things could be hundreds of years old.”
“Not quite hundreds,” Willow said, smiling. She saw that she was the only one who knew anything about a nomaj kitchen. “Most of these things were made in the last twenty years. Not much made in the nomaj world would last for that long. Maybe an old farmhouse would, but it’s usually just the stone fireplace that...” she trailed off. “An old fireplace - look around the walls for where that would have been.”
They split up and looked around the perimeter of the room. It was Sib who ended up finding it. “Over here,” he called to them. “Look behind this big silver box. I can make out the stone outline.”
“Great, now we just need to move a five hundred pound metal freezer,” said Willow, deflated that she had found what she was looking for, but unable to reach it.
“Easy, just use Wingardium Leviosa. You know, flick and swish.” Incheon joked. None of them had so much as lifted a book, let alone a five hundred pound freezer.
“I think I can do it,” said Lily. “I’m still struggling with my charms, but I’ll give it a try.”
Willow watched as Lily closed her eyes and gripped her wand so hard, she nearly bent it to the breaking point. “Wingardium leviosa,” Lily called; flick and swish. The freezer twitched and slowly lifted about an inch off the floor. As Lily was struggling to hold the spell, Incheon and Sib quickly grabbed the freezer and shifted it to the side just enough to squeeze through the gap.
“Clear!” called Sib, and the freezer dropped to the floor with a bang. Lily sat down on the floor - completely exhausted. Lef ran over to her to make sure she was alright.
“I’m okay,” Lily said to her. “I just need a minute.”
Willow squeezed through the gap to stand behind the freezer. She was in a space about eight feet wide, four feet deep and four feet high walled in with stone on all sides. She had to stoop to not hit her head. The stones on the floor and side walls were black with the soot and ash of countless fires, but when she brushed against one, her hand came away dusty, but clean.
“What are we looking for exactly?" said Sib, who followed her in. Incheon stood outside looking in as there wasn’t enough room for more than two.
“I’m not sure,” said Willow, “and since we can’t do magic to save our lives, let’s hope it’s a loose stone or something that’s hiding the archives.”
They began pushing on stones randomly and soon decided to work methodically to wiggle each one. This is going to take forever, Willow thought, working her way up from the floor. There has to be a better way.
Standing on the far side of the freezer Incheon looked in and said “I still say that we’re chasing ghosts. Look, in hundreds of years of lighting a fire in a fireplace, you would think they would touch quite a few of those stones. How would you know which ones?”
“You’re right.” Willow replied, dropping her hands to her sides. “They would have to clean this fireplace and would have touched every stone in it. It can’t be that... “
“What if it were two?” asked Incheon with a smile. "Or maybe you have to touch every stone simultaneously."
“I get it,” Willow said, “they’d have to be on opposite sides, so that nobody could accidentally touch them at the same time.”
"Right..." said Incheon. "Um, I'm going to go make some good use of my time." Willow watched him walk away from the opening.
Willow and Sib began their search, this time from the top. Within two minutes they had it, but only by looking on the outside of the fireplace. Just below the mantel, near the edges of the fireplace, they both touched a stone that looked like a pentagon. The stones began to glow and the bricks in the bottom of the back wall of the fireplace rearranged themselves into a small opening, about two feet square.
“Well,” said Sib. “We found something...but what is it?”
“For the ashes, maybe?”, guessed Willow. “...covered in ashes...” she muttered to herself, remembering what Esbee had said. She got down on her hands and knees to peer through the small doorway into the blackness. The room beyond it was dark and little light from the kitchen penetrated. “We’ll have to go in.”
“Uh, Ladies first?” said Sib, staring questioningly at Willow.
“Here, let me through,” said Lily as she wiggled her way into the recessed fireplace. “I’m the only one of us that can keep lumos going for more than a few seconds. Taking a few deep breaths, Lily closed her eyes and said “lumos”. The tip of her wand flickered into life. Only as bright as candlelight, it began to dim as she spoke up. “I have to concentrate on the light. One of you will have to come with me to look around.” She sat down at the edge of the opening and crawled inside on her hands and knees.
Willow looked at Sib. “Rock, paper, scissors?” she suggested.
“Rock, paper, what?” replied Sib, but Willow had already followed Lily and was crawling after her, into the darkness.
Once inside, Willow’s eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light emitted by Lily’s wand. The room was a large, circular stone-walled area. She could barely make out the ceiling high above, but it must have been over fifteen feet high. She followed Lily, who was slowly walking around the room, concentrating on the light. Willow could see that she was starting to shake from the effort. Willow looked down and noticed that the floor was covered in a thin layer of ashes. She couldn’t figure out what this room was, but quickly forgot about that mystery and started looking around.
At first, Willow thought she had made a mistake and that there was nothing here, but as they reached the far side of the chamber, she saw that there was a chest tucked up against the far wall, blackened and scorched. Going over to it, Willow tried the lock, but it didn’t budge. When she tried to lift the chest, the metal straps that were holding the lid together gave out and Willow fell on her butt, holding the chest lid in her hand. The light started to dim.
“Are you okay?” said Lily.
“Yes, I’m fine,” said Willow, getting up and going back to the chest. “Just give me a few more seconds of light.”
Lily concentrated again and the light grew brighter. Willow looked in the chest and saw that it was full of books and rolled-up paintings. Without another thought, Willow grabbed the corner of the chest and dragged it over to the opening where they had come in.
“I’m losing it,” said Lily. Willow could hear the exhaustion in her voice.
“It’s alright,” replied Willow. “You can let go. We’ll have enough light to pass these books through the opening.” The light went out and Lily, exhausted, sat down on the sooty floor. Willow helped her over to lean against the wall. Then, with Sib’s help, Willow managed to pass the contents of the chest through the hole. She thought for a moment of taking the chest to carry the books, but she saw that it was too big to fit through the small opening. Leaving it, she helped Lily towards the exit.
“Do you think you can crawl?” Willow asked her.
“Yes, just let me go first.” Lily sat down and started crawling through. Willow followed her out. Once they were all out, Willow had them all divide the pile of books and papers between them.
“Think we should close that?” asked Sib, pointing to the opening.
Willow nodded and they both reached up to touch the same pentagon stones that had opened it. In a second, the square doorway had vanished, leaving nothing but blackened stone where it used to be. Willow and Sib put their books into their bags and had just emerged from behind the freezer when the door to the kitchen slammed open. Standing next to him, Willow heard Sib mutter one word.
“A sandwich!” the Chancellor yelled at them. “You all went out of bounds to get a sandwich! What were you thinking!” He was pacing in front of his desk as the five of them sat in chairs opposite him. The gigantic triple-decker sandwich that Incheon had made while the others were in the hidden room was sitting on the edge of the Chancellor’s desk.
“I was hungry?” said Incheon.
“Mr. Ryong, do not get smart with me,” bellowed the Chancellor, “I have already confiscated about a dozen illegal Weasley products from your bag.” He turned and glared over the rest of them. “The rules are in place for a reason and I will not have students out of bounds at this Academy, is that understood?”
“Yes sir.” They all responded more or less together.
“And as for these books,” said the Chancellor as he pointed at the pile of books that had been divided up between them. “Where did these come from?”
Willow thought fast. There was a reason that Esbee hid the archive from Hammersmith and Murgatroyd. “The archives at the library, sir,” she answered.
“Well, unlike other books from the library,” the Chancellor responded, “books from the archives cannot be removed. You will return these to Mrs. Moore immediately and will apologize to her. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they all responded again.
“Now, each of you will have a written note in your file and twenty five points will be taken from each of your houses. I assure you that future transgressions will be dealt with much more severely. It will also be detention for all of you. As you seem so fond of the kitchen, you’ll be washing dishes - without magic.” The Chancellor turned to the back of the room. “Mr. Hendershot, please see these children return these books to the library.” He then turned to Willow and the others. “Dismissed.”
Mr. Hendershot, who was the one who had caught them in the kitchen escorted them to the library. Mrs. Moore wasn’t there, but they left the books on her desk with a note. After leaving the library, Mr. Hendershot turned to the five of them.
“Look, you five. I don’t know what you did to tick off the Chancellor, but you were already on the hot seat with him. He was threatening to expel four of you just for going into the kitchen before I talked him back to reason. I don’t think he’ll be so lenient next time.”
“It certainly wouldn’t have helped any if you two had gone in all covered in soot,” he continued, addressing Willow and Lily. “I don’t know how you two got so dirty, but he would have been even more upset if you had dragged that mess into his office. Just be careful.”
“Thanks Mr. Hendershot,” said Willow. He had used ‘scourgify’ to clean the ashes off of her and Lily on their way to the Chancellor’s office. Mr. Hendershot left them to go back into the library and once he left, Willow turned to the others. “And how did he know we were in the kitchen?” Willow asked, already knowing the answer. “Felicity…” she whispered under her breath. I’d bet anything it was her I saw in the hallway.
“Good job with the sandwich diversion, Incheon,” said Lily, breaking up Willow’s mental trial. “What gave you that idea?”
“I was being truthful to the Chancellor about being hungry,” he responded. “Making that sandwich is the only reason I went along in the first place.”
“The worst part is that he went through all our bags and we lost the archives,” said Lef. “I don’t know how we’ll get them back now.”
“He didn’t get all the archives,” said Willow with a smile. “He might have gone through my bag, but he didn’t find the books or pictures that I put in there.”
“So then the worst part is that I lost my sandwich,” sighed Incheon.
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