“Here’s what I found,” said Willow as she handed Lef a printout of the information she had researched online the previous night. The other four were staring at the paper she had just handed over.
“What is this?…” said Lef. “It’s the weirdest parchment I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s paper,” said Willow. “It’s what nomaj use instead of parchment.”
“How come we never learned about this in Nomaj Studies?” asked Incheon, touching the paper like it might bite him.
“Because Mrs. McCracken has no idea what she’s talking about,” replied Willow. “Oh, I hope you haven’t been listening to her. She couldn’t tell a toaster from a television. Just read the article, will you?” Lef shrugged and read out loud.
“The Susquehannock were a tribe of American Indians that were native to the Susquehanna River basin from the Chesapeake Bay to the New York border. They had a large settlement at Conestoga, near present-day Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Originally numbering in the hundreds of settlements up and down the river, disease brought by European colonists wiped out the vast majority of the tribe in the late 1600s. By the early 1700s many of the survivors had dispersed into surrounding tribes. The remaining Susquehannocks consolidated at Conestoga Town and lived there in relative peace with the first European settlers moving inland from Philadelphia. In 1763, a group of settlers known as the Paxton Boys killed all of the Susquehannocks in Conestoga Town, believing that they were involved in the unrelated Pontiac’s Rebellion occurring in western Pennsylvania. This massacre wiped out the tribe, ending its existence.”
They were all silent for a moment.
“How did you find this information?” asked Lily.
“Oh, I just googled it,” Willow replied.
“I hope that’s not as disgusting as it sounds,” replied Incheon.
“It’s a search engine on the internet,” Willow tried to explain.
“What kind of engine?”
“Look, never mind,” said Willow. “It’s a nomaj thing. All of this information has to be linked.”
“What do you mean?” asked Lef.
Willow started ticking items off on her fingers. “The fact that the Paxton Boys wiped out the local American Indians in 1763; The fire in the library that destroyed the archives in 1764; the fact that Esbee died that same year and that she led us to the archive; the American Indians in the photo; the Pathfinders.”
“So who’s Paxton?” asked Lef.
“I don’t know, but I think we should try to find out.”
“Let me guess,” said Incheon. “More work?”
The cold winds of March were giving way to the cold rains of April. Willow was staring out of the window in Thaumaturgy class when Mr. Hendershot broke up her daydreaming by bringing in the Sorting Hat for a demonstration.
“Does anyone know the difference between inherent magic and attached magic?” He set the hat on his desk, and seeing no hands in the air, he proceeded. “Think of it this way,” he continued. “Applied magic can be reversed, inherent magic cannot. For example,” he pointed his wand at the sorting hat, “Let’s make Amrose green, and double his size, and cover him with feathers.” With each phrase, Mr. Hendershot’s spells changed the hat so that there was now a large green feathered cone sitting on his desk. He picked up a glass pitcher of clear liquid that was on his desk and held it up.
“This liquid is enchanted to lift all charms...that is, to eliminate all spells that have ever been cast on the hat.” He walked over and poured the water over the hat. Willow watched as the hat simultaneously shrunk to its normal size, lost its feathers and turned back to its dingy gray-brown color.
“Amrose, how are you feeling?” Mr. Hendershot asked.
“Wet,” replied the hat, grumpily. Mr. Hendershot turned to the class. “Do I have a volunteer to see if he is still able to sort you?”
Willow instantly raised her hand, desperate to ask Amrose a question. After Mr. Hendershot called on her, she walked toward the the front of the class.
“Here, let me hold your wand for you while you put Amrose on,” he said to her. She handed over her wand and put Amrose on her head.
“Oh,” said Amrose inside Willow’s head, “you again.”
“Amrose!” Willow thought. “What do you know about the Pathfinders? The Fifth House?”
“There has always been a fifth house,” the voice spoke inside her head, “ever since the founding of the school...and that is where you belong.”
“Pathfinder!” Amrose called out loud to the room. Mr. Hendershot approached Willow to remove the hat and Willow thought of one more question, remembering the prophecy that Mr. Zolock had told them.
“Amrose, when was the first time you were drenched with the spell removal potion?”
“Why it was at this lesson, just last year now that you mentio...” Amrose’s last thoughts faded away as Mr. Hendershot lifted the hat from Willow’s head and she went back to her seat.
“Well, now we see the difference,” Mr. Hendershot told them as he handed back Willow’s wand. “The spells that I cast are gone, but Amrose is still a talking sorting hat. That part of his magic is inherent and cannot be ‘washed’ away, just as your magic cannot be taken away either...” Willow hardly paid attention for the rest of the lecture. She was thinking of the books they had given to Mr. Zolock...and her wand.
“I have to get some of that potion,” Willow said to Lef as they walked out of the classroom after the bell rang.
“Why?” she asked. “What do you want it for?”
“Our wands,” responded Willow. “If there’s a spell or curse cast on our wands, that potion would wash it away. Do you have a phial on you?”
“Sure,” Lef said as she reached in her bag. “I always have a couple of extras in case I drop another one.”
“Thanks,” replied Willow, taking the phial. “Don’t wait for me.”
Willow waited outside the Thaumaturgy classroom, hoping that Mr. Hendershot would leave. Sure enough, he came out of the room a moment later. Willow bent down as if her shoe was untied and pretended to work on her laces as he turned the opposite way and headed toward the stairs that led to the teachers’ offices. Willow quietly opened the door to the classroom and looked around. The room was dark and the glass pitcher with the clear liquid was still sitting on the desk at the front of the room. Willow approached and unstoppered the phial. She poured some of the liquid into the bottle and tightened the stopper.
“Forget something, Willow?”
Willow jumped and nearly dropped the bottle onto the floor. She spun around and saw that Mr. Hendershot was entering the classroom.
“Uh...yes...I just needed to um...my wand!” she said at last, grabbing it from her pocket and holding it up in the air while the glass phial with the potion went into her other pocket.
“I nearly forgot the potion,” said Mr. Hendershot. He approached the desk and took the pitcher. “Mrs. Black would be furious if I just left this lying around. This potion could be dangerous if it gets misused. Well, have a good day.” He left the room and Willow followed him a moment later. That was close...too close.
She was sitting at her kitchen counter that evening with a pair of pliers and a rubber jar opener. When Mr. Hendershot had surprised her in the Thaumaturgy classroom, she had over-tightened the lid to the phial and neither she nor any of the others had been able to open it at school. Her mom was in the living room, crunching away on potato chips while Willow tried for the seventh time to get the top loose.
Seventh time’s a charm, she thought to herself...just like the third through sixth times. This time, her effort worked and the lid to the phial twisted free. Willow took the potion and poured it into a glass. As she reached over to pull her wand from her bag, her mom came barging into the kitchen coughing and sputtering. Before Willow had a chance to say anything, her mom swooped over to the counter, grabbed the glass with the potion in it and drank it in one gulp.
“Ugh...” said her mom after swallowing. “Thanks. I nearly choked on that chip.”
“Uh...,” said Willow.
“Have a lot of homework?” asked her mom.
“Uh...,” replied Willow, pointing at the empty glass.
“Oh, right, sorry,” said her mom and she went to the refrigerator, filling the glass with water. “Here you go.”
“Uh...,” started Willow again. “How are you...feeling?”
“Fine, now that I can swallow again. So, what are you working on?”
“Nothing, now,” replied Willow with a sigh.
She watched her mom for the next two hours, making sure there were no ill effects from the potion. I guess spell removal potions don’t have any effect on nomaj, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
She told her friends about the failed effort with the spell removal potion the following day. They couldn’t think of another way to get their hands on the potion, so they concentrated on something they could do. They worked over lunch the rest of that week looking through the history section in the library as well as lists of students to try to find anything useful.
Willow and Lef were going through very old yearbooks looking for anyone named ‘Paxton’, when they looked up and stared at Incheon. They were both mesmerized by him busily pulling books off the shelves left and right.
Lef leaned across the table toward her. “What did you say to him that got him so excited about doing work?” she asked.
“Nothing,” responded Willow. “I just said that I had to go pick up Fred this afternoon and he got this weird look on his face and off he went.” Meanwhile, Lily was staring upwards toward the top of the library.
“I’ll be back in a couple of minutes,” she said to Sib, Lef, and Willow. She got up from the table and started toward the library stairs. Willow looked up to see the Featherpenny ghost floating three stories above them.
“I wonder if Mr. Zolock could use that same spell removal potion that Mr. Hendershot used on those encoded books,” Willow said to Sib.
“Beats me,” Sib replied. “But I got a chance to put the hat back on my head in that lesson. It didn’t tell me nothing I didn’t already know. I’m still Pathfinder.”
Lily came back down the spiral staircase. She hurried over to their table and sat down.
“Nobody has ever been officially expelled from Gampton Hall,” she said to them.
“What do you mean ‘officially’?” asked Willow.
“One person was asked to leave, and she did, but no reason was ever given about her departure, and you’re not going to believe who she was.”
“Well?” asked Lef.
“Ursula Mercana,” said Lily.
“But why?” asked Willow.
“Because she has arktanthropy,” said Incheon, who had snuck into the conversation from the other side of the table.
“She has what?” asked Willow.
“Don’t you mean ‘lycanthropy’?” asked Sib.
“You mean she’s a werewolf?” said Lef in disbelief.
“‘Were’ - yes, wolf - no,” Incheon responded.
“What are you guys talking about?” hissed Willow. “Sib, you just said she has ‘lancanthopy’ or something. What’s going on?”
“Lycanthropy,” explained Lily. “It’s the name of the infection that turns people into werewolves.”
“Not a wolf...” said Incheon.
Ignoring him, Lily continued. “A long time ago, werewolves were accepted into society since for 29 days of every month, they are just like you and me. They needed to hide themselves for one day a month since the bite of a werewolf infects the victim with lycanthropy, and that’s how it spreads. But it was never really under control, and because of that spread, all the werewolves were either killed or rounded up and imprisoned a decade before we were born.” Lily turned to Incheon. “Are you saying that nobody knows she’s a werewolf?”
“I keep telling you, she’s not a werewolf,” Incheon said.
“Wait,” said Lef. “Now I’m confused. First you say she’s a werewolf and now you’re saying she’s not?”
Incheon took the book in his hands, opened to a marked page and passed it across to Lily. “Read,” he said to her.
“Although extremely rare,” Lily read out loud from the marked page, “there have been reported cases of arktanthropy, from arktos, Greek for bear and anthropos, ‘man’. In these cases, the victim suffers similarly to that of the lycanthrope with the exception of taking the shape of a bear at the rising of the full moon. ‘Werebears’ as they are sometimes called are typically docile while in bear form and do not attack unless threatened. However, they have been subject to the same treatment as werewolves and are shunned from most societies.”
“But how do you know?” said Lef, looking at Incheon.
“Oh, I don’t...not for sure. But I have a boatload of evidence pointing to it. I had already noticed that she gives Willow the pseudodragon one day a month. But it wasn’t until just last month that I noticed the coincidence with the full moon. Once we saw the bear enclosure, I wasn’t so sure, since I didn’t know werebears even existed. But when you said you have to take it again today - on the eve of the full moon, all I had to do was to find out whether her condition was possible.”
“Well I think you’re wrong,” said Willow. “I’ve worked with her since the beginning of the year and there’s no way she’s a monster.”
“If Incheon is right, she’ll turn into a bear this weekend, while you have Fred,” said Lef.
“Let’s go,” said Willow, grabbing her things and walking out of the library.
“Where are you going?” asked Lily.
“To see Miss Mercana.”
(* Werebears created by Gary Gygax, Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, TSR, 1977)
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