Mid April brought torrential downpours and Willow and Lef were on their way back to the school building from the Herbology greenhouses. They ran from the greenhouses to the doors of the school, but were drenched when they reached the doorway. Shaking off as much water as they could, they continued to the north stairway. As they reached the first floor, Lef was just about to say goodbye on her way to Alteration class when the Murgatroyd ghost drifted through the wall. Willow watched as Lef instinctively ducked out of the way, but Willow approached him.
“Excuse me…uh…,” it occurred to Willow that she didn’t remember his name.
“Damian Bones!” whispered Lef.
“...Mr. Bones” continued Willow. The ghost turned and looked at her with glowing eyes. Taking his silence as a go-ahead to ask, Willow said “have you ever heard of anyone by the name of Paxton?” The Murgatroyd ghost first withdrew in fear and then his face burned with a fury that Willow had never seen before. He responded in a voice of cold steel, not looking at her, but over her shoulder.
“I know of no man by that name,” he replied in a deep rasping voice. Without another word, he vanished through the wall.
“Well, at least you didn’t set him off,” said Lef.
The next day, Willow and Incheon stayed after History of Magic class to talk to Mr. Zolock about his research.
“Sir,” Willow asked him after the last students had left the classroom, “have you been able to find anything? Did you uncover anyone named ‘Paxton’?”
“Paxton? No, nothing like that. Whatever spell was put on those books was quite substantial. I’ve been trying everything I can think of. I don’t suppose the word ‘Andaste’ means anything to you?”
Willow looked at Incheon, who shook his head. “No, sir,” replied Willow.
“No, I suppose not. It seems to be scattered throughout, but I can’t make heads or tails of it. Well, I’ll just keep at it. I tell you, if I do get those books deciphered, I’ll have enough to keep me busy for decades!”
“Sir,” said Willow. “We were in Alteration class last week and Mr. Hendershot poured water all over the sorting hat to wash away all the enchantments. Is that something you could do with the books?”
“A good idea, Willow,” responded Mr. Zolock. “But one that I’ve already tried...to no avail. I’m afraid the enchantment is much more sophisticated than I originally thought."
“Mr. Zolock,” said Willow. “Is it possible that the same could be done with our wands? I mean, if there is a curse or spell on them that’s keeping them from working right, maybe that would fix it?"
“Again, a clever idea. But although you don’t know it, that’s already been tried too.”
“What do you mean?” asked Willow.
“I received an owl telegram from Miss Chantrix after the holiday letting me know that several students had visited her over the break. She then went on to explain the difficulty with your wands. I can’t say I understand what is going on, but it seems too much of a coincidence to be a chance occurrence. I asked Mr. Hendershot to try the dispel draught on your wands. Don’t you remember him taking your wand when you tried on the sorting hat?”
“What? No. What did he do with it?”
“While you had the hat on your head and the class was distracted watching you, he ‘washed‘ your wand in the mixture. When you didn’t see any difference afterwards, we knew it wasn’t an enchantment. It’s something much deeper...inherent magic in the school, you see.”
As they walked away, Incheon asked “Okay, where do we go from here?”
“Beats me,” replied Willow. “I don’t even know where to start. We’ve searched all over the island and haven’t found any answers. Where else could we look?”
The others were at a loss too. They spent the rest of April enjoying as much as they could in the warming spring air. But by the end of the month, Willow was starting to feel as if she might never see this school again.
“What did you make of that dream?” asked Incheon at lunch at the end of April. Willow had taken Fred home the day before and they had all shared another dream. In this one, the American Indian was walking away from her and she followed. He didn’t say anything, but passed by the circle of rocks where the wands had been destroyed and past the burned-out remains of a number of buildings. The Hunter at last came to a flat stone with an archway engraved on it. There was something familiar about the arch that Willow couldn’t put her finger on. He muttered a word that sounded like ‘Gampton Hall’ and the entrance glowed with a strange blue light.
“That arch seemed familiar, but I don’t know why,” said Willow.
“It’s in the restricted corridor,” replied Lef. “Don’t you remember from when we first started exploring?”
“Of course!” exclaimed Willow. “The one that had the inscription on it. ‘Say our name and enter.’”
“What are you two talkin’ about?” asked Sib.
“Back at the beginning of the school year,” Willow recalled for them, “Lef and I got lost and ended up walking down the restricted corridor on the third floor. Before Mr. Zolock found us, we saw a doorway that looked exactly like the one in the dream. It has an engraving above it that reads ‘say our name and enter’.”
“But we know they were the Susquehannock tribe, right?” asked Lef.
“Right. I think we should give it a try,” said Willow. “Who’s in?” Seeing nodding heads all around, Willow told them to meet up in the third floor grand hallway - and to make sure nobody followed them.
Willow and Sib were in the fourth floor hallway, waiting for Lily to come out of the Featherpenny homeroom before they headed down to the third floor. Felicity came out of the Hammersmith homeroom and stopped in front of the two of them.
“Well, if it isn’t the newby and her rich boyfriend,” sneered Felicity.
“Can it Felicity,” replied Willow. “I know what you did.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, newbie” Felicity retorted.
“Yes you do, and stop calling me newbie. You’re a newbie too.”
“Do I have a badge on my uniform?” asked Felicity, pointing to the blank space where her badge used to be, “then I’m not a newbie. As soon as you can cast ‘dismoveo’ to remove it, then you wouldn’t be either. But I wouldn’t feel too bad about your incompetence. I know for a fact that your family has a long history of failing out.”
“What are you talking about?” said Willow. “I’m nomaj-born.”
“Oh, that’s too rich!” squealed Felicity. “You mean mommy never told you that she failed out of Gampton Hall? Or that you’re following in her footsteps?”
“You’re full of it,” said Willow. “That’s not true and you know it.”
“Oh, I saw it with my own two eyes on my dad’s desk. ‘Heather Carter’ was right there on the list of wandless mages. That is your mom’s name isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but she’s never been to Gampton Hall...she’s always been nomaj.”
“As far as you know,” Felicity said in a voice that suggested Willow’s mom had been lying to her. “Now get out of my way before I hex you.” Felicity pulled out her wand and pointed it at Willow. Willow was speechless, her head whirling with what Felicity had been saying. Sib stepped in front of her.
“Go ahead. Hex her,” he dared Felicity. “Problem is if you do, I’ll hit you as hard as I can. You can’t hex both of us. Now that I think of it, you’d better hex me instead - I guarantee I hit harder than she does.”
Willow pulled Sib aside and backed him out of the way.
“Thanks, Sib,” she said to him as Felicity passed by, “but I don’t think bullying a bully is going to help.”
“Susquehannock,” said Willow, standing in front of the archway.
Nothing happened. She looked around at the others. “I really thought it would work.”
"What about the dream?" asked Sib. "Gampton Hall!" he cried, but the wall remained unchanged.
“Oh, well,” said Lily. “It was worth a try anyway.” All of them turned and started back down the corridor.
“Incheon,” Willow asked. “What was that word that Mr. Zolock said to us?”
Incheon thought for a second and then said “You mean Andaste?” As soon as Incheon said the word, Willow saw a glow coming from behind them. They all whirled and saw the archway glowing with a blue light, the inside swirling like mist in a slight breeze.
“Holy cow!” said Incheon, walking back to the doorway. He stuck his hand inside and looked back at them. “Seems okay. Then Incheon got a strange look in his eye and Willow saw his arm jerk into the doorway. “Whoa!” he said. “Help me!” His whole body disappeared through the glowing arch.
“Should we go for help?” asked Willow.
“There’s no time,” said Sib and he, Lily and Lef charged through the arch. Willow was left alone in the hallway.
“Should I go for help?” she asked the empty hallway. A second later Lef’s head poked through the glowing door.
“It’s okay Willow,” Lef’s head said. “That was Incheon’s idea of a joke. Come on.” Lef’s disembodied hand stuck out from the door and Willow took it. As she disappeared through the portal, Willow looked back down the hallway and saw something move, but she was through before she could tell who or what it was.
Once through the doorway, Willow looked around to see where she was. They were outside, standing in a small clearing in the woods. The sky was cloudy and the light breeze rustled the first leaves of spring. Ferns and small bushes pushed up through last fall’s leaf litter. Willow looked behind her to see a large boulder with an archway carved into it. She couldn’t read the writing that was written across the top.
“It’s just like the dream,” said Lef in wonder as she looked around. “The burning huts were just over there.” She pointed to the right.
“The circle of stones is that way,” said Sib, pointing left. He started walking that way through the woods. Willow stood looking around while she stood next to Lily.
“Lily, we could get in big trouble,” said Willow. “You didn’t have to go with us.”
“Yes, I did.”
“But why?” Willow asked. “You’re in Featherpenny.”
“Don’t tell the others,” Lily said in a whisper, “I’m Pathfinder too.”
“What the what?” exclaimed Willow. “You mean you’ve had the dreams?” Lily nodded. “Why have you been keeping it a secret?”
“Because I have to stay in Featherpenny,” Lily explained. “My mother would never accept me being anywhere else...and neither would the Librarian.”
“The ghost?” said Willow. “What does she have to do with it?”
“She’s the one I asked to help find out about Miss Mercana,” replied Lily. “She did it because she’s my mom’s grandmother.”
“What the what?” said Willow again. “Your great grandmother is the Featherpenny house ghost?” Willow paused for a second, thinking. “I guess that would make it hard to be anywhere else.”
“Please don’t tell the others,” said Lily, who took Willow’s hand. “Now come on.” Lily started pulling Willow into the woods on the left, following the trail left by the other three. They could just see the others still moving in the distance when they suddenly heard a shout.
Willow turned to Lily. “What’s happening?” she asked.
“Probably another one of Incheon’s jokes,” Lily replied, but Willow noticed that she was walking faster through the underbrush.
“Get off me, unghh!” they heard through the woods.
“That’s not Incheon, that’s Sib,” said Willow and both she and Lily took off at a run, crashing through the trees to where the others stood around the large circle of stones. Willow saw the stones were covered with vines and Sib was standing near them, his hand buried to the wrist in the plants.
“Hold still, Sib!” pleaded Lef. “It’s Devil’s Snare. It will only get tighter the more you pull.”
Sib was having none of it, he had planted one foot against the stones and was pulling with all his might, not realizing that the Devil’s Snare was now wrapping itself around his ankle. “It’s crushing my hand!” he screamed. “Ahhhhhh!” Willow heard a sickening ‘pop’ and Sib fell to his knee, his hand and ankle now completely wrapped up in the Devil’s Snare, but he was still pulling.
Lef reared back and smacked Sib across the face - hard. The slap echoed all around them and Sib went still with shock. Willow was just as surprised. Lef had never so much as swatted a fly. She screamed in Sib’s face.
“I said hold still, you idiot! You can’t move or the Devil’s Snare will never let you go!” Sib stood perfectly still. Willow could see the sheen of sweat on his face and could see him shaking in pain, but as he stood unmoving, the Devil’s Snare slowly relaxed its hold. First he was able to free his foot, and with Lef holding his forearm, the vine released his hand a moment later. Willow could see blood dripping from Sib’s wrist. Lef led him a few feet away and had him sit on a rock while she kneeled down to look at his hand.
“Incheon,” she commanded. “Get your freshsaver. It should still have that dittany and motherwort that I found a couple of months ago.” Incheon immediately threw his bag on the ground and started groping around inside. A second later, he had it and tossed it over to Lef. After it bounced off her outstretched hand, Lef picked it up off the ground, opened it up and handed a few leaves to Sib.
“Chew these,” she said. “It will help stop the bleeding.” Sib put the leaves in his mouth and started chewing. Willow remembered the taste from the first day of school and she could tell from the look on Sib’s face that these didn’t taste any better. “I know,” said Lef. “It tastes like dirty socks rubbed in stinky cheese but we don’t have anything else.” In a minute, Sib was breathing more normally, but he was still cradling his hand. “I can’t do anything about the break,” she continued. “We’ll have to get you back to the school nurse for that.”
“Not without lookin’ around first,” said Sib, his voice quavering with the pain he still had in his hand. “We come this far. We gotta see if it’s there.” Without him even mentioning it, they all knew that he was talking about the pool in the middle of the circle of stones.
“But how are we going to get past the Devil’s Snare?” asked Incheon.
“Light and warmth,” replied Lef. “It moves away from them. That’s why it’s growing in the shade of those evergreens. It’s always dark.”
Incheon walked up to the vines. “Lumos solem!” he called, and a brief glow flared from the end of his wand. The Devil’s Snare retreated from the light and then just as quickly returned when the light from Incheon’s wand faded. He turned to the rest of them. “Lily, I think we need you.”
Lily walked over to the edge of the circle of rocks. “Lumos solem!” she called and her wand flickered into a warm glow. The vines directly around her wand retreated, but not enough to crawl through as it formed only a small hole. Lily concentrated and the light grew brighter, but after a moment, Lily’s wand faded out and she sat down on the ground, exhausted from the effort. “It wasn’t... enough,” she panted.
“We need a couple of torches,” said Sib. “Incheon, I need you to go and scoop up a big pile of those dry pine needles under the trees. Lef, can you find us some birch bark from a dead tree? I think I saw one over there” He nodded his head back the way they had come. “Willow, hunt around for a couple of long branches.” As the others dispersed, Willow searched around on the forest floor and soon found two branches that were about an inch around and three feet long. She brought them back to see Lef carrying an armful of white bark. Sib told them how to wrap the bark around the end of the sticks and secure it with some wire that Sib had pulled from his bag.
“Why do you have wire in your Stor-All, Sib?” Willow asked.
“I keep everything I own in there,” he said. “It’s the only place my brother can’t get to.”
"Clever," Willow replied. Sib gave her a half smile.
Meanwhile, Lef and Incheon were shooting sparks from the end of their wands into the pile of pine needles in an attempt to start a fire. By the time Willow had tied on the last strip of bark, the pile of pine needles was smoking. Sib told them how to blow air into the bottom of the pile to make the flames spread. “It’s going to flame out quick,” he explained to Willow, “so make sure you get one of them torches lit right away. They ain’t going to burn more than five or ten minutes, either, so we’re gonna have to get in and out of them stones quick.”
Willow almost missed the opportunity. The pine needles burst into flame and she had to quickly put one of the torches into the fire before it went out. Luckily, the flames caught on and the torch flared up. She lit the second torch using the first and they hurried over to the Devil’s snare. She handed one of the torches to Incheon and held on to the other. They held them out toward the Devil’s Snare and it retreated from the heat of the flames. Soon they had an archway big enough for them to walk through. Lily led the way, followed by Lef and Sib. Willow and Incheon stayed near the opening in the Devil’s snare.
“I’ll...uh...stay here and keep the Devil’s Snare back,” said Willow, not wanting Incheon to know how scared she was.
“Good...good idea,” Incheon replied. Willow noticed that his hands were shaking and she didn’t feel so bad. Lily, Lef, and Sib had gone forward and were kneeling near the pool of water in the center. Willow looked around. Everything was exactly like her dream...except aged and covered in vines. The pool of water remained crystal clear instead of being covered by scum or cloudy as she would have expected.
“Watch out for the pool,” she called to the others. “It might be acid or something.” The image of a wand splitting and curling back on itself came to the forefront of her mind.
“It’s not,” called back Lily. “We put a couple of leaves in and it didn’t do anything. It’s weird.”
“It’s creepy,” muttered Willow and looked over to see Incheon squinting toward the other side of the circle of stones. “What do you see?” she asked him and she turned to look where he was peering. It was then that she saw it for herself. The Hunter’s ghost was standing in the shadows on the far side.
“The gh..gho...gho” Willow stammered, pointing to the shadow. She couldn’t speak louder than a whisper. Her heart was beating in her chest and the adrenaline was screaming for her to run. The ghost moved quickly, floating from the shadows on the edge of the circle of stones toward the pool in the center where Lily, Lef and Sib were still staring at the water.
“Watch out!” yelled Incheon, who had finally realized what the ghost was as he came out of the shadows. He turned on his heels and bolted from the opening, tearing off through the woods. Willow couldn’t move. She was rooted to the spot and her mind was screaming for her to run, but she couldn’t make her legs obey. Lef, Lily, and Sib were backing away from the pool. As the ghost reached the edge of the water, he started to pull the longbow off his shoulder and that was when Willow yelled.
“He’s going to curse us! Run!”
Willow dropped the torch and took off as fast as her legs could carry her back toward the stone archway. She crashed through branches and tripped over logs. Her chest was heaving as she struggled through the underbrush, scratching her face and snagging her hair on passing branches. She glanced over her shoulder to see Sib, Lef, and Lily right behind her, but couldn’t see the ghost anywhere. She turned back around just in time to slam her shin into the stump of a fallen tree and she fell over onto the ground. Her left leg screaming in pain, she tried to struggle upward and was limping through the woods toward the clearing ahead when Lef caught up and helped her the rest of the way.
“Where’s Incheon?” Lef said.
“I...I don’t know,” replied Willow. “He took off and I didn’t see where he went.”
“Well, at least you had the sense...to drop the torch,” panted Lily, right behind them. “Otherwise, we would have been trapped...inside the Devil’s Snare with him.” Still running, the four of them burst into the clearing where the stone archway was. There was no sign of Incheon anywhere.
“How are we going to get back?” Lef asked.
“We used their name to get here, so we’ll use ours to get back,” said Lily. “Gampton Hall!” she called out and the gate glowed blue.
“Incheon!” whispered Willow. “Incheon where are you!”
“Should we go back without him?” asked Sib. “I don’t know how much time we have before the ghost shows.” They huddled around the entrance to the stone doorway. Willow was staring around, her heart pounding in her chest.
“What are you guys waiting for?” a voice said from behind them.
Willow jumped in the air and spun around. When her head turned, she saw Incheon’s head and arms were sticking through the glowing stone doorway, the torch still burning.
“You scared me half to death!” Willow said to him. “I thought the Hunter got you.”
“Sib, what am I supposed to do with this torch?” Incheon asked. “I probably shouldn’t carry it around the school.” He was waving it around from the doorway.
Sib took the torch with his good hand and started rubbing the burning end into the dirt. Lily reached over and took it from him.
“Sib, you go and get that hand looked at,” she said. “I’ll do this.”
They heard the snap of a branch in the woods and Willow’s panic set in anew. She got up and bolted through the archway, practically knocking Incheon over in the process. The two of them kept running down the hallway and stopped where it met the great hall on the third floor. They both had their hands on their knees and were looking back toward the gateway which was now out of sight around the corner. Sib and Lef were just emerging.
“Well,” said Incheon. “We know one thing for sure.”
“What‘s that?” asked Willow.
“With the way we both bolted, there’s no way we belong in Hammersmith.”
“I could have told you as much.” Willow and Incheon spun around to see the Chancellor standing over them.
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