A week had passed and Mr. Zolock had so far failed to convince the Chancellor. “He won’t listen to reason!” he had told them. “I’ve tried everything short of dragging him through the portal, but he still said that until I decode those archived books and understand exactly what was happening, he would not allow anyone in that corridor.”
To add insult to injury, Willow found that someone stolen her pseudodragon carving. She had taken it out of her bag and set it aside for just a moment. When she had come back the carving of Fred was gone.
I bet it was Felicity, she said to herself, fuming over the loss and angry at herself for forgetting to put it back in her bag. Three times Willow had approached the third floor corridor that week and all three times, there was a teacher standing guard at the entrance.
She had a hard time studying for finals, but she knew her future was riding on them and she could at least do well on the written exam. She had found out that the exams on the first day of finals were all written examinations that covered the topics that didn’t involve casting magic: Care of Magical Creatures, History of Magic, Herbology, Nomaj Studies, and Astronomy. It was the second day that she dreaded. The second day was a demonstration of practical wand work in Thaumaturgy, Alteration and Alchemy.
Willow rode the bus to school on the last Wednesday in May; the first day of finals. As she went over the constellations in her head for the three hundredth time, she carried Fred’s cage from the bus into the main hallway. Lef, Sib and Incheon were there, standing with Mr. Zolock.
“Ah. Hello, Willow,” he said, “I’d like you and your friends to join me in my office.” Willow knew she didn’t have enough time to drop off Fred and meet Mr. Zolock before exams, so she lugged Fred’s cage with her past the Thaumaturgy corridor and up the south stairs to Mr. Zolock’s office on the second floor. He held the door open for them when they entered and then closed it behind him, glancing around to ensure that nobody else was lingering in the hallway.
“I’ve tried everything,” he said as he sat down in his wingback chair. He waved his wand and four small chairs were summoned. “I even escorted the Chancellor to the grove to show him, but he still insists that the potential danger is there. He said that the guard on the doorway will continue until I’ve deciphered the archive books you’ve found and can prove there is no danger.”
“So there’s no way we can get back,” said Willow.
“Oh, I think I know a way,” said Mr. Zolock. “It turns out that the hallway will be unguarded tomorrow morning before the practical magic exams.”
“So we’ll just go tomorrow morning,” said Incheon.
“Well, there is a problem with that,” said Mr. Zolock. “The reason there will be no guard is because no students will be allowed into the building before the finals start. Once they do open the door, all the students will be escorted directly into the banquet hall for testing.”
“So we’re doomed,” said Willow.
“Not quite yet, Miss Carter,” said Mr. Zolock. “If you can all get here early enough, say seven o’clock, I’ll have a fire going and will leave the window open. You’ll need to find a way to get here by floo powder or broom, but it will get you into the school. Once you’re here, I think we can figure out a way to get you up to that third floor hallway.” He looked at the clock on the wall, which showed the minute hand a little bit before ‘finals’. “Oh, look at the time! You’d better hurry if you want to drop off that pseudodragon and still make your first day of finals on time.”
Willow practically ran from Mr. Zolock’s office, hoping she wouldn’t be late for finals. She was lucky in that Miss Mercana was actually standing in the great hall when Willow was running through and was able to pass off Fred to her.
“I saw that you were running late, so I thought I would shorten your trip,” she said to Willow. “Good luck on your finals today.”
“Thanks Miss Mercana,” Willow said. “Good luck grading them.”
“Oh, we don’t grade the exams. None of the teachers actually do the final scoring. We find out how you did at the same time you do. Now hurry up, you don’t want to be late.”
Willow turned on her heels and ran toward the banquet hall where the finals were being held. She made it inside just as the bell rang to mark the start. The entire banquet hall had been changed from its normal dining tables to rows and rows of single desks. Every student was inside, sitting at one of the desks and most had already started on the papers in front of them. Willow didn’t see that there was any specific place for her to sit, so she found a desk off to her left and sat down. As soon as she sat, a roll of parchment, quill and ink appeared on her desk. She put her bag under her chair and unrolled the parchment. It was her first final - Care of Magical Creatures. She took a deep breath, picked up the quill, dipped it in ink and began to write.
She was nearly at the bottom of the parchment, finishing the last question on the difference between nixies, pixies, sprites, and dryads when a bell rang and the parchment in front of her abruptly vanished. As everyone’s parchment disappeared, there was a general mumbling around the room. As she looked up, she saw that most others were in the middle of writing at the end too. A minute later, a new parchment appeared on her desk, and all the desks around her. Opening it, Willow saw that it was her Astronomy final. She heaved a big sigh and got to work drawing the constellation Orion.
She worked through Astronomy and Herbology before they all stopped for lunch. Instead of eating in the banquet hall, like they had been doing all year, everyone left the building to a huge white tent set up behind the school. Willow, Lef, Lily, Sib, and Incheon found a table away from the others and sat down. Almost immediately, food appeared and Incheon was the first to dig in.
“Lef, what did you put for the question on Fringed Bleeding Heart?” Lily asked while Willow and Sib grabbed a bacon cheeseburger from the platter in front of them. After Lef explained the Herbology question, Lily grilled Willow on the Care of Magical Creatures test. When Lily was done questioning them on every answer they put down on the tests, the rest of them told her what Mr. Zolock had said that morning, making sure nobody near was listening to their conversation.
“Well,” she said. “I suppose Incheon and I can just ride our brooms over tomorrow. How about you, Lef?”
“I can come by floo powder,” she said. “I didn’t know Mr. Zolock’s office was connected to the network.”
“Sib?” questioned Lily. “Are you coming by floo powder too?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “My ma keeps the powder, so I’d have to make up some excuse why I was comin’ early. I’ll think of somethin’”.
“What about you, Willow?” Lily asked. “Floo powder too?”
“I don’t have a fireplace,” she answered, just now realizing her problem. “And I don’t have a broom. I...I don’t know how I’m going to get here tomorrow.”
The rest of them just looked at her.
“Don’t worry,” Lef said. “We’ll think of something.”
Even though the weather was perfect, Willow couldn’t enjoy it. Her thoughts were already on tomorrow and whether there was anything she could do about it.
The written exams on Nomaj Studies and History of Magic were in the afternoon. Willow knew that the Nomaj Studies exam wasn’t graded by Mrs. McCracken, so she had no trouble answering the questions about cars, cellphones, and farming without trying to remember Mrs. McCracken’s ridiculous explanations. She finished that exam and completed her History of Magic Exam, finishing her last paragraph on the goblin Morlock the Bold, who had refrained from fighting in the Battle of Hogsmeade, just as she had done on the second day of classes.
After the last bell had rung and the History of Magic parchment vanished, she set down her quill and started rubbing her hand, which ached from writing non-stop over the past two hours. When she found the others in the lobby, Lily was busy grilling Incheon on his answers.
“I don’t know!” said Incheon. “Why are you asking me the difference between a television and a toaster?”
Willow turned to Lef. “Any ideas?” she asked. Lef just shook her head. At that moment, an owl flew right over Willow’s head and dropped a package about the size of an apple. Willow had barely reacted when Lily grabbed it out of the air right in front of her face.
“Sorry,” Lily said. “Quidditch reflex.” She looked at the tag and then handed the package to Willow. “It’s for you.”
Willow opened it and was surprised to find the wooden carved pseudodragon that Sib had made for her. There was a note as well:
‘I think this belongs to you. Make sure you’re holding it at 7am tomorrow and it will get you where you need to go.’
It was unsigned, but Willow was sure it was from Mr. Zolock. “I guess I know how I’m getting here tomorrow,” she said to the others. “Mr. Zolock must have enchanted this to be a portkey. I wonder how he found it.”
“Has anyone seen Sib?” Lef asked. The rest of them all shook their heads. “Do you think everything is alright?” she continued. “Did he ever say how he was getting here tomorrow morning?”
Nobody saw him before they had to leave. As Willow rode the bus back home, she hoped Sib would be there tomorrow. She told the bus driver she didn’t need to be picked up the next day and went inside.
“Any luck getting back to the grove?” her mom asked after Willow had told her about the first day of finals.
“No,” Willow responded. “We’re going to try tomorrow with Mr. Zolock’s help, but if we get caught I’m going to be expelled for sure.” Willow remembered something that Felicity had said to her a month before, just before her trip to the grove. “Mom, were you ever a student at Gampton Hall?”
Her mom hesitated before responding. “No, I don’t think so, honey, but there’s something I want to show you.” Willow’s mom left the room and came back a moment later with the Granger she had purchased over the holiday break. “I’ve been using this since Christmas, but sometime in April, it changed.” She proceeded to open the purse and reach inside, only her hand didn’t stop at the wrist. Her forearm, elbow and bicep all disappeared inside the purse until it was hanging on her shoulder.
“But I thought the magic didn’t work for you,” said Willow.
“It doesn’t work for nomaj,” her mom replied.
“You mean you’re...you’re a mage? You can do magic?”
“I don’t know what it means, Willow. Like I said, this bag was perfectly normal until two months ago. I wrote to James Abrams and Caitlyn Chantrix and even Neal at Bags by Bumble. There’s no mistake. This bag does not work for nomaj.”
“Two months ago...” started Willow and then she bolted upright with the memory. “The spell removal potion!”
“The what?” asked her mom.
“I brought home a spell removal potion to try it on my wand at the beginning of April, but before I got a chance, you came into the kitchen choking on something and drank it.”
“I did what?”
“Drank a magical potion...the bag didn’t change, mom; you did!” exclaimed Willow. As she thought for a moment she said “...so it made you magical? I don’t understand.”
“That makes two of us,” replied her mom.
“But did you go to Gampton Hall?” asked Willow.
“No,” replied her mom. “I remember very clearly going to nomaj middle and high school. I’ve never had a wand and I’ve never been to Narrowway.”
“So how can you be magical but not go to magic school?” Willow asked.
“That’s a great question. If you get the chance, I’d like you to ask Mr. Zolock another question: What happens if you open the blue envelope.”
“You mean the invitation to attend school?”
“Yes,” her mom said. “We had a choice to open the red envelope to accept or the blue envelope to decline. I want to know what happens to people who open the blue envelope. I think it might answer our questions.”
As Willow drifted off to sleep that night, the thought that Felicity wasn’t lying was swirling through her head. My mom is a wandless mage. She just hoped that she wouldn’t end up that way herself.
“You have to let go of me mom, or you’ll end up at school too,” Willow said as her mom hugged her the next morning. “Mr. Zolock will help us into the grove and we can try to fix our wands and get back before finals start.”
“Good luck,” responded her mom. “And no matter what happens, know that I love you.” As the clock struck seven, Willow’s room blurred and she recognized the feeling of having her bellybutton pulled out the top of her head that she had felt nearly a year ago as they drove to Gampton Hall and every time they had driven to and from the school. The next thing she knew, she was standing in Mr. Zolock’s office, a little dizzy and quite queasy. Mr. Zolock was putting wood in the fire and was surprised to see her.
“Oh, hello Willow,” said Mr. Zolock when he saw her appear.
“Hello, Mr. Zolock,” Willow said back. “So they put a portkey on the road.”
“Oh…yes, they set up a magic portal on the road so nomaj parents don’t really know how far away their children are each day and it also helps when they travel in for Quidditch or parent-teacher visits. I didn’t know you were coming by portkey.”
“But you sent me the pseudodragon, with the note...” replied Willow, showing him the wooden carving in her hand.
“I’m afraid I didn’t Willow,” he said, taking it from her. “I didn’t even realize until now that you couldn’t use floo powder to get here. But no time for that now, go open up the window so Incheon can get in.” Willow ran over to the window as Mr. Zolock stoked the fire in his fireplace.
So who had helped her? Who knew she needed to get here and how did they find her carving? After opening the window, she turned back to him. Looking at him in the light of the fire, Willow thought he looked very pale and haggard, as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“Mr. Zolock, are you feeling alright?” she asked.
“Yes, Willow. I’m feeling great,” he said, wiping his brow with his sleeve. “Just a little overtired. You see, I’ve finally broken the code.”
“On the books?” asked Willow.
“Yes! Of course I had some help, but I’ll take them to the Chancellor as soon as he gets back. The little I’ve been able to read so far reinforces everything you’ve found out all year. Unfortunately, he won’t be back in time for your finals today, so we’ll still have to find a way to get you into that corridor.” A green flash appeared behind him and Lef stepped out of the fireplace.
“Hello, Mr. Zolock,” she said. “I didn’t know you had your fireplace connected to the Firejump Network.”
“Yes, indeed,” he replied. “One of the perks of being an emeritus professor - a direct connection from office to home.” They were interrupted by Lily and Incheon flying in the window on their brooms.
“Miss Smith,” said Mr. Zolock to Lily. “I didn’t expect to see you here with the others.”
“Oh…I, uh…I just wanted to help,” she replied, avoiding eye contact with Mr. Zolock, who was preoccupied with putting their brooms in the corner of his office. Willow glanced at the clock. It showed fifty-five minutes left until ‘finals’. Sib was still nowhere to be found.
“Should we go?” asked Lily.
“He said he’d be here,” said Lef. “He would wait for us.”
As they stood watching the clock, Willow asked Mr. Zolock about the blue envelope.
“Have you ever heard of an unbreakable vow, Willow?” he asked in return.
“It is a vow taken that cannot be broken on pain of death. I took an unbreakable vow not to reveal several secrets about Gampton Hall. The blue envelope is one of them. If I answered your question, I wouldn’t make it out of the room alive. I’m afraid nobody can give you the answer you seek.”
The silence was broken by a gentle knock on the door. Mr. Zolock went over and opened it a crack, and then he pulled it wide open while Sib snuck in under his arm.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “I had to put the slip on the Murgatroyd Ghost. I don’t know if he’d turn me in, but better safe than sorry.”
“Sib, where have you been?” said Willow. “After you disappeared yesterday, we didn’t know if you were going to make it.”
“My brother has hidden the floo powder before and I didn’t know if he was going to sabotage me again, so I decided to just crash here for the night. I was in the Featherpenny student lounge.”
“All night?” said Lef. “Oh, Sib, I’m so sorry you had to do that.”
“Don’t be,” he replied. “The couch up there is more comfortable than my bed.”
“Mr. Zolock,” said Willow. “How are we going to get to the hallway without getting caught?”
“Well,” he explained. “I wasn’t sure before, but this wood carving gives me an excellent idea. Let me tell you of a nomaj story that I quite enjoy. It seems that some warriors from a place called Greece were laying siege to the walled city of Troy and could not get in for the longest time. In the end, they decided to pack up and leave, but not before providing a mighty gift to the Trojans in the form of a giant wooden horse.” Mr. Zolock held up Willow’s pseudodragon carving. “The Trojans, believing they were victorious, brought the gift inside their walls and celebrated. What they didn’t know is that inside the horse were Greek soldiers, who snuck out that night and opened up the gates from within, allowing the returning Greek army to storm the city.”
He placed the small wooden carving on the floor and gestured for everyone to stand back. Waving his wand at it, it grew until it nearly filled the room. With a few more spells that Willow didn’t recognize, he waved them all to the side of the giant wood carving nearest his desk. “I've put a door on this side, if you’ll just climb in.”
“But aren’t other people going to notice a giant dragon being wheeled through the school?” Lily asked as they climbed inside the wooden pseudodragon.
“Oh, yes they would, if it stayed giant. In you go, quickly now.” Once they were all inside, he closed the door. The five of them were stuffed together, and could see out of the pseudodragon’s sides through small holes. Willow watched as Mr. Zolock waved his wand at them a second time and then he and the room began to grow gigantic. By the time it was done, Mr. Zolock must have stood over one hundred feet tall and the entire room had the same gigantic dimensions. The giant Mr. Zolock reached over and picked up the wooden pseudodragon and held it in the palm of his hand.
“I hope you are alright in there,” he said to them. “I’ll get you to that hallway as quick as I can.” He left the room and began his descent down the stairs to get to the first floor corridor. “I wish my old bones could move a little faster.”
“Zephyr!” called out a voice once they had reached the first floor corridor. “I was just going to look for you. Could I borrow a moment of your time?” Mr. Zolock had been moving along the first floor corridor toward the main staircase when he was stopped by Mr. Hendershot.
“Well, I’m kind of busy at the moment,” Mr. Zolock replied. “Can I meet with you later, Ruluff?”
“I’m afraid not,” Mr. Hendershot replied, “but this will only take a minute, honestly.”
Sighing and whispering “I’m sorry,” Mr. Zolock followed the other teacher into the open Thaumaturgy classroom.
“I know I should have decided before now,” Mr. Hendershot said to Mr. Zolock, “but I’m on the fence about which problem I should tell the proctors to give the students in their finals today. For the levitation test, would you recommend that I have them levitate the instructor?”
“Only if you have the nurse in the room,” Mr. Zolock replied. “Someone is bound to get nervous and drop him or her. Why not a stack of cauldrons? Extra points for putting them down in a different arrangement than they were stacked.”
“Of course! Thank you.”
Inside the wooden pseudodragon, Lily whispered “This isn’t fair. We’ll know about the exam!”
“So don’t listen, then,” hissed back Incheon. “But be quiet about it, because I want to know.”
“One more thing, Zephyr,” Mr. Hendershot continued. “For the lumos spell, I was thinking of using Devil’s Snare and...” Mr. Zolock cut him off.
“Oh, I wouldn’t use Devil’s snare. It was tried about thirty years ago with disastrous results. You wouldn’t believe the carnage. We had to cancel the rest of the day. How about creating a lantern? Extra points for making it last the longest or glow the brightest?”
“Yes, you’re right. Thank you so much Zephyr.”
Mr. Zolock left the classroom and headed toward the main stairway. “Brings a whole new meaning to ‘insider information’, doesn’t it?” he mumbled to them. Instead of climbing the stairs, he used the lifts to whisk himself up to the third floor main hallway and into the forbidden corridor. He held the pseudodragon up to his eyes to look at them.
“This is where we part ways,” he said to them. “You don’t have much time...forty minutes by my watch, so I’ll do my best to delay the start of the finals. I don’t know how, but I’m sure something will come up.”
He waved his wand and they levitated through the air and around the far corner near the portal. As soon as the pseudodragon touched the ground, the gigantic hallway around them suddenly shrunk down until the wooden carving nearly touched the ceiling. Willow, who was nearest the door, opened it and they clambered out. When the door was closed again, the carving shrunk back down on its own and Willow put it in her bag.
“Everybody ready?” Getting nods all around, she turned to the portal.
“Andaste,” she called out.
“It’s not working,” said Lef.
“What’s wrong with it?” Incheon asked.
“Andaste!” called Lily.
“It has been sealed by the Chancellor.” The five of them whipped around to see Damian Bones behind them, floating in midair. “You cannot enter.”
“So we’re doomed,” said Willow.
“Not yet,” said the ghost. “There is another way...”
(*The story of the Trojan Horse from Virgil’s Aeneid)
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