“The journey to the grove is through the kitchen,” Damian Bones intoned. “However, the kitchen, when empty, is enchanted to detect entry just as this hallway is enchanted, so we will need to distract those that are watching.”
“Wait, so that means...” started Lily.
“...that nobody ratted us out.” finished Willow. “But I would swear I saw someone when we went through the passage.”
“Of course you did,” replied the ghost. “I am the one who has been watching your actions.”
“But why?” asked Lily.
“There is no time for words now,” the ghost said. “If you want to get into the grove, you have to move quickly…and you will need a diversion.”
“I’ll do it,” said Sib.
“No,” said Lily. “I’ll do it. I’m the only one who can still pass the finals...I hope.”
“And what are you going to use?” said Sib.
“Here,” said Lef, reaching into her bag. “Use these.” Lef handed Lily three large plant pods.
“Are these…?” started Lily.
“…skunkweed seed pods, yes” finished Lef. “I was going to use them during finals as a last-ditch effort in case we failed today, but I think this is better.”
“Awesome, Lef,” said Incheon. “I’m so proud of you. You’ll be a troublemaker in no time.”
“What do I do with them?” Lily asked.
Turning to the ghost, Willow asked, “Where does the alarm sound?”
“In the teachers’ lounge on the second floor and in the Chancellor’s administration office,” the ghost responded. “The Chancellor’s office is vacant today, so you will just have to empty the lounge.”
“Point the rounded end under the door and step on them,” Lef said. The stink will shoot into the room and everyone in there should come pouring out. Just make sure you don’t get any on yourself – you’ll reek for a month.”
“And don’t be around when they do pour out of the room,” said Willow.
“Got it. Any ideas on how I should escape?” said Lily.
“Willow - the door that Mr. Zolock showed us!” said Lef. Willow proceeded to tell Lily how to get in and out of the second floor teacher’s wing using the secret door. When Lily said she understood, they all turned back to the ghost.
“The rest of you meet me outside the kitchen entrance,” he said. Without a backward glance, the ghost vanished through the wall.
“We’d better get moving,” said Willow. “We’re running out of time. Good luck Lily!”
“Good luck to you,” Lily said as she took off down the hall, peeking around the corner to see if the way was clear. Waving the others forward, she ran quietly along the hallway and down the grand stairway.
Willow watched her go and then she, Lef, Incheon and Sib made a run for the main stairs together. Reaching it without seeing anyone, they started their descent into the dark basement.
When they reached the second level, there was no sign of Lily. Willow figured she had to be out on the roof of the conservatory by now. She turned to continue down the stairs toward the first floor when Lef tripped and crashed into her. Willow fell to the floor and her legs dropped off the side of the ledge, dangling over the sixty foot drop to the hard stone floor of the second basement below. Willow scrabbled at the floor, trying to hold on to something to prevent her from dropping over the edge, but her nails just dragged over the stone floor as she slid further and further.
“Help me!” she called as she dropped over the edge. An instant later, Sib caught her wrist and held her as she dangled in the air.
“Willow,” whispered Sib. “I ain’t gonna drop you, but you gotta be quiet.” Willow’s voice was caught in her throat. She couldn’t have screamed even if she wanted to. Sib started pulling her back up onto the second floor ledge. Slowly, she inched up over the edge as Sib grabbed her other hand and lifted her. When she could get a leg up, Willow swung up her feet, caught the lip of the floor and rolled onto the landing. Incheon was leaning over the edge and then quickly pulled back his head and hushed them.
“Someone’s coming,” he hissed. “They must have heard us.” They lay still on the floor, Willow’s heart pounding so loud she was sure someone could hear it a floor away. They heard the voice of the Custodian on the first floor.
“Hello? Is someone there?” he called. Then, a moment later they heard a second voice.
“Mr. Vernon, come quickly. Something terrible has happened in the banquet hall.” Willow heard the sound of running feet and the four of them sat up.
“That must be Mr. Zolock’s delay,” said Incheon. “Let’s keep going.” They hurried down the stairs to the basement level without seeing anyone else. Willow stayed behind Lef and kept well away from the open edge when they passed the first floor.
Once they reached the basement, Willow saw that Lef was crying.
“I’m so sorry,” Lef sobbed. “I almost got you killed with my stupid clumsiness.” Willow stopped and hugged her.
“I’m all right now,” Willow said. “Besides, if we hadn’t stopped on the second floor, the Custodian would have grabbed us for sure. Now come on, we’re losing time.” Willow grabbed her hand and they ran down the hallway.
The ghost was waiting for them outside of the kitchen, and Willow’s heart was still pounding in her chest when they reached him.
“Why didn’t you jump down the stairs?” the ghost asked.
“We can’t,” said Incheon. “Only upper classmen can use the center.”
“Hmmph,” grunted the ghost. “First years were always so gullible.”
“You mean we can jump down the center?” asked Incheon.
“Of course,” said the ghost dismissively.
“You mean I didn’t just almost die?” said Willow, casting the ghost a disbelieving eye.
“Do you really think the Professors would allow a gigantic death trap to exist in the middle of the school?” he replied.
Changing the subject, Lef asked “How are we going to know when the coast is clear?”
“You won’t.” The ghost said, who had drifted to the closet under the stairs. “But you have no choice. You must enter the kitchen now.”
Sib opened the door to the storage unit under the stairs and when the four of them had piled in, closed it again. Once closed, the door to the kitchen appeared on the other side. They rushed in and turned to the ghost.
“We must get to the fireplace,” said the ghost. “There is a chamber beyond it.” The four of them turned toward the ghost.
“So you knew about the archive?” asked Willow.
“The archive?" He looked confused. "Well, yes, of course,” he replied. “I was the one who put the unbreakable scramble spell on the books.” They went over to where the fireplace was. Luckily, no one had shifted the freezer back into place so they were able to squeeze through.
“But Mr. Zolock broke the code,” said Willow, who was standing opposite Sib in the fireplace, looking for the correct stone to push.
“No,” replied the ghost, staring at her. “I told him how to break it. Did he tell you that I knew of the archive?”
“No, it’s because this is where the archive was hidden,” Willow replied. “But I don’t understand why Esbee would say that it was somewhere a Murgatroyd or a Hammersmith would never look.”
“Clever girl, that Esbee,” replied the ghost. “It's not a Murgatroyd or a Hammersmith - she meant the head of the houses; specifically me as head of Murgatroyd and Fulwar Bellows, head of Hammersmith House. We were the ones planning to destroy the archives. I never knew where she hid it. But she’s right, I would never have come back here, and Fulwar was deathly afraid of house elves - of all things.”
As Sib and Incheon triggered the stones, the opening appeared and the ghost drifted through the back of the fireplace wall. Willow crawled through first.
"What happened to Esbee?" she asked the ghost once she stood up.
"She would not reveal where she had hidden the archives, so Fulwar cast the Imperious Curse on her."
"What does that do?" Lef asked after she followed Willow through the small doorway.
"They are fools to not teach you these things," the ghost said. "The Imperious Curse puts the victim entirely under the caster's control. It was Fulwar's intention to have her reveal the location of the archive, but she resisted the magic and must have been able to break free long enough to hide the archive here."
"But what happened to Esbee then?" asked Willow, helping Incheon through the opening. "She said she was here just before she turned into a ghost."
"I do not know," the ghost replied. "I was not there, but I assume that she was killed when Fulwar lost control of his temper. He was quite dangerous when that happened. She was under the Imperious Curse when she died, which is why she is of two minds...one under the curse, the other her own."
After Sib climbed through the small doorway, they found themselves in the dusty circular room that had once been the salamander pen. The broken and blackened chest still stood to the side where Willow had left it.
“To proceed, we must close the doorway from this side,” said the ghost. “Press here, and here.” He indicated two stones that were on either side of the small doorway. Willow and Lef, who were closest, pressed them and the opening disappeared, leaving them in pitch black. Willow waved her hand in front of her face, but could see nothing. “Did anyone think to bring a light?” asked Incheon. Willow remembered the orb that Miss Pyx had given them and felt around in her bag until she found it. Raising it into the air, it burst into light, shining so brightly that Willow had to squint.
“Now the way opens,” voiced the ghost. Willow’s eyes detected the sound of stone grinding on stone and when she turned toward it, saw the outline of a doorway appear on the side opposite where the fireplace opening was. Looking inside, Willow saw a tunnel that descended through the rock toward a blueish light. Willow felt a chill through her entire body as the ghost passed through her to lead the way into the tunnel. Willow started to move toward the tunnel when somebody stumbled and fell into her, nearly knocking her over.
“Sorry,” whispered Lef. “Tripped over something.” Lef moved past Willow and led the way after the ghost with Sib, Willow and Incheon following. The tunnel itself was carved from solid rock and had rough sides. It was about three feet wide and six feet tall, so they all descended single file, Willow’s orb lighting the way from the middle of the line.
As they got closer to the blue light, what started as a low rumble became a roar. About a hundred feet into the tunnel, they reached a point where the rock walls stopped and changed to what looked like transparent glass walls that were somehow moving. As Willow got closer, she could see that water was flowing around this tunnel and she could identify the roar as that of rapids.
“We must be under the river!” yelled Lef, trying to make herself heard over the rush of water. She put out her hand to touch the wall and her hand disappeared into the river, spraying her and Sib. Willow stared at the tunnel. It wasn’t glass – the walls were water. The water tunnel extended another three hundred feet before it started ascending again. Careful not to touch the walls or lean against them, they walked on wet river stones that formed the bottom of the path, trying not to fall over into the roaring torrent.
“Sib!” yelled Willow. “Hold on to Lef! She’s bound to eat it on these stones!” Nodding, Sib reached forward and grabbed the back of Lef’s bag. Not a minute later, Lef slipped and fell sideways into the rushing river water. Willow watched as her head disappeared through the side of the tunnel. Sib pulled her back sputtering and dripping wet from the top of her head to her shoulders. Lef said something to him and he nodded and then she continued forward.
It was with relief that Willow stepped into the stone tunnel on the other side of the river, back onto a roughly-hewn stone floor. The noise of the river carried some way up this tunnel so that they couldn’t speak to each other until they were nearly halfway up.
“Are you okay, Lef?” Willow called up to her.
“Yes. Wet, but okay,” she called back over her shoulder.
The ascending tunnel ended in a large cave and they could see another rectangular opening lit up around the edges with daylight.
“Push from the inside and it will open.” They all jumped. In the tunnel they had forgotten about the ghost and they hadn’t realized he was still with them until he spoke. Sib edged around Lef and put his hands on the door. Pushing lightly, the door didn’t move. He moved his feet and put his shoulder up against the door and it shifted slightly. Lef helped him push it open and this extra effort was enough to open the door so they could squeeze through.
"How did you know about this tunnel?" Willow asked the ghost.
"I didn't," he responded. "I told you I would never have thought of the room where Susan hid the archives. She was the one who told me."
"Yes," he continued. "After you found the archives, she sought me out and told me about the path. She knew of its existence from when the river was used to put out the kitchen fires. She must have known you would need it." He gestured for them to squeeze through the doorway.
Lef went through first, followed by Sib. Willow could see the outline of the ghost just standing near the doorway.
“Aren’t you coming too?” she asked him.
“I am afraid,” said the ghost.
“Afraid of what?” said Incheon. “You’re already dead.”
“Except I am not. I am afraid that what I have done is unforgivable and that I will never escape this curse of undeath,” said the ghost.
“What do you mean?” asked Willow. “What’s out there?”
“Redemption...or damnation. Come, you all should know,” said the ghost. “It is part of the history of your house.” The ghost moved forward through the stone door. Willow followed behind, squeezing through the gap followed by Incheon.
They looked around, squinting in the bright morning sunlight. Sib spoke up. “I know we’re looking for the stones, but can anyone tell which way to go? Last thing I want to do is wander through these woods for the next hour.”
Damien Bones spoke. “The grove is a hundred yards to the south.” He pointed the way.
“How do you know that?” asked Sib.
“Because I have been here many times in my years at Gampton Hall. The last time I came here it was to burn the American Indian school to the ground.” They all turned and stared at him.
“Is that what you’re seeking forgiveness for?” asked Willow as she put the glowing orb back in her bag.
“No, much worse than that,” said the ghost. “Three hundred years ago when Gampton Hall was founded, I helped choose its location to be close to the Susquehannock school that already existed where we are now. We built our school nearby and invited them to send their students to us to learn our ways and we would send our students to learn theirs. They had their own school, which is translated to ‘Pathfinder’ in English. Over time, they learned a great deal from us, and we from them, but it was not enough for me. I wanted all of their secrets. I wanted to know and use the power of the grove. My desire for power blinded me and several of us thought we could take by threat and force what we wanted. Our threats were met with silence and withdrawal. They no longer sent their students and barred our access to their school…”
“Peshtang!” Willow and the others jumped as the ghost was interrupted by the Hunter, who appeared twenty feet away, pointing an accusing finger at the Murgatroyd Ghost.
Willow spoke to Damian Bones, but didn’t take her eyes off the Hunter. “Why does he call you that?” The hunter had lowered his finger but his eyes were ablaze with hatred.
“Peshtang is the Susquehannock name of the village where I lived while I was alive - only we called it Paxton.”
“The Paxton Boys!” said Incheon.
“Since they would not share their secrets with us,” said the Slytherin Ghost, “Fulwar Bellows and I stirred up the nomaj from the nearby town of Paxton to attack and destroy Conestoga Town and any American Indians who were found there. That action destroyed his tribe and all their medicine men and women who trained here.“
“There is a blackness that takes your soul when you take the life of another,” the ghost continued. “I could never forgive myself for what I had done and have remained at Gampton Hall after my death in penance ever since. I could not live with what I had done, but my soul could not rest either. I am here to beg forgiveness for something that cannot be forgiven.” The ghost fell to his knees and bowed his head.
The Hunter reached behind him and pulled his bow off his shoulder. “Let the Great Spirit judge you!” he cried and pulled the string on the bow back. A glowing transparent arrow appeared in the bow. Sib jumped in front of the ghost and waved his arms in the air.
“Wait!” he cried. “He’s asking forgiveness, don’t you see? He’s helping us!”
“Avada Kadavra!” the Hunter said and he released the arrow. Willow watched as it passed right through Sib’s chest and out his back. Sib stood motionless, looking down at his chest.
“Sib!” Willow yelled, moving toward him to help, but looking behind him to see the ghost arrow buried in Damien Bones’ chest. Sib also turned and they all watched as the ghost faded from sight, a look of peace on his face.
“Sib, are you okay?” Lef asked, running over to him.
“Oh, I think I pooped my pants,” said Sib, still holding his chest. He hopped a couple of times and then said “nope, I’m okay.” They all turned toward the Hunter.
“Peshtang has gone to be judged by the Great Spirit,” said the Hunter.
“Remind me not to tick off the Hunter,” said Sib. The Hunter gestured for them to follow and he set off into the woods in the direction of the grove. The four of them had to run to keep pace with him. Following Sib, they crashed through bushes and brambles until they reached the clearing where the circle of stones stood. The Devil’s Snare still entangled the entrance.
“Ah yes, my favorite,” said Sib. “Devil’s Snare.”
“We came prepared this time,” said Willow, who pulled the orb from her bag again and lifted it into the air. The sunspot burst into light and the Devils’ snare retreated all around them to get away from the blazing brightness. In a matter of seconds, the path was open and they all rushed inside. Willow put the orb back into her bag and the four of them knelt by the pool of water.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Incheon.
“No,” said Willow, “But we don’t have any options. If we go back are we going to pass the finals?”
“No,” replied Incheon.
“So we are going to get expelled. And what is the first thing they will do when we get expelled?”
“Take our wands.”
“Exactly. So what do we have to lose?” Turning to the pool, Willow tightly gripped her wand and plunged it wrist-deep in the water. The pool started to glow and then, just as in the dream, Willow’s wand began to warp and bend, twisting back on itself in both directions, the wood swirling to make strange shapes. She loosened her grip on the wand and held on with just two fingers as it formed a complete circle. Inside this circle was a smaller circle on top of a triangle on top of a horizontal line. A long string extended from the top so it formed a talisman that could be worn around the neck. When it stopped moving, Willow pulled it out of the water and held it up. Red sparks flew out of the face of it.
“Lumos Solem!” said Willow and light flared from it as bright as the sun, lighting up the center of the grove. The Devil’s Snare, which had been growing back around them, retreated all around the grove to get away from the light. “I think my wand has found what it was waiting for,” she said. “Now come on, we have to hurry!”
Lef, Sib and Incheon plunged their wands into the water and watched as theirs twisted into the same shape as Willow’s. Once theirs were done, they stood up and put them around their necks.
“It has to be nearly eight,” said Sib. “We’re gonna to have to run the whole way back to make it before finals start.”
“Can’t we just go in late?” asked Willow.
“Once the doors close, they don’t open them again,” said Lef.
“Let’s go,” said Sib and he started to lead them back to the water tunnel. The Hunter blocked their path and pointed them toward the archway.
“But it was sealed,” said Willow. The Hunter just shook his head and continued to point at the archway. “Well, it’s worth a shot,” she said. Sib was the first one to the door.
“Gampton Hall!” he called. The door glowed and they dashed through.
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