In amazement over finding out that her mom really was a mage, Willow slowly wandered back toward the banquet hall thinking of that fateful day in April when her mom had drunk the spell removal potion by accident. It must have washed away the effects of the blue envelope...but it didn't restore her memory of Gampton Hall.
As she reached the top of the stairs and stepped onto the first floor, she pulled her dress robes from her bag and put them on for the final ceremonies in the banquet hall. She entered the hall and saw that the room had been completely renovated back to the festive atmosphere she remembered from the sorting.
In addition to the normal four house tables, there was a new small round table set up next to the Murgatroyd one that was decked out in purple and white. Willow wondered what the table was for, but nothing came to mind. Seeing Sib, Lily, Incheon and Lef already sitting at their house tables, she went to the far end of the Hammersmith table and sat down between the four first-year boys who were happily ignoring her; and Felicity, Marigold, and Francesca who were unhappily ignoring her.
Mrs. Black, who Willow remembered from their Remedial Alchemy class, got up in front of the teachers’ table, touching her wand to her throat before talking to make her voice like a loudspeaker. Willow noticed that the Chancellor was nowhere to be found.
“For those of you who do not know me,” she began, “I am Mrs. Patricia Black, Senior Alchemy Master here at Gampton Hall. In the Chancellor’s absence, I have been asked to lead this end-of-year celebration.”
“To start, I want to acknowledge a terrible tragedy that occurred this morning before the start of your practical final exams. Professor Zephyr Zolock, who has taught here for over sixty years, passed away this morning.”
The entire room launched into a buzz of conversations. Mrs. Black raised her voice and the conversations quieted somewhat. “I would like to take a moment of silence to recognize the long and honorable life of this man, whom many of us regarded as a dear friend and mentor.” As she bowed her head, a hush fell over the room. Willow bowed her head too and was thinking of what the ghost version of Mr. Zolock would think of this when a loud voice called out from the back of the room.
“Could we just get on with the celebration and stop with all this hanging our heads?” Every pair of eyes in the entire hall swung to the back of the room to find Mr. Zolock’s ghost hovering in the air above the tables. “I appreciate the sentiment, Pansy, but there will be plenty of time for that at the funeral. Meanwhile, the students here at Gampton Hall will enjoy my company for many years to come.” Again, the entire room erupted into muddled conversation over this surprise.
“Very well, Zephyr,” said Mrs. Black, after the hubbub died down. Looking back at the student tables, she continued. “I then would like to call your attention to the small table located at the side of the room.” She gestured to the small, empty table draped in purple and white that Willow had noticed upon walking in. “The first forty years of Gampton Hall’s history were believed to have been lost in a fire in 1764. However, before Mr. Zolock’s...transition, he had found and deciphered a series of books that constitute the lost archive of the first forty years of the school’s history. Although we have not yet been able to review all of the information in those books, we have discovered enough to correct one error that has occurred.”
“Gampton Hall Academy was founded with five houses, not four. The four houses that we have always known; Featherpenny, Murgatroyd, Suncorn, and Hammersmith were joined by a house of American Indians who had a magical academy nearby. For forty years, these houses co-existed in peace and harmony. In 1763, this all changed. In that year, the nearby American Indian settlement was destroyed, their school was burned to the ground, Amrose was subjected to a spell that prevented him from sorting anyone into the fifth house, and all of the library books that referenced that house were subjected to a confusion charm and hidden away. Shortly thereafter, the books were collected and were going to be destroyed. Instead of destroying the books, the Chancellor of the school at that time hid them where they would not be discovered and she did not divulge that information, even when subjected to dark magic.”
“Two hundred and fifty years later, Mr. Hendershot made a fateful decision to use Amrose to demonstrate a cleansing spell that removes all enchantments. Once freed from the spells cast on him, Amrose was able to sort students into five houses, not four. I would now like the members of the Pathfinder house to take your places at the new table.”
Willow realized that Mrs. Black was talking about her. After hesitating for a moment, she stood up and started walking past the Hammersmith table toward the purple one. One of the older students whispered to her. “This doesn’t change anything, newbie.”
Willow stopped and looked down at the neon green ‘newbie’ badge on her dress robes. Lifting her talisman, she cast a spell. “Dismoveo”. The badge curled away and dropped off the front of her robes into her free hand. “My name...” she said as she dropped the badge on the table “...is Willow.” She turned her back and walked away. Lef was already sitting down at the small purple table and Incheon and Sib were just reaching it. As she took her seat, a new flag appeared at the front of the room next to the four others. It was purple and white with the silhouette of an elk in the center.
Incheon was sitting next to Willow. He leaned over and whispered to her. “Isn’t Lily joining us?”
Willow stared at him. “How did you know?” she whispered back.
He pointed at his head. “I have an audiographic memory, remember. I knew there were five unsorted students, but it took me a while to figure out it was her.”
“She has to stay in Featherpenny...at least for now,” Willow whispered back. Incheon nodded and turned back to Mrs. Black.
“And now for the awarding of the Gampton Hall House Championship,” Mrs. Black said. “With the re-introduction of our lost house, the points for those members should be re-allocated.” She waved her wand at a large scoreboard-like display on one wall of the banquet hall and a new area appeared labeled ‘Pathfinder’. As Willow watched, the point total for the other four houses increased; each gaining nearly seventy five points. Pathfinder kept dropping and dropping, finally coming to a halt at negative two hundred and eighty five points.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever had a house with that many negative points,” said Mrs. Black.
“Awesome,” whispered Incheon. “We set a record on our first day.”
Mrs. Black pointed toward the red and gold table. “The point tally shows that Hammersmith house has won the House Championship. I believe this makes sixteen years in a row. Congratulations.” With a wave of her wand, the decorations in the room changed from the multicolored rainbow of all of the houses to gold and crimson and the Hammersmith table burst into rowdy cheers.
After the ceremony was over, the four of them stayed at the purple table while the rest of the students headed off to their house homerooms for the last time of the year. The Pathfinders didn’t have a homeroom to go to. As the last students walked out of the banquet room, Mrs. Black approached the Pathfinder table.
“We’re hoping to have a homeroom for you by the time you return in the fall,” she said. “In the meantime, you’ll have to choose a house president.”
“It’s Willow,” said Sib without a second’s hesitation.
“Wait,” said Willow. “Shouldn’t we vote?”
“It’s Willow,” said Incheon and Lef together.
“Very well, Willow,” said Mrs. Black. “It looks like you’ve been elected. You’ll need to establish your house rules. Hopefully we’ll have some guidance for you on Pathfinder traditions when you return in the fall as well.” She hesitated for a minute as if deciding whether to say what she had on her mind. “Zephyr told me why he thought your wands didn’t work and what you had to go through to solve this mystery. I’m impressed at what you’ve accomplished, but I hope you’ll pay a little more attention to the rules now that I’m Chancellor.”
“You’re Chancellor?” asked Willow.
“But what about Mr. McCracken?” said Incheon.
“Mr. McCracken was asked to step down and he has done so. It seems we’ll have quite a few changes at Gampton Hall when you return in the fall. Have a good summer and I’ll see you all in September.” She left them alone in the huge empty hall.
“Can we have no house rules?” asked Incheon.
“Well,” replied Willow. “One rule I know we’re not going to have is hazing the first-year students. Wearing that badge all year has been awful.”
“Oh no!” said Lef. “I just remembered that if Mr. McCracken is gone, then that means that Miss Mercana is gone too.”
“Maybe we can convince her to stay,” said Willow. “Come on. Just sitting here by ourselves in this empty banquet hall is creepy.”
When they reached Miss Mercana’s office, they found the door slightly open. Knocking on it, it swung open and Willow could see Miss Mercana inside, packing her things into a stor-all.
“Oh, hello Willow,” she said. “Come in.” As the four of them walked inside, she gazed for a minute at the talismans that they wore around their necks. “I guess you got my message then.”
“Message?” asked Willow.
“The one I sent with the wooden carving of Fred.”
“You sent that?” said Willow. “But...how did you know that I needed a way here? Mr. Zolock was the only one who knew.”
“Not the only one,” said Miss Mercana. “There was a spy in the room by the name of Fred.” She gestured at the pseudodragon who was out of his cage and curled up in a beam of sunshine by the window. “Fred heard your conversation and told me what had happened. By a lucky chance, after we met yesterday morning, I confiscated your wooden carving from James who had accidentally ‘found’ it.”
“You mean Fred can talk?” said Willow.
“No,” replied Miss Mercana. “He communicates telepathically.”
“He’s a mind-reader?”
“Not exactly,” Miss Mercana explained. “He can’t read your thoughts. He hears what people are saying and then ‘speaks’ in your mind.”
“But why didn’t he ever speak to me while I had him at my house?” asked Willow.
“Oh, he probably did, but unless you concentrate on it, it’s hard to catch. It took me months to learn to hear him. But you’ll have lots of practice over the summer.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need you to take him with you, Willow. I can’t bring him along with me where I’m going.”
“But that’s why we came,” said Willow. “We don’t want you to go.”
“And I don’t want to go, but that choice isn’t up to either of us. Listen, I’ll be fine,” she continued. “I’ll keep in touch with you next year and even see the four of you every once in a while.”
“But isn’t there anything we can do?” asked Lef.
“Yes,” replied Miss Mercana. “You should try to find out all you can about that prophecy. Everyone believes that the events of this year have set the prophecy in motion, but I’m not convinced that it means what they think it does. In any case, it’s going to play a big role in all of our lives over the next few years.”
The four of them slowly walked back up to the school, pausing for a moment outside of the manticore pen to allow Willow to say goodbye to Corey. Corey just looked back at her and slowly blinked his eyes. As they approached the back door of the school, they noticed a wispy shape drifting toward them from the building.
“Is that...” started Willow, shifting Fred’s cage to her other hand.
“...the Hunter,” finished Sib. “What’s he doin’ here?” They stopped as he approached them.
“It was my role to protect the children from harm,” he said to them in a somber voice. “I failed in that task and after my death, I continued to wander those woods alone for two hundred and fifty years. Thank you for finding me.”
“But ain’t you goin’ now that you’ve avenged those children?” asked Sib. The ghost shook his head.
“I have new wards,” he said, pointing at the four of them.
“So you’ll be our house ghost?” asked Willow. The Hunter nodded.
“I will work with the others to show them the Pathfinder way. It will be ready when you return.”
“Thank you for finding us,” said Lef.
After saying good-bye to the Hunter, they met Lily in the lobby. They all promised to write to each other over the summer.
“Willow,” said Lily. “How are we supposed to write to you? Can we use owl post?”
“I don’t know,” said Willow. “I’m pretty sure that owls delivering letters might be a problem for my nomaj neighbors. But we’ll think of something...we certainly had enough practice solving mysteries.”
She hugged everyone and left Gampton Hall for the last time that year. Although she was sad to leave, she was also excited to go home. She smiled as she looked out of the window on that last bus ride. After all, it’s not every day that you get to tell your mom she’s a witch and have her be happy about it.
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