“So, uh…” started Sib, looking to their house President, Willow. “Where do we go?”
“I have no idea,” Willow responded. “I guess Mrs. Black will tell us. Or maybe we should look for the Hunter?” The eight of them remained seated, looking around the room for a clue as to where they were supposed to go or for their house ghost - The Hunter. Mrs. Black approached them as the last students left the hall.
“As president of Pathfinder house,” she addressed Willow. “You will need to take your group to the new Pathfinder student lounge, which you will find at the end of the third-floor corridor. The passphrase is unchanged from last year.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you, Mrs. Black,” she responded.
“And I trust your initiation ceremonies will be less isolating than the ones you dealt with last year?”
“Good. Now off you go, we need to reset this room for the club tables.” They got up and followed Willow through the conservatory and back to the entrance hall.
“Last year,” Willow said to the new students, “they didn’t let first years use the lifts, but rule number one: ‘anything we do, you can do.’ So if you’ll just…”
“I’m going first,” Hedges called out and started to rush toward the lifts.
“No way, I’m going first,” Beene responded and tackled Hedges around the middle, dragging him to the floor.
Quinta stepped over them and walked to the lift. “What floor?” she asked Willow.
“Third floor,” said Quinta and the lift whisked her upward. Hedges and Beene glanced up.
“I’m gonna be second,” Hedges said.
“Nuh-uh, I’m going next,” Beene replied, holding Hedges back. The two continued to grapple on the floor of the entrance hall. The figures in the paintings on the wall turned away in embarrassment.
Sib turned to Incheon as they walked past the two wrestling boys toward the lifts. “How’s that first bite of the dragon dung popsicle?”
“A little chewy.”
They whisked up to the third floor and followed Willow to the end of the corridor that held a stone archway against a blank grey wall. Along the top of the arch was the phrase ‘Say Our Name And Enter’ carved into the rock.
"The password is the name that the Native Americans called themselves," she told Hye-lin and Quinta. “Andaste!” she called as the first-year boys finally caught up. The door glowed blue like a wall of translucent mist and Willow stepped through. The others followed, their bodies disappearing into the doorway like a stone falling into a pond.
“This is new,” said Sib as they emerged on the other side. The last time he had been here - on the last day of the previous school year - there had been a small clearing in the woods on the other side of the doorway surrounded by dense trees on three sides, the gigantic stone boulder holding the gate on the fourth.
Now he stepped into a room richly furnished with wood everywhere; the floors, the walls, and the ceiling. It was like his cabin, only improved a thousandfold. Willow was gazing out of the windows.
“The clearing and woods are still out there,” she said to the others. “They must have put this building in over the summer.”
“Who’s Mabeobsa?” asked Quinta, pointing to a locker.
“That’s me,” replied Incheon. “What’cha got?”
“A locker,” she said. “I thought your name was Incheon.”
“My parents named me Mabeobsa. It means ‘mage’ in Korean.” Incheon shrugged. “I always felt it was the same as naming a cat ‘Cat’. When I was seven, I picked a nickname - Incheon is the city where my family emigrated from.”
“I guess ‘jerkface’ was taken,” Hye-lin added, walking to the right side of the lounge to find her own locker with the first years.
Sib came over to Incheon. “So what is your cat's name?”
“What's that mean?”
Sib laughed. Incheon just smiled and walked further into the lounge.
Sib explored the area. In addition to the view of the clearing and the woods directly across from the portal back to the school, the room itself was set up with two wings - one on either side of the entrance arch. The left side had the lockers for the four second-year students, although there was a fifth locker with no name on it. Beyond the lockers was a lounge and study area with a fireplace located right in the middle of the room. Sib could see the first years had a mirror image setup of what they had. He walked over to where Willow was sitting in one of the chairs.
“Where does the smoke go?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?” Sib responded.
“The fire - it burns the wood and makes smoke. Where’s the chimney?”
Sib reached his hand out and put it inside the fire. “It’s magical,” he responded waving his un-singed hand at her, and then remembering Willow’s nomaj upbringing he added, “it’s just set up to be a decoration.” Willow shook her head in wonder, and then sat bolt upright on the edge of her lounge chair.
“The grove!” she said. “We need to take the first years to the circle of stones for their wands!”
“Oh yeah,” Sib replied. “You want me to round ‘em up?” Willow nodded and looked around for the door that led outside to the wooded grove. Finding it at the far end of the second year’s wing, she waved at Sib.
“Listen up!” Sib yelled to the cabin, his voice easily carrying to the far end of the first year area. “Y’all come with us for the initiation!” The others lined up behind Willow and followed her outside into the clearing. Sib trailed the group, making sure the others didn’t wander off the path on the way to the pool of water where their wands were turned into amulets the previous year.
“Where’d the school go?” asked Beene, looking to where it should have been, but seeing a giant thirty-foot boulder instead.
“We’re on a different island,” Lef explained. “The door was a portal to this location which is where an ancient American Indian magic school once stood.”
“But why didn’t the school go through the portal too?” Beene asked.
Lef spent the next two minutes trying and failing to explain to Beene how a magic portal works. The others - amazed that Beene had been able to find his way out of bed that morning - just listened and continued to follow Willow through a pathway in the woods. This is new too. The previous year, they had to crash through this wooded area twice without a path; once chased by a ghost and the second time trying to make it in time for finals. By the time they reached their destination, Lef had given up on her attempts to educate Beene, and their attention was now all focused on the ghostly figure who stood at the entrance to the circle of stones.
In front of them stood their house ghost, the Hunter. He was a huge Native American figure, well over six feet tall and decked out in buckskin. He carried a six-foot longbow over his shoulder that Sib had seen him use several times the previous year to cast ghostly spells.“Hello Hunter,” Willow said. “Do you know who did all of this?”
The ghost, understanding that Willow was referring to the building, the path, and the now cleared circle of stones nodded his head. “Puterschmidt and Diatomungi performed the magic. I told them what to do.” Mr. Puterschmidt was their Alteration teacher. He must have done the building. And Mr. Diatomungi the path and the clearin’; referring to their Herbology teacher.
Willow nodded and continued. “Thank you, Hunter. I’ll be sure to thank Mr. Puterschmidt and Mr. Diatomungi when I see them next.” She pointed past him into the circle of stones. “Can we take the first years in to have them change their wands?” The Hunter nodded and stepped aside. The others filed past him.
The circle of stones was set up like a mini Stonehenge, with five giant stone monoliths forming a circle around a pool of crystal clear water. The last time Sib was here, the whole area had been overrun with devil’s snare and they were barely able to get in and out without getting tangled up in the vine. Now, Sib couldn’t see a trace of it. He could see figures carved on the stone monoliths. One had a small circle, one a triangle, one a half-circle - the flat part facing up, one had a larger circle and the last one had nothing. He had no idea what they were supposed to be.
“You’ll need to put your wands in the water,” Willow was telling the first years. “It will warp your wand into this shape.” She held up her amulet to show them.
“No way,” said Hedges. “I’m sticking with my wand.”
“Me too,” said Beene. “My parents said I’m supposed to use a wand to make magic.”
“But it’s not going to work,” Willow started explaining.
“Think he’s going to notice?” whispered Incheon to Sib. Sib remembered the challenges they had all last year as their wands would not function at all until they were able to change them into the amulets.
“What happens if we don’t?” asked Hye-lin.
“Your wand won’t work the way it’s supposed to,” said Willow. “You won’t be able to cast the most basic spells. At least, that’s what happened to us.”
“Will this change any wand?” asked Quinta. “Mine's lignum vitae.”
“It’s what?” asked Incheon.
“Ironwood.” She tried to bend her wand, but it was as rigid as a metal spike. “Unyielding. It’s the strongest, densest wood in the world. Will the water change it?”
Willow looked to the Hunter. The ghost turned to Quinta and nodded his head. Quinta pushed past the others and put her jet black wand in the water. As everyone watched, the wand twisted into the familiar amulet shape and lanyard as if her ironwood wand had been made of putty. She pulled the amulet out of the water, put the lanyard over her neck, held her amulet up to the sky and cast a spell. “Expecto Patronum!” she shouted.
Sib was nearly blinded by the bright white light that burst from her amulet. As he shielded his eyes with his arm, he caught a glimpse of a huge winged shape made of mist flying off over the treetops. “Holy…” he muttered.
“Yeah...,” added Incheon. “Hey Quinta,” he asked her. “Uh...what the heck was that?”
“Something my grandfather taught me,” she responded. She walked away from them back toward the path leading to the lounge.
“Can you teach us that spell?” asked Sib, but Quinta just ignored them and continued walking, staring intently at her amulet.
Willow turned to the others. “Just so there won’t be any fighting, Hye-lin, you go next and then Hedges and Beene can go at the same time.” After Hye-lin transformed her poplar wand, the two boys dipped their maple and sycamore wands into the pool.
“What happens if you put an amulet in the pool?” asked Hye-lin.
Sib looked at Willow who just shrugged her shoulders. Sib walked over to the pool and put his amulet in the water. He watched as it unwound itself and slowly turned back into his grandmother’s hemlock wand. “Hey, I didn’t know it goes back.”
“Maybe that will be our graduation ceremony,” said Willow. “You know, to eventually leave Gampton Hall.”
“I don’t know,” said Sib. “I’ve kinda grown attached to the amulet.”
“Besides,” said Incheon. “With my wand in my back pocket, I was always afraid of blowing my buttcheek off.”
“Like we would be so lucky,” said Hye-lin.
Sib smiled and put his grandmother’s wand back into the pool; watching it transform back into the now-familiar amulet.
“First years aren’t allowed to use the jumps,” Willow said. “And we were told that we would die if we jumped the staircase before second year.” She had the first-year students lined up beside the large central staircase. The grand staircase was in the middle of the three towers that lined the front of the school building and there was a twenty-foot opening in the center. The stairs wound over a hundred feet from the top of the fourth floor all the way to the second basement. Students, instead of walking down, would often jump into the center, calling out what floor they wanted to be safely deposited.
“When I say so, you’re going to jump,” Willow explained. Before she had a chance to say anything else, Hedges and Beene started running toward the stairway. “...wait, I…” Willow began, but they had already thrown themselves over the edge and disappeared.
“That’s just a special kind of dumb,” Incheon was saying. “I bet the stairs are idiot-proof, aren’t they?”
Lef, who had rushed to the edge to see what happened, nodded her head. “Yes, they landed at the second basement and are currently trying to bludgeon each other with a shoe.”
Willow turned to Hye-lin and Quinta, who were still waiting at the top. “When you jump, just call out the floor you want to go to. Unless you're a moron and then apparently you’ll land safely in the second basement. I’ll meet you on the first floor.” She set out for the stairs with Incheon.
“What,” asked Hye-lin. “Isn’t she jumping too?”
“Oh, heck no,” said Sib. “She ‘n Incheon would rather walk down six flights of stairs than jump the center. I suppose you can walk if you want to.”
“Not if the turd-burger is walking,” said Hye-lin, nodding her head towards Incheon. “I’m jumping.”
Quinta just shrugged her shoulders and the two of them took a running leap into the center of the stairs, calling out “first floor!” as they fell. Sib watched over the edge to see the invisible parachute catch them near the second floor, slowing them and redirecting them to softly land on the first-floor hall. He and Lef followed a second later.
“Sib,” asked Willow when she reached the first-floor landing. “Will you and Incheon take Hye-lin and Quinta into the banquet hall and show them around to the different clubs? I’ll go with Lef to wrangle up Frick and Frack.”
“Sure,” replied Sib. He led them back through the conservatory and they stepped into a transformed layout in the banquet hall. Instead of tables for each house, the room was filled with booths for every conceivable club.
“There’s just about anythin’ you could think of doin’ here,” he told the girls. “Wizard Chess Club, Quod-Pot, and Herbology club - that’s Lef’s thing - are over there. Choir is in the back there, you can hear ‘em.” He turned to the other side of the room. “Charms and Transfiguration Clubs over there if you like Thaumaturgy and Alteration classes, and Comic Club on the other side.”
“Comic?” asked Hye-lin. “Like the magazines?”
“Oh, no - that’s Manga club - straight back. Comic is Care of Magical Creatures - C.O.M.C.. Take your time and look around. Find somethin’ you’re really into.”
After the girls left, Sib stared around at a loss. He hadn’t signed up for any clubs last year. His hobby was carving wood, but there wasn’t a club for that. He didn’t really fit in anywhere else. He started walking the loop, following Incheon’s lead. “So why does Hye-lin have it in for you?” Sib asked his friend.
“We grew up together,” Incheon responded, looking at the booth for Nomaj Collections Club and admiring what Sib recognized as ink pens. “Me and her and Lily in Gampton. I’ve been throwing frogs on her since before I could walk.”
“Did you ever throw frogs on Lily?”
“Heck no,” he said, shaking his head. “She was always on her broom and never stayed in one place long enough. No, Hye-lin and I have been sort of forced into each other’s company since we were babies. Our parents are close friends,” he added in explanation. They hurried past the choir club so they could hear themselves think again. “So what are you going to sign up for?” Incheon asked.
“What are you interested in trying out?”
“Man, I wish I could be as decisive as you are.” He stopped and looked at the table for Illusions Club. “I think I’m going to do this.”
“Really?” asked Sib. “Since when did you start likin’ illusions?”
“Since about four seconds ago,” he said and signed his name on the sheet.
“Can you even do charms?” asked Sib. “I don’t remember you likin’ Thaumaturgy class that much.”
“Dunno,” replied Incheon. “I did enough to pass my final, but I haven’t cast a spell since the last day of classes.”
“Really?” asked Sib. “Not even ‘lumos’?”
“No. My parents are really strict about that kind of thing. I had to give up my amulet for the whole summer. Now, let’s find you something. You like dirt, right?”
“Dirt,” Incheon repeated, looking around. “The brown stuff that’s under your feet when you’re walking around in the forest.”
“What about it?”
“Lord knows you’re caked in it often enough. Do you like growing things in it?”
“Not really,” Sib responded, self-consciously rubbing his dirty fingernails on his robe. “I tried growing some crops once, but they never came up. I’m pretty sure my brother sabotaged 'em.”
“Okay,” replied Incheon. “So not herbology.” He turned his head toward the far corner of the room. “Yes,” he said, moving toward the Care of Magical Creatures Table. “They definitely have dirt where creatures live.”
“But I’ve never taken care of anything in my life,” protested Sib as they reached the table.
“Not true, my friend.” He held out a quill for Sib to sign up. “Seems to me you did an outstanding job caring for four magical creatures last year named Incheon, Willow, Lef, and Lily.”
Sib looked at the paper. “I guess.” He shrugged and signed his name. “At least I didn’t have to scoop your poop.”
“Yet,” replied Incheon.
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