Unless you’ve been blessed with the gift of premonition, there’s no preparing for your second first day at Dowling.
Last year I entered the Dowling Academy School of Witchcraft in fear, all sweaty hands and pounding heart.
Last year I hauled my impossibly heavy trunk to my room. Last year everything—and I mean everything—changed.
I walk under the large oak tree, now fully aware what happens beneath it. Blessings and socials, and darker things I’ve yet to see, I’m sure. My senses, dulled by the scorching Texas heat and never-ending summer days, now zap to life.
There’s a bounce in my step as I keep myself from
running inside to find my best friend, Ivy. It’s been two long months since I last saw her. FaceTime just isn’t the same as being with someone. It was impossible to talk about boys or magic or gossip without one of our mothers eavesdropping. So we had to settle for late-night texting to talk about the good stuff.
I pat the iPhone in my back pocket, happy I’m allowed to have it. Last year I was a Seeker, which means I was a beginner. Seekers have almost no privileges. No phones, no television, no computers. It was a lot like prison, but with better food.
This is my second year, and I’m a Crafter, which means I know what my gift is (that’s a really long story) and I’ve passed the Seeker exam. I’m a long way from being a real witch, though. That takes years.
I stop in front of the massive Dowling doors that once seemed so forbidding. Just me. No parents. No trunk. No nerves.
What a difference a year makes.
I pull the door open and let the cool air wash over me. Before I’m fully inside the building, I hear Miss A call my name.
My eyes adjust to the dim lighting, and my dorm mom’s face becomes clear. A huge smile stretches across my face. Last year I accidentally made her dye her hair orange and she hasn’t changed it since. Beneath that tangled curly mess of shocking hair is the face I’ve missed so much. She was only my dorm mom a year, but we have a special connection.
She pulls me into a big, squishy hug. “Looky here, looky here! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!”
I laugh and pull out of the embrace. “I missed you too, Miss A.”
I’ve tried to forget that Miss A won’t be my dorm mom this year. All the other dorm moms are überserious and a little bit scary. Miss A’s like the crazy grandmother at family reunions. Her face is painted too brightly, and her lipstick is always smeared across her teeth. But you just know she’s always going to be there for you.
“Is Ivy here yet?” I ask.
She checks her watch before answering. “Her mama called and said they were running late. Should be here in about an hour.”
I try not to look too disappointed. I’m excited about seeing Miss A, but Ivy is the one I really want to see.
When you go through what we did last year, you’re more than just friends. You’re sisters.
I glance at the staircase and smile. “Our trunks are here.”
“You betcha,” Miss A says, smiling.
The trunks whiz up the stairs, two feet off the ground, unassisted. When we witnessed it last year, Ivy passed out. She would’ve hit the floor and split her head open if Miss A hadn’t frozen her midfall. Magic saved the day—something that would happen many times after.
“Didn’t I tell you this would happen for you as a Crafter?” Miss A asks.
“You did.” I am mesmerized by the trunks and wonder if mine has already been delivered to my room.
“It’s already in there,” Miss A answers.
It takes me a second to remember that my thoughts project. I’d gotten used to no one hearing my thoughts all summer. I kind of liked it that way.
“If you don’t want me reading your thoughts, you better get busy figuring out how to close that brain of yours off from me,” she says with a wink. “And everyone else.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answer. There are a lot of things I still don’t understand about my gift. Or gifts. With the gift of
inheritance, I can acquire gifts from other witches. Last year I accidentally picked up the gift of mind manipulation. That means sometimes people hear my thoughts about what I think they should do, and then they do it. But they don’t realize I’m the one who gave them the idea. That’s how Miss A got the orange hair. It’s kind of like subliminal messages, only I have almost no control over who hears what. I’m hoping to work that out this year.
“Better get your room assignment and settle in. Invocation is at five thirty in the Gathering Circle.”
The Gathering Circle—or GC—is the main meeting room at Dowling. It’s the only room in the building big enough to hold all of the Dowling girls. This is my second year, but there are some girls who have been here five years. Even longer if they’re full-fledged witches.
Some Dowling students never leave—they return year after year to teach future witches.
I walk to the welcome desk, manned by two fourth circle witches. That’s what I’ll be next year if I make it through this one.
“Hi, Hallie,” one of the girls says. I don’t know her, so I’m surprised she knows who I am. She hands me my ID,
which holds a picture taken of me today. I have no clue how they do it, but they manage to get a picture of us the day we arrive, without us knowing. And voila! It appears on our badge. That kind of thing is hard to get used to.
Just as I’m about to walk away, the other girl sneers at me. “Good luck this year, Hallie. Not that you’re going to need it.” The last part is said under her breath, but I hear it anyway.
Of course they know who I am.
Everyone knows who I am.
I am the first student at Dowling to have the gift of inheritance since High Priestess Dannabelle Grimm was here in the 1800s. Apparently that’s kind of a big deal. All I really wanted to be was a hedge witch like my great-great-grandmother, mixing herbs and potions to heal and to cast spells. But I got a lot more than I bargained for.
I walk away and smile back at the girls, whose faces wear frozen, fake smiles. Miss A said people would be jealous. She was right.
I look at my badge. My room number is 202.
I climb the stairs two at a time, anxious to see the room I’ll share with Ivy. During the first year, Seekers are required to room with whomever Dowling assigns us to.
For me that meant my worst enemy of all time, Kendall Scott. Being able to choose my roommate this year was a big deal. Huge.
I hit the top of the stairs and find the hallway crammed with girls talking, hugging, and snapping fingers. Small bursts of magic appear as girls show off their still-new skills. One girl keeps walking through a wall and back again. Back and forth, back and forth, her friends begging to see her do it “just one more time.” It’s hard not to watch her, because it’s crazy cool. A different girl farther down the hallway has accidentally (I think) frozen a girl’s legs in a block of ice. There are probably six or seven girls around the frozen girl, chipping at the ice.
I can’t stop smiling. Even though it’s a madhouse, it’s my madhouse. Home.
“Hallie!” Dru Goode, still a foot shorter than everyone else, pushes her way through the cluster of girls to get to me.
She breaks through, and I smile when I see her. Her perfect white teeth are in direct contrast to her dark skin and black curly hair. It’s impossible not to love her. I hug her close, then look behind her.
Dru shrugs. “I haven’t seen her. What room are you in?”
“Room 202,” I tell her.
She pushes my shoulder so hard, I nearly fall. “Get out! We’re in 204! We’re neighbors!”
“You’re stronger than you look,” I tell her, laughing.
I send a silent thank-you to Miss A. I know she’s the reason our rooms are next to each other.
I look at the room numbers on the wall and realize I’m standing in front of my door. “Have you gone into your room yet?” I ask Dru.
“Yep,” she says. “Same as last year.”
I swipe my ID in the door scanner, and the door unlocks. I push it open and—just as Dru said—the rooms are identical to last year’s. The only difference is a big one. There’s a laptop on each of our desks.
I spin to face Dru. “I didn’t know we were getting laptops!”
“Me either,” she says. “But don’t get too excited. I hear we have superlimited Internet access.”
“Still, we can at least check our e-mail.” I look at Dru. “Can’t we?”
Dru nods. “Miss A said we could. But no Facebook.”
Good. As long as we have e-mail, I’m golden.
My trunk sits in front of one of the beds. Ivy’s trunk is already here too. “Your trunk make it here okay?”
Dru nods. “I don’t even care how it happens. I’m just glad I didn’t have to haul it upstairs. Those trunks are heavy!”
There are definitely perks to being a witch.
“I wish I’d brought my glow-in-the-dark pj’s from home. They’ve got a picture of my family on them,” I say.
“Your pj’s?” Dru asks, sneaky smile on her face. “At home? Two hundred long miles from here?”
“Dru, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
She puts her fists on her hips. “I’ll pretend you didn’t just say that.”
I put my hands up in apology. “You’re right. What was I thinking?” Last year Dru’s gift of conjuration came in handy when she produced a curling iron before the dance at Riley Academy, where I met Cody.
Cody Ray. The “it” guy at Dowling’s brother school. We met at last year’s social, and no matter how hard I tried to discourage him, he was glued to me all night long. I’ve seen girls ignore their friends because of boys, and I swore I’d never be one of those girls. Besides, life at Dowling is complicated enough. The last thing I need
is a distraction. But that’s exactly what I have.
Dru closes her eyes, puts her fingers in snapping position. She peeks out at me. “Where do you keep your pj’s at home?”
“My dresser. Bottom drawer.”
She closes her eyes again, takes a deep breath. She whispers words I can’t hear, and tiny colorful sparks dance off her fingertips.
I look at my desk, then high-five Dru.
Sitting there beside my laptop are the pj’s I left behind.