"Jack," Dad said, "We have to talk to you about the house."
I glanced up from the book I was reading. We were all sitting in Uncle Jack's living room after dinner. Mum and Dad were looking at Uncle Jack with serious faces. Uncle Jack put down the newspaper he was reading. This is it, I thought. They're going to decide whether or not to sell the house. I swallowed hard, forcing myself not to start crying. They couldn't sell the house.
"Go ahead," Uncle Jack leaned back in his chair.
"Well," Dad began, "We'd like your opinion on selling it. I'm honestly not sure if I should sell it or not. I mean, we obviously won't be living in it much longer. And if we do keep it, should we rent it out?"
Rent it out? I hadn't even thought of that. I wasn't sure if I'd rather have my parents rent it or just sell it. It would be even weirder to have someone living in my room if it was still technically mine. Couldn't my parents just not sell it and not rent it? Then we might move back someday.
Uncle Jack ran a hand through his hair and sighed, "Oh, I don't know. It's strange to think about selling the place. We grew up there and so did Dad, and Grandpa, and generations before...."
Right, I thought, the house has been in our family for generations. We couldn't just sell it now.
"That's why I'm torn," Dad said.
"Do you ever think you'll move back?" Uncle Jack asked.
Dad thought for a moment, "Honestly, no. We certainly wouldn't move back until after Matt graduates, but even then I'm not sure. The way things are going down there, it won't be anyplace for him to live after he graduates. I can't see why we'd move back if the kids are up here. And if I have a job wherever we're moving to."
What about me? I might like to move back to Australia. Didn't that count for anything? Or were my parents just assuming that I wouldn't want to move back either? I was going to graduate in four years and maybe I'd want to find a job in Australia instead of wherever we move to. Although, I honestly couldn't see myself living that far away from my family. It would be too strange.
"It's the end of an era," Uncle Jack said quietly, "All of us moving out of Australia. It'll be odd to have that house belong to someone else."
"How do you feel about it, Jack?" Dad asked, "Because if you don't want us to sell it, we won't."
"I can't say I won't be sad if you sell it, but I just can't rationalize keeping it with no one living in it," Uncle Jack replied, "I certainly have no plans to move back to Australia."
"That's what I was thinking," Dad said, "No point in keeping a house that no one's living in."
"And the way you say the Ministry is heading down there, do we even want any remaining ties there anyway?"
"Exactly," Dad said. "But it's not like we won't be visiting. Julie's parents are still there."
"But their house is big enough for when we want to visit," Mom pointed out, "It's not like we'd be without a place to stay while we visit."
"Sounds like you want to sell it," Uncle Jack said.
"That's what we're leaning to," Dad said.
No! They can't sell it! I grew up there. Dad and Uncle Jack grew up there. How could they just decide to sell it when it was full of so many memories?
"Go for it, then," Uncle Jack told them.
"All right," Dad said, "I'll call a real estate agent when we get back. But there's also the issue of the furniture, paintings, and all the rest of the stuff in it."
The stuff? Wouldn't we take that with us?
"Obviously we'll take enough to furnish our new place," Dad continued, "But there's far too much for that. You're welcome to anything you want and we'll probably sell the rest."
"That makes sense," Uncle Jack agreed, "I'll fly down before you have the sale, maybe in a few weeks or so."
"Wait, you're selling our stuff?" I interrupted.
"Just the furniture we can't take with us," Mum assured me, "Not your stuff. Probably the guest bedroom furniture, the formal furniture, and a few of the portraits. Plus all that silver we had to put away, there's no point in keeping that."
I nodded. All right. I could deal with that, I guess. Just as long as they didn't sell anything I wanted. But now it was official, the house was being sold. In just a few months, I would never set foot in my house again. It didn't seem real.
I didn't want to listen to them talking about selling the house anymore, so I took my book and went up to the bedroom I was staying in. I sprawled out on the bed and tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate. Everything was moving so fast. I was sure that within a month or so, we'd know where we were moving. My remaining time in Australia was going by so fast. It seemed like just yesterday I was just finding out that we were moving. But that was really almost three months ago. Three months ago, Mum told me we'd probably move in six months. That meant half my time left in Australia was gone.
I got up from the bed and pulled up the shade on the window. The stars were visible despite the clouds that loomed on the horizon. I sat there watching for so long that I found all the constellations that were visible. One thing I loved about the stars was that they were always there. No matter where you were in the world, the stars were fixed points. Sure, they looked different from different places, but they were really the same. Of course, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the night sky was completely different. It was strange looking out at this different night sky. No matter where we decided to move, it would be in the Northern Hemisphere. I wouldn't get to look at the Southern night sky anymore. That was strange to think about.
Mum woke me up the next morning before I had gotten enough sleep. The last thing I wanted to do was get up out of my warm bed, but we had to go visit the Salem Witch Institute in Massachusetts. Our trip was now half over, with one more school to visit. I didn't think I'd like the Salem Witch Institute more than the Adirondack Academy of Magic, but it's not like that would stop Mum and Dad from making me go there. I was surprised how much I liked the Adirondack Academy of Magic and doubted any other school would grab my attention like that.
Nevertheless, after breakfast, we stood once again in front of Uncle Jack's fireplace, ready to floo to Massachusetts. Uncle Jack was going with us for this one, too. Although, he knew even less about the Salem Witch Institute than he did about the Adirondack Academy of Magic.
Dad told us that we were flooing to the Salem Restaurant and Pub. Not a very creative name, if you ask me. Dad flooed first and then Mum with Matt. Uncle Jack told me it was my turn after that. I took the powder and shouted the name of the pub into the fire.
Flooing from Uncle Jack's house to Salem was the longest distance floo I'd ever done. It was kind of strange because it took a bit longer than usual. I had time during the transit to contemplate where I was going.
I stepped out of the fireplace into a very large room with numerous tables and chairs. The tables were adorned with plastic tablecloths and half empty salt and pepper shakers. There was loud music playing in the background and a few waiters and waitresses standing around doing nothing. This was probably due to the fact that the place was dead empty. It did not have the homey feel of the Mooning Dragon.
Once Uncle Jack joined us, one of the bored looking waitresses took us to a table to wait for the headmaster to arrive. She gave us all glasses of water and I sipped at mine just to have something to do.
We sat at the table waiting for the headmaster for what seemed like forever. Dad kept looking at his watch and muttering under his breath. Uncle Jack pulled out a pack of Exploding Snap cards and was playing a game with Matt. Mum just looked around the restaurant with an disapproving glare.
Finally, the door to the restaurant opened and a very short man walked through. He looked around nervously before resting his eyes on my family. He walked over to us and I was able to look at him properly.
He was older than Roberts and was kind of hunched over. His few remaining hairs were grey. He had a nervous look about him and his left eye kept twitching. All in all he was a very odd looking man.
"Um, excuse me," the twitchy man said quietly, "Are you Walter Eckerton?"
"Yes," Dad replied, looking curiously at the man.
"Oh, good...I'm Martin Zane, headmaster of the Salem Witch Institute," the man replied.
Dad stood up, "Well, all right then. This is my brother, Jack, wife Julie, and my kids Amy and Matt."
The headmaster nodded, "Good, good. If you'll follow me, we can tour the school."
I got up and followed everyone out of the empty restaurant. This man did not strike me as the kind of person who would become headmaster of a school. In contrast to Roberts, Zane did not say much as he led us through the town and to the school. Mum seemed happy that it wasn't snowing, but there was a couple inches on the ground. Not nearly as much as in New York, though.
There weren't nearly as many trees around the Salem Witch Institute as there had been around the Adirondack Academy of Magic. In fact, the school was nestled right into the town. It was a large Victorian style mansion. Well, I was only using the term 'mansion' because I didn't know a word for a house larger than a mansion. This thing looked about the size of four or five mansions put together. It was almost like a castle, but it looked like a house.
We followed Zane through the wrought iron gates and up the path to the building. As far as I could tell, this place was all one building. Zane opened the door and we emerged into a foyer much like that of a house.
"Ok, then," Zane muttered, "Well, this is the school. Um, the dining hall is to the right, through that door." Zane pointed to a set of wooden doors.
"Can we see it?" Mum asked.
"Oh, sure," Zane hurried over to the left and pushed open the doors.
The dining hall reminded me of a dining room in someone's house, except with more tables. There were paintings on the walls and the tables had tablecloths covering them. Judging by the amount of tables and chairs, there were much less students in this school than the one in New York. I wasn't sure I liked that. The more students there were, the more likely chance I'd make a couple friends.
Zane then led us on a tour of the main floor of the school, which housed the library, his office, the other professors' offices, the nurse's office, and the common room. The common room looked much like an oversize living room, complete with mismatched couches, tables, and a crackling fire. And yes, there was only one common room. Apparently this school had so few students that they didn't have houses. That was strange, I thought. I wondered how they played Quidditch.
Next we went upstairs, where all the classrooms were. They were all on one floor, which was a bit odd, but would make it easier to find them. So far everything seemed very cramped, despite the fact that the house was easily five times the size of mine. I guess it was due to the large amount of people inside it.
After the classrooms, we toured the dormitories, which were more like regular bedrooms than dorm rooms. They were decorated with fancy pictures and draping. It seemed like the kind of place Cinda would like. I personally thought there was far too much pink in the girls wing. If we moved there, I would have to do some drastic changes to one of those rooms in order to live in it.
Zane informed us that the grounds to the school were far larger behind the house than in front of us. He led us to one of the back doors and then out into the grounds. He showed us the Herbology greenhouses and the Quidditch pitch. There were a good amount of trees back there in order to hide the greenhouses and pitch from the rest of the town.
"It's not very rural," Dad muttered to Mum as Zane led us back into the school.
"No, it's not," Mum said back, "I was kind of hoping for something more rural than this."
Good, I thought, they didn't seem to like the school. I certainly didn't like it. There wasn't nearly enough space and the dormitories were far too frilly. Plus, the headmaster gave me the creeps.
Despite my parents' misgivings about the place, we went with Zane back to his office. Zane's office was much smaller than Roberts's and didn't seem as cozy either. There wasn't a fireplace or nearly as many books. It was a bit frilly, though, with doilies on the tables and fragile looking pieces of china.
"So, uh, any questions about the school?" Zane asked once we had all sat down.
"What sort of protections are on it?" Dad asked, "I noticed it's awfully close to the Muggle town. Hell, it's in the Muggle town."
"Oh, er, the usual standard protections. Anti-Muggle charms and such."
"Did you think at all about where my son would transform if he attended here?"
"Well, perhaps we could build a shed of some sorts on the grounds...."
"A shed?" Dad glared at Zane.
"If that's not satisfactory, we could come up with something else," Zane said nervously.
"It's not satisfactory," Dad muttered, "But I am not convinced this is an acceptable school anyway, considering how cramped the grounds are. A shed may very well be all that would fit."
"I'm sure we could work something out," Zane replied.
A loud bang on the door caused me to jump and I turned to see a very large man storming into the room. He had dark hair cut close to his scalp and his face was etched in anger.
"I'm in a meeting, Valsey," Zane said without bothering to stand up, "What is it you need?"
"Two of the students have dueled, each causing enough damage to the other to send them to the nurse," the man named Valsey said sternly, "The same two who keep dueling each other. We need to send owls to their parents."
"Fine, but it will have to wait," Zane told him.
Valsey turned away from Zane and peered at all of us. His gaze was seemed to penetrate my mind and I turned away from him. I seriously hoped I wouldn't have to go to this school.
"Something important, Zane?" Valsey growled.
"Very," Zane replied, "Remember the potential students I told you about a few days ago? These two are them."
Valsey glared at us and then smirked, "Ah, yes, the werewolf."
"Yes, so the owls will have to wait."
"If you don't mind," Valsey began, "I'll stay for this."
"Um, well, it was kind of a private meeting-"
"A werewolf in this school affects everyone," Valsey snapped, "And you know my opinion on this."
"But it's not your decision to make," Zane replied.
Valsey muttered something incoherent and then conjured a chair, setting it down next to Matt's. Valsey sat down and sneered at Matt, causing him to jump off his chair and climb onto Mum's lap.
"Now where were we..." Zane said.
"Actually," Dad began, "I think we'll have to cut this short. It seems that not all your staff is supportive of this, so I don't think your school is the right match for us."
Thank Merlin, I thought. This place was getting worse and worse by the second. It may have been survivable if that Valsey bloke didn't teach there, but he did.
"Professor Valsey has no say in the matter," Zane said quickly.
"Nevertheless, I cannot send my son somewhere where the teachers dislike him being there. Plus, I really don't think you are equipped to deal with this."
Dad stood up, "It was nice to meet you, but I think we shall be leaving now. We'll see ourselves out."
I got up and followed Dad out of the room, along with the rest of my family. Luckily Zane didn't follow us. Instead he stayed in his office arguing with Valsey. We quickly returned to the parlor and left the school. I felt immediate relief when I stepped outside the gates of the place.
"I think we can cross that one off the list," Uncle Jack muttered.
"I'd say so," Dad agreed.
"Guess we don't have to spend the afternoon looking at houses here, then," Mum commented.
Good, I thought. I had had enough house hunting to last me a lifetime.
"Anyone want to go to the Mooning Dragon for lunch?" Uncle Jack asked.
My parents agreed, so we all walked quickly back to the restaurant we were at earlier. I think Mum was relieved that we weren't going to eat there. We went inside and hurried over to the fireplace. The waiters and waitresses didn't say anything as we left their restaurant. The place was a bit busier now that it was closer to lunchtime.
I was prepared for the long floo travel this time and it didn't bother me so much. I stepped out of the fireplace at the Mooning Dragon feeling a bit disoriented, but not nearly as much as I had been earlier in the morning.
Nat greeted us with enthusiasm once we had all flooed into her pub. We got a table and settled down into the homey atmosphere. Nat asked us how we had liked Salem and my dad just told her that it wasn't the right fit for us. She said she hoped we moved to New York. I was kind of hoping the same thing, if we had to move at all. I was still kind of holding out on my parents changing their minds, but if we had to move somewhere, I think I'd choose New York.
After the initial description of Salem to Nat, nobody mentioned the visit again. I was happy about this because I just wanted to forget about the creepy headmaster and intimidating professor we had met there.
Once we were done with lunch, we all went back to Uncle Jack's house. I played in the snow for a bit with Dad, Uncle Jack, and Matt. Mum stayed inside and tidied up Uncle Jack's house. He insisted she didn't have to do it, but Mum wanted to. She can never be in a messy place too long.
Dad still wasn't ready to decide to move to New York. He wanted to know all the professors' feelings about Matt attending their school and he wanted to see if any of the other schools had contacted us. Uncle Jack was acting like Dad was all ready to move there and was even giving him the name of the bloke who built his house. Dad had decided that if we moved to New York, we'd build our own house. I was happy about this, as I had hated each and every house Josephina Hawkings had shown us the other day.
The rest of our visit to New York went by fast. With the school touring and house hunting behind us, our remaining day was devoted to fun. Uncle Jack decided to take us cross-country skiing, which was quite the adventure since none of us had ever done it before. I was decent at it, but certainly wouldn't be winning any awards.
"I just don't see the point, Jack," Mum sighed as she got up from the snowy ground for what must have been the tenth time.
Uncle Jack skied gracefully over to her, "Once you get the hang of it, it's a very fast means of transportation."
"Aw, Jule, you'll get it eventually," Dad grinned at her. Dad was incredibly good at cross-country skiing for a beginner.
"Walking's faster at this point," Mum replied.
"We're almost back to the lodge," Dad told her.
"Yeah, Mum. And it's not that bad," I said. I kind of liked cross-country skiing. Especially when we got to go down the steep parts of the trail.
"Sometime I'm taking you downhill skiing, Amy," Uncle Jack grinned.
"I wish we could go tomorrow," I said. The next day we were flying back to Australia.
"I want to downhill ski, too," Matt announced. He tried to ski over to where Uncle Jack was, but promptly fell over. So far, he was skiing more like Mum than Dad or Uncle Jack.
"Sure," Uncle Jack smiled as he helped Matt up.
"Are you all right?" Mum asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Matt assured her. She had asked him if he was ok every time he fell over and it was getting a bit annoying. It's not like he could really hurt himself anyway, with the amount of winter clothing he was wearing.
"If you move here," Uncle Jack began, "We can go skiing all the time."
Mum groaned, "Maybe we should move to a warm climate. I ought to send an owl to the school in Florida."
Uncle Jack made a good point. So far I loved winter in New York and wouldn't mind being around for its entire duration. I shook my head. What was up with me? Was I actually warming up to the idea of moving? It was probably because I had been in New York for the past couple days. Once we got back to Australia I was sure I wouldn't want to move.
Both Mum and Matt fell over a few more times before we reached the lodge. Mum was getting fed up with it, but Matt was still happy. We returned our skis and set off to Apparate in the middle of the forest.
Dinner was relaxing and Uncle Jack made spiedies again. My parents talked more about the move. I read more of my book after dinner, while half-listening to my parents discuss house building. Matt fell asleep early on the couch next to me, probably half out of exhaustion from cross-country skiing and half because the full moon was a couple days away. After I'd read a couple chapters of my book, I went upstairs to watch the stars. It was my last chance to see the Northern night sky for a while and I didn't want to waste any of it. I didn't even want to go to bed, but eventually I was forced to pull down the shade and attempt to get some sleep. I really didn't see the point in sleeping since we would be on the plane all the next day.
A/N: Thanks to my betas, Dancer_of_Starlight and Joanne K! Thanks as well to Joanne K and Luke for their reviews!
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