Things are a little different for witches and wizards if you live in America.
Wizards in the UK go to Hogwarts. Wizards in France go to Beauxbatons. Wizards in Bulgaria go to Durmstrang.
But wizards in America have two options. There’s the one most have heard of, the Salem Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. But there’s also a smaller version of the Salem Institute in the western side of America in Salem, Oregon.
The one in Massachusetts is huge. Most witches and wizards beg their parents to let them go there, even if it means traveling across the entire country. The studious sort love it for the enormous library and historical significance brought on by the Salem Witch Trials. Others love the location, seeing as it’s so close to many significant American cities (the weekend visits to Boston are legendary). Yes, when it comes to American wizards, anybody who is anybody goes to the Salem Institute in Massachusetts.
Then there was the one in Oregon, which was founded for convenience to witches and wizards living on the west coast. It’s much smaller, much poorer, and in a much duller location. Yes, Oregon is a beautiful state, but who would choose that over the incredible social scene in the other school?
Yes, my parents insisted that, when it came time for me to begin my wizarding education, the glitz and glamor of Salem, Mass was out of reach and I instead had to go to the much closer and more affordable Salem, O. And because we’re America and we’re so smart (sarcasm, for the most part), we begin at 10 years old and study for eight years. Eight years in the school I hated. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’d wished I could transfer to Salem-Mass, where I could actually have some fun and get some connections for a future job.
But no. My life would forever be dulled by my attendance at Salem-O.
I hated everything about Salem-O. The professors were dull. The library was small. The weekends off were boring. The people were uninteresting. I had some “friends,” but even they were irritating half the time. I couldn’t stand it. But luckily, at the end my sixth year, I caught a break: I was expelled.
I didn’t do much; I just set the girl’s dormitory on fire (after fireproofing everyone’s possessions with a simple charm, thank you). I just wanted to see how powerful a flame I could conjure, and it was more powerful than I thought it would be. I don’t see what the big deal was; I took precautions and no one and no possessions were harmed. Yet, I was expelled all the same.
And I couldn’t have been happier.
My parents were a different story. They were completely upset by my expulsion. We were on better financial ground than we had been six years ago, so they could certainly afford to send me to Salem-Mass. I’m not sure why they were so upset when I could just easily transfer and finally have some excitement in my life. But my parents insisted on being concerned that I didn’t seem to regret my rule-breaking. My father at one point asked if I’d done it on purpose to try and get expelled so I could finally go to Salem-Mass, to which I’d replied, “No, but I wish I’d thought of doing that years ago!”
My mother and father then exchanged that look. You know, the oh-no-our-daughter-is-a-juvenile-delinquent-we’ve-failed-as-parents-what-do-we-do-now look.
They’d get over it once I got a decent education, some actual friends, and a successful career one day.
My parents never seemed to realize the gap in quality of education between Salem-Mass and Salem-O. My mother is a Muggle, so she wouldn’t really know. And my father, though a wizard, was always home-schooled, so you can blame my grandparents for making him ignorant when it comes to American wizarding schools. To them, I was just making a fuss over the fact that Salem-O isn’t “cool.”
Which it isn’t. It isn’t cool at all.
But I was also concerned with quality of education as well as a decent social experience, thank you very much.
So when I was expelled at the end of my sixth year, immediately after all my final exams had been completed and passed with amazing grades, I really thought things couldn’t be better. I could transfer to Salem-Mass easily; I wouldn’t have to make up any classes or anything. It really would be perfect.
Until my parents got their brilliant idea...
When my parents sat me down on the couch that drizzly Saturday afternoon in July, I judged by their somber expressions that Grandma was dying. Or that mom was dying. Or somebody important was dying. Because the situation seemed that serious. My heart was racing as I braced myself for the bad news.
“Lexine, your father and I have discussed things, and we’ve made a decision,” my mother began.
Oh, no. Were they getting a divorce? I thought my parents had a great marriage. Maybe they just held it together every summer and Christmas but fought all the time once I left. How could this be happening?
“It’s about where you’ll be going to school in the fall,” my father said.
All the stress and panic I’d recently accumulated over death and failed marriages evaporated. This was what was so serious? My parents finally giving in and sending me to Salem-Mass? This wasn’t something to look so sad about; this was something to cheer about. My parents should be inviting my grandparents over and buying a cake to celebrate.
But of course, my parents wouldn’t see it that way.
“Well, we’ve talked about sending you to the Salem Institute in Massachusetts...” my mother began.
This is it, I thought excitedly. I’m finally going to hear those words I’d been wanting to hear for six years.
“...and we don’t think that’d be the best choice,” she finished.
My heart began to race again. This was taking an ugly turn.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, your mother and I feel that letting you go to Salem-Mass would just be rewarding your poor behavior,” my father explained.
“So we’re sending you to school abroad,” said my mother.
“Abroad?” I choked out.
I couldn’t go abroad; I wanted to go to Massachusetts! I wanted to go on one of those legendary Boston trips and go to a party at the underground, wizarding-only club that was always whispered about by jealous Salem-O students. I wanted to meet people and make connections in the same country I’d actually have a career in one day. I wanted to make some actual friends. If I went to another country, I’d be an outcast! I wouldn’t stand a chance of fitting in, or even standing out in a good way! No, I’d instantly be the weird girl from America...
I could see it now... Lexine Vectis, “Weird Girl From America.”
Ignorant of my sudden panic, my mother continued on. “Yes. We’re sending you to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland.”
Time seemed to be getting slower and my heart was pounding. Hogwarts? My parents were sending me to Hogwarts? No, this wasn’t right. This was a dream. I was going to wake up any moment now and my mother would tell me all about how I’m going to Salem-Mass in the fall...
“It really is an excellent school!” my father said. “Most in the magical community agree that it’s the best wizarding school in the world!”
“But it’s in Scotland,” I pointed out. “Even after we could afford Salem-Mass, you always said I couldn’t go because it was too far away. Scotland is farther.”
My father frowned. “I thought you were concerned with your ‘quality of education’? If Hogwarts is the best, you should be dying to go there.”
“But the education I’d get at Salem-Mass would be perfectly fine. I’ll get to know the professors who have connections for good jobs in America. I’ll get to know people who I can continue friendships with in America. I’d get to stay. In America.”
“Sweetie, Scotland is a really beautiful place,” my mother joined in. “I went there on a family vacation when I was your age! You’ll love it there. Plus, we looked at some pictures of the school-” my mother gestured to the bookshelf, where I saw a previously unnoticed addition entitled Best Wizarding Schools in the World: Where to Send Your New Student, “-and it’s in an incredible castle! Don’t you like castles, Lex?”
I rolled my eyes. “I did. When I was about seven.”
The encouraging smile slid off of my mother’s face. I hadn’t meant to be rude, but I really had to go to Salem-Mass.
My father was giving me a stern look. “Lexine, there’s no arguing out of this. We’ve already corresponded with the headmaster of Hogwarts and she’s already making special arrangements just for you. Monday, we’re Apparating to Scotland to tour the school and get you tested into classes.”
My stomach dropped. “Tested? Why do I have to get tested?”
“The school system is different. You’re on an eight-year system and Hogwarts is seven years. They’re seeing what year they’ll have to put you in.”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out.
“This is going to be a good thing,” my mother said, the annoyingly-encouraging smile returning. “I have a feeling you’re going to end up loving Hogwarts! At least you get to leave Salem-O, right?”
Maybe Salem-O didn’t sound so bad anymore.
I really hate Mondays.
This was a Monday I was dreading in particular. Today, I’d be officially enrolling in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
After showering and getting dressed, I walked into the living room and found my father dressed and waiting for me. I didn’t have to ask where my mom was; she wasn’t going. She couldn’t, thanks to enchantments to ward off Muggles. Sure, they could be lifted under special circumstances, but as it wasn’t necessary for her to attend the meeting today, it would just be me and my father traveling.
“Ready?” he asked. I gave a heavy sigh, although that was partially because I was tired. The time-change meant we had to get up really early for the meeting.
“Ready,” I mumbled. My father held out his arm and I took it firmly. We turned on the spot and I felt the usual suffocation association with Apparition. I’d only ever Apparated a few times, and always Side-Along Apparition because I wasn’t 18 yet, and I wasn’t used to the disorientation.
Once I could breathe again, I saw that we were in some little village. I saw a sign at the end of the road that said the village was called Hogsmeade. Everyone around on the busy little street was talking in accents (although to them, it was me who had the American accent); it was a little overwhelming to suddenly be in such a foreign territory. My father took my hand and led me up the street; I saw a street sign with a little arrow that read “Hogwarts” pointing in the direction we were walking.
After we escaped the busy streets of Hogsmeade, my father let go of my hand and we walked side-by-side in silence. He knew I did not want to be there and he wasn’t going to say anything that might make me even more upset, even if it was meant to cheer me up.
After a ways, I looked up from the ground I’d be staring at as I’d walked and saw that the castle was much closer than I’d thought, and it was huge. I literally gasped upon seeing it. There was a huge lake in front of it - did I just see something move in there? - and an enormous Quidditch field off to the side. That was really exciting to me - we had one Quidditch team at Salem-O and it was terrible. The really good Quidditch players got scholarships at Salem-Mass, so they obviously went there. I always loved the sport, though. I’d always wanted to go to a Quidditch World Cup; it was on my bucket list to go to one.
The castle itself was beautiful; it seemed like it’d take a lifetime just to explore the entire thing. I found myself actually excited to go inside it until I remembered that I don’t want to go to school here. I lost my momentary wonder and replaced the scowl upon my face as my father and I entered the school.
In the entrance hall, we were greeted by a tall, old woman in long, green robes. Her hair was pulled back tightly in a bun and she wore square spectacles.
“Hello, you must be Professor McGonagall!” my father said warmly upon seeing her.
“Yes, hello, Mr. Vectis, I presume?” she asked, holding out a hand that my father shook.
“Yes, and this is my daughter, Lexine,” my father said as Professor McGonagall held out a hand to me. I hesitated a little too long before shaking it, making the situation somewhat awkward.
“Pleased to meet you,” I mumbled to make up for the awkward handshake.
“Likewise,” said Professor McGonagall after clearing her throat slightly. “Well, let’s not waste time, then. First, if you’ll accompany me to my office, we’ll have to get you Sorted.”
I had no idea what this meant, but didn’t want to appear stupid so I just nodded. My father and I followed as Professor McGonagall led us through the castle to a statue of a gargoyle.
“Shortbread,” Professor McGonagall said simply. As first, I thought she had just had a stroke or something, but then the gargoyle came to life and stepped aside to reveal a staircase that we all stepped onto. I was amazed by the entrance to her office; Salem-O hadn’t had anything cool like that. Doors were just doors. Some were locked with magic, of course, but none were guarded by gargoyles.
Upon entering her office, I was again impressed. It was a large room covered with portraits of people I assumed to be previous headmasters. One man particularly caught my eye; he was wearing purple robes and had long silver hair and a long silver beard. Half-moon spectacles were perched on his crooked nose. I thought he was sleeping like many of the other portraits, but I saw a flash of blue as the man in the portrait winked at me.
“Have a seat,” Professor McGonagall said, motioning to two plush armchairs that sat opposite her desk. I stopped looking at the interesting man in the portrait and sat down. Professor McGonagall fetched some old, black heap of cloth from a shelf.
“Now, at Hogwarts, we Sort our students into four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. You will live in your house dormitories, sit at your house’s table at mealtimes... and years one through five attend their classes with their houses. Your house will become something like your family here at Hogwarts.”
I nodded. “Okay... so what’s the difference between the houses?”
“Students in Gryffindor tend to be bold and courageous. Hardworking and loyal students belong in Hufflepuff. Slytherin is for the cunning, and Ravenclaw is for the wise.”
There seemed to be very minute differences between the different traits, but I nodded nonetheless. “And how do you know who goes where?”
“With this.” Professor McGonagall motioned to the lump of cloth which I now realized was a horribly ratty old hat. She reached forward and put the hat on my head and, to my astonishment, it spoke.
“Hmm... yes... interesting, very interesting...” said a voice into my ear that I could only assume came from the hat. “Much ambition, that’s valued in Slytherin... A willingness for hard work, that’s usually a sign for Hufflepuff... There’s smarts, too, and a sharp wit like that could fit into Ravenclaw nicely... And I see potential, great potential for bravery, I could easily put you into Gryffindor...”
I suddenly grew nervous. I could easily fit in with any of the four houses? Where was it going to put me then? I was kind of hoping to avoid Hufflepuff... Hardworking and loyal? It sounded like it was easily the most boring house. I mean, wouldn’t it be much cooler to be known for being smart, cunning, or brave?
“Yes, it seems you have a very large desire to make something of yourself... to be successful and... interesting...”
Okay, this hat was giving me the creeps. I wish it would just decide so I could get it off me...
“Hmm... Hufflepuff isn’t quite right...” thank goodness, “...Slytherin isn’t it, either... Ravenclaw isn’t quite a match... no, I see you making a nice addition to... GRYFFINDOR!” the hat suddenly shouted, causing me to jump after hearing it mumble so long.
Professor McGonagall reached over and snatched the hat off of my head. I smoothed my hair back down as she put the old thing back onto her shelf. I looked over at my dad, who gave me an encouraging smile.
“Congratulations,” Professor McGonagall said after turning back around to me. Her thin, tight lips curled up in a small smile. “I myself was a Gryffindor in my Hogwarts days.”
Well, that was a good sign for Gryffindors, wasn’t it? I mean, she was the headmaster of the supposed best wizarding school in the world. That’s not exactly a boring career, now, is it?
“Now, I’ve reviewed your transcripts from the Salem Institute and feel that, though you have received good marks, you are hardly ready to take your N.E.W.T. examinations this year...” what the heck is a newt examination? I wondered, “...so you will not be entering year seven.”
Great. So I don’t even get a year less of school by switching here.
“If you would please draw your wand, Miss Vectis.”
With slightly shaking hands, I reached into my jacket and withdrew my wand. Hawthorn. Fourteen-and-a-half inches. Unicorn tail-hair core. While I had thus-far resented my magical education, I had always loved my wand.
“Can you please transfigure this mouse into a teacup for me?” Professor McGonagall said, but it was much more of a command than a question. She retrieved a mouse from a box and set it on her desk in front of me and, after nervously clearing my throat, I began my testing.
It could have gone much worse. My teacup turned out well, and most Transfigurations after that had gone decently. I completely messed up one out of five of the Charms she asked me to perform, but the other four had gone flawlessly. I wasn’t able to answer any of her questions on History of Magic, but Professor McGonagall had put this on the fact that they must teach different history in American wizarding schools, so I didn’t feel like a complete idiot (but an idiot, nonetheless). I did, however, answer all of her questions on Defense Against the Dark Arts and I told her in painstaking detail how to brew both Polyjuice Potion and Veritaserum. I translated a few things in Ancient Runes (most translations were accurate) and was able to answer almost all of her questions about Care of Magical Creatures.
“Well, I must say, Miss Vectis, I’m impressed,” Professor McGonagall said after scribbling down one last note after completing my testing. “I’ve asked of you some of the harder aspects of O.W.L. examinations - that’s Ordinary Wizarding Levels - that our fifth year students have just completed. In the sixth year at Hogwarts, students enter N.E.W.T.-level classes in order to prepare for their examinations that will take place at the end of their seventh year. And, based on the results of the tests I have just asked of you, Hogwarts would be happy to accept you in these N.E.W.T. classes as a sixth-year student.”
Professor McGonagall then handed me a sheet of paper that had a list of subjects.
Transfiguration - Exceeds Expectations
Charms - Exceeds Expectations
Defense Against the Dark Arts - Exceeds Expectations
Potions - Outstanding
Ancient Runes - Acceptable
Care of Magical Creatures - Exceeds Expectations
“You’ll understand if you can’t take History of Magic?” Professor McGonagall asked.
“Oh, yes, that’s fine!” I said, silently cheering that I wouldn’t have to take that boring class anymore. I was quite excited by the list, actually - Potions was my favorite subject and it seemed as though I’d done the best in that (although I’d never seen this particular grading scale before).
“Wait, Professor McGonagall, “I began, just realizing something, “you didn’t ask me any questions about Herbology but you still put it on here.”
“Yes, well, all of the questions I’ve asked you have been requested by the professors here who teach those subjects. Our Herbology professor, Professor Longbottom, will gladly accept you into whichever Herbology class matches up with your year, no questions asked.”
I thought this over a moment. Professor Longbottom was either very kind, letting my other subjects choose my grade level so stupidity in Herbology wouldn’t somehow get me back into fifth year classes, or his class was horribly easy and it didn’t matter how stupid I was because I could still keep up easily...
I hoped he was just being kind. I just got out of a bad education, I didn’t want any dumb classes.
I nodded my head and Professor McGonagall continued. “Well, I’ve asked one of our ghosts to give you your tour and he should be here momentarily. It is fitting that he should give you your tour, seeing as he’s the ghost of Gryffindor house.”
As if on cue, a pearly, transparent ghost floated through the door and into the office. He was obviously very old, judging by the clothes he must have been killed in, but he seemed formidable. I was instantly fascinated by him; there were no ghosts living in Salem-O. I don’t think even Salem-Mass had ghosts.
“Hello, there!” the ghost said in a grand voice; he must have thought highly of himself. “Sir Nicolas de Mimsy-Porpington, at your service.”
“Nicolas, this is Mr. Vectis and his daughter, Lexine.” Professor McGonagall introduced. “Lexine will be joining us this term as a sixth-year Gryffindor.”
Nicolas’ pale face lit up upon hearing this. “Gryffindor, eh? You’ll be happy to know that I myself am the ghost of Gryffindor house!”
“Yes, I know, she told me,” I said. It was not unfriendly, but I instantly regretted it; he seemed to take great pride in being the house ghost, and me already knowing the fact seemed to burst his bubble.
“Ah. Yes,” he said, clearing his throat. Why would a ghost need to clear his throat, anyway? “Well, let’s be on our way, shall we?”
I simply nodded as I stood up from my chair, not wanting to say anything else stupid. After thanking Professor McGonagall and bidding her a good day, my father and I followed Nicolas out of her office, down the stairs, and passed the enchanted gargoyle.
First, Nicolas showed us the Great Hall.
“Here is where you’ll be dining,” Nicolas said as we entered the enormous room. Four long wooden tables sat empty and bare.
“Yes, the Gryffindor table is that one,” he pointed out one of the tables. “You are certainly allowed to sit at other tables if you wish, but most students sit at their own house tables.”
Next, Nicolas showed me where all of my classes were, giving long-winded speeches about different paintings, suits of armor, and the courses themselves as we went. I found myself tuning out half of the time until we reached the dungeons where my Potions class would be. Upon entering the classroom, I have to admit, I was impressed. The room was much larger than my last Potions classroom, and the store cupboard with all of the ingredients was enormous in comparison to Salem-O. I couldn’t wait for my first Potions class when I’d actually get to use it...
The last thing Nicolas showed us was the Gryffindor common room. We arrived at a portrait of a rather large woman in a pink silk dress.
“Password?” she asked as we approached. Nicolas frowned, looking irritated.
“What do you mean ‘password?’ It’s the summer holiday - there is no password. I’m just showing around a new student.”
After giving him a slight glare, the portrait swung open to reveal a hole in the wall, which Nicolas glided through with me and my father climbing in after him.
“You’ll find that you spend most of your free time here in the common room,” Nicolas said. I was in awe of the room; it had a grand fireplace and huge armchairs and everything was swathed in red and gold, which I assumed were Gryffindor’s colors or something.
“The stairs to the left lead to the boys’ dormitory, and the stairs to the right: the girls’.”
While my father and Nicolas waited and chatted, I went up the stairs to the girl’s dormitories. I passed the doors marked 1-5 and was pleasantly surprised with what I saw when I opened door 6. The room and beds were bare as there was no one living in it, but the beds were large and the window had a great view of the Quidditch field. I made a mental note to try and claim the bed closest to the window at all costs.
Not that I was getting excited or anything.
Write a Review One Way In, No Way Out: 1: The Beginning