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BOOKS BY RACHEL HAWKINS
THE HEX HALL SERIES
I stepped out of the car and into the hot thick heat of August in Georgia.
“Awesome,” I murmured, sliding my sunglasses on top of my head. Thanks to the humidity, my hair felt like it had tripled in size. I could feel it trying to devour my sunglasses like some sort of carnivorous jungle plant. “I always wondered what it would be like to live in somebody’s mouth.”
In front of me loomed Hecate Hall, which, according to the brochure clutched in my sweaty hand, was “the premier reformatory institution for Prodigium adolescents.”
Prodigium. Just a fancy Latin word for monsters. And that’s what everyone at Hecate was.
That’s what I was.
I’d already read the brochure four times on the plane from Vermont to Georgia, twice on the ferry ride to Graymalkin Island, just off the coast of Georgia (where, I learned, Hecate had been built in 1854), and once as our rental car had rattled over the shell and gravel driveway that led from the shore to the school’s parking lot. So I should have had it memorized, but I kept holding on to it and compulsively reading it, like it was my wubby or something:
The purpose of Hecate Hall is to protect and instruct shapeshifter, witch, and fae children who have risked exposure of their abilities, and therefore imperiled Prodigium society as a whole.
“I still don’t see how helping one girl find a date imperiled other witches,” I said, squinting at my mom as we reached into the trunk for my stuff. The thought had been bugging me since the first time I’d read the brochure, but I hadn’t had a chance to bring it up. Mom had spent most of the flight pretending to be asleep, probably to avoid looking at my sullen expression.
“It wasn’t just that one girl, Soph, and you know it. It was that boy with the broken arm in Delaware, and that teacher you tried to make forget about a test in Arizona. . . .”
“He got his memory back eventually,” I said. “Well, most of it.”
Mom just sighed and pulled out the beat-up trunk we’d bought at The Salvation Army. “Your father and I both warned you that there were consequences for using your powers. I don’t like this any more than you do, but at least here you’ll be with . . . with other kids like you.”
“You mean total screwups.” I pulled my tote bag onto my shoulder.
Mom pushed her own sunglasses up and looked at me. She seemed tired and there were heavy lines around her mouth, lines I’d never seen before. My mom was almost forty, but she could usually pass for ten years younger.
“You’re not a screwup, Sophie.” We hefted the trunk between us. “You’ve just made some mistakes.”
Had I ever. Being a witch had definitely not been as awesome as I’d hoped it would be. For one thing, I didn’t get to fly around on a broomstick. (I asked my mom about that when I first came into my powers, and she said no, I had to keep riding the bus like everyone else.) I don’t have spell books or a talking cat (I’m allergic), and I wouldn’t even know where to get a hold of something like eye of newt.
But I can perform magic. I’ve been able to ever since I was twelve, which, according to sweaty brochure, is the age all Prodigium come into their powers. Something to do with puberty, I guess.
“Besides, this is a good school,” Mom said as we approached the building.
But it didn’t look like a school. It looked like a cross between something out of an old horror movie and Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. For starters, it was obviously almost two hundred years old. It was three stories tall, and the third story perched like the top tier of a wedding cake. The house may have been white once, but now it was just sort of a faded gray, almost the same color as the shell and gravel drive, which made it look less like a house and more like some sort of natural outcrop of the island.
“Huh,” Mom said. We dropped the trunk, and she walked around the side of the building. “Would you look at that?”
I followed her and immediately saw what she meant. The brochure said Hecate had made “extensive additions to the original structure” over the years. Turns out, that meant they’d lopped off the back of the house and stuck another one onto it. The grayish wood ended after sixty feet or so and gave way to pink stucco that extended all the way to the woods.
For something that had clearly been done with magic—there were no seams where the two houses met, no line of mortar—you would’ve thought it would have turned out a little more elegantly. Instead it looked like two houses that had been glued together by a crazy person.
A crazy person with really bad taste.
Huge oak trees in the front yard dripped with Spanish moss, shading the house. In fact, there seemed to be plants everywhere. Two ferns in dusty pots bracketed the front door, looking like big green spiders, and some sort of vine with purple flowers had taken over an entire wall. It was almost like the house was being slowly absorbed by the forest just beyond it.
I tugged at the hem of my brand-new Hecate Hall– issue blue plaid skirt (kilt? Some sort of bizarre skirt/kilt hybrid? A skilt?) and wondered why a school in the middle of the Deep South would have wool uniforms. Still, as I stared at the school, I fought off a shiver. I wondered how anyone could ever look at this place and not suspect its students were a bunch of freaks.
“It’s pretty,” Mom said in her best “Let’s be perky and look on the bright side” voice.
I, however, was not feeling so perky.
“Yeah, it’s beautiful. For a prison.”
My mom shook her head. “Drop the insolent-teenager thing, Soph. It’s hardly a prison.”
But that’s what it felt like.
“This really is the best place for you,” she said as we picked up the trunk.
“I guess,” I mumbled.
It’s for your own good seemed to be the mantra as far as me and Hecate were concerned. Two days after prom we’d gotten an e-mail from my dad that basically said I’d blown all my chances, and that the Council was sentencing me to Hecate until my eighteenth birthday.
The Council was this group of old people who made all the rules for Prodigium.
I know, a council that calls themselves “the Council.” So original.
Anyway, Dad worked for them, so they let him break the bad news. “Hopefully,” he had said in his e-mail, “this will teach you to use your powers with considerably more discretion.”
E-mail and the occasional phone call were pretty much the only contact I had with my dad. He and Mom split up before I was born. Turns out he hadn’t told my mom about him being a warlock (that’s the preferred term for boy witches) until they’d been together for nearly a year. Mom hadn’t taken the news well. She wrote him off as a nut job and ran back to her family. But then she found out she was pregnant with me, and she got a copy of The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft to go along with all her baby books, just in case. By the time I was born, she was practically an expert on things that go bump in the night. It wasn’t until I’d come into my powers on my twelfth birthday that she’d reluctantly opened the lines of communication with Dad. But she was still pretty frosty toward him.
In the month since my dad had told me that I was going to Hecate, I’d tried to come to terms with it. Seriously. I told myself that I’d finally be around people that were like me, people I didn’t have to hide my true self from. And I might learn some pretty sweet spells. Those were all big pros.
But as soon as Mom and I had boarded the ferry to take us out to this isolated island, I’d started to feel sick to my stomach. And trust me, it wasn’t seasickness.
According to the brochure, Graymalkin Island had been selected to house Hecate because of its remote location, the better to keep it a secret. The locals just thought it was a super-exclusive boarding school.
By the time the ferry had approached the heavily forested spit of land that would be my home for the next two years, the second thoughts had majorly set in.
It seemed like most of the student body was milling around on the lawn, but only a handful of them looked new, like me. They were all unloading trunks, toting suitcases. Some of them had beat-up luggage like mine, but I saw a couple of Louis Vuitton bags, too. One girl, dark-haired with a slightly crooked nose, seemed about my age, while all the other new kids looked younger.
I couldn’t really tell what most of them were, whether they were witches and warlocks or shapeshifters. Since we all look like regular people, there was no way to tell.
The faeries, on the other hand, were very easy to spot. They were all taller than average and very dignified looking, and every one of them had straight shiny hair, in all sorts of different colors, from pale gold to bright violet.
And they had wings.
According to Mom, faeries usually used glamours to blend in with humans. It was a pretty complex spell since it involved altering the mind of everyone they met, but it meant that humans could only see the faeries as normal people instead of bright, colorful, winged . . . creatures. I wondered if the faeries that got sentenced to Hecate were kind of relieved. It had to be hard, doing that big of a spell all the time.
I paused to readjust my tote bag on my shoulder.
“At least this place is safe,” Mom said. “That’s something, right? I won’t have to be constantly worrying about you for once.”
I knew Mom was anxious about my being so far from home, but she was also happy to have me in a place where I wasn’t risking getting found out. You spend all your time reading books about the various ways people have killed witches over the years, it’s bound to make you a little paranoid.
As we made our way toward the school, I could feel sweat pooling up in weird places where I was pretty sure I had never sweat before. How can your ears sweat? Mom, as usual, appeared unaffected by the humidity. It’s like a natural law that my mother can never look anything less than obscenely beautiful. Even though she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, heads turned in her direction.
Or maybe they were staring at me as I tried to discreetly wipe sweat from between my breasts without appearing to get to second base with myself. Hard to say.
All around me were things I’d only read about in books. To my left, a blue-haired faerie with indigo wings was sobbing as she clung to her winged parents, whose feet hovered an inch or two above the ground. As I watched, crystalline tears fell not from the girl’s eyes, but from her wings, leaving her toes dangling over a puddle of royal blue.
We walked into the shade of the huge old trees—meaning the heat diminished by maybe half a degree. Just as we neared the front steps, an unearthly howl echoed in the thick air.
Mom and I whirled around to see this . . . thing growling at two rather frustrated-looking adults. They didn’t look scared; just vaguely annoyed.
No matter how many times you read about werewolves, seeing one right in front of you is a whole new experience.
For one thing, it didn’t really look much like a wolf. Or a person. It was more like a really big wild dog standing on hind legs. Its fur was short and light brown, and even from a distance I could see the yellow of its eyes. It was also a lot smaller than I’d thought one would be. In fact, it wasn’t nearly as tall as the man it was growling at.
“Stop it, Justin,” the man spat. The woman, whose hair, I noticed, was the same light brown as the werewolf’s, put a hand on his arm.
“Sweetie,” she said in a soft voice with a hint of a Southern accent, “listen to your father. This is just silly.”
For a second the werewolf, er, Justin, paused, his head cocked to the side, making him look less like a throat- ripping-out beastie and more like a cocker spaniel.
The thought made me giggle.
And suddenly those yellow eyes were on me.
It gave another howl, and before I even had time to think, it charged.
I heard the man and woman cry out a warning as I frantically racked my brain for some sort of throat-repairing spell, which I was clearly about to need. Of course the only words I actually managed to yell at the werewolf as he ran at me were, “BAD DOG!”
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of blue light on my left. Suddenly, the werewolf seemed to smack into an invisible wall just inches in front of me. Giving a pitiful bark, he slumped to the ground. His fur and skin began to ripple and flow until he was a normal boy in khakis and a blue blazer, whimpering pitifully. His parents got to him just as Mom ran to me, dragging my trunk behind her.
“Oh my God!” she breathed. “Sweetie, are you okay?”
“Fine,” I said, brushing grass off my skilt.
“You know,” someone said off to my left, “I usually find a blocking spell to be a lot more effective than yelling ‘Bad dog,’ but maybe that’s just me.”
I turned. Leaning against a tree, his collar unbuttoned and tie loose, was a smirking guy. His Hecate blazer was hanging limply in the crook of his elbow.
“You are a witch, aren’t you?” he continued. He pushed himself off the tree and ran a hand through his black curly hair. As he walked closer, I noticed that he was slender almost to the point of skinny, and that he was several inches taller than me. “Maybe in the future,” he said, “you could endeavor not to suck so badly at it.”
And with that, he sauntered off.
Between nearly being attacked by Justin the Dog-face Boy, and having some strange guy who was not that hot tell me I sucked at witchcraft, I was now thoroughly pissed.
I checked to see if Mom was watching, but she was asking Justin’s parents something that sounded like, “Was he going to bite her?!”
“So I’m a bad witch, huh?” I said under my breath as I focused on the boy’s retreating back.
I raised my hands and thought up the nastiest spell I possibly could—one involving pus and bad breath and severe genital dysfunctions.
And nothing happened.
There was no sensation of water rushing up to my fingers, no quickening heartbeat, no hair standing on end.
I was just standing there like an idiot, pointing all of my fingers at him.
The heck? I’d never had trouble doing a spell before.
And then I heard a voice that sounded like a magnolia dragged through molasses say, “That’s enough, my dear.”
I turned toward the front porch, where an older woman in a navy suit stood between the scary ferns. She was smiling, but it was one of those creepy doll smiles. She pointed one long finger at me.
“We do not use our powers against other Prodigium here, no matter how provoked we may be,” she said, her voice soft, smoky, musical. In fact, if the house could have talked, I’d have expected it to sound exactly like this woman.
“May I add, Archer,” the woman continued, turning to the dark-haired boy, “that while this young lady is new to Hecate, you know better than to attack another student.”
He snorted. “So I should have let him eat her?”
“Magic is not the solution for everything,” she replied.
“Archer?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. Hey, you might be able to take away my magical powers, but the power of sarcasm was still at my disposal. “Is your last name Newport or Vanderbilt? Maybe followed by some numbers? Ooh!” I said, widening my eyes, “or maybe even Esquire!”
I’d hoped to hurt his feelings or, at the very least, make him angry, but he just kept smiling at me. “Actually, it’s Archer Cross, and I’m the first one. Now what about you?” He squinted. “Let’s see . . . brown hair, freckles, whole girl-next-door vibe going on . . . Allie? Lacie? Definitely something cutesy ending in ie.”
You know those times when your mouth moves but no sound actually comes out? Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened. And then, of course, my mom took that opportunity to end her conversation with Justin’s parents and call out, “Sophie! Wait up.”
“I knew it.” Archer laughed. “See you, Sophie,” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the house.
I turned my attention back to the woman. She was around fifty, with dark blond hair that had been twisted, teased, and probably threatened into a complicated updo. From her practically regal bearing and her suit in Hecate Hall’s signature royal blue, I assumed she was the school’s headmistress, Mrs. Anastasia Casnoff. I didn’t have to look at the brochure to remember that. A name like Anastasia Casnoff tends to stick with you.
The blond woman was in fact the awesomely named leader of Hecate Hall. My mom shook her hand. “Grace Mercer. And this is Sophia.”
“Soh-fee-yuh,” Mrs. Casnoff said in her Southern lilt, turning my relatively simple name into something that sounded like an exotic appetizer at a Chinese restaurant.
“I go by Sophie,” I said quickly, hoping to avoid being known forever as Sohfeeyuh.
“Now, y’all are not originally from this area, am I correct?” Mrs. Casnoff continued as we walked toward the school.
“No,” Mom answered, switching my duffel bag to her other shoulder, the trunk still between us. “My mother is from Tennessee, but Georgia is one of the few states we haven’t lived in. We’ve moved around quite a bit.”
Quite a bit is something of an understatement.
Nineteen states over the course of my sixteen years. The longest we’ve ever stayed anywhere was Indiana, when I was eight. That was four years. The shortest we ever lived anywhere was Montana three years ago. That was two weeks.
“I see,” Mrs. Casnoff said. “And what do you do, Mrs. Mercer?”
“Ms.” Mom said automatically, and just a little too loudly. She bit her lower lip and tucked an imaginary piece of hair behind her ear. “I’m a teacher. Religious studies. Mostly mythology and folklore.”
I trailed behind them as we ascended the imposing front steps and entered Hecate Hall.
It was blessedly cool, meaning that they apparently had some sort of air-conditioning spell going on. It also smelled like all old houses, that weird scent that’s a combination of furniture polish, old wood, and the musty smell of aged paper, like in a library.
I’d wondered if the smushed-together houses would be as obvious on the inside as they had been on the outside, but all the walls were covered in the same fugly burgundy wallpaper, making it impossible to see where the wood ended and the stucco began.
Just inside the front door, the massive foyer was dominated by a mahogany spiral staircase that twisted up three stories, seemingly supported by nothing. Behind the staircase was a stained-glass window that started at the second-floor landing and soared all the way up to the ceiling. The late-afternoon sun shone through it, filling the foyer with geometric patterns of brightly colored light.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Mrs. Casnoff said with a smile. “It depicts the origin of Prodigium.”
The window showed an angry-faced angel standing just inside golden gates. In one hand the angel held a black sword. The other hand was pointing, clearly indicating that the three figures in front of the gates should get the heck out. Only, you know, angelically.
The three figures were also angels. They all looked pretty bummed. The angel on the right, a woman with long red hair, even had her face buried in her hands. Around her neck was a heavy golden chain that I realized was actually a series of small figures holding hands. The angel on the left was wearing a crown of leaves and looking over his shoulder. And in the middle, the tallest angel looked out straight in front of him, his head high and shoulders back.
“It’s . . . something,” I said at last.
“Do you know the story, Sophie?” Mrs. Casnoff asked.
When I shook my head, she smiled and gestured to the fearsome angel behind the gates. “After the Great War between God and Lucifer, those angels who refused to take sides were cast out of heaven. One group”—she pointed to the tall angel in the middle—“chose to hide itself away under hills and deep in forests. They became faeries. Another group chose to live among animals and became shapeshifters. And the last chose to intermingle with humans and became witches.”
“Wow,” I heard Mom say, and I turned to her with a smile.
“Good luck explaining to God that you used to spank one of his heavenly beings.”
Mom gave a startled laugh. “Sophie!”
“What? You did. I hope you like hot weather, Mom, that’s all I’m saying.”
Mom laughed again, even though I could tell she was trying not to.
Mrs. Casnoff frowned before clearing her throat and continuing her tour. “Students at Hecate range in age from twelve to seventeen. Once a student has been sentenced to Hecate, he or she is not released until his or her eighteenth birthday.”
“So some kids could be here for, like, six months, and others could be here for six years?” I asked.
“Precisely. The majority of our students are sent here soon after they come into their powers. But there are always exceptions, such as yourself.”
“Go me,” I muttered.
“What are the classes here like?” Mom asked, shooting me a look.
“The classes at Hecate are modeled after those found at Prentiss, Mayfair, and Gervaudan.”
Mom and I both nodded at her like we knew what those words meant. I guess we didn’t fool her, because Mrs. Casnoff said, “The premier boarding schools for witches, faeries, and shapeshifters, respectively. Classes are assigned based on both the student’s age and the particular struggles that student was having blending into the human world.”
She gave a brittle smile. “The curriculum can be challenging, but I have no doubt that Sophie will do very well.”
Never had encouragement sounded so much like a threat.
“The girls’ dormitories are located on the third floor,” Mrs. Casnoff said, gesturing up the stairs. “Boys are on the second. Classes are held here on the first floor as well as in the surrounding outbuildings.” She pointed to the left and right of the staircase where long narrow hallways branched off from the foyer. What with the pointing and the blue suit, she brought to mind a flight attendant. I expected her to tell me that in the event of an emergency, my brand-new Hecate blazer could be used as a flotation device.
“Now, are the students separated by . . . um . . .” Mom waved her hand.
Mrs. Casnoff smiled, but I couldn’t help but notice that the smile was as tight as her bun.
“By their abilities? No, of course not. One of the founding principles of Hecate is teaching the students how to coexist with every race of Prodigium.”
Mrs. Casnoff turned to lead us to the other end of the foyer. Here, three huge windows soared up to the third-floor landing. Beyond them was the courtyard, where kids were already beginning to gather on stone benches under live oak trees. I say kids. I guess they were all things, like me, but you couldn’t tell. They just looked like any normal bunch of students. Well, except for the faeries.
I watched one girl laugh as she offered a tube of lip gloss to another, and something in my chest tightened a little bit.
I felt something cold brush my arm, and I jumped back, startled, as a pale woman in blue swept past me.
“Ah, yes,” Mrs. Casnoff said with a small smile. “Isabelle Fortenay, one of our resident spirits. As I’m sure you read, Hecate is home to a number of spirits, all of them the ghosts of Prodigium. They’re quite harmless—completely noncorporeal. That means they’re unable to touch you or anything else. They may give you a fright now and then, but that’s all they can do.”
“Great,” I said as I watched Isabelle fade into a paneled wall.
As she did, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see another spirit standing at the foot of the stairs. She was a girl about my age, wearing a bright green cardigan over a short flowered dress. Unlike Isabelle, who hadn’t seemed to notice me, this girl was staring straight at me. I opened my mouth to ask Mrs. Casnoff who she was, but the headmistress had already turned her attention to someone across the foyer.
“Miss Talbot!” she called. I was amazed at the way her voice crossed the huge room without sounding even remotely like yelling.
A tiny girl, barely five feet tall, appeared at Mrs. Casnoff’s elbow. Her skin was nearly snow white, as was her hair, with the exception of a hot-pink stripe running through her bangs. She had on thick, black-rimmed glasses, and even though she was smiling, I could tell it was just for Mrs. Casnoff’s benefit. Her eyes looked totally bored.
“This is Jennifer Talbot. I believe you’ll be rooming with her this semester, Miss Mercer. Jennifer, this is Soh-fee-yuh.”
“Sophie is fine,” I corrected, just as Jennifer said, “Jenna.”
Mrs. Casnoff’s smile tightened, like there were screws on either side of her mouth. “Gracious. I don’t know what it is with children these days, Ms. Mercer. Given perfectly lovely names, and determined to mangle and change them at the first opportunity. In any case, Miss Mercer, Miss Talbot is, like you, a relative newcomer. She only joined us last year.”
Mom beamed and shook Jenna’s hand. “Nice to meet you. Are you, um, are you a witch like Sophie?”
“Mom,” I whispered, but Jenna shook her head and said, “No, ma’am. Vamp.”
I could feel Mom stiffen beside me, and I knew Jenna did too. Even though I was embarrassed for her, I shared Mom’s freak-out. Witches, shapeshifters, and fae were one thing. Vampires were monsters, plain and simple. That whole sensitive Children of the Night thing was total b.s.
“Oh, okay,” Mom said, struggling to recover. “I . . . uh, I didn’t know vampires attended Hecate.”
“It’s a new program we have here,” Mrs. Casnoff said, reaching out to run a hand over Jenna’s hair. Jenna had a polite, if kind of blank look on her face, but I saw her tense up slightly. “Every year,” Mrs. Casnoff continued, “Hecate takes a young vampire and offers him or her a chance to study alongside Prodigium in the hopes that we can eventually reform these unfortunates.”
I glanced over at Jenna, because . . . unfortunates? Ouch.
- On Sale
- May 29, 2010
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers