Competition’s a Witch
I’d like to introduce you to my favorite character of all time: Pru Stewart. Pru is sixteen, smart, a talented and driven cheerleader…and a witch. For most of her life she has lived in the mortal realm though — where practicing magic is forbidden by her parents (her mom’s the witch, her dad’s the mortal). Pru has been obedient, except for the occasional slip up here and there. A zit spell, a little self-correction when she’s cheering. Nothing big. Her younger brother (she calls him Dorklock) Tobias? Not so much.
So the whole family is moving from Beverly Hills, California to Salem, Massachusetts. And Pru is going to a school for witches. After having practiced magic for a total of a few hours her whole life, tops. Naturally, she is not happy.
The thing I like most about Pru is that you can’t get her down for long. So what if she’s in remedial magic classes? She’s not opposed to enlisting Samuel, the smartest guy in her new school, to help her turbo charge her study sessions. She can even swallow the disappointment of being the least talented cheerleader on the team (cheerleading witches fly) — at least, until she figures out the whole magic situation.
If only Agatha, the headmistress of her new school, wasn’t so dead set against improperly trained witches. Agatha is certain that Pru will fail. The headmistress is ready and willing to expel Pru for the most minor infraction of the rules. It doesn’t help that Agatha’s great-to-the-nth nephew Daniel is a hottie, with an eye on the new girl in school.
I hope you enjoy reading more about Pru’s adventures in witchcraft as much as I enjoyed writing about them. You can catch up with Pru’s adventures in The Salem Witch Tryouts (first in the series), and She’s a Witch Girl (third in the series).
Prudence Stewart is finally starting to get her witch on. It’s been a month since her parents decided to give their magic-deficient daughter a crash course in enchantment by enrolling her in Agatha’s Day School for Witches. And sure, Pru’s still stuck in Magic for Dummies — but at least she made the cheerleading squad.
Now Prudence has a bigger problem…she walks, talks, and cheers like a mortal. And she’s deathly afraid the other witches will catch on. So she vows to give up her old earthly ways: no cell phone, no car, and above all, no dating mortal boys.
There’s just one hitch to the sitch: Angelo, the megacute mortal-next-door. When he and Prudence meet, sparks fly — no magic necessary. And breaking Angelo’s spell turns out to be the hardest trick of all.
I thought making the cheerleading squad at Agatha’s School for Witches would add back the yang to the yin of my seriously out of whack life. Really, I did. Maybe I should have known better. But I didn’t. Sure, I was still stuck in remedial magic classes, but so what? Well — so what was that I couldn’t cheer in games against other magic schools until I was out of remedial classes. So what was that I could cheer in games against mortals, and warm the bench the rest of the time. Not the greatest way to regain star student and kewl status.
And, boy, do I need to get back to life as it used to be — even if it now comes with a witch twist. I mean, the whole kewl girl balance of my life had been way out of whack since my parents decided to move our family from Beverly Hills, California to Salem, Massachusetts. It’s been over a month of feeling like I can’t do anything right and wondering if I’m going to slide into scud hell, no passing go, no collecting two hundred dollars, no get out of scudsville free card.
A month is half a lifetime in school years, so I was really counting on that place on the team to duke me some kewl. I was wrong. Just like I’d been when I thought it would be a snap for me to translate being a star student and totally rad cheerleader in my old mortal school to my new ‘witches-only’ school. Sigh.
Here’s a clue to just how well my ‘Prudence Stewart Plan to Conquer Witch School’ was going. Me, sitting in the headmistress’s office for the third time in a month. At least, this time, I was the one who wanted the meeting and I wasn’t being called on the carpet for something I’d done wrong. It was no comfort at all that my mom was sitting next to me, or that the headmistress was glaring more at her than at me. My dad wasn’t there, of course — he isn’t a witch and mortals aren’t welcome at Agatha’s, even if they’re married to witches, or parents to them, either. I suppose this was a good thing, because I don’t know if I could have dealt with a frosty headmistress and a dad freaked out by her uber-witchiness.
Our revered and freakishly ancient headmistress prefers white. Frost-white, to be exact. Her office could have been carved out of an iceberg. Maybe it was. Because there was a little breath visible when she leaned forward, speared me with her pale blue gaze, and raised her thin white eyebrows. “Professor Phogg has indicated that you wish to test out of remedial classes early. Is this correct?”
“Yes.” With Agatha, I had learned that one word answers, provided quickly and cleanly, were best.
She looked at my mother. “You agree with her, then? You think a girl who came a whisper away from being expelled a few days ago should be given an opportunity for which all the other students have to wait until spring?”
My mother nodded, a little puff of warm breath expelled when she said, “In her circumstances, I think her request is reasonable.”
“I’m sure you do.” Agatha took turns staring at both of us for a few moments.
I started to get nervous. Did she want me to plead my case? To apologize for getting her great-great-great-great grandson Daniel in trouble, even though it was completely the other way around? To walk away without another word? I wasn’t going to walk away, that was for sure. No one gets anything who isn’t willing to ask for it, or so my old cheering coach used to tell us at the beginning of the season, when fundraising started and our parents groaned in protest.
Was trying to convince Agatha to give me a chance to test out of remedial magic classes early any worse than trying to get size zero Beverly Hills moms to cough up $20 bucks for a bar of bad chocolate? Okay, so it was…a little. But still, what else could I do but try? I, who have never stammered in my life before this, stammered, “I w-w-want to test early because — “
Agatha held up her hand. “I’m sure I understand without the need for explanation, Miss Stewart.” Okay. So now I knew she didn’t want an explanation. Should I go for apology? It was the only option left, short of giving up. And it just isn’t in my nature to give up.
But I didn’t have a chance to apologize before Agatha spoke. “I know you’ll agree.” Agatha turned to my mother. “Prudence’s attachment to mortal ways severely limits her ability to acquire the witch skills she lacks.” Which is something a headmistress would say and I really couldn’t argue with. However, I could very much disagree when she added, “I suggest she change her after school activity from cheerleading to…oh, I suppose Potions for a Better Tomorrow might be a good after school group for her.”
Potions for a Better Tomorrow? No way. I looked at my mother, willing her to recognize that my life would be over if I had to quit cheering. It was the only thing I was any good at here in witch world, where she’d dropped me without a choice, a say, or a magic parachute to break my fall from A+ kewl student on the fast track to Ivy league, to remedial magic class scud with a dash of Eau de Mortal dabbed on my pulse points.
Let’s see if I can lay it out:
(1) my parents decided, without any warning, to move us clear across the country from Beverly Hills, California to Salem, Massachusetts just weeks before I was to begin my junior year at Beverly Hills High School. Where, I might add, I was going to be head cheerleader of the varsity team (first junior ever to get that honor). I was also planning to run for student council.
(2) After spending sixteen years in the mortal realm — no magic allowed–my little brother Tobias (aka the Dorklock) and I were now required to go to a school for witches. With magic very much on the course schedule.
Imagine if you’ve never been allowed to touch the keys on a piano and then you’re told you not only have to touch those keys, but you have to master playing the piano as well as the other kids who’ve been practicing their whole lives. And then imagine that your dorky little brother turns out to be Gifted and Talented at piano, even though it had been forbidden his whole life (sneaky little git). Substitute magic for piano, and that’s my life in a size zero nutshell.
True, I had just nearly been expelled last week for a teensy weensy misstep in the school lunchroom. But that wasn’t cheer related. That was boy related. Cheering I can handle, even if it comes with a witchcraft twist. Sure, it had taken every ounce of persuasive skill I had to get a spot on the team — but I made it…and I wasn’t even on probation any more. Which, I’ll grant you, is a miracle, but only a baby-sized one. No way was I dropping cheerleading for Potions for Tomorrow.
Is it so horrible that I want to prove I can handle real magic classes? That I don’t want to be stuck in the remedial classes? Testing out of remedial magic classes is not done until spring. Or so Agatha says. Because she hates me, I have a few doubts about whether that’s why I can’t take the test now, even though I’ve been studying like mad with the smartest boy in my junior class.
So maybe making an immortal enemy of the headmistress and founder of my new school wasn’t the best move toward success I’ve made since popping into Salem. But it isn’t as if I meant to. I didn’t even know Daniel, the cute bad boy who was too hot to resist, was her great-great-great-great grandson.
I don’t know if knowing would have changed anything. Daniel was easy to follow into trouble. But, the truth is, I only found out when Agatha busted us in a time bubble, kissing. In the school lunchroom. Just about ten seconds before Daniel blew me one last kiss and ran away from home for the third time in life.
Or, rather, popped away. Leaving me to face Agatha’s wrath. She hadn’t expelled me (it was no secret I didn’t have the skill to create a time bubble and Daniel did ten times over, even though he’d been stuck in the same remedial classes I was in. He was there because he was incorrigible, I was there because I was incapable).
So. Agatha hated me. With a white cold passion that frosted her blue eyes over whenever she looked at me.
To be honest, that just makes her eyes match the rest of her. So I was glad she was looking at Mom, waiting for an answer.
Mom had tensed when Agatha brought up the M word. “Prudence wishes to take the test early, Agatha. The other…unfortunate incident…is not relevant. Except perhaps to show that she regrets breaking the school rules, and wants to prove her willingness to fit in and become an outstanding, rule-abiding witch. She has been studying more than diligently, I assure you.”
“Studying hard, is she? What, I wonder, given the…unfortunate incident…as you call it? Not to mention the reports I have from her teachers that she often does things the mortal way.” Agatha leaned forward a little toward me. “Has your Talent manifested yet, in all this studying?”
“No.” There wasn’t really a better question to make me feel I’d wasted my time with all my studying. Since coming to Salem, I’d learned that I was supposed to have some big skill in one of the five Talent areas: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, or Magic. Magic was the most respected Talent, while Air and Water were bottom of the heap. Since my mother was an Air Talent and my father was mortal, what I’d be was anyone’s guess. If I even manifested a Talent at all. Which is a depressing thought, given that a witch who doesn’t manifest a Talent isn’t even really a full-fledged witch.
Mom jumped to my defense. “She will manifest soon, Agatha, I can sense it. If you could only bend the rules a little, I’m sure regular magic classes would help Pru manifest her Talent even sooner. What could be the harm?”
Agatha looked at Mom with the same deep doubts I felt. Great. Neither one of us believed Mom was anything more than a mother who wanted to believe the best about her hopelessly unTalented child.
Agatha sighed deeply, clearly pained to have to deal with two such dunderheads as my mother and me. “You ask what harm in bending rules? You? Who married a mortal and raised two children in the mortal realm until you realized the folly of your ways and came back to beg me to help you teach your daughter what she should have been learning all along?”
Mom shifted a little in the hard white visitor’s chair. But she didn’t sound as if Agatha’s words had bothered her. “I thought you approved of students taking initiative.”
“Initiative? Is that what you call it?” Agatha’s blue eyes focused on me as if I were a particularly poor specimen of arrowroot. The kind that can make a potion do something it shouldn’t, as I had discovered the hard way.
“Yes. That is what I call it. She’s been studying, and I’ve had her tutored — “
“My cousin, Seamus.” Mom almost, but not quite, mumbled the name.
Agatha may be a thousand years old, but her ears were still sharp. “Seamus? Another one who likes to ignore the rules and take unconscionable — and unfortunate — shortcuts. You’ve practically convinced me you’ve given this girl no ability to avoid causing trouble for herself and this school, Patience. Surely you have not forgotten the old days, and my lecture on the virtue imbued in your name. I feel certain I gave it to you so often it must be engraved upon your eardrums.”
“Patience is not just a name, it is a virtue. I believe you even had me stitch it on a sampler.” Mom popped something onto Agatha’s desk. A sampler, hand-stitched, stretched and framed in glass to preserve it. “As you can see, I still have it.” Mom looked at it with a smile, and then tapped it. “I did a very good job, even you must admit.”
Rather than appearing pleased that my mother still had her long ago lesson at hand, a fine mist of fury began to rise from Agatha’s white robes. “I suppose your pride in such mundane mortal skills should have warned me that you would find the mortal world so appealing. I presume your mortal husband is still in the household?”
“Of course he is.” Mom popped her sampler away quickly, probably in order to make sure Agatha didn’t destroy it in a fit of temper. She was sentimental about such things. “But I don’t see that as a problem at all. He fully supports our children training to be the best witches they can be. He would have been here, if only…”
Agatha finished for her, “If only he weren’t mortal?”
Mom nodded, carrying on with the lie. “He wants Prudence to be the best witch she can be.”
Ummm. Right. That’s why he turns green when we talk magic in front of him. To be fair, he’s never asked us to stop. Not since we moved to Salem. But I know one reason, besides Agatha’s rules, that my dad wasn’t here at this meeting was that Mom hadn’t mentioned this meeting to him. And maybe Agatha was right. Maybe I needed to turn my back on all things mortal if I ever wanted to get the witch thing right?
“I’ve never met a mortal who wasn’t eventually driven mad if they found themselves privy to the knowledge that we witches exist.”
“My husband is not mad.”
“Clearly, the man has managed to live with you for twenty years.” Agatha gave a delicate shudder, which somehow managed to convey how mad she thought that.
Mom’s voice got that edge that meant her protective instincts were engaged. “My husband is a good man. I do not hold it against him that he is not a witch.”
“The trouble with mortals,” said Agatha, “Is that they do not, and can not, believe in magic. As you are learning now,” Agatha glanced at me, “living in the mortal world can be harmful to your children and their education.”
Mom sighed. “I know. I know. But I assure you that my husband not only believes in magic,” That was kind of a little white lie. Dad knows magic exists, because he lives with Mom. But he doesn’t think it’s a good thing, exactly. “He also loves and wants the best for his children.”
Agatha sniffed. “Then why would he insist on you living blinded and deafened to magic in the mortal world?” Apparently, the question was rhetorical. Agatha continued, “Because he can’t see it, he thinks it isn’t important.”
I didn’t like that she had a point. The problems I was having with my magical education were directly related to the fact that I had been living in the mortal world and trying to fit in there. Even dumb old mortal-raised me could see that.
If Mom had just…but what was the point? She hadn’t. I hadn’t. And now I needed to. For a minute I was daring to hope that Agatha would agree to let me test out of remedial magic classes early, just out of pity that my mom had taken such a misstep in my witchly education.
Until my mom said, “I chose to live in the mortal world. And to raise my children there. Magic isn’t everything.”
Magic isn’t everything. If possible, the already Arctic temperature in Agatha’s office dropped to Absolute Zero. My mom had said it aloud. The words hung there in the frosty silence for a moment while none of us dared to breathe.
Agatha drew back as if Mom had said a very nasty four-letter word. “I always wondered if you might have inherited a touch of madness from your grandmother.”
I’m not sure why Mom bothered to argue. Maybe she thought it might distract Agatha from the fact that she had actually dared to suggest that magic wasn’t everything? “My grandmother was not mad, she simply believed she could help ease suffering during the Black Death.”
“Indeed.” Agatha nodded, even though she clearly didn’t agree. “Well, I suppose we should be grateful that her untimely demise showed us witches were vulnerable to that disgusting mortal malady and helped our healers find a way to stop the plague before it could decimate us like it did mortals.”
“Exactly. We are very proud of her.” Mom’s argument sounded weak to me. More avoidance of the central issue. Namely, that she had raised us in the mortal world because she didn’t think magic was everything. That would be like me saying cheerleading was just a chance to dress in a short skirt and look pretty. I could barely stand to think such heresy, never mind say it aloud — or believe it.
Agatha smiled, as if she were playing with my mother like a cat plays with a mouse. “Still, it would have been easier — not to mention healthier for her — just to avoid the area altogether until the plague passed. I don’t understand why some witches are so fascinated with mortals.”
Mom kept up her weak defense. “My grandmother didn’t believe only witches deserved compassion. She was a healer, and that was what she did, no matter whether the invalid was a witch or mortal.”
Okay. Maybe it wasn’t a weak defense. It just wasn’t going to work against an ancient witch who’d long ago dismissed mortals, certain they had nothing of interest to contribute to her life, or life in general.
As Agatha demonstrated when she said, “Exactly. Madness. Not that I’d expect you — or your daughter — to understand how dangerous dabbling in mortal things can be. Not to mention how dangerous magic can be when a witch is ill-trained.”
She narrowed her eyes and I knew she was thinking of the time bubble that had nearly gotten me expelled.
Mom must have too, because she quickly gave up defending her dead ancestor and came to the defense of her living — so far–daughter. “Prudence did not have the skill level to create a time bubble.”
“Nor did she have the sense to avoid it.” Agatha waved her hand. “You raised her among mooncalf mortals for sixteen years! For all I know she believes that witches fly on brooms and can be killed by falling houses or buckets of water.”
“Prudence is a level-headed girl.”
Agatha’s raised eyebrow indicated a certain lack of reassurance. “But is she a competent witch? Can she be? I have grave doubts about whether or not she will ever be able to make up for the disgracefully poor education you gave her in those important formative years of early childhood.”
Mom stood up. “The test will determine that.” She was angry. I only wished I knew whether she was angry because she thought Agatha was wrong. Or because she was afraid she was right.
Agatha sat back, evidently well pleased that she had caused my mother to lose her temper. “So it will.” She looked at me. “Do you see why dealing with mortals can cause trouble?”
I knew I was supposed to say yes. But that felt like I was betraying both my mom and my dad. “As long as I don’t mix magic with mortal — “
“Enough.” Agatha leaned forward again. “You are not ready for the test.”
Frappiola. I was sinking fast. I remembered a trick that had worked for me in the past and dug frantically in my purse. “Wait! I’ll give up all my mortal ways. I promise. I want to be a witch. I want to be the best witch I can be.”
Agatha smiled at me, which was rather chilling, as cliché as that may be. “Do you?”
My fingers clutched what I was looking for — notepad and pen. I nodded, not daring to say anything that might ruin my chance to test out of the remedial class early.
But Agatha wasn’t buying what I was trying to sell her without a test drive. “Then pay attention in Mr. Phogg’s class, and perhaps then you will understand how lucky you are to be away from life among mortals. And remember this, Miss Stewart: Talent without hard work makes the ancient ones sigh, but hard work without Talent makes them weep.”
I whipped out my pad and pen and quickly wrote that down. “Got it. I’ll tape it to my mirror and read it every day when I brush my hair.” What teacher/headmistress/ancient weeyotch wouldn’t be impressed by that?
Agatha looked at my notepad as if it were were a cockroach. Then she stared at Mom for a moment, and I think my mother actually squirmed, just a little. Although that may have been my imagination. Because I was squirming — inside, at least — a lot. Pen and paper equals mortal equal Pru is the biggest loser ever. I popped them away. But it was too late.
“Magic isn’t everything?” Those cold blue eyes turned back to me. “If you want to test out of remedial magic — ever — first you must be sure that you do not let me see the taint of the mortal world that had addled your mother’s judgment get in the way of your magical education.”
“It won’t.” I wouldn’t let it.
“I will be watching, Miss Stewart. And the answer to whether you will ever be allowed to test out of remedial classes will depend on what I see.”
Great. Just great. “I’ll work hard. You’ll see.” I smiled, as if I thought having Agatha watching and judging me was the best thing ever. Cheerleader training came in handy in surprising places.
“And never forget hard work without Talent will earn a witch nothing. Magic matters. It’s all that matters.” And then she waved her hand, sending a puff of cold damp air against my face.
Mom and I were back in the kitchen before I could blink. Agatha’s final words, however, had lodged in my heart like an icicle launched from one of the Dorklock’s makeshift pantyhose slingshots.
It didn’t help when Mistress Harte, the ghost who rules the netherworld inhabitants of the house, appeared to pat me on the head and drop a scrap of paper in my lap.
It read, “Hey 666 Girl. Magic is everything.” It wasn’t signed, but I didn’t need a signature to know that I’d just gotten a note from Daniel. He was the one who’d nicknamed me after my unfortunate locker number, 666. The note flared up in smoke and disappeared. Just like Daniel had.
“What was that?” Mom asked.
Right. I was going to tell her the boy who had nearly gotten me expelled from school, who was a chronic runaway and a huge Magic Talent that scared the witch council silly, was sending me notes? I don’t think so. “My life. Can’t you tell by the way it went up in smoke?”
“I’m sorry, honey.” Mom had her “these things happen and we have to be brave” look on her face.
“Right. Me too. Sorry you thought it was okay to raise us without magic.”
Because anything else would have been anticlimactic, I turned on my heel to stalk off, caught myself–no more mortal moves, from now on I was pure witch — and popped to cheerleading practice before Mom could say a word.