Chapter One

            I probably go to the only school in the country with a rule against practicing witchcraft.

            That’s not really as crazy as it sounds. The Massachusetts town where I live is sort of known for its rumored history of magical residents. Some say it’s even more haunted by witches than Salem, our famous neighbor. There’s a story that while the pilgrims in Salem were burning innocent women at the stake, the real witches came to Whitfield and vanished into a fog.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Nobody was actually burned at the stake in Salem. Oh, there were plenty of murders, jailings, and torture of women who hadn’t done much more than piss off their neighbors, lots of widows had their property stolen, and one guy got crushed to death. But the burnings were pretty much left to the Europeans. The part of the story that is true is the part about the real witches coming to Whitfield.

            I know, because I’m the descendant of one of those witches.

            A lot of us are, although we keep quiet about it. That’s because even here, in this town where at least half the population are witches, we have to live among cowen, or non-magical people. Actually, we think of ourselves as talented – we can all do different things – rather than magical, but that wouldn’t matter to cowen, who have traditionally destroyed anything they can’t understand. Look at Salem.

            At school, there are two kinds of students, the Muffies and the witches. Muffies are the kind of girls you’ll find at every residential school in the Northeast: fashionable, promiscuous, and clueless. Okay, that’s not fair. There are plenty of cowen kids at Ainsworth School, including boarders, who aren’t Muffies. Half of them aren’t even girls. But those people generally leave us alone. It’s the Muffies (I invented that name for them because they almost always have cute, stupid names) who are always making life difficult.

            They sneer at us. They call us names. Geek is probably the most popular, since it’s pretty much true, at least from their point of view. We don’t spend all our time styling our hair and trying on push-up bras. Since most of us either live in town or have relatives here, we don’t run wild in the streets. We generally don’t have problems with drugs, alcoholism, reckless driving, kleptomania, credit card debt, or STDs. To be fair, we do sometimes have issues with ghosts, apparitions, disappearing, transmogrification, rainmaking, telepathy, demon rampages, telekinesis, and raising the dead. And maybe a few more things.

            Hence the injunction against performing witchcraft at Ainsworth. This rule has been in place ever since my ancestor, Serenity Ainsworth, founded the school in 1658 (I like to think that one of her pupils gave some Puritan Muffy a pig nose in a cat fight).

            The Muffies don’t know about this rule. They don’t know that Whitfield is the biggest and oldest community of witches in the United States, or that the geeks at Ainsworth School could summon enough power to make a hydrogen bomb seem like a fart in a bathtub if we wanted to. They think that Whitfield is an ordinary place, and that Ainsworth is an ordinary school.

            Or do they?

            I’ve often wondered if they knew… I mean, how they could not know? On every major witch holiday, the Meadow – that’s a big field in the middle of Old Town – fills up with fog so dense that you can’t see through it. It’s the same fog that saved the witches from being grabbed by the Puritans back in the day. When the fog appears, the witches all tumble into it like lemmings, but cowen can’t – physically can’t – enter. And that’s only one of the weird shenanigans that go on here. Even the dumbest Muffies must have an inkling once in a while that Whitfield, Massachusetts, is a little different from wherever they call home.

            At least that’s my theory about how this whole mess started. With a jealous Muffy.

            And an idiot who should have known better than to forget the no-witchcraft rule, since it was her relative who made it in the first place.

            Right. It was me. But in all fairness, I had a good reason. I was protecting my friend Verity from Summer Hayworth, the most evil of the evil Muffies at Ainsworth. More accurately, I was protecting her boyfriend Cheswick from expulsion, and possibly arrest, for what he was about to do to Summer in Verity’s defense.

            I can still see it: Summer, who has the taste level of a rhinoceros, laughing when Verity opened her locker and found a stuffed witch doll hanging by its neck. The doll had been made to look like Verity, with striped stockings and red hair. Its eyes had been removed and replaced by x’s, and someone had sewn a red tongue hanging out the side of its mouth.

            There was no doubt about who’d done it. Even though none of them had classes near Verity’s locker, Summer and her three main cohorts – A.J. Nakamura, Tiffany Rothstein, and Suzy Dusset – just happened to be hanging around the area. Aside from Verity, me, and our boyfriends Cheswick and Peter, the Evil Muffies were the only people within a hundred feet of the locker in question. As for the witch doll itself, well, it had Evil Muffy stamped all over it. A.J. was an artist, and the tongue definitely looked like her work, but the idea had to have been Summer’s because nobody else in the school could possibly have been so crass.

            If it had been my locker, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. The witch doll was actually kind of cute, x’d out eyes and all. But Verity is, well, sensitive. More to the point, she’s a QMS – a Quivering Mass of Sensitivity – of the highest order. She gets emotional if someone swats a fly or squashes a mosquito. She goes into coughing fits if anyone in the room is wearing perfume. She’s a vegan, of course, and only wears plastic shoes. Frankly, she’s not the most fun person to party with, but that’s not the point.

            The point is, she’s from a very old witch family, and being outed by Muffies in high school was, for Verity, pretty much on a par with being ravaged by wild dogs. She went all pale and started shaking so hard that Cheswick had to hold her up. Her eyes filled with tears. Her nose ran. Her fingertips turned blue.

            “She needs something to drink,” Cheswick said. He was looking at me, but Summer answered:

            “What would she like? Bat’s blood?”

            “Shut up, Summer,” I said.

            “You going to make me, or are you just going to turn me into a frog?”

            “I’d turn you into a jerk, except someone must have beat me to it,” I said. Peter poked me in the arm. He thinks I ask for trouble. Not true. I never have confrontations with horrible people if I can help it. Peter’s just more of a “go with the flow” kind of person than I am.

            Tiffany almost laughed at my little comeback, but she checked herself. Summer had no sense of humor, especially about herself. A.J. and Suzy just stared, bored and clueless as ever.

            “Let’s get out of here,” Peter said.

            “Yeah,” Cheswick agreed, slamming Verity’s locker with a little more force than necessary.

            “Oh, yeah. Go with your cool boyfriend,” Summer said. A.J. and Suzy smiled. Cheswick, who looks like a dandelion puff and is the all-school champion in Lord of the Rings trivia, is not considered to be cool, even by the geeks.

            I think this, more than offending Verity, was what set him off. Before any of us knew what was happening, Cheswick hurled Verity at Peter like he was passing a football, and threw five fingers at Summer.

            The Muffies really laughed at that, which showed how dumb they really were. When witches do that – flick their fingers at someone – it’s like aiming a wand at them. And when the witch is as pissed off as Cheswick was, the result usually isn’t good.

            “Cheswick!” I whispered, but it was too late to stop him. All I could do at that point was to try to weaken his spell by throwing out one of my own to cross his.

            “Stink!” I shouted. Don’t ask me why I chose that one. It was probably at the core of what I felt about Summer and the Skank Girls. Anyway, at that moment A.J. Nakamura, Japanese-American Princess that she is, let loose with this tremendous salami-scented belch. Tiffany sniffed at her armpits, and then gagged. Suzy Dusset grabbed her belly and headed for the bathroom, sounding like a Formula One racer the whole way.

            “What the hell do you think . . .” Summer began, then stopped to sniff the air she had just fouled with her breath. The rest of us shrank backward. Verity started to retch. Summer narrowed her eyes at me. “You’ll be sorry,” she said. Then she smiled at Peter and made the “call me” gesture with her fingers. That’s how crusty she is.

            “Er . . . you wouldn’t happen to have some air freshener in your locker, would you?” I asked Verity.

            Cheswick led her away. Figuring that Verity didn’t need a repeat of what had just gone on, I opened the locker and took out the doll.

            “I don’t think you should be touching that,” Peter said.

            “Hey, somebody has to get rid of it.”

            He sighed. “Okay, but why does that person always have to be you?”

            “Look, I’m not doing anything wrong, okay?”

            “Exactly what are you doing, Katy?” a pleasant voice behind me asked. It was Miss P, the assistant principal.

            Oh, no,” Peter muttered.

            “Move along, Peter,” Miss P said, her eyes never leaving mine. “Is that your locker?”

            Quickly I stashed the doll behind my back. “Miss P, I can explain.”

            “I don’t think so,” she said, in a tone she might have used to discuss the weather. “I saw you using special ability on those girls.” Special ability was code for witchcraft.

            “Then you know I didn’t—” I thrust out my arms, having forgotten about the doll, whose head bobbed in mute accusation.

            “I’ll take that, please.”

            Abashed, I handed it to her as I watched Peter recede into the distance, shaking his head.

            “Do you have a minute?” Miss P said cheerfully. That was code for bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.

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