How To Succeed in Witchcraft
- Pages: 416 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593354544
An Excerpt From
How To Succeed in Witchcraft
Each year, T. K. Anderson Magical Magnet School brings together a class of highly motivated and magically talented students from Palm Beach County. Students are selectively admitted based upon prior school record, magic level, and a rigorous admissions test.
On our campus, we prepare students for the world of
higher education by encouraging an atmosphere of healthy competition.
-T. K. Anderson promotional brochure
I stare at the curlicues of magic swirling through the brown liquid in my Port-a-Cauldron. The stupid piece of equipment should be heating faster. This Flora-Grow potion is due tomorrow, so I have to finish enough to turn in, or my grade in AP Potions will take a serious hit. Probably not a good look for a girl trying to go to college for potionwork.
The numbers on my alarm clock glow from my bedside table-2:32 a.m. It's only two weeks after winter break, and my sleep schedule is already shot. That's cool. Who needs rest anyway? I was stuck singing in a choir performance at our school's Salute to America concert until eight, so I probably shouldn't have decided to pick an extra-complicated brewing project for tonight's assignment. I could have just done a simple cold-curing potion instead, but I couldn't resist brewing something new.
I stick my temperature gauge into the liquid. It beeps loudly, the sound piercing the quiet of our apartment. I wince. Hopefully Mom is sleeping deeply enough to not have heard that. Sometimes she has insomnia, so she'll sit awake doing sudoku puzzles, but I checked before I started brewing, and the lights were off in my parents' room.
The temperature gauge shows that the potion is done heating, so I turn down the burner and focus on the liquid. I concentrate to activate my magic sight, which allows me to see the web of invisible magical energy that exists in every physical object. The thin, silvery filaments of magic come into view, twisting and turning within the liquid. The shape and movements of magic reflect an object's physical properties, and speed correlates to heat, so the magic in this heated potion moves quickly.
I mentally reach for the magic, bending it to my will. The strands vibrate, still holding to their natural patterning, then begin to weave themselves into the lattice framework I have in mind. Once the lattice is complete, the liquid thickens and turns from brown to a brilliant emerald green.
I reach for the magic one last time to seal my intention into the potion. Growth. Life. Green, natural things. I hold those thoughts in mind and push them toward the potion. A thread of my magic wisps out of my head. In it, I see flashes of the images I held in my mind. Once it sinks into the cauldron, the liquid shivers, and then the potion is done.
Nice. Time to test this bad boy out. Thankfully, Dad approved me testing this Flora-Grow on one of his beloved plant babies yesterday.
Dad is a total herbology nerd. He works for Green Witch, that big eco-management company that hires herbologists to maintain Florida's natural landscape. Caring for plants isn't just a job for him, though. Our apartment is stuffed full of useful herbs, miniaturized trees, and flowers he's magically adjusted to smell stronger. He's even got a collection of magic-hybrid plants. There are ghost palms that are invisible except for a faint blue-green glow, midair plants that float through our apartment in search of patches of sun, frost ferns that emit tiny puffs of cold air to chill their surroundings, and several others that have come in handy for my more ambitious brewing projects.
I grab one of Dad's ghost palm seedlings from the corner in our kitchen and bring it back to my room. Okay. Moment of truth. I measure out ten milliliters of the Flora-Grow, pour it into the palm's pot, and stand back. It shouldn't take too long for the potion to take effect.
The seedling vibrates slightly, then shoots upward at warp speed. It looks like one of those plant-growth time-lapse videos, except sped up a thousand times over. New fronds burst out at the top, and the trunk thickens to the size of my leg. Or at least I think that's how large it is. It's kind of hard to tell with a mostly invisible tree. By the time it stops growing, the tallest fronds hang more than a foot over my head. So this potion was definitely a success.
I can still turn out a quality potion while half-asleep. Awesome. My grin stretches so wide that my cheeks hurt, and I do a little happy dance. There's nothing better than brewing a potion that works just right.
I love potionworking. Potions let people do complicated things they might not be able to achieve with just their innate magic abilities. Which is amazing. Especially when you're a kid and your powers aren't that strong. I mean, would I be able to do complex transfiguration on this tree to change it into its adult form? Definitely not. But I don't need to, because I can brew a Flora-Grow potion.
A jaw-splitting yawn interrupts my train of thought. Right. Definitely time for bed. I cast one last satisfied look at the ghost palm before turning away to start cleaning up my supplies.
Then everything goes wrong. I grossly miscalculated how well this pot of dirt would hold up a seven-foot tree. By the time I notice the pot tipping over, it's too late. The whole thing falls to the floor with a massive crash. I let out a startled yelp as dirt and pieces of glowing palm tree fly across my room. A chunk of bark hits me in the face, which feels like a personal eff you.
Once the chaos subsides, I snatch up a bottle of cleaning potion from my shelf and sprinkle it liberally across my floor. Piles of dirt disintegrate as the liquid hits them, leaving behind a faint scent of lemon. Maybe I can get this cleaned up before Mom busts me.
It takes me a few tries, but I manage to hoist the ghost palm back upright. I prop it against the wall and pray that it won't tip over again. This would be way easier if I had some Light as a Feather potion on hand. I guess I could levitate the tree myself, but at my level, magically messing with living things without prior planning is a recipe for disaster.
The floorboards in the hallway creak, and I tense. Time's up.
"Shay? Shay, are you up?" Mom calls. Her heavy steps echo through the apartment as she approaches my room.
Ooh, I'm dead. I am so incredibly deceased. I'm not actually supposed to brew potions in my room. Ugh, I should have done the easy potion and gone to bed on time.
Mom whips open the door and strides into the room. She's wearing her black bonnet-I definitely woke her up. Damn.
"You okay?" she says as she turns the lights on. "Did something happen?"
I freeze, one hand still resting guiltily on the stupid ghost palm. "Um. One of Dad's trees fell over."
"You good?" She comes over and looks me up and down. "It didn't hit you?"
She takes another few seconds to confirm that I'm actually all right. Then she turns her attention to the tree. "Why'd you have that in here?" she says, her dark eyes narrowing.
"He said I could test my Flora-Grow on it."
She sniffs, catching the scent of my potion, and her eyes flick to the cauldron. "Were you brewing in here?" she says, her hands flying to her hips. "Shayna, you know better than that. While you live in my house, you follow my rules."
I nod obediently, looking as apologetic as possible. "Yes, ma'am."
"You don't need to be working on your li'l potion projects in the middle of the night."
"It's homework. For AP Potions."
Her expression softens, and I sense that I could get out of this without serious consequences. Maybe.
"I had to finish this tonight," I continue. "It's due tomorrow."
"There is no reason to be up all hours doing homework," she says, launching into the lecture I've heard a million times before. "You go to bed at a reasonable hour, and you wake up in the morning to finish things up. You need sleep to do your best work."
"Sleep is for the weak," I deadpan. She quirks an eyebrow at me, unamused.
"Brockton Scholars are well-rested," she says. That, of course, is complete and utter Mom Nonsense. You have to be many things to win the Brockton Scholarship-magically brilliant, academically perfect, chronically overcommitted-but well-rested is not a required quality. She sighs, shaking her head. "Bed. Now." She turns the lights off and leaves, as if I'm going to immediately throw myself into my bed smelling of potion with arrowroot residue all over my hands.
My mom's parenting style is 25 percent "you stress yourself out too much" and 75 percent "be the best that ever was." She doesn't see the contradiction there and doesn't appreciate when I've tried to point it out.
When I look at myself in the mirror the next morning, I want to crawl back into bed. The bags under my eyes could be checked as flight luggage. My brown hair looks greasy as hell too. I need to restraighten it soon.
I tie my hair up, slap on some Face Awake potion to shrink the bags under my eyes, and put on mascara. By the time I walk into the kitchen, I look a little tired instead of like a corpse.
"You okay there?" Dad says, eyeing me over his oatmeal. He's dressed in his Green Witch work T-shirt, ready to head out after breakfast. He hunches in his seat, because he always sits in the chair under the low-hanging light, even though he's so tall that he's in real danger of whacking his pale, bald head on it.
"I'm tired," I say, sitting across the table from him. Mom slides a bowl of oatmeal and a mug of coffee onto my place setting. "Thanks."
Dad's blue eyes twinkle. "Hi, Tired, I'm Dad."
I boo him and make a face. "It's too early for dad jokes."
"It's never too early for dad jokes," he quips.
"Little miss was up at all hours of the night brewing a potion in her room," Mom tells Dad. She purses her lips and aggressively refills his coffee cup.
"I had a lot of homework," I mumble into my mug, breathing in the scent of Mom's coffee. I swear she does something to the magic in it, because it's way more effective than any other coffee, but I can't get her to admit it.
"Oh, you think you're grown now? You can just be up all hours?" Mom says.
There's only one answer to that. "No, ma'am." Now seems like the moment to change the subject. I take a sip of coffee and smile at Mom winningly. "You're going to MarTech today, right?"
Mom works at a magitech factory that manufactures fancy televisions. It's the best job in magical technology she can get with her transfiguration degree, since she doesn't have a magical license. She spends her days troubleshooting problems with the magic encoded in the TVs and transfiguring broken machinery so it works.
"Yeah," Mom says. Her eyes slide over to Dad. "Did I tell you I'm training the new girl this afternoon?"
"Hm." Dad takes a long drink from his coffee cup and raises his eyebrows. "Sounds like manager work."
Mom lets out a little snort. "I know."
"They giving you a raise?"
"What do you think?" Mom says, and they both chuckle quietly.
Mom's job isn't the best. She makes half as much as her manager but does twice the work, because he has a magical license from an accredited university. He likes to remind her that, without him, the unlicensed members of their team wouldn't be legally allowed to do any transfiguration because it's higher-level work. Mom is literally better at transfiguration than him. And even though she basically does his job for him too, she'll never get to be a manager without a license.
"What time do you start work?" I ask.
"One," Mom says. She sinks into her seat at our kitchen table and starts in on her own breakfast. Before she takes a bite, I activate my magic sight and nudge at the magic in her oatmeal to warm it up for her. It's been sitting there a while, if the slow magic flows in it are anything to go off of.
"Bus day?" I say sympathetically.
"Bus day." She sighs.
Boca Raton is a driving town. Mostly rich retirees live here, and walking definitely isn't their primary way of getting anywhere. The network of floating roads is basically the only way to get around, unless you have a broom and can fly off-road. We only have one car, and Dad drives it to work, so when Mom is scheduled for shifts in the middle of the day, she has to struggle through Boca's depressing public transport situation.
"You know . . ." I drag out the words and grin at Mom mischievously. "If you got a broom, you wouldn't have to take the bus anymore."
"What would I look like on a broom?" She snorts. "Midlife-Crisis Mom? That's what you want your mother to look like?"
"You would look very cool on a broom, honey," Dad says, as cheesy as anything.
"I would look very dead on a broom," she shoots back, which doesn't even make sense. Like, okay, they're slightly dangerous. But she's not going to spontaneously die while riding one.
"I'm just saying it's cheaper than a car," I say.
"Nice try," Mom says. "But nobody in this household is getting a broom anytime soon."
"Better luck next time, kiddo," Dad says.
I sigh and abandon my broom crusade for today. "Lex said she could drive me to work, so you don't have to pick me up after school," I tell Dad. Lex is my best friend. She, thank god, has her own car.
"Are you two going to hang out after work?" Mom asks. She puts a weird emphasis on hang out.
"I don't know. We haven't made plans. I'll text you if we do."
Mom definitely thinks Lex and I are secretly dating. When I told her and Dad I was a lesbian, that was her second question after "Are you sure?" (I was sure.) She keeps dropping hints that it would be fine with her if I were dating Lex.
"How's Lex doing?" Mom asks, her face creased with concern.
From the way Mom talks about her, you would think Lex was dying or something. "She's fine. Studying to take the MATs again." I shrug. Plenty of people don't get into a licensing university their first time applying. I wish Lex was still in school with me, because sometimes it's lonely without my bestie, but she seems fine with her involuntary gap year.
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