Chapter 1: The Illusion
Luz sat down to lunch with Willow and Gus, and it was immediately apparent to the two of them that their friend wasn’t her usual cheery self.
“What’s wrong?” Willow asked.
Luz sighed. “I was looking forward to this field trip to the griffin sanctuary with the beast keeping track after lunch, but I forgot that I have to present my poem for the bard track, so I won’t be able to go.”
“Can’t you read the poem another time?” Gus asked.
“I asked, but the professor said no. Oh, look!" Luz suddenly smiled as she pointed across the cafeteria. "It’s Amity!”
Luz started waving and shouting, “Amity!” until she came over.
“Amity, have lunch with us today!” Luz said.
"Well, OK," Amity said, blushing.
Amity had been hoping to have lunch with Luz and the others. The past few days had been difficult for her. She’d uncharacteristically made a mistake in one of her assignments, forcing her to beg Ed and Em to lend her money to get more ingredients at the last minute. Although their parents were wealthy, they didn’t give Amity any money of her own, meaning it was going to take her forever to pay them back. And they’d mercilessly teased her about it, of course.
And though she’d gone to Ed and Em to avoid having to tell her parents about her mistake, it was just her luck that she came home with the ingredients right when they were getting back to the manor from a dinner engagement, forcing her to explain everything. They’d berated her for it, saying she should’ve been more careful, and were still bringing it up. Then they stormed into Amity's room to chastise her for how messy it was, even though it was pretty neat as far as she was concerned, saying this kind of disorganization was why she'd made such a mistake in the first place.
Amity had completed so many assignments perfectly without a word from them, but the one time she’d messed up, they just couldn’t let her hear the end of it.
Her one solace had been Luz, who’d lent her a sympathetic ear and encouraged her. Luz was always so kind to her. She just wished they could spend more time together than the handful of classes they shared and the occasional lunch.
Amity sat down, and Luz explained her dilemma again.
“My poem isn’t even any good,” Luz said. “I had a big project for the oracle track, so I barely had any time to spend on it. Juggling all these tracks is harder than I thought.”
“Maybe you should just focus on one track,” Amity said.
“But they’re all so cool!” Luz protested.
“But no one can do everything they want to do. Studying every track just isn’t realistic. Especially with your disadvantages.”
Luz gasped and glared at Amity. “You know, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself despite my ‘disadvantages.’”
Amity was surprised. She hadn’t meant to be insulting. As a human, Luz was at a disadvantage when it came to learning magic; that was just a fact, wasn’t it? Luz herself had said as much to her at the covention. If anything, it was a compliment. It meant that what Luz had accomplished so far was all the more impressive.
Amity wanted to explain all that to Luz, but she found herself at a loss for words. Why was it that she always seemed to say the wrong thing around Luz? Like when she’d bumped into her and called her a nitwit without thinking, and right when she’d been about to ask Luz to go to Grom with her too.
Luckily, Gus said something to break up the tension.
“You know, Luz, there is one thing we could try. I could make an illusion of you to read your poem!”
“Really?” Luz said. “You could do that for me?”
“Yeah, it would be no problem!”
“Thanks, Gus!” Luz said. “This is perfect! It’ll pose as me for poesy. Hey, that’s not bad!” Luz pulled out her poem and a pen. “Maybe I can add that in somewhere.”
Gus drew a circle, and a perfect copy of Luz appeared.
“Wow!” Luz said before handing the illusion the poem. “Can you read this poem in bard class?”
“Anything you want,” the illusion said.
“Hey, why is your illusion so much more obedient than the ones I make of me?” Gus said.
“Thanks, Gus!” Luz said. “I owe you big time!
“No problem, Luz! You know, it feels really good to be useful. Lately, I've been feeling like I spend all my time learning about magic but never actually doing anything with it.”
“I’d better tell the beast keeping professor that I’ll be able to go after all.”
As Luz and Gus talked, Amity just stared at the illusion, wide-eyed.
“Gus…" she said. "What exactly are you going to do with that illusion after she reads that poem?”
“Huh? I don’t know, get rid of it, I guess.”
"I see…" Amity said.
Throughout the next class, Amity thought about that illusion of Luz. (Il-Luz-sion? she thought. No, that doesn’t sound good.) She’d had strong feelings for Luz for a while now, but every time she’d thought of asking Luz out, she’d either chickened out or said the wrong thing like she’d done just then. Maybe what she needed was some practice. That was the only reason she was considering what she was considering.
After class, Amity went over to the bard classroom and saw the illusory Luz (illusory Luz, that sounds better, Amity thought) walk out. She followed it to the illusion homeroom as Gus came outside to get rid of it.
“Gus,” Amity said. “Do you think I could… borrow that illusion of Luz?”
“Uh… I’ve taken up sculpting recently. And it’s so hard to find someone who can model for me. I thought this illusion could work.”
“Wow, sculpting? That’s cool! Hey, what if you sculpted me instead? I’ve always wanted a sculpture of me!”
“Well… I’ve just gotten started. I’d rather wait to sculpt you until I’ve gotten better.”
“Oh? Then yeah, take the illusion! Get as much practice as you can!”
“Thanks. Also, could you not tell anyone about this? I want to keep it a secret… until my sculpting has gotten better.”
After school, Amity put the illusion in a big pot like the ones she used to make her abominations so no one would see it. But that turned out to be unnecessary; no one was at Blight manor when she got home. She got the illusion to her room and locked the door.
“You won’t tell anyone else about anything we discuss in here, will you?” Amity asked the illusion.
“Not if you don’t want me to,” it said.
"Good. Pretend you’re Luz. The real Luz. And I'm going to ask you out.”
“OK,” the illusion said. "And what should I say?"
"Well… say yes."
The illusion nodded.
Amity took a deep breath in and out. “Luz, I… really like you… and I was wondering whether maybe you might want to think about going out with me sometime… if you wanted to.”
“I’d love to, Amity!” the illusion said.
Even though she knew it wasn’t real, Amity’s heart fluttered wildly upon hearing that. She had to take a minute to compose herself. Now came the hard part.
“OK,” Amity said. “Now, I’m going to ask you out again, and I want you to say no.”
Amity figured that if she could get used to the image of Luz rejecting her then she wouldn’t be so afraid of it happening for real.
“Whatever you say,” the illusion said.
Amity braced herself. “Luz, I really like you, and I wanted to ask you whether you might want to try going out on a date with me.”
“Oh, that’s really flattering, Amity, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Hearing that felt bad, but not nearly as bad as Amity had thought it would. But that was just because she knew it wasn’t real no matter how much the illusion looked and sounded like Luz.
Amity sighed. “This was a dumb idea. I should get to my homework.” Then her brow furrowed. “Uh, how do I get rid of you?”
“If you just hit me hard enough, I’ll disappear.”
Amity shoved the illusion lightly, but nothing happened. Surprisingly, it felt like a real person too.
“It didn’t work,” Amity said.
“That was too gentle. You have to give me a pretty hard whack.”
Amity hesitated. Even though she knew it was an illusion, hitting it would feel a lot like hurting the real Luz.
“I’ll just wait until Gus can get rid of you tomorrow,” Amity said.
Amity sat down at her desk to do her homework, but it was strange with the illusion there. She felt like she was being watched.
Then, she wondered, if the illusion were going to be there anyway, maybe she should make some type of use of it.
“Hey,” Amity said. “Do you think maybe you could… put your arm over my shoulders while I’m doing my homework? And maybe say, ‘You’re doing a good job’ or something like that every so often?”
“Anything you want,” the illusion said.
The illusion put her arm on Amity’s shoulders, and her heart started to beat rapidly as she felt herself getting flushed.
It’s not real, she reminded herself. And it’s just for today.
"You don't think it's… weird… for me to ask you to do this, do you?"
"No," the illusion said.
Once Amity started focusing on her homework, she began to feel more normal. That was, until the first time the illusion said, “You’re doing a great job, just like you always do.”
That felt so good to hear.
The hours passed on that way. It wasn’t uncommon for Amity to feel good after a long session of studying or homework. It gave her a sense of accomplishment, especially when she’d completed a project. But she’d never felt this good. That encouragement from Luz—no, not Luz, it was an illusion, she couldn’t forget that—had made it so much better.
“Thank you,” Amity said once she’d finished. “I’m going to bed. Uh, do you sleep?”
“No,” the illusion said, shaking its head.
“Will you get bored waiting for me to get up?”
“No,” the illusion said. “But if there’s anything you want me to do overnight, I could do it for you.”
“Oh… well… do you think maybe you could clean my room a little?”
“Sure,” the illusion said.
When Amity woke up the next morning, she found her room immaculate.
“Wow, thanks,” Amity said.
“It was no problem,” the illusion said.
Amity had gotten up early so she could leave with the illusion before anyone else would be up to see it. She had to take it back to Hexside to get Gus to dispel it. But then she wondered, what if she kept it for one more day? Just to get a little more practice asking Luz out. No other reason.
“If I asked you to stay here all day and be quiet, would you get bored?” Amity asked.
“Nope. Is there anything I could do for you while you’re gone?”
Amity considered. “No, I can’t think of anything.”
Now that she didn’t have to worry about going to school early, Amity realized that she had some extra time that morning.
“Hey, do you think we could maybe talk for a bit?”
“Absolutely,” the illusion said.
“And you won’t… judge me for anything I say?”
“Of course not,” the illusion said.
“So, I was only trying to help Luz, but she got mad at me anyway,” Amity said. She'd been talking to the illusion for a while now, and at this point she'd started resting her head on the illusion's shoulder as it stroked her hair. “Do you think I did anything wrong?”
“No,” the illusion said.
“Thanks, I didn’t think so either.” Amity sighed. “I don’t know, maybe Luz would never go out with me. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” the illusion said. “But no matter what Luz says, I’ll say ‘Yes’ to anything you ask, if that’s what you want.”
Amity blushed. “Thanks. I'd better get to school."
Amity packed her backpack. Before she left, she looked back at the illusion one more time and asked, “And you’ll be here when I get back?”
“Of course,” the illusion said.
Amity left for Hexside, and for once she couldn’t wait to get back home.
Chapter 2: Gus Makes Another Illusion
The next day at Hexside, Gus was with Willow when Skara came over.
“Hey,” Skara said to Gus. “Did you make an illusion of Luz yesterday?”
“How did you know?” Gus asked.
“I saw her read her poem in bard class, but I heard from one of my friends in the beast keeping track about how she almost released all the griffins yesterday at their field trip. And since you’re her friend and in the illusion track, I put two and two together.”
“So, why are you here?” Willow asked warily.
“I was hoping you could do the same thing for me.”
“Huh? Why?” Gus asked.
“Boscha wants to go to this concert tonight, but I don’t really like the band. I was thinking I could send an illusion instead.”
“Why can’t you just tell Boscha you don’t want to go?” Willow asked.
“Well… it would just be a lot easier if I didn’t have to do that.”
“I don’t know…” Gus said.
“Please? I’ll give you five snails.”
“Five snails! Really?” Gus jumped up and pumped his fist into the air. “Yeah! I’ll do it!”
Skara handed him the money, and Gus made the illusion.
“Wow, thanks!” Skara said before walking off cheerily with her double.
“Look Willow!” Gus said, holding up the bill. “I have money now!”
“Are you sure about this, Gus? I’m worried it could get out of hand.”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s only one illusion. Now let’s go spend these things!”
Meanwhile, Amity went through the whole day thinking about Luz and the illusion. It wasn’t until the end of the day that she spotted Luz in the hallway. She wondered whether she should go over there and try to smooth things over regarding what she’d said about Luz’s disadvantages. But she ultimately decided against it. She’d wait just a little bit longer.
Instead, Amity hurried home and locked herself in her room with the illusion.
“Hi, Luz,” she said before mentally chastising herself. That’s not Luz, she thought to herself. Don’t forget that.
“Hello,” the illusion said. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Maybe you could pretend to be the real Luz and let me ask you out again.”
“OK. And how should I answer?”
“Well, maybe instead of answering one way or another, you could try to say something unexpected. You know, to throw me off.”
“OK,” it said.
“Well, here goes: Luz, I really like you, and I was hoping we might go out sometime if that’s something you think you might like.”
“Oh? What is it you like about me?”
Amity considered how to answer. “Well, you’re always kind to me, and you’ve made my life so much better, and… I don’t know, there are a lot of things.” Amity groaned. “I don’t know if I can tell Luz all that. It would be so embarrassing. It’s so much easier talking to you. I never have to worry about saying the wrong thing. Or that you’ll make fun of me.”
“Luz would make fun of you?”
“Well… no. I guess I was thinking more of Ed and Em. Or Boscha and the girls. But even though I know Luz wouldn’t make fun of me… I don’t know, I really care how she sees me. I don’t want her to think I’m a dork or something, I guess.”
“I’ll never think that about you,” the illusion said.
Amity smiled. “Thanks. Well, I guess I should get to work. Can you do the same thing for me that you did yesterday while I study?”
“Anything you want,” the illusion said.
After studying that way for a while, Amity said, “This is so nice. The real Luz wouldn’t be able to just sit with me for hours while I study.”
“But I can,” the illusion said.
“Yeah,” Amity said. Then, she got an idea. “You know, if I did ask Luz out and she said yes, I’d have to take her out on a really great date. Maybe it would help if I practiced by taking you out. But just for practice!”
“Sure, if that’s what you want.”
Chapter 3: Amity's Date
As Amity walked through the park that she’d taken the illusion to, holding it by the hand, she tried to tamp down her excitement. After all, she was just doing this to practice dating the real Luz.
But it felt so much like she was on a real date with her! Amity had imagined what going on a date with Luz might be like. Honestly, she’d imagined it pretty vividly at times. But no fantasy could feel as real as this did.
“This is nice, isn’t it?” Amity said.
“Yeah,” the illusion replied.
“Do you think Luz would like this park?” Amity asked.
“I don’t know,” the illusion said.
Amity sighed. By now, she should’ve figured that that’s how the illusion would answer.
The pair passed by an orange-skinned witch selling ice cream.
“So… do you eat?” Amity asked the illusion.
“No,” it said.
If this were the real Luz, they could’ve shared an ice cream cone together. Every so often, Amity would be confronted with a reminder that she was with a mere illusion that she couldn’t ignore.
Wait, she wasn’t trying to ignore the fact that the illusion wasn’t the real Luz. She was trying to remind herself of that fact if she ever lost sight of it. Right?
Amity got herself a scoop of grasshopper ice cream, her favorite because it matched the color of her hair.
“I probably shouldn’t have bought that,” Amity said. “Ed and Em lent me some money that I still have to pay back.”
“That’s nice of them,” the illusion said.
“Well… yeah, kind of. But they keep teasing me about it. They said this proved that despite all my posturing, I'm just as irresponsible as them." Amity sighed. "And I guess I was.”
She and the illusion were approaching the pond in the middle of the park. It was a chilly day, so the pond was only steaming rather than boiling as it usually did.
“Why don’t we just sit by the pond for a little while.”
“OK,” the illusion said
They sat, and soon Amity started leaning against the illusion and resting her head on its shoulder. It felt nice.
“I usually don’t care about their teasing,” Amity said after a moment. “But this time it kind of bothered me.”
“Oh?” the illusion said.
“Yeah. I guess it’s because being responsible is the one way I’ve always been better than them. If I can’t even say that anymore, then what good am I?” Amity sighed. “Do you think I’m irresponsible?”
“Of course not,” the illusion said. “You’re very responsible.”
Amity smiled. “Thanks.”
“Did you tell your brother and sister that their teasing was bothering you?”
“I can’t do that! Letting them know that their teasing got to me would just make me look weak. And they’d tease me even more.”
“Oh,” the illusion said. “But you can tell me anything without worrying about that.”
“I know,” Amity said. “You know, the real Luz would’ve probably said that I should talk to them. Or maybe tried to talk to them herself without even checking with me. She’s always jumping into things like that.”
“And you don’t like that?”
“Well… no, I do. If it weren’t for her doing that kind of thing, we never would’ve become friends. But… I don’t know, sometimes it’s nice to have someone around who’s a little more… a little less…”
Amity wasn’t sure how to put it. A little more obedient? That sounded awful. More predictable? Not much better.
“You know what I mean, right?” Amity said.
Before the illusion could answer, Amity heard a voice from a distance call out, “Luz! Is that you?”
Amity, recognizing that voice as Gus’s, abruptly pulled herself away from the illusion as he ran over.
“Luz! Oh hi, Amity. Hey, wait a minute, is this the illusion?”
Amity nodded and then asked, nervously, “Is Willow here?”
“No, I came with my dad. He’s over there.” Gus pointed to his dad, who waved from the distance.
Amity breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh, you must be sculpting,” Gus said. “Where’s your… what do you sculpt with? Clay? Marble?”
“Um…” Amity tried to come up with an answer and looked down at the ice cream cone in her hand. “Actually, there’s this technique where you start off by sculpting with something more malleable to practice and then move on to something like clay. So, I’m sculpting with this ice cream.”
“Oh, really? Let me see!”
Amity grimaced as she started molding the ice cream with her hand.
“It doesn’t seem to be working too well,” Gus said. “It’s just melting in your hand.”
“Yeah,” Amity said, disgustedly wiping her hand on the grass.
“Well, I’ll let you practice,” Gus said. “Bye!”
Gus ran off, and Amity peered around the park to make sure there were no other familiar faces. She’d picked this park because it was a bit out of the way and she never ran into people from Hexside there. She wasn’t sure how she’d explain things if she ran into anyone else she knew, particularly Luz herself. Once she’d ensured that the coast was clear, Amity relaxed and lay against the illusion again.
Chapter 4: Ed and Em Make Illusions
“That was a close one,” Amity said. “Gus doesn’t even know how I feel about Luz. There’s no way he’d understand what we’re doing.”
Although having said that, Amity wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing anymore despite what she’d been telling herself.
After that close call with Gus, Amity’s tranquility had been disturbed, and she couldn’t shake off her sense of unease. She decided to head home. Once she approached the grounds, she told the illusion to follow her from a distance and stay out of sight, and that she’d enter the manor first and open the door when she’d made sure that the coast was clear.
Amity entered the manor to find that the foyer was empty. She could sneak the illusion in without anyone seeing. But from the distance she could hear Ed and Em laughing in the kitchen and decided she wanted to talk to them for a moment first.
“Hey,” Amity said. “Can I… ask you something?”
“Sure,” Em said.
“You guys work with illusions. Do you ever get… attached to them?”
“No way,” Ed said.
“Oh, you say that now,” Em said. “Remember Miss Whiskers?”
“Oh, that was when I was young. That doesn’t count.”
“Miss Whiskers?” Amity said.
“Once, Ed found a stray kitten,” Em said. “He tried to keep it, but eventually Mom and Dad noticed all the hair around the house and made us give her up. So, Ed made an illusion of the kitten. He kept it for weeks.”
“That was a long time ago,” Ed said. “I never did anything like that since.”
“So, what happened?”
“You’re not supposed to get too attached to illusions,” Ed said. “That’s the first thing you learn in the illusion track. You can’t lose sight of the fact that they aren’t real. So eventually I came to my senses and stopped.”
“You say that…” Em said. “But I still see you conjure up Miss Whiskers every once in a while.”
“Hey!” Ed yelled as Em giggled.
“But you’ve never gotten attached to an illusion of another witch or someone like that, right?”
“Of course not,” Em said. “Why would we? We have real people. Like each other!”
Em hugged Ed, who accepted it reluctantly, still sore about how she’d teased him about Miss Whiskers.
“But you two must get on each other’s nerves sometimes,” Amity said.
“Sure,” Em said. “Everyone does.”
“But what if you didn’t? What if you made an illusion that’s just like someone you know, but with a few differences that make them… a little easier to deal with.”
“It doesn’t really work that way,” Ed said. “When you make an illusion that’s supposed to act like a real person, it’s hard to control exactly what they’ll be like.
“It’s difficult for even the very best illusionists,” Em said.
“OK… but what if you just so happened to make an illusion that was like that? Wouldn’t you be tempted to keep it around?”
“No…” Em said, looking a little uncertain. “Why are you asking these questions?”
“Just wondering,” Amity said. “I’d better go.”
Amity rushed out so she’d have time to let the illusion in and sneak it to her room while Ed and Em were still in the kitchen.
“That was weird,” Em said once she was gone.
“Yeah,” Ed said with a laugh. “I mean, who’d want to spend time with an illusion instead of a real person?”
“Yeah,” Em said and started laughing too. “Although I wouldn’t mind an illusion of you that didn’t have so many dumb ideas.”
“What do you mean, dumb ideas!” Ed snapped.
“Relax, it was just a joke.”
“Well, it wasn’t funny.”
“Oh, don’t be so sensitive. Not so long ago you were trying to eat a wild bat. You won't admit that that was a dumb idea?”
“Yeah? Well, I wouldn’t mind an illusion of you that wasn’t so mean.”
“I’m not mean!”
“You are! In fact, maybe I will go ahead and make that illusion of you.”
“Well, maybe I’ll go ahead and make that illusion of you!”
Chapter 5: Gus Goes Into Business
The next day at school, Willow came over to Gus’s locker to find a long line of students waiting in front of it.
“What’s going on?” she asked the student at the back of the line, a witch with bright orange hair.
“We’re all here for Augustus to make an illusion of us,” she said.
“I need to get out of going to my sister’s flute recital,” she said.
“And I promised two different people I’d go on a date with them on the same night,” the student in front of her said.
“What?” Willow said. “That sounds like something from a dumb TV show.”
“And my parents are making me go to a party I don’t want to go to,” a third student said.
Willow shook her head and started walking towards Gus’s locker.
“Hey, no cutting!” one student yelled out.
“I’m not a customer!” she replied.
Willow went over to Gus, who was stuffing a big pile of snails into his locker while scribbling something in a little notebook. He looked exhausted.
“Gus, what are you doing?” Willow said.
“Willow, isn’t this great!” Gus said. “I’m making tons of money.”
“But you look tired. Isn’t making all these illusions taking a toll on you?”
“What? No, no, I’m fine.” Gus said with a yawn.
“Hey,” the student at the front of the line said. “Can you guys talk later? I’ve been waiting!”
Willow shook her head. “I think this is a bad idea, Gus.”
But Gus ignored her to take the order of the next student in line.
Gus kept taking customers until it was time to go to class. He made his way to the illusion homeroom, barely able to keep his eyes open, when from outside the door he saw Principal Bump talking to the illusion professor.
“Our professors have been complaining recently about more and more students replacing themselves with illusions,” Gus heard Bump say. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Of course not,” the professor said.
“Well, keep an eye out,” Bump said. “I need to get to the bottom of this.”
Later that day, Willow was looking for Gus again but couldn’t find him anywhere. She looked around the hallway when she saw a student sneaking around with a double, their eyes darting around to make sure no teachers were around.
Willow snuck over to them and said, “Hey, did you get that from Augustus?”
“Yeah,” they whispered. “But don’t tell anyone.”
“Where is he? I can’t find him.”
“He’s set up in a secret office.”
The witch led Willow to an empty storage closet and knocked in a particular pattern.
“The whip-poor-will cries out loudly,” Willow heard Gus’s voice whisper from across the doorway.
“But not as loud as the macaw,” the student who’d led Willow there said.
Willow rolled her eyes as Gus opened the door and let them in.
“Willow!” Gus said. “What are you doing here? Oh, do you need an illusion? There’s no charge for a friend!”
“I’m not here for an illusion, Gus. What’s going on?”
“Principal Bump is on the lookout for me,” Gus said. “So, I had to set up in secret. I found this room that no one uses.”
“Gus, this is getting out of hand! Is this really worth the risk of getting in trouble? What do you need all that money for anyway?”
“Well… nothing in particular, I guess.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
Gus sighed. “Don’t you ever get tired of learning about all this magic and never being able to do anything useful with it? This way I’m helping people.”
“Are you? You’re just letting them escape from reality.”
“Well, don’t people need an escape every once in a while? Haven’t you ever wanted to get out of a situation?”
“Well… sure…” Willow said. “But this is too much! You’re exhausted, you’re sneaking around…”
“Don’t worry, Willow. I can handle it.”
Willow sighed and said, “I hope so, Gus.”
Chapter 6: Illusion After Illusion
That day, Amity returned from school, eager to meet up with the illusion, when she saw Ed and Em in the front yard. But then when she entered the manor, she was surprised to see them again in the living room.
“Weren’t you two just outside?” Amity asked.
“Oh, that was Em with her illusion of me,” Ed said. “This is the illusion I made of her.”
“You were right,” Ed said. “Why would I spend time with the real Em when I can make a better version of her?”
“But that was just a thought. I didn’t mean for you guys to actually do it.”
“No matter, things are a lot better this way.” Then Ed turned his attention to the illusion, which had started climbing onto the mantle.
“Hey, stop that!” Ed yelled, grabbing a crystal sculpture of an abomination that the illusion had knocked off the mantle just in the nick of time before it shattered on the floor. “That’s Dad’s award from the abomination coven! If you’d broken that, I’d have gotten in big trouble.”
“Come climb up here with me!” the illusion said.
“What’s up with it?” Amity said. “It’s acting kind of wild.”
Ed groaned. “It’s always trying dumb things, and I have to keep it out of trouble. But that’s OK, I can just try again.”
Ed casted a circle and made the illusion disappear before casting another one to make a new illusion appear next to him.
“This one will be perfect.”
Amity left him to go back outside.
“Em,” she said. “Is that an illusion?”
“Yeah,” Em said. “You were right. Why would I want to spend time with the real Ed instead of something better?”
“And is it better?”
“Well…” she began.
But before she could finish, the illusion interrupted her. “You’re lucky you’re able to make an illusion so you can have better company. I only wish I had that option.”
“Hey!” Em said.
“It seems kind of mean,” Amity said.
“Well, that’s easily taken care of,” Em said, casting a circle and dispelling the illusion. “I’ll just make another one.”
Amity watched as Em casted another spell circle and made a new illusion of Ed appear. Then, she decided to leave her brother and sister to their own follies and went back to the manor. She went to her room and immediately brightened upon seeing the illusory Luz.
“It’s so good to see you!” Amity said, going over to give the illusion a hug, a gesture too intimate for her to have been comfortable trying with the real Luz.
“How was school?” the illusion asked.
“Same as always. I’m just glad to get back to you.”
“I'm glad to see you too! I read the Azura books like you told me.”
“Oh good!” Amity said.
Amity spent all day with the illusion talking about the Azura books. Well, it was mostly her doing the talking. The illusion didn't really have any opinions of its own, unlike the real Luz. But Amity still enjoyed it. In the past, she'd often tried to tell people about Azura, but they never listened, usually getting annoyed and demanding that she stop before long. She'd given up even trying. Being able to talk about the books for as long as she wanted to with the illusion as it nodded along appreciatively, never losing its enthusiasm, while occasionally tossing out a comment about how brilliant her analysis was, felt great, like something she'd been waiting a long time for.
Amity was so engrossed that she didn't even stop to get dinner. She didn’t leave her room at all until the next morning, when she saw Ed and Em still working on making illusions of each other.
“Oh, this one’s no good either!” Em said in the living room as she made another one disappear.
“You’re still trying to make an illusion of Ed?” Amity asked.
“I keep trying, but none of them turn out quite right,” Em said. Then, she frowned and added, “Meanwhile, Ed’s having lots of fun with his perfect version of me.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Amity said before leaving for the kitchen, where she found Ed with his illusion.
“Oh, you’re getting on my nerves!” Ed said before making it disappear.
“Ed, you can’t get the illusion right?” Amity said.
“Not yet,” Ed groaned. Then, he glumly said, “I keep making illusion after illusion while Em just plays around with a better version of me.”
“Em’s having just as much trouble as you are,” Amity said.
“She is?” Ed said, looking cheered up. “Ha, looks like it’s not so easy to improve on me!”
“Why don’t you both just stop all this?”
“No way!” Ed said, making another illusion appear. “I know this time I’ve got it.”
Amity went back into the living room and said, “Em, Ed's having just as much trouble making an illusion of you as you're having now.”
“Really?” Em said gleefully. “I knew it! I can't be replaced so easily.”
“So, maybe you should both just stop.”
“No way!” Em said. “I just need one more try and I'll get it.”
Amity rolled her eyes and left for school, leaving her siblings to their shenanigans.
Chapter 7: Gus Goes Out of Business
At Hexside, Willow was in class when she saw Luz in the hallway.
“Luz!” Willow said, going over to her. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Yeah,” Luz said. “The last few days have been tough. A bunch of my tracks had assignments all due at the same time. I had to skip lunches, do as much work as I could between classes… But I got through it!”
“Good for you,” Willow said. “Have you seen Gus lately?”
“No, but just now I saw a bunch of students looking for him. Looks like he's gotten really popular all of a sudden!”
Willow briefly explained the situation.
“So, can you talk to him?” Willow asked. “Maybe he’ll listen to you.”
“I don’t know, Willow, I kind of think it’s a good idea.”
“Think of all the money he’s making,” Luz said. “I know we could use money like that at the Owl House. I wish I could go into business like Gus and help out, but I still can’t do any magic that anyone finds useful. Maybe it's because I'm trying to learn so many things instead of focusing.”
“That’s not true,” Willow said. “You’ve done a lot of useful things with your magic.”
“Thanks,” Luz said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “Plus, Gus is helping students just like he helped me.”
“I don’t know about that…” Willow said. “And what about all the sneaking around?”
“That sounds cool! It's like we're spies! What was that code phrase again?”
Willow groaned and shook her head.
“Hey, can you show me his office?” Luz asked.
Willow took Luz over and knocked the way she’d remembered the other student knocking, but instead of Gus saying the beginning of that code phrase, a student Willow didn’t recognize opened the door.
“Hey, you’re friends of Gus’s, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Luz said.
“Maybe you should come in.”
Luz and Willow entered the room to find Gus fast asleep.
“What happened?” Luz asked, shaking him only for him remain slumbering.
“I don’t know, I was trying to get him to make an illusion of me, when suddenly he collapsed.”
“Oh no!” Willow said. “I knew he was getting too tired.”
“So, I’m not getting my illusion?” the other student asked.
“No!” Willow said.
“But I really need it!” the student groaned. “I had Gus make an illusion of me to go to a movie my boyfriend wanted see that sounded boring. I told it to be enthusiastic, but the illusion took it too far, and now my boyfriend thinks I want to see it again.”
“But don’t you see?” Willow said. “The illusion didn’t solve your problem. It just delayed it.”
“That’s because he did a bad job making it!” she said.
“Hey, don’t blame Gus!” Willow said.
“Oh fine, you two are no help,” she said before leaving.
“What should we do?” Luz asked.
“I don’t know,” Willow said. “It won’t be long until he has to go to class.”
“Unless he replaced himself with an illusion already,” Luz said.
“Oh you're right! You think he did?”
“I’ll go check.”
Willow kept an eye on Gus as he slept until Luz returned.
“I checked the illusion homeroom, and looks like there’s an illusion of Gus in there.”
“Oh, good,” Willow said. “Do you think we can leave him here?”
“Probably. No one uses this room, right?”
“That’s what Gus said.”
The two of them left for their classes and returned to the storage room at lunch to find Gus still fast asleep. Then, when they left the room, they saw the illusion of Gus in the hallway putting away Gus’s books, where he was approached by another student.
“Augustus?” he whispered. “I tried going to your office earlier, but there wasn’t any answer.”
Willow and Luz went over.
“Hey, that’s not the real Augustus,” Luz said. “It’s an illusion.”
“Oh,” the student said. “Then where can I find the real Augustus?”
“He’s unavailable right now,” Willow said.
“Yeah, he’s so tired from making illusions that he passed out,” Luz added.
“Luz!” Willow said reproachfully.
“Gus is asleep?” the illusion said. “That means I can do anything I want without having to worry about him getting rid of me!”
Before Luz and Willow could react, the illusion sped away.
“Oh, whoops,” Luz said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Willow closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Should we catch it?” Luz asked.
“We’d better. I just hope it doesn’t get into too much trouble.”
Luz and Willow began running after the illusion until they saw Principal Bump and the history professor in the hallway carrying a bunch of books.
“I don’t know where we’re going to find room for all these old textbooks,” the professor said.
“Oh, I know,” Principal Bump said. “Do you know that old storage room we stopped using? There’s plenty of room there.”
“Oh no,” Willow said.
“You go get Gus,” Luz said. “I’ll try to stall them.”
Willow ran off as Luz went over to them.
“Principal Bump!” she said overeagerly. “Could I ask you something?”
“In a minute, Luz” he said. “Just let me put away these books.”
“Please? It’s really important.”
“Oh, all right,” he said. “What’s the problem?”
Luz said the first thing that came to mind. “Do you think I’ll be able to study all these tracks successfully?”
“What? You were so insistent on wanting to study all of them. I even broke the rules for you. Now you’re having second thoughts?”
“It’s just… it’s turning out to be harder than I expected.” After a moment, Luz added, “And one of my friends said that she doesn’t think it’s realistic.”
“And you put a lot of stock in what this friend thinks?”
“Kind of,” she said. “She’s a really good student, so I figure she must know what she’s talking about.”
“Well, there are benefits to focusing,” Bump said. “It’s why we had the one-track system in the first place, even if we went too far with it. And if you’re struggling trying to learn all the tracks, then it might be time to think about changing things.”
“You really think so?” Luz asked tentatively.
“If you were to try to choose one track, what would it be?” Bump asked.
“Well… maybe plants,” Luz said. “No! Construction! Wait, maybe oracle. Oh, but what about—”
“It seems like you’re still just as indecisive as you were on the first day of the term,” Principal Bump interrupted. “I’ve learned that trying to decide for you won’t work, so why don’t you come back to me when you can decide on a track. Now, let me put away these books.”
“Wait!” Luz said.
“What is it now?” Bump asked.
Before she could answer, Luz saw Willow give her a thumbs-up sign from across the hallway.
“Um… never mind!” Luz said before rushing off.
As Bump left, shaking his head, Luz went over to Willow and asked, “So, where’s Gus?”
“I stashed him behind a bush outside,” Willow said.
“I guess you were right about this business being a bad idea,” Luz said. “But how are we going to find that illusion? It could be anywhere by now”
“I don’t know,” Willow said. “But Gus made it in the first place. Maybe the best thing would be for us to wake him up so he can handle it.”
The two went outside to Gus, who was still fast asleep.
“Wow,” Luz said. “He must’ve been exhausted.”
“Yeah,” Willow said. “I have no idea how many illusions he’s made the past few days. There could be hundreds for all I know.”
“I have an idea,” Luz said.
She took out an ice glyph conjured a block of ice that she placed on Gus’s forehead. Gus sprung awake with a start.
“Yikes! That’s cold!” he said as the ice slid off of him. “Wait, where am I? What happened?”
“You passed out just when you were about to make an illusion for some girl,” Willow said.
“What?” Gus said. “Oh yeah, now I remember. She was demanding that I make her an illusion for free because the first one I made was no good! Can you believe that?”
“Forget about that for now,” Luz said. “One of your illusions is running amok!”
“Oh no!” Gus said. “Which one? The one I made for the witch trying to cut class? Or the one I made of the demon who wanted to get out of his aunt’s birthday party. Or—”
“No, the one you made of yourself,” Luz said.
“Oh, that one,” Gus growled. “It’s always causing me trouble. But at least I didn’t let down any of my customers. They count on me.”
“Count on you?” Willow said. “Gus, those things you just listed… do they really sound like you’re helping these kids? They’re just using you to get out of minor annoyances or avoid confronting people.”
“Well… maybe some of them…” Gus said. “But I’m helping others. Like you, right Luz?”
“Yeah, you were a big help,” Luz said. Then, seeing Willow glare at her, she added, “What? He was.”
“OK, maybe that one time you helped someone,” Willow said. “But what about all the others? And look how exhausted it’s making you. You can’t go on like this.”
“I guess you’re right.” Gus sighed. “I finally felt like I was useful. Like I was making something of myself. But I guess the whole time the biggest illusion was me fooling myself.”
“But Gus, you are useful!” Luz said. “You’re one of the best friends I ever had.”
“Thanks, Luz, but that’s not the same,” Gus said. “With my business, I thought I was important to people. Like I was a necessary part of their lives.”
“But you are!” Luz asked. “Getting used to the Boiling Isles hasn’t been easy. If I hadn’t met you, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to last here.”
“Really?” Gus said.
“And for years you were my only friend,” Willow said. “That was really important to me too. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. If I knew you felt this way, I would’ve told you that a long time ago.”
“You shouldn’t need this silly business to feel like you’re an important part of people’s lives,” Luz said.
“Thanks, guys,” Gus said. “I’m sorry I put you through all this trouble. But let me make it up to you! I may not have really helped anyone with my business, but at least I made a lot of money! Let’s go out and spend it tonight.”
Willow chuckled. “That does sound like fun. Oh, but what about your illusion? We forgot about it.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Gus said. “That illusion is a lot of talk. When it comes down to it, it’s harmless.”
After saying that, the three of them went back into the school, where they saw students running in a panic from a number of strange creatures.
“What is all this?” Luz asked.
Then they heard a voice yell in their direction, “There you are!”
They turned to see Principal Bump walking towards them.
“Augustus!” he said. “You’re in big trouble!”
Chapter 8: Luz Has Doubts
“Augustus,” Bump said. “The beast keeping professor says you let loose a bunch of the animals they were working with. Is this true?”
“Uh oh,” Luz said as Willow winced.
Gus’s eyes widened and started darting around the hallway. “No, Principal Bump! I’d never do that!”
“The professor and a dozen students all saw you do it,” Bump said. “How can you possibly explain that?”
“Well… it was an illusion of me,” Gus admitted, feeling it was still better than the alternative.
“An illusion?” Bump said.
“It’s true! I can prove it! We just need to find it.”
“Well, there have been a lot of illusions running around lately,” Bump said. “But you’d better not be lying. And I’ll be watching you to make sure you don’t try casting an illusion of yourself on the sly to take the fall for you.”
Luckily, they didn’t have to look for long. Soon after, the history professor approached Principal Bump carrying the struggling illusion of Gus under his arm.
“I caught the culprit, Principal Bump!” Seeing the real Gus, the professor then asked, “Wait, who’s this?”
“See, I was telling the truth!” Gus said before casting a spell circle to make his illusion disappear.
“Apparently so,” Principal Bump said. “But you’re still responsible for this mess. If you cast an illusion, you need to keep it under control.”
“Sorry, Principal Bump,” Gus said.
“You’d better come to my office so we can discuss your punishment.”
Principal Bump led an anxious Gus to his office, leaving Luz and Willow.
“I hope he’s not too tough on him,” Willow said.
“Yeah,” Luz said. “Willow, Gus was working himself so hard that he ended up collapsing.”
“Yeah, it was silly of him.”
“It made me wonder… am I heading down the same path trying to juggle all these tracks?”
“Is it really getting that bad? Just now you seemed so proud about getting through the past few days successfully.”
“I was, but sooner or later it’s all just going to pile up again. Also, just now you were saying how Gus’s customers were using illusions to delay their real problems instead of solving them. Isn’t that what I did with that first illusion?”
“But that was only one time. And it’s not like you used it to get out of work. You'd already written that poem.”
Luz nodded but didn’t look confident. “It’s just… I used to be so confident that I could do it all, but lately I’ve been having doubts.”
“This isn’t all because of what Amity said a few days ago, is it?”
“No…” Luz answered.
“I hope not. Why should you care so much about what she thinks?”
“I know,” Luz said uncertainly before walking off to class.
Meanwhile, Principal Bump sat Gus down in his office.
“After all the disruption you caused, I’ll need to think of some suitable consequences.”
“Um… wait!” Gus exclaimed as he pulled out a big pile of snails from his pockets. “I don’t suppose it would help if I pay for whatever damages the animals caused?”
“Are you trying to bribe me?” Principal Bump demanded indignantly.
Realizing his mistake, Gus hurriedly stuffed the snails back into his pockets and said, “No! No!”
“Wait a minute… where did you get all that money?”
“I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints from teachers lately about students being replaced by illusions. They think someone in the illusion track is charging them for it, but so far no one’s come forward to say who’s behind it. Are you the one responsible?”
“Um… if I were, what would happen?”
Principal Bump groaned. “Just get rid of whatever illusions you’ve made and don’t make any more.”
“Absolutely, Principal Bump!” Gus said, relieved to get off so easily.
“And since you’ve proven yourself incapable, of controlling your illusions, no more using them to take notes for you in class.”
“What?! But Principal Bump—”
Bump raised a finger and said, “No complaints. I’m being very lenient. And as for what you said earlier about the damages…”
Gus groaned and handed over the money he’d just put back into his pockets.
“Hmm… you did quite well for yourself, it seems,” Bump said as he leafed through the stack of bills. “I think this should about cover it.”
Bump placed most of the money on his desk and handed Gus back a bill for a mere five snails, which Gus accepted with a frown.
“All right,” Bump said. “Now that's settled. No more casting illusions for students.”
“Fine,” Gus said. “The truth is, I was going to stop anyway.”
“Good,” Bump said. “However… there’s a Hexside staff meeting tonight, and those things always go on for so long…”
Gus gasped. “Principal Bump!”
“What?” Bump said with a sheepish shrug. “I said no more casting illusions for students.”
“OK,” Gus said, raising his hand to draw a spell circle. “You know… I did use to charge five snails for this…”
Bump groaned and reached into his pocket.
After being released, Gus met up with Willow and Luz near their lockers.
“How’d it go?” Willow asked.
“Not too bad!” Gus said before telling them what happened.
“It’s a shame you lost all your money though,” Willow said once he'd finished.
Gus chuckled. “Not even close! That was just the money from today! I’ve got plenty more back at home!”
“Wow! So, are you still going to treat us to some fun with all that money?”
“You bet!” Gus said. Then, he yawned and said, “But do you think we could do it tomorrow? I’m still kind of tired from all the illusions I’ve been casting.”
Willow giggled. “Sure, Gus, you should go get some rest.”
As Gus walked off, Luz, who’d been surprisingly subdued during the whole conversation, said, “It’s probably best for me to have the rest of the day to myself anyway. It gives me the chance to think things over.”
Willow frowned. She wasn’t used to seeing Luz this uncertain about things for so long.
“It’s your decision, Luz,” Willow said. “But remember how enthusiastic you used to be about studying all the tracks? I just don’t want you to change your mind because of how you’re feeling right this moment and then regret it later.”
“Don’t worry,” Luz said. “I won’t.”
Willow started on her way home as Luz continued collecting her books. Then, she saw Amity, who’d missed out on all the excitement because her classroom was so far from where the beasts had been released, walking in the hallway with her bag packed, ready to head home as well.
“Amity!” Luz said, rushing over.
“Oh, hi, Luz,” Amity said, blushing.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in a while,” Luz said.
“Oh…” Amity said, realizing she hadn't seen much of anyone in while what with all the time she'd been been spending with the illusion. “Yeah… I’ve been kind of busy.”
“Yeah, me too. Hey, are you doing anything right now? I’ve been thinking about some problems I’ve been having lately, and I thought it might help to talk things over with you.”
“Really?” Amity said. “With me?”
Amity was happy that Luz didn’t appear to still be angry about what she’d said earlier about her having disadvantages as a human, and she was glad that Luz thought of her as someone she could talk about her problems with.
At the same time though, Amity had just gotten through a really long day, and talking through some of Luz's problems with her on top of all that seemed like a lot at the moment. Would she even be helpful to Luz? Wouldn’t it be better if they tackled this when she was fresh?
But more broadly, as much as spending time with Luz made her happy, it could also be really stressful. The intensity of her feelings could be overwhelming, even frightening, not to mention the anxiety of wondering what impression Luz might get based on every little thing she did or said. And sometimes she just wanted to avoid all that and relax.
Moreover, all day, Amity had been really looking forward to getting back to her illusion at home, and especially towards the end of the school day, Amity had been longing to see it as soon as she could.
“Um… is it anything that can't wait until tomorrow?” Amity asked.
“No,” Luz said, although she looked disappointed.
“In that case, do you think we could talk about it then?”
“Yeah,” Luz said. “No problem.”
“You’re sure?” Amity said, feeling guilty.
“Of course! I don’t expect you to drop everything just to talk things over with me. Anyway, I’ll let you go. Don’t let me keep you from anything important.”
Luz walked back to her locker, and, after hesitating for a moment, Amity headed home.
Chapter 9: Ed and Em Make Up
That day, Ed and Em had skipped school to keep working on their illusions. While Amity was heading home from Hexside, they were both in the front yard making more and more illusions of each other.
“Oh, why can’t I get this right?!” Ed said, making yet another unsatisfactory attempt disappear.
“I can’t either,” Em grumbled. She was silent for a moment before saying, “You know… we always make better illusions when we cast them together.”
Ed glared. “You really think you need help from someone dumb like me?” he said in a petulant tone.
“I never said you were dumb!” Em said. “I said sometimes you have dumb ideas. Sometimes. Can you honestly say you’ve never had a dumb idea?”
Ed didn’t answer.
“You have some really good ideas too,” Em added, which made Ed’s expression soften. “That’s one of the reasons I like spending time with you. I mean… before we came up with this idea.” After a moment, she asked. “Do you really think I’m too mean?”
“Well… sometimes,” Ed said. “But maybe I was too sensitive.”
“I guess you won’t have to worry about that once you replace me with something better.” Em glanced downward. “I bet you wish you’d thought of this idea a long time ago.”
Ed looked at her and said, “Well… I wouldn’t go that far. I had a lot of fun with you over the years. I mean… before we came up with this idea.”
Em gave the faintest glimmer of a smile.
The two went over to each other and drew a spell circle together, simultaneously creating two illusions of themselves. They stared at them for a moment.
“Well… they look perfect so far,” Em said.
“Yeah…” Ed said. “I bet we could each have a lot of fun with them.”
“Yeah…” Em said.
Ed and Em looked at each other, and after a moment they both started laughing.
“Let’s get rid of these silly things,” Ed said.
“Yeah,” Em said.
They drew another circle, and the illusions disappeared. Still laughing, they hugged each other. Right then, Amity arrived home.
“Which one of you is real?” Amity asked.
“Both of us,” Em said.
“Yeah, we finally realized how stupid we were being,” Ed said.
“You must think the two of us are so silly,” Em said. “Trying to replace each other with illusions like that.”
“Yeah…” Amity said, her gaze downturned.
“Let’s go out and have some fun,” Ed said. “We need to make up for all the time we wasted working on those illusions.”
“You want to come with us, Mittens?” Em asked.
“Uh… no, I need to get to my room…” Amity said. “To study…”
“You’ve really been hitting the books lately,” Ed said.
“Yeah, even more than usual,” Em said. “We’ve barely seen you the past couple days.”
“Yeah…” Amity said uneasily before going into the manor.
Chapter 10: Amity Faces Reality
Amity went up to her room, where she saw the illusion waiting for her. As usual, seeing its face made all her anxieties and insecurities flee from her mind.
Or at least most of them did. For some reason, there remained a slight niggling feeling that she was doing something wrong. But she hoped a minute or so with the illusion would make that feeling dissipate.
“It’s so good to see you,” Amity said, untying her hair so the illusion could brush it. “I’ve been missing you.”
“It’s good to see you too!” the illusion said. “How was your day?”
“You know, same as always.”
Saying that, Amity thought about Luz. Before meeting her, her days had been a long string of monotony. Luz had shaken things up for her—for better and for worse. But mostly for the better.
“Is something wrong?” the illusion asked.
Amity realized she must’ve been frowning. “No. Well… I’m just feeling a little guilty. Luz wanted to talk about something bothering her, and I told her I couldn’t.”
Amity sat down on the floor of the room, and the illusion began brushing.
“But she said it could wait until tomorrow,” Amity continued. “So, that’s not so bad, right?”
“No,” the illusion said.
“Except… she probably thinks I’m doing something important. Not… whatever this is.”
“Well, maybe this is important,” the illusion said.
“What do you mean?” Amity asked.
“If it’s important to you, then it’s important.”
Amity thought about that. “Yeah, maybe that’s true. After all, I’ve been in school all day, I still have all this homework I need to do… is it so terrible for me to spend a little time doing one thing that I like to do?”
“Of course not,” the illusion said.
“Thanks,” Amity said.
As the illusion continued to brush her hair, Amity still didn’t feel quite as comforted as she usually was around it.
“The only thing is… Luz is always so nice and always so willing to help her friends. I feel bad about not reciprocating the one time she needed something from me.” But after a moment, Amity added, “But I’ll just help her tomorrow. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?”
“Nothing wrong with that at all,” the illusion said cheerfully.
Amity closed her eyes and tried to enjoy the company of the illusion in silence. But before long, she felt compelled to add, “And I can’t be expected to be as selfless as Luz. She’s one-of-a-kind.”
The irony of calling Luz one-of-a-kind while enjoying the company of a copy of her didn’t escape Amity.
“No one can put other people ahead of themselves all the time.” Amity went on. “Right?”
“Of course not,” the illusion said.
“Yeah, sometimes I have to think about myself.”
Even as she said it, Amity realized she was being self-serving. Helping Luz talk through her problem the one time she needed her instead of coming home and luxuriating in the comfort of illusion was hardly the same as constantly putting other people before herself to a fault.
But the illusion simply said, “Yeah, you’re right.”
Amity frowned. Usually, being with the illusion felt like being with the real Luz except maybe a little less stressful. But the real Luz would never have merely blithely agreed with what she’d just said.
Amity had spoken to the illusion about doubts she'd been having about herself and her actions before, and all of those times, hearing the illusion reassure her that they were unfounded and that she was in the right mollified Amity’s anxieties. But this time, it wasn’t working. Hearing the illusion agree with her just made Amity feel worse.
The illusion was still brushing, but Amity put her hand on its and said, “Stop that for a second.”
Then, Amity turned around to face the illusion.
“All you do is agree with whatever I say and tell me that everything I do is OK,” Amity said.
“But isn’t that what you want?” the illusion said.
Amity’s brow furrowed. “No. I mean… maybe sometimes… But sometimes I need someone to tell me when I’m wrong.”
The illusion stared at her blankly. Amity stood up and started pacing around her room.
“What would you say if… if you saw me bullying someone?” Amity asked.
“What would you want me to say?”
“Well… I’d want you to tell me to stop,” Amity said. “I’d want you to make me stop, even if it meant… challenging me to a witch’s duel or something crazy like that.”
“I could do that,” the illusion said.
“But only if I told you to,” Amity said. “That’s no good.”
Amity stopped pacing and plopped herself onto her bed. “I thought you were just like Luz except a little bit different in a few ways. A little bit easier to deal with. But you’re not like her at all.”
“If you want, I could be more like her. Just tell me what to change.”
Amity’s brow furrowed. “No. That won’t work. I thought the differences between you and Luz were small. And maybe they are. But those small things ended up being really important.” Amity curled onto her bed facing away from the illusion. “And even if I did get you to act just like Luz, if I can just change whatever I don’t like about you at a moment’s notice, I might be tempted to do it. To make you more easy to deal with.”
“But I thought you wanted someone easier to deal with,” the illusion said. “You’re always talking about how hard your life is. Don’t you want something in your life to be easy?”
“No. I mean, not like this.” Amity sighed. “Knowing Luz has been difficult sometimes, but it was always worth it, even if I didn't realize it at the time.”
Amity lied down flat on her bed and stared at the ceiling. “You’ve been really nice to me… just like Luz. But… but I didn’t start feeling the way I feel about Luz only because she’s nice to me. She also challenged me. She made me a better person.” She sat up and looked at the illusion. “You can’t do that. When I told you how I came home to you instead of helping Luz, all you did was say that it wasn’t so bad.”
“But I was just agreeing with you,” the illusion said.
It was true, which made Amity feel terrible. “Well… I was wrong.” Her gaze dropped from the illusion to floor. “I brought you here in the first place because I wished I could spend more time with Luz. But then when I did get the chance to spend time with her, with the real Luz… I said no. I came to you instead.”
Thinking about that made Amity feel sick, like there was a pit in her stomach. “And it was all because Luz wanted me to help her with something instead of the other way around.” Amity stood up again and started pacing around once more. “I've been a terrible friend. All I’ve been thinking about is what Luz… and you… can do for me. But that’s not fair.”
“But isn’t that better for you?” The illusion asked.
“No,” Amity said. “I mean… I thought it was… but that’s not the kind of person I want to be.”
Now facing away from the illusion, Amity stopped pacing.
“It’s not the kind of person who deserves Luz as a friend,” Amity said. “It’s not the kind of person she deserves as a friend. It’s not even the kind of person who deserves a copy of her.”
Amity turned to face the illusion, which was wearing its usual smile, completely unmoved by what Amity had been saying.
“This is wrong,” Amity said. “This whole thing was a bad idea from the very beginning.” She took one more opportunity to study the illusion before saying, deliberately, “I… I think I need to get rid of you. For real this time.”
Amity thought about how lonely she'd be without the illusion, how she'd no longer have a comforting presence to come back to every day. But it had to be done. She was sure of it.
“OK,” the illusion said, betraying no anger or sadness or any other emotion upon hearing Amity’s decision.
Amity’s eyebrows raised. “That’s it? You’re not going to… to try to stop me or anything?”
“Nope!” the illusion said, shaking its head.
Amity hadn't been quite sure how the illusion would react. She'd half-expected it to suddenly get angry, to yell about how it had done everything for her benefit only to be discarded just like that, to force her into a harrowing battle. It certainly would’ve been a justified reaction from any real person that Amity had treated like she'd treated that illusion.
And it would’ve made for a more dramatic ending to their time together, one that matched externally how dramatic Amity’s recent realization and decision felt internally. But she supposed that wouldn’t have been in character for the illusion.
Amity decided not to wait for Gus. She wanted to get this over with now. She took a heavy textbook from her desk and went over to the illusion, raising the book over its head.
“I’m sorry,” Amity said.
“For what?” the illusion asked blithely.
“For… never mind.” Amity said.
Amity closed her eyes and steeled her resolve before bringing the book down as hard as she could down on the illusion, shuddering as she felt it give way. Then, she opened her eyes. The illusion was gone. She was alone.
Chapter 11: Amity's Real Friends
Later that day, Luz was in the Owl House looking over her schedule and staring at all the different textbooks and other materials for all of her classes when Hooty informed her that there was someone there to see her. She went outside and was surprised to find Amity waiting for her.
“Amity!” Luz said.
“Hi, Luz,” Amity said. “I came here as fast as I could. Is now a bad time? Are you in the middle of something?”
“Nope.” Luz shook her head. “But what are you doing here?”
“I came to talk things over with you like you wanted.”
“You came all the way here for that? Wow, thanks, Amity! But I thought you were busy.”
“No. I decided you were more important.” Amity blushed. “I… I mean that this was more important.”
“Thanks, Amity! That’s really nice. You know… I was a little worried that you were avoiding me because you were mad at me.”
“W-what? Why would I be mad at you?”
“Because I snapped at you when we were talking at lunch a few days ago. You know, when you said I had disadvantages as a human.”
“What? No! Luz… maybe I was avoiding you a little. But it’s because I thought you would still be mad at me!” Amity took folded her arms in front of her and dropped her gaze. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that as an insult. I… I kind of meant it as a compliment. You know, because of how much you’ve accomplished even being—” Amity caught herself. “I mean… even not being able to do magic the same way I do.”
“Well… it didn’t feel like a compliment.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Sometimes… sometimes I say the wrong thing…” Amity glanced away.
“Hey, it’s OK. Sometimes I say the wrong thing too.” Luz ruffled her hair bashfully. “I was told that back at home. A lot.”
Amity smiled. Actually resolving things with Luz felt so much better than just having the illusion reassure her that she hadn't done anything wrong. And even if it had been a little uncomfortable, it wasn't nearly as bad as Amity had feared it would be all that time she'd spent avoiding Luz.
“So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Amity asked.
“Well, I’ve been wondering whether studying all the tracks is really a good idea. Maybe you were right, and I need to focus on one.”
Amity gasped. “Oh no, is this all because of what I said at that lunch?”
“No. I mean, that put the thought in my head, maybe, but it was also all the trouble I’ve been having lately trying to do everything.” Luz sighed. “Do you really think it’s unrealistic for me to try to study all the tracks?”
Amity considered the question. “Well… to be honest… it’s hard for me to think that anyone could study all the tracks successfully.”
“Oh,” Luz said, frowning and looking downward.
Seeing how disappointed Luz looked, Amity blurted out, “But… but what I think doesn’t matter! I didn’t think you could ever become a witch in the first place, remember? But you proved me wrong! Why should you listen to me?”
“What?” Amity said, turning red.
“Nothing, it’s just kind of funny to hear you tell me not to listen to you.”
“Well… it’s true. I’m not even sure why I’m the one you wanted to talk to about this.”
“Because you’re such a good student. The best student I know. And as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always known what you wanted to do and how to do it. I figure you must know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh… thanks, Luz, but… I really don’t have everything figured out the way you think I do. Or the way I try to make it look.” Amity averted her eyes and added, “You might be surprised at some of the silly things I’ve done even just recently.”
“Oh? Like what?”
Amity gulped. “Uh… let’s talk about that later! We’d better focus on this. Just now, when you thought I was saying you wouldn’t be able to study the all the tracks, you looked really disappointed. Doesn’t that prove that focusing on one track isn’t what you really want?”
“That does make sense…” Luz said.
“Hey, this might help. What if you thought about why you wanted to become a witch in the first place?”
“OK… I guess it was because I thought it was cool.” Luz said. She glanced away. “That probably sounds like a dumb reason.”
“No!” Amity said. “I don’t think that at all!”
“Absolutely! There are people with much worse reasons for their goals. Like because it’s what other people expect of them.”
“Oh, is that how you feel?” Luz asked.
“What? No! I wasn’t talking about myself.”
“OK…” Luz said.
Amity noticed that Luz seemed skeptical, which was a little annoying, but decided not to press the issue. She was there to talk about Luz’s problem, after all.
“OK, so if that’s why you wanted to become a witch, do all the tracks still seem cool to you?”
“Yeah!” Luz said enthusiastically.
“OK, and does one of them stick out to you as cooler than the others?”
“Hmm… I don’t think so. I still love them all.”
“Then it sounds like you want to keep studying all of them.”
“Yeah, I do want to… if I can…”
“So… is the problem all the work?”
Luz considered. “I don’t mind all the work if it means I’m making progress. But… but what if I end up not being able to do it?”
“That’s something I’ve wondered about too. It can be hard putting in the work when you know there’s no guarantee that it’ll pay off. But I think it’s still worth it to try. And you could always choose one track later if you need to.”
“Yeah… but I don’t even know how much time I have here. What if I waste all of it trying to study everything when I could’ve been making a lot of progress on one thing? What if I do have to choose one track, but by the time I finally realize it, it’s too late?”
Being reminded that Luz would be leaving someday gave Amity a momentary shock, which she suppressed. “Well… I don’t know. But I’ve heard that sometimes witches switch covens and bring all kinds of new ideas to their new coven from their old one. So, if you do have to choose one track, maybe all your time studying the others will still pay off.”
Luz seemed to be deep in consideration. After a moment, Amity added one last thought.
“You know, Luz, if you’re only going to be here for a while… I think that's all the more reason you should spend that time doing what you want to do.”
Luz stroked her chin and nodded. “I think I need to think things over a little on my own. But thanks for coming here, Amity.”
“Any time, Luz. I just wish I could’ve been more helpful.”
“No, you were a huge help!” Luz said.
“Really?” Amity smiled. Hearing that felt great, as good as being comforted by the illusion had been. Maybe better. “I’m glad.”
“Yeah, and I especially appreciate it because I know how busy you are.”
“You don’t need to say that, Luz. I… I don’t want you to ever feel like I’m too busy to help you.”
“Aww, that’s really sweet of you, Amity!” Luz said, which made Amity blush, right before she headed back to the Owl House.
The next day, after classes had ended, Amity went to Gus’s locker.
“Hi, Amity,” Gus said. “You look kind of tired.”
“Yeah, I was up late doing homework.” Amity had been forced to stay up late because of the time she’d spent going to and from the Owl House and talking to Luz, but it was well worth it as far as she was concerned.
“Hey, did you get rid of that illusion I lent you?”
“Yeah, that’s what I came here to tell you,” Amity said. “I decided I didn’t need it after all.”
“So, you finished your sculpture?”
“No,” Amity said. “I’ve given up sculpting, or at least I've given up sculpting using that illusion. It was nice for a while… but I decided other things were more important to me. And more rewarding.”
“So, that means no sculpture of me?” Gus asked, crestfallen.
“Sorry, Gus,” Amity said. “But I do have this.”
Amity got her bag and pulled out a drawing she’d made of Gus. She’d predicted that he’d be disappointed to find out there was no sculpture forthcoming, and even though drawing him had been another thing keeping her up late, she figured she owed it to him after taking advantage of his magic for so long under false pretenses.
“I know it’s not great,” Amity said, handing it over to him. “And I drew it from memory. If you want, I could probably do a better job if…”
“I love it!” Gus beamed.
“Really?” Amity said, smiling. “I’m glad!”
“Hey, there’s Luz and Willow!” Gus said, pointing down the hallway. “Now I can show it to them!”
“Um… just don’t tell them about the sculpting, OK?”
“OK, if that’s what you want.”
Luz and Willow came over, and Gus excitedly showed them the drawing.
“Doesn’t it look great!” Gus said. “I’m going to hang it in my room!”
“You did a really good job, Amity!” Luz said.
“Thanks!” Amity replied. “You seem more cheerful today than yesterday.”
“Yeah, it’s because I made a decision. I’m going to keep studying all the tracks after all.”
“Good for you, Luz,” Willow said. “If that’s what you want.”
“It’s just like you said yesterday, Amity,” Luz said. “I should spend my time here doing what I want to do, and that’s what I want to do, no matter how tough it gets.”
“That’s great, Luz,” Amity said. “If anyone can study all the tracks, it’s you. I really believe that.”
“Hey, Amity, why don’t you come with us after school?” Gus said. “I made a lot of money recently, and I promised Willow and Luz I’d spend some of it on them.”
“How’d you make all that money?” Amity asked
“It’s a long story…” Gus said. “I’ll tell you about it once we get out of here. You’re not too busy with all your tracks to come with us, are you, Luz?”
Luz shook her head. “I just had a lot of stuff due in a bunch of tracks all at once, but the bright side of that is now I don’t have anything due for a while. Besides, what would be the point of being here if I couldn’t find the time to hang out with the three of you? You’ll come, right, Amity?”
“You want me to come?” Amity said excitedly. “Yeah, that sounds great! And it’ll be nice to spend time with some real people.”
“Real people?” Willow said, raising an eyebrow.
“Uh… I mean real friends,” Amity said. “Time with my real friends.”
“Oh, what a nice thing to say!” Luz said.
“Yeah,” Amity said with a nervous chuckle as the four of them left school together.