Isolt Sayre was born around 1603 and spent her earliest childhood in the valley of Coomloughra, County Kerry, in Ireland. She was the offspring of two pure-blood wizarding families.
Her father, William Sayre, was a direct descendant of the famous Irish witch Morrigan, an Animagus whose creature form was a crow. William nicknamed his daughter ‘Morrigan’ for her affinity for all natural things when she was young. Her early childhood was idyllic, with parents who loved her and were quietly helpful to their Muggle neighbours, producing magical cures for humans and livestock alike.
However, at five years old, an attack upon the family home resulted in the death of both of her parents. Isolt was ‘rescued’ from the fire by her mother’s estranged sister, Gormlaith Gaunt, who took her to the neighbouring valley of Coomcallee, or ‘Hag’s Glen’, and raised her there.
As Isolt grew older she came to realise that her saviour was in reality her kidnapper and the murderer of her parents. Unstable and cruel, Gormlaith was a fanatical pure-blood who believed that her sister’s helpfulness to her Muggle neighbours was setting Isolt upon a dangerous path to intermarriage with a non-magical man. Only by stealing the child, Gormlaith believed, could their daughter be brought back to the ‘right way’: raised in the belief that as a descendant of both Morrigan and Salazar Slytherin she ought to associate only with pure-bloods.
Gormlaith set herself to be the model she thought Isolt needed by forcing the child to watch, as she cursed and jinxed any Muggle or animal that strayed too near their cottage. The community soon learned to avoid the place where Gormlaith lived, and from then on the only contact Isolt had with the villagers she had once been friends with, was when local boys threw stones at her as she played in the garden.
Gormlaith refused to allow Isolt to take up her place at Hogwarts when the letter arrived, on the basis that Isolt would learn more at home than at a dangerously egalitarian establishment full of Mudbloods. However, Gormlaith herself had attended Hogwarts, and told Isolt a great deal about the school. In the main, she did this to denigrate the place, lamenting that Salazar Slytherin’s plans for the purity of wizardkind had not been fulfilled. To her niece, isolated and mistreated by an aunt she believed to be at least half insane, Hogwarts sounded like a kind of paradise and she spent much of her teens fantasising about it.
For twelve years, Gormlaith enforced Isolt’s cooperation and isolation through powerful Dark magic. At last the young woman developed sufficient skill and courage to escape by stealing her aunt’s wand, for she had never been permitted her own. The only other object that Isolt took with her was a gold brooch in the shape of a Gordian Knot that had once belonged to her mother. Isolt then fled the country.
Scared of Gormlaith’s retribution and her prodigious tracking powers, Isolt moved first to England, but before long Gormlaith was on her tail. Determined to hide in such a way that her adoptive mother would never find her, Isolt cut off her hair. Masquerading as a Muggle boy called Elias Story, she set sail for the New World on the Mayflower in 1620.
Isolt arrived in America among the earliest Muggle settlers (Muggles are known as ‘No-Majs’ in the American wizarding community, from ‘No Magic’). On arrival she vanished into the surrounding mountains, leaving her erstwhile shipmates to suppose that ‘Elias Story’ had died of the harsh winter, like so many others. Isolt left the new colony partly because she remained afraid that Gormlaith would track her, even to a new continent, but also because her journey aboard the Mayflower had led her to deduce that a witch was unlikely to find many friends among the Puritans.
Isolt was now quite alone in a harsh, foreign country and, as far as she knew, the only witch for hundreds if not thousands of miles – her partial education by Gormlaith had not included information about Native American wizards. However, after several weeks alone in the mountains, she met two magical creatures of whose existence she had hitherto been ignorant.
The Hidebehind is a nocturnal, forest-dwelling spectre that preys on humanoid creatures. As the name suggests, it can contort itself to hide behind almost any object, concealing itself perfectly from hunters and victims alike. Its existence has been suspected by No-Majs, but they are no match for its powers. Only a witch or wizard is likely to survive an attack by a Hidebehind.
The Pukwudgie is also native to America: a short, grey-faced, large-eared creature distantly related to the European goblin. Fiercely independent, tricky and not over-fond of humankind (whether magical or mundane), it possesses its own powerful magic. Pukwudgies hunt with deadly, poisonous arrows and enjoy playing tricks on humans.
The two creatures had met in the forest and the Hidebehind, which was of unusual size and strength, had not only succeeded in capturing the Pukwudgie, which was young and inexperienced, but had also been on the point of disembowelling him when Isolt cast the curse that made it flee. Unaware that the Pukwudgie, too, was exceptionally dangerous to humans, Isolt picked him up, carried him to her makeshift shelter and nursed him back to health.
The Pukwudgie now declared himself bound to serve her until he had an opportunity to repay his debt. He considered it a great humiliation to be indebted to a young witch foolish enough to wander around in a strange country, where Pukwudgies or Hidebehinds might have attacked her at any moment, and her days were now filled with the Pukwudgie’s grumbling as he trudged along at her heels.
In spite of the Pukwudgie’s ingratitude, Isolt found him amusing and was glad of his company. Over time, a friendship developed between them that was almost unique in the history of their respective species. Faithful to the taboos of his people, the Pukwudgie refused to tell her his individual name, so she dubbed him ‘William’ after her father.
William began to introduce Isolt to the magical creatures with which he was familiar. They took trips together to observe the frog-headed Hodags hunting, they fought a dragonish Snallygaster and watched newborn Wampus kittens playing in the dawn.
Most fascinating of all to Isolt, was the great horned river serpent with a jewel set into its forehead, which lived in a nearby creek. Even her Pukwudgie guide was terrified of this beast, but to his astonishment, the Horned Serpent seemed to like Isolt. Even more alarming to William was the fact that she claimed to understand what the Horned Serpent was saying to her.
Isolt learned not to talk to William about her strange sense of kinship with the serpent, nor of the fact that it seemed to tell her things. She took to visiting the creek alone and never told the Pukwudgie where she had been. The serpent’s message never varied: ‘Until I am part of your family, your family is doomed.’
Isolt had no family, unless you counted Gormlaith back in Ireland. She could not understand the Horned Serpent’s cryptic words, or even decide whether she was imagining the voice in which he seemed to speak to her.
Isolt was finally reunited with people of her own kind under tragic circumstances. As she and William foraged in the woods one day, a grisly noise not far away caused William to shout at Isolt to remain where she was, as he charged away through the trees, poisoned arrow at the ready.
Naturally, Isolt did not follow his instructions, and when she arrived shortly afterwards at a small clearing she found a horrific sight. The very Hidebehind that had previously tried to kill William had had more success with a pair of naïve humans who now lay dead upon the ground. Worse, two small boys lay seriously injured nearby, waiting their turn as the Hidebehind prepared to disembowel their parents.
The Pukwudgie and Isolt together made short work of the Hidebehind, which this time was destroyed. Delighted with their afternoon’s work, the Pukwudgie then continued blackberrying, ignoring the faint groans of the children on the ground. When the furious Isolt instructed him to help her carry the two small boys home, William threw a tantrum. The young boys, he said, were already as good as dead. It was against the beliefs of his kind to assist humankind, Isolt being the unfortunate exception because she had saved his life.
Outraged by the Pukwudgie’s callousness, Isolt told him that she would accept the saving of one of the boy’s lives as repayment. The two boys were so ill she was afraid to Apparate with them, but insisted on carrying them home. Grudgingly, the Pukwudgie consented to carry the older boy, whose name was Chadwick, while Isolt carried young Webster back to her shelter.
Once there, the furious Isolt told William that she had no further need of him. The Pukwudgie glared at her, then vanished.
Isolt had sacrificed her only friend for the two small boys who might not survive. Fortunately, however, they did so, and to her astonishment and delight, she realised that they were magical.
Chadwick and Webster’s wizarding parents had brought them to America in search of a fascinating adventure. This had ended in tragedy when the family had wandered into the woods and encountered the Hidebehind. Unfamiliar with the creature and taking it for a common or garden Boggart, Mr Boot had attempted to ridicule it, with the awful consequences that Isolt and William had witnessed.
The boys were so seriously ill for the first couple of weeks that Isolt did not dare leave them. It troubled her that in her haste to save the children she had not been able to give their parents’ bodies a decent burial, and when at last Chadwick and Webster seemed well enough to leave alone for a few hours, she returned to the forest with the intention of creating graves that the boys might one day visit.
To her surprise, when she arrived in the clearing she found a young man by the name of James Steward. He, too, was from the Plymouth settlement. Having missed the family he had befriended on his journey to America, he had gone into the forest to search for them.
As Isolt watched, James finished marking the graves he had dug by hand, then picked up the two broken wands that had lain beside the Boot parents. Frowning he examined the sparking core of dragon heartstring that protruded from Mr Boot’s, then gave it a casual wave. As invariably happens when a No-Maj waves a wand, it rebelled. James was sent flying backwards across the clearing, hit a tree and was knocked out cold.
He woke in a small shelter of branches and animal skins to find himself being nursed by Isolt. She could not hide her magic from him in such a confined space, particularly when she was brewing potions to aid the Boot boys’ recovery and using her wand to hunt. Isolt intended to Obliviate James once he was over his concussion and to send him back to the colony at Plymouth.
In the meantime, it was wonderful to have another adult to talk to, especially an adult who was already fond of the Boot boys and helped entertain them while they recovered from their magical injuries. James even helped Isolt construct a stone house on the top of Greylock, providing a workable design, having been a stonemason in England, which Isolt made a reality in the space of an afternoon. Isolt christened her new home ‘Ilvermorny’ after the cottage in which she had been born, and which Gormlaith had destroyed.
Every day, Isolt vowed to Obliviate James, and every day, his fear of magic wore off a little more, until finally it seemed simplest to admit that they were in love, marry and have done with it.
Isolt and James considered the Boot boys their adopted sons. Isolt told them the second-hand stories of Hogwarts she had learned from Gormlaith. Both boys yearned to attend the school, frequently asking why they could not all return to Ireland where they could wait for their letters. Isolt did not want to frighten the boys with the story of Gormlaith. Instead, she promised them that when they reached eleven years old, she would somehow find them wands (their parents’ wands being broken beyond repair) and they would start a school of magic right there in the cottage.
This idea caught Chadwick’s and Webster’s imaginations. The boys’ ideas of what a magical school ought to be like were based almost entirely on Hogwarts, so they insisted that it ought to have four houses. The idea of naming the houses after themselves, as the founders, was swiftly abandoned, because Webster felt a house called ‘Webster Boot’ had no chance of ever winning anything, and instead, each chose their favourite magical beast. For Chadwick, an intelligent but often temperamental boy, it was the Thunderbird that can create storms as it flies. For argumentative but fiercely loyal Webster, it was the Wampus, a magical panther-like creature that was fast, strong and almost impossible to kill. For Isolt, it was, of course, the Horned Serpent that she still visited and with which she felt a strange sense of kinship.
When asked what his favourite creature was, James was at a loss. The only No-Maj in the family was unable to consort with the magical creatures the others had begun to know well. Finally, he named the Pukwudgie, because the stories his wife told of curmudgeonly William always made him laugh.
Thus were the four houses of Ilvermorny created, and while the four originators did not yet know it, much of their own characters leaked into the houses they had so light-heartedly named.
Chadwick’s eleventh birthday was fast approaching and Isolt was at a loss to know how to provide the wand she had promised him. As far as she knew, the wand she had stolen from Gormlaith was the only one in America. She did not dare dissect it to find out how it was made, and her investigations into the wands of the boys’ parents showed her only that the dragon heartstring and unicorn hair they had both contained, had long since shrivelled and died.
On the eve of his birthday, she had a dream that she went down to the creek to find the Horned Serpent, which rose up out of the water and bowed its head to her while she shaved a long shard from its horn. Waking in the darkness, she proceeded down to the creek.
The Horned Serpent was waiting there for her. It raised its head exactly as it had done in her dream, she took part of its horn, thanked it, then returned to the house and woke James, whose skill with stone and wood had already beautified the family cottage.
When Chadwick woke next day, it was to find a finely carved wand of prickly ash enclosing the horn of the serpent. Isolt and James had succeeded in creating a wand of exceptional power.
By the time Webster turned eleven, the reputation of the family’s little home school had spread. Two more magical boys from the Wampanoag tribe had been joined by a mother and two daughters from the Narragansett, all interested in learning the techniques of wandwork in exchange for sharing their own magical learning. All were provided with wands of Isolt’s and James’s making. Some protective instinct told Isolt to save the Horned Serpent cores only for her two adoptive sons and she and James learned to use a variety of other cores, including Wampus hair, Snallygaster heartstring and Jackalope antlers.
By 1634, the home school had grown beyond Isolt’s family’s wildest dreams. The house expanded with every passing year. More students had arrived and while the school was still small, there were enough children to fulfil Webster’s dream of inter-house competitions. However, as the school’s reputation had not yet expanded beyond the local Native American tribes and European settlers, there were no boarders. The only people to stay at Ilvermorny overnight were Isolt, James, Chadwick, Webster and the twin girls to whom Isolt had now given birth: Martha, named for James’s late mother, and Rionach, named for Isolt’s.
The happy, busy family had no idea that grave danger was approaching them from afar. News had reached the old country that a new magical school had been set up in Massachusetts. The rumour was that the headmistress had been nicknamed ‘Morrigan’ after the famous Irish witch. However, it was only when she heard that the name of the school was ‘Ilvermorny’, that Gormlaith could believe that Isolt had managed to travel all the way to America undetected, to marry, not just a Muggle-born, but an actual Muggle, and to open a school that educated anybody with a shred of magic.
Gormlaith had purchased a wand at the despised Ollivanders to replace the precious family wand that had been handed down through generations before Isolt stole it. Determined that her niece would not know of her coming until it was too late, she unknowingly imitated Isolt by disguising herself as a man to make the crossing to America on the ship Bonaventure. Wickedly, she travelled under the name of William Sayre, which was that of Isolt’s murdered father. Gormlaith landed in Virginia and made her way stealthily towards Massachusetts and Mount Greylock, reaching the mountain on a winter’s night. She intended to lay waste to the second Ilvermorny, slaughter the parents who had thwarted her ambition of a great pure-blood family, steal her great nieces who were the last to carry the sacred bloodline, and return with them to Hag’s Glen.
At her first sight of the large granite building rising in the darkness from the peak of Mount Greylock, Gormlaith sent a powerful curse containing Isolt and James’s names towards the house, which forced them into an enchanted slumber.
Next, she uttered a single sibilant word in Parseltongue, the language of snakes. The wand that had served Isolt so faithfully for many years quivered once on the bedstand beside her as she slept, and became inactive. In all the years that she had lived with it, Isolt had never known that she held in her hand the wand of Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts, and that it contained a fragment of a magical snake’s horn: in this case, a Basilisk. The wand had been taught by its creator to ‘sleep’ when so instructed, and this secret had been handed down through the centuries to each member of Slytherin’s family who possessed it.
What Gormlaith did not know, was that there were two other occupants of the house whom she had not put to sleep, for she had never heard of sixteen-year-old Chadwick and fourteen-year-old Webster. The other thing she did not know, was what lay at the hearts of their wands: the horn of the river serpent. These wands did not become inactive when Gormlaith spoke her word of Parseltongue. On the contrary, their magical cores vibrated to the sound of the ancient language and, sensing danger to their masters, began to emit a low musical note, exactly as the Horned Serpent sounds danger.
Both Boot boys woke and leapt out of bed. Chadwick looked instinctively through the window. Creeping through the trees towards the house was the silhouette of Gormlaith Gaunt.
Like all children, Chadwick had heard and understood more than his adoptive parents had ever imagined. They might have thought that they had shielded him from any knowledge of the murderous Gormlaith, but they were wrong. As a small boy, Chadwick had overheard Isolt discussing her reasons for escaping Ireland and, little though she and James realised it, Chadwick’s dreams had been haunted by the figure of an old witch creeping through the trees towards Ilvermorny. Now he saw his nightmare made true.
Telling Webster to warn their parents, Chadwick sprinted downstairs and did the only thing that seemed to make sense to him: he ran out of the house to meet Gormlaith and prevent her entering the place where his family slept.
Gormlaith was not expecting to meet a teenage wizard and she underestimated him at first. Chadwick parried her curse expertly and they began to duel. Within a few minutes Gormlaith, though far more powerful than Chadwick, was forced to concede that the talented boy had been well taught. Even as she sent curses at his head in an attempt to subdue him, and drove him back towards the house, she questioned him about his parentage for, she said, she would be loathe to kill a pure-blood of his talent.
Meanwhile Webster was trying to shake his parents awake, but the enchantment lay so deeply upon them that not even the sound of Gormlaith’s shouts and of curses hitting the house roused them. Webster therefore hurtled downstairs and joined the duel now raging just outside the house.
Two onto one made her job more difficult: moreover, the twin cores of the Boot boys’ wands, when used together against a common enemy, increased their power tenfold. Even so, Gormlaith’s magic was strong and Dark enough to match them. Now the duel reached extraordinary proportions, Gormlaith still laughing and promising them mercy if they could prove their pure-blood credentials, Chadwick and Webster determined to stop her reaching their family. The brothers were driven back inside Ilvermorny: walls cracked and windows shattered, but still Isolt and James slept, until the baby girls lying upstairs woke and screamed in fear.
It was this that pierced the enchantment lying over Isolt and James. Rage and magic could not wake them, but the terrified screams of their daughters broke the curse Gormlaith had laid upon them, which, like Gormlaith herself, took no account of the power of love. Isolt screamed at James to go to the girls: she ran to assist her adoptive sons, Slytherin’s wand in her hand.
Only when she raised it to attack her hated aunt did she realise that for all the good it would do her, the sleeping wand might as well have been a stick she had found on the ground. Gloating, Gormlaith drove Isolt, Chadwick and Webster backwards up the stairs, towards the place where she could hear her great-nieces crying. Finally she managed to blast open the doors to their bedroom, where James stood ready to die in front of the cribs of his daughters. Sure that all was lost, Isolt cried out, hardly knowing what she said, for her murdered father.
A great clatter sounded and the moonlight was blocked from the room as William the Pukwudgie appeared on the windowsill. Before Gormlaith knew what had happened, a poisoned arrow tip had pierced her through the heart. She let out an unearthly scream that was heard for miles around. The old witch had indulged in all manner of Dark magic in an attempt to make herself invincible, and these curses now reacted with the Pukwudgie’s venom, causing her to become as solid and as brittle as coal before shattering into a thousand pieces. The Ollivander wand fell to the ground and burst: all that was left of Gormlaith Gaunt was a pile of smoking dust, a broken stick and a charred dragon heartstring.
William had saved the family’s lives. In exchange for their gratitude he merely barked that he noticed Isolt had not bothered to say his name for a decade, and that he was offended that she only called him when in fear of her imminent death. Isolt was too tactful to point out that she had been calling on a different William. James was delighted to meet the Pukwudgie of whom he had heard so much and, forgetting that Pukwudgies hate most humans, he wrung the perplexed William’s hand and said how glad he was he had named one of the houses of Ilvermorny after him.
It is widely believed that it was this piece of flattery that softened William’s heart, because he moved his family of Pukwudgies into the house the next day and, complaining constantly as usual, helped them to repair the damage that Gormlaith had wreaked. He then announced that the wizards were too dim to protect themselves and negotiated a hefty retainer in gold for acting as the school’s private security/maintenance service.
Slytherin’s wand remained inactive following Gormlaith’s command in Parseltongue. Isolt could not speak the language, but, in any case, she no longer wanted to touch the wand that was the last relic of her unhappy childhood. She and James buried it outside the grounds.
Within a year an unknown species of snakewood tree had grown out of the earth on the spot where the wand was buried. It resisted all attempts to prune or kill it, but after several years the leaves were found to contain powerful medicinal properties. This tree seemed testament to the fact that Slytherin’s wand, like his scattered descendants, encompassed both noble and ignoble. The very best of him seemed to have migrated to America.
Ilvermorny’s reputation grew steadily throughout the following years. The granite house expanded to a castle. More teachers were recruited to meet the growing demand. Now witch and wizard children from all over North America were being sent to learn there and it became a boarding school. By the nineteenth century, Ilvermorny had gained the international reputation it enjoys today.
For many years, Isolt and James remained joint Headmaster and Headmistress, as beloved to many generations of students as members of their own families.
Chadwick became an accomplished and well-travelled wizard who authored Chadwick’s Charms Vols I – VII, which are standard texts at Ilvermorny. He married a Mexican Healer called Josefina Calderon and the Calderon-Boot family remains one of wizarding America’s most prominent today.
Prior to the creation of MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America), the New World was short of wizarding law enforcement. Webster Boot became what would now be known as an Auror for hire. While repatriating a particularly nasty Dark wizard to London, Webster met and fell in love with a young Scottish witch who was working at the Ministry of Magic. Thus did the Boot family return to its home country. Webster’s descendants would be educated at Hogwarts.
Martha, the elder of James and Isolt’s twins, was a Squib. Deeply loved though Martha was by her parents and adoptive brothers, it was painful for her to grow up at Ilvermorny when she was unable to perform magic. She eventually married the non-magical brother of a friend from the Pocomtuc tribe and lived henceforth as a No-Maj.
Rionach, the youngest of James and Isolt’s daughters, taught Defence Against the Dark Arts at Ilvermorny for many years. Rionach never married. There was a rumour, never confirmed by her family, that, unlike her sister Martha, Rionach was born with the ability to speak Parseltongue and that she was determined not to pass on Slytherin ancestry into the next generation (the American branch of the family was unaware that Gormlaith was not the last of the Gaunts, and that the line continued in England).
Isolt and James both lived to be over 100. They had seen the cottage of Ilvermorny become a granite castle, and they died in the knowledge that their school was now so famous that magical families all over North America were clamouring to educate their children there. They had hired staff, they had built dormitories, they had concealed their school from No-Maj eyes by clever enchantments: in short, the girl who had dreamed of attending Hogwarts had helped found the North American equivalent.
As might be expected of a school part-founded by a No-Maj, Ilvermorny has the reputation of being one of the most democratic, least elitist of all the great wizarding schools.
Marble statues of Isolt and James flank the front doors of Ilvermorny Castle. The doors open onto a circular room topped by a glass cupola. A wooden balcony runs around the room one floor above. Otherwise the space is empty except for four enormous wooden carvings representing the houses: the Horned Serpent, the panther Wampus, the Thunderbird and the Pukwudgie.
While the rest of the school watches from the circular balcony overhead, new students file into the round entrance hall. They stand around the walls and, one by one, are called to stand on the symbol of the Gordian Knot set into the middle of the stone floor. In silence the school then waits for the enchanted carvings to react. If the Horned Serpent wants the student, the crystal set into its forehead will light up. If the Wampus wants the student, it roars. The Thunderbird signifies its approval by beating its wings, and the Pukwudgie will raise its arrow into the air.
Should more than one carving signify its wish to include the student in its house, the choice rests with the student. Very rarely – perhaps once a decade – a student is offered a place in all four houses. Seraphina Picquery, President of MACUSA 1920 - 1928, was the only witch of her generation so honoured, and she chose Horned Serpent.
It is sometimes said of the Ilvermorny houses that they represent the whole witch or wizard: the mind is represented by Horned Serpent; the body, Wampus; the heart, Pukwudgie and the soul, Thunderbird. Others say that Horned Serpent favours scholars, Wampus, warriors, Pukwudgie, healers and Thunderbird, adventurers.
The Sorting Ceremony is not the only major difference between Hogwarts and Ilvermorny (though in so many ways the schools resemble each other). Once students have been allocated a house they are led into a large hall where they select (or are selected by) a wand. Until the 1965 repeal of Rappaport’s Law, which enforced very strict conformity with the Statute of Secrecy, no child was allowed a wand until they arrived at Ilvermorny. Moreover, wands had to be left at Ilvermorny during vacations and only upon attaining seventeen years of age was the witch or wizard legally allowed to carry a wand outside school.
The robes of Ilvermorny are blue and cranberry. The colours honour Isolt and James: blue because it was Isolt’s favourite colour and because she had wished to be in Ravenclaw house as a child; cranberry in honour of James’s love of cranberry pie. All Ilvermorny students’ robes are fastened by a gold Gordian Knot, in memory of the brooch Isolt found in the ruins of the original Ilvermorny cottage.
A number of Pukwudgies continue to work at the school into present day, all grumbling, all of them insisting that they have no wish to remain there and yet all of them mysteriously present year after year. There is one particularly aged creature who answers to the name of ‘William’. He laughs at the idea that he is the original William who saved Isolt and James’s lives, rightly pointing out that the first William would be over 300 years old had he survived. However, nobody has ever found out exactly how long Pukwudgies live. William refuses to let anybody else polish the marble statue of Isolt at the entrance of the school, and on the anniversary of her death every year he may be seen laying mayflowers on her tomb, something that puts him in a particularly bad temper if anyone is tactless enough to mention it.